gaming silly season 2009

With September nearly past us, we’re once again moving toward the silly season, and that means another Mega Holiday Gamesplosion — in fact, you could probably argue that Tuesday’s release of Halo 3: ODST marked the season’s official start. A tonne of games that were due before Xmas have since been pushed back to early 2010, but there’s still a solid line-up of stuff that I’m interested in (though I may have forgotten something):

  • September: Halo 3: ODST
  • October: Forza Motorsport 3, Brutal Legend
  • November: COD: Modern Warfare 2, New Super Mario Bros. Wii
  • December: Zelda: Spirit Tracks

I’m as surprised as anyone that there are two Nintendo games in that lot — for all its talk of Wii Sports and Vitality Sensors Nintendo is actually pulling out a couple of big guns this season. New Super Mario Bros. Wii (forever henceforth known as NSMBW) is aimed squarely at the 2.5D co-op platformer space that was so neatly filled by the infinitely charming LittleBigPlanet last year, and I have no doubt that it’ll inspire the same crazy four-player sessions in our house.

Beyond that, I’m trying to limit myself to one game a month, and the only other guaranteed buy there is Forza 3, which is easily my most anticipated game of the year. Brutal Legend will be an eventual must-buy as well — maybe I’ll get that in December instead of Zelda.

sketchbook: not-quite-guitar

I’ve never learned to play guitar, but I wondered the other day if I could synthesise something similar to the sound of a distorted electric guitar, and I don’t think this sketch is too far off. The raw sound is from the Blofeld, and is very vaguely guitarish, but running it through a guitar amp/cabinet sim on the PC adds that distorted character to it.

20090920: 34 seconds

sketchbook: distorted doofy thing

I’ve been playing around with some more distorted sounds on the Blofeld, so here’s a couple of them, with some 909 drums courtesy of Hydrogen. The pad sound is running through a chorus with fairly extreme settings — they’re not far from the chrous plugin’s defaults, and while it wasn’t at all what I was going for, it sounded cool, so I stuck with it.

20090912: 50 seconds

random updateapalooza

  • The Beatles: Rock Band isn’t the only thing I’ve been playing lately; I also picked up Shadow Complex, which I mentioned a couple of weeks ago. The short review for this is: Shadow Complex = Super Metroid. The graphics are entirely 3D (and quite sophisticated at that — Unreal Engine 3 and all), but the gameplay is 2D, and a shameless ripoff of/homage to Super Metroid. For 1200 spacebucks, it’s a bargain, and an absolute must-buy (or must-download-trial at the very least) for anyone with a 360 and an interest in classic 2D action platforming.
  • I have a couple of little upgrades at my little home studio — I’ve borrowed Kat’s old keyboard to replace mine as the controller, since it has aftertouch and my old Yamaha doesn’t, and I picked up a little mixer as well. The mixer’s mainly there to give me some mic preamps, since the next thing I want to grab is a decent entry-level mic.
  • I’m writing again! It’s just a small part of a feature article, but the invitation to do that was quite a welcome sight in my inbox. It’s due on Monday, so I’ll have to get cracking on it over the weekend!
  • The work coffee machine is back! It was out of action for nearly two weeks after the guys here managed to burn out its element from sucking too much hot water out of it; the damage was damned impressive. The whole thing was especially annoying because my home machine has broken down as well, but my trusty plunger came to the rescue.
  • On the subject of coffee, it’s actually interesting to see a minor resurgence of non-espresso coffee in some of Melbourne’s best cafes. There are no plungers as such, but Seven Seeds has a Clover, which is somewhat akin to a very sophisticated plunger, St Ali serves coffee made with a vacuum brewer (usually called a vacpot or siphon), and Liar Liar has both on offer. St Ali also has a new espresso machine: it cost over $30k, it’s called the Slayer, and yes, it’s fucking metal. \m/

it took me so long to find out, and i found out

So, The Beatles: Rock Band is here, and I can happily report that it’s just as awesome as I hoped for. I fired it up the story mode last night, and within three hours I’d finished the whole thing, mostly on guitar/bass, but with a chunk of singing in the middle as well. At it’s core, it’s what you’d expect — Rock Band with Beatles songs — but what sets it apart from the earlier Rock Band games is the incredible amount of care and attention that’s gone in to it. It’s an amazing game to look at, from the song visuals themselves through to the photo-collage videos that bridge between the game’s different venues and eras.

All of the modeled venues look great, but the really impressive stuff is in the “dreamscape” sequences, which are used for the songs performed at the Abbey Road studios. Most of these start with the band in the studio, but then transition in to idealised performances in surreal, and sometimes very trippy, settings, and each of the songs set in Abbey Road (nearly half the game) has its own dedicated sequence. There’s also a tonne of unlockable Beatles memorabilia to check out, such as photos and videos.

There’s one genuinely new feature in this game over previous Rock Band games, and that’s the vocal harmony system, which lets you have up to three vocalists singing at once. Harmonix has been very clever with this — anyone can sing to any vocal line at any time, so all three vocalists can just sing the lead if they want, but if you do choose to harmonise and you pull it off, you get bonus points. It also supports the Lips mics on the 360 (and the Singstar mics on the PS3), so I already have three mics ready to go.

So, as both a love-letter to The Beatles and a super-fun party game, The Beatles: Rock Band definitely delivers. The only thing that could improve it is a greater selection of songs, but with the amount of work that’s gone in to each of the game’s 45 songs, I think it’s good value out-of-the-box. Besides, DLC is coming — all of Abbey Road will be downloadable for a fee on October 20, with Sgt Pepper’s following in November and Rubber Soul in December.

a life well wasted

Episode 4 of Robert Ashley’s podcast, A Life Well Wasted, is up, and it takes a look at some of the people that create their own works inspired by video games: cosplayers, visual artists, and fan fiction writers, among others. As always, Ashley’s interview subjects and their comments are fascinating, but it’s the production that makes A Life Well Wasted stand out — it’s as far away from the “three guys talking shit around a voice recorder” format usually associated with the term “podcast” as you could imagine.

Ashley makes very high-quality voice recordings and then weaves them together with original music and sounds to produce something very unique, and as much a work of art as anything this episode covers. I can’t recommend it highly enough, to anyone with an interest in gaming culture.

more like “shot through the head”, amirite?

It’s pretty well established that I’m not a fan of the current Guitar Hero games. After GH2, when original developers Harmonix left Activision to develop Rock Band, Activision has farmed its development out to studios more accustomed to Tony Hawk games and cheap movie tie-ins, and the results have been very mixed. With the way Activision has been whoring out the franchise, it’s clear that it has no shame, but the release of GH5 has made it more clear than ever before.

GH5 has ruffled a few feathers due to its inclusion of some very famous dead guys, namely Johnny Cash and Kurt Cobain. If you skip the initial outrage, it doesn’t actually seem that bad — after all, no-one seemed to mind Jimi Hendrix’s appearance in GH:WT, and The Beatles: Rock Band has two dead guys in it too. When you see what GH5 does, though, the difference between the Guitar Hero and Rock Band series becomes very clear:

Exhibit A: The Beatles: Rock Band, a very respectful and loving homage that’s clearly the result of an incredible amount of research and effort

Exhibit B: Guitar Hero 5, where Kurt Cobain sings Bon Jovi songs alongside a skeleton and a woman wearing a bikini and angel wings

Can you say “sellout”?