Fake Plastic Guitars

I rented Guitar Hero III the other day, figuring that I should play it, form an opinion of it, and get it out of the way before Rock Band shows up. After playing for a bit, I have to agree with a lot of the criticisms that I have seen leveled at the game:

  • The difficulty curve is very uneven. There are some songs in later tiers that seem quite easy in comparison to earlier songs (including Slow Ride, which seems to be a very strange choice for a first song).
  • The boss battles, while sounding neat on paper, don’t work very well in practice. Part of it may be that dueling stringed instruments now have unsavory associations, but they are just not very fun.
  • The art direction has gone more towards “x-treme,” and away from the friendlier, more whimsical styling in the Harmonix versions of the game. It’s difficult to find a character to use that I actually like, and I think this is a fairly big problem in a game that is, when you get right down to it, all about wish fulfillment.
  • The Guitar Hero series still has terrible tutorials. I can’t understand why this is still happening. It’s understandable that for the first game, the developers were under tremendous time pressure, and it’s hard to produce a quality tutorial on a compressed timescale. But now, Guitar Hero has a huge amount of resources behind it — there’s no excuse for them to still be copying the terrible tutorial structure from the first game, and there’s absolutely no excuse for not being able to fully explain game elements like hammer-ons and pull-offs in the tutorial. (The tutorial for GH3, if I am not mistaken, completely omits the fact that you can only perform those moves on notes that have their outline removed.)

It’s still Guitar Hero, which means it’s still fun, but this third installment (first for the new developer Neversoft) is personally disappointing. The song selection this time around is decent, but I would say that there are more songs in the career mode that I think are stinkers than in either of the first two games.

As I played through the career mode, I became more and more frustrated when the controller would not register a fret press when I was clearly holding down the button. Acknowledging that I must be a poor craftsman since I was blaming my tools, I read this short post about some simple mods that could be done to the 360 Xplorer Controller.

For starters, I decided to put cardboard under the fret buttons to help with responsiveness when the buttons were pressed in certain ways. I followed the (fairly complete) directions in that linked post, but hit a couple of snags that I figured I would note in case it saves anybody else some time.

  • In a moment of mental weakness, I traced out the wrong side of the button on the cardboard. This resulted in cardboard backing that barely fit into the bracket for the button, and produced a lot of friction and resistance — basically, not usable.
  • After fixing that oversight, I reassembled the guitar, only to discover that the cardboard backing I used was too thick, and the buttons were perpetually being pressed! I had used cardboard cut from a shoebox, but I wound up slicing it thinner (in half, roughly) to get something that would work. My recommendation would be to test the action of the fret buttons during each stage of the reassembly process, because it gets progressively more snug as the various pieces are reattached, and it’s a pain to have to undo 16 screws again because something got messed up.

This mod resulted in a decent improvement in the response of the fret buttons — I would endorse making these changes for anyone using the Xplorer controller, as it definitely helps reduce the frustration factor of the Guitar Hero games. I don’t have any issues with the responsiveness of the strum bar, so I probably won’t be changing that, but later on I might try my hand at making the whammy bar looser

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