Wednesday, January 29

I need a hero

Tom DeGravel and Ryan Burke’s narrow room in Rieber Hall is admittedly a bit claustrophobic for its three residents. But DeGravel, a second-year English student, and Burke, a second-year chemical engineering student, still manage to find room to host the Vans Warped Tour, along with its thousands of cheering and jeering fans ““ all merely with the press of the power button on their PlayStation 2.

DeGravel and Burke’s room isn’t the only place where the music is “happening.” The solos, riffs, hammer-ons and pull-offs resound throughout UCLA and Westwood, as students wielding five-buttoned plastic Gibson replicas rock out to the tunes of Activision’s “Guitar Hero” and “Guitar Hero II.”

According to Bryan Lam, the senior public relations specialist at Red Octane, which developed the “Guitar Hero” guitar-shaped controller for both the PlayStation 2 and Xbox 360 consoles, the video game had humble beginnings ““ much like many of the musicians the game features. The idea behind “Guitar Hero” spawned from a 1998 Konami game called “Guitar Freaks” that found little success in the U.S.

“(The game) never made a successful transition because (Konami’s) target demographic was totally wrong,” Lam said.

Red Octane and Activision, partnering with Harmonix, the producer of games such as “Karaoke Revolution,” decided to create a new and improved addition to the “rhythm action” genre.

“They felt like it’d be an awesome opportunity to actually have … rock music that the American demographic would love, have all your classic and mainstream bands, and have participation in the game and have songs that people are familiar with,” Lam said.

Within nine months, the game was produced for its November 2005 release date. Lam added that the game had a second spurt of popularity after the initial release one year later, when the sequel “Guitar Hero II,” according to Lam, “exploded into a mass-market bonanza.”

Seth Meeker, a second-year aerospace engineering student, said that he was one of the first people he knew to buy the original “Guitar Hero” in 2005. According to Meeker, the game’s popularity picked up momentum by word of mouth.

“(Gamers) evangelized their own community,” Lam said.

After friends introduced them to the game, DeGravel pointed out that besides other friends and siblings, even their mothers have picked up the game.

“”˜Guitar Hero’ is pretty fun because it’s accessible to everyone,” DeGravel said. “I showed (my mom) how to play it. She can play “˜I Love Rock ‘N’ Roll’ on (the) easiest difficulty. I just took it away from her because I didn’t want her to get too into it.”

Burke’s mother is equally addicted: “She’ll play in the middle of the night. … (My brother) will come over and she’ll be like, “˜Chris! Check this out!’ She’s on medium (difficulty) now.”

Tina Chang, a third-year cognitive science student and a student leader in De Neve’s Cedar and Dogwood buildings, recently attended a gaming event put on by a resident assistant in Cedar.

“(I was) surprised to see a couple football players and a couple people who don’t usually go to events were actually drawn to “˜Guitar Hero,'” she said. “Just because it’s a really easy game to pick up.”

Much of the game’s success is from its unique guitar-shaped controller, which adds a new level of game interaction.

“(The controller) is not nearly as intimidating as a regular controller. A lot of people are more willing to actually get up there and try it out, and once they try it out, the experience is so incredible that people just get hooked,” Lam said.

Though intimidation is not a factor for Meeker, an experienced gamer, the controller is still an appeal.

“It gets you more into it, and you can act like a rock star. And (you can) do stupid stuff that you can’t do with a regular controller,” he said.

Despite the simple gameplay and controller, “Guitar Hero” hooks its players through its diverse playlist of both well-known and less popular songs.

“If you have a song that you are familiar with and continue to play it, you just like it more and more. That’s how it gets addictive,” Lam said.

For some students, “addictive” may be an understatement. Burke admitted he once played nonstop for about 23 hours.

“It was over winter break when I played with my brother. (I) woke up at 10 that day (and) went to bed at 9 a.m.,” he said.

DeGravel suffers from sudden “Guitar Hero” cravings.

“It’s weird because I’ll be fine and not play and then I’ll hear a song on iTunes and be like, “˜Man, I’m in the mood,'” he said.

“(“˜Guitar Hero’) draws people,” Burke said.

DeGravel agreed.

“It sucks them in,” he added.

Meeker reluctantly retired his console at home so that he could “study more and play less “˜Guitar Hero,'” though he’ll still occasionally visit an RA in his building to jam.

Whether it is a blessing or a bane for “Guitar Hero” enthusiasts, Activision recently announced its planned summer release of “Guitar Hero Encore: Rocks the ’80s” for the PlayStation 2 console.

Regardless, fans like Burke, who is already anticipating the game to be “absolutely awesome,” still plan to rock on until then.

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