Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Guitar Heroes Metallica At South By Southwest: Gamers Morph Into Real Thing

For the several thousands of headbangers who jammed their way into Stubb's BBQ on Friday, March 20 at this year's South By Southwest Music Festival in Austin Texas, the scheduled listing for 10 PM described as "Guitar Hero Metallica Madness Competition" turned out to be the worst-kept secret everyone was hoping it would be. With the marketplace launch of their highly anticipated video game a little over a week away, heavy metal kingpins Metallica did indeed show up in person, actual instruments in hand, to give their fans a nice and loud taste of the real thing.

"We're from Norway and we want to get signed," joked lead singer/guitarist James Hetfield told the audience early on during the group's 90-minute show, which found the hard rock behemoths blasting their way through a good number of tunes from their latest CD, Death Magnetic, as well as a smattering of older knucklescrapers including "For Whom the Bell Tolls," "Sanitarium," "One," and "Seek And Destroy."

Shortly before their show, Yahoo! Music caught up with lead guitarist Kirk Hammett, who sounded suitably juiced by the new game as the countless fans who'll soon be able to simulate the Metallica crew on classic tracks like "Enter Sandman," "Master Of Puppets" and "Fade To Black." Just don't ask Hammett to play it. Not because this genuine guitar hero wouldn't like it. Quite the opposite.

"To be totally honest I'm the kind of person that once I start playing a video game, I don't ever put it down," Hammett told us. "I don't eat; I don't sleep, I just play and play. I realized years ago that if I didn't watch it, I'd have to go into a twelve step for video games, so I just better cool it. Then this comes around, and of course I get addicted instantly and start playing obsessively. The entire time I should be playing my guitar instead of this toy guitar. It was like, 'What am I doing'?"

The game includes a set list of 45 songs drawn from the entire Metallica catalogue. "We all submitted lists," said Hammett. "Certain songs were no brainers, like people would go bonkers if we didn't include them. But we also wanted to make it comprehensive, to span our whole catalogue." Additonally, there are over 20 songs from other groups, featuring the likes of Judas Priest ("Hell Bent For Leather"), Alice In Chains("No Excuses") and Motorhead ("Ace of Spades"). "The guest acts are groups that have inspired us, bands we're close to and toured with, and bands we just like, like Mastodon or the Foo Fighters or Social Distortion."

Hammett said the selection process resulted in a few surprises. "Some of the songs we wanted, the bands couldn't locate the master tracks, so they had to re-record them. And in one instance--defunct Mercyful Fate's "Evil"--20 years after the fact, they went back in the studio and had their own mini-reunion, which was really cool."

Also included are a variety of simulated settings based on some of Metallica's favorite concerts. "One of the venues is Tushino Airfield, a festival we played in 1991 in Moscow," said Hammett. "Reportedly, there were over a million people there. I just know I remember looking out from the stage and just seeing endless faces. There was fog over the horizon, and I was still seeing people underneath the fog. So we tried to create a different sort of atmosphere in which to play the game."

As for the motion capturing process itself, Hammett said it was definitely a unique experience. "They put all kinds of sensors on you to try and capture what it looks like when you play. It's kind of weird; these sensor things are like ping pong balls, and you're wearing a velour suit. Now I think I've developed a fetish for velour leisure suits."

While it is just a game, Hammett said he believes Guitar Hero: Metallica can have some added impact on fans who play it. "I think it can be a great starting off point for a kid. I have a friend who works at a music store, and he told me that the guitar hero games have actually caused a spike in guitar sales because of the interest. Besides, they're getting to hear great music rock and classic metal that they maybe otherwise they wouldn't be having access to. So to me, with a game like this, everybody wins."


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