DJ Hero Retrospective

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Rhthym gaming took the world by storm in 2005. A relatively unknown company by the name of Harmonix brought Guitar Hero into the public conscious and blasted themselves to stardom. The mixture of an old-school score mentality mixed with classic rock tunes lead to an immensely popular debut that would see the series continue on for a good few years.

I jumped on the bandwagon in 2007 when Guitar Hero II was released for the Xbox 360. While I never fancied myself an actual rock star, I had some previous experience using a guitar and I liked that songs I truly admired were getting more recognition. It also felt super cool to nail insane solos without breaking a sweat.

Most of my time in college was spent playing Guitar Hero in one form or another. Its sequel or the highly polished third entry gained more of my attention in 2007 than any other game or series.

While the success of the series showed the games industry that graphics and genre weren’t that important in making lots of money, the brand eventually began to stagnate. There is only so much you can do with the formula before people realize they’ve had their fill.

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Harmonix seemed to catch on to this after creating the second game. They did not sign with Activision to produce the third and instead went on to make Rock Band, the biggest competitor to the Guitar Hero franchise. The business model was also dramatically better; instead of creating yearly sequels, Harmonix opted to utilize the online connectivity of newer consoles to continually produce extra content for the game.

Activision sort of copied that idea, but still put out a staggering amount of games with the Guitar Hero branding. Handheld consoles got installments; cellphones weren’t free from virtual shredding; there was even a spin-off series focused more on hip-hop and dance music.

That is where my interest truly piqued. I’ve always been a fan of classic rock and I love heavy metal, but to hear modern pop songs and classic hits mashed together in some freestyle kind of insanity was just golden. It encapsulated everything I liked about the internet era of music discovery with a style of gameplay that I had quickly grown to love.

Enter DJ Hero, Activision’s attempt to branch out the Hero name to reach wider audiences. The entire genre was quickly on the decline, but this didn’t stop Activision and Freestyle Games from attempting something different.

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DJ Hero was a more back to basics approach to gameplay progression mixed with some popular artists and DJs that were remixing classic dance tunes alongside some rock and metal hits. It created a strange, dissonant sound that felt comfortable in the space of gaming.

It also had a much more structurally solid controller and gameplay that totally emphasized high scores and never ending combos. Different ideas like rewinding and crossfading also put a greater emphasis on player interaction within each track. Gone were the days of pretending to be a star; you were now given some control over what the music sounded like.

The sequel, DJ Hero 2, improved almost every aspect of the previous game. The visuals were cleaner, the audio was better mixed and the soundtrack was even more solid (despite it’s omission of Daft Punk tunes from the first game). 2 focused more on rocking clubs and EDM, but its gameplay was as frenetic and score happy as before.

It also didn’t hurt that the multiplayer was greatly expanded. While credit needs to be given to the developers for attempting to not nickel and dime their consumers (the original DJ Hero has a mode that allows a player with a Guitar Hero controller to play along), having multiplayer that actually utilizes the new fangled controller just makes more sense.

Each mode feels like an intense duel with a potential usurper. Score and accuracy are dominant alongside tracks mixed specifically to up the ante with each successive checkpoint. It brought a cut-throat attitude to competitive play that had long been missing in the rhythm gaming genre.

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Sadly, 2010 marked the year that this genre of games couldn’t sustain itself. The influx of releases and more costly instrument peripherals turned any newer customers off. While they were happy with buying one “toy” and sticking with it, having to collect a virtual band in your house was too much.

Not to mention that Guitar Hero was releasing games that focused on specific bands and having redux packages of older content, but even competitor series Rock Band had started to come out with “track packs” and games dedicated to the career of specific artists (granted, the Beatles are fairly important).

For what it’s all worth, I still believe that DJ Hero was the best thing to come out of that explosion of popularity. Guitar Hero also felt a little cheesy to me and a bit insulting to actual musicians. People who had no intention of picking up actual instruments or no understanding of what went into making music treated these songs like simple levels.

I remember playing a song by Rush and explaining to my friends how I saw them live and had been a fan for most of high school, but they couldn’t care less. To them, Rush was the song with the hard drum section and female singer. It was infuriating to me.

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With DJ Hero, it didn’t matter if you truly didn’t care about the artists are songs on offer. The game required you to be more active in what was going on. You couldn’t simply sit there with controller in hand and bang through a few songs; you had to pay attention to your crossfader, work on maximizing your note streak for potential rewinds and add your own personal flair (via samples) to up your score.

The shift in focus from a slightly more involved spectator to a remix guru just made everything feel more rewarding. Despite the track list being the same for everyone, the way you heard the song belonged to you.

It truly made me want to consider being a DJ as a career path. While I never went down that road, I started a friendship with a DJ at a club out of my amazement for what he was able to create. Those songs weren’t his, but the way they were played was wholly his invention.

DJ Hero perfectly encapsulated the atmosphere of the club scene while making the player feel like the star of the show. It didn’t hurt that Daft Punk leant their likeness to the original game and that Deadmau5 signed on for the sequel, either. DJ Hero was into a burgeoning music scene before it erupted into mainstream acceptance.

Sadly, the potential third game will never happen. Both Activision and Harmonix tried their hands at new Guitar Hero and Rock Band titles last year, but sales figures were underwhelming for both. People seem to have had their fun and want these games to fade into blissful memories.

It may be pointless to ask for another entry into the DJ Hero series, but I’d pay a lot to see a return to such vibrancy and joy within music gaming. If I’m going to pretend I’m any kind of star of a music game, at least it should be the game that actually gave me control over the sounds pumping through my speakers.

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Indifference Be Thy Name!

Something seems off with me lately. Whether it’s because of age or general apathy towards the vacant release schedule near the end of the year, I’ve been pretty indifferent to a lot of new things happening.

Fallout 4 launched last week and I don’t care. Spectre just came out in theaters and I thought it was pretty mediocre. Guitar Hero Live has been getting good press, but I found the game is simply the same old thing. Indifference Be Thy Name!

At least with James Bond, you can tell it’s a bit of brand fatigue for Daniel Craig. Some recent interviews have shown that he has grown tired of the character, but I’m still unsure why he would put out another movie with that attitude (I’m guessing the extra 0’s at the end of his paycheck helped).

It can’t just be my cynical attitude towards Hollywood, because I also saw The Peanutsand thought it was pretty good. I believe MGM is constantly battling with whether to reinvent Bond or stick to the same old formula. Sadly, Spectre just feels like a continuation of Roger Moore’s films.

I was never big on Fallout 3. I loved the introductory sequence and was blown away by the scale of things, but none of the missions really added up. The ending felt rushed and even your choices were stuck in a binary process. You couldn’t do a moral grey, just black and white.

My favorite memory from the game was running with your dad and getting hit by a god damned fatboy. That was intense. Otherwise, I just remember the game looking average and being a stripped down shooter and RPG. It was a cool combo, but the game was basically Oblivion with guns.

I also used to be a gigantic rhythm gaming nut. I played all the Guitar Hero games up to 5 (as well as Aerosmith and Metallica) and played each Rock Band game (including the preposterously stupid Lego one). I even still own DJ Hero. I just feel nothing with GHLive.

Yeah, I want to play this instead of some classic rock…

The addition of the lower fret is kind of neat, but I can’t wrap my head around the icons for Black and White buttons. For some reason, I keep reading White as if it’s on top. I know that is more of my problem then the game, but what isn’t my issue is the lackluster presentation.

The FMV sequences are pretty stupid. It’s funny to watch someone else play, but they are completely pointless in the midst of you grabbing the controller. Not only that, but those transitions are not seamless; the damn screen flashes blue between “Awesome” and “Poor” performances. It’s really distracting.

Rating a setlist is always going to be subjective, but I’m just tired of these games front loading all the horrible songs to make you work for your favorite tunes. I like the idea of GHTV, but the menu system loves explaining every detail with excruciating clarity. I just want to play the damn game.

In all fairness, it isn’t a bad game. In the intervening years, I’ve managed to pick up an actual instrument and learn to play. I’m a decent bassist and going back to Guitar Hero, I just want to play my bass. The controller is so light weight and flimsy that I don’t feel like a musician; I just feel like some tool with a toy.

Even with this blog, I haven’t had much to really say. I’ve been playing some neat games (and fucking WWE 2k15 for asinine reasons) and everything is cool. I have a Mega Yarn Yoshi and La-Mulana is kicking my ass. There really isn’t much I can write about.

Yeah?! Well, fuck you!

As fun as a game like La-Mulana is, there really isn’t any deeper meaning to it. I like the design and the philosophy behind it’s difficulty, but it’s just a really well made retro throwback with some punishing moments. It’s great for people like me, but not the general public.

I’m mainly worried that my lack of motivation is a sign of something deeper. I’ve been out of the loop with major game releases for awhile now. Metal Gear Solid V was a fluke for me, in that regard. It was a series I had fallen in love with, where Fallout and Call of Duty are just games that are in my past.

Even Xenoblade Chronicles X doesn’t appeal to me. That is insane, as the firstXenoblade Chronicles is one of my favorite RPGs and Wii games. I should be excited, but I just don’t care. If I get it, it won’t be for some time and I think I’ll manage without.

Oh well; I suppose one cannot always have some topic to bring up. I didn’t feel like leaving this blog empty in November, so this is what I came up with. I promise my next blog will have more of a focus to it.

In the meantime, have a picture of Yoshi with Hogan.

Rock (Band) Isn’t Dead!!!!

One of the biggest complaints you will hear in regards to modern music is that rock is dead. When Gene Simmons claims Rock is dead, it’s probably a pretty decent sign that the genre is on the way out. Statements like that reinforce the cynical nature inside of older people who just want a return to the old days.

The same echoes with the rhythm gaming genre. When Activision and Harmonix killed off Guitar Hero and Rock Band, gamers were left without any kind of successor. Sure, other types of rhythm games popped up, but nothing that utilized the guitar controllers and plastic drum kits we had collected over the years.

It seemed like all of that investment and trust was just thrown to the curb. Harmonix did their best to support Rock Band 3 with DLC well into 2012, but they eventually closed up shop. Since the genre had seen better days, there wasn’t much purpose in producing content for a game that people weren’t buying.

Just like how most people claimed that rock was dead, so was Rock Band. We all had our fun and now just have memories. No one will ever make the same classic game again. Why would you? We have all moved on.

Except that isn’t even true. Not only will Rock Band 4 be releasing tomorrow (with Guitar Hero: Live releasing later this year), but rock is not dead. Far from it. It may not hold the mainstream appeal it once had, but people haven’t forgotten about rock.

Sup?

A little band by the name of Ghost have done everything in their power to resurrect the 60’s style of gothic/satanic inspired pop/rock for a new era. Mastodon, once a progressive metal band, have transitioned into mostly their own genre with lots of throwbacks to classic rock styling.

For that matter, The Darkness released a new album in May of this year. They are a band founded on bringing back 80’s hard rock. To even claim that rock has died is just being ignorant; if anything, rock is more specialized now then it ever used to be.

Certain things fade in and out of fashion all the time. Music is the easiest to track as it has been around for as long as people began speaking. Much like how the Middle Ages was overrun with chamber music and the Renaissance brought about classical music, most of the 20th century was dominated by rock.

You can even go further by dissecting different decades and identifying sub-genres. The 50’s was the dawn of rock’n’roll. The 60’s brought pop/rock and the 70’s started with prog rock. Even now, in 2015, rock has mostly turned to metal with some bands clinging to old-fashioned ideals.

Gaming has had a similar resurgence of the past. 2D Platformers had all but died in the early 2000’s, but we now have more made every month then were released in the entirety of the 6th console generation. It’s almost as if the SNES never left.

If only you could buy one of these brand new.

To say anything is dead is to know where humanity and public interest is going. If you can logically see into the future, then you can make the claim that something has moved on. How can that ever come to fruition when so many people talk about it?

Could rock music ever die? There are indie bands no one has heard of pumping out sweet licks every week. There are people in their bedrooms recording songs made solely by them. Even gigantic, mega famous bands like Metallica are going back-to-basics and producing music in the vein of their origins.

Rock isn’t dead. Far from it. The same can be said for Rock Band. Now that the time is right and the consumers are hungry for a return to basics, Rock Band will get to thrive where it’s needed most; in the hearts of true fans.

The genre may have crashed before, but Harmonix never left the building. They let other acts take over the stage while they calculated how to one-up the competition. Allowing users to retain DLC between console generations is completely unprecedented and will definitely lead to sales from cynical folk.

More importantly, we may finally have that dream version of Rock Band we always wanted. Every single hit song from every decade on one console. The fact that I can load up Jimi Hendrix, Slayer, Iron Maiden, Talking Heads and The Police in one setlist is beyond amazing.

Better still, Harmonix has the power to make new music known. Most people who will buy Rock Band 4 are probably going to be younger then the target demographic (18-34). They will get to experience the best of the past and the brightest of the present all under one roof.

Long Live Rock!!

I don’t think there is a better time for rock then right now. If you still think it’s dead, you’re just delusional.

Love/Hate: Rhythm Games

Guitar Hero was an amazing experience back in 2005. Activision and Harmonix knew that gamers were all hyped up for better graphics with the coming 360, so instead of trying to make a power house of technology, they just used creativity.

Who would know that four years later, we would be getting ready for the launch of the 18th Guitar Hero game this week (number may be exaggerated)? I can’t say that Guitar Hero isn’t a game that I love, but I also can’t say that I don’t hate the series.

Now, I never got into the craze in 2005 as I was an idiot (I stopped caring about PS2 for some reason). When Guitar Hero II was finally ported to 360, I got pumped. I bought it immediately after getting home from college (with money from sold books) and played it for a solid four months straight. After that, I had to get ready for school again.

It turns out my college friends were huge into the game, too. Forget studying, Guitar Hero was the way to go. Only a few months into the semester and we were treated to the glorious (and ridiculously difficult) Guitar Hero III. I was ecstatic.

Every night for the next seven months, I played this game. I even gave the rival, Rock Band, a try. I loved that as it had different songs. “Wow, I love these games. They can never get old, regardless of how many they put out.”

Those are honest to goodness thoughts I had at one point. While I didn’t care about Rock the 80’s, I think it was around the time Guitar Hero: Aerosmith was announced that I began to notice something. Guitar Hero is Neversoft’s new Tony Hawk.

Neversoft are some of the laziest developers in the game industry (a tiny bit of hyperbole there). Instead of going back to the drawing board with each game, they simply slapped new songs in and just kept going. This kind of short cutting wasn’t going to cut it for me.

I still ended up buying the next game in the series, World Tour. I even got a little excited for Metallica as I love the band, but how can I keep this up? I began joking that we would eventually see about 8 or 9 Guitar Hero games in a year.

It turns out that is actually true for 2009. Metallica, 5, Band Hero, On Tour: Modern Hits, Van Halen, Smash Hits and even DJ Hero if you include the guitar sections. How has this happened to what used to be one of the most innovative ideas in gaming? It is absolutely ludicrous how many titles have come out in the span of four years.

Harmonix was the original developer and they left after the third Guitar Hero game to pursue a similar title with a different direction. While at first I thought Rock Band was a better game (including drums and mics to let more people in), it turns out that money talks more than innovation.

A sequel was inevitable (and was actually far better than the first game), but DLC started pouring out into the hundreds (and has actually surpassed 1,000 total songs). This wouldn’t be so bad if the DLC was actual content that the masses wanted.

Harmonix seems to just dump content into their game to say, “We have X. We’re so cool!” Not only that, the songs that were in Guitar Hero originally have eventually made their way over to Rock Band. Nearly every song from III is up for DLC and a bunch of the songs from World Tour are included.

To make matters worse, Harmonix decided to copy Neversoft’s lead and start making band based games. Sure the Beatles are worthy of a game like Rock Band, but Green Day? Where does it end? They even have an AC/DC Track Pack and a bunch of random discs containing DLC.


This is coming…be warned!

Harmonix was supposed to differentiate their games by allowing people to expand their libraries through DLC. What happened to that concept? Why release a disc when it just clutters up space in game store shelves?

The point is money. Money talks more than anything to these people. What was first a superb idea is now something that makes me sick to my stomach. I thought that some day I would look back on my college years and think of all the fun I had with friends, goofing off on Guitar Hero in one of gaming’s best periods.

Instead, I’ll always look back on how much of a sucker I was. I hopelessly bought the Guitar Hero games like a religion. I even downloaded DLC like it was a disease. I’ve wasted hundreds of dollars on this crap and for what? For me to look back at Harmonix and Neversoft as evil.

First Impressions – Guitar Hero 5

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With every month, Activision seems to be releasing a new Guitar Hero game. In rolls September and Activision has put out the next numbered sequel in their series, Guitar Hero 5. Today I’ll be giving my first impressions of the game and giving g1’s some advice as to whether they think their dollars are best spent on this new title.

Starting off, Guitar Hero 5 has heavily touted a new “Party Mode” all over the internet. This mode supposedly allowed you to use 4 instruments of the same or differing types to play all at once and even change difficulty on the fly and drop out whenever. The mode works just like that, even if it is a little misleading.

See, instead of having an option in the main menu that says “Party,” Activision put a button on the bottom of the screen that says it. So for the first 5 minutes, my friends and I were looking around for this fabled party mode. Once we figured it out, a song almost immediately launched and we found ourselves confused again.

The game gives absolutely no instructions on how to use the actual mode, so we scanned the bottom and top of the screen to figure out just exactly what was going on. We saw a yellow button for joining, so we were able to get 3 guitars going in seconds. The game automatically scrolled the screens and kept the song moving without any hindrance in framerate or even button presses.

Choosing a setlist requires one person to press start and pick “New Playlist.” You also press start to change your difficulty or instrument from Guitar/Bass (since you can’t switch from Drums to Guitar without first unplugging your controller). The menu also lets you drop out, or you can just walk away and let the game do it for you. Once you figure this all out, Party Mode is exactly what Activision said it would be. It works flawlessly and songs load at the end of the previous one, so you never have to wait around with pesky load screens. Once your list finishes, another random song starts and you can just keep playing or quit.

So as flawless as that mode is, the new career mode is definitely something special. While it may not be completely different (i.e. it’s the same thing) from Rock Band 2’s “Challenges,” having some kind of requirement to meet during a song is definitely a fun way to pass time. The only downside to this mode is that you cannot use 4 of the same instrument like in party mode.

Some of the challenges actually require a full band. Things range from “Complete a Song with X Score” to “Have Bass/Guitar perform X Hammer-On’s and Pull-off’s in X Song.” The challenges are definitely well thought out and help provide challenge to expert Guitar Hero players.

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Along with revamping the career mode comes some new character options. While I didn’t tinker with the creation tool, Guitar Hero 5 allows you to use your avatar (on 360 only) as a character. It definitely looks funky with how realistic the graphics are trying to be, but it’s also pretty funny to see your midget of a person strut around on stage.

As for the game’s actual setlist, there are definitely some amazing songs, but most of the list fails. There is a lot of modern and emo music, so if you are not into that, just skip this game. You can import songs from World Tour, but for some reason you are only allowed 35 of them. Your DLC from World Tour will work, but you just need to download a free update, which isn’t bad. That 35 song thing really kills any interest you may have in wanting to import, though.

There really aren’t any new features other than a “Band Moment” mode, but that simply works like Rock Band’s “Band Multiplier.” It works like flames over notes and just ups your points if you hit them. It’s nothing fancy, but it certainly helps in scoring well over 1 million points on some stupidly short songs.

In the end, my first impression of Guitar Hero 5 was generally positive. I may not particularly enjoy the graphics or really find anything innovative with the game, but the revamped career and the ability to play with 4 of your favorite instrument make the game more accessible. And hell, if you suck at drums, now you can just forget them entirely.

I’d say to give this game a shot if you are still interested in rhythm games or are a newbie to the whole fad. If you really have given up hope, this probably will not change your mind, but it never hurts to try.