Weekly Little Big Planet: system of a down

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It’s the room, the sun, and the sky
The room, the sun, and the sky

Been out of town for a couple of weeks, and thus away from my consoles. I looked at news and relevant threads to keep abreast while I was on the road, but not too much. I kind of figured all this PSN stuff would sort itself out by now. Surely it would have to.

Nope. This PSN is fine. Not the one I need right now, though. So I figured I’d do another story level for the above-the-fold of this week’s column. I fired up my PS3. Launched LBP2. Went to my pod and engaged Story mode. Started sorting through the bits I’d already played, trying to figure out which section of this particular world level I had not yet tried. Looked at percentages. Thwocked around trying to ascertain where the next unplayed bit was. Did this for a few minutes.

Paused. Recalled something my six-year old taught me on the plane the other day. Took a deep breath. Let it out and said…

“Fuck it.”

After the break, peggle for your thoughts

Don’t worry, I was in the room alone.

It’s not that online is everything. That old adage about a tree falling in a forest doesn’t apply to all games I play. Obviously. But the real drawing power of this game, from the get, was its community aspect. Without that, the game has increasingly felt empty. Again, this isn’t the case with all games. If it were I’d never figure out if taking Princess Seraphine directly to Bartonia, and thus pissing off the Trarg, was actually a good idea. To say nothing of all the Peggle levels I’d leave unsolved.

Which reminds me.

My kid is better at games than I am. He’s in first grade now. But he’s better than I am. Leagues better. And not just because he commandeered my DS on a recent flight home and totally and without ceremony schooled me on my latest pride-of-supremacy game, Peggle. Yes, that’s a stupid game to be proud of but shut-it. I was awesome at that game and proud of it…then he came along and…I can’t talk about it. Sorry. Too soon.

What I can talk about is what he taught me. That giving up within games is okay. I hate not finishing things. I don’t like to switch to a new game if I haven’t beaten the level of the game I’m playing. But watching my boy play Angry Birds, for instance, taught me something. If a level is frustrating him, he’ll work it and work it up to a point, then he’ll move on to a different challenge and come back later. A different Angry Birds level. Or maybe a different game. Cut the Rope. A new one for the iPad his grandfather just taught him called Sparkle. Peggle on my DS. Doing this fazes him not a whit.

Sleep tight, PS3.

It’s been months since I fired up my 360. Months. The shocking failure of Sony to figure it out over the last couple of weeks while I’ve been on the road means it’s time for me to pick up a different controller and power up a neglected console. Hmm, I wonder what game is waiting for me there?

No I don’t. I know what’s there.

I check my batteries, blow the dust of my pads, and wipe off my sticks. It’s time for some drumming. About damn time.

I (not pictured) haven’t played Rock Band 2 at home in forever. Last time I drummed was at this couples’ LAN party thing my friend Tom throws every year or so. All I want to do in Rock Band is drum and sing. Singing alone at home is out of the question. I tried it once. Never again. I’m not sure I can explain it. It’s not that it felt pathetic so much as…well…impotent. I love singing in Rock Band when I’m playing with my buddies. Alone it’s like trying to run your best time in a sprint when you’re not racing against any other runners.

Drumming is not like that. I can drum alone all day. It’s more gratifying with the whole band, but doing it alone isn’t much of a step down. In fact, it’s rewarding in its own way. Relaxing and rewarding and exciting.

I started Rock Band 2 and jumped into tour mode as usual. I selected a city and called up a mystery set list. Not something challenging. It’s been months since I drummed. I’m not only out of practice, I’m out of shape. I’d probably be fine with the former. My sense of rhythm would carry the day. As for the latter, there’s no way to fake through that. On the faster songs my right arm would flat give out. My muscles simply weren’t ready. That’s why I picked a regular mystery set list to start. I had a couple of tougher songs I knew I wanted to mess around with later, so I couldn’t let myself get tired out early in warm-up.

First song up on the mystery set list: “Texas Flood”. Very easy song to drum, even on Hard. Still I was pleased to get this one because it brought up happy memories of working my ass off the first time I beat it on one of the Guitar Hero games at our weekly LAN party. I wasn’t very good playing the guitar on hard–this hasn’t changed–but as I tried I fell for the song more and more, and so I kept on trying until I got it. Took some time, but I got it. I can still remember beating it the first time. I was alone in the living room while the other guys played an RTS in the back room. I looked around, wanting to share in the victory. Couldn’t. I just rested my hand on the neck of my fake instrument, wiped the sweat from my brow, took a swig of beer and nodded to myself. That would have to do.

Tonight, I smiled as the first notes played, recalling that time when the only instrument we had was the plastic guitar. Back then I didn’t know from drums. I find this memory weird. I love the drums in this game so much. It’s kind of hard for me to remember playing these songs without drums as an option at all. I realize this will sound weird to most folks reading this. It’s kind of like imagining a time before Facebook.

I instantly regret saying that. Anyway, this is my first time drumming in months, as I said, and I knocked “Texas Flood” off at 99% and five stars.

Next, Interpol’s “PDA”. I love that song. Ninety-seven percent and five stars. After that was “Should I Stay or Should I Go” by The Clash. Same percent and stars.

Mystery Set List out of the way I was ready to get to the songs I really wanted to try. Songs I’d been thinking of drumming for weeks now, almost without knowing it. One was “Limelight” by Rush. I can’t explain why I like drumming that song. I’m not even a fan of Rush. Maybe the movie I Love You Man has something to do with it. I don’t know. I had these friends in high school, in my AP English class, who thought Rush was the Second Coming. One of them wrote his term paper on Rush. I remember reading it during in-class editing and thinking, “Huh?” Now, though, drumming “Limelight” just fills me with joy. Go figure.

The other song I had a hankering to play was “Chop Suey” by System of a Down. I barely know that song, but I’m fond of drumming it because it taught me how to let go. There’s a short section at the beginning that I failed at again and again when I first played the game. Eventually, somehow, I just turned my brain off and my hands flew. The rhythm just makes sense. I can still hear it in my head.

As luck would have it I wound up in Stockholm while looking for a club in which to set up a custom set list. Specifically I wound up in a club called the Mjolnir Lounge, Kungsgatan 18L, Stockholm. First gig? My System of a Down song.

I expected this one to be my first four starrer of the evening. It wasn’t. I bumped this one up to five stars and felt pretty good about myself. With little practice I was killing all these songs on Hard. It had been months. Maybe I was ready for Expert drumming! I had barely tried that before. Perhaps I had evolved in the months of not drumming.

“Limelight” brought me back to earth. Yes, I only slipped to four stars, but I barely eked out that rating. I’d drummed this song far better in the past. I was clearly off my game. And yet…I felt great. Not completing this wasn’t bothering me. Wasn’t fazing me at all.

Before hanging it up for the night I decided to queue up one more custom list. I flew through the available songs and picked the first two favorites that stuck out. “Lazy Eye” and “Monsoon”.

I’m not sure how to convey how drumming these two songs affected me tonight. Maybe you’ll know. Are there certain games that just relax you as soon as you start them up? “Lazy Eye” is a song by Silversun Pickups that does that for me. I can’t really explain it. I get the sticks in my hand, hit green to start the set list, and as soon as I hear those opening notes it’s like knots are starting to untangle in my muscles. It’s not like it’s an easy song for me to play, though. It requires concentration. But there’s something about the work of it that smooths me out.

Tokio Hotel’s “Monsoon” has a similar effect on me, but it’s not quite the same. I feel relaxed again, but drumming this song feels more like talking to an old friend. I feel the song differently, and even after months of not playing it I can anticipate when the fills are coming in a totally different way. Much like the way I feel the next line of a monologue I’ve memorized before I say it.

The only problem with all this drumming was that it reminded me of how much I miss singing in Rock Band. I’ve come to prefer drumming, but I miss singing. That was the first thing I did when the game showed up at our weekly LAN party. I was really looking forward to singing, but I played reluctant for a bit. These were my dude friends. Did I really want to sing in front of them? Oh who cares. Sure. It felt good and I think they were surprised (first song, “Learn to Fly”). Now Rock Band is passe at Shoot Club. What’s worse, because of the way Rock Band 3 works the instruments, vocals have become all but meaningless to make way for keyboards. So I haven’t gotten to really enjoy singing, or get to enjoy others working the mic, for a good long time. Now it looks like that time is all but gone.

Oh well, I’ll always have drumming at home to look forward to. That’ll have to be enough.

Thanks, Sony, for so thoroughly dropping the ball these last weeks. Feel free to keep doing so for as long as it takes, you sad bunch of hapless goofballs. I’m feeling better tonight than I have in a long time.

Lesson of this Week: Know when to move on.

Here endeth the lesson.

Click here for the previous Weekly Little Big Planet