153: Slave To The Beat

Slave To The Beat

"I've played hard games, but even a game like Mega Man feels beatable. It might be wickedly difficult, but you still get the sense that if you played it long enough and worked hard enough, you'd eventually finish it. It's just a matter of time investment and sheer force of will.

"Not so with Audition. Halfway through my first Beat Up game, I had to push myself away from the keyboard to collect myself. I felt physical pain from trying to keep up with the flying arrows. Needless to say, I was crushed under a heretofore unknown weight of epic fail. My three glib opponents completely and totally annihilated me. What they were achieving in speed and coordination simply wasn't possible."

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Trust me, if Audition involved songs from the '80s we oldsters would be kicking teenagers' rears. The problem here is that, like many games, the game doesn't involve enough customization or options to suit the variety of players out there. A game is not something we should have to adapt our musical tastes to suit. It's way past time that games were built well enough so that THEY adapt to US. It's called options, and many of us have been fighting for years to get developers to include meaningful options so that EVERY player who wants to get involved can find a way to play that suits their style. Sadly, developers still seem to be mired in the idea that a computer game should be linear and focused on one particular playstyle and one particular demographic.

I guess I should be thankful that I have never really been '1337' gamer, not a lot of worry here of getting old and my non-existent uber skills along with my birthday.

Still, I would recommend you try out Audiosurf on Steam if you are looking for something less clich-ish than Audition and far more flexible since it plays pretty close to any song you have on your computer. I find it to be a lot of fun 'play' my music.

You should try elite beat agents. Its really nice as a rhythm game, and it has a good pro level. I also notice that success in these games with memorization. You start to know when which combo will appear, when to press which button. That's basically how I finished some songs of the rhythm games.

The only reason the insane difficulty of such games exists (sans Guitar Hero 3) is because people will play it, get good at it, and eventually beat it. Things such as the time you waste or how many times you listen to that crappy Dragonforce song don't matter to some players (sans my roommate) Point is, like MMO games, companies make money based on how long people play, which means the game needs to be damn near inpregnable to "average" gamers, and only the most hard of hardcore will penetrate to their inner reaches.

First, I enjoyed this article very much. Very well written.
I'm left wondering if Erin has ever played Guitar Hero or Rock Band as they offer very similar experiences (except for the MMO part). I'd say Rock Band offers an extremely good such group experience.

...(a) game needs to be damn near inpregnable to "average" gamers, and only the most hard of hardcore will penetrate to their inner reaches.

I took the suggestion in the article to try Audition and I subsequently wasted some hours with it. Like with other rhythm-games, I enjoy a song/game the most when I barely can handle the difficulty level. That state of 'flow' won't be achieved with songs that are too easy. So regardless of making money, absurd difficulties might be a necessity to let experienced players enjoy the game.

Thanks, all, for your comments.

@ Beery -- very interesting thoughts. I could tell you more what I think about them, but then I'd have to kill you! But good points. However, I think you underestimate the sheer skill level of some of these kids; I think it would take more than 80s music to beat the teens. ;) They do just have a lot more time to devote to the game, which creates its own barrier. And Audition lacks WoW's mitigating rest system.

@ CanadianWolverine -- I will check that out. I'm very interested, tangentially re Beery's comments, in programs that incorporate a user's own audio files. However, and see comments below, Audiosurf looks cool but, like Rez and Guitar Hero, is a fundamentally different kind of game, I would argue, because of the absence of the avatar element. It's more abstract and more a hardcore gamer's game because it requires more visualization going on in the brain, so it's fundamentally less social. It doesn't mean it's inferior, it's just playing to a very different audience.

@ Girlysprite -- I hate to admit it, but I haven't played EBA. Or, rather, I've seen it and played it, but I haven't spent serious time with it. You're right, I need to. And yes, definitely, mastery at these games has to do with memorization. Which I actually find rather astonishing, because of the amount of brain power these kids (on Audition) are devoting to the game. They'll play the same song OVER and OVER again until they get it PERFECT. That is some serious dedication. And it's part of what creates that effect, when you first start playing, of their achievements being impossible -- because you don't know that they've played the same song about a thousand times already and memorized it.

@Sharp_as_a_cork -- glad you liked the article! I've played Guitar Hero very briefly, and I agree it would be similarly addictive. However, minus the avatar, I think it's a different kind of experience. It is intensely social within one's existing group of friends, but by bringing that same mechanic to an MMO level and adding the customizable avatar element, Audition actually creates a social fabric, which is quite interesting. Rock Band I am unfortunately tainted on both because it's an EA game and because I've heard it played several times in rooms adjacent to mine -- so I know how ridiculous people sound when they play it. ;) And I'm vain enough for that to have tinted my view of the game -- it's more in the DDR category. I'm sure I'll try it at some point, though; I do like the versatility of adding other instruments.

@ RonnnL & SamuraiAndPig -- I basically concur with Ronnn; that challenge-stimulation is what is necessary to feel fulfilled by the game, so the intense difficulty is a necessary part of its design. But WoW works the same way. I have nowhere near the patience required to do the necessary research to become a competitive WoW player. That said, while Audition's initial curve is, I think, much steeper than WoW's (it does a lot less hand-holding), its community is more supportive (Audition players generally want there to be more Audition players; not so for WoW because of its inherently combative nature, I think), so if you find the game attractive at all it isn't that hard to get started in. I think its primary barrier at this point has to do with the music on offer, coming back around to Beery's point.

The last few paragraphs of this article mirror exactly what I was thinking after my first weekend with Rock Band. It's not just a fun game, it's an incredible music merchandising tool that can actually get you to LIKE songs by engaging you interactively with the tracks (as opposed to just passively pitching them at you like repeated radio play does). I'll gladly shell out $1.99 for a Police tune in Rock Band, but I suspect there's also a value opportunity for breaking artists that goes the other way. Not-so-famous bands aren't rolling in cash, but there are other incentives they could trade in (like adaptation rights to future works) for something like a featured spot as a "weekly showcase" tune on XBox Live.

There are limits, though: no amount of achievement reward is EVER going to make me like Foo Fighters' "Learn to Fly." Sorry.


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