"Don't wear your guitar above your waist. You're not in the Beatles."
-- interstitial text in the game "Guitar Hero"
We hauled the giant box into the house. It took me about half an hour untangle all the fiddly bits from the plastic wrappings and figure out how to assemble the drum set, but then we were good to go. Not long after the crash of that opening chord we decided it was going to be a Hard Day's Night and rawked the house until 2am.
The next morning dawned way, way too early. I ran into an acquaintance at the coffee stand as I was wrapping myself around a very large cup of java in hopes of getting the pint of blue mush sloshing around between my ears warmed up to the point where it might start passing current before I got into the office. He started talking about his troubles with Back in the U.S.S.R. the night before and it really struck me.
We may as well be playing two completely different games.
He's a late-20's guy, just out of college and working for an edgy, hip company that makes some sort of gewgaws for mobile phones. He lives by himself. He has the game and a regular Rock Band guitar he picked up when the second game came out. To him it may as well be Guitar Hero with a different playlist. He jams with some buddies over XboxLive, but he's never even hooked up a second instrument.
My house is the diametric opposite. I got a sweet deal on the Limited Edition set, so I have all the instruments. I had to. Everyone taking turns on one guitar would have broken down pretty badly. With all the singers vying for the mic stand it didn't take too much playtime before I broke down and bought two more microphones, too. Six active players and three part harmony makes this game the ultimate cooperative mode.
The only time I get to play alone is a Friday night when they're all off playing that "social life" game. And even then, it's probably not going to be totally alone. Between me and all four of my kids plus their wing-men, girl/boyfriends, and the random neighborhood ebb and flow there's always someone around to pick up the other instruments. And they do. No matter what they're doing, that first chord struck on the loading screen calls them, and you have to untangle the mic cords again so whoever is around can join in.
It's not like a solo game, or even an online multi-player. You can't play the game the same way when eight people are waiting for their turn. And when you can step on the other players toes and there are this many around the number of possible things that can go wrong starts to add up pretty fast. The list of guidelines to manage it's play in my house has gotten long and illustrious. The establishment of "house rules" has been raised to a status of art form.
It's not that I'm trying to be a jackbooted thug here. But without some sort of structure in place you end up with a level of chaotic nonsense reminiscent of Yoko keening Revolution 9 over and over and over again.
Before you're allowed to pick up my Hoffner, you better listen up. We've got a few ground rules.
- Please remember we are in an apartment. Watch the volume on all the equipment and watch yourselves. The vocalists need to learn to moderate their tone. The drummer doesn't have to flail around like Animal and try to drive the drum-heads through the floor to China to make them register the notes.
- Watch who you are logged in as. I'm talking to the guitar-freak who did such gratifying things for my scores in guitar-only play in Local Quickplay accidentally.
- Watch the repetition. Yes, we know Eight Days A Week is your favorite song. But it's not everyone's favorite song.
- Be sensitive to other's skills and tastes. I know you love the guitar line in I Am the Walrus, but someone has to sing it, and that's a whole 'nother ballgame. Goo Goo G'Joob.
- Please call the songs by the names in the list when people are over. I know what you're talking about, but your friend doesn't have a clue when you refer to Come Together as "The Shoot-me Song."
Getting by with a little help from my friends...
The byplay between the band members is one of the best things about these games. But let's take care of a few topics that seem to keep springing up for good and all.
- The fact that I'm old seems to be a favorite topic around here, but these guys have me beat. They are the age of my parents. Stop calling this "my" music. For the record, I was born during the recording of The White Album. If you follow the dates in the game, I come in somewhere near Dear Prudence.
- Sartorial matters keep coming up for discussion. Yes, that was a seriously ugly striped shirt Mr. Harrison was sporting. This was the late 60's and early 70's; everyone looked like that. None of the band was playing Jesus in anything. And no, I don't know what died to make Mr. Lennon's coat at the Rooftop Concert venue.
- They all were probably a bit baked on something pretty awesome there by The End. But we don't have to have this discussion EVERY SINGLE TIME we play something from the Abbey Road album.
And Your Bird Can Sing...
With the addition of three microphones worth of harmony, comes the ability to generate three times the cacophony. Mercifully, the game doesn't care what key you sing the song in. It doesn't even care if you change during the song, as long as you keep the melodic line strong and fit their tempo. If you need help adjusting a song to fit your voice better, save all our ears and let me know.
- Know your range, or just follow me. All of the Beatles have different vocal ranges, and you may not match every song. Crocheting your vocal chords to get them up there with Mr. McCartney can be a challenge for the guys. This also goes for the girls who are trying to go gargling around the bottom lines of the bass clef with Mr. Starr in the Octopus's Garden.
- No vocalist may smack the bassist for all the whooping noises Mr. McCartney makes, or the guitarist for Mr Lennon's uh, vocalizations in Revolution. I know he sounds like Darth Vader there towards the end, and no I don't know why.
- No one may smack anyone for I Am The Walrus or Helter Skelter for any reason.
She Came In Through The Bathroom Window...
As long as you follow the rhythm of the vocal parts fairly closely, the game could care less what actual words you're using. Changes to lyrics are acceptable as long as a) they don't detract from the score and b) they're not any more suggestive than the base song. There are some changes I actually recommend.
- Turning all those instances of "yell-ow sub-ma-rine" into "pimpd-out lim-o-sine" is sort of a household tradition at this point and it's been tested as not detracting from the score even on Expert difficulty. Go for it!
- If you decide you have to just kick out the jambs and do something racy to an already racy song, go ahead. If you manage to change the lyrics of Don't Let Me Down to anything even close to as embarrassing to sing as the ones that came with it without adding explicit scatological detail then I'd like to hear it.
- Gender bending and other tricks to make the song fit the singer are suggested where appropriate just to keep the level of awkward down to a dull roar. A good example would be the changes I make when I sing When I Saw Her Standing There. I have to change the gender and then also imply it's a reminiscence rather than last Saturday night so it doesn't come off sounding like "The Cougar's Lament."
Everybody's Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey
Really want to feel like one of the guys? Got to the point where you're hitting 90+ percent every time on Expert on your chosen instrument? Or just bored? Well, try something a little different. There are many variations on the game with multiple instruments and multiple local players.
- Try singing and playing an instrument at the same time. With a mic stand, any of the more traditional instruments can join in the chorus.
- Switch it up. Make everyone there rotate between the instruments after every song. Or make everyone switch from righty to lefty.
- Battle of the Bands - if you've got eight people, instead of crowding in on one song, set up a local battle of the bands by breaking up into two groups and each group performing a set number of songs or taking turns. Highest scores win, or just go for bragging rights.
Time To Drop Maxwell's Silver Hammer
Even if they aren't my kids, odds are they've been in and out of my house enough to know the basics of how to behave. But just in case, let's go over these again.
- Watch the smack-monkey stuff. This isn't online. I'm not saying you have to keep it to "golly-wally", but if you can't keep your tongue within reasonable bounds please remember I don't have to wait on a sysadmin to do something about it.
- Watch the attitude. If you brag about your "mad guitar skiznills" and start really being a jerk about how easy you think this music is, I reserve the right to make you try to cash the check your big mouth just wrote. You do Taxman both playing guitar and singing, both on Expert. Five star with both at once, and you might even regain some respect around here. But not as much as Mr. Harrison. He has got you beat in ways you can't match because he was playing the real instrument, he did it in front of bunchteen thousand screaming fangirls, and to top it off he wrote the song. Or if you don't think you have the chops for that, you can always just shut up. It's your call.
Back to my friend in the U.S.S.R. There's no right or wrong here. He's definitely got a lot less setup to have to deal with. I will never know the pure thrill of his laser-like focus. And I know for a fact I'll never be as good on guitar as him. But we have a heck of a lot of fun at my house in our own way. And that's the whole point.