Chords and Kawaii: The State of the Music Genre – Part 2

While the rest of the kids played DDR in gym, joey here was practicing chords and meeting groupies.

And now, I present The State of the Music Genre

1. Passing the Torch

Let’s take a quick look at what makes a game like Guitar Hero click. Rather than dancing on a pad, you imitate playing a guitar by pounding down on different buttons and keys on a plastic replica of a Gibson SG. There are chords, sustained notes, and a whammy bar for adding your own bit of personal flair. In order for the song to actually play, the player must correctly perform the notes, or else face failure. Particularly good play can net you Star Power, a technique that allows you to increase your score. As for future installments, it looks as if we will see music, more styles, and possibly even more instruments that will all be able to join together for a virtual jam session.

Now here’s the kicker; just about everything described above can be found in some form or another in a Japanese music game (I’m not sure if there’s an equivalent to Star Power, but I’m willing to bet that there is). Guitar Hero really doesn’t bring much new to the table. Even the idea of using a guitar has been done before. However, a lot of these concepts did not see the light of day on American shores until GH was released, and it seems to be the only series eager to bring more of them here in the future.

The reason Guitar Hero is so good, why I and many others are excited for even more, is because Harmonix isn’t content to bring just the foundation (DDR) to the West. They want to give us the whole damn house, and in a format that we can better appreciate. Which brings us to my next point:

2. I wanna Rock.

Guitar Hero isn’t just a curiosity among people in my life. My entire college apartment of last year liked it. Their girlfriends liked it (or were at least intrigued by it). Half the DDR Rave liked it. My elementary school cousins watch me play. Hell, my 50 year old parents like Guitar Hero, and one of them actually tried to play it (hint: it wasn’t my dad). Just about every major gaming website’s staff is under its spell. That’s a hell of a lot of people of all shapes and sizes, and I guarantee you that if it you replaced the game with DDR you would see a much different reaction. I doubt they would even stick around to watch me finish a song.

Now geeks and frat boys can find a common ground.

A lot of people like Japanese music, but a lot more people like rock n’ roll. I suppose that this is yet another way in which Harmonix is taking a cue from their Japanese counterparts; they’ve made a music game with music and style intended for its own culture. As I said before, Bemani will always have its fans here in the States, but at the same time it seems only natural that a western company would eventually come to take control of the western music game scene. It’s great if you can expand your horizons and appreciate J-Pop, but a lot more of us just want to rock out to Ozzy. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.

3. This one goes to 11…

I’ve heard some Bemani fans joke that Guitar Hero looks a whole lot easier to play than most music games. They say that once you master the controller, it all boils down to knowing when to use Star Power and nothing more. I can’t say if this claim is true (and really, if they haven’t played GH at all, they shouldn’t be making this conjecture), but harder or not, they’re missing the point. You can play the game just to earn high scores and still have a lot of fun, but to me Guitar Hero is all about the performance.

Meanwhile, there is only so much entertainment one can get from watching somebody sit down to a Beatmania keyboard, and a DDR routine only goes so far if you can’t appreciate the technique or the music behind it. Not to mention many people who play these games might be content just to play and do nothing more.

On the other hand we have Guitar Hero, which just begs for you to add some showmanship to your play. There are few GH players I know that don’t put a little bit of flair and acting into their performance, and just watching them is highly entertaining. For us average Joe’s and Jane’s who can’t play a real guitar, Guitar Hero is as close to being a Rock God as we can get. It is easily the most badass music game ever concocted. Who wouldn’t say “yes” to that?

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18 years ago

The problem is that people who aren’t into DDR think people playing it look stupid. Guitar Hero is a more layed back, and just cooler game. Dancing has always had its advocates (like Antonia Banderas in Take the Lead) but playing the guitar has always been and probably will always be cooler to Americans and probably all Westerners.

I’ve run into a nmber of “real” guitarists who dislike GH. I don’t get it, I play guitar and still think GH is a crapload of fun.

And the mention of GH on the Wii got me thinking. Will Nintendo let third parties use their technology to make new controllers? Imagine a guitar with a motion sensor in it and the awesome new showmanship that would entail. Even better, imagine a tiny pick controller you could use instead of buttons.

18 years ago

I have run into a large number of “real” guitarists who love the game. they too think the game is a “crapload” of fun. I think the people you met are just jealous that we musical mooks can actually evoke such a large amount of fun pretending to play the guitar, while they can hardly muster a smile when doing the real thing (unless they are Andrew W.K.).

GH is great because it is game that you play with friends, who are actually in the same room, clapping their hands in enjoyment as you pound out “ace of spades.” Playing by yourself is fun (insert masterbation joke here), but honestly, aren’t we all just practicing for our friends? I think that the crowd aspect game of the game, in combination with simple yet addictive gameplay makes GH so damned fun. Of course I just described DDR too. I think DDR only looks lame to people because of the culture it is designed for, while GH is “just a cooler game” because it was designed for us.

18 years ago

Guitar Hero 2 was one of the most popular games at E3 this year and I got a real kick just watching people play it. The lines were pretty massive, so I didn’t bother playing myself, which I have since come to regret. I even tore a little bit of hair out here and there, and now I have a sinking feeling I am going to be springing some cash for that plastic Gibson pretty soon. Well, a GH 2 Gibson, probably. If I can wait that long without pulling out more hair.

18 years ago

Since my reply to Dom in part 1 was so attrocious, I figured I ought to give him a proper rely in part 2. I’ll address some of his points, which I think the above posters highlight a bit in their own opinions.

“The problem with raves is that newbies are far too intimidated to step up and learn during the event, and that DDR takes tons of practice to get to a usable level. In my experience, even if they were ecstatic about the rave and the game, they still don’t get much better unless they play the game on a regular basis, which not a lot of them get to do unfortunately. The ones that do, however, come back time and time again and become masters themselves.”

There is no need to become master of a game that can be played infinitely on easy, or even beginner. Difficulty is not a deterrent in DDR when it offers so many options for customization.

“Think instead if the game were Street Fighter or Soul Caliber: Yes, people would love to jump in or think the game is excellent, but they are still going to get beaten by the more experienced players that have logged more hours.”

This argument has two flaws. Firstly, fighting games that are not well balanced can be won easily by people who simply button mash, just a new DDR player can fare well on a hard song by randomly stepping. Second, in an arcade fighters, there is only one option: two people fight, one person wins. That can certainly be a deterrent to someone who doesn’t play well. Again, DDR is only competitive if you want it to be. The person playing a song on hard can do so with a person playing it on easy by their side. And like I said before, most master players are very kind. I’ve never seen them force someone new into direct competition. They’re just happy to play along with someone, even if that someone is plying at half the difficulty. The only time a new player would feel intimidated by their lack of experience is if they choose to feel so, because no one is pushing that on them. I’ve never seen this kind of barrier of entry that you seem to believe in.

I think I know what you’re talking about though; the person who steps on, laughs a bit as they screw up, get off and say “no more for me”. I think this person isn’t intimidated. Rather, they most likely don’t care. I hate to beat a dead horse, but I really think it is a psychological thing. The player has never seen this style of presentation, or heard this kind of music. Its all a little jarring at first, and it hits them like a Japanese punch in the face. At the same time they’re talking all this in, they still have to play. It is like an extra bit of difficulty. When they are finished, they probably don’t want to play again because they don’t have any interest in what they’re seeing or hearing. There’s no motivation to master a song you don’t care much for.

Guitar Hero, at first, probably has a higher learning curve, considering your two hands are used for somewhat different actions. But most people don’t give up after their first try. The game is much more familiar, with a play area shaped like a music scale, and the background action is a band playing a concert. These are things they’ve seen before, it isn’t confusing, so they can focus on playing and nothing more. And when there are probably quite a lot of good songs that they’re dying to play, they have motivation to keep trying and improving. I know this may sound a bit far fetched, but it is the only explanation I can think of for this phenomenon.

“Fecitious as it sounds, while one fun thing about DDR is playing it, another playing it for a crowd. DDR is fun alone, but the game becomes exponentially more fun and realized when you are being watched, and is truly what DDR is all about. DDR succeeds as a spectator sport in the way that no other game has, with perhaps guitar hero as a sole exception.”

I don’t get this. I never mentioned DDR in a single player sense.

“Comparing DDR music and guitar hero music is, I think, a fruitless exercise.”

No it isn’t. This genre is all about the music. It is easily the most important factor. If the music isn’t likeable, someone isnt’ going to waste a lot of time with the game.

“DDR music doesn’t need to be Americanized to be good stomping music. Konami’s attempts, with a few noteable exceptions, of bringing American music to DDR have been miserable, worthless additions to the game. (Brittney spears? BRITTNEY SPEARS? You couldn’t pay me to dance to that.)”

Of course it doesn’t need to be American, but there’s no reason why it can’t.

“I don’t know who Naoki and Captain Jack are, nor do I care to purchase their music or join their fan clubs.”

Okay, I buryed myself with this one. You’re right, no one needs to know who they are, butif you play to their songs, my example was a bit extreme. But you don’t have to be in the fan club to like their music, and most people I know probably wouldn’t like it at all.

“The fact is that most American music which might make good candidates for DDR songs are just too slow to even have good steps or be challenging.

American music is listening music, not stomping music – which is exactly why it works so well for Guitar Hero. Guitar hero is realized best when the people watching think that the person with the guitar controller is really, actually, playing a song that they love. That stops and grabs people’s attention in the same way that seeing someone do Max300 heavy, double, stealth, backwards, blindfolded, and handcuffed does.”

I call bullshit, 100%. Americans do make techno music you know. So do the Brits. Lots of rock and pop is very fast. I know one of your favorite songs is Long Train Running. You do realize that that song was performed by the Doobie Brothers? And I can at least give you one example of a popular song that I believe would work perfect in DDR: Holiday by Green Day. It is very much possible to make a Western centric DDR soundtrack, but as long as fans complain, and Konami is lazy (by, like you said, including Britney), it will never happen. But to say it is impossible or fruitless is silly.

“If Konami wants to revive the DDR series, they need some more weirdass japanese techno-on-crack type of songs that are fun to dance to.”

I know I risk sounding like an even bigger dick, but this statement right here proves my point entirely. DDR fans like yourself think the solution is even more quirky Japanese stuff. In reality that is only what you guys want. As for me, as for what seems to be most of the VL staff, and as for many other people, that is the exact opposite of what we want. You’re right; DDR fans are like arcade fighting fans. They’re so stuck in their niche that have no understanding of what it is anyone outside of the community is really thinking. The game can stay exactly how the fans want it to. That’s fine with me. But in that case I don’t want to hear complaints about a lack of players or a smaller community. The rest of us aren’t stupid Gaijins, we aren’t ignorant masses. We just don’t feel like dancing squeeky voiced idols. I don’t think there is anything wrong with that, and unless both sides can meet in the middle, I don’t see a glimmering future for DDR.

“Is it niche? You bet your ass it’s niche, but DDR is one of those games, like Katamari Damacy, that operates without the need for precedent.”

Virtual On and Super Monkey Ball are arguably precedent for Katamari Damacy :p

18 years ago

PS – I’m not accusing Dom of calling anyone a stupid gaijin. That is simply a response I’ve often heard from the community that I wanted to address.