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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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 – Beatles: Rock Band

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The Beatles can easily be called one of the greatest bands in history. There is no questioning their impact on the music industry and their quality as a group. But will you be able to say the same thing about the newest Rock Band title, Beatles: Rock Band? Well, let’s take a first look.

The first screen the game gives you is a calibration screen. While my friends and I were using a CRT monitor (therefore no lag), the calibration seems to be equal to the system used in Rock Band 2. I can’t image that anything is terribly off with the system, but it’s nothing new and will probably still cause headaches.

On to the actual gameplay side of the equation. Unwilling to try any of the vocal harmonies out (and down about 2 mics anyway), we decided to keep it straight instrument play. We booted up the game to a screen that allows you to sign in 4 gamer profiles (one for each instrument) and pick a save file for your story progress. This was nifty as 1 person may be complete, yet the second player may still need something extra.

After selecting your save file, the game goes to a screen which has each instrument press a button to enter the game. This system is a little strange as to drop out an instrument requires you to go back to the main menu, which is 2 screens past the actual menu for selecting “Story Mode” or “Challenge.” Still, it’s not that awkward and you eventually get used to it.

Once at the games “real” menu, you can pick “Story” or “Challenge.” While my friends and I thought challenge would be similar to what Guitar Hero 5 had done (with cool little requirements), all the challenges consist of is playing the setlist back to back in the different venues. Anything consisting of “Play X Song hammering on notes” is relegated to the achievements, meaning most people will probably never figure them out.

So even though challenge mode is rather worthless, Story is a bit different. Trying to paint the timeline of the Beatles would be a hard task, but Harmonix seems to have gotten most of their story out there (excluding all the drugs and naked bed displays in Amsterdam). Before you can even pick a song in each setlist, you are treated to an animated movie that mostly just uses visuals and a song to paint the story. It really makes no sense, but you can easily skip them by pressing start.

When you finally do get to start playing a song, you come to one simple realization; this is just another damn rhythm game. While Guitar Hero 5 is certainly the same thing as previous entries, it tried to give you something new with the career mode or party play. Beatles: Rock Band takes the easy way out and just repackages Rock Band with flashy colors and different songs.

To its credit, the selection of songs is stellar. But, if you dislike the Beatles, this game is 100% worthless to you. While I can’t say that making a band related game focus on just the band is a bad thing, it does alienate people from wanting to pick this up if they have no interest in The Beatles.

Well, that aside, I love the Beatles, so I enjoyed what was offered. While I wished for more (there is no reason why 80 songs could not have been offered), Harmonix promises to have full albums available for download soon. This is a feature that both Guitar Hero Aerosmith and Metallica lack (albeit Metallica does have 1 album). This could keep you playing the game for a long time if you really have a hankering for Rock Band and The Beatles.

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While it may look amazing here, imagine this on a blurry, fuzzy, SDTV.

The visuals are pretty ridiculous, but we played on a standard def television. In SD, the graphics are too bright, vibrant and distracting. When activating star power in SD, you suddenly lose track of where Yellow or Orange are coming from. Not only that, but any sustained notes (ones you hold) are too soft to be seen, so you kind of just let go and lose out on points.

Even with losing those points, you will easily be able to 5 star everything in this game if you are an expert Rock Band player. Even with my love for The Beatles, I could not help but feel a little cheated by the lack of difficulty. I may have failed 1 song on drums (one of the earlier, more hard rock songs), but even so it only took me another try to pass it. Even the songs that say “Full Difficulty” for Guitar/Bass/Drums are really just like a tier 5 song in regular Rock Band.

So without any kind of challenge other than achievements/trophies, Beatles: Rock Band is entirely for collector’s or people who are just hooked on the rhythm game craze. I hate to say this, too, but Guitar Hero 5 wins in my book. At least you can get some cool competitive modes or challenges to spice up the gameplay. With Beatles: Rock Band, you either play the songs or don’t. It’s really kind of sad.

I may have to sample the vocal harmonies before I can really give a final verdict on this (and I should probably try out some of the achievements as a few looked insanely hard), but I really don’t think this is worth a buy to the casual fan of Rock Band or even someone who has a waning interest in the genre. Skip this.