When I was in high school, the teachers never let us go to the bathroom during classes. If you had to use the bathroom before lunch or the end of the day, you had to do it during the paltry four minutes between classes, and luck had to be on your side because three of the four bathrooms for your gender would always be locked, and there was no pattern which dictated which bathrooms would be locked on which days. And even if you did find that one unlocked bathroom, you would be so blinded by the cigarette smoke that you couldn’t find your way to the urinals.
I developed a Herculean bladder out of sheer necessity.
With the conclusion of that chapter in life came adulthood. The time for clinging to the customs and comforts of childhood and adolescence was over, and I had to forge a bold new path into the future as a grown man. With the dawn of this era came the ability to go tinkle in the little boys’ room any time I damn well pleased, and I went to town with it. The pure, glorious convenience of it was enough to bring tears to my eyes. I had never known such freedom.
It spoiled me. My once-Herculean bladder became pitifully average, and a source of great shame.
Thus, the Bladder of Steel became far more elusive.
Time for some boring exposition.
Rock Band 2 has something called the Endless Setlist, which requires you to play all 84 of the on-disc songs in a row on your instrument of choice (guitar, bass, drums, or vocals). You can choose medium, hard, or expert difficulty (easy is off limits for this particular gig), with correspondingly greater rewards. If you manage to do it without pausing the game or failing any songs…an endeavor which takes approximately six and a half hours of what could reasonably be called moderately strenuous activity…you get a ridiculous bonus added to your PSN account: The Bladder of Steel trophy.
Now, I’d done the Endless Setlist once before, on expert vocals (surprised? yeah, me too), and hadn’t fared very well. Part of it was my fault for doing it too soon after making the jump to expert difficulty, but the lion’s share of the blame must be assigned to the shaky arrow glitch.
The way vocals work in the Rock Band games is, you have to use your voice to guide an arrow along a path that rises and falls in correspondence with the singing in the song you’re playing. The more steadily you make the arrow cling to the path, the greater your degree of success. If you fail to guide the arrow properly on too many occasions, you fail the song.
Now, the shaky arrow glitch is a random bug exclusive to the PS3 version of the game that causes the arrow to quiver, wiggle, or just jump all over the f---ing place, depending on the severity with which it decides to strike. In its milder incarnations, it’s no big deal if you know what you’re doing. But when it’s out in full force, all bets are off. No matter how on-pitch you are, just finishing a difficult song becomes a major ordeal, let alone achieving a respectable score.
My first attempt at the Endless Setlist was marred by the shaky arrow in a big, big way. It didn’t strike until the 26th song (Psycho Killer by Talking Heads), which I deemed too late in the proceedings to justify starting over, so I just dealt with it. I failed several songs, some of which I knew damn well I would have passed with a normal arrow. The biggest roadblock by far was Spoonman by Soundgarden, which is universally considered the most difficult song on vocals in Rock Band 2. (Here's a YouTube video of a guy doing it with a normal arrow. It may not look or sound challenging to unfamiliar eyes and ears, but it is in fact a beast, and pretty much any RB2 vocalist will tell you so. Rock Band players who don’t do vocals are often surprised at which songs cause trouble for vocalists and which ones don’t.) I failed that sumb-tch seven times before the arrow finally settled down enough to let me pass. I ended up with a meager 351 stars out of a possible 420. (You can get up to five stars per song depending on how well you do. I think it’s impossible to pass a song with just one, and it’s highly unlikely that you’ll pass with two. Spectacular performances on expert difficulty produce gold stars, but there are still only five of them.)
The fact that a random glitch that should have been eliminated during playtesting had cost me my precious Bladder of Steel trophy had long been a source of irritation. So, one fine day in June when I probably had a dozen better things to do but didn’t feel like doing them, I devoted my waking hours to another crack at the Endless Setlist. I was better prepared by now, having five-starred each of the 84 songs on expert vocals at least once. Yes, even Spoonman. Do or die, now or never, blah blah blah.
Hour one: Easy stuff. Five stars all the way. No shaky arrow.
Hour two: More easy stuff, but I miss the fifth star on Today by Smashing Pumpkins. Damn you, Billy Corgan. Oh, well. No shaky arrow.
Hour three: Missed the fifth star on American Woman by The Guess Who thanks to those damn bye-byyy-yyyes at the end, but this was the first song I failed last time, so I’m glad just to get past it. No shaky arrow.
Hour four: Four stars on Tangled Up in Blue. For a guy who sounds like a mental patient muttering at his own reflection at three o’clock in the morning, Bob Dylan sure has a tricky voice. No shaky arrow.
Hour five: Four stars for Alive, which is no surprise since I have one of the worst Pearl Jam voices imaginable, but gold stars for Shackler’s Revenge by Guns N’ Roses, and that one gives most people fits. Yay me. No shaky arrow.
Hour six: This is the hour with Spoonman in it.
You will never
guess where this is going.
After 69 glitch-free songs, I had practically forgotten that the shaky arrow existed. It had been extraordinarily smooth sailing for 300 minutes or so.
Then, song number 70, the dreaded Spoonman. Deep breaths, now. No worries, Eric. You can do this.
“Feel the rhythm with yaw HA-AAAANDS…”
Oh. My. F--k.
Do me a favor. Put the tip of your thumb as close to the tip of your index finger as you can without the two of them touching each other.
That’s how close I was to putting my fist through the TV when I saw the arrow jumping everywhere of its own accord.
I was enraged beyond measure. If this had happened during ANY other song, or, hell, EVERY other song, I could have dealt with it. But this was not any other song; this was F---ING SPOONMAN, by far the easiest song to fail out of EIGHTY-FOUR, and this was one of the shakiest arrows I had ever seen. This wasn’t a mere matter of not getting precisely what I wanted out of some silly game; this was a matter of five and a half hours completely wasted. This was a matter of a great deal of effort on my part coming to absolutely nothing due to a random element over which I had no control.
No, scratch that. This was not “random.” God sent that shaky arrow during Spoonman just to f--k with me. For millennia, mankind has wondered if there are higher powers in the universe, divine forces that impact our lives in ways we cannot fully comprehend. As far as I was concerned, that question had just been definitively answered. My shaky arrow during Spoonman, and ONLY Spoonman, was incontrovertible proof that God existed, He hated me, and He was deriving a great deal of pleasure from keeping that Bladder of Steel trophy just beyond my grasp.
All of this went through my head in a fraction of a second. With the remainder of that second, I decided not to take this lying down. To spite the dark forces aligned against me, I would pour every ounce of energy I had into Spoonman. I would get through it without failing or die in the attempt.
“…steal the rhythm while you can. SPOON-maaaaaan…”
One of the biggest reasons why Spoonman is such a challenge is that almost all of the difficulty is concentrated in the first half of the song, before you get a chance to amass enough overdrive (the game’s “bailout” mechanism) to save yourself from failure. Get past the “…with yaw HAAAAAAAAANDS!!!” part and into the comparatively easy “Come on while I get OFF” part without losing your nerve and you’re golden.
“…AH’M to-GETH-er with yaw plan. SAVE meeeee…”
“All mah friends are IND-i-AAAAANS…”
The first two minutes of that song seemed interminable. My heart rate doubled. Rivulets of sweat poured down my face. The in-game audience jeered me without mercy.
“…all mah friends are brown and red…”
My eyes kept jumping over to the success meter as it sank and sank, hovering in the red zone, coming an eyelash away from failure on several occasions.
“SAVE meeeee, SAVE me, yeeeeaaahhh…”
Unh! Unh! Unh!
UNH! UNH! UNH!
“…with yaw HAAAAAAAAANDS!!!”
Gasp, pant, wheeze, et cetera. Could it be? Had I just cleared the biggest possible obstacle in this whole 400-minute affair? Had I slain the dragon, vanquished the demon, defied the will of God Himself?
“Come on while I get OFF…come on while I get OFF…”
Why, yes. Yes, I had.
And all I lost was about ten years of my life due to the strain of suppressing enough video-game-based fury to make the Angry German Kid look like the Dalai Lama. This is what is known as collateral damage.
I finished Spoonman and collapsed onto the couch. It would be a while before my pulse returned to normal, but the remaining thirteen songs were no trouble at all. The shaky arrow stuck around in a milder form for the next two, then disappeared entirely. The 84th song, Painkiller by Judas Priest, which I considered a brilliant choice by the game designers for a grand finale, was anticlimactic in the extreme. I finished the setlist with 411 stars, a Bladder of Steel trophy, and a sense of relief so overwhelming that I forgot to give God the finger.
Oh, and I finally got to go potty.
The moral of this story is that you should never let anyone stand in the way of your dream, even if that dream is to earn an utterly meaningless virtual accolade about which not one other person on Earth gives a damn.
The Bladder of Steel, baby.