17
Sep 09

The Most Important Game Ever Made #2: Oh Boy

FT//4 comments • 413 views

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hSLLxRmR3nY

When you pop the disc in the PS3, this is pretty much the first thing you see. And make no mistake, it’s luvverly.

What it’s not, is any kind of introduction to the game itself. Well, technically it is – you’ve got a game about the Beatles, and here is a short bit of animation about the Beatles, ta-da – but it’s setting up expectations that will then be completely dashed.

What we have here is some gorgeous animation that moves effortlessly from a semi-Jamie Hewlett 2D affair that runs us through the first half of the game and the various ‘tour’ stages to a sumptuous 3D Ganeshaverse that represents the later ‘dreamscape’ bits. It’s lush stuff, and I’m very much down with intro and in-between-level sequences that are much better looking than the game itself, so it’s not like I feel BETRAYED that after this it becomes much more like your classic Rock Band setup – four puppets rocking out.

The trouble is, it’s not like Rock Band in the slightest. In RB, you’ve got a choice of various venues, then every song can be played in every venue, and then the player has designed a quartet of freaks to howl into the mike with bulging eyes OR play guitar OR drums. The sheer amount of variety built into the game means the michinima approach is the only option – you get your four stick figures, map the players onto them, and away you go.

In Beatles Rock Band, that’s not the case. Each song is linked irrevocably and unbreakably with a venue – and in the ‘dream’ stages, each song gets its own venue. There’s no changing them up – and no switching roles, either. In Rock Band, your self-built ‘Ringo’ could be shifted from drums to guitar to vocals to drums at will – in BRB, there’s no circumstance imaginable where Ringo will not be on the drums, even if he was estranged from the group at the time of the song (and that’s something we’ll get back to later). The other three will always be guitaring, and all four will sing their parts as described. John will never hammer the drums while Ringo croons ‘it is not dying’ – that would be a terrifying subversion of the Beatles Brand. George Harrison won’t be singing the lead on ‘Birthday’ – what, are you trying to break time??!? Do you want him to form Wings while Paul McCartney forms Handmade Films? Ringo dead in ’80 as Lennon goes on to voice Thomas The Tank Engine? Why not just fire Lennon altogether and have ‘Come Together’ sung by Ian out of Ian And The Zodiacs? Or your own creation – you know, the lead singer from the Arse Puppets, with the pink afro and track marks and a tattoo on his chest reading FUCK MONKEY? What is WRONG with you?

(Sigh. Maybe now Apple Corps have dipped a toe into video gaming we’ll be able to get Beatles Manager and be able to warp history in such ways. But I don’t hold out much hope.)

So, for various sound branding reasons, each level of Beatles Rock Band is changeless – so changeless, in fact, that when you wham the whammy bar, nothing happens whatsoever, because McCartney didn’t play the note that way on the original tour. (He didn’t play the note the way his michinimabot does either – it was remastered up the wazoo to generate the illusion of a ‘fantasy Beatles’ – but never you mind about that.) Similarly, there’s no wah-wah pedal or distortion – that switch on your guitar becomes completely useless. You, the player, are completely without agency in the world of The Beatles – the only way you can affect the sound of the music is to nihilistically choose not to play certain notes and phrases, although that can’t last long. Though I don’t think you can even be booed off (I need to fail a song in order to double-check this, which I haven’t yet – failure might be against the brand) – there’ll be no shots of the Beatles hanging their heads and bickering as their animated audience boo and throw things, like there are seemingly every night with the Arse Puppets. Fucking Judas Priest.

Anyway, the point I’m making here is – why michinima? Or why exclusively the Rock Band brand michinima? We’ve established that the Rock Band brand is of vastly less importance than the Beatles brand, and there is no way on God’s earth that anything you do in reality will affect what plays out on screen. Every level is reduced to just an animation that plays while you play – so why not change it up a little? Have some levels as animated cartoons, or different styles of 3D, or even take grainy live footage of Ed Sullivan and manipulate it a little – just for one song, why not? (It’s vastly more work is why not, but it’s not like this is a project that’s got a time limit on it.)

I’m probably being horrifically naive on this one – I’m not a programmer and I didn’t slave for months in the Beatles mine to get every detail of the pixel-puppets exactly correct, after all – but when you actually start the game, there’s a massive comedown from the cheeky, charming animation here that I think makes you look at Johnbot, Georgebot, Paulbot and Ringobot in a poor light.

I was going to mention Hamburg in this one, but I’m about out of space, so we’ll tackle that and the Beatlebots next time as I pick up the placcy guitar and we dive headlong into the game itself.

NEXT: Come on baby now, twist and AAAAAAUUUGGGHH THE DEAD LIFELESS EYES

Comments

  1. 1
    Tom on 17 Sep 2009 #

    So what you’re saying is it’s the Dragon’s Lair of music games? :)

    (Chris Dahlen’s Pitchfork review made this point as well – it’s another example of Beatle Exceptionalism, which I find really fascinating: thou shalt not sample, thou shalt not download, thou shalt not tamper. The amazing thing is the extent to which it’s worked as a marketing move – a common reaction to Pitchfork reviewing the Beatles records, aside from those naive fools who actually READ the pieces, was “YOU JUST CAN’T.”

    My personal view is that this is sad, since the band were so much a product of their times, and their music was so much a product of inspiration and competition and responding to the response to them, and pretending the Beatles sit on Cloud Revolution Nine outside the network does them and us no favours.)

  2. 2
    Tom on 17 Sep 2009 #

    That is a bloody gorgeous cartoon elephant god mind you.

  3. 3
    Vic Fluro on 17 Sep 2009 #

    One really annoying part of Beatle Exceptionalism is that you can’t have Beatles songs on the regular Rock Band, or vice versa – another reason why the michinima approach becomes redundant. (It would have been SO SWEET to have the Beatles perform ‘Eye Of The Tiger’ at the Cavern Club.)

  4. 4
    Tom on 17 Sep 2009 #

    Sure, but have you SEEN the foaming (& somewhat hilarious) rage at the “Kurt Plays Stadium Rock” stuff that Guitar Hero has pulled?

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