(This post is huge; most of it is hidden behind a tag to prevent you from having to read it all each time the page loads)
This past weekend was spent at Connecticon. Quite honestly, I had hoped to have the CD/business cards/etc. out at this point, but various circumstances that I have documented before have prevented that thus far. In any event, I first became aware of this convention sometime last year, and went on the Saturday of last year to play in a DDR tournament. I didn’t do very well, but that’s beside the point–I had fun, and decided to go to the entire convention this year, and actually booked a room at the hotel despite living fairly close. This made more sense when I lived in Waterbury (My thinking was I’d go right to the hotel from work on Thursday, because I didn’t want to go from Waterbury to Cheshire, back to Waterbury, and drive back through Cheshire again on my way to Hartford), but as I’ve since moved out to Milldale, I did go back to my apartment after work to pack and then headed off to the Convention Center at about 7:30 Thursday night.
That night I pretty much idled in my room, watching some Family Guy and then the X-Games, specifically Skateboard Big Air (Totally absurd, particularly Danny Way twice damn near killing himself, then getting up and nailing the tricks that slammed him on his next run) and Motorcycle Best Trick. Finally, I watched a History Channel program essentially about Batman technology and how close it is to reality (Surprisingly so, in many cases).
Friday was the first day of the ‘Con proper, and my main activity was going to the Para Para Dancing panel. Para Para is a style of dance popular in Japan in which every song has its own routine, although there are sort of standardized sets of moves that you see in pretty much every song. You can see one example of such a routine here. Is it goofy? Yes, and apparently it can get even goofier (As the instructor put it, “If they think a song sounds ‘girlie’, they’ll definitely put in things like making a heart shape with your hands in the routine.” Who “they” are, I’m not quite sure.). But it’s darn fun regardless. Other than that, the main activity was Rock Banding it up, jumping from instrument to instrument. Though I wouldn’t call it my primary instrument in either Rock Band or actual music-making, my voice would prove to be an integral part of the rest of the weekend.
Friday night, I honestly didn’t sleep a whole lot, because I was too excited for Saturday–rhythm game day! Yes, there would be Rock Band, but there were also Guitar Hero and DDR tournaments throughout the day. Things got interesting Saturday morning, as I signed up for the Rock Band tournament (Evidently, there was supposed to be massive prize support from WCCC that for some reason fell through at the last second.) as a “single”–in other words, a person looking for a band–on vocals, based on encouraging results from Friday night. Eventually, I start playing with someone, and decide to try “Working Man” by Rush, with me apologizing in advance for my horrible, horrible Geddy Lee impersonation.
Long story short: We fail the song–but despite me singing way the heck above my natural vocal range (Haven’t had the opportunity to use that link in awhile…), it isn’t my fault. It turns out that the drummer, who was absurdly good, was close to entering the competition as part of a 3-piece band with someone doubling up on guitar and vocal duties (Perfectly acceptable by the rules of the tournament–technically, as long as all four band positions were filled, I suppose one person could have tried to play all four instruments simultaneously). I offer my services on vocals, and after singing “Message In a Bottle” by The Police (Which I knew) and “Perfect Insanity” by Disturbed (Which I had heard exactly one time before), they allow me to join them. Woo, I have something to do!
Eventually, the tournament starts. Round one: Pick any song of your choice and five-star it. “Maps” by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs was played about four times thanks to a bunch of female singers and a shortage of material in that range. That, and it’s a fairly easy song (Though one band playing it managed not to qualify regardless). My band, named The Infringers (Brian, the guitarist, is a patent attorney), opted to make qualifying a lot harder than it had to be by playing “Limelight” as our qualifier (Keep in mind that we had picked a difficulty for our respective instruments and locked it in for the duration of the tournament. I was on Hard; the three instrumentalists (‘Jay’ on Drums, the aforementioned Brian on guitar, Jesse on bass) were all on Expert.), and almost manage to screw it up (Thanks primarily to my being the weak link), only locking in the five-star after all the vocals were through. Despite this, I managed to attract something of a fanbase thanks to a banshee-esque scream at the end of the song. It was at this point that I started to feel that A. We had a good chance to win the competition, and B. I had a shot at the Best Vocalist award despite what I wrote above, essentially because everyone else was either picking songs in their natural range or dropping octaves to force a song to fit in said vocal range, whereas I had no issues with attempting falsetto where necessary (To Brian’s consternation at times), which I figured would earn me points.
In any event, The next round’s format was changed, ostensibly to save time (I wonder whether this was actually accomplished; more on that at the bottom of this entry). The format being used in this round was that all the qualifying bands (nine in all) would play the same three songs–”Gimme Three Steps” by Lynyrd Skynyrd, “Rock & Roll Band” by Boston, and “I’m So Sick” by Flyleaf–and the top 4 scoring bands would go onto the final, on the main Connecticon stage. And thanks to our qualifying effort, The Infringers were the first band to play said next round, being privately given instructions to essentially demonstrate how the songs were supposed to sound. We wind up five-starring all three songs and putting up a total score in the neighborhood of 2.2 million points for the set (Roughly 1 million on “Gimme Three Steps”, 700K on “Rock & Roll Band”, and 500K on “I’m So Sick”). Then it was time for the wait to see if we would make it in. Privately, I didn’t think we had a whole lot to worry about as far as making the top four was concerned–the format tended to reward those who picked harder difficulties and did well on them, and there were only a couple bands who had the same or more difficult aggregate difficulties–but the wait for 8 other bands to finish the songs was nonetheless nerve-wracking. Nonetheless, as bands one by one failed to top our score, I gradually grew more and more relaxed, and eventually we were officially in the Finals. Woo! Not only that, but our score of 2.2 million actually made us the top seed overall.
The Finals themselves were pretty cool, though the format again got changed from what was advertised. What was advertised was that each band would play three songs on the stage–a standard song for score, a song picked by the judges (Tim Buckley of Ctrl-Alt-Del and an Ozzy Osbourne….to say “impersonator” is technically correct, but it really doesn’t do the guy justice. I was actually not quite sure if it was really Ozzy or not, until I decided that the sheer illogic of Ozzy Osbourne at a comic and anime convention meant that it wasn’t really him–a couple people were actually convinced for awhile that it was actually the Ozzy Osbourne. The guy was good). In any event, thanks to time constraints, the Judges’ Pick song was eliminated, and the standard song for score was “Peace of Mind” by Boston.
Our top seeding (At least, we think it was the top seeding) meant the The Infringers would take the stage last. As the other bands went up and started playing, it was clear that something was up with the equipment. Whether the game wasn’t calibrated correctly, or the guitars weren’t functioning, or some combination, I’m not quite sure, but pretty much all the bands before us had problems of one sort of another that couldn’t be explained by lack of skill alone (Especially given that A. These were the top 4 bands of the competition, B. They were each picking their own song, and C. “Peace of Mind” is, I would think, pretty well-known). Horror stories from guitar to vocal issues abounded.
In any event, we get on stage and begin “Peace of Mind”. and Brian stops and announces that the guitar isn’t working. We start again, and get through the song, and I get a round of applause for essentially being an idiot and actually attempting to replicate Brad Delp’s vocal range (I guess I succeeded as far as the game was concerned). After the song is where it got really interesting–before we went up, we had bounced back and forth between a couple different song choices, starting with “Working Man” (Before it got kiboshed for being too long. Stupid time constraints…) and debating between two Disturbed songs, “Perfect Insanity” and “Inside the Fire”, before finally settling on the latter. After “Peace of Mind”, the following conversation ensued:
Brian: “Message in a Bottle.” (Background: I had pushed to do “MiaB” as our qualifier, but got overruled. It was effectively a “safe” song from a performance aspect, as I scored in the high 90s% on vocals even attempting to replicate Sting’s vocals at points rather than drop octaves) The lag is too bad.
Jay: No, we have to do “Inside the Fire”. We’ll be fine.
Everyone else: All right…
So, we do “Inside the Fire”. I actually failed out of the song (My first and only failure in the entire tournament–pretty good for not actually owning an XBOX 360, let alone Rock Band), but got bailed out by someone’s surplus Overdrive (Rock Band’s “Starpower-although-we-can’t-call-it-that-since-Activision-and-Neversoft-took-our-Guitar-Hero property”, which doubles as a “save your partner” emergency bailout. You can do this twice per member per song; the third time, they’re out for good, and your band’s energy slowly drops to zero until either the entire band fails or the song ends) before things really hit a crisis point. And we finished the song…and the entire tournament pretty much got kicked out of the room at that point, thanks to those time constraints I talked about earlier, which was rather lame, actually.
Final results: We don’t win the overall award, but we do take home a consolation prize of sorts for having the top score on “Peace of Mind”. Not only that, but The Infringers manage to take home two of the four “Best Musician” awards–Jay for Best Drummer…and yours truly for Best Vocalist. Yay!
After that, the four individual musicians (Jay and I, plus Best Bassist
Sam Nick of Hokuden Knights [Whose band actually won the overall competition] and Best Guitarist Sam of Stranger Danger and played a mini-setlist back in the Game Room, with each of us picking two songs, after which I was completely done with Vocals until…probably next Connecticon, given how I sounded this morning. Saturday night, a bunch of the finalists and I went out to CitySteam for a late meal, and generally bonded and talked about non-Rock Band stuff. Sunday was more hanging out, exchanging contact info (They were all extremely cool people, and at least some of them were apparently filming some of the footage, which will hopefully be online soon), and begging Darren (The Director of Video Games) to hold the tournament on Friday next year for extremely selfish reasons, which I’ll get into as CTCon ’09 draws nearer.
So yeah, I definitely had a fun time. And to my fellow Rock Banders, welcome, feel free to comment here or anywhere on the site, and hopefully you’ll stick around and check out some of the music I have here.
Other Rock Band Tourney Thoughts
I mentioned that I’m not sure whether the time-saving measures implemented in the “Trim to four bands” round actually saved any time at all. The reason for this is that the original plan was that the bands would be paired off against one another and would each play a standardized song for score, with the winner moving on until we were down to four bands. This would take a total of five matches, starting from nine bands to get down to four. Five matches times two songs per match (One for each band) is 10 songs. With the way it actually went down, which was more fun/inclusive/whatever to be sure, 9 bands at 3 songs a band is 27 songs. Granted, this was less setup time in terms of bands switching in and out and the like, but I don’t think that would make up for the 17 (!) extra songs that were actually played in the new setup. This paragraph is something of a mess in terms of opinions of proposed format versus what actually happened, so to sum up: Used format great for tournament fun factor, but an utter failure in terms of a time-saving measure versus the bracket style that was proposed.
In general, flatscreen TVs are nice–crisp picture and so on. For gaming, they’re not so hot, and for rhythm gaming, be it Rock Band, DDR, or some other game not really in either of those molds, they are awful–the lag is such that you can reasonably say that the audio doesn’t match the video, and you generally have to hit the button/pad/whatever well ahead of the actual “hit it here!” zone to get credit for it. Worse, despite various calibration settings for various TVs, it’s very difficult to actually calibrate the games correctly–several people tried and really just made it worse. This was one of the problems with the tournament as a whole.
Getting on stage to play Rock Band was pretty darn cool, I must say. I was definitely nervous for it, though I was helped out by the fact that, I think, I was the only one of the 16 final band members with previous main stage experience of any sort (The post-qualifying rounds of last year’s DDR tourney were also main stage), though this admittedly also lessened the “Guys we’re on the main stage this is so AWESOME!!” factor that everyone else had–Jay actually said “This is intimidating!” upon viewing the area for the first time. I didn’t think the vocal issues were as bad on the stage as the other bands made it sound like, at least relative to what I had been dealing with throughout the tournament. Yeah, the vocals were projected out to the audience as well, but I’m used to the sound of my own voice at this point, so that didn’t bother me at all.
A bit of Rock Band Theory: I don’t know precisely how vocals are scored, but I’m actually wondering now if a band comprised of Expert instrumentalists and Easy vocals would be the way to go for maximum point production. My thinking on this is that upping the difficulty on the vocals narrows the margin for error (In other words, the area “around” the correct pitch where you’ll still get credit for being what the game calls “correct”), but I’m not sure if there’s any tangible score benefit to actually getting it right on the higher difficulties. Does anyone who actually has the game want to weigh in on this? A brief online search didn’t really turn up an explanation of how vocals are scored. My thinking about this was spurred on by a conversation in which a band who was on straight Expert actually failed a song in the trim-the-bands round, effectively eliminating them from contention. Talking with Darren after the fact, it seemed that the impression he got was that the rest of the band had pressured the vocalist into going on Expert for extra points, regardless of whether she could actually handle it (Expert vocals are tough. Even on Hard, and knowing more songs than not, I had a couple close calls energy-wise besides the “Inside the Fire” incident).
Finally, thanks again to the rest of The Infringers for making me look good. And congratulations to my fellow award winners, and I hope I’ll see you all next year.
Until next week…