Who doesn’t want to be a Rock Star? A+

While away at a sales meeting earlier this year, my boss brought his children's PS2 and their Guitar Hero III (GH3) (A+) game for us folks in his team to play. I had tried the game out at a store (demo) and found it incredibly complicated and frustrating. This time around, with patience, I began getting better – actually finishing songs instead of getting booed off the stage. By the time the meeting was over, I was hooked. The learning curve (at least in the "Easy" level) wasn't as steep as I had once thought.

I didn't quite run out to buy the $100 game (guitar included) once I got back. There was still some Halo 3 to play. With school in full swing, I didn't find it proper to tie up dollars and time in a new video game adventure. Upon my return, I did do a bit of research and found that (at a premium) Rock Band was a better buy. The $170 price tag was lofty, but included not only the game and guitar, but a microphone, and a drum set (along with a USB hub for the XBOX). The game allows for guitar and bass play as well, so an extra guitar (not included) can complete the band.

Out of pure impulse, after almost three months of thinking about it, I bought the game - which comes in a huge box impossible to miss. I rushed home and began the arduous process of opening every package. It took longer to open every box and bag included in the bundle than it did to put together the instruments. The guitar came in three pieces (counting the shoulder strap). The drums required a bit more work, but it was quick and easy enough to put together a child could do it. After about 10 minutes, I was ready to start.

Game play is great – exactly like the one in GH3. The games are remarkably similar which makes me wonder about developers jumping ship from one company to the other. Aside from the ability to do more things (sing, play guitar, play drums, etc), I believe the songs in this game are better. Some of the songs in GH3 are great, but overall I found a much better assortment in Rock Band. Their collaboration with MTV might have something to do with this. I also purchased some songs (using unused XBOX points I'd received a long time ago as a birthday present) from their online list. This was a great feature – especially if they continue to add good music to their catalogue.

So as soon as I got acquainted with the game and the initial list of songs, I looked up and applied the "All Song" cheat to play every single one I knew without having to win anything. BTW for those interested, the code is RYBRRBBRYB (R-Red, Y-Yellow, B-Blue) – you have to do it very fast and you will immediately know if it worked because a warning screen comes up informing you that the "Save" functionality has been disabled. The code must be entered in the "Press Start" screen.

I also started a career as a singer and don't see how this will be remotely challenging. In "Solo" action I was singing at the "Expert" level and getting 80+% scores. It's not that I have a great voice, but I do sing a lot (in my car/in private), so if I know the song, I can usually nail it.

The guitar has been more challenging, although I'm doing pretty well in the "Easy" level. I have attempted a few in the "Medium" level to mixed results – some songs are easier than others regardless of the level. This is likely where I will spend most of my time. I love the feel of a guitar and the joy it brings to get a riff just right. It's pure rock ‘n roll.

The drums are tough. I tried them a bit and was not able to synch real well. I need to spend more time getting my muscle memory trained to the location of the drums. This instrument will be the most challenging to master.

This analysis all comes from an afternoon/evening of playing. I just got the game yesterday. I had a blast and was able to rock out despite the instruments being wired (the only advantage of GH3 is its wireless, sturdier guitar). The wires didn't really bother me all that much. I'm sure they become more of an issue when a group of people are all playing. It is certainly going to be a lot of fun playing this game in career mode – especially while getting better. I think I will skip a singing career – it'd be too easy. I'll just sing for fun – this is a part of the game I cannot do without – it's too entertaining. The other two instruments will present enough of a challenge to keep me busy for a long time in career mode. I'm glad I made this purchase – even if it was three times the cost of a regular game.

Created: 3/31/2008

Temporarily Decommissioned

I've always been a devout believer in the Gospel of Murphy. When something can go wrong it usually does. Of course, note that this cube is written in context, considering that in the great scheme of things the magnitude of this event is in the realm of the unimportant.

Sometimes you hear about things happening to people and you say, "That won't happen to me." Sometimes, these things do happen to you and there's nothing you can do about it. Last night, one of these things happened to me.

After dinner, I decided I'd practice my shooting skills in an online game of Halo 3 – Lone Wolf – Slayer. I was not three seconds into a game, shooting a guy with two machine guns (the small ones) and probably about to kill him, when the screen went black. I waited for something to happen – anything. Nothing did. Begrudgingly I turned off the console. I was pissed not to be able to continue that game and pondered if it'd mess up my experience points. When I hit the main button, the unit attempted to start and then I got what has become commonly known as the "Red Ring of Death." The top left and the two bottom quadrants of the ring of lights flashed red and I had a feeling I wasn't going to like what was to come. The next two hours were painful.

I went online to determine the problem and found I was dealing with "General System Failure" issues. Not good. I called Microsoft and they explained how the unit could be under warranty if indeed the error was what I had described. Then, they proceeded to tell me they'd send me a box to place my unit in and mail back to them for evaluation and possible repair. The kicker was when the man said the whole process would take from five to seven weeks. Great – there goes my whole vacation.

When I thought it couldn't get worse, the guy tells me his computer is down and it'll take him a while to get my repair order processed. He asked me if I could call him later. No way. I waited on hold for an hour until he was able to confirm I had a repair request in process.

I have been reading online forums suggesting different things to try. I think I'll give them a whirl to see if the dang thing will wake up. I still have to wait for their pre-paid, self-addressed box to show up, so it's not like I'm wasting any time. I have a feeling it won't come back to life of its own accord though. I guess the Gospel of Murphy teaches us not to rely on faith so I won't.

I will cube the remainder of what is likely to be a trying experience. I can't wait.


It was four weeks after I hung up the phone with Microsoft that I had a new XBOX at my home. The longest stretch was waiting for their pre-addressed box to ship my console to them. A couple of weeks after mailing it off, I was whole again. Instead of repairing it, they sent me a new unit - no complaints here. I also got a free month of XBOX Live for my troubles.

Overall, I was impressed by the quick service. I expected much worse. Kudos.

Created: 12/20/2007
Last Edited: 2/1/2008

The Death of the Master Chief… or was it?

If I may indulge, I'll write one more cube about Halo - in this case, specifically the third (and so far) final installment of the acclaimed first-shooter series.

I finished the game last night. It felt short, but that might have been because I've gotten better. The story was as awesome as billed. The last sequences before the motion-picture finale, perhaps one of the most exhilarating endings to any game I have ever played.

When all was said and done, the Master Chief and Cortana lie in the back of the freighter ship as Arbiter mans the controls, speeding away from the igniting Halo. Fast-forward to the ship crash-landing in Earth (into the ocean) and Arbiter being rescued from the wreckage. This is superimposed on Fleet Admiral Hood while he dedicates a small monument to the war and those who perished. The pictures of Commander Miranda Keyes and Sergeant Major Avery J. Johnson are seen amongst others. Arbiter approaches the Admiral to pay his respects and upon telling him he cannot forgive him for what his people (the Covenant) had done to humans, he appreciates him for having fought alongside the Master Chief. Then, he says, "I can't believe he's dead." Arbiter responds. "If it were only that simple." I paraphrase, of course. Then, the alien leaves the planet. The final scenes show a 117 scratched on the monument – a spaceship dorsal. Cue to credits.

As many, I clicked and the credits were gone and I accepted the death of the Master Chief, Master Chief Petty Officer Spartan-117, John-117. It seemed fitting, he fought until the end. It seemed right…

By casual encounter, I happened to read some thread in some site where someone was questioning the death of the Master Chief in Halo 3. The thread started a month or so before the release of the game. By the last entries on the board, and all out controversy was brewing. Some were confident he had died, citing the same references I'd seen; wondering how anyone could read more into those very final words and symbols. And then a revelation... "Did you wait until the end of the credits?"

Some posters were adamant that the Master Chief had survived and all was revealed after the credits – those same credits I discarded with the quick click of my "A" button.

So I knew I had to finish the game again and see it with my own eyes. Unknowing that I was so close to the end, I didn't save the game last night, so when I started today, I had to battle through a good bit of fierce Flood attacks. I did get to replay the final sequence, which was totally worth it. This time, when the end came, I paid close attention. By the time the credits rolled, I was sure I had not missed anything. The credits were long, but I resisted clicking. And then there was darkness. For a brief moment I thought I'd been had. Before I had a chance to sigh, I heard a voice.

It was Cortana – she was calling the Master Chief. He responded. Apparently the portal had split the craft in half. Arbiter made the pass onto the other side with the front half of the ship, but Cortana and the Master Chief didn't. They were safe. Cortana said she'd put out a signal – still it might take a while, even years, for them to be found. The Master Chief crawls into a hibernation pod – one not unlike the one he emerges out of in Halo: Combat Evolved as the game begins – and says, "Wake me up when you need me."

This game never ceases to amaze me. A better finish unequivocally trumped a great finish. The cycle is complete. He ends as he begins. Furthermore, burying this sequence past the credits was pure genius. Hats off once again to the Bungie crew. So the mystery is solved. And while I felt satisfied yesterday upon unveiling the Master Chief's heroic death, I feel truly rewarded today upon discovering he lived to fight another day.

Created: 10/17/2007

The Halo Effect

The Bungie Studios trilogy of Halo games has truly caused a "Halo Effect" over the XBOX (and subsequent XBOX 360). It would be ignorant to argue that this series of games have not been one of the main reasons for the success of the Microsoft gaming platform. Although this is a fact, it is also important to mention that there are another plentitude of titles exclusive to the system (such as Gears of War and the Project Gotham Racing series) and features (such as the XBOX Live environment) that make the XBOX the preferred system for millions of users including yours truly. But Halo is where it all began. It was the game I first bought (bundled with NFL Fever 2002 and Project Gotham Racing). Halo: Combat Evolved was the premiere title that propelled the system into "Contender" status.

In Halo, not only were the graphics and the gameplay ahead of their time, the story was captivating. I could write about it, but I wouldn't do it much justice - it's that good. The following is a summary from the Halo 3 website:

The Story So Far...

It is the year 2552. Humanity has long been at war with the terrifying alien civilization that collectively calls itself the Covenant. This monstrous conglomerate of warlike species sees Humanity as a form of heresy against their religion -- a religion based in the single-minded belief that a Great Journey awaits its faithful and that this Journey can be embarked upon by firing an array of vast ringlike weapons scattered throughout the galaxy.

These immense terraforming rings, known as Halos, have been abandoned by their mysterious and long-vanished creators, the Forerunners.

This conflict, terrible and destructive though it is, has recently been complicated by a series of cascading events. One of the artificial worlds, these Halos, was discovered and subsequently destroyed by Human forces, led by Spartan-117 — the Master Chief — the last fighting member of the legendary SPARTAN II military program and Humanity's last, best hope.

Conflict at a second Halo installation then ignited a galaxy-spanning conflagration as civil war erupted within the Covenant, driven by revelations that the Covenant leadership, the Prophets, had been deliberately deceiving its populace.

In truth, these Halos would not take the Covenant on a Great Journey, but rather eradicate all sentient life in the galaxy — a last-resort defense against the most terrifying menace the galaxy has ever known — and a menace that the deluded Covenant has reawakened for the second time in a hundred thousand years.

That horror is the Flood — a sentient, all-consuming parasite that makes monstrous puppets of those it kills and will not stop until every last thinking creature is absorbed into its ferociously intelligent plan.

The second Halo as been activated, putting all of the remaining installations in a dangerous state of emergency standby — they are now primed to fire. Worse still, the Covenant has discovered the long-hidden location of Earth and crushed almost all Human resistance as it seeks vital clues to the nature of the Halo array, some of which may have been hidden under our very feet for untold millennia.

Even with our newfound allies, the Elites, and their valiant and honorable leader, the Arbiter, we are still hopelessly outnumbered. The Prophets set their wills against us — and forces greater than the Covenant wheel malevolently into place, intent upon the destruction of all but the Flood.

As the Master Chief hurtles Earthward in a Forerunner spacecraft, he may be our last chance to stop the Covenant, the Flood, and the ticking bomb that is the Halo network, before every last soul in the galaxy is destroyed. The stakes have never been higher.

It's time to finish the fight.

And so I'm "finishing the fight" right now. I got Halo 3 the day it came out, which would make me a geek (although I didn't pre-order it or anything so I'm not a full-blown gamer geek). What I am is a big fan of the game. They've done a great job with it. The weapons, the vehicles, the graphics, the enemies, the story - all excellent. This is by far the crowning jewel of the XBOX and the bar by which all first-person shooters should be measured. And if you happen to play XBOX Live and happen to see me (my Gamertag is "TigerPrep" – another cube one day perhaps) getting my butt shot, a little help would be appreciated.

Created: 10/9/2007