Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Skipped Out for RockBand night at Harrah's

From our drummer:

My band played in Windsor tonight. We came in 2nd. Here's my report,
also with a bit of strategy guidance for what to do if you're not a
top-ranked band. Hopefully this will satisfy everyone who was looking
for more info on the contest.

First off, I'd say that they did a great job with the stage setup and
running the competition. Every band got a bag of swag, and there was a
big crowd watching and applauding. But the cal was way way off, and
they wouldn't let us change it. This was a problem for us. More on
that later.

They had 14 bands signed up on-line, but said that some bands hadn't
ever responded. Watching the registration table, it looked like 6 or 7
bands checked in. Of those, only 4 or 5 played. It was a bit hard to
tell exactly how many bands played because the 4th band was clearly a
top-tier band, they all played on expert and scored slightly over 2M on
Give It Away. At that point, any bands that hadn't played bailed out.
The staff at Caesar's were thrown for a loop by that, but smartly
decided to just covert the contest into an open-mike night, so that
there would be some entertainment going on, rather than just an empty
stage. We took the opportunity to play PDA on expert (except bass on
hard) as an encore and scored ~1.1M, but they weren't recording score at
that point.

For those of you jonesing for score info, here it is:

1st: 2M, Give it Away, everyone on expert (note that this is a talky, so
anyone can score 99% on expert vox with zero effort)
2nd: 900K, Down with the Sickness, expert vox, everyone else hard
3rd: 600K, I'm spacing on the song, maybe American Woman?
4th: ~250K, Livin' on a Prayer

And now some stragegy. In order to win a casino weekly competition, you
need to be smart and lucky. We were fairly smart but somewhat unlucky.
In order to win a casino final or a regional, you probably need to be a
top-ranked band.

First, the smart part. Remember that the contest is judged only on
points. So you need to pick a song with good scoring potential, and
then score as many points as you can. We picked DwtS after seriously
trying out Give It Away, PDA, and Tangled up in Blue. By "seriously
trying" I mean we played each one of those songs probably 20 times at
varying difficulty levels. We eventually chose DwtS because it played
to our strengths. Our vocalist is top-200ish (in RB1 he was top-50) on
the XBL leaderboard. The rest of us are OK, playing hard-to-expert.
I'm maybe ranked about 15,000 on the drum leaderboard. DwtS has a lot
of points on vox, so that's what we went with.

We played it 7-10 times a day for the week prior to the contest, and
could consistently score 98-99% on each of our instruments (on hard)
with our vox generally at 99-100% (expert). Our max score during this
period was 1.94M, and our average was about 1.8M. We deliberately did
not bump to expert because we could only score 94-96% on expert. With
the Rock Band scoring engine, that gave us a lower score than getting
98% on hard. In fact, our bassist was on medium until a couple days
before the contest and we could score about 1.7M that way.

I have a homebrew drum kit (acoustic kit/Alesis D4/MSA-P), so I borrowed
a RB1 kit to use. It would have been smarter to borrow an Ion, because
that's what they had. I had difficulty adjusting to the different
layout of the Ion. In addition I was nervous and stressed about playing
on stage in front of people. Also, the calibration was a big problem. The audio
cal was fine (if you played in time with the music everything was OK)
but the video calibration was way early, so you had to play after the note
passed the note window. This was catastrophic for me. I right away
started missing pads (hitting where they were on the RB1 kit, not on the
Ion). Since the drum is the only instrument playing during the intro,
once I got a handle on where the pads were I couldn't play by sound
(since all the sound I had was rim-shots), and I couldn't play by sight
(since the cal was off). So I was deep in the red by the time the
guitar and bass started. I'm sure my abysmal performance didn't help
them get a good start. We ended up scoring about 1/2 of our typical
score. Our top-tier vocalist had no difficulty adjusting to the cal,
but the rest of us struggled. I had 89%, our guitar and bass were in
the mid-90's, our vox was 99 as usual. For our (un-scored) encore of PDA, we
basically ignored the screen for note windows and just played by sound.
That worked much much better, we were all in the high 90's (99 vox
again) and we hadn't practiced that song seriously for the week before
the show.

Still, our horrible performance was the top score so far. Here is where
luck ran against us. The next band totally nailed Give It Away on
expert. They were unfazed by the cal problems. They totally deserved
to win, but had they waited until next week to show up...
"Note: they literally stuck anyone on vocals, since its a rap type song. The girl just stuttered into the microphone"] -ed.

It looked like there were still bands waiting to play, but none chose to
challenge the juggernaut.

So, to wrap it up (finally, you're thinking, assuming you even made it
this far), with careful preparation you can do well even if you're only
halfway decent. Most of the bands that played were clearly doing it on
a lark. Nobody but us and the scorehero kids that clobbered us bothered
to sync overdrives or could maintain any kind of streak.

To succeed, pick your song carefully and practice it a lot. You need to
be able to maintain a decent streak (hundreds of notes for everyone but
vox) and hit 98%+. Figure out a good overdrive path. Have your drummer
use the Ion kit, so he's used to its layout. Deliberately screw up your
cal (better yet, have somebody else deliberately randomly screw up your
cal many times in different ways) so you can deal with problems.
Playing any song with a single-instrument intro carries the risk that if
that player has a brain fart or a slow start, it's hard to recover.

But most importantly, pick a week where the scorehero zombies stay home.

Post-finally (man won't he just shut up already), I think that Give It
Away (and Testify) should probably not be on the list. They are both
talkies, so you really only need 3 expert players and someone who can
make noise into the mike. I agree with the removal of Teen Age Riot
because its scoring potential is 10% greater than any other song (so
everyone will play it), but the advantage of only needing to make a
3-person band and recruit any random slob off the street (or just put
the mike in front of the speaker...) seems like it will result in the
same effect.

Good luck. You're not doomed (in the weeklies at least), so get a band
together and go.

Thank you Drummer. In poker knewz, I finished frustrated again, making a decision to push limpers off with my 20 BB and getting a call from JQ soooted who hit everything between here and Albuquerque, beating my pocket pair 3 ways to Sunday.

No comments: