After 281 consecutive weeks of downloadable content, on April 2, 2013, Don McLean’s “American Pie” marked the day Rock Band’s weekly DLC ended. I visited the depths of my basement and saw the dusty remnants of my rock god past awaiting the next neighborhood garage sale. But though the age of popular plastic instrument accumulation has long since passed, the successes of Guitar Hero and Rock Band will leave an indelible mark on my memory of the current console generation, worthy to stand alongside of the likes of Super Mario Bros. and Tetris on the NES or Halo 2 on the Xbox.
Just the facts
Guitar Hero/rock Band titles (15) in my Xbox history (in no particular order):
Guitar Hero 2; Beatles: Rock Band; Rock Band Blitz; Rock Band 3; Guitar Hero: Metallica; Rock Band 2; Rock Band; Guitar Hero 5; Guitar Hero 3; Rock Band: Country Pack; Guitar Hero: Van Halen; Guitar Hero: Smash Hits; Guitar Hero: World Tour; Guitar Hero: Aerosmith; Rock Band: AC/DC
Rock Band Unplugged (PSP)
4 guitars, 2 sets of drums, 2 microphones, 1 keytar
447 songs in RB3 library, 8.9 GB on Hard Drive
461/671 achievements (68.7%)
8,600/13,250 G (64.9%)
17.5% of my total Gamerscore (49,092) is from the above titles
Just the feelings
I am not even sure where to begin exactly. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention two great pieces from Penny Arcade Report: the first describing Rock Band as the best argument for video games’ potential to be art, the latter a reflection on the end of weekly DLC. As for this post, it’s more personal to me, though I suspect the story is similar to many.
Maybe the seeds of Guitar Hero addiction were planted deep within my gaming soul when I was a wee child in 1981. Activision released a game called Kaboom! in which a mad bomber dropped bombs from the top of the screen in increasingly greater numbers and quickening pace. The player was responsible for dousing the bombs’ fuses in buckets of water maneuvered on the screen using the Atari paddle controller.
Fast forward to 2006 when I first played Guitar Hero 2 on a PS2. Falling jewels, odd controller, rhythm mechanics and a great rock soundtrack later and I was firmly hooked. I marathoned through (foreshadowing) my initial medium run through knowing that “Freebird” was the final encore. How perfect. The humor was pitch perfect as well, verifying that I really, truly, really wanted to attempt to play the legendary tune. I couldn’t wait for the game to come out on the 360.
When GH2 finally appeared on Xbox, I dove in head first. I made the slow progression through the game’s perfect learning curve. I added the orange fret to my repertoire, shifted my starting position to rest my middle finger on the yellow fret, figured out the benefits to the strum-less HO/PO, and lastly shifted from the down-press strum to the controlled up/down strum. I was so obsessed that I modded my X-plorer guitar, inserting small fret-sized, cardboard cutouts to increase button sensitivity/activation/deactivation.
The thing was, Guitar Hero and Rock Band became a cultural phenomenon. Non-gaming folks knew and played the game publicly. Of course the local game shop had a Van Halen-inspired GH booth for play, but the local sports bar had a Guitar Hero night and I came away with free swag for winning. In the course of the Rock Band evolution, I would play with my young nephews and nieces, brothers and sisters-in-law, and even parents.
There have been no shortage of GH/RB memories: working through Expert playlists, playing with the GameJabber band to compete with other Geezer Gamer bands, NYE 2008, putting together a full Beatles band (3 mics, Ion drums) at Game Junkie’s, seeing friends play and 5-star “Jordan” and “TTFAF” on Expert, drawing a small crowd at the GH arcade machine at the “World’s Largest Entertainment McDonald’s & PlayPlace” in Orlando with a little “Paint It Black” on expert (easily impressed I suppose), and seeing the well-worn spot on the carpet where I would plant my rear for hours at a time. But probably the most notorious memory for terribly right and wrong reasons, was the run Pez and I made on the Rock Band 2’s Endless Setlist 2.
Heading in, we knew this achievement run was probably a one-off, 100 G for Platinum, Gold and Vinyl Artist, and more importantly, 25 G for the Bladder of Steel. In the perfect storm of external factors, my then-girlfriend was not only out of town, but out of the country, and an October Sunday afternoon set up as our small window of opportunity. For the curious, the Bladder of Steel achievement required not only a serious, continuous time commitment (6.5 hours or so of Rock Band 2 goodness (and crappiness)), but, also, required serious skill to not fail while playing on Expert. Bad batteries, inadvertent pauses, a tough run on a solo section and the opportunity was lost.
It was a fine line to balance between consumption of BAWLS energy drink and 84 songs. I tried to assure myself that the 32 oz. Gatorade bottle would suffice in case of an emergency. Thankfully, I did not need to resort to that, but it was perhaps more from fear of well… let’s just say fear more than anything else. The mistake I made though was having my laptop on beside me. Not a problem by itself but made so when I decided to answer the Skype call from Kuala Lumpur from the then-girlfriend. Needless to say, it did not take very long to discover simultaneous internet calling and Endless Setlist 2 playing were not very compatible. A close call with “Visions” and a long-past due restroom break later, achievements were unlocked and my now-wife would always have a story to hold over me about how she lost the Skype/Xbox battle to Rock Band 2. And what can I do but shrug my shoulders and sheepishly mention that I love her.
So with some nostalgia, I dust off my modded plastic guitar, queue up “American Pie,” and “remember how that music used to make me smile.” And I do not exaggerate when I say I literally got goosebumps playing. It just seemed right… perfect.. especially when my wife, who had casually reading on the couch, asked if she could play with me.
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