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A Break from Movie Summer
2008-06-30 18:26
by Mark T.R. Donohue

I was going on a pretty good clip there storing up films to write about in another Summer of Movies post. But my opinions about Last King of Scotland (great, James McAvoy deserved more credit for his role), V for Vendetta (absolutely terrible, except for Hugo Weaving's acting), and Let's Go to Prison (written by a team of "Reno 911!" and "Stella" folks and funnier than you might think) will have to wait for a few days.

I probably should have done all of them sooner, since the last time I watched a movie I hadn't seen before was about a week ago. Continuing work on my band's rock opera, an exciting and exhausting new retail job, and an attention-needy cat have all combined to make my taste for new media register at somewhat less than its usual rapaciousness. It's been TV comfort food for me lately, with reruns of "Buffy" and "The Simpsons" and "King of the Hill" keeping me company while I recline on the couch.

It's mostly been only when I'm too tired to play video games that I've been watching TV recently. Grand Theft Auto IV offers little in the way of new gameplay, but has much more of an effective sense of reality than its predecessors. That makes it rather intimidating to play casually, since your character is always getting phone calls and text messages from his "friends" in the game world. A well-executed idea (much more so than the broken gang warfare dynamics of GTA: San Andreas), but one regarding which I'm still puzzling out the impact on fun. Is it more fun to play in a Grand Theft Auto world where the characters are more fleshed-out? I don't really think that's what most people turn to the series for. I wonder how well it has gone over with gamers in general. I imagine there are plenty of people who ignored the social dynamics completely and just went out and blew stuff up. I have trouble gaming that way -- I'm a color-inside-the-lines person that way.

So with GTA IV, I feel a little bit like I'm being compelled to do all of these things I don't wish to by the game. I could just ignore them, but that's not how I'm hardwired. My attention to completist detail is bearing more fruit with Rock Band. Trying to get five stars on every song on every level with every instrument is a monumental task. This is another way in which Rock Band simulates the experience of being a real musician. When you're in a band, sometimes you have to play a song over and over and over again until you get it right. I have been in many practice situations where everyone wanted to kill each other because there was a song we'd played eight times all the way through and still hadn't perfected. Applying the same tenacity to Rock Band isn't hard, particularly on the drums. It's nice to be instantly rewarded for your tenacity -- few sounds are more pleasurable than the one the game makes when you earn another star during a song.

I saw again the contrast between the amount of content Rock Band offers versus the Guitar Hero games when Guitar Hero: Aerosmith came out this weekend. This is a fun game, and I'm glad it finally gave me the opportunity to upgrade to the wireless XBox 360 guitar controller from the crummy X-Plorer one that came with GHII. The animations of the band look cool and funny, and the presentation is terrific. A lot of people will probably skip right through them, but I thought the little between-stage interview segments with Joe Perry and Steven Tyler and company talking about their rise to fame were cool and a natural extension of the Guitar Hero career mode formula.

However, it only took me about an evening to beat all of the songs in the game on hard and with two days off tomorrow and Wednesday, I'm probably going to have it utterly whipped less than a week after it was released. Rock Band on the other hand just keeps plugging along. They just put out a full album download of the Pixies' Doolittle and David Lovering's drum patterns alone are worthy of a whole game to themselves. I haven't tried it yet, but I bet the vocal tracks are a hoot too: "Slicing up eyeballs, oh ho ho ho!"

Anyway, the pain in my left pinky finger from the GH: Aerosmith marathon I had the other day has subsided. I think I'll go back to the Pixies now. In conclusion, any further Guitar Hero games that come out should have drum and vocal tracks as a matter of course. I want to support the idea behind Guitar Hero: Aerosmith because if it sells well I can see them doing some of the other titans that are too monolithic to have had a single song in a Guitar Hero before now. Led Zeppelin. AC/DC. Pink Floyd. Dare we even say it, the Beatles.

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