Plugged In

How Rock Band 3 will change the way you play

Plugged In

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Rock for real

Music gaming is in trouble, but not because of falling revenue, waning interest, or an oversaturated market.

Music gaming is in trouble because soon, we're all going to be too
busy booking our bands to bother playing silly music video games. At
least, that's the hope of Rock Band 3. Releasing next week, the game's
new 'Pro Mode' just might turn you into a player.

A real one.

That begins with swapping out those five-button plastic guitars
littering your living room for something a little more robust, such as a
150-button axe custom built by peripheral maker Mad Catz specifically
for the game. Sold separately (at the somewhat exorbitant price of
$150), the Fender Mustang Pro is truly a sight to behold: it's plastic
like its peers, but sports a smooth gray button for every single note on
the fretboard as well as six playable 'strings' in place of the
standard clicky strum bar. Intimidating? Absolutely, but so is learning
how to play guitar.

Ace music game developer Harmonix hopes to make that a bit easier by
including a full suite of tutorials and lessons to walk you through the
fundamentals of real-life rocking.

"As a company composed primarily of musicians, Harmonix employees
have taken many [music] lessons ourselves," said Sylvain Dubrofsky,
senior designer of Rock Band 3. "We also have many people who are very
experienced with teaching people guitar, keyboards, bass, and
drums...the music you use to practice in the lessons was composed by our
Audio Department."

Not good enough for you? Dubrofsky also points out that they worked
closely with Rick Peckham, Assistant Chair of Guitar at the esteemed
Berklee School of Music, to ensure the training was up to snuff.

And make no mistake: Pro Mode will teach you the basics of the real
deal, from simple note picking and strumming to more advanced scales,
barre chords, and even arpeggios. Every song on-disc comes with both
regular and Pro Mode options, allowing you to literally learn how to
play 83 songs by mastering Pro Mode guitar on Expert (Pro Mode versions
of downloadable tracks will also be available).

The same holds true for the game's new keyboard peripheral ($70
standalone, $130 bundled with software). With weighty keys and a solid
body, it feels like a real instrument -- which, in a sense, it is: it's
MIDI-compatible and can be used right out of the box as a MIDI
controller. (Harmonix and Fender are also planning on selling a
fully-functional, full-sized Squier Stratocaster
that pulls double-duty as a game controller and a legitimate electric
guitar. No pricing or release details have been announced.)

Still, don't assume you'll quickly transition from playing in your cozy apartment to rocking it at open mic night.

"We aren't necessarily expecting Pro Mode to take the place of "real
life" lessons," admitted Dubrofsky. "Rather, we see Rock Band 3 as a
potential bridge to more people getting interested in playing
instruments and eventually seeking out professional lessons when they
are ready."

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That should make Rock Band's critics -- specifically, grumpy rock stars
-- sleep a little better. Last year, former Rolling Stones bassist Bill
Wyman famously called out Guitar Hero for "encouraging kids not to
learn" how to play real instruments, while White Stripes frontman jack
White called music games "depressing."

Don't mistake Rock Band 3 for being a full-on rock trainer, however:
consumers can still just play it like a normal music game, fake guitars
and all. But with the lure of learning how to be a real rock star only a menu selection away, Dubrofsky thinks Pro Mode will find a home with anyone willing to give it a shot.

"There is something very powerful about learning in the context of a
game," he mused. "You sound awesome with every note you hit, you are
playing recognizable rock hits, and you are getting rewarded in the game
for it."

Rock Band 3 arrives October 26 for the Xbox 360, PS3 and Wii.

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