Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Does Guitar Hero discriminate against drummers?

I got my first drum kit aged 8 and, over the next 15 years, played it to the extent where I destroyed my ears, my parents' relationship with their neighbours, and my cat's nerves.

But since I moved to London in 1997, there hasn't been space for a drum kit in the series of poky little rooms I've called home. So, it was with great excitement that I purchased Guitar Hero: World Tour - a video game music simulator which comes with a six-piece set you can fold away and store in a cupboard.

The trailer for the game promised it would have "the most realistic drums" of any game on the current generation of games consoles. Not actually realistic, of course, but as close as you'd get. There are touch sensitive pads, so you can play a gentle shuffle or thump the living daylights out of the tom toms, depending on your mood. And, unlike rival game Rock Band, you get a pair of cymbals to smash.

It arrived at Discopop Towers on Saturday and, after a few days experimentation, I have discovered the awful truth: I am too good for this game.

Now, I'm not saying I'm a modern-day John Bonham or Cozy Powell, but every ounce of skill and instinct I've picked up over the last 30 years actually counts against me.

Take the opening song - Survivor's Eye Of The Tiger. Except on the puny easy setting (which recreates precisely the experience of banging sticks on a wooden block at nursery school) I invariably failed within ten seconds of the beat kicking in.

In exasperation, I turned to the game's practice mode and played the intro over and over again - to no avail. "There must be a bug," I decided after an hour of mounting frustration, during which my success rate never peaked higher than 60%.

After another thirty minutes, I was sadly convinced that all those years of flailing around garages with a pair of drumsticks had amounted to nothing. When set to a click track, I couldn't keep time to save my life.

Eventually, my wife asked to watch me playing to see if she could work out what I was doing wrong.

She got it in about five seconds. There is a subtle swing to the hi-hat pattern on Eye Of The Tiger, which I was playing instinctively. But the game wanted a strict 4/4 rhythm.

Once the error had been pointed out to me, I was easily able complete the song on the game's hardest setting, expert mode. But it was still a struggle - the drum pattern just felt wrong (it doesn't help that, when you hit the pads in the 'correct' sequence, the game plays back the drum track from the original recording - including that lilting hi-hat). As a result, I kept slipping back into the swing beat.

Understandably, the game has to be calibrated to make it playable for non-percussionists - but I wonder whether they will struggle with it, too? Neurologist Oliver Sacks (whose fascinating book, Musicophilia, looks at the effects of music on the brain) believes rhythm is an innate skill for humans. "We respond to rhythm by keeping in time, by moving our heads," he told science website Universe last year.

"One cannot not respond to music: even if you don't make any external movement, the motor parts of the brain respond to rhythm. This appears spontaneously in every child - but you cannot train a chimpanzee, or a bird, or a whale, or an elephant, to keep synchronized time to a rhythm."

Of course, anyone who's seen their dad dance at a wedding will realise that rhythmical ability varies from person to person. So maybe the syncopation issue will only affect people like me, who've "fine-tuned" their rhythmical abilities.

I got some consolation from rock legend Slash - who was interviewed for Guitar Hero's last iteration (in which he made a cameo appearance). In the video, the Velvet Revolver / GnR guitarist spoke of similar frustrations with the guitar mode:

"Guitar Hero is harder as a guitar player than if I'd never touched a guitar and all I knew I had to do was touch all these different colours on the neck," he said.

So, has anyone else experienced this exasperation with the Guitar Hero / Rock Band series? I'd be interested to know...

Labels: , ,

<< Home

Newer Posts ::: Older Posts

© 2014 Discopop Directory | Contact editor@discopop.co.uk | Go to the homepage