Back in my days as a gamer, I grew up on classics of the field from platformers to RPGs as heroes thwarting evil and saving princesses. I personally played a bit of every genre as I was always one for new experiences be it the unique storytelling component in Heavy Rain to the open worlds explored by Grand Theft Auto and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. All these games own a special place in my heart, but none of these experiences come close to the ones created by a groundbreaking game in the rhythm game genre entitled Rock Band.
2007’s Rock Band, for those who did not have the fortune of playing it, is a game series created by Harmonix that simulated the band experience by combining all the instruments of a four piece group in the form of plastic instruments and a USB microphone. I first played it at a cousin’s house as I struggled to drum alongside the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s ‘Maps’ as the concept seemed alien to me at the time. I was a drummer in middle, assuming it would be a piece of cake’ only to wind up completely lost. Yet, me and my cousins all had fun and managed to become a decent band. As a sophomore in high school, I saved every dollar I earned from doing tasks and volunteering in order to get the huge special edition bundle of the game and finally hone my skills as a drummer.
I invited pals over to rock out to tunes from the classic warm-up jam ‘Say It Ain’t So’ by Weezer to the thumping bass lines of ‘Reptilia’ by The Strokes to the blistering solos and drum work on ‘Run to the Hills’ as made famous by Iron Maiden. The setlist was small, the room was even smaller, and our band was called The Flying D***. Remember, it was sophomore year, cut me a break. Four guys in one room, ranging in ages from 15 to 23, switching instruments and rocking like we were on tour venturing to New York to our hometown of Los Angeles. My first true introduction to this genre, however, was in the form of Harmonix’s previous works, Guitar Hero.
Guitar Hero is a different story. I nearly gave up halfway during ‘I Wanna Be Sedated’, but started to get the hang of things after playing on my own. I eventually played Guitar Hero II were I finally went from medium to hard in no time. I am embarrassed to say, but expert to this day is still hard for me to truly take hold of. Guitar Hero ended up being sold to Activision and Neversoft, along with Red Octane, going on to spell the death of an entire genre, but more on that later. The guys and gals at Harmonix decided to make a spiritual successor in the form of Rock Band and wound up with a new winner, despite its hefty price tag for the full experience.
One thing Harmonix prided themselves on was the DLC support on the Xbox 360, Wii, and PS3 with weekly releases of songs that would eventually grow to over 4,000. You want Megadeth? Simply head to the music store and snatch them up. Want some Siouxsie and the Banshees? Yes, they are there as well. You want something that isn’t rock? Despite the game being called Rock Band, you can find it as well. With the release of Rock Band 2 in 2008, I had upgraded from my dinky PS2 to the PS3 and my reign as a DLC purchasing machine started making a vast collection of songs and already adding to the unheard of 84 song setlist of Rock Band 2 and the export of Rock Band with nearly 200 songs at my disposal. This began the eventual Rock Band nights that created dumb moments and great ones from playing classic punk songs with the members of local garage rock groups completely wasted, my friends slurring the words to Lady Gaga’s ‘Just Dance’, and scrapping my knees sliding midway of Motörhead’s ‘Ace of Spades’.
Harmonix would release the granddaddy and most unexpected announcements in the rhythm game genre that made everyone including the residents of local retirement homes stand up and shout ‘Finally!’.
This was the moment I nearly lost it all. As a Beatles die hard and a lover of Rock Band, it was like the cherry on top of the entire music game experience. Guitar Hero 5 might have outsold it, but this was something no one should have missed. It ultilized the classic gameplay, incorporated dreamscapes for their Abbey Road Studios era songs, the locales of great Fab Four performances and harmonies for a more legitimate Beatles experience. To those how argue that video games are not art, one look at this game and I would dare them not to go ‘I take what I said back’. My family even took a noticed and played alongside on Thanksgiving night having an evening with The Beatles on our projectoion screen. Not a single song was unsung and seeing one of my tíos (uncles) sing along to ‘Here Comes the Sun’ and my little cousin hit every note of ‘Drive My Car’ was astounding.
Harmonix put off doing a main game in order to bring this one to life and even went on to make two other spinoffs. Lego: Rock Band was created for a younger audience that combined stunning gameplay with the always hilarious world of Lego. Seeing Legos rock out to Europe’s ‘The Final Countdown’ to help a UFO get off the ground with the power of rock is the second greatest moment in Rock Band history (First being the aforementioned Beatles game). Green Day: Rock Band was in the same vein as Beatles as it had songs solely by that artists bringing back harmonies and complete albums from the group. It was a chord fest, but any new addition is welcome to my library. I never had a copy of the limited release Wal-Mart AC/DC Live Track Pack. If I could find it, I would and I would rejoice greatly. These helped to make my song list grow and the Rock Band nights more insane as ever lasting through the powerhouse Green Day epics ‘Jesus of Suburbia’ and ‘Before the Lobotomy’ and the ode to jerking off ‘Longview’.
Yet, the interests started to dwindle due to Activision’s business model even the Third Reich would find insane of over saturating the market with Guitar Hero games and spinoffs to burn and ruin both franchise without realizing it.
Harmonix said “Screw that” and announce Rock Band 3 with full harmonies, the new keyboard instrument, and pro guitar capabilities. This was a step in the right direction and took cues from The Beatles by using the same graphics and allowing the player to make setlists and save, play a party shuffle, and a more robust career mode dependent on the DLC many fans had purchased. I was ecstatic and bought it with the new instrument and was excited to see more artists and songs I longed for. Three years have passed and the Rock Band nights have all but ended, my DLC has been slow in pace, and Harmonix has grown a new franchise in Dance Central, which is as much fun as Rock Band and gives a bigger reason to keep the party going. If you ever wanted to see a ton of pals attempt to dance ‘Gangnam Style’, Dance Central is perfect for you.
Harmonix has decided to end DLC support for Rock Band on April 6th. I have put it on myself to throw the final Rock Band night on April 6th in honor of the memories it has created and I will be there to purchase the final song. The memories Harmonix allowed me to create is unreal. From cracking jokes about Muse and Fake Steven Tyler on the forums to the wild nights of singing till near 4 am, I cannot forget this franchise and this series. I may be hanging up the guitar, disassemble the drums and leaving the mic behind, but my love for this game won’t end.
To all those at Harmonix and those who helped create this wonder, I salute you for bringing on over five years of Rock Band, for creating a community and experience to new eyes, and for allowing music lovers to expand upon their game and get the best out of it all. You all are winners, saviors, and hold a very dear place in my heart. To quote James Cagney from Yankee Doodle Dandy, “My mother thanks you. My father thanks you. My sister thanks you. And I thank you.”
Thanks for everything and keep on rockin’.