A version of this article first appeared in the June/July 2011 issue of Game Developer magazine.

For years now, the Stone Temple Pilots have been my great white whale.

Ever since the original Rock Band came out in 2007, I’ve been banging on the skins, taking drum skills that started as shamefully comical (I believe I caught the dog laughing at me once) and slowly and earnestly practicing and getting better.  Improvement was relatively quick – I slogged all the way from Easy up to Expert, and one by one songs that seemed unplayable were conquered.  But a few of those songs continued to elude me.  One such song was “Vaseline”.

At first, I could barely finish it, and once I did, my scores were laughable.  The song was a chore for me to play.  I liked the song- it has a certain nostalgia factor that takes me right back to my unkempt days- but as I progressed through the game and advanced through the game, I stopped playing it.  I didn’t stop playing the drums, though – I kept playing, downloading DLC, buying expansions, eventually getting the pro set.  But I kept avoiding “Vasoline”, up until one day, three years later it was thrown in a random set list by happenchance.  As the familiar drum beat kicked in, I approached the song with a certain level of trepidation.  But then a funny thing happened.

I destroyed it.  Apparently, somewhere along the way, I’d picked up enough drumming skills to not only skate by the song, but to utterly conquer it – gold starred, top score, you name it.  What once seemed borderline impossible now seemed shockingly simple, and the sense of victory that arose was well beyond that of beating your average song, but a taste of sweet, sweet vindication.

Few moments in gaming are more powerful than that moment in which you completely own something that previously flummoxed you.  Fortunately for us designers, this is a feeling that we can manipulate and inspire. Continue reading