Word is that the Guitar Hero video game franchise is in trouble. Earlier this year game maker Activision reported disappointing sales of GH and associated title DJ Hero with new planned titles being squelched. Industry analysts agree: these are the signs of a depleted genre.
Why? Because these games don’t have enough realism. Even little kids know by now that Guitar Hero’s gameplay – effectively mashing plastic keys on the neck of a guitar-shaped controller in a vague rhythm – does not approach the rich tapestry of the live rock musician’s undertaking. Some gamers know this instinctively, and those who don’t eventually learn by listening to the sneering dismissals of the game offered by actual rock musicians desperate to crap on somebody. It seems nobody’s happy. Video gamers demand a more satisfying, realistic experience and will stop at nothing to get it (short of turning off their consoles and emerging into the actual world), while current game offerings are lacking in the grit and tension of the real thing.
What this genre needs is a little design input from a veteran of rock and roll. Today, I am that veteran, ready to exaggerate where necessary to improve the product. Here, then, proposed to the industry’s design community in plenty of time for Christmas, are Eight Guitar Hero Spin-Offs:
Band Hero: The realistic interpersonal band simulation. Navigate the complex creative and emotional agendas of the other people in your band – and later in the game, that of their spouses. Collaboratively produce songs by subtly subverting each other’s hated contributions. Simultaneously discover and navigate disparate goal alignments with the payoffs measured solely in aesthetics, never income. Balance a straight career with the commitments of a band without compromising either. Game controller is shaped like a bottle of Chivas Regal. Contents: Chivas Regal.
Tour Hero: Perpetrate the affront to human dignity that is touring without suffering any of the health risks. Simulate four unwashed guys in a dilapidated van, a diet of indigestible road food, a steady supply of intoxicants and a single Red Sovine CD that the drummer/driver insists on repeating for hours at a time. Controller is shaped like a bundle of filthy laundry bunched into a pillow shape. Scoring is based on ability to arrive at gigs in time to not get a sound check.
Sound Check Hero: In the game’s early stages, you don’t get a sound check. When you finally do, your goal is to have the stage monitors produce sound of any kind. Next level: stop the shrieky feedback. Controller: Wii (shaped like a microphone). Scoring based on effectiveness of your vague pantomimes attempting to get the attention of the unseen soundguy. Bonus round: show up to the gig in enough time to get the check but not too early so as to be sitting around waiting.
Load-in Hero: Your goal is to move large, heavy black boxes from one side of town to another in your car. Rewards the obsessive with a Tetris-like puzzle scoring system based on equipment stacking, spiced with the added risk of damage to spine and fingers, because the game controller is shaped like a Marshall 4×12 speaker cabinet and weighs 90 pounds.
Publishing Hero: While watching television, you discover your recordings have been used on TV commercials, shows and films with large audiences, yet you have not been told nor paid. Gameplay involves an odyssey of repeated attempts to have phone calls or emails returned from TV producers, networks or music publishers. Game controller is shaped like an empty mailbox.
Rehearsal Space Hero: You are stuck in a 10×10′ rehearsal space with laughably thin walls. Next door on one side is a Blues Lawyer / Blues Dentist band, and on the other, a Local Metal Band. Schedule conflicts ensure one or the other or both are rehearsing at the same time as your band, making it difficult to work. Game controller is shaped like a standard Guitar Hero guitar, which you use to play the neighboring band’s riffs back at them at dominating volume until you eventually force an ugly physical confrontation.
Guitar Store Hero: A simulated trip to a guitar chain store, where every minute spent serves to embarrass you further into rethinking your involvement with music. Scoring based on suppressing your impulse to choke the shit out of the guy over there who won’t stop loudly mangling the riff from “Enter Sandman” on a pointy guitar. Game controller shaped like a $50.00 guitar stand, manufactured in Malaysia out of seven cents worth of bimetal.
Mashup Hero: Your goal is to load looped segments of any two incongruous yet recognizable popular songs into Audiomulch, tweak the program BPM to 300+ and play the segments against each other until they overlap in locked tempo, producing “work”. Controller is (and is shaped like) a Windows PC running Audiomulch. Scoring is based upon real-life attention received for your efforts. Requires: Audiomulch license, shamelessness.