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Monday, January 5, 2009

7 Great Guitar Hero and Rock Band Hacks, With Video

Gamers everywhere have ascended tor virtual rock stardom on the various incarnations of Guitar Hero and Rock Band. But you can only get so much enjoyment from pretending to play along to rock songs by mashing buttons on a plastic guitar, playing a tiny bass or pounding the toy drums. The familiar hardware for Guitar Hero and Rock Band cries out to be tinkered with, and do-it-yourselfers answered the call—including playing real music with Guitar Hero, rigging up Rock Band with double bass drums and just plain cheating. If you are one of the roughly 27 million who now own one of these gamess, you can do a lot more than just play them the way they come packaged.

1. Turn Your Toy Guitar into a Real Instrument

Last year, Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock became the first edition of the game available on the Nintendo Wii, allowing hackers to take advantage of the system's unusual features. Shortly after the game's release, Josh Breckman unveiled a YouTube video of himself turning the Wii Guitar Hero controller into a real musical instrument able to play 45 different pitches.

Breckman first modified the Bluetooth source code on his Wii-mote, feeding it into the computer, and then fed that from the computer to his electric piano, turning the five Guitar Hero buttons into five musical notes. However, you can't play much more than "Lean on Me" with five notes, so Breckman used the Wii's motion-sensing capability to create more notes. When he lifts the guitar's neck, he gets access to several more notes. And adjusting the guitar's whammy bar gives him power chords, minor chords and accidentals. Breckman's hack didn't give him quite the repertoire of a real guitar, but it allows him to make music on a toy one.

2. Play with a Real Guitar

Much of the allure of Guitar Hero comes from getting the feeling like a living room rock star, playing along to songs without all the time and aggravation put into practice and music lessons. But the plastic ax that comes standard with the game just doesn't quite complete the illusion of super-stardom. Many companies have created more exciting controllers; Logitech, for example, has announced a line of premium GH controllers for the newest edition of the game, Guitar Hero: World Tour, with the familiar colored buttons and toggle switch embedded in a full-size replica guitar. DIYers have wired GH buttons onto a real guitar. But what if you want to play Guitar Hero on more realistic guitar without defacing a guitar in the process?

This Household Hacker video shows how to use anacoustic guitar as a Guitar Hero controller—the only demolition required is an old Xbox 360 controller. The builders solder the end of a wire three spots on the wafer board where the buttons were originally attached. They then attached the other end of these three wires to the base of the real guitar's bottom three strings. Last, they encase a guitar pick in aluminum foil and wire the pic back to the wafer board. Thus, when they touch one of the real guitar strings with a metal pick, it completes the circuit and the Xbox 360 recognizes it as a button being pushed. If you have a guitar, an expendable controller and some free time, try it out. Just try not to be confused when the notes you hear on the guitar and on the game don't match up.

3. Double Bass Drumming

Heavy metal drummers love the thundering double bass. Unfortunately, the basic Rock Band drum package comes with only a single bass pedal, leaving metal heads either frustrated or nursing one very tired ankle. Thankfully, however, rigging up a Rock Band double bass isn't too complicated.

The Rock Band bass drum uses a standard headphone-sized jack, so a simple way to make the mod is to buy a headphone splitter and an extra bass pedal. Take a look at this video to see how it's done—the only trouble, as the videomaker says, is that if one pedal is pressed, the other doesn't work, which could get in the way of lightning-fast double bass drumming.

4. Rock Out on an Old-School Controller

Most hacks aim to make Guitar Hero or Rock Band either more realistic—like hooking up a double bass on the drums—or seem like it's more realistic—such as playing Guitar Hero with a real guitar. But if realism isn't your style, or if you like the Guitar Hero buttons but not the plastic guitar, try this mod.

With a soldering iron, a cheap plastic controller bought for $1 and two corners from some old boom box speakers, this video's creator makes an electrical conglomeration that works as well as an out-of-the-box Guitar Hero controller. Holding the controller sideways, the direction pad becomes the strumming switch and the analog stick becomes the whammy bar. The video-maker mounted a small platform on the side of the old controller that houses the GH buttons, and he covered them with colored flaps to remember which was which. Then he proceeds to rock out to "Message in a Bottle."

5. Drum on a Real Kit

If it's possible to wire a real guitar to serve as a Guitar Hero controller, why not replace Rock Band's plastic padded drum with a real kit? In this video, the hacker attaches sensors to every drum in his kit, as well as on the underside of the cymbals, with blue painter's tape. Unfortunately, Rock Band features only five buttons and Trevor has eight pieces in his kit, so he has two pieces each for blue, green and yellow.

6. Dominate the Game... by Cheating

OK, it's not just about looking cool while pretending to play guitar—some people actually want to win. But if you don't have the chops to do that with practice, there's always innovative ways to cheat.

One innovative cheater, on his Auto Guitar Hero Web site, says that he found himself in a position familiar to many parents—utterly unable to compete with his kid at video games. But unwilling to take his fate lying down, Michael created a foolproof way to beat the game­—programming a machine to do it. The system, in a nutshell, decodes the visual information going from the Wii to the monitor through the yellow video cable; it then uses that information to push the right button at the right time. Michael writes that a friend who is a video engineer helped him craft the system, which now works like a charm. He might not be able to play Guitar Hero any better, but now Michael soon has something to shoot for—the machine's insanely high scores on every level.

7. Record an Original Work on a PC

When plodding along to the video screen becomes monotonous, turn your Rock Band drums into real ones and start recording solos and fills on your PC. This is another hack that could be completed in several ways, but this video shows how to play the drums in the FL Studio program.

First you plug the drum kit into the computer via USB—Windows should recognize it as a game controller immediately. The trick is that FL studio recognizes inputs from the keyboard, so the signals from Rock Band drums must be converted to keyboard signals in order for the program to recognize them. This video's creator uses software called from a site called xpadder to do the job—it assigns each drum to a key on the keyboard. Once that's done, he starts drumming away, and his PC picks up the signal.