|The music game genre|
|Written by Jeremy Schultz, Vidette Blogger|
|Monday, 21 February 2011 17:21|
In 2005, my life was changed.
It’s a story that has frequented my school papers and essays over the years. A topic that has been in my mind constantly, to the disappointment and annoyance of all of my friends, family, and other people I associate with, I’m sure (God forbid I’m in a corner at a party with you. I will talk your ear off).
It’s an argument I often discussed with my former roommates, being one of the few things in my life I will actually fight over.
It’s a matter that has inspired me towards a career, a company, and a lifestyle that will forever hold a place in my heart.
Any of my friends reading this know exactly what I’m going to write here (and I’m sorry you’re about to hear to the same broken record all over again).
I’m speaking of my attachment to the music video game genre.
As a writer for a music blog, I figured the time was right to create an article talking about the disbanding of the Guitar Hero video game. When I initially started writing an article, I found myself being way more absorbed in what I was putting to paper than I had initially anticipated, leading me to struggle over my emotions when writing.
The realization that the music video game genre had such a powerful effect on my life was so shocking that it was taking me weeks to come up with the words I wanted to use. Writing is generally not an issue for me, being able to put down 2000 word essays in a matter of minutes.
This post is a draining one for me to write and I find myself emotionally gripped from nostalgia being rewound and replayed through my memory like a VHS tape. Bear with me as I struggle to accurately match my feelings into English characters.
In 2005, my life was changed. Two small companies, one specializing in video games, one in video game controllers, came together to create a game reminiscent of the type so popular in Japan. RedOctane had a guitar-shaped controller resembling a miniature Gibson SG and needed a product for it, going to Boston-based Harmonix who found mild success creating such games as Frequency, Amplitude, and Karaoke Revolution.
I think anyone reading this will be familiar with the game that was spawned, popularized by a distinctive gameplay requiring the player to hit colored circles on screen in relation to a series of five colored buttons on the neck of the “guitar”.
The game was Guitar Hero and a new fad was born.
It was an instant and surprise hit, now generally referred to as one of the greatest video games yet to come out of the 21st century. A sequel soon followed in 2006, being another outstanding game, perfectly blending a combination of an amazing soundtrack containing music spanning decades and genres of all kinds, visually pleasing graphics, witty in game dialogue and content, and an acceptance of gamers of all kinds.
Both casual and hardcore gamers were able to reach a level of flow playing the game, which had difficulty settings gingerly placing the controller into the hands of newbies and becoming impossible to steal out of the hands of the video game elite obsessed over the game.
It soon became a common sight to see a few tiny, plastic, guitar-looking things in the home of any teenager, residing in the front room, the basement, or the family den.
The furious tapping of the colored, half-oval shaped buttons, the resounding click of the ‘strum bar’ and the occasional thumping of the whammy bar hitting the body of the guitar was a noticeable sound. Guitar Hero became the new karaoke of sorts, attracting crowds and thrilling the masses with the instant gratification of being a rock star and feigning some sort of skill playing guitar. Everyone has dreams of living as a rock star and Guitar Hero was the means of turning dreams into a visual reality.
A fissure began to crack in the young music video game genre only months later. Activision, a behemoth of a company in the video game world, creators of such games as the Tony Hawk series, Star Wars Jedi Knight, and the disgustingly popular Call of Duty series, would purchase RedOctane in the summer of 2006 for the price of $100 million, passing up the purchase of partner Harmonix and instead deciding to replace them with Neversoft, a company Activision already owned (a decision CEO Bobby Kotick would end up admitting to regretting). Harmonix was soon picked up by MTV, effectively splitting up the two children in the divorce.
In 2007 the division was expanded when Harmonix released a new video game through the publisher Electronic Arts. Rock Band was a game that continued to emulate the idea of playing an instrument but expanded it to include a drum peripheral and a microphone, a concept that Harmonix wanted to carry out for a while.
After the release of Guitar Hero 3 from Activision and friends, a carbon copy of Rock Band would be developed by the brand and a back-and-forth began between the hardcore gamers on both sides of the coin, claiming ‘their’ game to be better than the opponents.
A rapid influx of music video games ensued, with a staggering number of video games in the genre being released every year. There were years when the number of games in the genre was in the double digits and it was nowhere near uncommon to see new titles every month. Many cite this as the beginning of the end for the genre, flooding the market and creating an atmosphere of unexciting and disappointing releases.
Finally, just a few weeks back, Activision declared that there would be no new music video games released from the company in 2011, effectively taking Guitar Hero off life support and disbanding it indefinitely.
It doesn’t seem like anyone was surprised, having expecting the death of the genre for some time. Because I was lacking a computer I didn’t discover the news until a week later and I was distraught, to put it simply. In my mind, Guitar Hero had been dead for years, with the time of death being declared when Activision took the reins, shoveling out subpar games with terrible graphics and impossible and excessively difficult gameplay. The bastardization that was now Guitar Hero was disgusting to me and quite revolting. I turned to Rock Band instead and became an avid fan of the work Harmonix was putting out.
The entire time that the music video game genre was tops I had hoped beyond hope that Guitar Hero would die an honorable death before embarrassing itself further. Yet there I was in the Milner computer lab, staring at the screen in disbelief over the official conformation of Guitar Hero’s demise. The thing I had wished for had finally happened. But why did I feel so empty?
Being the pessimist I am, I felt the pit in my stomach beginning to expand. I feared the worst for Harmonix, the small company who were still wading along through the waters with their Rock Band game. Harmonix is also feeling the cold blow from the harsh winds from the apocalypse of the music video game genre, being dropped by MTV and EA.
Things currently look grim for the company, as they trudge on, trying to wait out the storm. They continue to release downloadable content for their game every week (an asset that has been incredible selling point for the games, resulting in millions of downloads and helping to solidify the idea of a never-ending video game). The company says they accept the old Guitar Hero fans with open arms, but there is a definite air of unrest and uncertainty from the loyal fans on their website’s forums. They are afraid of what’s going to become of their favorite game. As for myself, I am afraid of what’s going to become of my favorite company.
Ever since I was an underclassman in high school, I have felt indebted to Harmonix. Before I laid my hands on that plastic guitar controller, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I look back on it now and feel as if I was wandering around in a teenage haze. The only job aspiration I ever really considered was as a writer or a teacher because I excelled in English. Video gaming was a big aspect of my life from a very young age but I never considered a career in it. I have fond memories of playing the original Nintendo Entertainment System and games like Super Mario Bros, Rampage, and Dick Tracy for hours on end.
When I was eight years old I got my Game Boy Color and Pokemon Blue Version for Christmas. That Game Boy lasted me for years and became an essential accessory for every car ride. It wasn’t until I played Guitar Hero, however, that my eyes were truly opened and my dream of creating video games began, as well as the number of video game ideas populating my brain. Because I have a wide range of interests, I felt a degree in video gaming alone was not enough for me, so I instead decided to pursue degrees in Publishing and Interactive Media here at Illinois State while simultaneously working on my potential future in video gaming at home in my free time. Would I ever have imagined I’d be doing this back in my high school days? Probably not.
Something else changed in me as well. Before Guitar Hero, I never connected with music. Sure I enjoyed listening to music but my range of musical acceptance was not wide. I was very narrow-minded about things and was insistent upon demanding that there was no better music than classic rock (yeah, I was that kid in high school).
Guitar Hero drew me in with the amount of classic rock in the game but also laid the foundation for my future musical acceptance, providing plenty of interesting music for me to connect and fall in love with. I began to get ‘the chills’, a term coined by my friends and I for that unique feeling you get when bonding with a song, causing goose bumps, a shortness of breath, and an increased heart rate.
It is because of Harmonix that I am here writing to you today from the music blog. Harmonix is also the reason why I am a DJ at the on-campus radio station, WZND, as well as the proud owner of a music catalogue of more than 10,000 songs. I picked up a real guitar after experiencing the song More Than a Feeling by Boston in the original Guitar Hero title.
Even though I am not the most skilled of musicians, I still find joy in learning new songs and writing my own songs and lyrics. The phrase ‘hey, let’s start a band’ has escaped from my mouth so often that I cannot accurately count the number of times my friends and I have tried forming a musical act. Music has become an everyday occurrence for me and there isn’t a week where a large number of hours have been spent with music playing in the background of my day-to-day life.
Many questions are present as I write this article, unsure of what is to come of my beloved video game creators and the game that has changed my life. I have a feeling that I haven’t done my emotions justice. I feel unresolved, although I don’t know why I thought I’d be putting my mind at ease after writing this blog post.
Music has cemented a place in my life and will never be removed. I am forever grateful to the music video game genre and still hope that I’ll be able to send a job application to Harmonix upon graduate from college (whenever that will be). Even though I fear the definite end of the music video game genre may be close by, I have fond memories of time spent in the genre.
I remember a time where my friends and I would spend hours at the local teen center on cold winter nights in Chicago, sitting on the plush couches and rocking out to pixels and music brought together in beautiful harmony. I remember blistering summers spent inside my friend Kratchy’s bedroom, firing up the ol Playstation 2 and spending hours playing Guitar Hero.
Days of constant video gaming were spent at the homes of my friends Matt and Frank, plastic guitar controllers in hand. When Rock Band was released, we played for nine hours straight that Thanksgiving break, much to the frustration of Matt’s father. Virtual bands were always being formed with avatars for Vince, Frank, and myself, turning into aspirations of forming a real-life band with actual instruments. Rock Band competitions in the basement of Watterson were won by my roommates Pat, Ryan, Mike and I.
An item now a pop-culture icon, I’m sure this is something I will look fondly on for the rest of my life, and I am sure others have similar stories and experiences forever in their memories.