You hit an unexpected realization: Boston was probably one of the top ten videogame level designers of all time.

Problem being, they weren't aware they were designing a level. If you told them of this undeniable fact when they were doing it, Tom Scholz and his group of Massachusetts-based musos would have looked at you strangely before returning to the important business of recording double-tracked guitar solos and working out how to get the hand-clap machine working. They would have had no conception what a level designer was. One who designed levels? But levels of what? It was the mid-'70s, where conventions like "levels" were the far-off fancy of the loopiest of lunatics.

They had a pop career to take care of, and that they did. If you wanted to be factual, you'll note their debut album sold 17 million records - certainly enough to keep a man in plectrums for quite some time. If you want to be mean, you'd argue they were instrumental in the power ballad's creation, so they should be crushed with enormous rocks. If you want to give them a bit more credit, you'll note that with "More Than a Feeling," they invented marrying an insistent circular chord progression with a tiny-tiny-BIG-BIG-repeat! structure, which the Pixies cheerily stole for "Debaser," which Nirvana stole for "Smells Like Teen Spirit," which everyone else stole to invent '90s rock. And if you want to be me, you'll note their real import in history is designing the best level in Guitar Hero.

Fellow Massachusettsians Harmonix clearly understood what they had in Boston's design when they imported this piece of carefully crafted aural-terrain into the world of Guitar Hero. Some credit must go to the developers: While the level was clearly Boston's genius, the game design itself was Harmonix's. This small developer's aim is to "create new ways for non-musicians to experience the unique joy that comes from making music." It's a noble one. Guitar Hero is the closest they've come to achieving their goals.

It's easy to bracket Guitar Hero with other abstract party games in the PS2's armory - rest it alongside your Dance Dance Revolutions and Singstars (what we do in Europe instead of Harmonix's Karaoke Revolution), and snootily dismiss it as just a giggle. Guitar Hero's more than that. While Singstar and DDR sit slightly to one side from the main thrust of videogame design, Guitar Hero engages us with one of its secret magics. It probably has a special game designer name, but for the sake of our argument, we're going to call it the "input fallacy"; one, that's basically what it does; and two, it's got that sort of ring of polysyllabic seriousness which implies I know what I'm talking about, instead of just desperately bluffing.

Which always helps.

Games trick you into thinking you're doing something more difficult and interesting than you actually are. In Prince of Persia, you may just be pressing a single button, you're rewarded with a powerful leap from the lead character. The fallacy is your brain connects your action to the animation - that it was you that did that, thus you should feel the rush of reward. Your actions created that reaction. In a real way, many of the best games are based around this, and games which fail to make you feel as if your on-controller actions connect to your onscreen actions are dismissed out of hand. This is why - say - Dragon's Lair connected with gamers less than the similar period's Defender, despite the spectacular difference in the visuals. In Dragon's Lair, there was no real sense that you were controlling Dirk the Daring. In Defender, your slightest twitch was magnified spectacularly on screen. In one, you watch the hero. In the other, you are the hero.

RELATED CONTENT
Comments on