In my mind there’s no question who is winning the music simulation game war; I play Rock Band almost every single day, and I eagerly anticipate each Tuesday’s delivery of new downloadable content. The regularity with which the DLC appears is part of Harmonix’s genius – I am like Pavlov’s Dog, salivating at the thought of new songs to play, even if they’re not songs I particularly like that much.
This week’s DLC pack was one I really anticipated – the Nine Inch Nails pack, which includes March of the Pigs, The Collector and The Perfect Drug. I like all these songs, and I really like Nine Inch Nails, so I was excited. I knew that I might find the guitar parts disappointing – so many NIN songs are dense soundscapes where guitars play a role, but not a main one – but I was ready. What I wasn’t ready for was how Harmonix had seemingly changed their tune on having the guitar play extraneous parts – in some of these songs you’re playing what is clearly and without question a piano.
That’s an interesting change from the policy in the past, which leads to your whole band standing around for two minutes during Won’t Get Fooled Again’s synth solo. I guess the big difference here is that the Nine Inch Nails songs have parts for other instruments (the drummer and bass player will especially like this pack), so as opposed to the Who track where everybody is standing around, they didn’t want to leave the guitar player in the lurch.
This was a problem they were going to have to face eventually. The goal of Rock Band DLC seems to be diversity, which I appreciate, but which also will lead to situations where one instrument is left out of the loop. The most obvious example would be any instrumental, which would leave the singer hanging for a long time. In this pack they tried to fit the guitar in where it doesn’t belong, but I would almost prefer being left out. I mostly play guitar on Rock Band, but I realize this is not Guitar Hero: With Other Guys, but a game based on the concept of having four people play together. There’s just not going to always be a good balance, but that’s the nature of music. Some songs will have vocals that aren’t as great, while others will have boring guitar parts. It’s the magic that happens when everybody is playing together that matters.
I’m looking forward to future DLC that favors one instrument over another. In the Air Tonight would be awesome to play on drums but would offer little for a guitarist. Fair enough. As long as Harmonix labels the packs well – put together a Drummer’s Delight pack or a Singer Sits This One Out pack – I would relish the opportunity to add new levels of diversity to my game. I hope that the Nine Inch Nails pack, with its guitars playing pianos, is an experiment that Harmonix sees as mostly failed. Don’t be afraid to give me less to do, guys.