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Time Sinks – Rock Band

Green Grass and High Tides. If those words send a chill through you, then at some point we shared a great trial – beating Rock Band's guitar career on Expert, and confronting the nearly ten-minute long odyssey that was The Outlaws' 1975 song by that name. Even if you did manage to cross the finish line, it was only an entryway into yet more challenges ahead. Rock Band's escalating difficulties, regular sequels, and endless downloadable content added up to an incalculable breadth of game time – and I loved every second of it.

Most Rock Band faithful were already familiar with the fundamentals of gameplay after two years of playing the various incarnations of Guitar Hero. With the original developer of Guitar Hero at the helm for Rock Band, expectations among music game faithful were high. Harmonix did not disappoint.

Rock Band offered everything that Guitar Hero had already succeeded at, but expanded the concept to bring in new instruments and a long-term vision for delivering ongoing content. For my part, I instantly fell for Rock Band's many approaches to play, and began to split my time between conquering the guitar career and an equal effort at trying the drums for the first time.

My dedication to Rock Band traces back to two sources: a love of music, and my fascination with challenges in which it's always possible to improve. Rock Band taps both by providing top notch tunes and an array of ways to improve one's skill at the game. 

The first installment of Rock Band features a surprising and eclectic song list. Classics like Iron Maiden's "Run to the Hills" and Rush's "Tom Sawyer" sit alongside tracks from The Killers and Queens of the Stone Age – and those songs can keep a player busy for months. However, it's the long term approach to the music that really floored me, and kept me involved in the Rock Band franchise for years to come. Subsequent installments of the franchise offered opportunities to draw earlier song lists into the new sequels, resulting in an ever-growing catalog of music to play. Plus, in what remains the single most impressive approach to DLC yet attempted by a game developer, Harmonix rolled out over 4,200 songs (including the brilliant indie-style Rock Band Network entries) in an uninterrupted streak of 280 consecutive weeks of new content, giving players a smorgasbord of their favorite songs to purchase and play. Over the years, more than any game I can recall, I found myself returning to Rock Band and its sequels again and again. Even when I stopped playing for a month or two, I'd hop back in for several fevered days of playing old favorites, and downloading newly released tracks.

(Thanks to YouTuber JPrez44)

Beyond the ever-expanding palette of songs to play, Rock Band offers a challenge that is hard to put down. Though "Green Grass and High Tides" was perhaps the most memorable stretch of hours I poured into a song, I love the way the game constantly throws new surprises at me. Learning the drums demanded that I teach my legs to pedal tap with the same precision I'd taught to my arms and fingers when playing guitar. Later, the addition of the keyboard brought yet another twist in the knot, and another variation on watching those endless note-highway streams. In every case, the ramp up from medium, on to hard, and the final summit of expert feels rewarding and engaging, and provides a sense of improvement and mastery that few other games can match.

After all these years, Harmonix halted their seemingly endless stream of new DLC a few months ago. Even so, I still find myself coming home at the end of a long day and popping in Rock Band from time to time. Inevitably, when I do, I begin with the plan to just play a couple of songs. However, when all is said and done, I don't end up surfacing for air until a couple of hours later. The sheer joy of interacting with the music and testing my (now sometimes rusty) skills has endless appeal. Rock Band remains one of my favorite titles, and it's also undoubtedly one of the franchises I've invested the most effort and time in over my many years enjoying games. 

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