Thursday, December 21, 2006

Guitar Hero

I was just going through some of my files and I remembered this article that the Boston Herald never ended up running. So: Rare outtakes! How awfully exciting. Too bad I don't have the pictures from the photo shoot that the Herald photographer took, because my friends Nervous Zack and Jay look pretty goofy rocking out so hard to a video game. Instead, here's a really serious one of Zack rocking out with his band The Information.

Normally when they take the stage it’s to play in front of sold-out crowds. Tonight the audience is more particular: a living room of heckling friends. Zack Wells of the band The Information, and Jared Marsh of Taxpayer are going head to head in Guitar Hero, the Playstation 2 phenomenon that makes rock star dreams a virtual reality for everyone.

A game that can turn regular people into guitar heroes begs the question, can it turn literal guitar heroes into regular people? I set up a highly scientific study to find out.

Our two competitors breezed through the first few rounds, usually scoring in the upper 90% in terms of accuracy. Using the game’s guitar-shaped controllers, the gamers tested their chops as they attempted to “play” the music onscreen, manipulating a series of button sequences that correspond with notes from popular songs. It’s absolutely exhilarating to watch, and even more so to play.

“It’s a lot like Simon,” said Wells, slaying Pantera’s “Cowboys From Hell”, “but with a guitar. And it’s a lot more complicated. When you play an actual guitar you can look down to reset yourself, but on this if you look down, you lose it.”

“You have to ignore any type of strumming patterns you naturally want to do,” said Marsh, racking up serious “Star Power” bonus points during his “More Than a Feeling” solo. The virtual in-game crowd loved it. Then he hit a rough patch. “Have another beer,” cracked Wells.

Unlike playing in a band, “In this game,“ Marsh replied, “alcohol is not your friend.”

During simultaneous competition on Franz Ferdinand’s “Take Me Out”, the two began to mug for the Herald Photographer, adeptly playing varying riffs from the same song while trying to pose like rock stars. “I’m kicking your ass now!” said Wells, as he pulled ahead briefly. “I’d say the same thing about our real bands too!”

But it’s Marsh who scores highest in the end. “I was winning till I started screwing around for the cameras,” Wells complained.

“Just like when you see cameras at a real show and flub a solo,” added Deb Grant, Zack’s Information band mate.

The game was developed by Cambridge’s innovated Harmonix Music Systems and has won a variety of gaming awards. The sequel will arrive in stores this November. Songs from Boston bands the Upper Crust, Count Zero, The Slip, Freezepop and the Model Sons, among others, appear on the soundtrack. “That’s because Harmonix is run by Boston bands,” (including members of Freezepop and Count Zero) said Scott Sinclair who was a senior artist at Harmonix, as well as the bass player for the now defunct Model Sons.

“Actually I’m terrible at the game, “ he said. “I’ve beaten it on Hard, but Expert is beyond my skills. I’m not sure what that says about my ability to play bass.”

After another decisive victory in Ozzy Osbourne‘s “Bark at the Moon”, Marsh is declared the contest’s winner. In this case, it turned out that being a lead guitar player didn’t actually help Wells in the end. “It must suck having to lose to a singer/rhythm guitarist” jibed Marsh.

“We should plug in the electric and see who can play the real song after this!” Wells responded.

“Now that wouldn’t be fair…At least you had the most one-liners.”