Rock Band 3‘s signature song is Bohemian Rhapsody; and, as a video game, that song is a very odd experience indeed. Unless you’re singing, you spend large portions of the song waiting for your next chance to play; whether or not you’re singing, the style and difficulty vary wildly from section to section.
This is a huge change of pace from most games I’ve played recently. Yes, video games frequently involve standing around, in the form of cut scenes: but those are short compared to the action sections and are in a different mode, whereas the gaps in Bohemian Rhapsody are fairly long and are of a piece with the rest—indeed, you would be playing during them if you’d chosen a different instrument. And, while games move you from region to region, they do that on level boundaries: you’ll typically spend an hour or more in a given context and, outside of platformers, different levels in a single game typically have quite a bit more in common than the different sections of Bohemian Rhapsody. And Bohemian Rhapsody’s difficulty
curve spiky graph would be completely out of place in any game that I can think of.
The thing is, none of this matters! Or rather, it matters, but in a good way, in that these comparisons completely miss the point of the virtues of playing the song. The song has a (quite!) distinctive vision, and the goal of playing through one of the instruments in the song isn’t to go through a checklist of what makes a game-playing experience pleasant (or, for that matter, what makes a musical experience pleasant), it’s to experience a portion of that vision.
I don’t want to throw away traditional guidelines for what makes a video game experience enjoyable, what makes a video game well crafted: I enjoy the sort of refined experience that is produced by years of thoughtful evolution as much as the next person, and I would find it exhausting if all games were as idiosyncratic as Bohemian Rhapsody. Having said that, the game that I played in 2010 that is rattling around in my brain the most is Killer 7, and for much the same reasons: it presents an experience that is quite different from anything else I’ve ever played, and that experience is a powerful one that I still don’t know how to make sense of. If you’d asked me what sort of characteristics an enjoyable action game would have, being on rails would be very low on my list; but that sort of checklist comparison is completely overwhelmed by the vision that illuminates Killer 7, and I’m more than happy to place myself in the light of that vision and see where it leads me.
By all means, refine your craft, and don’t put barriers in your users’ way out of carelessness. But listen to what emerges during the night, and if those visions lead you somewhere unusual, embrace them.
This post has not been revised since publication.