November 5, 2008

Fake Plastic Cymbals

One of the reasons I was looking forward to Guitar Hero: World Tour is the improved drums with cymbals.


After getting a little throne time with the drums in GH:WT, I have to say that playing with cymbals does provide a much richer fake plastic drumming experience. It goes from being a 2D experience to a 3D one — you have to plan your hand movements not only left to right but up and down as well. It’s more challenging and interesting.

But that’s not all. Thanks to the GH:WT cymbals, I can now tell the difference between drum notes and cymbal notes in songs. I am embarrassed to admit that my ignorance of music performance is so profound, but I totally didn’t realize how many of the drum notes were, in fact, cymbal hits! Tons of them! As I played through song after song on GH:WT I saw that the cymbals got a heavy workout in almost every song. It was sort of a revelation to me.

(Yes, I am an idiot. A music loving idiot.)

I fell so in love with the cymbals in GH:WT that I had to have them in Rock Band, as well. I rushed out to buy a Rock Band 2 drumset and the Mad Catz Cymbals add-on.


The Rock Band 2 drumset includes three extra color-coded plugs on the rear that connect to each cymbal. This is a new feature of the RB2 drums, along with all the other new features I’ve mentioned before. I must say I am quite impressed with the RB2 drums overall; I wasn’t sure they’d be that much better than my heavily modified RB1 drums, but they really are. They’re wireless, of course, and the built-in rubberized coating works better than I expected to impove bounce and reduce noise. Naturally I transferred over my goodwood support struts to give the red and green pads the structural support they deserve.

Anyway, back to the cymbals. Here’s a video of the cymbals in action:

In short — they rock! You can buy them in packs of one ($20), two ($30) or three ($40). The only item in stock at my local EBGames was the dual cymbal kit, so that’s what I went with.

Realize, however, that the cymbals in Rock Band are totally optional — there’s no visual indication in the note chart that you should be hitting the cymbal. You can, of course, hear the cymbal when you play it in the song, and that’s your audible cue to switch to the cymbal instead of the pad. But for the purposes of playing the song, there’s no difference whatsoever between hitting, say, the blue pad, and the blue cymbal. Either will work.

One advantage of the 4-pad RB layout is that the pads can be redefined “on the fly” to fit whatever the song needs at any given moment. The Rock Band manual defines the existing 4 drum pads like so:

The red drum is your snare, the green drum is your crash, and the yellow and blue drums are your cymbals (that turn into toms during fills).

So really, the cymbals are tools for advanced drummers to make playing songs more realistic and immersive. When you hear a tom, you hit the blue pad. When you hear a cymbal, you hit the blue cymbal. (ditto for the green and yellow pads.) I know it sounds like a cop-out for gameplay but it’s totally fun! This dual-input has its advantages — you can intermix the pad and cymbal as much as you want while you’re learning which is which, until you get used to it. One easy way to start is to use the green cymbal exclusively to activate the drum overdrive activation green gem — that’s a natural cymbal crash.

Note that Rock Band 2 does treat the cymbals and pads as seperate and independent inputs. During fills and in the drum trainer modes (which, by the way, are a ton of fun if you haven’t checked them out yet), the cymbals and toms make different sounds when you hit them. And like the pads, the cymbals are pressure sensitive. Hit them harder to make a louder sound.

I think the cymbals are one area where Guitar Hero: World Tour has a clear leg up on Rock Band. If you really enjoy drumming in Rock Band, you need these add-on cymbals! They’re crazy fun. Although the Mad Catz Cymbals are a bit louder and “looser” than the fully integrated GH:WT cymbals, they offer a similarly great gameplay experience. I’d also say that having the four-pad layout with (up to) 3 cymbals offers a richer drumming experience than the oddball 3 pad / 2 cymbal arrangement of GH:WT.

(note that the cymbals are a little hard to find at the moment — there are some eBay sellers that have the cymbals, though.)

It is my hope that future versions of Rock Band will show slightly different drum “gem” notes to distinguish between the pads and cymbals. Sort of like hammer-on and pull-off notes for guitarists. The game could even enforce hitting the right input if you happen to own the cymbals. Perhaps that could be a setting in the game options, much like the GH:WT settings option to support the 4-pad RB drums.

Thanks to my new fake plastic cymbals, I now know the difference between:

  • hi-hat cymbal
  • splash cymbal
  • crash cymbal
  • tom drum
  • snare drum
  • kick drum

Maybe improved cymbal support is something they’ll do for Rock Band 3… hmm. How much do you want to bet that the RB3 drums include cymbals?

RB2 drums with add-on cymbals can play GH:WT with total 6 notes?

Marco NSP
November 6, 2008 at 5:23 am

Hi Jeff, nice review :)

If you use the GHWT drums on RB2, does RB2 map the green column onscreen to the GHWT yellow/orange cymbals?

November 6, 2008 at 6:12 am

Wait… I can’t tell by your article… which do you prefer or recommend? The GH:WT or RB2 drumsets? I’m still using my old RB1 set up and haven’t made a choice yet. Which would you say is best?

November 6, 2008 at 7:35 am

I’ve got the ION Drum Rocker and actually just bough a third cymbal last night for just this reason. (I’m not a real drummer. I do play piano and saxophone, and could keep a steady beat on a regular drum kit pre-plastic drums…)

However, GH:WT’s drum play, IMHO, is FAR inferior to Rock Band’s when using the ION kit; I haven’t been able to get myself behind a GH:WT kit… but honestly wouldn’t want to due to my investment in the fanciest plastic drums around. :-)

From a pure gameplay POV — sure, you’re forced to go into Overdrive when Rock Band wants you to (at the end of a fill) but GH:WT forces you to break a drum pattern or a fill pattern and hit both cymbals to activate Star Power… and I find that I’m constantly breaking streaks because my cymbal hits might be more of a flam than a unison hit…

Also, GH’s drum sounds are pathetic by comparison when doing their “fills” (And don’t get me started on the scoring of said fills…)

My biggest gripe, however, is GH:WT’s insistence that the Drum Rocker show up as a RB kit and not a GH:WT kit. It is frustrating to say the least. I have more drums and cymbals out of the box with the DR than GH:WT does, so I would think the game could recognize the Drum Rocker, drop the green pad altogether, and force me to use the other 5 pads as the GH layout. But alas, ’tis not the case, and I am finding their drum charts “dumbed down” for 4 pads to be clumsy.

(I got the 3rd cymbal because GH:WT triggers Star Power via Yellow/Blue cymbals and RB uses the Green; so instead of moving the plug in and out of the appropriate jacks as I changed games, I went with the blue cymbal… which makes playimng Foreplay/Long Time an absolute treat with the alternating blue/green cymbal crashes.)

I will say cymbals make the game play so much better. There is nothing like finishing a big fill in Rock Band and lifting your arm up all rocker-like to crash down on the cymbal.

Way cool. :)

(Want to say been following your fakeplastic blog ever since Joel linked to it; awesome… funny to see the same Jeff Atwood I read over at Coding Horror as enthusiatsic for the fake plastic rock… great pair o’blogs.)

November 6, 2008 at 7:36 am

I wish I could afford the ION rocker. :) Seems like I’ll go for the RB2 drums, then. Thanks for the info.

November 6, 2008 at 10:42 am

> RB2 drums with add-on cymbals can play GH:WT with total 6 notes?

No, they can’t — but the *possibility* is there. It would still be awkward, IMO, because the 3 pad arrangement of GH:WT does not map very well to the 4 pad arrangement of RB.

They’d have to patch the game to recognize the cymbals as different colors, and I’m not sure they will do that.

> If you use the GHWT drums on RB2, does RB2 map the green column onscreen to the GHWT yellow/orange cymbals?

No. More on using the GH:WT drums in RB2 here. It’s not good.

> which do you prefer or recommend?

Overall I greatly prefer the RB2 + Cymbals arrangement for reasons of flexibility. But the GH:WT drums are quite nice and mesh well with GH:WT notecharts, obviously.

Jeff Atwood
November 6, 2008 at 11:56 am

oh, and the other way around

Jeff Atwood
November 6, 2008 at 12:04 pm

It’s not clear from the review, so I’ll just ask it straight out… which do you prefer? the RB2 drums with the Mad Catz add-on, or the GH:WT drums?

More specifically, which would you recommend from someone who only has GH3 and is planning to pick up one of these two band kits before too long?

J Donnici
November 6, 2008 at 12:10 pm

Guess I should have hit refresh before posting the comment…

J Donnici
November 6, 2008 at 12:11 pm

@J Donnici:

More specifically, which would you recommend from someone who only has GH3 and is planning to pick up one of these two band kits before too long?

I would go with RB2. The gameplay is much better than GH:WT (IMHO).

GH requires you to play whole sets while on tour, where RB2 follows the RB1 model of a mixture of sets and singles.

There are times when I just can’t commit to a 5 song set (plus encore) so it will take me longer to finish the tour on GH than it did on RB2.

That said, the mere fact that GH:WT had “Band on the Run” made it a must buy for me. :-)

November 7, 2008 at 7:34 am

Hi, nice review. One question: I ordered the Ion Drum Kit with 3 Cymbals. Does RB2 recognize that I have 3 cymbals and will it show when to hit yellow as a Tom or Yellow as High-Hat for exemple? Or should I hear every song first to know what to play.

It would be nice if it would have an option to see 7 different buttons + 1 bar for the Bass.

November 28, 2008 at 1:55 am

Thanks for the review.

You said that you transfered your Goodwood struts over to the RB2 set. Now that you have the triple cymbal set, is there any interference between the two? I’m a proud new owner of the RB2 drums, and I’d like to have both on my set, but I can’t quite tell how the struts attach to the frame.

Justin Fletcher
January 6, 2009 at 6:15 am

I went through the drum upgrade route myself. My primary instrument is trumpet but can play sax, piano and guitar at an intermediate/semi-professional level. Rock Band has increased my interest in improving my drum skills. So I started with RB1 kit. Upgraded to the Rock Band 2 kit mid-Decemember with the 2 cymbal mad catz add-on. Just yesterday got the ION Rock Drummer. I’ve also played the Rock Band 2 kit with the GH WT.

I will say right off the bat that the ION Rock Drummer is way awesome and if you think you may wish to play drums later it really is a huge improvement. I’ve also decided I’m going with the Rock Pedal upgrade as all the reviews on the ION Drum Rocker are correct that it’s a component that is worth replacing out. More money of course but you can use the rocker pedal that comes with the ION for a hi-hat if you choose to upgrade the kit to a full electronic drum kit. I do like that option as I intend to begin playing the drums more seriously as my skill progresses.

IMO the Rock band 2 kit is not worth an upgrade if you already have the Rock band 1 kit. Better to save up for the ION Rocker Kit. The Mad Catz cymbals are really pretty awful if you are playing on hard or expert. For medium and easy they would probably be ok but they are loud and distracting. One of mine stopped functioning after about a week and I knew that while I could get it replaced it would likely break again soon enough. Too cheaply made and too loud for me to want to mess with. The ION Drum rocker’s cymbals are much quieter and have good bounce. They still may drop a note now and then but not nearly as bad as the Rock Band 2 mad catz cymbals.

I’d also like to add that people should realize that Rock band 1 and Rock band 2 or the ION Drum Rocker are all ‘real’ percussion instruments of various quality. People have been playing ‘drums’ for thousands of years and look how successful STOMP is by beating on anything from a garbage can to a big landry tub. It’s a game but there are real skills that can be learned playing up into expert level on Rock Band. But just like a band student goes from a practice pad, to a snare drum, to then a good quality kit; the Rock Band drum kit has limitations.

As far as GH WT goes… I just don’t care that much for it as I do Rock Band. The drum parts don’t seem as good and I agree with what another reader wrote about the drums sounds being inferior. That said it is still fun and a game worth buying if you already have Rock Band. But if I had to choose between the two I would give Rock Band 2 the hands down winner. Plus go back and pick up Rock Band 1 for the songs… it’s worth it.

January 16, 2009 at 2:03 pm

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