What Rock Band 2 could provide

I am a casual player of the music genre. Whenever I am caught spending time with a plastic guitar strap over my shoulder, it usually means I’ve had too many glasses of fine bourbon. Additionally, it means that I have run out of good ideas about what to do for the night. I watched Dance Dance Revolution, PaRappa, Karaoke Revolution, SingStar, and Samba De Amigo sweep past me. Really, I think it is attributable to the disillusionment of these games. I just could never find myself in the proper mood or confines to try them.

It wasn’t until Guitar Hero that I finally understood that music-based videogames could be fun. While I still required a proper amount closeting to really enjoy playing “Fat Lip” by Sum 41, I started to get why other people could enjoy the genre as well. My real education into these games came on the night of the release of Rock Band. I crowded into my local game vendor at midnight to purchase Mass Effect, while my girlfriend was there for Rock Band. As these things typically work out in a relationship, I found myself straddling a chair playing drums instead of my beloved science fiction role-playing game.

Rock Band showed me what an enormous music game could and couldn’t do properly. While I enjoyed my experience with the game, there are several valid critiques of the game that I can convey, as both a casual player and a writer. With the announcement of Rock Band 2 freshly over, I think it may be time to explore what the next rendition of Harmonix’s ground breaking game could provide for all of us.

The largest selling point of any music game quickly boils down to track listing. Hitting every possible niche is a daunting task, and every game fails in this regard. The great thing about Harmonix with Rock Band is that they have shown a heavy interest in at least attempting to bring it all to the consumer. This topic is especially pertinent to me, as I hate the majority of popular music. As I grow older, I find myself stuck in an endless rut of Skinny Puppy, KMFDM, :wumpscut:, and pre-hipster Nine Inch Nails. I was delightfully surprised to find out about the Nine Inch Nails downloadable content, especially the inclusion of “The Perfect Drug.”

While I am happy that I can jam to “March of the Pigs” in one of my drunken stupors, I think it brings the validity of DLC up. Should Harmonix really be charging the people that it isolates money for the music they desire to play? This is definitely one area where Rock Band 2 could greatly improve. I envision it this way. When specifically targeted DLC swings to consumers, Harmonix should offer one track for free, perhaps as a “thank you” for having that bulky drum kit shoved in my closet. That one free track could be a steppingstone. First, it would expose people to the music. Second, it would provide an opportunity for me to want to buy more of that album or package. Third, it would give me back the initiative to turn the game on again after I felt like I already mastered or played to oblivion everything I liked.

Another key thing that Rock Band 2 could provide are instruments that are durable, but still responsive to player commands. I think we are all too familiar with the stories and personal experiences of broken or flimsy guitars and bass pedals. In an interview with IGN, lead designer Dan Teasdale had this to say on the subject.

Rock Band 2‘s instruments will not disappoint … Along those lines, we’ve been able to take all of the feedback we’ve received to make quieter, more realistic, and more reliable instruments.

Great, except when he says “reliable,” I hope he means, “reinforced with something other than extremely cheap plastic parts.” I would hate to have another debacle with sending back a guitar to the publishing giant EA. Dealing with their overly bureaucratic methods made my head spin. Rock Band 2 needs to forgo the gummy strum bar, cheap drumheads, and bad bass pedals. Even better, how about creating a secondary guitar called a “bass?”

Another thing that Rock Band 2 should really provide is a more casual atmosphere. For players like me, Rock Band can appear rather daunting. The game boots up with players thrashing on top of a moving vehicle, and all the while I’m busy trying not to trip over the horde of cords scattered on the floor. The glitz and glam of Rock Band is intense and the set lists are often huge. Hell, some songs are just too damn hard for me to wrap my head around. My ideal play session is just relaxing and having fun, not necessarily chasing a leaderboard stat or pushing buttons until my hands go numb, which speaks to that difficulty jump everyone fears. Some songs are just too easy on medium, while others can be a stretch for someone with meager abilities. Rock Band 2 could kill this curve.

I also think that Rock Band 2 could greatly expand upon its multiplayer elements, both online and offline. When I invite friends over to my apartment, it is a huge ordeal to get out all of the instruments, dig out the USB splitter, and get everyone plugged in. How about making every instrument wireless? It is even more of a problem trying to navigate the various 360 menu hiccups when trying to get everyone ready to play online because no one wants to be the singer. Please, let Rock Band 2 be more intuitive when it comes to guest accounts and ease of use.

In the end, I realize that I am not a “hardcore” music genre player. Perhaps Rock Band is not for a guy like me, someone who uses videogames as both a form of entertainment and a profession. Even though Rock Band 2 is on the horizon, it is definitely not late enough to consider some of these finer points. The game has much room to improve, but I wonder in what direction Harmonix will move. Will it try to accommodate a player like me that is more concerned with these small issues?

Rock Band 2 could provide an awesome experience for everyone, given that Harmonix is willing to listen. They have already proven that by including a music mixer, a community staple. What are some of the things that you guys think Rock Band 2 could provide? Do you find these points invalid? Let me know.

Brad BradNicholson