Rhythm Games - Part 5: Song Selection
Part 1: The Rhythm Is Gonna Get You
Part 2: Establishing My Rhythm
Part 3: The Interface of GH2 and EBA
Part 4: Approachability and Learning Curve
So far, we've talked about a ton of factors that may affect the quality of a Rhythm Game. One of the hardest things about Rhythm Games, however, is that regardless of how good your interface is, regardless of how approchable your game is, regardless of how fun your game is, people still may not play your game at all even after being properly exposed to the game. Why, you ask? Well, here is my advice for all those making their own Rhythm Game: never underestimate the power of song selection.
There are so many factors to consider regarding song selection. The first factor is the obvious: if you do not pick songs that are appealing to the players, they will not want to play the game. This is the main reason why I believe Konami's GuitarFreaks would not have succeeded had it been released in America before Red Octane's Guitar Hero. When you play a guitar simulation game, you will want to play some hardcore rock songs with intricate guitar solos or strong guitar-based melodies. In particular, you will want to play songs you already know and love. Everyone of us have air guitared alongside one of our favorite guitar songs even though we don't know how to play the guitar, admit it. Thus, there's no way GuitarFreaks would have succeeded in America: there are very few actual solid guitar songs in it, and the ones that may qualify as an excellent guitar song are songs that you've never really ever heard before (GuitarFreaks utilizes mostly original songs, remixes, and lesser-known music). Had GuitarFreaks been released in America with the same controller and presentation as Guitar Hero, players would not have connected with it due to the fact that the songs would not have appealed to them.
Another factor of song selection is just making sure the songs you choose are fun. I mentioned in the last post that the majority of my friends got hooked on Dance Dance Revolution 3rd Mix, but very few of them played any versions beyond that. One of the main reasons for this is that the song selection was fun in 3rd Mix. There was a greater variety of musical genres with a broader appeal, which allowed for a wider variety of players to grow attached to different songs. The later DDR games have streamlined their music mostly into trance, rave, techno, and J-Pop. This has definitely alienated many of the non-dedicated DDR players. (As a side note, however, the American releases of DDR seem to be attempting a wider variety of popular music genres.)
The first Guitar Hero succeeded in this area: the songs appealed to a wide variety of music fans. And more importantly, the songs were fun. And this is why the direction Guitar Hero II is taking worries me: I do not believe the songs in Guitar Hero II are as fun as the songs in the first game. In fact, it seems that some songs were chosen specifically to increase difficulty, without taking into account how fun and enjoyable the songs are.
This trend happened with DDR as well. The latest DDR games seemed to choose songs based on their potential to create difficult steps rather than just finding fun songs and applying hard steps to them. That made it much harder for novice players to get into the later DDR games, which is why I believe DDR has more of a cult status these days than it did before. Guitar Hero II still hasn't quite gotten to the level of later DDR games... you have to remember that it took DDR a few iterarions to have this problem really manifest itself. But each successive DDR game showed that trend more and more and now has reached the point where I do not believe DDR is as accessible to newbies anymore. And that's the concern I have for Guitar Hero. If Guitar Hero II is already showing a slight migration to having songs more geared to being difficult rather than fun, I can envision that by the time we reach Guitar Hero V, the game might just end up filled with really obscure guitar songs that will appeal to Guitar Hero enthusiasts only. The ability to attract new players will have all but vanished.
Finally, Guitar Hero's music was great because it was popular hits that we know and love. And I have to say: the cover band they got to do the songs in Guitar Hero was amazing. Their ability to mimic the songs was nearly flawless. But I don't think the cover work was done as well in Guitar Hero II. While most of the songs were covered well, some key ones aren't. I was very much looking forward to playing Nirvana's "Heart-Shaped Box" and Rage Against the Machine's "Killing in the Name," but those two covers are probably two of the weakest covers in the game. I mean, if you are going to sing a Kurt Cobain or Zack De La Rocha song, you should definitely make damn sure you sound as much like them as possible. In those two particular cases, it didn't even sound like they really tried.
So by now it's probably pretty obvious that I love Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan! and do not share the same feelings toward Elite Beat Agents. And since this section is about song selection, I'm sure it's pretty easy to assume that one of the main reasons I like Ouendan more than EBA is that I feel the song selection in Ouendan is better than the song selection in EBA.
Well, this is only partially true. I'll be ready to admit that the soundtrack of Ouendan is by far more appealing to me. Since becoming obsessed with Ouendan, I've managed to collect the soundtrack for the game and have listened to the songs repeatedly, particularly at work. I have them on infinite play and sometimes listen to them all two to three times in one day, as listening to the music actually helps inspire me to do better work (which is really funny, considering what the plot of Ouendan is). The music in EBA just doesn't appeal to me as much. I've just never really been into Ashlee Simpson or Avril Lavinge, for example.
But to say that the song selection of Ouendan is better than the song selection of EBA would be incorrect. The appeal of Ouendan's music for me may be simply what Dreek Daniels refers to as "the love affair with Japan." I admit that I love the music mostly because it is "wacky" to me. It is different than most of the music I normally listen to. The music of EBA has far less appeal to me because much of it is typical American pop music. And it's not that I necessarily hate typical American pop, it's just that it's not new to me, so it doesn't stand out to me as something exceptional. The music in Ouendan, for me, is exceptional.
But that's because I'm from America. What about those from Japan? I've heard that one of my favorite songs from Ouendan, "Koi No Dance Site" by Morning Musume, is largely regarded in the same way by the Japanese that any song by Ashlee Simpson is regarded by Americans. In fact, it has been said that the Japanese reacted to Ouendan's entire song list in much the same way many Americans reacted to EBA's song list... that is to say, not positively.
So as a result, I can't definiteively say one song list is better than the other. So I can't really draw any conclusions as to which game is better because of their song lists. However, the one conclusion I can come to is that song selection can be the single, deciding factor on how a game is received, as I hinted earlier. It is a great indication of how powerful song selection can be when, even though the gameplay between Ouendan and EBA are identical in every way, my enjoyment of the two games are not equal. Song selection is a huge factor for this (there is one more factor, which will be covered in the next post). I simply do not enjoy the music in EBA as much as I enjoyed the music in Ouendan, and it has hampered my continued play of EBA.
(One thing that must be stated, just to be fair to EBA: one outside factor that may have contributed to my less than warm reception to EBA could easily be that I OD'ed on Ouendan. I mean, I was Obsessed with a capital "O." I played that game so obsessively that I got myself an S ranking on every song for Medium, Hard, and Insane difficulty levels. By the time I began playing EBA, I was probably "Ouendan'ed out" and couldn't get into EBA, especially since I had to play the easier difficulties first to even unlock the harder levels.)
So my advice to would-be Rhythm Game makers still remains the same. When you pick your songs, make sure you know your audience, give them music they like, have enough songs that stray from your core audience to attract new players, make sure the songs are fun, and make sure they fit your game's interface. Guitar Hero succeeded in America where GuitarFreaks would have failed thanks to song selection. My reception to EBA turned out to be very muted merely because of song selection. I said it once, I'll say it again: never underestimate the power of the song selection.
Next up: Presentation
(Note: Edited to change the "Next up" post, as I keep shuffling the order around based on my mood. I actually want to discuss presentation before hitting Learnability now.)