Kudos: Rock LegendMay 21, 2008 · peterb · 5 minute read
One of the strangest games you’ve probably never played is _Princess Maker_. Ostensibly a parenthood simulator, Princess Maker is yet another male attempt to define, categorize, understand, objectify, and, ultimately, dominate teenage girls: reduce a girl to a finite state machine that can be told what to do, and command her to become the ideal woman. Make the right decisions, and your “daughter” will become a princess, or perhaps, if she’s Jewish, a doctor. Make the wrong decisions, and she works as a tavern wench or whore.
Princess Maker 2
The psychosexual aspect of this is, needless to say, fascinating (you should see some of the pictures I decided to not embed as representing Princess Maker) but that’s not what I want to talk about today. Rather, I want to talk about the mechanics of the game: at its heart, Princess Maker is a scheduling game. There are so many days in a month, there are countless potential activities, and you can bully your adopted daughter into engaging in just 2 activities per month. Those activities will increase or decrease her abilities, or her stress (or, of course, her weight). The core of the game is deciding how she spends her time.
In Japan, the game is one of the forebears of the Hentai game. In these games, you schedule a protagonist’s time, engage in some branching dialogue, and inevitably your character has sex with 5 or so girls (or boys) along the way (SomethingAwful’s Rich Kyanka nicknames one game’s girls as “Smarty”, “Sporty”, “Youngy”, “Angryy”, and “Sicky”. These five will be in every hentai game. You’ll see.)
Hentai games never really took off in a big way in the United States, which I think is proof that perhaps things here aren’t quite as bad as they could be. But using scheduling as a game mechanic is something that American game developers have been trying recently, in a different setting: rock band games.
The first game of this sort that I came across was Shady O’Grady’s Rising Star, which I reviewed for PTD Magazine. Despite the unfortunate name, I quite liked Rising Star, a game which combined the addictiveness of RPG-like levelling up with the loose, chaotic feel of the American music scene. Some of the game’s core activities (such as songwriting) were accomplished via minigames, while other activities required driving around town, or simply deciding what songs were in the set list. The game had some rough edges, but had a punchy, vital feel to it.
Kudos: Rock Legend
Kudos: Rock Legend shares some superficial similarities with Rising Star. Like the earlier game, your goal is to manage a band into rock superstardom, starting from practically nothing. Like the earlier game, some of your advancement in the game comes from simple scheduling, while some of your advancement comes from playing minigames. The game’s feel, though, is quite different: where Rising Star felt rough but vital, Rock Legend is much more polished, but also presents more of a cool aspect to the player, and here I mean cool both in the sense of “popular and accessible” and also in the sense of “somewhat chilly.” The requirement in Rising Star to go on tour and actually drive around to gigs lent a bit of (enjoyable) chaos to the game. Rock Legend maintains more of a “control panel” approach to the subject.
Rock Legend is remarkably free of chaff or busywork. On your band’s road to fame, every turn matters. On any given turn you have a number of choices: you can write a new song (with a clever min-max minigame played in music notation, much cleverer than Rising Star’s ponderous game of Concentration), you can practice your songs, improve your musicians’ skills, or undertake PR activities. Lastly, you can simply rest and recuperate to try to reduce your band’s stress.
It’s in the management of your band members that the game shines. Rising Star purported to model complex like/dislike dynamics between band members based on personality, who wrote songs and which songs were performed or recorded, and so on. But in practice, I found that if you just threw hotels and cocaine at your band, they’d all manage to get along. In Rock Legend everything can be going gangbusters but your bassist will simply leave because he’s stressed and unmotivated. You really have to pay attention to keep everyone happy, particularly if some of your band members are naturally taciturn.
There’s one drawback that deserves specific mention. The background music of the game is, or at least sounds like, a single track. With vocals. After a very short time, you will learn to hate this song. I tried turning the sound down, but one of the minigames, a Simon variant, is easier if you have the sound back on. Rising Star managed this in part by letting the player assign their own MP3s to songs in their set list, a touch I thought was cute. Rock Legend either needs some similar mechanic, or it needs a wider variety (or simply less intrusive) background music. In the grand scheme of things, this is pretty minor – you can always turn on your own MP3 player, of course – but it stands out as a rough spot in such an otherwise polished game.
I found Rock Legend to be an enjoyable diversion, although at times a bit static. The level of interface polish on the game is impressive, but the cool tone was somewhat at odds with the subject matter. At the core, though, this is a good game: it gives you all the challenges of a well-balanced time management game in a single package.
Kudos: Rock Legend by Positech, $22.95. Available for [Windows and Mac OS X. A free demo is available on both platforms. Disclosure statement: the publishers of Kudos Rock Legend graciously provided a copy of the game for review.