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Rock Band 3: Gaming's next revolution

Opinion: Tom Pakinkis witnesses the birth of real music games...

"But I can actually play guitar."

When my friend first offered me a plastic axe - complete with five big colourful buttons on the neck - I couldn't help but scoff. "Why would I want to pretend to do something I can actually do?"


My buddy, no doubt a little hurt, reclaimed his plastic - and went on to 'play' a perfect Sharp Dressed Man on Guitar Hero. I looked on, sneering.

For a long time, I just couldn't touch the likes of GH or Rock Band out of principle. "If you spent this long practising real guitar," I'd shout over the blare of Dragonforce, "You'd be filling the O2." What a waste!

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Eventually, I got off my high-horse, realising that rhythm-action games were just that - games. They weren't a threat to the real deal, they weren't even close. I didn't have to be some crusader trying to preserve the craft. They were just about having fun. And you know what? Turns out they were fun, too.

Granted, I never became a fanatic. I still sighed with disappointment when I heard of people putting in eight hours a day - imagining their potential if only they'd done the same with six actual strings stretched across a bit of wood.

But a few weeks ago, my view on such things was turned machine-head over pick-up - when I went to see the team at Harmonix. They were all pretty excited about Rockband 3, as well you'd expect them to be.

I sat through the basic presentation of what the latest edition had to offer. More tracks? Obviously. Some new cut-scenes for career progression? nice addition. More intuitive, user-friendly menus? Fine.

But it was still the same old blobs of colour falling down a cartoon fret-board - with a reward for pressing buttons in time to the music. As a real-life, callous-fingered guitarist, I still didn't see what it was that could tempt me away from the real deal.

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Then the words came: "Pro Guitar" Huh? A new piece of kit was wheeled out in front of my brightened eyes.

"Hel-lo!" chimed the intrigue cortex in my brain.

Like the typical gamer's guitar it was a plastic piece - this time shaped like a Fender Mustang - but those four chunky coloured blocks had gone. They'd been replaced with 102 sensible, beige buttons aligned in six rows; each about the width of a guitar string.

"They haven't..." I thought semi-aloud as my eyes made their way down the guitar's slender neck to its curvaceous body. The usual strumming flipper had been replaced with actual steel, no-fooling guitar strings.

"A button for every note? A button for every note!" My brain was hopping about the place like it was witnessing the unveiling of the motorcar. "They've done it!"

Until that day, "It" had never even occurred to me.

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I already had an O2 arena full of questions. "You'll notice you've actually got a mind-boggling 102 buttons across the neck," a rep from manufacturer MadCatz pointed out.

"Yep, noticed that," I thought, my mind still recovering from the boggle.

"By giving you 102 buttons, you're capable of playing every note a genuine 17 fret guitar is capable of playing," he continued.

"Down here, this is what we call the string box. You've got six stainless-steel, nylon coated strings that you use to strum along in the game."

I sat on my hands, my excited speculation slowly being confirmed.

"For the first time you're playing real notes, real music to the real songs in the game. Instead of just hitting a sequence of four or five coloured buttons, you're actually playing real music."

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