People play Rock Band at parties, or with friends, or alone. It's a great way for anyone to experience the thrill of being a rock star. But one weekend, Enigma Live Game Labs took the experience a step further....
The woman leaving the workout room stopped and looked at us a little oddly. "Are you part of the convention?"
I couldn't blame her. There were a dozen people or so standing around the fourth floor hallway of the Westin, and we were a strange crew to find right outside the director's suite (especially at 10 AM). Although there were a few button-down shirts and a suit jacket, there was also the woman with shock red lipstick and giant eighties hair, the broad-shouldered man with the denim jacket and the aviator glasses, and a woman wearing a "Hellsting" T-shirt that had been cut down for a more risque neckline. One person had even given up on the whole 'standing' concept; he was slumped in the corner with his eyes hidden behind a pair of wraparound shades.
"We are!" Aaron Vanek explained brightly. "We're part of an interactive theater group. We're just getting ready to start."
"Cool!" She looked us over again. "Well... you all have fun." Fortunately, she left before he handed out the blindfolds, or she really would have wondered.
For context, Intercon is a LARP (live action role playing) convention held every year in New England. Although there are many kinds of games held at Intercon, most of the games are much like improvisational theater without an audience. Each participant is assigned a specific role, and then the participants act out those roles for the next three to five hours in whatever space has been set aside. The roles can be anything imaginable, from the high courts of Faery to the inmost circles of American politics to undead high school students.
In November 2010, I found out that Aaron Vanek of Enigma Live Game Labs would be holding a game called Rock Band Murder Mystery at Intercon K. The writeup for the game promised, "You're riding the wave as one of the hottest bands in the world, on tour for your latest album, partying all night long. But dark shadows dwell behind the spotlights and the silence of death beyond the speakers. Who killed rock and roll? Find out in this theater-style, fully immersive Enigma Live Game Labs murder mystery, which is being run inside a private suite of the Westin Waltham Hotel. Mechanics and rules are minimal, emphasis on rockin' out... er, role-playing." Since I was going to be at Intercon anyway (this is my kind of geekery) I promptly signed up to play.
The plan was to use Rock Band 3 to simulate rock and roll. This was supposed to be a "what you see is what you get" kind of game - it would have a real suite, a real couch, real clothing strewn around the room, and a real horrible mess from the party thrown there the night before. However, requiring everyone in the game band to really know their instruments and rehearse in advance would have gone far beyond the standards for a four-hour game, and besides that, the person playing the guitarist lived in New York. Thus, Rock Band became the substitute, giving everyone a real music experience in which everyone could participate easily.
The four players representing the band got really excited about the game. They named their band (Hellsting), drew a logo, ordered T-shirts, and planned a setlist. I wasn't cast as part of the band (phooey) but when they needed to put together a setlist, they turned to me for recommendations, and I turned to the forums. In this thread, I asked people to suggest bands from the Rock Band Network that sounded like they were from the early 80s. I passed suggestions back to the band, and the singer fell in love with Free Spirit. They built a four-song setlist: "Until the Night" and "Far Away from Heaven", plus Stan Bush's "The Touch" and Stevie Ray Vaughn's "Texas Flood". (P.S. Thanks to everyone who contributed!)
Then Aaron came back and led me (blindfolded, to avoid seeing anything too soon) into the suite to sprawl across a chair in my best unconscious-post-party posture. The blindfolds were taken away; I kept my eyes lightly closed... and it was game on.
There was a pounding at the door; the manager came bursting in, bright-eyed and sunny, and drew a chorus of complaints by flipping on the lights. "Breakfast is on its way! Everybody up! Practice first, breakfast later!" Moaning and griping about the coffee we hadn't yet had, we staggered into "wakefulness" as we settled into our characters: the photographer from Rolling Stone, the freelance writer that no one could afford to annoy, the frazzled and miserable publicist, the savagely arrogant singer, the effortlessly mellow drummer, the feuding groupies, and all the rest. Spurred by their manager's pointed commentary, the band set up their instruments and started going through the setlist. And eventually, their efforts met with the manager's approval, and then there was coffee.
And then we had to do something about the body - but that came much later....
Carolyn VanEseltine (HMXLachesis) is the RBN Associate Producer at Harmonix. When not hanging out on the creators.rockband.com forums, she frequently hangs out with people who frequently hang out at LARP conventions. This is not quite the same thing as frequently hanging out at LARP conventions herself, but it's close enough for rock.