I actually never played Guitar Hero. Not to begin with at least. I remember trying for about ten minutes, but I kept missing the timing. I wasn't really sure what I was supposed to be doing with those buttons so I gave up and handed it across to Tristan Ogilvie, then Editor of the Official Xbox Mag in Australia. I just sat sipping my drink as he breezed through expert tracks. He was monstrous.
But Rock Band. I played Rock Band. My entire family played Rock Band. For a period of about two years we played nothing but Rock Band.
Today Harmonix announced it would be ceasing production of Rock Band DLC, meaning that in April, after five years of rocking our collective balls off, the team is cutting the umbilical cord to the franchise that made it famous. Harmonix is saying sayonara. Outside of forum involvement Harmonix will now have nothing to do with Rock Band.
"Whether you waited in line for a midnight release of Rock Bandover 5 years ago," read the statement, "or you just joined the party with Rock Band Blitz… whether you’ve downloaded every single song we’ve ever released, or you’ve just played on disc songs until your neighbors moved away… whether you’re a metal shredder, or a bubblegum pop singer… thank you for being a part of our band."
I almost shed a tear.
I never played Guitar Hero, but I will never forget Rock Band. I remember being shown the concept by EA PR as part of a presentation. "You know how Guitar Hero lets you play with guitars?" They said. Clearly they'd pitched this before. "Imagine being part of a band."
An internal video: four human beings, looking precisely like the lifestyle models you might see on a couch playing Wii, or on the cover of Singstar. They're having the time of their life. They're playing Welcome To The Jungle, a game that didn't appear on the disc. They are losing their minds.
And I lost mine.
Then, a cavalcade of stupidity. Rock Band was delayed in Australia for reasons lost to history and good sense. We had managed to play the game over at EA's headquarters, on the only unit in Australia at the time. We were so blown away by it that we all vowed to buy Rock Band no matter what. Myself, Tristan Ogilvie and Luke Reilly all worked together on the Official PlayStation and Xbox magazines at the time and we'd waste entire lunch breaks on Google, trying to figure out how in the hell we were going to buy the game without going broke over the shipping costs.
But, finally, a serendipitous moment; in the form of a work trip. All three of us went overseas to the US to check out a new game. The dollar was strong and as a result all three of us came home with a suitcase and an enormous box containing the plastic instruments that made up Rock Band. It was a beautiful moment.
It was the character creation mode that convinced my Sims-loving wife to give it a try. Within the hour she had a tight grip on both drumsticks and wouldn't let go. From that moment until the end of time I was playing guitar whether I liked it or not.
The next months flew by like a Rocky montage. We struggled through medium, unlocking songs, bummed our way through a handful of songs on hard. Before we knew it we could handle tracks on expert and we had recruited multiple different members of our family into the band. Every weekend was the same. At our place, blasting through More Than a Feeling, taking it all way too seriously. Every. Single. Weekend. The best.
And in the homes of my workmates Luke Reilly and Tristan Ogilvie the story was much the same. Three entire households slaves to that dastardly rhythm and blues. Once the DLC started filtering through on the US store, we decided it was time to get our grubby paws on some new songs. But how?
It was a screwed up situation. Rock Band still hadn't been released in Australia and, even if it had, we had bought US versions of the game, meaning that we couldn't actually download tracks from the Australian store. It was a mess. We bought disposable address-less credit cards from Westpac to download songs, but eventually we found a more elegant solution — virtual credit cards that allowed us to add dollars to our PlayStation Store accounts and subsequently go wild with the purchasing of tracks on the store.
And go wild we did. Through the miracle of PS3 game sharing we accumulated literally hundreds of songs. Then came Rock Band 2, LEGO Rock Band, Rock Band AC/DC — all up, all combined, when I put the Rock Band 2 disc in, all three of us had over 300 songs to choose from. Serious business.
I brought Rock Band everywhere. To LANs, to birthday parties, Christmas parties. For a couple of years Rock Band was a huge part of my gaming life. Truth be told it was a huge part of my social life. It was like a weird lubricant. It brought people out of their shells. It brought old songs to life for a new generation and inspired a gleeful nostalgia in those that remembered. It made you feel like part of a glorious rock band, it made you feel like a golden god.
Thank you Harmonix and thank you Rock Band. Thanks for the guitar solo on 'Alive' by Pearl Jam. Thanks for the Queen track pack and thanks, even, for all those Lady Gaga songs I bought (for my wife guys. For my wife). Thanks for 'Any Way You Want It'. Thanks for the intro to 'Wanted: Dead or Alive'. Thanks for letting me sing 'More Than a Feeling' even though I could only barely hit the high notes.
To those who allowed us to rock, we salute you.