DigitalLife ’07: Guitar Hero Day in New York City

It’s Digital Technology Week here in the New Yorks. For the fourth year in a row, media giant Ziff Davis is hosting its DigitalLife technology expo, and unleashing buttloads of premieres. From Gateway to M-Audio, to Microsoft to others, corporations are dishing out their newest gadgets (*cough* schemes and *cough cough* trickery) for the public to tinker with.

Red Octane premiered Guitar Hero at DigitalLife in 2005. Back then, they were an indie developer with an ambitious product that would be on its way to become the next-gen karaoke and street drug of choice for gamers worldwide. At this year’s expo, Red Octane is one of five featured “hot” companies (along with Ford, HD DVD and some others). A videogame is considered to be the cream of the crop in the technology game. Damn, gaming’s cultural status is leveling up (somewhere in-between Hasselhoff and foreign exchange students). And to further justify Guitar Hero‘s place in the public eye, the city of New York proclaimed September 26 as Guitar Hero Day. Hipster bars and gamers citywide held their guitar controllers in the air with one hand, and sported horns with the other. In honor of the event, the press was invited to try out Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock. I had the pleasure to meet and greet with Kai Huang, co-founder and CEO of Red Octane. Vernon Reid and Corey Glover of legendary rock band Living Colour came out to support as special guests, and mention original recordings they produced exclusively for the game. Kai mentioned how amazed he was at the success and icon status of Guitar Hero. He was also excited about releasing the new title on the Wii, and expanding more into the casual audience. The tweaking of the new controllers was also brought up with confidence. With his friendly and open approach to talking about gaming, I felt like I was talking to a fellow enthusiast and not the head of what might be the world’s most popular game franchise right now. I had mentioned the parallels between Destructoid and Red Octane, two companies with tremendous growth within a short time. Niero, the Ultraman of gaming blogs, and Kai, the Jimi Hendrix of Videogame Land.

Jordan Dodge, Red Octane’s PR man, was kind enough to show some of us the Wii guitar controller up close. He started to pull McGuyver tricks from under his sleeve, and proceeded to unlock and dismantle the neck from the body. The face plate was now removable, and he talked about custom plates that would come out soon after the release of the game. As you already know, the Wiimote speaker is utilized for mess-up clanking, vibration for star power, and the remote itself fits snugly into a battery-like compartment on the back. Sorry, soccer moms — no waggle rock here. Wii owners can officially shred (wirelessly) with the rest of the big boys.

I have been a Living Colour fan since my high school days, and it was cool to lay in the cut with these two down-to-earth legends. Vernon and Corey are both avid gamers and love playing Guitar Hero (Vernon admitted to sucking at the game). An important point Corey brought up was that Guitar Hero is a non-violent game franchise. His kids game a lot; it’s a rarity for popular titles to leave out wall-to-wall blood and gore, and this eases his mind as a parent, a point that had never really crossed my mind. See, rock stars can be insightful and intelligent — I told you, they are the hotness. Guys, if you’re reading this, thanks for showing love and putting up with my ass kissing. We hope you come visit us on the regular.

This old drunk guy can play GH without even using the buttons!

He gets all the middle aged journalists with his record score of zero…

So enough fanboying out, I’ll STFUAJPG now. The stage at Spotlight Live in Times Square was setup for the press to rock out, and Red Octane promised to get us filmed footage of our performances (will post as soon as it-‘s available). Albo and AHR of Geekanerd were also there to cover the event. AHR agreed to face off with me and she went with Pearl Jam’s mumble-jumble classic “Even Flow.” She destroyed me (damn, the girl’s got skills to pay the bills), so Team Geekanerd wins this round. Next time, I’m gonna git you suckas!

Guitar Hero III doesn’t stray too far from its original formula, which tends to be the complaint of gamers who are lusting for nuance in sequels. But it’s got an extensive songlist, including much more original recordings, and its not too karaoked out. And the 360 controller feels great (let’s hope Wii fans say the same for their version). The buttons on the neck feel a little smoother, the weight feels right (my first time with a wireless) and the construction seems sturdy (I’m not suggesting going Cobain with it). For of all you premeditating Rock Band sell-outs, don’t hate the tried and true original. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Agreed.

If you’re in the New York City area this weekend, come check out Activision’s booth at DigitalLife, and try the game out for yourself. My dilemma is whether to get the Wii version (Wiimote functionality) or the 360 version (downloadable content, prettier graphics), or maybe even the PC version. Oh, don’t forget to wish Jack Thompson a happy Guitar Hero Day…