Kongregate is a site like Newgrounds. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, let me explain: they’re both flash game communities where independent Flash game developers post their games and get noticed. There are around 1500 games on there and a lot of them are badly made, but the gems are amazing, with no commercial counterparts that I can think of.

Notessimo is a music maker with an easy to use interface that you can use to create music in minutes. I played with it a bit when it was new, and it has now been updated to feature songs by other Kongregate users. It’s amazing the things it can do – you can create complete MIDI songs on this thing. There are tons of instruments to choose from, and it’s as simple as clicking on a music staff.

Notessimo is definitely worth a bookmark.

I’ve always wanted to code games since I was a little girl, and Kudos Rock Legend is an inspiration in simulation games. It is a one man effort; it was designed and coded by Cliff Harris, an indie developer from the UK. The result is a game that is so accessible and addictive I haven’t been able to tear myself away.

Like Kudos, a simulation of life, Rock Legend is a simulation of rockstard0m. It is not a “real time” sim, but rather a “turn based” sim. This might turn some players off since we’ve gotten used to the action that comes with the Sims and and so on, but it that is no reason to turn Rock Legend down. Like Kudos, Rock Legend belong to a genre of games that are casual in name only. Sure, you could play for a few minutes and put it down, but why do that when you can play for hours and play years of your rock life at a stretch?

Things start out pretty slow. You have $33 to your name and nothing but a dream to be famous some day. So first of all, you start auditioning. Musicians have different personalities – a socialite gets more publicity when s/he’s handing out flyers, a businesslike disposition means a discount when buying things, disruptive personalities get a bit rowdy at gigs and break things. Moreover, an amiable personality isn’t necessarily a good thing – talent and overall ability often comes with antisocial behavior. Thankfully, once you’ve hired one player, he will let you know at the audition which wannabe he prefers. Once you have two additional musicians in your band, you can start writing songs.

Song writing is a mini-game in itself. The notes available to you depends on your inspiration level, the musicians you’ve hired, as well as anything that you’ve managed to snitch from listening to your rivals and stock music. Each song is comprised of 7 bars or sections, and your job is to drag and drop snippets of music from your pile of inspiration stickies onto the sheet. Color matching nets you a bonus, but some ideas are just worth more than others. Once you have enough music to do a set, you can start booking gigs, rehearsing, and passing out flyers.

The number of venues available to you depends on your fame level, but once you have enough fame, the rest depends on one word: money. Some venues will require transportation, so if you don’t have a band van, you’re out of luck. Other places may require a manager. Bigger venues can hold more people, are more expensive, and with more people you may sell more merchandise.

Each day you’ll get a list of suggestions of things to do, which boils down to these few things: rehearsing, songwriting, gigging, publicizing, and show watching. You can only do one thing a day, and some days you are so tired you just want to sit back and do nothing. Pretty much everything that you do is tiring – rehearsing, publicizing, gigging – and wears down the band. If they’re tired all the time they’ll start to complain, and when their tiredness reach a certain level they will be unable to anything. You can also choose to do things that are not on that list.

At any time, if you have enough money and enough songs, you can record a CD. This is as simple as clicking on songs in the recording screen and choosing a quality level. Once that’s done, CDs will sell over time as well as during gigs. You can also buy merchandise from the store to sell, and just like in real life, buying in bulk nets you a bulk discount. There are other things available from the shop screen as well – new instruments, custom guitar picks, effects for your show like smoke machines, new lighting rigs. You can even book transportation and staff via the shop screen.

How successful a gig is depends on many factors. Your lighting and effects play a part, as well as things like how rehearsed your band is and how well you prepared the gig by publicizing it. When a gig is sold-out and it’s an especially good gig, you sell more stuff, make more money, and get more fame. Fame level is your “overall” score for the game; at the end of five years your success is measured in fame and fortune. The more famous you are, the more likely you are to sell out the next show at a bigger venue.

While you’re trying to get famous, you also have to learn to take care of your musicians. Are they motivated? Are they tired? Are they complaining about the lack of food at gigs? Rehearsing in a nice studio and playing at large venues with bigger crowds motivates while striking chords in a damp basement and playing at the local booze pit do the opposite. Once you’ve reached a certain fame level, your musicians expect more – better rigs, better instruments – and you better it to them. The very ambitious and hard-to-please ones may choose to quit and take their gear and experience with them if you don’t treat them well.

You can develop their musicianship via practicing, which is entirely different from rehearsing. It’s a “Simon” mini-game where you have to play notes in sequence with your number keys, and at the highest level it’s a 10-note sequence. It does get pretty difficult, but remains simplistic. As a musician myself, I would’ve preferred an actual note staff with actual notes and actual rhythm. It wouldn’t be too hard to pick up with a tutorial, and the player may actually learn something.

Graphically speaking, Rock Legend is sleek game, but not a flashy game. You won’t see many cut-scenes and animations, but there are plenty of beautiful character portraits and images. Your character’s portrait is customizable with different hair coloring and sunglasses, and this game has the sleekest GUI I’ve ever seen. Even though there are plenty of information presented in the HUD, it has plenty of room. All the information that you care to see is right there at a glance, including all your songs, your band’s vital stats, the calendar of things coming up, as well as access to all your gear, musicians, and staff. Your main interface is also a drag-and-drop interface, so you can arrange things to your liking. In year five, having a bunch of gear and all staff, I still have half the screen left.

In terms of music, for a game about music, it is sparse in audio. There is one looping track for the interface, but it doesn’t so much loop as fade out and start over. While there isn’t much there, what’s there is good stuff. There is an option to turn it off in the options menu.

Kudos Rock Legend is a great game, and the depth of it all surprised me. While other games focuses on the flash and pretty graphics, Rock Legend spent all its time in gameplay, all through an accessible interface. I would recommend this game to anyone, especially those who’ve spent any time in garage bands. I’ve spent many years amongst musicians, young and old alike, and I see a lot of realism being displayed here, in a convenient turn-based package that saves anytime and loads quickly.

VH1’s Downbeat is its debut into the land of casual games. Now, it’s not bad. Actually, it’s pretty good. What I have at home is a computer that is capable of running Half-Life 2 at a steady framerate, runs Photshop regularly, and really, a computer that isn’t all that out of date. For casual games, it’s a pretty standard web/work computer. This game lags on it.

Now, lagging may be a little bit of a way of life in some games. Sure, card games, match-3s, object hunting, time management games – these can all lag a little with no repercussions. A rhythm game? NOT A CHANCE. A rhythm game, if it even lags a little, makes the game anywhere from a little bit annoying to downright unplayable. On the side of annoying, there’s pretty much no way of getting a perfect score, or even get all the trophies. On the side of unplayable, it lags so much that none of the mouseclicks register properly and the levels would fail within a minute.

On the upside, Downbeat has some really good tunes: Straight Up, Material Girl, Our House, to name a few. Once a song is unlocked in story mode, you can go on to playing them in freeplay mode. As far as the rhythm part, it’s pretty accurate in making you click on certain beats that are representative of the game as well as throwing in a “match-3” aspect. Really though, most of the them you’d just be busy matching the colors.

The only really comparable game would be Elite Beat Agents on the Nintendo DS. It’s a whole lot of fun, but only when I only half look at the screen and half listen to my beats. Each one of clicks seem to register just fine, but the beat that comes from the game comes out just a little bit late. Sometimes the visual cues would lag a little and it would seem like all my beats are late but worked for the game. Downbeat does a great job of separating the bars so that you’d be clicking all over the screen before you know it.

If you have a good sense of rhythm and danced in the 80’s or just enjoy retro music, this game is for you. Download the trial and see how it runs on your computer. If it does better than mine, it’s definitely a keeper. Now to save myself enough to get a new computer…