Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Mr. Show has a successor

Lowtax over at Something Awful announced a new advertising campaign for IFC's sketch comedy show "The Whitest Kids U Know". I was a bit skeptical about the quality of a sketch show I've never heard of, but I started watching one of the clips. And then another one. And then I had to stop, because I was laughing too loudly and risked disturbing my office-mates.

Check this out (it's safe for work -- if you have headphones):

They're putting up new clips on the site all the time, and of course you can watch the series on IFC (presumably DVD in the near future). It's like they cross-bred elements of The State, Mr. Show, and the Kids in the Hall to create a wonderful abomination of sketch comedy.

Abra Cadaver lives!

This is going to be yet another Rock Band post, so if you're not interested in the game (and really, what's wrong with you?), feel free to skip it.

Hillary and I finally got to try everything out last night. After anticipating the game for so long, I figured that it would almost have to be disappointing in some way.

Fortunately, I couldn't have been more wrong. The game is an absolute blast to play, and we kept on rocking for three hours straight (skipping dinner), despite sore wrists and ankles from the non-stop performing.

It's probably easier to just go over the highlights of the game and give my first impressions.

- The Fender Stratocaster is really nice, and it feels frighteningly like a real guitar. The fret buttons have a small learning curve, but I think they're easier to use than Guitar Hero's. The strum bar isn't clicky at all, but this doesn't bother me because I alt-strum (up-down-up-down) everything anyway. For you downstrum-only thumb players, it might be harder to get used to.

- The drums are amazingly fun, but extremely difficult with the kick pedal. It's hard enough to keep a rhythm with two hands, but just try throwing a foot into the mix. I mostly played on Medium, and while I didn't fail anything, I came dangerously close a few times. It's going to be months (or years) before I'm playing Metallica songs on Expert.

- Singing is much more satisfying than I'd expected. I'm not a good singer by any stretch of the imagination, but I nailed "Black Hole Sun" (mostly by virtue of already knowing all the words), and scraped by on the Stones' "Gimme Shelter". Hillary belted out a great version of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' "Maps", and she seemed to really take to the vocal section of the game.

- The notecharts are very well-designed. There are very few random three-note chords even on Expert, and the solos can get pretty hard without throwing in a bunch of bullshit notes that don't even exist in the audio track (Guitar Hero 3, I'm looking at you). The aforementioned "Gimme Shelter" is possibly the best guitar chart I've played in any of the Harmonix music games thus far.

- The character customization is extremely deep. When you start, your entire band is wearing cheap T-shirts and ratty jeans. There are literally hundreds of outfits and accessories to buy, as well as several dozen hairstyles, make-up schemes, and facial hair options (even the Lemmy-stache is included!). There's even a custom tattoo designer. As your band gains fame and money, the members develop new looks and become unique. It's a really cool way to do customization.

- The backgrounds and band animations are incredible. The problem with a music game is that you're generally looking at your note chart or lyrics. If you take a minute to look at the band on-stage and how the crowd is reacting, you really get a sense of the level of detail Harmonix put into the game. If you're really kicking ass, your singer might stage-dive into the crowd during a vocal break. The audience may even sing along with the chorus. The venue design really gives you a sense of being in a smoky, seedy bar that smells like ass (and, presumably, will scale up once you're playing 30,000-seat arenas).

There have to be a few tiny blemishes on the otherwise perfect experience, of course.

- The Band World Tour mode requires that the band leader is present. The resulting problem is that the band leader is a character, not a player, and each character in BWT mode is locked into an instrument. Hillary's guitarist was chosen as the leader (we're not sure why/how; she wasn't player 1, nor was she the one navigating the menus), which means we always have to have a guitar or bass player. No drums/vocals combination. This also means that when Hillary wants to sing or play drums, I have to play guitar or bass -- on her character. It's not a huge deal, but it makes switching instruments a pain in the ass if you have less than three people.

- The guitar note charts are a lot easier than Guitar Hero's, at least for the first half of the game. In GH2, I can play most songs on Expert but rarely have a good score. I breezed through most songs on Rock Band's Expert setting. I know it gets harder (and the downloadable tracks are way more difficult) , but playing through "Creep" or "Here It Goes" multiple times on Expert isn't much of a challenge.

- The downloadable charts don't seem to be as good as the ones included on the disc. Obviously, stuff like Metallica is going to be more difficult, but I was really disappointed at the note charts for the Queens of the Stone Age songs we tried -- songs that should be a lot more fun.

- No online Band World Tour mode. I know that Harmonix never promised one, but it seems like a no-brainer. In fact, this is the one scenario where I'd be okay with the game requiring the band leader to be present.

Still, these are extremely minor complaints. The game is the most fun I've had with a music game in, well, ever, and we still haven't unlocked 70% of the songs.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Retail adventures at half-past-goddammit in the morning

It is 1:45am.

I have Rock Band.

The enormous behemoth of a package shall lurk in a lonely corner of the computer room, neglected and unopened, while I regretfully attempt to salvage a half-night's sleep.

That is all.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

My fake band > your fake band

With the imminent release of Rock Band, many of us are faced with what may be the most difficult decision of our lives:

What do we call our new band?

I've come up with a few suggestions for the nomenclature-deficient:

Hamster Furnace
Abra Cadaver
Five-Alarm Moustache
Kawaii Five-Oh
The Burning Sensations
Monkey Day

Me? I may stick with my old standby of Rape Van Winkle.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

I've kissed mermaids, rode the El Nino

Sorry for the delay. Every time I get back in the groove of writing regular updates, I get really busy with something and before I know it, another month has gone by with no blog posts.

I'm still loving the new job, although it's far more hectic than anyplace I've worked in recent years. I'll start working on a list of tasks for our test environment, and suddenly I'll realize than nine hours have gone by. Things should calm down as the holidays approach, but right now we're in "we needed this released yesterday" mode.

Hillary's up in New York on her drunken slosh-tour, so it's just been me and Ahboo this weekend. It's taking an epic amount of willpower to remember that some french fries and a bag of pretzels does not constitute a nutritious dinner.

This morning I ventured out to Wal-Mart at around 6:30am to get some donuts. I noticed that they had set up a Rock Band demo kiosk in the Home and Garden section (which has already been converted for Christmas). I reverently picked up the replica Fender Stratocaster and began to play.

It didn't go quite as well as I'd hoped. The strum bar on the Strat was screwy, with the down-stroke either not registering, or registering twice. I managed to get most of the way through Suffragette City and Wanted Dead or Alive on Hard mode, until I found that the yellow fret had been sticking (thus explaining why I was missing so many notes).

Not to be set back by a wonky guitar, I decided to try out the drums. And let me tell you, they are an absolute blast to play. I tried Faith No More's "Epic" on Hard mode and five-starred it on my first try. Of course, the demo units have no kick drum pedal, which probably makes songs about ten times more difficult. Still, it was the most fun I've ever had in a Wal-Mart at 6:30am, restraining order notwithstanding.

The full game comes out on the 20th, and I absolutely can't wait. I haven't been this excited about a game since the original Baldur's Gate came out. Since up to four people can play, I fully expect all of our Birmingham friends to come over and rock out this holiday season. I promise I won't sing.