The Backlog: That Old Familiar Feeling edition

We've all been playing games long enough to know what we like. Regardless of whatever revolutionary new series or unusual indie gems might come along, there's always going to be room for those games that we know we'll love specifically because they feel like home. So whether we find that comfort in the villages of Albion, behind the wheel of a Formula 1 car or in the heft of a plastic instrument, we all recognize that sometimes it's best to stick to what you know.


What more can I say, what more can I do, than admit my shame here in this humble entry for our weekly Backlog? Fable III went and stole my heart and has yet to give it back. The shame I speak of is referring to my lifestyle, the way I choose to manage my time and how one piece of software can hold my attention, without pause, for hours on end if I let it.

I mean, I'm not in love with the game -- that would be weird. But all the same I'm in the final, deadly stages of addiction. I started playing Tuesday night around 9 p.m. As of this writing it's Thursday night, just after 6:30. The game tells me I've played for 15 hours already.

Ah, shit.

I mean really: we're working on our book about games right now and I go and waste precious hours, ironically, on a game? At least I landed a full-time job on the very same Tuesday that I snorted up my first line of Molyneux's newest designer substance. My eventual employment is the only thing keeping me from feeling really pathetic. Actually, it's my main excuse for all this procrastination.


In terms of video games, all I've been really getting stuck into this week has been F1 2010 and Game Dev Story. Sure, I also played a bit of the Super Meat Boy demo, but that was only enough to make my dad wonder what the hell I'm doing with my life and to give me context for the brutal pain SMB can inflict.

No, my priority has been trying to rack up more Grand Prix wins with the Sauber-Ferrari team in F1 2010. Once I learned how to maneuver around the save-breaking bug, I got into a rhythm tackling race weekends. Combine that with some more experience with the game engine and physics (especially when it comes to set-ups) and this has become the F1 game I've been hoping for. Pushing hard in qualifying and the race is a real adrenaline rush. And now that I'm nearing the end of my first season, the off-track politics of Formula 1 have come into play.

Other than that, it's just enough Game Dev Story, Words with Friends and Angry Birds to keep my iPhone hating me.


Look, we all know what I've been doing with every free moment I can muster since midnight rolled around this Tuesday, so I won't waste your time with an explanation of the massive, intercontinental skyway I'd been constructing and enemy-proofing earlier this week in anticipation of the imminent Minecraft Halloween update. Instead, let's talk about something else.

Let's talk about Rock Band 3.

I'm not the most typical music gamer. That's probably because music games are overwhelmingly seen as falling under the purview of "casual" or "party" categories, but my passion for them is (sickening? irresponsible? misguided?) potent. After all, most people weren't playing Rock Band 2 (released in September 2008) up until the week before Rock Band 3 came out. Most people also don't have more than a quarter of the game's 2,000+ song library on their console, either.

But there's a reason why I invested so much time and money into buying additional songs: I love this game. I've reaped thousands of hours of enjoyment from mastering the guitar controllers, picking up the basic techniques of drumming and working hard to transform my off-key, grating voice into something that is at least usually on-pitch (but unfortunately still grating). I reveled in the challenge of mastering each instrument, working tirelessly to improve my skills until I was regularly earning gold star ranks (rewarded for very high scores on expert difficulty) on the majority of the songs I played on every instrument. But given that Rock Band introduced its instruments back in 2007, I had long since mastered them, and each subsequent Rock Band release left me feeling like I was just going through the motions. Sure, I was having a lot of fun, but I could tell I wasn't progressing as a player of the game.

But thanks to Rock Band 3's pro instruments mode, I'm finally forced to bump myself back down to medium and I couldn't be happier. Just as with learning a real instrument, the reward is just as much in the journey as it is in the destination. I don't have a pro guitar controller yet, but the time I've spent with pro drums and pro keys has been eye-opening and an absolute joy.

If you're curious what it's like to play the keyboard and what it's like to learn a 25-key instrument in a rhythm game, I'm planning on putting together a series of journal-like posts where I break down the learning process based on my experiences. To be fair, I took piano lessons for about seven years as a kid and I've played trumpet for twice as long, so I'm no stranger to music theory, chord composition or basic piano technique; however, I'm going to try to bear in mind what the learning curve will be like for someone who's never played an instrument before as well. But ideally, this series of articles will shed some light on the learning process behind pro mode and give people a better idea if it's something they'd be interested in.