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Hot Topic: Guitar Hero III Competition

Posted on Thursday, December 6 @ 22:49:13 PST by
Initially, I didn’t want to go.

Last Wednesday, after a long weekend with my mother and stepdad who visited and helped buy and move furniture and a much-appreciated mattress (no more aerobed!), Joe Accorsi handed me a flyer for a Guitar Hero III tournament – and as much as I was psyched about it, I just wasn’t in the mood.

More than exhaustion, I’m just not a competitive person by nature. I don’t mind a fight, mind you; I just don’t look for one. The tournament was also a week away, and my hands were occupied with the holiday gift guide and my review assignments and Rock Band… mostly Rock Band. I almost felt like a traitor if I flip-flopped between this and Guitar Hero (of course, I don’t now ever since Activision-Blizzard was announced).

The competition was also being held in Hot Topic. Yeah, I felt old. The last time I was in a Hot Topic, I was trying to act cool doing AP Calculus in eleventh grade while failing every sport that involved balls or legs. Couldn’t I just sit at a table and cast Counterspell instead?

To say the least, mastering Guitar Hero III for a competition was not high on my priorities. But by the time it was Tuesday, all of my gripes had fallen by the wayside. I mean, why not? Take a day off and try to claim some fame for GameRevolution, come on! And hey, I had a good shot at getting a $100 Hot Topic gift card for Christmas presents, a trip to LA to compete in front of the Guitar Hero developers (shameless plug: though I’ve already met them), and a shiny 2008 Pontiac G5. (Note: Intentionally leaving out Jimmy Kimmel Live to represent my thoughts on it.)

Jesse Costantino, a fellow reviewer and expert-level Guitar Hero, was coming along as well. Free car ride! But no, seriously, a very cool dude (image to the right). He likes shmups, retro gaming, and writing - who would've thunk?

Competing is much easier when you’ve got someone else to talk to - anything other than just waiting around. When Jesse and I arrived at the Hot Topic in the San Francisco Center at 2:30, we had to sign up for the qualifying rounds, which took place from 3:00pm to 6:00pm. There’s only so much we could in the store for more than three hours, aside from admiring the witty, underground T-shirts, walls lined in silver-chain accessories, and a CD rack filled with Dethklok, The Ramones, and Slipknot. We also couldn’t take pictures in the store, lame…

Still, the gaming rigs we would be ripping on were awesome. Eckhardt, which Activision hired to oversee the event, did a wonderful job setting it up. A long black rectangular column, which would have been decked out with merchandise, was refitted with two long LCD screens. Both screens were flanked by a set of two Mackie Active speakers and two wireless guitars and had each an Xbox 360 beneath them encased in a locked glass case. Some Hot Topic employees were also kind of enough to share their thoughts on which bands should be in the next Guitar Hero and Rock Band, some of their top picks being ACDC, “old-school” Metallica, Korn, Slipknot, and Grindmetal.

I was only pissed off at the host for the event. From what I could hear, he never introduced himself – dude, you have a name, right? And right after he answered my question on what company he worked for, he turned away and stormed off. I wasn’t going to write anything bad about Eckhardt, but now…

While Jesse and I were trying to shoot for the semi-finals, the qualifying song being “3’s and 7’s” by Queens of the Stone Age, the announcer kept flittering from one LCD screen to the other, blaring out what our scores and note streaks were. "And there is Jesse climbing up to 100,000 points! And there is Nick with a 300 note streak… that he just lost!" Yeah, I lost the note streak, because I didn’t whack your head off with the guitar and fling some shurikens up the wide target that is your neck. I am a ninja, you know, and a pissed-off photo-journalist in a mall who likes to kill brainless zombies.

Amazingly, I was able to clinch the top spot for the qualifying round with a score of 369,817. I made a couple of mistakes, so I was surprised to be at the top during the 3:00-4:00pm qualifying round. To the left is a photo of my top score, but only of the scoreboard after Jesse and I came back at around 5:35. Monica, a (nice) Eckhardt employee, allowed me one photograph in the store… silly me for not taking a snapshot after the qualifying round was over, so you’ll just have to trust that the 369,817 hi-score held up.

By the way, during the two-hour wait between the qualifying round and the semi-finals, Jesse and I decided to head off to the new arcade at the Metreon, TILT. We were disappointed that there were no retro arcade machines (where’s Centipede and Ms. Pac-Man?), so I just had to settle with DDR and Pump It Up!. It wasn’t a good idea to waste energy playing games I haven’t played for years, but again, I haven’t played them for years. Nostalgia rules!

Back in the mall, I ate a greasy pizza to settle my stomach and regain some energy. I almost barfed. Never eating mall-quality, faux-Italian pizza ever again.

I was also bummed that Jesse didn’t make it through to the semi-finals, but he really had an uphill battle. He didn’t have a copy of Guitar Hero III, and his only real practice came out of thirty minutes playing in the GR offices before we left. He still gave his best shot, though, and that’s all we can ask for.

With that on my mind and my stomach not cooperating, I needed to concentrate during the next series of semi-final rounds. Fortunately, the format was still Pro Face-off hi-score. So while we were playing with another person, elimination was based on our scores compared to the other competitors. The next song was “Number of the Beast”, a song I excel at and got third place. The top four from that song then moved on to “Cliffs of Dover”, another song I excel at and got first place… barely. I beat Nathan, socolive on ScoreHero, by just a few thousand points.

Finally, the finals began – a face-off between me and Nathan. There I was, surprised to even get this far. And the song announced was… “Knights of Cydonia”. Crap. In my vintage pants, crap. I knew my technique for quick-strumming wasn’t the best, so I confided to my fate. Nathan was able to maintain an 8x multiplier through the quick-strumming sections, so it wasn’t even close. But I learned. Oh, I learned. I now know I must master those blistering passages if I want to win next time. *shakes fist*

So congratulations to Nathan for winning the local San Francisco competition! I must apologize if I annoyed him in any way for singing “Knights of Cydonia” while playing in the final (I swear it's not a long-forgetten ninja technique). I wasn’t trying to “show off” as the announcer implied. It probably wasn’t the best place to do that, but I just wanted to sing and play one of my favorite songs, something I always do at home. And, well, I wanted to have fun, even if I knew I was going to lose.

As the winner, Nathan had to play an undisclosed song using the headphones while the Hot Topic employees kicked all of us out. He even had to sign a contract, so that he couldn’t say what song it was. But as Jesse, I, and some of the spectators waited for the outcome, we slowly realized what it was. Hmmm…. a song that’s more than seven minutes long, is best played by holding down the green button during the intro, and rhymes with “Boo The Liars And Lames”.

Aside from the legal hogwash, if Nathan’s score lands in the top two between the eight local winners around the country, he’ll earn the ticket to Los Angeles. If so, blow that other guy away for us, dude!... unless I know the other guy, which then I wish for the two of you to destroy the Activision developers with thunder, lightning, and anything else you can conjure with your guitar skills. Oh, and if you win, smash the wireless guitar on stage. Represent, man, represent.

And now: a photo of the peoples. From left to right: a friendly spectator; David (got the second high score on “Number of the Beast” and can crack half-a-mil on "Through The Fire And Flames" - wow!); Chase (who only got cut on “Number of the Beast” because of some person blaring out note streaks); and me (disguised with a jacket designed by Ko’s and an oddly messed-up haircut).

In the end, I got second place, far further up the rankings than I thought I would ever get. And most of all, Jesse and I had fun, which is the only thing that counts… aside from winning. *shakes other fist*

Now my only regrets are not having gone back to snap a picture of Nathan and not stealing a copy of Guitar Hero III and a wireless guitar for myself. I mean, at least give the semi-finalists something! We shredded the field from at least sixty entrants to eight. Give us a T-shirt, a CD, something on clearance, a half bottle of Jack Daniels, anything!

But since I didn’t go back and I am gladly not in jail (and not assassinated by fellow ninjas for being caught), I’m back to what I like doing the most – writing about games and telling the tale like it is.

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