Rocking and rolling with your PC

by Alan Zisman (c) 1995. First published in Our Computer Player December 1995

-- Virtual Guitar

Virtual Music Entertainment, Inc.
19A Crosby Drive, Suite 300
Bedford, MA
01730-1419 USA


$99.95 (US list)

Please put up your hands if you ever fantasized playing loud electric guitar in a rock band. Perhaps played air guitar riffs when you thought no one was looking.

Okay, you can put down your hands now. The Virtual Guitar system is for you.

No musical knowledge needed... just some natural rhythm, and the itch to make it as a guitar god. Oh yeah, you have to be prepared to practice.

For about $100, you get the Virtual Guitar itself, and the software-- a CD-ROM game, ?Welcome to West Feedback?. Two other CD disks are available, to use with the Virtual Guitar.

The guitar itself is a flashy, purple electric guitar... about 7/8 the size of a real guitar, with a solid feel. Unlike a real guitar, there are no frets, and only a single string, strung back and forth to create the illusion of six strings... you see, you don?t actually play notes. And that?s why you need no musical background. Instead, you use it to strum along with pre-recorded music on the CD... trying to hit the strings when you?re supposed to, as a good rhythm guitar player. You don?t have to know when-- you?ll see on screen when you?re supposed to play, and will get immediate on-screen feedback to see how you?re doing. Like any good guitarist, though, you can use electronic effects... the guitar has built-in volume, distortion, and feedback controls... as well, you can control your screen?s mouse cursor, right from the guitar. Since it plugs into your serial port, it?s easy to attach and doesn?t require opening up your computer or adding a card.

Like any guitarist wannabe, you start out practicing alone in your room... well, not quite alone-- you?re helped by Lloyd, who once was a guitar player, but got sucked into his amp, while trying to create the ultimate sound. He?ll give you tips along the way. So practice... when you get good enough, you can try to join the garage band: Mark, the drummer/dude, Sheila, the sexy singer, and the rest. They?ll tell you when you?re not up to the band?s level, and praise you when your chops improve. Eventually, having impressed local agent No-Cheat Charlie, the band gets to move out of the garage and to its first gig, at the Dead Inn. There?s a vocal audience, who will applaud or pan you, as your playing deserves.

Finally, you can challenge Chops Felton, the reigning guitar king in the Riff Challenge... one on one.

The visuals are quite good, and pretty realistic looking. Some are obviously digital video, but these are cleanly integrated with the backdrops.

Your CD comes with half a dozen songs-- generic bar-band rock that you?ll be playing along with. The songs were originally recorded by bands such as Motley Crue and the Allman Brothers, but here are presented by competent studio musicians and vocalists... waiting for your rhythm guitar part. All in all, visually and musically, it gives a good impression of playing in a band-- even if you have no musical background at all. But to move through the levels of the game, you have to be prepared to practice!

The system requires a  4 meg 486 with a CD-ROM and sound card, and an available serial port, running Windows and takes about 10 megs on your hard drive. Mac and Sega-CD versions are expected shortly.

Any air guitar player will find this one a lot of fun... every one I know has wanted to take a turn playing it.
Afterwards: January 2004.

I wrote this article in 1995; the Virtual Guitar was a pretty cool piece of hardware. Unfortunately, when I've tried to make it work more recently, I've been unable to get it to function with Windows 95, 98, or later versions. If anyone has success getting it up and running with any post-Win 3.1 version, I would love to hear how you did it!

(September 2005):

I sent my Virtual Guitar and software to someone who wanted to experiment to get it running with post-Win 3.1 software. Since I haven't heard back, I'm assuming she wasn't successful.

I played around a bit with a descendant of Virtual Guitar. Quest for Fame was released in 1995 and marketed by (of all companies!) IBM, though it was developed by the same company that made the original Virtual Guitar package. It does away with the virtual guitar, replacing it with a virtual guitar pick, a large plastic pick connected to a cable which plugs into the parallel port. It comes with 2 CDs featuring the band Aerosmith.

Though it was released in 1995, QfF was written for Windows 3.1. It makes some reference to installing it under Windows 95. I tried to install it onto two systems. The first was running Windows 98SE; the software installed without complaint, with the installer running a number of tests of sound and video, which the computer passed. Despite this, the actual program failed to start up.

On a system running Windows XP, the setup program refused to run, stating that it required DOS 6.2 or newer. (Windows XP (like NT and Windows 2000) isn't based on DOS). It's possible I might have been able to trick it, but I gave up.

So still no luck with either Virtual Guitar or the slightly newer Quest for Fame.

(April 2006):

Reader Anders Markstrom writes: "I have experienced some troubles with QFF but here is my solution. On my "retro" computer I run:

- Win98SP1
- DirectX 5 (some old games have problems if you go higher, I don't know about QFF though)
- Internet Explorer 5.0 ( I installed IE 6.1 and that made QFF crash).

My 15-year old son was so delighted when I made it work that he finished the whole game in two evenings."

(April 2008):

Reader Jim G. reports "I have the "quest for fame" software, and have managed, believe it or not, to get it to work flawlessly on an XP machine AND a vista machine, using virtualization software from microsoft (I basically run a virtual win 95 machine-- all sound and video work perfectly)."

The software Jim is referring to is Microsoft Virtual PC 2007 which is available for free download. You will need to dig up a copy of Win95 or (I guess) DOS+ Windows 3.1 to make it work.

-- AZ

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan