Shame on you if you aren’t already click-clacking your way to plastic musical instrument heaven today. Harmonix’s Rock Band 3 releases today on the Xbox 360, Playstation 3, Nintendo Wii, and Nintendo DS and many reviews are already calling it the “best rhythm game ever.”
If you’re the poor soul that hosts your circle of friends’ Rock Band get togethers, there’s at least a $129.99 investment you have to make today to buy the game and new keyboard peripheral. On the bright side, it’s an actual MIDI keyboard so you can justify it by saying you got a “real” musical instrument, but we all know you’re just going to use it to hit five colored notes while getting drunk with your friends.
It’s alright. No one’s judging you. Except maybe your mom.
To celebrate a return to the best home karaoke platform ever, I’ve put together a Grooveshark playlist of 82 of the 83 songs in Rock Band 3. (The only song not on here is John Lennon’s Imagine, which i “imagine” is not on Grooveshark because of licensing reasons.) Enjoy getting to know these songs! It’ll be especially fun if you don’t know Spanish and get roped to sing the Juanes song. My heart goes out to you.
Dance Central is the killer app for Microsoft’s Kinect.
Now, I know what you might be thinking.”Dance games are for kids and girls! They’re silly and lame!” Hear me out here. You know those choreographed dances in a Lady GaGa or Justin Timberlake music video? Say what you want about the music itself, but you gotta at least admit that the moves are kinda cool to watch, especially when a bunch of people are doing them in unison. What if I told you that there’s a game that would not only teach you and your friends how to dance like that, but would do so even if you had ZERO dancing ability to begin with. Isn’t that something that at least piques your interest?
Harmonix’s Dance Central is that game.
Think of it kinda like Rock Band, only your body is the instrument. (Well, if you want to get technical, the Kinect is actually the plastic instrument you have to buy.)
Dance games have been attempted before, but they were generally confined to sequences of steps on a mat (Dance Dance Revolution) or waving around an input controller (Just Dance). As many people would attest to, this is “dancing” as much as Guitar Hero is “playing the guitar.” Let’s face it, if you walk in on a room of people are playing DDR, they’re going to look pretty silly. However, if you walked into a room of people playing Dance Central, you might think they’re actually training as a real dance crew.
Using the full body tracking abilities of Microsoft’s Kinect, Dance Central lets you do a full range of motions with your body and hands free while scoring you on how accurately you perform the routine presented to you during each song. Honestly, I couldn’t have cared less about my score. It was just so much fun performing the moves that I found myself ignoring the score tally and just losing myself in the music and figuring out the moves. If the game didn’t even have a scoring system, I doubt a lot of casual players would notice. Nevertheless, I imagine once the novelty wears off, scoring highly will be a strong motivator to perform better as a dancer. As a gaming connoisseur, this excites me because it’s a game genre that has heretofore been impossible to fully replicate in a home environment. As a human being, this will excite you because its so intuitive and easy to get into.
All the songs in the game are original, licensed music. I had a hands on demonstration with Lady GaGa’s “Just Dance“ and Lipps Inc’s “Funkytown.” Other tracks I saw on the menu screen included Beastie Boys’ “Body Movin’,” No Doubt’s “Hella Good” and Bel Biv Devoe’s “Poison.” Harmonix promises a song selection that spans a diverse set of genres from hip-hop, to funk, reggae, pop, and more. The Harmonix producer I spoke with also touted the fact that many of the dance routines include the same moves from songs’ original music videos.
Now, I couldn’t dance my way out of a box, but after my hands on with Dance Central at the Harmonix booth, I felt I had a decent shot within seconds after starting up “Just Dance.” The dance moves are intuitive and generally easy to understand. Granted, I was on “easy” difficulty, but I’ve also never danced a step in my life that didn’t involve the number “two.” Gameplay involves a sequence of dance moves that scroll on the right side, kind of like the wheel on The Price Is Right. Your goal is to duplicate the highlighted move in the center, while preparing for upcoming moves by looking further down the wheel. The game will give you feedback in the form of red highlights on your on screen avatar’s body depending on where you’re messing up. Perform moves accurately and your score will go up along with Harmonix’s standard 5-star rating system. Many songs also incorporate a “freestyle” section as well, where everyone dancing just kinda does their own thing, as a psychedelic background plays on screen. The Kinect camera records all the action and shows you on screen. It felt a little gimmicky, but was still a neat feature.
I ran into a couple of instances where I couldn’t really tell what a particular dance move entailed. While a friendly Harmonix dancer was there at E3 to coach me on what to do, there clearly won’t be a bundled dancer when the game ships this holiday. Fortunately there’s a practice mode called “Break It Down” where you can practice each individual dance move more slowly and in detail. These instances are few and far between, especially in easier difficulty settings, so I wouldn’t worry too much about difficulty putting a crimp in your dance party gatherings. Most of the moves are very intuitive and easy to perform.
My only other concern was with the menu system, namely the fact that it took multiple confirmations and long, methodical hand swipes to pick a song and difficulty. This may be more of an issue with the Kinect in general as I noticed similar issues with other titles as well. It’s not a dealbreaker; it’s just kind of annoying because using a controller to pick options would just be plain faster. Hopefully this is something Microsoft and Harmonix work on before the Kinect launch.
While many people were on stage dancing at the same time, the E3 demo of Dance Central only tracked one player for the game. It was able to track a person behind in silhouette form as well, but only the first player was scored. Harmonix mentioned that there would be “multiplayer dance battles,” but it sounded as if this would be limited to two scored players. It’s kind of a bummer, but not as much of a deal breaker as you would think. You can still have a group of friends do a routine with you in front of the camera, they just won’t be scored. Think of them as your backup dancer crew. It’ll probably be a good thing at parties, too, as it’ll be more welcoming for some of the more shy people to get involved.
Add all of it up and you have a strongly compelling game experience if you have any interest in music or dancing. The only thing that might keep you away is the $150 Kinect device buy-in price or if you really have no desire to move your body under any circumstance. If you’re at all intrigued by Kinect, though, you owe it to yourself to take a good long look at Harmonix’s Dance Central.
Oh, another Rock Band game coming out this year? What’s next, are you going to tell me that they’re releasing a new Madden title too? hi2u Captain Obvious!
If I didn’t know any better, those would be my first thoughts about Rock Band 3. While a new entry in the franchise may not be the most surprising piece of news to someone, the number of tangible improvements Harmonix has brought to the series is.
Before E3, it was announced that Rock Band 3 would contain a “Pro” mode where players could essentially play the real notes of a particular song on updated guitar controllers. On top of that, the new plastic “pro” instruments would double as functional MIDI instruments for actual music creation.
Now, Harmonix didn’t have playable pro guitars available at their E3 booth this year, but they did provide a live demonstration of them in action:
What really blew my mind was when the guitarist plugged the guitar controller he was using into an amp and played real musical notes while playing a game. It’s one thing to read that these things function as real instruments and another to actually hear it for yourself. It doesn’t sound fake or bee-boo-bop-beep-y, folks. It’s not quite the same as Jack White on stage, but it’s definitely close. The music/tech geek in me had the same childlike feeling of wonderment as it did when I played the first Guitar Hero game.
(You can definitely tell the difference in the video below, but it’s nowhere near the audio fidelity you get from hearing these things played live.)
Bear in mind though, Harmonix dude is an accomplished guitar player. Unless you’re a plastic instrument playing prodigy, you shouldn’t expect to be shredding right out of the box. Nevertheless, the game does have the makings of being the most fun guitar teacher ever. I’m not sure if I’d actually stick with the game long enough to get good at it, but I’ll be damned if coming out of a video game progression cocoon a real guitarist isn’t downright compelling.
I did have the opportunity to try out the new keyboard instrument, though. Of course I picked “pro” mode because I used to play some piano back when I was a wee lad.
I clearly failed as a kid.
I had a hard time even on medium difficulty in a song with a simple keyboard part, “Power of Love.” When i did hit the right notes, though, it was much more gratifying than if I had just hit some colored buttons on a game controller because in the back of my mind I knew that i was playing the real notes of the song. On a related note, I noticed that the keyboard parts in many rock songs are pretty friggin’ simplistic. Unless we get a song like U2 – New Years Day, I wouldn’t expect for keyboard virtuosos to be playing long, complicated solos in this game even on pro-mode.
Ironically enough, the five iconic rhythm game colors are how Harmonix organizes keys on the keyboard controller:
The keyboard section on the game screen will shift from left to right depending on where your fingers should be on the keyboard. For example, if you see blue and green bars on your screen, you’ll want to have your fingers on the right side of the keyboard. If the game needs you to be on the left side, the screen will shift to show red and yellow bars. The colors essentially act as octave markers, if you’re musically trained. Notes will still scroll down towards you in the same way, there’ll just be more button possibilities to deal with. It sounds confusing on paper, but it’s easily picked up in seconds once you jump into playing.
I asked Harmonix whether they designed the keyboard to be played flat or if it was to be worn like a keytar. Both methods of play would work just fine, they answered, although I get the feeling playing it like a keytar is more suited for show than for functionality. It’s definitely a lot easier to play the keyboard “normally,” but hey, nothings stopping you from acting out your Nu-Wave keytar fantasies.
Most of the talk surrounding Rock Band 3 centers on pro mode on the new hardware instruments and deservedly so. There’s also a ton of little things Harmonix is putting in the game as well. Stuff that will make the game easier to enjoy and make you wonder why they weren’t already there.
Here’s some of the things Harmonix highlighted:
True drop in/drop out functionality - Anytime. No more quitting out of songs or navigating multiple menus to remove/add someone.
Extensive song browsing/filtering capabilities - You can drill down with such detail filters such as song length or family-friendly songs.
Song ratings and recommendations - We’re getting into online music store client features here. You can assign 5 star ratings to all the songs in the library and search/filter by your preferences. The Rock Band music store will even use these to serve up recommended songs of what you may like.
Playlist building/sharing - There’s enough songs playable on the Rock Band platform now that this makes a lot of sense. I mean, shit, there’s even REAL music streaming services that don’t offer playlist sharing functionality yet.
Party Shuffle - Basically a random track shuffler. It’s simple, but makes complete sense for party play when people just want to play with the least amount of menu navigating possible.
Another goal that Harmonix mentioned was to make progress-oriented multiplayer gameplay more self contained. In other words, if you have a regular band that you play with on the campaign mode, you’re probably tired of playing an inordinate amount of sets on a seemingly never-ending world tour. Harmonix’s solution to the problem is to incorporate “tours” that you can reasonably finish in a couple hours of gameplay for the night. In essence, the goal is to make you feel like you’ve “beaten Rock Band for the night.” It’s a legitimate concern that I’ve definitely run into while playing Rock Band with friends. I’m glad to see that attention is being given to making progression oriented players feel like they are completing something significant each session.
The biggest challenge of the music gaming genre is making new products that aren’t just glorified song-packs each year. While I’m definitely for less frequent title releases, it’s hard to argue that Rock Band 3 isn’t shaping up to be worth upgrading to when it ships later this year.
For Pro mode, for the guitar, are you basically learning the song? Like, if you got up to Expert in Pro mode, and you played the song, would you then just be able to go pick up any other regular guitar and play that song?
DS: Effectively, yes. The underlying design of Rock Band Pro across all the instruments is that whatever you’re doing in the game translates to some form of genuine musical ability outside of the game. So on the keyboard, even if you’re playing on Easy or Medium, the notes that you’re playing, or the notes that the game is cueing you to play, are pitch-accurate.
And in guitar, it’s the same way. We’ve designed an interface that covers everything from single notes and single-note runs, to power chords, to full barre chords and open chords. It gets pretty complex.
We have arpeggio language — it does take you all the way through to Expert, which is note-for-note authoring…for ridiculous songs! Like, “Crazy Train,” or “Rainbow in the Dark,” or whatever — these songs that have blistering solos — in order to beat those songs in Pro mode on Expert, you will have to learn the song.
The interview also talks about how the new guitar and keyboard peripherals will have MIDI out.
This is huge.
The line between video games and music creation is officially blurred.
The speculation is over. Harmonix and MTV have revealed the final song list for the much anticipated songpack sequel to Rock Band. We knew it was going to have 80+ songs on the disc, but in a slightly surprising twist, rockers will be getting another bonus 20 songs that will be downloadable for free in the fall.
As expected, Rock Band 2 will be a timed exclusive for the Xbox 360, releasing on that platform in September with the PS3, Wii, and PS2 following a few months later (presumably in November).
From the press release:
• After 14 years since Guns N’ Roses last official music release, Axl Rose selects Rock Band 2 to debut official new track “Shackler’s Revenge” from the highly-anticipated album Chinese Democracy.
• Rock Band 2 is the first and only video game to feature the music of AC/DC. It includes their epic rock anthem, “Let There Be Rock.”
• For the first time ever, music from American music icon, Bob Dylan, is featured in a video game with “Tangled Up In Blue.”
• Rock Band 2 will feature backwards compatibility with all Rock Band downloadable music content released to date.
• Owners of the original Rock Band will have the ability to export most of the Rock Band disc tracks and upgrade them into Rock Band 2 gameplay–the first time ever in videogame history!
There are some really awesome songs on this list. If all Rock Band 2 was just a song addon pack, it would be worth the $60 for the dvd by itself as each song would be costing you just $0.57. However, it appears as if there will be some minor improvements to the gameplay and the fact that you can import all of your songs from Rock Band 1 into the new format for free gives me a warm and tingly feeling as a customer. Harmonix is really pushing Rock Band as a platform, as opposed to yearly stand alone exploits to siphon money from our wallets.
IGN has an interview with Harmonix’s Lead Designer, Dan Teasdale, on the newly announced Rock Band 2 that will ship in September for the Xbox 360 and later in that year for other platforms.
Mr. Teasdale does an admirable job of answering interview questions without really saying anything of substance. He says that they have been reading internet forums rabidly and have made improvements to the game based on said feedback. Basically, it seems like there will be modest improvements across the board in game interface and instrument build.
The biggest tidbit of news is that all of your existing Rock Band DLC that you’ve purchased will work with Rock Band 2 and vice versa.
As far as Harmonix is concerned, there’s no difference between “Rock
Band 1 DLC” and “Rock Band 2 DLC” – we’re just releasing awesome songs
every week onto the Rock Band platform, all of which are playable by
the Rock Band titles that support DLC.
This is awesome news in the nascent rhythm game wars as a lot of people have sunk a significant amount of coin into downloading new songs. Making their investments obsolete *cough* Guitar Hero 3 *cough*, just leaves people with a bad taste in their mouths.
I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I’d actually feel better buying a $60 game with modest improvements, than sinking $200 on all new hardware. Especially if said $60 game contained a bunch of awesome songs as well. Granted, Guitar Hero has to catch up to the whole “full band” experience, but a lot of people have bought three generations of Guitar Hero hardware already.
For Pete’s sake, give us some time to enjoy the Chinese Plastic we already have!