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Menus and UI

Partial Band Interface, ugly Tool venueThe menus and user interface (UI) deserves special mention because they were hands down the most negatively talked about aspect of the entire game during the entire event. I’m not talking about just a few of us either, everyone hated aspects of it and nobody could easily figure out what everything meant. The UI for full band play in particular had us scratching our heads for the better half of the day, we spent a lot of time analyzing each aspect of it so hopefully you don't have to! Baby steps first though, let's start with the menu system up until you get into the actual gameplay.

The main menu functions much like you would expect and it looks fairly clean, so let’s move on to something that doesn’t work. An oddity of the band instrument select screen, the drummer and the vocalist have to choose which instrument they are going to play. Much like how the guitarists have to decide who plays lead and who plays bass, the drummer and vocalist have to choose who plays… drums…and…vocals. They have no choice, if you are on the drums in real life; you have to play the drums in the game. Same goes for vocals, so why then do they have to actually confirm the instrument that they are playing when it is the only choice they have? It’s a needless click for the player and it’s annoying. It isn't as annoying as the guitar battle that takes place when selecting guitar or bass for the ax shredders though, basically, the first person to choose their instrument, gets it. I can only imagine how annoying this is going to make joining random bands online.

That might seem like a nit-picky detail, so let’s discuss something of a bigger issue, the Quickplay song select screen. Like the rest of us, have you been scrolling down the entire list of songs that recently got posted to scope out the setlist? Well I hope you like the way that massive list of song looks when presented in sequential order because that is essentially what you get with the song list presentation in the game. I kid you not, there are no tier names, no sections, and no scores shown for the main setlist (which also now includes any semblance of what we used to know as ‘bonus songs’, as those are a thing of the past). All you get in this massive list is the band name, song name and the year. When you highlight a song, you are treated to your current hi-score and rating and an icon showing which difficulty it was obtained on. It’s an ugly way to present the song list and is annoying to browse; the confusing sorting options don’t help any.

The main problem with the meager sorting options (by Band, by Song and by Career) available is the fact that the current option being used isn’t displayed anywhere. At the bottom of the screen, it shows an image of the Yellow fret along with the words ‘Sort’ followed by either “Career”, “Band” or “Song”. Press the Yellow fret and it presumably sorts by whatever was showing… or is it now sorted by what it is currently showing? Too many of us scratched our heads about what sorting was actually being used, we even asked a Neversoft staffer during the press event to clarify and he was stymied for a bit.

Obviously sorting by band and song are self-explanatory, but sort by career takes a little guesswork. We decided that it must be sorted by difficulty if it is sorted by career, so we went to test it out, first under the guitar setlist. We scrolled down to the bottom to see “Satch Boogie” appropriately down there, so +1 for this theory, but wait, is that NOFX’s “Soul Doubt” right above it? Is a punk rock song seriously ranked that highly on a setlist with that has the likes of Jimi Hendrix and Randy Rhoads on it? We quickly loaded it up to see if it is as hard as the setlist seems to think it is. Short answer: no, not at all. Long answer: it’s definitely more challenging than most of the punk songs we’re used to being in guitar hero, but certainly not harder than a lot of the other songs we’ve played on guitar. So maybe sort by career isn’t really sorting by difficulty…

While playing full band later on, we happened to notice that the sort by career sorting looked identical to how it did while playing just guitar. We could only surmise that the songs were only ranked on difficulty for the full band experience and just copied over to the single instruments, though it still doesn’t quite add up considering “Satch Boogie” is an instrumental with a simple bassline. So the moral of the story is that we still aren’t completely sure what the sort by career option does.

Pause Menu

Options Interface (not the pause menu -- we couldn't find a picture)One improvement is present in the pause menu. In addition to the standard options to restart the song and quit back to the setlist, there's also a "difficulty" option which allows the instrument that paused the game to select a new difficulty on-the-fly. Doing so automatically applies the difficulty change and restarts the song for everyone. At first I was pleasantly surprised to see the new option. But after some thought, it still is quite limiting as it requires a song restart for each person who wishes to change difficulties, and doesn't allow flexibility to change which instruments are playing. So if you're on Expert playing with a more casual non-Expert friend on Guitar and Bass and you want to swap instruments without backing out of the setlist, you still need to physically swap controllers, and then two song restarts would be needed to change both difficulties. And if one of you decides to switch off to drums or vocals, then you have no choice but to quit out of your setlist back to the band member screen to make that change. Also, backing out to the band member screen during a setlist loses your song selections, so after resetting your instruments, you need to choose the songs over again before continuing. One suggestion was mentioned to have the change-difficulty screen allow all instruments to change difficulties with an added option for "disabled" such that everything is selected by default except for the instrument that paused the game. Something like that would allow for much more dynamic, party-like, environments with people jumping around instruments and changing difficulties without the constant downtime to pluck around menus and reselect things that don't change.

It was definitely an improvement to have any type of in-game option to change settings, but it's hard to overlook the potential for it to solve so much more.

Full Band Interface

One of the single worst aspects of Guitar Hero World Tour is the way the band interface is presented. Just check out this picture, get a good look at it and try to figure out what each element does.

Full Band Interface

Let's start with the Rock Meter at the top left, which by the way is really difficult to get a good look at while playing on the far right. You can see the elements we're used to like the star power bulbs and the meter that let's you know if you're failing or not, as well as the multiplier and score, then you've got the strange green bars with the little instrument icons under them and the number under the score. The rock meter now acts as the gauge for the ENTIRE band, if that gets too far into the red, the band fails. The problem is, it feels completely unnecessary when you consider the fact that if just one member of the band fails, then the entire band fails. I didn't once glance at that meter while playing. The multiplier next to it is the band multiplier and works as you would expect, except for one little thing. If just one member of the band goes into star power, the meter stays at 1x, the rest of the band gets absolutely no benefit from one member being under star power, aside from a tiny boost to the full band rock meter. This means that two people need to be activated in order to get it up to 2x, three for 3x and four for 4x.

We detailed the failing mechanics and the little green bars way back on the Overall Engine page, but I will just reiterate here that they are next to useless in the heat of a song, the easiest way for you to tell if you're about to fail is to watch for your flashing red fret board, but even that can't really be trusted since it takes more than one person to completely fail a band. This gives you the feeling that failure just suddenly comes without warning. I remember singing the expert chart of "Prisoner of Society" with a great guitarist on lead, and some more casual players on drums and bass. We failed at 97%, not because one person was doing terribly bad, but because more than one person wasn't playing perfectly. None of us were flashing red, yet we still failed, the only thing I can surmise is that a few of us were getting close to flashing red (maybe even just in yellow) and that was enough to fail us.

The little number under the score is the band streak, it isn't stated anywhere that we could tell what an individual member's streak is. Once a band streak is initiated, a UI message pops up in the center above the drum track to tell everyone that the band is currently under a band streak, it stays up there until the streak is broken. That's great and all, but the drummer is likely the only one that can easily see it, and they probably are too busy to glance up at it.

Have you been able to find the individual band member's multiplier yet? I'll help you, it's to the right of their individual chart, right about the glowing bulbs that count off the streak. It is really hard to see this number while playing, there is a lot of action going on behind it which can make focusing on it for a moment tough. A lot of these details seem nit-picky, but it's the culmination of all these minute annoyances that brings the entire UI crashing down. The single worst UI element and design decision is the way band star power works, which we detailed on the Overall Engine page already but some emphasis is needed here. Not only is it hard to accurately tell how much star power you have thanks to the bulb system, but it is so far out of the way that only the vocalist has easy access to viewing it, and they're the one band member that usually has plenty of time to get a good look at everything! Since the star power is now a pooled system that everyone shares, you never have a good idea as to how much you have since it is always being added and subtracted from, so you HAVE to look at it if you need to know how much you have. On guitars, we often just tried to activate and if it did, great, if it didn't, well try again in another measure or so.

Overall, no one liked the UI for full band play, we often felt like we had to guess at everything and were clueless as to what was going on outside of our own chart. Hopefully, with time, we can grow to learn how it all works, but casual group play is probably always going to be left in the dark.

Next: The Music Studio


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