When Good Games Go Bad

This post is about Rock Band, which has eaten up a not inconsequential portion of my free time of late.  Despite the title of the post, I have few complaints about the game. It is not quite the best game ever made, but there is such a depth of play there and the promise of continuing DLC means it should remain as such for quite some time.

Review in brief: Bravo Harmonix!  There are few missteps here.

This post is also about comic books. And with that there are probably a few who will understand where I am going with this.

As  I said above, there are few missteps. Before I had the chance to play Rock Band, due to being geographically away from my venue of choice from its release until after the new year, I made do with Guitar Hero III, the slightly off-kilter third sibling of Rock Band’s predecessor franchise. While there are many problems with GHIII, there are two things it does very well. Those two things, I must say, find Rock Band lacking.

The first is the peripheral construction. While I have few things bad to say about the previous controllers, the GHIII Les Pauls are a thing of beauty. The action is smooth, the weight is good, and they are all around comfortable to play.  In comparison the Fender Stratocasters that come with RB are, to be polite, very cheap feeling. Beyond the well documented breakdowns and other troubles, the guitars do not have that sense of strength, beginning with the action on the frets and being most noticeable with the weak strum bar.

The second is the way hammer ons and pull offs were changed in GHIII. In the first Guitar Hero, I found them impossible. In the second, they were troublesome, but on occasion would work as expected. Neversoft decided to make them even more forgiving such that it feels rather fun to get them rather than a difficult gamey element. It is perhaps one area where choosing to go for a less realistic method of doing the music turned out for the better.

However, both these are beside the real point. In spite of these problems, Rock Band shines, even when it causes me problems. I tend to play bass, and while I’ve been playing above my head on some songs at Expert level, jamming with my friends is fun for a long time.

The song selection is very good. I could probably play Learn to Fly and Here it Goes Again many, many times without getting tired of them. I may slowly be growing to dislike Sabotage because of the difficulty and repetitiveness of the bassline, but it’s still a fun song to listen to. Run to the Hills and Green Grass on High Tides may both give me problems for a while, but it’s a nice challenge to try and beat them.

As with the Guitar Hero games, it’s nice to get the combination of songs I know and like to go with some I didn’t expect but find I also like.

But nothing’s perfect. Guitar Hero II brought me Psychobilly Freakout, which isn’t enjoyable to listen to and even less fun to play. Guitar Hero gave me No One Knows, which almost soured me on Queens of the Stone Age for life. In III I found Raining Blood, which combined all the worst elements of a repetitive punk song with the off-kilter timing of Institutionalized.

In each, I am brought to wonder why the designers felt the need to include this song in the game. With QotSA, I can at least say the song sounds nice (and in their favor, other songs are more enjoyable), and probably could feel the desire to keep chugging at it just because of that. What’s really bad is when there is a song that is no fun to play because I don’t want to listen to it.

While I was unable to play Rock Band due to my geographic non-proximity, my roommates did give me a bit of a running tally on how things went. The only mentioned one blight, one song that they would not, could not, play. A song so bad and annoying they’d skip it no matter what.

Curious, I checked the song out on Youtube. For the first thirty seconds, it doesn’t seem that bad. Some fairly neat instrumental introductions, hitting a nice hard rock groove. I could start to get along with that.

And then the vocals start. I swear I had to shut the window within seconds they were so bad. I honestly wondered what sort of people could choose to subject themselves to this regularly. It wasn’t just a weak singer, it was honestly a bad voice to use as a vocalist.

I wondered if it was just me (and my roommates) but after a bit of checking around with others, no, the song really is that bad and I wasn’t able to find anyone in my circle of friends who could stand to listen to the whole thing. I shrugged, chalked it up to a misstep in song choice, and forgot about it until I got home.

While playing through Rock Band, though, I began to get curious. It was certainly possible that we’d get the song on random, and it’d help  to have at least passing familiarity with it. So I started to look into this blighted song again.

I’m speaking about Coheed and Cambria’s Welcome Home. And in the interest of fairness, I will list its strengths. As a progressive/hard rock band, C&C has talent. They play well, have some good riffs and rhythms, and could probably be an enjoyable band.

On the other hand, the vocals are atrocious. Singer Cladio Sanchez has a high pitched voice, which isn’t a problem alone, but he’s also got a thin and weedy timbre. There’s very little depth. To make matters worse, his vocal range (judging from Welcome Home at least) is very narrow. So there’s a high-pitched screeching that extends through most of the song.

It kills just about any interest I have in listening.

Of course, the problems don’t end there. Welcome Home is from the album Good Apollo, I’m Burning Star IV Volume One: From Fear Through the Eyes of Madness. And no matter how many times I look at that, it does not make sense. The words look like English, but there is no meaning.

Apparently, this isn’t abnormal for C&C. Their subsequent album is called Good Apollo, I’m Burning Star IV Volume Two: No World For Tomorrow. I’m really not sure what the title is supposed to imply, except to give off some vague sci-fi reference. This used to be common in music. David Bowie’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars for instance. However there’s a big difference. The title of Bowie’s album makes sense. It is a cohesive title that doesn’t have a random string of works and numerals together.

In my searching, though, it seems that C&C is not inspired by sci-fi. Their albums are apparently directly tied into an ongoing science fiction epic being written by the aforementioned vocalist, Claudio Sanchez. I admit I haven’t read, nor do I have any desire to read, the works he’s put out, but I’ve tried to piece together the series.

Coheed and Cambria’s music ties into a series of comic books called The Amory Wars. The name of the band is taken from two characters in this series Coheed Kilgannon and Cambria Kilgannon. They have a son who seems to be a sort of messianic character who must accept his mantle and face off against the Big Bad to avenge Coheed and Cambria’s murders.

All right. That’s fairly uninspired for sci-fi, but given that C&C are (presumably) musicians first, it’s probably not too big of an issue. I could even ignore the original title for The Amory Wars: The Bag.On.Line Adventures. Please notice all the periods in place of spaces. I suppose it might be a reference to the same in a hypertext link, but really it just looks dumb. Even so, the title was changed to something a bit more run of the mill but that also makes considerable more sense.

So, we’ve got this hero character, Claudio Kilgannon,  who…

Wait, what? That name seems really familiar. Hero named Claudio written by singer/writer named… Claudio?

And here’s where the wheels start to come off. As best I can tell, The Amory Wars is a massive self-insert story. If it isn’t, I’d have assumed that Mr. Sanchez could have come up with a different name. Or, hell, just coming up with a different name would perhaps mask the fact that it’s a self-insert story.

There are two major problems with self-inserts. The first is one of balance. As anyone who’s read fanfiction for any length of time knows, by and large, self-insert characters are favored by the writer to such a degree that any other characters (usually those belonging in the original universe) tend to be overshadowed. Lots of power, luck, skill, charisma, what have you. These characters will display any number of these traits in such a degree that it stretches credibility.

The classic self-insert is the Mary Sue, which comes from Star Trek. It got the name because the editors of the novels could almost always disregard 90% of the manuscripts they received because they would invariably have a new, female character who graduated at or near the top of her class in Starfleet Academy, proved to be a popular addition to the Enterprise crew, would have a romantic liaison with the favored male character of the author’s choice, and would prove to be critical in solving the climax of the story.  These novels were almost always submitted by women. And while they may not have been atrociously bad, the fact that they resembled each-other to such a degree is staggering and leads one to disregard them as a whole. Thus, the Mary Sue character: the self-insert.

In and of themselves, self-inserts are power fantasies and not problematic. However, they are almost invariably stories written for the author, not for the audience. I’ve heard that in BDSM culture, there’s a saying of Your Kink is not My Kink. Here it’s that Your Power Fantasy is not My Power Fantasy.

By and large, I am not going to be interested in a story about some messianic character based on you. There are a few people in the world about whom I would find such a story interesting, and many of my friends are not those people. The further you get away from me, and the more it becomes a “You had to be there” situation. Do I understand this power fantasy? No, I don’t get why you should be cast as a world savior.

And thus, The Amory Wars have already lost me. They may be a fine piece of juvenile science fiction that Claudio Sanchez has written for himself. His friends may dig that he’s such a creative machine, but I don’t get why his stories are in my video games, ruining my ears.

It seems that the only published parts of the story are a bit of chapters two and four (of five). The music may add a bit more completeness, but on the whole it seems that there’s just a bunch of inspiration around a plot that isn’t quite enough to carry the story from Sanchez’ mind to the theoretical public. Telling a story out of chronology should be a technique to use, not come about by happenstance.

Not that that would be entirely bad, I’m none too sure that his grasp of language is any better than his grasp of storytelling technique. Just the title of the album is enough to cause concern. I’m not really sure if it’ll ever be completed, but given that Sanchez has had to self-publish so far, I doubt it’s going to set the world on fire if it ever does.

Now, I did say this was about Rock Band, so I’ll turn to the specific song that’s caused me no end of pain.

Welcome Home is one of the first few tracks off the album where, if I’m  reading this correctly, the story takes a step outside of the strict narrative and is instead narrated by The Writer in the first person. Since Sanchez is the writer, I can only assume he’s talking about himself, in some fashion.

So now we’ve got him singing, and writing, about himself as the writer of a story which is about a messianic version of himself.

Whoa, meta. This could almost be good.

Let’s see what the writer, I mean The Writer has to say:

You could have been all I wanted
But you weren’t honest
Now get in the ground
You choked off the short list of favors
But if you really loved me
You would have endured my will

Wow. That seems kinda dark and bleak.  Continuing on:

Well if you’re just as I presumed
A whore in sheep’s clothing
Fucking up all I do
And if it’s here we stop
Then never again
Will you see this in your life?

So, there’s some anger here. It seems he’s gotten burned romantically and is holding a bit of a grudge. I can understand being a bit bummed from a letdown, but let’s look at the language here.

There’s a lot of dominance and command in the voice. Talk of enduring his will, ordering to get into the ground. He’s also placing the unnamed woman as the downside of the virgin/whore dichotomy. She wasn’t honest, therefore she must be a whore! She’s fucking up everything for him.

It’s all her fault!

This really bugs me. Ignoring how confused I am how this fits into the whole sci-fi story above, this is hugely misogynistic. It doesn’t get any better as the song continues, with more threats of violence and painting the still unnamed female as a traitor to him.

I’ll grant that there may be some separation between Sanchez, The Writer, and Claudio Kilgannon, but the first person narrative here and general negativity towards women just sicken me. Even if his voice wasn’t so bad, the message is so squicky that I really don’t want to know more.

What’s funny is that this song alone answers the question about whether C&C are a prog metal band or an emo band. The sexism, lamenting about romance, and general whinyness plant it firmly in the camp of Emo. It’s not good emo, either.

And that’s really a shame, because, as I noted above, C&C do seem to have some musical talent. I think that, in a different setting, with a different front-man, the people involved could be rather enjoyable. They could go and pull an Audioslave. That’s what made RATM palatable to me.

Rock Band will survive. I think I’ll play the song the bare minimum and hope it doesn’t inflict itself upon me while I’m playing.

Shame, though. It’s a strike against Harmonix. Upon reflection, it bugs me a lot more than the shoddy guitar quality.

8 thoughts on “When Good Games Go Bad”

  1. So, I take it you don’t care for C&C, then?

    There’s plenty of songs on each of the GH discs, as well as the Rock Band disc, that I don’t really care for. Funny thing is, they’re usually not the same songs as those my friends don’t like. Like, for instance, I really think No One Knows is a great-sounding tune, and a heck of a lot of fun to play. De Gustibus Est, and all that.

    I’ll take your word about the C&C song being misogynistic crap from a weirdly-named album associated with a third-rate comic (even if it’s far from the first song ever written about love gone wrong). I doubt it’ll affect my enjoyment of the game, or even of that title, much at all. Not nearly as much as getting used to the clickless strum bar has, anyway.

  2. If nothing else, my reading through various sites and whatnot has shown that there are fans for just about every group that’s who’ve shown up in RB (and any of the GH). If you just look at the five dollar songs release on Christmas, we’ve found that three of them are really good. All American Rejects and The Sounds are some really catchy bands and the songs (two from AAR and one from The Sounds) are among the most enjoyable to play.

    The other two are from a group called 30 Seconds to Mars, and they really rub me the wrong way. But it seems that a bunch of people were excited about those songs coming out.

    To each their own, even though I may question their judgment.

  3. I heard “Welcome Home” about four years ago and fell in love with it. However, the strange and obnoxious quality of his voice prevented me from truly understanding the lyrics (or even being able to make them out.). That was four years ago. Now in my second year of university, I saw the lyrics written on the IM name of a guy I know…..and I was shocked to see that it was THAT song. I never realized that those were the lyrics. They are really disturbing.

  4. Ok… so, what I just read… was that a review? It seemed more like an attack. It also seems to me that you must spend a little too much time sitting at your computer or playing that beloved RB (it is awesome, I’ll admit it). Coheed and Cambria are a hugely succesfull band, not just in album sales (over 1.5 million stateside alone) but as a live act as well, selling out venues of sizes ranging from mid-size clubs to arenas and amphitheaters. While I’m not the biggest fan of the band (I enjoy the music and story, even Claudio’s vocals… just not a big punk/metal guy) I have to give credit and respect where it’s due.

    Now my question to you is exactly where the fuck do you get off bashing a band you’ve never listened to outside of one song on a video game and their comics, which you’ve never read. I imagine you to be a fat, slobby, loser of a guy. I would have been put off by reading this sort of review of anything. To keep it short, shut your fucking mouth if you don’t know what you’re talking about. Or just shut your fucking mouth… you’ll catch flies. Arrogant piece of shit.

  5. Oh and p.s…. I just looked up the numbers… the first five issues of The Amory Wars (which I haven’t read either, I’ll be honest) have sold over 700,000 copies since their beginnings last year and have been released as a trade paperback graphic novel. The first issue of Volume II is due to come out this week and Hot Topic (that shitty little store in everyone’s mall) has taken 138,000 pre-orders since June.

    My point is… these guys are highly successful and talented, obviously. You blog about comics and movies. You talk about the self-injection story line or whatever you called it with such disdain as if you yourself were not suffering from some pretty serious delusions of grandure. Arrogant piece of shit.

  6. I’m not gonna’ sit here and attack you for your “attack” on Coheed. No point in that. However, in almost all forms of creative expression, there is some self-injection. Whether you’re aware of it or not is different. But people write from what they grew up with, what they experienced. What bothered them, what pleasured them. This is just a fact of creative life.

    That being said, it’s probably not cool to bash something you’ve only heard a few minutes of. Claudio’s got a surprising range, it’s just odd that the songs like “Welcome Home” and “A Favor House Atlantic”, which happened to be two popular singles off of “Good Apollo” and “In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3”, respectively, happen to have abnormally high vocal parts. I don’t get it either. But then again, I do like Rush and Our Lady Peace, so who knows. Maybe I’m biased.

    Give “In Keeping Secrets” a good listen-through, I think it’s a severely solid album that covers a wide range of creative area.

    At least taste the food before you say it’s horrible, just don’t smell it.

  7. I’m going to have to agree with you that Coheed and Cambria can be tedious when you don’t like the singer, but man out of left field with the personal attacks?

    Claudio Sanchez regrets writing himself into the story, if you’d take a minute to actually learn rather than be prejudiced you’d find that. The Writing Writer has no real ties to him, he just becomes a character in the fiction. The title would also make sense if you would look it up.

    So in short, why not try to become a successful band yourself before raging at one over the internet. I’m sure Claudio’s feelings got hurt over this before he realized he’s got more money from a “shitty band” than you will have in your life in whatever boring unsuccessful career you pursue.

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