'Guitar Hero' Game Earns a Following

The video game Guitar Hero allows players rock out to their favorite hits on a small plastic guitar. The game's cult following now awaits a new version of the game, which features music of the '80s and hits stores Tuesday.

Copyright © 2007 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

ALEX COHEN, host:

This is DAY TO DAY from NPR News. I'm Alex Cohen.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

And I'm Alex Chadwick.

This is one of the hottest video games on the market now. Get this: no weapons, no drug deals, no crazy car chases. The goal is simply to rock out. This is a game called "Guitar Hero." The newest version of it is dedicated to music of the '80s. Where could we find someone to tell us all about this? How about my in-studio companion today, Alex Cohen?

(Soundbite of video game sounds)

COHEN: Yes, it's true. I'm a bit addicted to the game, which is how I wound up at the Sacred Fools Theater in L.A. on a Saturday night for a "Guitar Hero" competition.

(Soundbite of video game sounds)

COHEN: You see, there's a very social aspect to "Guitar Hero." People like to play it in front of each other. It's almost like competitive karaoke.

Unidentified Man: Coming up: Martinez and Sanchez. Up here. Up front.

COHEN: At this tournament, two contestants are summoned to the stage, where they flip a coin. The winner, Martinez, gets to pick which song they'll play.

(Soundbite of music)

COHEN: He chooses a Rage Against the Machine tune. And the two face off in a heated "Guitar Hero" battle.

(Soundbite of song, "Killing in the Name of")

COHEN: Here's how the game works. Each player has a plastic controller that looks a lot like an electric guitar - minus the strings. On the screen, colored dots float along an animated fret board. The goal is for players to hit the matching colored buttons on their faux guitars in time to the music. Head banging, hopping around and Pete Townsend windmills don't earn points, but as contestant Ellis Sanchez(ph) discovers, such moves go over big.

(Soundbite of cheering)

COHEN: At the end of the song, the winner is determined by who has hit more notes correctly. And in this case, it's Sanchez. I caught up with him backstage and asked him how often he plays "Guitar Hero."

Mr. ELLIS SANCHEZ ("Guitar Hero" Enthusiast): Like mostly everyday. Even when I'm not finished with my homework.

COHEN: Yeah, Ellis Sanchez is 10 years old. And he managed to beat out a bunch of players three times his age.

Which songs do you like the best?

Mr. SANCHEZ: "Sweet Child of Mine," "Rock This Town" and "Texas Flood."

COHEN: Did you know most of these songs? Have you ever heard any of them before you started playing the game?

Mr. SANCHEZ: Well, not most of them.

COHEN: Do you think you want to be a rock star when you grow up?

Mr. SANCHEZ: Totally.

(Soundbite of music)

COHEN: Charles Huang is one of the founders of Red Octane, the company that created the first edition of "Guitar Hero" two years ago.

Mr. CHARLES HUANG (Co-Founder, Red Octane): People think of it as a guitar game, but what it is it's really about this fantasy of being a rock star.

(Soundbite of music)

COHEN: For example, the game starts with users sticking their "Guitar Hero" persona, characters with names like Lars Umlaut or Axle Steele.

Mr. HUANG: There's female characters. There's punk rockers. There's like your classic, you know, denim jacket, heavy, sort of, metal guys.

COHEN: When you play the game, the screen shows a crowd of animated fans rocking in time to the notes you play. If your timing's off, the note sounds sour and eventually, you'll get booed off the stage.

(Soundbite of video game sounds)

COHEN: But if you play enough notes correctly, you can then tilt your guitar in the air and unleash something called star power.

(Soundbite of music, cheering)

Mr. HUANG: It sort of amplifies everything that goes on stage. So the music gets louder, the crowd starts cheering. Your avatar on screen starts doing, you know, jumps and spins and starts performing.

COHEN: Play well enough at the virtual version of Stonehenge, and the crowd will beg for an encore.

(Soundbite of cheering)

COHEN: And not just any encore.

(Soundbite of song, "Free Bird")

Lynyrd Skynyrd (Rock Band): (Singing) 'Cause I'm as free as a bird, girl.

COHEN: Not long after the first "Guitar Hero" came out in 2005, it quickly became a cult hit. Case in point, just search the words "Guitar Hero" on YouTube and you'll find nearly 60,000 videos, like the one with a five-year-old kid who now, thanks to the game, plays and sings along to Megadeth...

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Child: (Singing) (unintelligible)

COHEN: ...to the guys known as the Guitar Zeros who hacked into the game controllers and turns them into actual instruments.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Man #1: I've used a binary system of representing pitches in a particular scale or key. We have the lowest note.

(Soundbite of digital sound)

Unidentified Man #1: A lot like the real guitar.

COHEN: But are real guitars anything like the game? Not necessarily.

Unidentified Man #2: Someone can't find the yellow button.

COHEN: That's from a video shot by a friend of guitarist Scott Ian of the heavy metal band Anthrax. The two were at a Best Buy where Ian failed miserably at the "Guitar Hero" version of an Anthrax song.

Mr. SCOTT IAN (Guitarist, Anthrax): Oh, I suck. If you look, I'm getting yelled at. He's totally yelling at me.

COHEN: Ian only managed to get a third of...

COHEN: Ian only managed to get a third of the notes right on a song he wrote.

Mr. IAN: It was completely alien to me because it really, you know, it has nothing to do with actual guitar playing.

COHEN: Ian says "Guitar Hero" is more a game of percussion than anything resembling a true test of guitar skills. But, he adds, that's just fine considering, after all, "Guitar Hero" is a video game.

Mr. IAN: These things have to be difficult and it takes you a long time to be able to get all the way through in the end. Otherwise, that to me would mean it's a pretty lame game.

COHEN: Ian says after playing his song on "Guitar Hero" about a dozen times, he finally began to get the hang of it. "Guitar Hero III," which will feature another Anthrax tune, comes out in October.

Copyright © 2007 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Web Resources

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.