17
Oct 09

The Most Important Game Ever Made #15: Twitch Crit

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Whoops! The next song on the list isn’t ‘She Loves You’ after all, it’s the far less interesting ‘I Feel Fine’.

Still, it’s a nice rocking groove, as the Ventures here prove.

Well, that’s my theory of the Shea Stadium levels dead in the water. Maybe there’s a new theory in the offing involving a tug-of-war between love and hate – John replying to George and Paul’s sixties cynicism with paeans to the simple joys of love – but somehow I doubt it. I’ll keep on trying to unify the levels thematically, but this one seems to have beaten me – what makes these five songs link up, and why here, now, in Shea Stadium? I assume at least one or two of them weren’t played at the actual gig – it’d be a bizarre lurch towards authenticity if they all were. Oh well. Answers on a postcard please.

What this song is most notable for is the invention of feedback guitar, according to the hard-won in-game factoids – another fabulous Beatles first, along with cut-out moustaches. Check it out:

After that historic moment, things fall into a very familiar place. Various well-worn tropes are present and correct – the same lyrics repeated a couple of times for the hard of hearing, the ‘diamond ring’ as be-all-and-end-all lover’s gift (*last seen in “Can’t Buy Me Love”, fervent ones! – Smilin’ Stan) and the pop ideal of a love story that can seamlessly fit over any fan’s life or fantasy life like a plastic skin on a mobile phone. We’ve been here before, and to be honest I’m getting a little bored of it, especially after Georgebot’s masterful performance on Wednesday. I’m glad this is the last Shea Stadium song – the sound and the makeup of the songs go through some radical changes when the boybots hit Budokan, and then after that we’re into the studio portion of the game, where there’s a lot more meat to tear into.

In the meantime, I guess I should say a farewell to this particular era of Beatlebotmania, and maybe say some more about the gaming side, since that’s my default mode when I’ve got little to say about the song in hand.

My big problem with ‘Eight Days A Week’ – apart from the fact that I had a massive tonnage of paying work to do (all now sent off and accepted with no problems, comics fans) and a stinking cold (still not fully gone away, disease fans) was that it felt like another song in the Beatles Hit Factory style, with little in the lyrics to latch on to and a slightly plodding, methodical sound. ‘I Feel Fine’ is likewise fresh from the factory with little in the lyrics to latch on to, but the sound is vastly different – in particular, where 8DAW chugged along with a b-dum-b-dum-b-dum-b-dum rhythm like a dripping tap, IFF starts with a clever bit of invention and then leaps into a nifty and deeply satisfying riff, which plays throughout the song, keeping the tempo and the mood swinging.

And here’s where we start getting onto the ‘why’ of music rhythm games – that riff isn’t as deeply satisfying to listen to as it is to play. (Once again, I’m using ‘play’ here purely in the game sense.) I’m not only listening to the guitar part of the song, I’m feeling it with my fingers. The aural becomes tactile, and on the screen, the tactile becomes visual. Three different senses start working together as one, thanks to the miracle of the twitch responses – that focussed state people generally enter while guiding Solid Snake or Rick Dangerous through something nasty. Technically, you’re seeing the patterns, mimicking them with your fingers and hearing the sound as a result, but in practice it all blends pleasingly together.

Anyway, from now on, when I listen to ‘I Feel Fine’, I’ll at least subconsciously remember the satisfaction of feeling out that tricky riff, as opposed to the kludgy annoyance of dealing with ‘Eight Days’, an experience that felt similar to trudging through a swamp with my fingers.

Which leads to another interesting question – is the music informing the response to the gameplay, or the gameplay informing the response to the music? Mostly, it’s the former -more often than not, I find myself finding little bits and pieces in a song through the experience of playing it that I hadn’t noticed before, or the mere act of paying attention to music that’s previously washed over me on the radio has made be a fan. When I’ve already formed an opinion about a song, though, I’m not likely to be swayed from it – ‘Synchronicity II’ by the Police is a song I’m very fond of, and a real bastard to play – lots of fiddly little notes – but my enjoyment of the song helped carry me through the frustration. On the other hand, playing some grotesque Metallica monstrosity is a grim chore even when it’s easy. So the music comes first.

And while I’m avoiding talking about the song, let’s avoid it twice! I’ve been talking a lot about the guitar parts of these songs, because I’ve been playing them using the guitar peripheral, the classic plastic doohickey that launched a thousand arguments about why don’t you buy a real guitar and play for real like meeeeeeeeeeeee listen to my indie song i wrote it after a bad breakup it’s about gurls and my feelings. But take a quick look at this:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kvrTE5lIAzU

That’s some guy playing the drums, and when you watch it with the ‘map’ scrolling past your eyes, it brings the whole drum part into sharp relief. Before, it was the guitar that stood out, but suddenly it’s the drumming – every nuance of Ringo’s playing made crystal clear on the screen (and in your sweaty, stick-clutching mitts, if you can play the placcy drums.) Same with the vocal harmonies – Rock Band is treated as this grotesque bastard thing parking its SUV in the disabled parking space of Real Music, but it’s actually an excellent way to see how all the different parts of a song coalesce together and inform each other. It’s educational! Like Rome Total War! Why don’t you go out and conquer the world in 360 BC for real, like meeeeeeeeee? I wrote a song while I was there, it’s called ‘Onager Of A Lonely Heart’.

Boy, I love Rock Band! As for ‘I Feel Fine’, it’s okay, I guess. But I feel like I’ve completed the starter, and the main course is yet to come.

COMING MONDAY: Budokan, the last tour stage, where, as I remember, the Beatles start talking seriously about what it’s like to be stinking filthy rich.

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