Don’t Stop Moving (Capital): HighStreet 5

By Kieron Gillen on March 12th, 2009 at 7:31 pm.


Tonight, I’m the Dancing Queen, young and sweet, only seventeen.

Jim made me do this. Of course, if I noticed you could get the free client I’d have done it anyway. Who cares if it’s two gigs to download? Of all of RPS, I am the one who dances. Of course, Alec and Jim have owned a dancefloor or eight in their time, but I’m the one who at the slightest sniff of a floor-filler is twitching as if some distant musical hacker is trying to take over my nervous system. Which they are, but that’s another story. In fact, a proper story I’ll probably end up writing.

(Walker doesn’t dance. I don’t hold this against him.)

HighStreet 5 is basically a dance MMO, merging rhythm action with a micro-mayment MMO. The MMO grind turned into the bump and grind. Which sounds like quite original idea, but it’s a total rip of previous MMO Audition Online. After going into HighStreet’s High-street-musical-meets-anime-apocalypse universe for a while, Jim asks me if anyone’s in it. The servers are packed, I tell him. He’s amazed that anyone plays it. At which point, I realise Jim – like me before him – doesn’t quite grasp how enormous Audition Online actually was. Wikipedia throws around a number of 300 million players. Which clearly must take all made accounts as active players, and being a free-to-play MMO just means that 300 million people have played the thing for a second. And there may be some other fudging. And… still, throw all the mathematical downgrading on that number you like, and you’re still left with a phenomenally large figure. So while Audition Online may be its WoW, if HighStreet 5 even manages to be its Warhammer… well, of course it’s going to have people playing.

(And, yeah, I know)

It’s a game about dancing, and its key mechanics are actually identical to Audition. A song plays. You’re presented with a string of keys to input – either the cursors or the number-pad depending how easy or hard you’re playing it. You do so. You throw the move. The crowd goes wild!

Well, that’s the theory. I found myself embarrassingly standing totally immobile as everyone else bounced around as if they were on an amphetamine-rampage version of High School Musical. Eventually I realised – remembered, really, from my time with Audition – that the trick wasn’t pressing the keys in time. It was pressing the required keys, and then tapping the Space to set it off. So you groove along with easy presses, until you get a string of a half dozen things to hammer out in a rush. By which point, you’re not really looking at your character at all, rather your desperate Typing of the Dead (House Music Of the Dead, perhaps?) button mashing. Which makes it somewhat lucky that there’s a movie mode so you can rewatch it afterwards to bask in your brilliance if you take it seriously. There’s also moves to learn, and health-bars and stuff which I really never quite worked out how they work. So I totally lost my dance-off with this cutie.

Oh god. “Cutie”. I’ve gone native.

Actually, there is a main difference over Audition which actually genuinely unnerved me. In Audition – at least, as far as I remember – all the dancing took place in a closed arenas. So you all hung around in social areas chatting, and then actively selected to go to another dancing zone. So the people in the area were all dancing, and probably competing with you. Think Guild Wars with busting moves and breaking dreams and other Ste-Curranisms. It’s not like that in HighStreet 5. The game takes place in open areas, with the duels and even general dancing taking place in front of your peergroup. That made the initial me-not-getting-the-controls crushingly embarrassing, as I stood there like an enormous ninny swaying to the beat. When I got the basics, it was even worse. I head down to the beach and, turning my back on the crowd, started to do my moves. I appear on the score table in the area, with my successes and failures visible. The cool girl in the flourescent mini-skirt and that skater-looking guy sat around, watching impassively. It was totally high-school – the sense that I was being entirely judged for tiny actions. I’ve never felt as much of a newb in any online game I’ve ever played.

Mainly, because I looked like one. Because this is where the financial model starts to come in – you get a handful of items and a basic clothing piece (my schoolgirl crop-top you can see above) to start with, but everything else costs in-game credits. You purchase them with real money, and exchange for services. Everyone else in the game – and I mean everyone – is dressed in some novel, personal way. In my normal clothes, I feel like Carrie White, y’know? Are they going to throw tampons at me? I find myself wishing I selected a bloke character instead of the girl. This was magnified by the fact my girl was as amazonian as the game would let me. I was just like a carthorse surrounded by circus ponies.

So, yeah, the game got me in touch with my inner insecure teenage girl.

Clothes, by default, are only purchased for a week. Pay double, and you have them for 30 days. Pay double that and you can have them indefinitely. In other words, there’s an obvious payoff there. Hair, boots, accessories, whatever – all are paid the same. Renting a venue? Requests to the DJ? Even addressing things to the global channel? All takes real money.

Admittedly, as a game which understands having desirable things to buy is the cornerstone of its business model, it does allow you to play dress-up with more than a little flair. The game’s a whirlwind of angel-wings, as if Fallout 3′s plot involved a nuclear bomb based around causing by splitting a glitter atom. In half the costumes, I felt like the inside of Jamie McKelvie’s head. I was hot! I was punk! I was hot AND punk!

But here I am pretending to be a Warren Ellis character.

And here I am hitting the low point of my career, by cosplaying inside a videogame.

And here I am looking very cool indeed.

They crave that Furry dollar.

So – free and fun to play? No actually. It’s a shame Audition has been the success it is, because its mechanics are a fundamentally deceptive presentation of the art of dancing. That earlier description of a rhythm action game was a straight lie, as there’s no rhythm to your entry. You hammer out that list, then press space, have a moment’s break, then go back for the next line – or lose your combo with a fumble. While the fancier stuff is all very well, music is about a metronomic click. The beat. Go back to Dance Dance Revolution and it understood that, as much as I raise my eyebrow to its fascist-line-dancing control-diktat nonsense. While there’s room to put your own sequences in and improvise – though I never got it – it fundamentally doesn’t capture a tiny part of the joy of dancing. Which is perhaps odd, because the holy-state-of-flow is what the most action lead of videogames capture. When I play Space Giraffe, I can see God’s footsteps. Or something.

I suspect that Audition’s success has actually crippled development in this subgenre, much like how WoW’s position has crippled more hardcore gamer parts of MMO development. And even more than back in the trad fantasy lands, it desperately needs someone willing to attack the fundamentals.

Also, having S-Club 7′s Bring It All Back play three times in a row was scary.

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40 Comments »

  1. viper34j says:

    Oh God why?

  2. Pijama says:

    there is no amount of irony or sarcasm that can convey properly my feelings, mr. Gillen.

  3. Ben says:

    lol @ cosplay ya got no shame!

    Nice to hear about ANY other genre of game besides RTS though.

  4. graham says:

    This is a sign of serious decline for Kieron. I’ve booked a single ticket to Switzerland…I think its time.

  5. clovus says:

    Why does the “face” on that furry look sad? I mean, look at its eyebrows.

    Oh, and… YOU GOT SERVED!!!

  6. Down Rodeo says:

    I was considering trying to post a scream; it seems rather pointless and spammy though. Also rather tough. Good post though :)

  7. Okami says:

    And this is why RPS is my favorite websitebloghomepagewhatever EVAR!!!

  8. AndrewC says:

    Bring it all back to you (I want you back)!

    I really like this idea of invisible cultures. I never noticed betting shops, not being a betting man, until someone pointed out to me that they are on every high street and there’s always 10 people in every one.

  9. Bret says:

    So, this is what shame looks like.

    Also, smart to post this. Now no-one can blackmail you. Ever.

  10. Larington says:

    Yuck. Its a dancing game, without rythm.

    God, whats happened to the games industry, sometimes I find myself agreeing with the ultra cynicists on the DX3 forums who would be quite happy to see the WHOLE games industry crash and burn so we could start again and get it right this time, or maybe not even start, in the sense of starting a commercial industry that suffers from risk aversion.

  11. Nighthood says:

    Too. Much. Japanese. Anime.

    Brain. Shutting. Down.

  12. AndrewC says:

    Because if we started again we’d get it wrong again, and a lot of the games we love, without the big funding, wouldn’t exist and, well, a whole bunch of economic stuff.

    But the big reason – would you trust the running of the games industry to the types of people who whine on messageboards?

    And the even bigger reason – this game doesn’t harm us or effect the games we love in any way. A new system shock/monkey island did not not get made because this one did.

    You are on the path to the dark side Larington! Your only salvation is to dance! Dance!

  13. ...hmm... says:

    oh dear lord:
    “High-street-musical-meets-anime-apocalypse universe”

  14. Okami says:

    I would love to see a decent post apocalyptic dancing mmo with dancing mat support. Actually make that a requirement. I want to fight epic pvp dance offs against people all over the world, knowing that somewhere somebody is sweating and close to a heart attack as he’s trying to keep up with my mad booty shaking skills!

  15. EyeMessiah says:

    KG is hot in cosplay.

  16. Xercies says:

    @AndrewC

    But don’t you see part of that 300 million subscribers is the whole of Lucas Arts and Ken Levine. Don’t you see how this game totally not makes them make a new monkey island/system shock.

    Its the doom of games.

  17. Larington says:

    Yeah, I’m loath to agree with folks who are prone to heavy negativity on message boards, but sometimes I can understand where they’re coming from. I’d go on, but this is a thread about a dancing game, not a game-design-as-simulation-with-action-game-hybridisation thread.

  18. gbarules2999 says:

    I’m in love with website.

  19. skizelo says:

    What’s the name for the Grognard-analogue og dancing games? And which developer is brave enough to make a ghastly chimera from both DDR and Empire?

  20. Thomas Lawrence says:

    Tonight, I’m the Dancing Queen, young and sweet, only seventeen.

    I thought that was every night, Kieron?

    Anyway, yes, all for dancing based games if there’s actually some rhythm to them, but this seems just like a fashion-em’-up. Which, much less interesting.

  21. dadioflex says:

    An MMO based on the jhorror Audition would be a very different game.

    I SO wouldn’t play that one either.

  22. Okami says:

    Oh. My. God.

    I have totaly forgotton about S Club7. I guess the regions of my brain that stored the information about that particular atrocity have commited suicide long ago.

    I’m astounded by how.. generic these kids looked. They couldn’t have gotten a more stereotypical group if they’d grown them in a lab. Which they probably did.

    Still.. I wonder what they’re doing now…

  23. pepper says:

    What has been seen, cannot be unseen….. Please kill me now before my brain attempts to do so.

    Although, as soon as they introduce hit n run murder mode then im in.

  24. Tei says:

    Well.. I want to see the MOVIE of this game. It will be, of course, a musical.

    “So, yeah, the game got me in touch with my inner insecure teenage girl.”

    /facepalm

  25. MacBeth says:

    Can I play as Pyro? The game would be improved immeasurably with some Backburner action.

  26. Kieron Gillen says:

    The only fire is the DISCO INFERNO.

    KG

  27. Acosta says:

    ABBA reference: check
    MMO dancing game: check
    Mentions to Kieron inner insecure teenage: check
    Generic girl avatar: check
    Generic girl cosplaying Chun-Li: check
    Generic furry girl: check

    Excuse me while I throw myself out the window.

  28. Tei says:

    Acosta, but you live in the 1st floor.

    Also, It could have been worse, like this posted the valentine day.

  29. Acosta says:

    Actually I lived in 5th floor.

    Posted from heaven (great place guys, excellent connection, a library with all the games you can wish and complete ban on dancing mmo with furries)

  30. Okami says:

    But… but.. how can it be heaven if there are no dancing mmos with furries?

  31. danielcardigan says:

    Okami says:
    “I have totaly forgotton about S Club7.
    Still.. I wonder what they’re doing now…”

    Well Hannah Spearritt is in Primeval and Jo O’Meara was last seen getting bottled off at a performance at a nightclub after the racism furore caused during Celebrity Big Brother. Rachel Stevens was on Strictly Come Dancing, I think.

    Apart from that, who knows?

  32. Okami says:

    Oh, so they’ve either become british d-list actors or have disapeared into complete obscurity. Who would have thought…

  33. SightseeMC says:

    Weirdly, this is the 2nd Kieron post that has revealed to me why I no longer play MMOs. The first was the one explaining the Sisyphean uselessness of setting (by others or myself) goals that can never be obtained.

    And now It was totally high-school – the sense that I was being entirely judged for tiny actions has made me realize why I want no part of non-combat MMOs. Who in god’s name would ever want to go BACK to high school once you’ve seen the world?

    Kudos to you, Mr. Gillen. You improved my life greatly.

  34. Tei says:

    Re: Martins vs …

    This one is teh favorite MMO of Stalin.

  35. Thomas Lawrence says:

    Roughly 3/7ths of S Club were making an attempt to reform a while back, I recall.

  36. tmp says:

    It’s a shame Audition has been the success it is, because its mechanics are a fundamentally deceptive presentation of the art of dancing. That earlier description of a rhythm action game was a straight lie, as there’s no rhythm to your entry. You hammer out that list, then press space, have a moment’s break, then go back for the next line – or lose your combo with a fumble.

    Something to note at least as far as Audition is concerned… there is element of rhythm there — the space presses that send the typed sequences have to match as closely as possible the beat of the song. The individual keystrokes aren’t timed but then it’d be difficult when the game shifts from 5 to 12 keys per beat as it ramps up the difficulty.

  37. Kommissar Nicko says:

    I didn’t know Kieron wanted to be the little girl too!

    I’d be interested to see an RPS exposé regarding why perfectly normal (?!) men play female avatars. Ever since Fallout, I’ve played as a woman whenever possible, since I was more than happy to degrade my e-self for a few caps. Even now, I very regularly manifest my alter-ego as a woman.

    Surely Mr. Gillen and the RPS staff can offer insight into this phenomenon? At the very least so I can send a link to my girlfriend and say, “See, I’m not repressing transgendered fantasies, I’m totally normal, and these guys say so! They’ve written books! BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOKS!”

  38. Kommissar Nicko says:

    I guess I wouldn’t be repressing, I’d be expressing. But nonetheless…

  39. Kieron Gillen says:

    tmp: One beat a bar isn’t a beat.

    Nicko: I would never, ever, say any of us were normal.

    KG

  40. tmp says:

    That’s a strawman, isn’t it? Doesn’t change the fact contrary to your original statement there is “element of rhythm to your entry” in the game, to the point where between the players with similar typing skills the winner is usually the person who can match it the closest.