Rock Band 4 is doing a lot of the fun things you want it to do
A few of my more effervescent, more gregarious, more alive colleagues in game journalism are on stage “rocking out” to The Killers. We are on the rooftop of a pricey hotel in Santa Monica, at a press event organized by Rock Band 4‘s developer and publisher Harmonix.
I’m standing at a safe distance, drinking fizzy water, eating puff pastry canapes and chatting to another colleague about politics in the Philippines. I’m having an OK time.
I’m supposed to be focusing my attention on Rock Band 4, but there’s more chance of Ferdinand Marcos leaping onto that stage than there is of me mounting the boards, swinging a guitar strap around my neck and yelling “whooooooo.”
I don’t care about rock music. I dislike crowds and I dislike loud noises. I don’t do public performances, excepting “Toastmasters” which I enjoy from time-to-time, along with half a dozen accountants, schoolteachers and self-improvement nutters.
Look, sometimes in this job you gotta cover games you don’t really give a stuff about. I played some Guitar Hero ten years ago and I thought it was kinda stupid. This is not because rock star sims are stupid. It’s a perfectly valid fantasy. It’s just not my fantasy.
But I can tell from the people on stage, the fact that they are having fun and coming back for more, that Rock Band 4 has something to offer people who get together and enjoy each other and music and the whole rock-‘n’-roll ethos. I’m jealous of their ability to enjoy this product.
If my grandmother, who does enjoy a good party, were here on this windswept hotel roof — instead of sitting in an old people’s home in Manchester, watching Britain’s Got Talent — she’d be up on stage, singing and yelling into the mic, mocking me for being a “boring old fart.”
Some of the journos on stage are as old as I am and, frankly, no more rock-star-ish than a bag of spuds. This is a game for everyone. Except me.
All video games are stupid, of course. That whole thing of, ‘you’re not really shooting terrorists or winning the World Cup, you’re just pressing buttons’ is patronizing and simplistic but every now and again you come across a game that has so little emotional connection to who you are that you end up standing there, gazing at the screen and saying “I’m just pressing buttons and my life has no meaning,” to a slightly bemused PR person.
Music games are often about pressing buttons according to visual cues, which is probably why the whole genre collapsed a few years ago. That and the ferocious greed of Activision, which insisted on publishing way too many of these games.
At the end of each song, the game offers up suggestions for the next track, which band-members can vote on. The AI crowd shouts out requests. This keeps the fantasy alive, avoids the tedium of back-tracking through menus, helps iron out the social difficulty of choosing the next song. This seems to me to be part of a convincingly earnest attempt by the people at Harmonix to do the thing they are best at, which is making music games that actually make people feel good, that allow people to have a good time.
There are new guitars and drums being made by Mad Catz (no keyboard) but you can use your old Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 wireless contraptions on the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 versions, which are due out later this year. Exported songs from those old games can also be uploaded.
A new group of journos are on stage banging out some Fleetwood Mac. My friend, the one I was talking about the Philippines to, has wandered away. I go in search of a developer to interview. Perhaps there’s a nice quiet room where we can sit and chat.