There are two things in my life that give me joy on a daily basis (personal relationships excluded). These are things I have enjoyed for almost as long as I can remember: Music and Video Games. I was interested in music ever since my mom would play Beatles covers in our living room prompting me to join my elementary school band program (Bank Geeks Unite!) and video games have been an eliminator of my free time for just as long. I fondly remember going to my friend's house after school to practice both my saxophone key fingerings and practicing how fast we could get the Turtles to rescue April O'Neal before my mom picked me up. For most of my life these two things had remained autonomous from each other, save for haunting soundtracks for RPGs or the classic themes that complete strangers can whistle along with you (I'm looking at you, Super Mario Bros). Then one fateful Christmas I received my very own Super Nintendo Entertainment System. I got a few games that were awesome (Super Metroid and Super Mario World) and a few games that gave me a bad taste in my mouth (Chester Cheetah: Too Cool to Fool and Home Alone 2: Lost In New York...ew).
There was one game that stood out to me, though. It didn't have a plot, it didn't have levels, it didn't have any memorable characters or soundtrack. What it did have was a familiar plumber and his friends, and tools to expand your creativity and your imagination. I'm talking about Mario Paint.
Mario Paint my have flown under some kids radars, but not mine. Well, my parents got it for me because they knew I liked drawing and video games (good move, Mom!) But what they didn't know about was the music composer that also came with it. It was simplistic, yet the depth of your creation was completely up to you! Hell, people still use the program (emulated, most likely) to make awesome covers of popular song both from video games and from pop music (if you haven't seen these please choose from any of these fine selections
.) I still find this to be a very innovative piece of technology that helped to shape Nintendo's way of changing the way video games are played.
Cut to my sophomore year of high school. I was still playing in my school band, started playing a few other instruments (bass and keyboards, and professional kazoo) and still playing the shit out of video games. I had even evolved to the modern technology of the long-awaited PS2, which had quite the selection of software to choose from. I remember for my birthday I had a gift card to the now defunct Electronics Boutique (not really defunct, just swallowed whole by the Game Stop beast). Not really knowing what I was looking for, I decided to try the demo disc that was playing up at the counter to see if there was anything worth getting. The first demo I played ended up being the last for that day. It was a demo for the amazing and unprecedented Frequency
. I had never seen a game like it. Not only did it have an amazing electronic/metal/hip hop music soundtrack with puzzle-like gameplay (similar to my beloved DDR), but it had ANOTHER music editing feature! You could customize the tracks to make your very own song to challenge your friends with. I had never heard of this developer named Harmonix, but I knew I had to watch out for them. Lo and behold, a few years later they made the sequel Amplitude
After that I would see Harmonix's name on some odd games here and there (Karaoke Revolution? Really?). It wasn't until 2 years later that Harmonix really took off with one of the most well-known and culturally relevant music games ever made: GUITAR HERO
Holy shit, you guys. Admittedly, as a musician I thought the idea to be rather absurd.
I mean little plastic baby guitars? Bad covers of songs that I really like? I kind of saw the appeal but I didn't really give it a try until I played the demo setup at Best Buy. There was this kid who could be older than 8 playing, so I decided to give it a shot and do a face-off with him (keep in mind I was about 20 years old at the time). I chose the song that popped out to me the most, Infected by Bad Religion, one of my favorite bands. Let me tell you, that kid totally DESTROYED me. I was playing on easy and I just couldn't figure out how to get it. I picked it up along the way, but eventually the kid won and I had to leave before the small crowd that gathered made fun of me anymore. Now, any lesser person would just think to themselves "It appears that this is not, nor ever will be my game. I should go back to playing Diablo or Halo or just maybe pick up a book and quit games forever."
Let me say this: I am not a quitter. So what did I do? I freakin' went to the Game Crazy my friend worked at where they had a demo copy of Guitar Hero 2, played it for 2 hours until I mastered Medium difficulty, ended up buying the game and playing until I had tunnel vision for 2 minutes, and spent countless hours over countless days wasting my time and cramping my hands all to spite one 8 year old kid.
It's been a few years now, and we've seen Harmonix move on from their inception of Guitar Hero to make the multiplayer smash Rock Band (which I still sort of prefer now, mainly just because I'm loyal to Harmonix) in which now you and 3 of your friends play (slightly bigger) little plastic instruments and sing badly. Yet out of all my friends I am one of 3 who can actually play Expert mode on anything and get a 5-Star average. Playing against my friends would usually end up in my playing game after game and having my hands throb. Maybe it's because I have a music/rhythm background, or maybe it's because I have no life, but it would seem that mashing little colored buttons to the beat of a song made by a guy with a chicken bucket on his head is my area of expertise. And it's all thanks to that snot-nosed little kid.