the rock band 3 keyboard

It’s worth mentioning that for my keyboard-playing in Rock Band 3, I’m using the official keyboard controller, and I’m really quite impressed by it — it’s solid, the keys feel great, and it has a standard MIDI output for use with a PC or other MIDI gear, so for the money (AU$135-ish locally, US$80 on Amazon), I think it’s a bargain. There’s a Rock Band 3 MIDI interface coming, which I could’ve used with one of the keyboards we already have in the house, but they’re a bit big for the lounge, especially with the drums set up. The official keyboard is tiny in comparison, and you can hold it like a keytar, which means you can play it standing up (and look totally bad-ass, 80s-style, while doing so).

The MIDI output works really well — if you’re in the market for a small, cheap MIDI controller, it’s definitely worth considering, and if you’re in the market for a cheap keytar, it’s a no-brainer. The touch strip on the neck, which can be used like a whammy bar in the game, acts as a mod wheel in MIDI mode, and the Xbox controller buttons are all repurposed to cover useful features, like octave up/down controls and program changes; Create Digital Music has a great article that covers all of the MIDI features.

The one thing it lacks compared to a modern MIDI controller is a USB port, but when you can get a basic, class-compliant USB-MIDI adapter online for less than $10, it’s not a deal-breaker. I hooked it up to my laptop using one of those adapters, and within seconds I was pumping basslines out of XSynth-DSSI, using the touch strip to control the filter cutoff while I played. Awesome!

november games

I’m aware that all of these games came out in October. I’m playing them now, though! I can’t be bothered with proper reviews, so here are a few quick notes on each:

Costume Quest — this is Double Fine’s latest, and it’s exactly as funny as you’d expect. It’s basically a cross between Zelda-style questing and adventuring and JRPG-style turn-based battles, and while there’s nothing much new to speak of in terms of gameplay, it’s all executed well. The art direection really steals the show, though — the Halloween setting is super-cute, and the use of costumes to gain abilities add an extra layers of charm. I do wish it was voice-acted (I assume that budget constraints prevented that), and I thought the combat dragged a little toward the end, but it’s still a great little game.

Super Meat Boy — I haven’t played a tonne of this yet, but it’s already thrown me over a barrel and beat me senseless, and yet I keep coming back for more. This is simple, old-school, tough-as-nails 2D platforming at its best. It demands precision, and often rote memorisation, but the levels are so short (tens of seconds, usually) that it doesn’t take long to learn them, the penalty for death is light (just restart the leve), and the controls are not just solid, but forgiving. Dying never feels cheap, and finishing a tough level always feels like an accomplishment.

Rock Band 3 — this really deserves its own post, but since I’m too lazy to give it one, here it is! On one level, Rock Band 3 is the Rock Band 2 you always wanted to play, with a far more flexible and intuitive UI that makes it much easier for each player to manage their instruments and preferences. On another level, it’s an entirely new experience, with the addition of a “Pro” mode for drums, guitars, and the game’s new addition: keyboards. I’ve been having a tonne of fun with the keyboard, but the cost of instruments for the other Pro modes may be a bridge too far. RB3 draws a line in the sand for older content, too — older tracks don’t have keyboard parts, or Pro Guitar parts.

the new console war

The whole 360/PS3/Wii battle is so last year; right now, the real console war is between Rock Band and Guitar Hero. Thanks to Activision’s fear of making Guitar Hero games compatible with Rock Band instruments, the release of Guitar Hero World Tour is going to mean a lot more crappy plastic instruments in loungerooms, and I’m sure more than a few people will have trouble justifying two sets of drums in particular.

I’ve bet on Rock Band, of course, but if you want an explanation, this review of Guitar Hero: Aerosmith pretty much covers it. Guitar Hero 3 was clearly inferior to 2: the note charts are often either not fun or are just plain ridiculous, and to make up for that, they made the timing far too loose. The final track, Metallica’s One, is such an incredibly bad song for the game that I still, after some 8 months, haven’t mustered the energy to actually finish it and hence get to the end of the Hard career.

I was hoping that Neversoft would get the hang of things after their first game, but it sounds like Aerosmith is just as bad, if not worse. Guitar Hero has lost its soul, but what did Activision expect would happen when it handed the franchise to a developer that’s been producing the same tired and stale skateboarding game every year for the last decade? Then again, even Activision’s CEO has said that Guitar Hero will be “exploited on an annual or close to annual basis”, so perhaps it’s all going exactly to plan.

rock band 2 — fuck yeah!

Harmonix announced Rock Band 2 about two weeks ago, but information about it has been very thin on the ground until today at E3, when it announced the complete set list. It’s one hell of a list, too: 75 tracks, all of them master tracks (no covers!), with 9 indie bonus tracks, spanning a huge range of tastes. There’s simply too many highlights in there to bother mentioning them, so check the list and see for yourself.

Other awesomeness confirmed for Rock Band 2 so far includes:
* new guitar and drum instruments which are apparently much improved — they’re all wireless now, and the guitar includes a light sensor and microphone that’s used to automagically determine the AV lag on your system
* if you have a spare US$300, you can a real Ion electronic drum kit that works as a drum controller
* DLC from Rock Band 1 will work seamlessly with 2
* if you have the Rock Band 1 disc, you can copy most of its songs in to Rock Band 2, probably for a nominal fee (I’ve heard “less than $5” mentioned)
* new game modes, including a Battle of the Bands mode, and a drum trainer mode that effectively teaches you how to play the drums

Of course, it’s all still compatible with Rock Band 1 instruments, and Guitar Hero instruments on the 360, so Harmonix is basically being as totally super-awesome as they can be, in stark contrast to Activision/Red Octane’s monopolistic bullshit. One thing Rock Band 2 lacks, which Guitar Hero World Tour is promising, is and editor that lets you create your own music, but to be honest I’ll be surprised if Neversoft manage anything genuinely usable in that regard — no-one wants to rock out to canned guitar sounds arranged MIDI-style.

The major unknown is whether or not this will see any kind of local release, given the delays that have plagued Rock Band 1. I’m not expecting it until some time next year, but I’m hopeful that it will happen. If not, I’ll just have to import a set of drums, and hope that it’s at least released in the UK sooner rather than later, so I can import the disc from there.