Wednesday, August 31, 2011

EXP Podcast #139: The Mega-Music Show

This week's show is all about music games. It's a big topic, so Jorge and I recruited a talented trio of musicians and video game writers to help us out: Dan Apczynski, David Carlton, and Kirk Hamilton were all kind enough to stop by to discuss the merits of music games. We cover a huge swath of topics ranging from pedagogy, to musical philosophy, to Bon Jovi's genius. We've known Dan, David, and Kirk for a long time and it was a blast to have an excuse to hang out with them and record the show. Hopefully you all enjoy listening to our podcasting jam session as much as we enjoyed recording it. Thanks again to all our guests and thank you for listening!

And now, inspired by Kirk's reference, here's a kid playing Guitar Hero while solving Rubik's Cubes:

Some discussion starters:

- What is your take on the state of the music game genre?
- What do games like Rock Band teach us, both about music and game design?
- What are your hopes for the future of the genre?

To listen to the podcast:

- Subscribe to the EXP Podcast via iTunes here. Additionally, here is the stand-alone feed.
- Listen to the podcast in your browser by left-clicking here. Or, right-click and select "save as link" to download the show in MP3 format.
- Subscribe to this podcast and EXP's written content with the RSS link on the right.

Show notes:

- Run time: 1 hr 15 min 34 sec
- "the beatles, rock band, and genre," by David Carlton, via
- "Rock Band, Guitar Hero, and Musical Convergence," by Kirk Hamilton, via
- "Games of the decade: Rock Band," by Mitch Krpata, via
- Shameless self-promotion: "A Day in the Life," "I'm Looking Through You," and "Yesterday," posts about The Beatles: Rock Band by Scott
- Music provided by Brad Sucks


  1. Thanks so much for having me, it was super fun! Sorry for going off the rails with all that Apple stuff at the end, in retrospect I had a completely unrelated proto blog post that was rattling around in my brain at the time...

  2. I'm a week behind because of Irene, but I really enjoyed listening to this discussion. I feel a growing need to acquire the RB3 Squire controller now...

    While the conversation didn't deviate much from Rock Band, I was wondering if you guys played any of the games that were developed for Kongregate's Project Eden contest? It's interesting seeing how designers try to incorporate music into games; they tend to either be very abstract (procedurally generated, etc.) or very literal (Rock Band) in how music is addressed as a principle theme.

    And because its gravity is too strong, another thought about RB3: Related to the difficulty of experienced instrumentalists having difficulties with the pro instruments, playing pro keys is challenging for pianists, I think, because of how the note tracking shifts position on screen, making it really difficult to reference where ones hand is on the keys. At a piano, reading music left to right, I know where my hands are. But when the game moves the visual reference point, without any audio feedback if you are hitting wrong notes of where your fingers actually are, I think pianists have a harder time learning where to put their hand, since they already rely on other mechanisms that the game doesn't support.

  3. Playing pro keys using their notation is harder than playing using standard piano notation if you're a trained pianist, no question. But I still think pianists have a head start in that regard - you can tell where you are on the keyboard by feel (since the colored notes surround groups of black keys), and a pianist will have an idea of what chords (and chord progressions) feel like, increasing the chance that they'll put their hands in the correct place.

    I could be wrong, of course - I don't know what pro keys is like for people who aren't trained pianists, so I could be mistaken about how lost they do or don't feel.

  4. I'm looking forward to that Rocksmith thing that's coming up, that will use real guitars and is supposed to be about actually making you better with guitar.

    As a result of this podcast I actually bit the bullet and finally imported a pro-guitar and pro-keyboard for RB3 (I was able to buy RB3 in Australia but the distributors never bothered selling the pro guitars here in Australia, and the keyboards were only available very, very briefly. Come to think of it I don't think RB2 was ever released here at all - they released RB1 when RB2 came out in the US, and then RB3 at the same time as your RB3, and I think RB2 just got skipped).

    And while I've been enjoying the pro guitar - with the caveat that the buttons make it hard to tell when you're staying on the string or slipping to the next one, and you can't just feel the fifth, seventh and other marked frets by feel because, again, they're underneath buttons - the pro keys are, I have to say, very frustrating. Mainly because instead of going left to right and with standard music notation, they've gone with cramming everything together vertically where it's very difficult to distinguish between notes. And you don't get anywhere near enough warning of what's coming up.

    I don't get why they didn't do with the pro keys mode what they do with the vocal track and have it left to right - and why they didn't just use an actual ordinary musical stave. I feel like I have to unlearn actual musical skills to get through tracks in the game.

  5. @Jeremy

    I have to admit, I thought Rocksmith was vaporware, but I'm interested to see what it can do now that it's coming out.

    Interesting thoughts on the keys. That would probably be the instrument I would choose, which makes me a bit apprehensive. Even so, I guess anything would improve my musical skills as they stand now, so maybe I'll still jump in at a certain point.