Sunday, June 22, 2008

The Ups And Downs Of Guitar Hero

Guitar Hero is one hell of a game to master.

I mean seriously, to be able to beat the highest difficulty level, Expert and play it consistently takes a lot of practise and dedication to the game. While I am yet to experience it personally, I can only imagine the satisfaction one would gain from finally beating the difficulty level.

It seems somewhat ironic, then, that the majority of the people who play the game will probably only beat the Medium difficulty level during their entire playing time with the games. I guess that's the beauty of Guitar Hero though; Not only is it one of the most accessible games out there, or even the most appealing, it also happens to be a gamer's game in the sense that it takes utmost skill and dedication to master the game, play it consistently on the highest difficulty and break out those high scores.

Many games in the past have had this similar approach to design - easy to get into but extremely difficult to master - and it's something long term gamers have been frustrated with yet have loved for ages. As I said before, the satisfaction of being able to master a game and achieve a high score is second to none and it's a feeling that is unique to the gaming medium. The fact that games like Guitar Hero, which appeal to almost anyone thanks to its idea of pretending to be a rockstar, can open up these types of games to new audiences and therefore allow the potential for these people to experience this feeling unique to the medium is definitely a good thing.

That's a subject for another day though. As someone who has been playing games for years and as one who is experienced with mastering various games to achieve a high and successful outcome, I only seem to feel disappointment whenever I think about the current progress I have made with Guitar Hero so far.

As a completionist, my goal with the game was to be able to beat it on the highest difficulty, Expert and then perhaps slightly improve my skills after that so I could work on some high scores and perhaps 5-star every song. The latter isn't important and has more to do with my desire to obtain as many achievements as possible, but the former goal of beating the highest difficulty is one I am determined to meet one day and at the moment, it seems like an eternity away.

Currently, I can play Medium consistently. If I don't 100% a song on medium, then I will come damn close hitting anywhere between the 93-99% range each and every time. From what I can gather from other people's experiences with the game, once you can play consistently like that within a difficulty then it is time for you to move up to the next one and become consistent in that. So naturally, I am now trying to play on the Hard difficulty and wow, it's just a whole new ball game. The first and obvious hurdle is the introduction of the fifth and final fret, the orange. Playing Guitar Hero seems to be about training (and strengthening) your fingers for various tasks at the the varying difficulties. Going from Easy to Medium, it's about training yourself to use your pinky finger to press the fourth fret (blue) after being used to only using three fingers before it (index, middle and ring). Going from Medium to Hard means that you then have to teach yourself to either stretch your pinky out and alternate between pressing the blue or orange frets depending on what notes are coming at that time, move your fingers down one note and learn how to alternate your index finger between the first and second (green and red) frets, or move your fingers up and down the fret board dependent on how the note patterns are during the song.

Using the latter, you would have to train your fingers to press the buttons they are already used to as well as the others depending on where your fingers were at the time, as well as teach your brain to recognise the colours and notes on screen and to then use the right finger at the right time again depending on where your fingers were at the time. Using one of the other methods, it would be about strengthening your choice of finger (index or pinky) until you could stretch it to play the extra note you need to. Stretching one of your fingers sounds a lot easier than the complicated learning process of moving your hand up and down all the time, but believe it or not I'm finding it easier to move my hand up and down so that's the method I am using. Too bad I'm not consistent with it yet and I'm still learning how to do it.

Other hurdles to be encountered in the Hard difficulty is a ramp up in speed for the notes, meaning that not only do you have to get used to using a new fret and seeing a new note appear on the fretboard on screen, but you have to play them at a faster speed to what you would be used to in Medium. There also is a lot more chords and Hammer-Ons/Pull-Offs to play on Hard, which when combined with the added speed and learning process of the new fret certainly makes for a big challenge.

I am finding it difficult to wrap my head around it at the moment and as a result, it is rather frustrating. It's my own fault in a way as for a month or two, I played the Guitar Hero games with just the 360 controller and I can play Hard using that quite well actually (although the ending of One in Guitar Hero III is physically impossible to pass using the controller). Had I not played with the controller for a while, perhaps I'd be past the learning stages of Hard using the guitar and perhaps I'd even be getting into Expert by now. That's something I won't ever know so for now I'm stuck with learning how to play Hard.

Despite the frustration, I am finding it enjoyable to do. As I said before it is a gamer's game and I really like those and luckily for me I always have that special feeling waiting for me when I do finally manage to succeed. Guitar Hero might take longer than most games to master but as a completionist and achievement whore, I'm willing to put in the dedication required if it means finishing the games more and gaining that feeling of satisfaction that (by then at least) I will deserve.


Scott Juster said...

Although I've never owned a Guitar Hero or Rock Band game, I've played a fair amount at friends' houses.

I'm not that great, but the wheels really come off when I try out a song that incorporates the 5th button. I can never decide whether to do the "pinky stretch" or "hand shift," so it was interesting to see your take on it.

Have you settled on a technique yet?

Nismo said...

I found that practising the hand shift while playing through a career on Medium really helped me out (with my fingers mostly on Red through Orange, despite there being a lot of Green notes). After finishing that career run, I then tried a few songs on Hard and was surprised to see just how much I had improved just because I was now used to the idea of swapping my index finger between Green and Red. I am still not completely there yet with Hard due to playing other games and of course, now, my 360 deciding not to work on me but I am confident now that with some more practise I will be able to 5 star it no problem. Meaning Expert is next...

I definitely suggest you try a Medium career swapping your index finger, or your pinky (whichever one is more comfortable to you) between two colours, doing so will see you get used to the method and therefore the hand shift won't be as hard when you resume playing Hard again.