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.

Meaningful Content

In the last generation, we saw games getting bigger and bigger and budgets ballooning out of control. As publishers were looking to get as much return as possible, games became bloated with side-quests that had little to no relevance to the main story mode.

Just this year, we have been given three games that do away with such fluff. Bloodborne, The Witcher 3 and Metal Gear Solid V. In each game, every bit of content feels just. You never waste your time in areas that plaster up invisible walls or grant absolutely no benefit; if you undertake a side-quest, the reward is readily apparent.

Take MGS V for example. At the very beginning of the game, you are unable to understand the soldiers in Afghanistan. This pretty much makes getting information a pointless endeavor. After finishing the first mission, you are informed of translators in the area that can be rescued. Doing so grants you the ability to understand the language in that area.

It’s an immediate payoff that gives the player a sense of accomplishment. Instead of including an activity because it’s cool, the developers thought to award some palpable sense of achievement within the game itself.

The Witcher basically has stronger plot points in the side missions then the main quest itself. One very early side quest has you tackling the mystery of a man’s wife who has gone disappearing. You get to be a detective and figure out what occurred and the impact this has had on the man’s life.

Did you take her?

It is supremely rewarding to dig into such a rich story. Most side quests can be boiled down to a few simple points; the game needs to be longer and the player can skip these. Since developers don’t want the player to “miss” any important content, one can reasonably skip the side stuff and still get the entire story.

Even before Wild Hunt, The Witcher 2 had an entirely different second act based on some decisions you made at the end of the first. It was a radical departure from what mainstream, triple A gaming was doing. That is getting a bit side tracked from my point, though.

With Bloodborne, while the world may not be entirely open as in Witcher and MGS, you can tackle most of the boss creatures in an order of your choosing. There are even a great few that you can entirely skip. A lot of the work in getting to them is shrouded in obscurity and requires one to think outside the box.

This leads to optional areas that are just as thrilling, frightening and meticulously detailed as the main game. More so, with the narrative being ambiguous and vague, the game encourages you to seek out as much information as possible. Without being told to, you are actively pushed to see the full picture.

This subtlety to approaching story in a game makes Bloodborne utterly captivating. Coupled with the brutal combat mechanics and steep difficulty and Bloodborne becomes a game that can consume your life for a good month or two.

Ah, yes, a good month or two….where is my cranberry juice?

I do remember games being like this in my heyday. Games on the NES, SNES and even PS1 were more about creating experiences that rewarded player skill and investment. Not every game was supremely long, but every bit of content was worthwhile.

I can’t think of a Mario game where I would want to skip levels (other then 8-3 in the original being a bitch). Shooters like Quake were so morbid, dark and terrifying that I was compelled to press on to see the corridors that lie ahead.

Then you look back at the last few years of gaming and you see pointless padding. Watch_Dogs, Assassin’s Creed, Grand Theft Auto, Tomb Raider; newer entries in these series had so much pointless content that gamers gave up caring. Why do I want to climb towers in every city just to spot “important” locations? What benefit does collecting feathers or journals or hidden packages have for me?

I was amazed when playing Sleeping Dogs and found out that a lot of the side quests have a tangible benefit to the player. Finding the hidden shrines would increase your maximum health. Getting all of the statues in the story missions unlocked extra finishing moves for your combos. It was wild to think that side content could actually mean something in the modern era.

Then you look at inFamous: Second Son and all of the side stuff does basically nothing. Sure, you can level up your skills, but the game is so easy that nothing else over your starting arsenal is really required.

It seems that for as big as we can make game worlds, there is some nagging need to include as much stuff as possible. It’s as if the game isn’t engaging enough, so developers have a desire to distract you from how mediocre it is.

“You’re right! I don’t even care!”

There are some complaints that MGS V is devoid of life (something lobbied at Ocarina of Time as well), but that doesn’t even hold water. When I actively want to explore the game world, I don’t care if hundreds of things are crawling around. I like exploring landscapes and seeing nature in a natural state.

Taking a hike through a forest doesn’t bring you to a lost tribe or hidden tomb (unless you happen to be lucky); one takes a walk through nature to escape the fast paced nature of their lives. It’s a form of escapism that brings you back to reality and the purity of nature.

It’s also not a waste of time. Even though you aren’t technically accomplishing anything, you are freeing your mind of the bullshit from your daily life. Your problems disappear for a few hours in a safe, fun and refreshing manner.

Where are all the damn side quests?

When a video game so perfectly encapsulates that (such as MGS V), why am I going to complain about a lack of visible life? I don’t want more stuff in my games, I want my games to feel more complete.

I just wonder why it took so long for developers to finally get around to making completely worthwhile experiences. I think that, in the years coming up, we’ll see more and more games that cut out all of the trappings and stick to gameplay and extra missions that actually matter.

That, or we can just look at Super Mario Maker and make our own stuff. I wish Project Spark were as open-ended as Mario Maker, because I would love to get in on manipulating my childhood memories.

The Necessary Evil

Creative geniuses won’t strike gold each time. When you’re at the top of your game, you sometimes just mess up. Even Miyamoto recently admitted that, yet his works are still looked at with awe. Gamers don’t hold a grudge against him.

I attended the ScrewAttack Gaming Convention this past weekend and got a chance to ask the guys from Acclaim Entertainment about their past. I didn’t expect to get such a lively response, but I walked up and questioned, “Are there any games that you guys regret making?”

During their explanations, I began to understand a bit more about why publishers will license specific games. Ever wonder why so many sports games exist? Well, over half of Acclaim’s revenue came from its NFL Quarterback Club titles. Without those, we would have never seen Turok.

This just got me thinking about something like Call of Duty. In the hands of a better publisher, we would be seeing more creative titles coming from Activision instead of retreads or iterations of the same ideas. In a better industry, giants like EA and Ubisoft would be producing a more diverse range of titles.

Even so, something like Madden and Call of Duty are a necessary evil in the games industry. Without any money flowing in, how would we continue to play games? PC gaming is an exception, not a rule. For consoles, if we didn’t have cash cows to move hardware and fund publishers, we probably wouldn’t be getting anything.

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Even Nintendo is guilty of this. Mario has slowly become an annual franchise. Just last year, we were graced with two Mario titles, even if they were basically the same game. Nintendo uses the ludicrous sales from Mario to fund its other games and online services.

A Nintendo without Mario or Zelda to fall back on means a games industry without nostalgic games, platformers or local multiplayer. Ever ponder why Rayman: Origins had 4-player co-op? If Nintendo didn’t even attempt it with Mario, Ubisoft would have never thought of including it.

Gamers bemoan iterative and annual franchises, but we really should be thankful for their existence. We never have to purchase them and if there needs to be a change, we can clearly voice an opinion. Still, ridding the world of these titles would only lead to bad things.

I’d definitely like for more creativity in the industry, but we should never be so naïve as to think that Call of Duty is ruining gaming. The only thing that is hurting developers’ creativity is how bloated console game prices have become.

As MatPat from The Game Theorists put it, “Don’t buy a game if you don’t like it. Don’t like the new Call of Duty? Don’t like the new Battlefield? Don’t like the new Mario? Then don’t buy them.” Taking that advice to heart, we shouldn’t be angry about people who do.

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Everyone likes something for some reason or another. We may have grown tired of the repeated tricks and boring tropes of these games, but they serve a purpose. That purpose is to get new ideas and hardware rolling.

With the next-generation looming, I hope Call of Duty has enough steam to keep going. If Microsoft and Sony fail to keep their hardware moving, we really will be looking at another industry crash.

If that happens, we might not have anything new again.

I’m Part of the Problem

Every now and then, a treasured developer will produce a game so dissimilar to their previous work that fans will begin to rage. They’ll lament the good old days and chat about how said developer has lost their way. What happened to the tight level design? Where are the classic monsters? Why does this game feel so different?

Id Software’s “Rage” is such a title. Playing almost nothing like their previous games, “Rage” feels very awkward to a longtime Id fan. Why would you even bother with this title, outside of the developer’s legacy? After playing through the game, I can’t answer that question.

Still, I can’t help but think I’m a part of the game industry’s biggest problem; creative stagnation. Id Software tried their damnedest to create a brand new IP and I hate the game. Hell, even when they took “Doom 3” in a different direction than the classic games, I was first in line to bitch and moan.

“Rage” definitely isn’t a shining example of game design, but it’s not poorly made. When the characters finally shut-up and you’re thrown into a dungeon, it plays like a better version of “Fallout 3.” The guns have great weight and the graphics completely sell the putrid creatures and their agility. It can be really tense.

In the same instance, though, nothing about the game is original and most of the ideas are half-baked. The upgrade system shouldn’t even exist with how few options are available, the car combat side missions feel like half of a game (or early PS1 era cash grabs) and the weapon crafting is entirely pointless when you can just buy everything.

“Rage” is mind blowing if you haven’t played a single game this generation. If you have, you’ll just keep thinking about “Borderlands,” “Fallout 3” and “Call of Duty.” It’s sad when even in a brand new game, I can’t escape thoughts of everything else.

I can’t even tell which Call of Duty this is…..

At the same time, because I made those previous games successful, I’m partly responsible for “Rage” being an amalgamation of features from other shooters. I can’t imagine playing a classic style game in the modern era, even though I’d probably enjoy it to some degree.

Still, when new IPs are released, I’m the one responsible for sequels never happening. I’m the guy that craps all over “new” ideas and stops developers from taking chances. I dictate to them that Call of Duty and Battlefield are the only way shooters should be, so why even try something new?

To that degree, I also disliked “Sonic 4.” I’m not one of those people who abhor the physics, though. I was more in the camp that the level design wasn’t adequate and that the boss encounters lacked originality. Since I love classic Sonic, though, what else was Sega supposed to make? How do they make me happy?

I’m also the same person that is lambasting Square-Enix for “Final Fantasy XIII.” I can’t stand the auto-battle system or how streamlined combat is. The linear level paths for an RPG do nothing for me and the absurd story just brings my piss to a boil. How else is Square-Enix supposed to innovate, though?

If I could embrace “Rage” as an actual beacon of creativity, then maybe we’d be a better and more realized sequel. Maybe Id Software could expend more time in designing new mechanics or fleshing out the groundwork laid down with the first title.

If I treated “Final Fantasy XIII” with more respect, maybe Square-Enix would finally give us that “Final Fantasy VII” remake or another title in the classic, 16-bit style (excluding the FFIV pseudo-sequel).

Since I don’t allow developers to try anything new, I fear that the next generation of consoles will just keep producing the same garbage over and over. I keep buying awful sequels in hopes that some of the original joy will be contained; I almost never leave happy.

Even this looks like Call of Duty….

So my only conclusion is that I am a part of the problem. I’ll do my best to embrace the indie game scene, but I don’t see how I’ll be helping triple A title’s become more diverse in the future.