• Visualising Guitar Hero notecharts in pillars of fire. Daft, brilliant. I particularly like that it visualises the act of playing – the note chart itself, the keys pressed.

Bike Hero-gate

21 November 2008

A lot of the content on Infovore is these days is in my links; I try to make sure that I’m not just chucking out URLs, but at least providing some kind of commentary or annotation on them.

You might have seen a Youtube video entitled “Bike Hero” in my links yesterday. I believe I said that “there is nowhere that this is anything less than awesome”.

Unfortunately, I’m going to have to retract that statement, because there is one way it could be somewhat less than awesome. And that’s if it isn’t quite what it purports to be.

Bike Hero, it turns out, is a “viral” ad for Guitar Hero World Tour, filmed by an advertising agency.

I’m disappointed not because it’s fake, but because they felt the need to disguise it as a real piece of footage. Derek Powazek puts it nicely:

Longer answer: It’s not that it’s a commercial, it’s that it’s a hidden commercial. It’s not the art, it’s the ruse.

Why don’t marketers and advertisers understand that, sometimes, the target audience for this kind of thing will like it just as much if it’s honest about being advertising? It’s a lovely piece of footage, and it ties into the garage-band, DIY ethos well; it’s a good fit for the Guitar Hero brand. As it is, I’m disappointed because I now know this wasn’t the product of hard-working fans, wanting to promote a product they love; it was the product of a lot of time/effort from people with money to spend on time/effort.

My other disappointment comes from another thing it pretends to be: it’s not one take. The CG staff that Gamecyte highlights were responsible for compositing the LED-handdlebar rig, and might well also have been involved in stitching together multiple takes. One of the things that had value in this ad was that it was real – why else would the cyclist turn his camera to the window he drove by other than to prove this isn’t some kind of fakery?

In the MTV Multiplayer blogpost linked above, Brad Jakeman, Activision’s Chief Creative Officer comments:

“This was always created and put out there to engage the creativity of our gamers. It didn’t take people very long, as we expected it to, for them to unlock the first of the codes, if you like… We wanted people to first figure out that it was something in the marketing realm and then dig in and have more of the conversation that we’re having about how it was done, have people figure out where all the cutting points were, where there was potentially CGI, and engage with that. It’s not meant to be deceptive. It’s meant to be fun.”

And what about people who aren’t “your gamers”? The point of viral videos is that they become viral; they have a life outside their initial target. Will that secondary audience be as inquisitive as the gamers you describe – and, to be honest, will even all those gamers engage in the manner you describe? I’d linked the thing up before I considered it might be marketing material. I enjoyed the video, and I assumed this was a product of effort rather than trickery simply because I’m not as cynical as Activision would like; if there’s one thing the Internet has taught me, it’s that people have a lot of reserves of creativity within them. Why assume that putting out trickery is OK just because you believe that your audience assume everything is trickery?

Sorry if I misled you. It’s still a great video, but it’s an advert, not a fan-made video, and you should probably know that going into it.

  • "We've seen this all before… [but] these Smule globes seem strangely different and much more interesting, largely I think because you hold the phone in your hand instead of the laptop or monitor on your desk. It's a more personal, touched engagement with the screen that makes visualizing an earth-spanning army of phone lighters and flute blowers more physically personal."
  • "But succeed or fail, my awareness of game design is omnipresent, and I like it that way. It enriches my experience of playing. The in-world experience remains my first thought, but my second thought is nearly always focused on the system, especially when that system demonstrates originality or beautiful execution. I don't think I'm the only gamer who behaves this way." No, but it requires a certain degree of awareness of the medium to think about the second; the first is much more immediate, and the second is about an engagements with games, rather than a particular game.
  • "If I only have so many hours in the day to devote to genuinely insightful things, Gladwell’s track record screams at me to ignore Outliers. At least for now. At least until I’m stuck on a cross-country flight, liquored up, and ready for a good fight." Jack Shedd is bored of anecdotes.
  • "This is a lexicon of terms relating to John Horton Conway's Game of Life." Very comprehensive, with lots of examples.
  • Ignoring the background music and a lot of Trajan, I really like this series of pictures from Brooks Reynolds; particularly, his use of lighting and depth of field. I'm a big fan of concept-series; they tend to be more than a sum of their parts.
  • I don't care that it's not playing the game or anything, there is no way in the world that this is anything less than super-awesome.

Guitar Hero II screengrab

This is the first an (hopefully) recurring series on Infovore, in which I write about, well, great gaming moments in whatever I’m playing at the time – current or otherwise. Let’s hope I can keep it up…

Guitar Hero was my favourite game of 2006. No question of that. A wonderful, empowering, hugely satisfying experience that cried out to be played for the sake of it. The sequel, released at the end of last year, is at least as good. It suffers by not being the first, not having the wonderful new-ness the first game brought to the market, but it’s more attractive, more polished, has much better note-detection, and a swathe of new features.

And, finishing it for the first time this morning, it brought my first “great gaming moment” of this year.

Before we go on, a note on the slightly altered structure of GHII. To progress through the game, you play gigs of songs; complete a whole gig and you can move on to the next set of songs at the next venue. Obviously, they get progressively harder. In GH, it was only necessary to complete either four or five (out of five) in the set, dependent on difficulty level, in order to progress.

GHII roughly sticks to that, but with a twist: it only lists four songs in the group. When you complete the final song necessary to progress, the camera lingers on your gig, and the audience start chanting, demanding an encore. And the game ask you if you want to give them one. Of course, you click yes, and wait for the game to load a song that’ll be a complete surprise to you.

It doesn’t really affect how the game plays, but it adds to the experience – of being a rock god – so much. So: to return to my story.

The greatest moment in the game is the final encore. It’s the final gig. You’ve shredded your way through four hellish solo-heavy songs, playing a special gig at Stonehenge. And the crowd start clamouring for an encore. But this time around, they’re not chanting indecipherable words, oh no.

It’s quite clear what they’re yelling.

“Freebird! Freebird!”

They want you to play Freebird.

And up pops the game. “The audience are demanding Freebird! Will you give it to them?”.

You hit Yes.

“You’re really going to play Freebird?”


“You’re definitely sure about this?”

Yes. Got to love the game’s sense of humour.

Practice mode, Guitar Solo i is what you’re looking for, says the loading screen. It turns out that it’s not lying.

If I leave here tomorrow…“. I stand in my living room, tapping out that wonderful acoustic first section, as hundreds of little computer people wave their lighters in the air. Crudely rendered they may be, but it’s a magical moment.

And then the tempo picks up, and the shredding begins.

It’s all over only a few minutes later. The grin is still on my face; it’s a hectic, exciting series of solos that rattle your wrists. As I write this, that grin is returning to my face, honestly.

It’s the most majestic pay-off. Two games, and seventy-odd songs later, the audience inside my PS2 are clamouring for one last song. They know exactly what song they want to hear. And finally, I can play it for them. That one moment – that’s Guitar Hero II in a nutshell: charming, exhilirating, a masterpiece of challenge-and-reward.

I have to go now. I can hear the crowd calling again.