June 25, 2010

The Original Virtual Guitar

The big news from E3 was the prevalance of games that attempt to actually teach guitar, rather than mimicing it in classic five button Guitar Hero style.

My pals at RockBandAide and PlasticAxe had outstanding roundups of their recent hands-on time with a bunch of these new real(ish) guitar controllers at E3:

But before you click through, let’s take a trip back in time … way back, to 1994. When Windows 95 was the latest OS sensation, the Sony Playstation was a hot new console, and the Nintendo 64 was still just a rumor.

The 1994 PC game Quest for Fame was the first (that I know of, anyway) game that attempted to use a full-size guitar peripheral.

The Unsung Story of Quest for Fame documents the game’s brief and somewhat sad history.

Players plug a “virtual guitar” into the computer to make music in the game. Fritz still owns a couple; they’re almost the same size as a real electric guitar and fairly heavy. Unlike the make-believe instrument in Guitar Hero, the Quest For Fame virtual guitar has strings, and there are no colorful push buttons on its neck.

A player watches a window in the computer monitor as a red line scrolls past a series of green blips, like pulses on a heart monitor. When the red line crosses a blip, the player strums the virtual guitar’s strings, and the computer’s speakers respond with Aerosmith hits like “Eat The Rich” or “Walk This Way.” Hit the strings too early or too late, and out come discordant notes and insults from on-screen characters.

Quest For Fame was a hit with critics. “I have seen the future of interactive multimedia, and it rocks,” wrote Stephen Manes in The New York Times. The game acquired a number of avid fans, like Ian Hughes, a virtual worlds evangelist for IBM Corp. in Hursley, a town south of London. “It was wonderful,” said Hughes. “I liked the immersion in the music. You’re in the music and feeling the music.”

If you’re wondering how the game works, I found a video of the game in action via the old British TV show Bad Influence — the Quest for Fame demo starts at 8:20 or so.

Quest for Fame certainly predicted the eventual appearance of Guitar Hero: Aerosmith 10 years later.

Here’s hoping the current crop of virtual guitars …

… fare a bit better than Quest for Fame’s virtual axe did.

HA! “Ageing American Rock Stars, Aerosmith!” That was in 1994…

Michael Prachar
June 25, 2010 at 12:52 pm

Didn’t think it would be worth waiting till the end, but the rest of that video is soooo good!

June 25, 2010 at 2:55 pm

Almost forgot about Bad Influence and Andy Crane. He was a good children’s TV presenter, especially with Edd The Duck, but Violet Berlin was also proper games journalist and wrote a column for the UK’s most popular games magazine, Digitiser (yes, the one on ITV Teletext). Craig McClachlan’s career was jump-started by Australia’s greatest TV show (after Flying Doctors): Neighbours. Yes the same show that gave us Hugh Jackman and Kylie Minogue :)

Bad Influence was all right. It was kind of starting when print video games magazines had been going for ages, plus you can tell the suits wanted TV presenters first, games journalists second.

It also goes to show how valuable good games journalism is. Those vox-pop-style reviews of Panzer Dragoon were painful.

June 25, 2010 at 4:23 pm

Let’s also not forget Guitar Rising, a game which boasted you could plug in any real guitar to play it and essentially learn songs through scrolling tabs, not unlike in Rock Band pro. That game dissipated without a fight apparently.

June 25, 2010 at 8:58 pm

Greetings from Wisconsin. The first game I purchased for my first computer back in 1994 was Virtual Guitar. “Quest for Fame” is actually the third game in the series. It’s a great one, interacting with the members of Aerosmith and all, but the first two games are a must for a number of reasons. But before I get into that, let me point out that the person demonstrating the Virtual Guitar in the above video is making it appear as though the left hand has control over making chords. It doesn’t. It’s a solid piece of plastic. Virtual Guitar is all about rhythm, and playing (mostly) chords in rhythm. You basically are strumming real guitar strings that only appear on the face of the guitar in a grouping the length of around four inches or so. It’s a lot more difficult than a non-guitarist might imagine, especially when you click off your cheat bar at the bottom of the screen and attempt to hit all of the chords for an entire song (the only way to advance with big points and reach the end level). And the rhythm has to be very precise. The guy seen in the above video constantly lags behind the actual rhythm of the song. If this were you in the very FIRST game titled “West Feedback” you would be sent back to your home base – your bedroom – where your virtual mother (GREAT EFFECTS in real-time video) would eventually come in to offer you cookies or tell you to look for a job. Once you break out of your bedroom with somewhat good chops, you advance to a garage, where you’ll be greeted by virtual band mates (again EXCELLENT). They talk to you a bit, then invite you to play. If you suck, they will tell stop the song and tell you berate you (no kidding) and kick you out. Then it’s back to your bedroom – and your mother once again nagging you. There are several more stages to West Feedback that are equally hilarious and FUN. Here is a list of the songs from West Feedback: Hey Jealousy, Kickstart My Heart, This is Cracker Soul, Growing Into You, Come and Go Blues, and 5 Minutes Alone. West Feedback The Second Set was game number two. Equally fantastic, those songs include: All in the Name of…, Hands Are Tied, Somebody to Shove, Fire Woman, Whipping Post, and Tales from the Hard Side (awesome). You really have to play this game to appreciate its greatness. I’ve never played Guitar Hero, but just by looking at it, I can tell it is a crappy rip-off of Virtual Guitar. Once you place a Virtual Guitar around your neck, feel the weight of it, and adjust your tones and volume, you won’t even have to play the game to see it is far superior. Now here’s the drawback. My original computer is long dead (I think it was a Windows 3.1) and the original Virtual Guitar won’t load into more modern set-ups. I am on the look-out for an older computer that will accept this game. I’m dying to play it again after all of these years. It absolutely ROCKS. By the way, when you fail on one of the advanced levels, you are shown a film (hosted by a Jerry Lewis-type geek/professor) that tells you what occupations you are better suited for (other than musician). All are hilarious. So there you have it: West Feedback, West Feedback The Second Set, and Quest For Fame. Finding a computer that will play it is the real challenge. Phil

Phil Nohl
March 25, 2011 at 8:53 am

That’s awesome, didn’t know that. That game looks fun, needs to be released on XLive with GHGitar support. This makes me look a bit more fondly on GHAerosmith.

August 21, 2011 at 10:19 am

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