Casual Friday: The Guitar Hero Rock Band

For PC World's latest  celebration of slack, we're taking another rocking look at an ever-increasing trend in the video-game scene: music-based games. Guitar Hero kicked it off here in the states a few years back (evolving more with every update); meanwhile, Electronic Arts and MTV blaze ahead with a September release of Rock Band 2. I've brought this up in a couple different Casual Friday columns already, but we simply need to accept that games are the new MTV. And Guitar Hero: Aerosmith, which launched just this week, could be the next step in that direction.

The Interactive Box Set

The mini-interviews are cut together as though you're watching a Behind The Music episode.
Initially, I made a couple cracks about how GH:A should be like some VH1 Behind the Music special. Playing some less-than-"G-rated" moments in Steven Tyler / Joe Perry's career sounds fan-tastic (like a battle mode while chasing the dragon, maybe?), but a deep dive into the band members' lives, this isn't. It's an interactive box set. Need proof? There's a collector's edition bundle that ships with an Aerosmith guitar, an 18-page "Tour Book," and, oh, yeah, the game.

The disc packs tunes from throughout Aerosmith's career and throws in tracks from their contemporaries and inspirations, while also lacing in video interviews to walk us through their lives. It's interesting to hear firsthand about their first gig at Nipmuc high school and playing the gym--but bitter rock-n-roll historians will angrily blog about how an ancient Aerosmith shouldn't be time-travelling back to the 1970s to play a 2007 song, Marty McFly style. I wouldn't have minded following a younger version of the band and seeing them age with the later songs.

Just like being there--minus the sex and drugs.
Then there's the whole issue that you've really got to be a fan of the band. Personally, I'd like to see an AC/DC Hero, or Rolling Stone Retired Heroes--heck, I'd settle for Wham Sidekick (okay, maybe not the last one). But next time, instead of sound-bite cut scenes that last a couple seconds, really try to get into it and give me a better understanding of the band. Don't soft-soap it for a "Rated T for Teen" audience. Tell the real stories people want to hear--just like on those VH1 specials I was joking about. And don't forget to pick enough good songs that I want to play.

That said, wannabe rock stars (especially the Aerosmith faithful) will get their money's worth. But will gamers be able to say the same thing about their plastic axes and the next generation of music games? Good question.

Too Many Guitars!

Here's the scenario: We've bought the Guitar Hero games. We've signed on for Rock Band kits. Both are getting overhauled for the holidays with new gear. Add to that how Konami is finally getting in on the action by releasing its own take, Rock Revolution. That means three music games and potentially three sets of instruments cluttering up my living room. Great.

ARE YOU READY TO pay for a lot of extra plastic guita--er, I mean, ROCK?!?
Now in a perfect world, all these devices would work with every music game. They all run off the same concept with the same colored buttons--why not, right? The cynical capitalist in me sees a pretty logical reason for the game makers to stick with proprietary controllers: These pricey peripherals keep you from going out and spending money on the competition.

Asked point-blank if its new games would support other controllers, Activision declined to comment--but the company has been a notorious solo act. In the last go-round, Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock did not support Rock Band axes, while EA's band game works with Guitar Hero controllers.

One Harmonix spokesperson puts it this way: "Harmonix and MTV Games believe in an open-standard philosophy of hardware and game compatibility...there should be interoperability between music instrument controllers across all music games." Thank God someone out there is thinking of the poor shmoe (me) that has to justify all this gear to his significant other.

Fortunately, Konami is on the same page as Harmonix / MTV Games. According to inside sources, Rock Revolution will have a required classy drum kit, but you can plug in whatever game guitars you've got lying around the house. It will support the hardware from other games. At least I get to pick some of my "instruments." 

Game peripheral maker The Ant Commandos crafts a number of these music controllers, and its latest, a Widow Maker bass guitar, works on both Rock Band and Guitar Hero. (It works on the PS2 / PS3 only because Microsoft stubbornly refuses peripheral licensing, but that's a whole other story.) The short version, according The Ant Commandos COO, Raymond Yow, is that "we try to work with game developers on all the newest games. Why lock the consumer to one platform or to one game? Open up the standards, and whoever makes the best peripherals should win." Amen, brother!

Form Your Own Rock Band

Ah, to heck with all this. I know exactly what to do with all those extra controllers lying around. I say we download some software and form our own band. No, I'm serious.

Guitar Hero Guitars: A San Francisco-based hacker band called The Guitar Zeros created software so that you could rock your own riffs on the game guitars. Plug an axe into your PC and follow the instructions on the band's site.

Rock Band Drums: You got your shredders, but you need to keep the beat. Andrew Rudson hack lets you plug the game drum pads into a PC. And yes, an updated version supports the Wii drum pads, as well.

WiiMote Turntablism: Some bands need a DJ--and thanks to DJ WiiJ, you, too, can give it a go. He's grabbed all the required files and placed them on his downloads page.

Band Aids: All you need now is any ol' microphone...maybe a cowbell. And some groupies.

With the tools for the job all jacked in, it's time to learn some skills. I found a bunch of music training games at Flashmusicgames.com--plus a couple of goofy ones at the excessively pink GirlsGoGames.com. So take your pick, go forth and rock!

Have a great weekend, people. I'm out!

Senior Writer Darren Gladstone geeks out over gadgets, games, and odd uses for humdrum tech. In other words, he's a nerd--and he's okay with that.

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