Sunday, October 6, 2013

Bad at Games VI - We’re putting the Rock Band back together

Last entry I wrote on “Bad at Games” I talked about Halo and how we quickly became a bit obsessed with the game. We hosted LAN parties, created our own multiplayer variant games, and I continued to demonstrate how rubbish I am at most video games.

Lips video game cover
Sunday night was always Halo night. Friends from work would come to our place, often loaded with an extra XBox to network and we’d shoot the hell out of each other. However, our circle of video gaming friends was growing, and Halo was not everyone’s game of choice.

In the winter of 2008, I was hogging the TV again and I’d put on an episode of GamerTV or something similar that played on the obscure cable channels, and they were demonstrating a game called “Lips”. Possibly one of the worst names for a video game ever, but the wife saw the feature and she was intrigued. It made a change from the usual shooting, and seemed to be a great excuse to jump around the living room, singing along to various songs. The thing that seemed to sell it for her was the idea that you could import your own CDs into the game and sing along to any song you liked.

She put it on her Christmas list that year, and I bought it for her with a pair of motion sensitive microphones.

It was great fun, even if the choice of songs were not exactly our usual choice of music. We tried the import feature, but it seemed like a hastily tagged on extra to the game with very little skill. You could mumble any nonsense at it and it seemed to score – it was only on the songs that had been programmed in on the game disc that required some singing ability. It was either that, or I shouldn’t have tried importing Limp Bizkit.

That was the problem with the game really. Only two players, and the mainstream pop selection of songs. However, the game did have a bit of a blast during one of our Sunday night Halo gatherings, and everyone had a bit of a go. While it wasn’t the hit it could have been, the thing it did do for us was get us over the initial embarrassment of singing in front of a group of friends. We racked up the achievements, went through all the songs, and then Matt suggested the following week that he’d bring around his Rock Band kit and we’d give that a try.

I’d seen clips of Guitar Hero and Rock Band on TV, on similar video game TV shows that introduced us to Lips, and I have to confess I thought they looked pointless. To me it was just timed blocks coming down the screen, press a button, or bang the drum at the right time. What was the fun in that? But I was game, and as promised theGuitar Hero controller, and Rock Band.
following week Matt appeared on the doorstep with microphone, drumkit, guitar and a spare

It seemed to take a while to set up, but eventually the game was ready, the disc fired up,

We were all initially cautious, not having played something like this before except for Matt, so we played on Easy. Even then I was still having difficulty on the guitar (admittedly, I did opt for Enter Sandman for the first track we played), but we got the hang of it, and I was starting to see the appeal.

We swapped instruments and I ended up on drums. Obviously, none of my father’s drumming talent was passed on to me (he used to play in the work’s band when they had dances. I later discovered that he had a number of certificates in piano from a prestigious London music college!) I could drum with my hands, or one hand and one foot, but putting the three together was a bit of a disaster. Luckily, on Easy Rock Band seemed to know this and alternated between the two. I was drumming.

Rockin' in the free world. Charles, Matt, Me and Adam
There’s something about Rock Band that you just don’t get until you play it. Maybe it’s the physical position you’re in – you’re not playing a video game with a controller, the Rock Band controllers are instrument shaped so you feel like you’re actually playing an instrument. The game cheers at you, you feel like you’re in a band, and if someone falters and fails your bandmates can bail you out and help you along.

It’s the difference between playing Risk and playing D&D. Risk is all about defeating your opponent, and sometimes even making false alliances that you quickly betray for an easy victory. D&D is about working together for a common goal. And in Rock Band no one was suffering. Even in Halo when we played as a team you could get picked on or feel like you were letting the side down. Rock Band there were no opponents to badmouth you online. It was about playing gigs, entertaining a virtual crowd, and getting through the songs intact.

The evening flew by, and Matt packed up the kit and headed home. I sat with the wife afterwards and we just looked at each other with massive grins on our faces. She felt it too. The adrenaline of the game, the roar of the crowd, the feeling of making music. We were hooked.

That week I got the credit card out, bought Rock Band 2, the drums, the guitar and microphone. Then visited our local musical instrument supplier and bought a microphone stand, and drum stool.

Months passed, the Sunday evening Halo nights became Rock Band nights. We toured the world, downloaded new songs, and rocked the planet.

Rocking in public for Charity. Me, Adam and Alex
We took it a stage further – the Endless Setlist was challenge in the game to perform every song on the disc in one “concert”. There was also the “Bladder of Steel” achievement for completing the Endless Setlist without breaks or failing. We saw this as a challenge we couldn’t pass up. We’d progressed to a fairly good ability with the game, some of us were playing on Hard-Expert by now, and we figured we’d do the Endless Setlist in a different way – in public.

We’d round out the setlist to 100 songs, and with the help of a particularly cool venue – Fusion, a giant digital gallery that would project the game on screens behind us, we would play in public, without breaks, and raise money for the Brain Tumour Trust. Harmonix, Rock Band’s creators, sent us T-shirts. We were mentioned on Inside XBox. We were in the newspapers. Fame beckoned.

It was exhausting, but awesome. We were rock gods. Nothing could stop us. Or so I thought.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

It's Written in the (WILD) Cards...

Okay, I have a confession. I’m terrible at motivating myself.

I’m one of the Kings of procrastination, and I will often find myself sitting and staring at the newsfeed on Facebook rather than actually doing anything even remotely productive. If I have a project I’m enthusiastic about, I’ll put every waking moment into it, but after time I can become tired and bored.

What I need is deadlines. Luckily, I’m in a little group of writers we like to call “Write Club” (though we do not talk about Write Club), and we meet once a month to chivy ourselves along. We hear how each other’s projects are coming along, and offer advice and encouragement. Last month we decided to set goals, to give ourselves something to aim for. I knew that NaNoWriMo was approaching in November, and while I have an idea of what I’d like to write, I thought it would be helpful if I finished the Tarot cards for the WILD RPG before then.

The roughs for the Suit of FOCUS, for the WILD RPG's Tarot

The benefits of completing them were many –

* I’d be able to actually start playtesting the game. The cards are fairly integral to character creation, and I’ve been wanting to try that out for a while.

* If I got stuck for a direction of where to go with writing the NaNoWriMo book I could draw a card and see if it inspires a plot twist or more.

* I wouldn’t be drawing cards when I should be writing.

So I set myself the task of completing the full set of WILD Tarot cards by the next meeting, and thankfully, I managed to hit my goal. It required drawing roughly two or three cards a day, but I did it. They’re only rough, but they give the impression of what the cards will do in the final game, and I can use them to generate some characters and see if that process works at least.

I mentioned the cards briefly in a previous post, but the tricky bit has been working out the images for each card. I’ve tried to incorporate not only the classic meaning of the Tarot card, but also some aspect of the most commonly recorded dreams, as well as keeping a narrative element that you’d normally find in Tarot cards only this time telling the story of the characters who were involved in pioneering the dreamshare technology.

The roughs for the STRENGTH Suit for the WILD RPG Tarot

Rider-Waite version
of The Lovers
I showed the cards to some of the Write Club group at the most recent meeting, and one of the comments was exactly what I’d hoped. “The Lovers card, it doesn’t look like they’re supposed to be together, it looks like it’s an affair.”


In the traditional and Rider-Waite imagery of the Tarot, the Lovers card usually depicts a couple as you’d expect, but sometimes it’s about the choice between two people. In the narrative of the Tarot suggested by a couple of books I’ve read, they’ve said that it sometimes represents the man’s choice between staying at home with his mother, or leaving with the new love in his life.

For WILD, I’ve interpreted the card slightly differently, with the card showing the wife of the creator of the dreamshare technology, having an affair with another man. This is part of a long story of her being ignored by the tech inventor, as he spends more and more time working on his computers and creations, than being at home with his wife and daughter. There’s a tale of separation and redemption, about creating the device to be with his daughter, and… well, I won’t give it all away here.

Very, VERY rough
version of WILD's
The Lovers
So the card not only reflects the traditional imagery of the Tarot, it also tells part of the story of the dreamshare device, and the people who made it. On top of that, some of the most common dreams that people have are incorporated into the cards as well. In this case, it can be many of the most common themes in dreaming – showering or bathing, being discovered somewhere you shouldn’t be, finding yourself naked, having an affair, having an argument, or simply a sexual encounter. The GM can take any of these dream-elements and incorporate them into the game if control over the dream is lost and the expected narrative succumbs to the randomness of dreams.

On top of all that, the card suits have been renamed to the four Attributes in the game – they seemed to match their Tarot counterparts perfectly – and the Court Cards, when paired with the Ace of each suit, can be adapted to match the five “Skills” in the game (I put Skills in quotes as they are more than just Skills, they’re more descriptors – broad areas of ability).

All this and I haven’t really touched upon how the cards are used in character creation. We’ll come to that after I’ve given it a try to see if it works.

Until next time, stay multi-classy!