Some Thoughts On Guitar Hero III

Posted by AJ Harbison at 12:09 am

My younger brother received the Nintendo Wii video game Guitar Hero III: Legends Of Rock for Christmas, and he and I have wiled away several hours since then (well, many hours for him) living vicariously as rock legends. It’s a fun game; he’s better than I am, so he beat me in the Face Off mode, but we preferred to rock together in a co-op career. (We actually beat the game in that mode on Christmas night and were slightly disappointed that it wasn’t more difficult. Of course we could always try it again on the “Hard” setting.) We also enjoyed naming our bands: his solo act is Socratic Method (keep in mind that he’s a Torrey student) and our co-op band was called War In Heaven (based on the title of this book he got me for Christmas). Not bad as rock legend names go. But, as always, there was a nagging thought in the back of my mind: “I could do a TLB post on this!”

Most of the music in the game is not exactly my cup of tea, but since they usually have only one or two songs from a particular artist, they have the liberty to choose good ones. There’s even an AFI song I found tolerable. I’m not a big fan of classic rock in general, which (I think) most of these artists could be classified as, but I do enjoy rocking out to classic rock guitar. There’s something about the tone and style of classic rock guitar that just feels right. And how can anyone not enjoy “Cliffs Of Dover”?

As a musician who’s used to reading music, the “notation” used in the game is difficult for me to adjust to. (If you’ve never seen what the game looks like, click here for a YouTube video.) The rhythm seems so imprecise–there are only gridlines every beat and everything not on a beat falls somewhere in between. It’s hard to understand what the rhythms are in a given song until I hear them a few times–if they’re syncopated, it’s very unlikely that I would understand what rhythm they’re trying to convey (much less be able to play it) until I hear it and can associate the actual rhythm with how it looks as the little colored dots rush toward me. Though I guess any sort of notation that’s more detailed would be impractical.

It’s interesting also to get a visual and tactile perspective on the music. Usually music is just listened to, but playing Guitar Hero associates the audio with your eyes and your hands as well. You start to see patterns in the riffs much more quickly and easily when you can use two or three senses to identify them instead of just one.

And just in case anyone is curious: No, playing Guitar Hero is nothing like playing a real guitar.

Just for fun, here’s a video of “Through The Fire And Flames” performed allegedly by a live person, 100% correct on the Expert level. Superhuman.



  1. Gravatar

    Erin on 01.03.2009

    My sister’s friend brings over his Wii with Guitar Hero on it and he and my sister play for hours and hours on end. They are…amazing at it. I, however, completely blow. But that’s okay. I’ll stick to REAL guitar.

    Their band is named The Kimono Incident. A perfectly fantastic name, I think.

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    Desha on 01.03.2009

    My band’s name is Deff.

    Does anyone else think the Wii version is harder to control than the Playstation?

    And I have to respectfully disagree – I think playing Guitar Hero is A LOT like playing real guitar. I tell the kids at the high school I work at, if you can play Guitar Hero, then you can play guitar! Go get one!

    One guy in particular was a master shredder on advanced, and I was, like, dude, you have GOT to play for real. So he actually found he preferred bass, and got one, and plays great! He’s now doomed to the life of a local rock star.

    I feel you learn great technique from GH. 1.) One finger per fret. 2.) Don’t look at your hands. 3.) Coordination between your picking hand and fretting hand (including hammer-ons, etc.) 4.) rhythm 5.) the correct left-hand finger dexterity

    If you can play on hard or advanced, you can play for real. Even if you can only play on easy, then you can play some real easy guitar riffs.

    An interesting aside, that bass player now is not such a shred-meister on GH – apparently it’s true: knowing how to play for real is a handicap in playing GH

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    Darth_Harbison on 01.04.2009

    Just for the record, the day after AJ and I beat career mode on Medium, I beat career mode on Medium myself in single-player, and from that time until now I’ve been playing it on Hard and have yet to beat it (although I am on the final set).

    It’s interesting that people who play real instruments well have more difficulty playing Guitar Hero . . . I wonder why that is.

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    ryan fleming on 01.05.2009

    Now this is a post that I can relate with. Guitar Hero is by far my most favorite video game. I used to play Dance Dance Revolution (DDR) a few years back and fell in love with that genre of video games. That is I love the music oriented games that include body movement.

    With that said, my band’s name is AIR GUITARS. I didn’t put a lot of effort into choosing this name. I chose it mainly because I like to really get into the songs and rock out like playing an air guitar.

    I have worked my way up to expert and have since beat GH:2, GH:3, GH:Aerosmith at this level. I am currently working on GH:World Tour. I got the complete bundle (which includes microphone and drums) for Christmas. I find the drums much more difficult, but I have just started learning them. Hopefully I will progress in time.

    As far as the Wii versus playstation goes, I have found both to be just fine. I own the Wii and play mostly on that system. My finacee’s little sister owns a playstation so I have also played on that system as well. Both seem to be fine to me.

    I find GH to be much easier than real guitar. I have also heard real guitarists say that GH is harder. With this said, I would say that the two are very different from each other. My friend can really shred on Guitar (He is in a really good metal band) and he can not play GH on expert. The main difference I have found is that GH is a much more mentally challenging because the notes are coming at you so fast and you have very little time to respond. The real guitar you can practice and memorize.

    Well, I believe I have said enough. Good post AJ!

  5. Gravatar

    Ryan Fleming on 01.05.2009

    PS – Cliffs of Dover is my favorite song in the entire game. SO GOOD!

  6. Gravatar

    AJ Harbison on 01.05.2009

    Hi everyone,
    Thanks for your comments! Maybe I should post about video games more often….

    I enjoyed all the band names my commenters mentioned. Desha has a good point as far as the technique Guitar Hero fosters–although I would still argue that even if some of the techniques are the same, it’s still a different experience. It’s interesting that playing the game encourages real technique, but playing a real guitar makes playing the game more difficult. I think I agree with Fleming that Guitar Hero is challenging because of the way the notation works–it’s kind of like sightreading a piece of music for real guitar.

    I’ve never played Rock Band or the World Tour version of Guitar Hero, so I’ve never tried the singing or drumming. Anyone want to invite me over for that?

  7. Gravatar

    Idhrendur on 01.06.2009

    The notation in all such games bother me. I haven’t done GH or Rock Band, but I did do DDR back in the day and had a chance to mess with Donkey Konga once or twice.

    DK annoyed me to no end because the notation was useless. I ended up listening by ear, and memorizing the rhythm instead of reading it.

    I understand why the game makers do these things: music notation has a moderate to steep learning curve. But I’m sure it’s possible to develop a fairly easy-to-learn notation that doesn’t degenerate into uselessness as the pacing of notes increases. In fact, I think I may have thought of a modification to normal notation that would probably do the job…could be messy though. Hmm…

  8. Gravatar

    Idhrendur on 01.06.2009

    Also, many points to your borther for getting you some Charles Williams for Christmas.

    In a jealousy-inducing aside, a girl from my church (also a Torrey student) has been studying in Oxford. I spoke with her yesterday, and apparently she often hangs out in CS Lewis’ house with other Inkling’s fans. And does other awesome things of the sort.

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    ryan fleming on 01.06.2009

    Come on over AJ! I would love to actually have a full band while playing the game. Thus far it has only been Jolene and myself, which is still plenty of fun! I know you are very busy with wedding stuff, so let me know when you have some free time and I’m sure we can get a band session going!

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