Monday, July 14, 2008

How Long 'Till Stairway?

All was quiet on the western front during last week's run-up to E3, but Harmonix was been slowly peeling the shroud off of Rock Band 2; Chris Dahlen posted an extensive hands-on preview for the Onion A.V. Club. As the finished product has (mostly) come into public view, there have been a number of excellent articles handicapping the upcoming bout between the second iteration of Rock Band and Guitar Hero: World Tour.

Because the two series will be functionally equivalent come the addition of drums and singing to the latter, the emerging consensus is that the contest will come down to content. Rock Band has a huge head-start in this respect, but Penny Arcade's Tycho nailed it, I think, when he argued that the fate of the two franchises may turn on the in-game content creator to be included in Guitar Hero: World Tour: “The message this feature sends is incredibly powerful, because it inserts an Infinite value into the mechanism of comparison. I've suggested in the past that this value presents an almost insurmountable obstacle for the review apparatus, where some ultimate "measurement" must be offered. If one game has infinite songs, while the other has finite songs, the reckoning is clear... I am a Harmonix stalwart to the end, but they've been outflanked.” Dahlen, in a follow-up post expressing his desire to keep the boundary between music-participation and music-creation intact, respectfully disagreed about the potential of the tool, noting the fact that “Except in small doses, user-generated content generally sucks.” This line of argument would have been much more persuasive if I had not seen two men pull some mind-blowing sounds out of the Korg DS-10 the week previous. However, I agree with Dahlen's claim to a point: if I have a choice between a theoretically infinite selection of Bluntr0ll0rz69's complete works for guitar and 15 tracks by The-fucking-Who, I am not being confronted with a difficult decision.

But this choice does not exhaust the possibilities, which is why I think the really important question is: How long until Stairway? As was mentioned on the 1up Yours podcast a few weeks ago, we don't know if there's anything in place that would prevent people from putting the in-game track creator to use in order to make unlicensed versions of all the songs and bands that we've been wanting in Guitar Hero and Rock Band for years. I'm betting it's less than 4 days between the release of GH:WT and the first Stairway to Heaven. I am willing to wager N'Gai Croal dreadlocks on this one.

So, I think the best-case scenario for the Guitar Hero adopter is that its music-creation platform becomes a lawless, piratical outland. It manages to sustain a small cadre of users who will dedicate their lives towards turning out ersatz editions of Physical Graffiti and staying one step ahead of the law. If Activision plays it smart they will intentionally make the content-sharing portal difficult to police and hope that they can avoid any legal responsibility for its users' creations. Supposing that you can eke out a respectable sound palette out of the music creator and that people will figure out how to make the note charts fun to play, (and I have no idea if either of these suppositions is likely) I think Tycho has predicted the Chancellorsville of our rhythm-game civil war.


Matthew Gallant said...

"Supposing that you can eke out a respectable sound palette out of the music creator"

This is the point I'm highly skeptical about. Even if a user can create their own version of Stairway to Heaven, I suspect it will pale in comparison to the original's heavily layered and engineered sound. That is unless Neversoft provides the creators with some fairly sophisticated sound editing tools.

At best it will be like playing along to a Led Zeppelin ringtone.

Unknown said...

I agree on the sound quality issue; that's especially significant with a band like Zeppelin that has a complex sound. My major concern, though, is vocal tracks, which, last I heard, can't be created in GH: WT. That's the element that allows Rock Band's (very likely) superior soundtrack swing it in my view.

Iroquois Pliskin said...

@matt: I agree that the sound-palette question is a big if, especially if it comes to recreating music that is heavily produced. I think people will try though, so if it is even remotely possible to get something in the ballpark of the original we will see it.

@zorak: This is true, but I'm thinking that when you play the user-created tracks in the game the mic will still be on, so that you can do karaoke without words.

jv said...

Your earlier post about note-tracking and Harmonix's musicianship applies to the differentiation between GH:WT and Rock Band. Putting a "music" creator into their game would be the furthest thing from the goals of Harmonix, which would be to instill a love of music in the player and encourage them to play the real thing.