Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Building an Interactive Portfolio

As a student at the 127th AES Convention attending the game audio track lectures, I found the best advice was given by Richard Stevens from Leeds Metropolitan University.

"If you don't have some sort of game or interactive project in your portfolio, you're just not trying hard enough."

This makes perfect sense, and I don't see why more people don't do this. It's all fine and dandy to have your Flash mp3 playlist of your demo reel on your site—potential game developers looking for an audio guy want to know if your music and sound design work is any good with a quick listen. But, how do they know you really know how to make this stuff sound good in an interactive setting?

Sick Puppies Face Fans In Smackdown Vs. Raw

The EMI/Capitol Music Group band Sick Puppies will be logging in to their Xbox Live user tag SICKPUPPIESband on friday Dec. 18th at 8 PM to face off with fans in WWE Smackdown Vs. Raw 2010. The first single from Sick Puppies, "You're Going Down" is featured in the games soundtrack and acted as the WWE Extreme Rules pay-per-view event in June.

Another example of how artists can leverage interactive media to establish strong ties to their fan base.


Sunday, December 13, 2009

Spike Video Game Award Winners

Yesterday Spike TV broadcast its VGA 2009 award show. The music related winners are:

Best Music Game: The Beatles: Rock Band

Best Soundtrack: DJ Hero

Best Original Score: Halo 3 ODST

Best Voice: Jack Black as Eddie Riggs from Brutal Legend

Check out the full list of winners, show highlights and future schedules airings at the VGA 2009 homepage

Friday, December 11, 2009

Prof. Sam's Tweets Of The Week

Associated Press names Rock Band 2 "Game of the Decade"

Wait, Activision's suing No Doubt now in retaliation?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Activision Countersues No Doubt

Earlier in the year No Doubt sued Band Hero publisher Activision over their in game avatars availability for use in all game tracks, not solely their own. This week Activision has filed a counter suit. Activision claims that the bands request for limited avatar usage came only after the programming for the game had been completely. Additionally they claim that the band failed to promote the game, as was required in their contract and are asking for the bands payment back, legal fees and, of course, unspecified damages.

You can check out a hosted .pdf of the counter suit in the Hollywood Reporter article

Friday, December 4, 2009

Prof. Sam's Tweets Of The Week

Royal Navy sailors given PSPs as study aids.

Guitar Hero 6 team exploring Natal possibilities

A more in depth look at the SoundCloud iPhone App

Platform, baby. RBNetwork should be up early next year. Gamasutra: Rock Band Reaches 1,000 Total Songs, 60M Downloads.

The Escapist: Game Storytelling Should Look to Music, Not Film.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Stigmatization Fail

Delaware Online published an article today trying to dispel the notion that playing rhythm action games such as Guitar Hero or Rock Band, dissuades kids from trying out the real thing. The article highlights several kids and a music instructor who all attest the opposite.

While this is just a small step in erasing these negative assumptions, it is most likely the first of many.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Saturday, November 21, 2009

MAGfest Lineup Announced

The Music and Games Festival has announced its lineup. This years MAGFest will take place in Alexandria, VA on January 1-4. Some of this years guests include Sid Meier, The bands The One Ups, The Megas, Select Start and Entertainment System. The festival includes performances, charity game speedruns, film showings and jam session room and of course open gaming. Super psychedto end your winter break right? Sign up here.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Prof. Sam's Tweets Of The Week

If you don't already follow Prof. Sam's tweets, the music and games related ones are going to become a weekly feature, but if you do have a twitter make sure to show some love

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Spike TV Video Game Awards Nominees

Spike TV has announced its nominees for the 2009 Video Game Awards. Here's a quick recap of the music related titles:

Best Music Game
DJ Hero
Guitar Hero 5
Lego Rock Band
The Beatles: Rock Band

Best Soundtrack
Brutal Legend
DJ Hero
Guitar Hero 5
The Beatles: Rock Band

Best Original Score
Assassin's Creed II
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II
Halo 3: ODST
Uncharted 2: Among Thieves

Additionally Brutal Legend picked up a nomination for best cast and best voice (Jack Black as Eddie Riggs). Cast your vote here and leave your predictions below.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Wii News Update: Name Still Inspires Giggling

But besides that, there have been some interesting stories involving the Wii as of late.

In an interview with Nintendo Magazine on Monday, Shigeru Miyamoto talked about future iterations of Wii Music, "it's not really a sequel...but we have added some features to improve the overall experience." comparing it to the Wii Fit Plus. While there were no specifics given as to what those possible features could be, Miyamoto's track record in development of intellectual property for Nintendo has promise.

Additionally, while not directly music and games related, the Auburn Alabama Public Library has added a Wii to their game night roster usually consisting of board games, referencing the ability of the system to reach the elderly. The article states that the Wii
"benefits the elderly because they can get physical, but also because it enables them to remotely partake in activities they are no longer able to fully engage in." The library plans to expand their game library with literature based games, such as Harry Potter and Nancy Drew. Just as the music industry is beginning to recognize that music and rhythm action games are providing a new way for consumers to experience music, the literary world seems to be coming to realize the same can be done to literature.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Rock Band 3 Update

While there are many speculations that the rhythm-action genre has become over-saturated with similar titles and is in decline, they may have spoke to soon. According to an interview with the Chicago Tribune Dhani Harrison stated that he is "working on 'Rock Band 3' and making the controllers more real so people can actually learn how to play music while playing the game." While he promises nothing in the immediate future, it's reassuring to see that Harmonix is continuing their overall mission of creating games that can impart the joys of musicianship to those who are not trained in music, not to mention continuing to not be satisfied for a set formula of what makes a rhythm action game.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

When It Rains, It Pours - REO Speedwagon Game Announced

A press release from Merscom Games announced yesterday that it would be publishing a hidden object game developed by Curious Sense featuring REO Speedwagon. The game is called "Find Your Own Way Home" will require you to click the screen a lot to find a missing rock star for an album release party. The game will feature 12 REO Speedwagon songs two of which are unreleased recordings. The press release states that the game "is the first of several games Curious Sense will produce with music acts"

We may have just figured out where Margaritaville (see previous post) is going...80 levels of finding lost shakers of salt? Hells yes.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Margaritaville: The Game

There comes a time when everyone's beliefs are shaken. They question the higher power of their choosing, be it God, Jesus, Mohamed, Vishnu, or M. Night Shyamalan. This day has come for me, and I'm sure many of you as well, which is why I find it important for you to here this from a source as distressed as yourself.

"Margaritaville" has filed for trademarking in the realm of "Interactive Game Software". While it's impossible to tell if this is simply a legal precaution or if Mr. Buffet does have plans to release a game regailing us in the story of Mark, a late 40's, sock and sandal wearing "laid back kinda dude" just the idea is a bit frightening.

Check out joystiq for some humorous game theme possibilities.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Incredibox - Hey look, the french did something

Incredibox is a interactive flash based website that allows you to play around with a set of loops created by musician and beat box artist Paul Malburet. While the idea of an intuitive graphic interface to allow users who are unversed in music tech to mix and explore the creation of music is nothing new, this particular example has a great art style and unlockable "bonus" cut animations. The personality of the style in which the site is done leads one to wonder why more artists have not created similar applications to allow fans to engage in the music and artist if they're not comfortable giving out their complete stem recordings.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Alice in Chains releases iPhone App

Alice in Chain's iPhone application for their new album "Black Gives Way To Blue" was released today, and according to its one planted (either that or Alice in Chains fans care about "easy connectivity built right in" more than I thought) review "Alice in Chains rocks hard and so does this app!" The application features all the now standard features of streamed songs, video, connection to social networking and pictures. The major addition is the interactivity of the CD's liner notes. Each track on the album is accompanied by an interactive picture that the user can manipulate by draging various elements. The application is produced by mobile roadie and costs 99 cents. You can view a video demo of the applications features here.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Hollywood Music in Media Award Nominees

HMMA is an awards show celebrating the best placement of music in visual mediums. This includes Best Original Score, Best Original Song, and Outstanding Music Supervision, all for video games. Here are the nominees:

Inon Zur - "Dragon Age: Origins" (BioWare/EA)
Tom Salta - "HAWX" (Ubisoft)
Stephen Rippy - "Halo Wars" (Ensemble Studios)
Joris de Man - "Killzone 2" (Guerrilla Games)
Jim Dooley / Amon Tobin / Mel Wesson / JD Mayer- "Infamous" (Sucker Punch Productions)
Winifred Phillips / Winnie Waldron - "Spore Hero" (EA)
Jesper Kyd - "Assassins Creed 2" (Ubisoft)
Martin O'Donnell - "Halo 3: ODST" (Bungie)
Greg Edmonson - "Uncharted 2: Among Thieves" (Naughty Dog)

Inon Zur / Aubrey Ashburn - "I Am the One" (Dragon Age: Origins)
Carmen Rizzo / Sony Computer Entertainment - "Road to Shambhala" (Uncharted 2: Among Thieves)

Giles Martin - The Beatles: Rock Band (Harmonix/MTV)
Emily Ridgeway - Brutal Legend (Double Fine Productions)
Simon Pressey - Dragon Age: Origins (BioWare EA)
Martin O'Donnell - Halo 3: ODST (Bungie Studios)
Chuck Doud - inFAMOUS (SCEA)

The awards will be given out on November 19th.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

CMJ Mobile Panel

Once again CMJ has taken over Manhatten. Here's a quick summary of some fun facts and predictions that came up in the Mobile Technology panel:

  • Jonathan Dworkin from Nokia said that the company plans to roll out their Comes With Music phone service globally in the next two years.
  • Users of the current Comes With Music plan download on average across 7 genres, those who buy a la carte buy across an average of 3.
  • About 8% of Shazaam inquiries end in a purchase according to Will Mills.
  • Michael Schneider of Mobile Roadie talked about the development of technology that would allow artists, through their phone applications to send out to send out files/messages based on the users location (e.g. at their concert).
  • Verizon's Tom Constabile stated that the company was currently working on developing a network with speed and reliability on par with broadband.

The panel was moderated by Peter Kirn from Create Digital Music which covers the role of mobile devices in producing music. So if pixelh8 and RjDj peaked your interest you may want to consider adding it to your blog checklist.

Additionally, the phrase "contextualized sonic bombardment" was used at some point, or so my scribbled notes tell me. I've decided to form a Prog Rock Band to release an album under that name. Any band name suggestions for such a release are more than welcome.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Rock Band Do It Yourself Is Approaching

As we get closer to the "end of 2009" launch given by Harmonix, details of the new DIY Rock Band Network are becoming increasingly clear. A quick summary: this past summer Harmonix announced it was planning to open its track creation software and in game store to the masses in an attempt to exponentially expand its DLC collection. Artists and labels or any other copyright holders can create rock band tracks, submit them for review and hopefully make some money. Sound interesting? Here's a brief summary of what you need:

  • Reaper mixing software available here. They offer a free 30 day trial, afterward you can purchase the discounted license for $60 or the full commercial one for $225. If your only using it for personal/educational/non-profit use or for a for profit venture making less than $20K a year the discounted license will be fine for you.
  • Rock Band Plug-in available for Mac OSX or PC
  • Magma (PC only)- to create a wav/midi file that can be read by an Xbox
  • Xbox Live Gold membership
  • XNA premium membership to audition songs on the Xbox (a feature added in a rock band 2 patch) and to receive payment through.
  • 20-40 hours of free time (for your first time through depending on experience)

While the review process has yet to be outlined in specifics it seems that it will be community based, with approved users of a certain skill level playing through, reviewing and helping revise tracks. If you make it to the DLC promise land you'll get 30% of your sales.

For those looking to dominate the PS3 market hold tight, no word yet on negotiations regarding the selling and uploading of songs for that platform.

Like the idea of your music on Rock Band? Not so much the work? There's a healthy list of companies looking to help you out for a small share on the Rock Band Forums. But if you haven't been scared off yet and want to give it a shot yourself you can find more detailed instructions here.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Bravo Gustavo

The LA philharmonic has a rock star conductor and an iPhone app/online game to match. Gustavo Dudamel, a 27 year old Venezuelan, has been conducting since his teenage years and is now trying to bridge the cultural gap between the philharmonic and it’s surrounding ethnic communities and their youth. In line with this new approach the game “Bravo Gustavo” is now available on iPhones and online . It’s a side scrolling rhythm action game where you cue in the different orchestra sections using either touch screen or keyboard. According to LA Philharmonic CEO Deborah Borda, the game garnered about 5,000 plays in the first 3 hours after its launch.

In conclusion I’m now calling that that “Harpsichord Hero” is soon to follow.


Wednesday, October 7, 2009

RjDj Carl Craig and Acid Pauli Create Interactive Album

A new addition to the iPhone app store this week is an interactive album called “Kids on DSP”, a collection of collaborations between Carl Craig and Acid Pauli. The album uses the RjDj audio synthesizer app to integrate sounds picked up from the microphone into the albums track as they’re being listened to. Different tracks place different filters on the input sounds to incorporate your current ambient noise into the song, allowing you to never listen to the same song twice.

This is a great example of new technology in the realm of interactive media forcing us to completely reconsider what recorded music actually is and what it can be. Not to mention showcasing that there are other ways to get people to interact with the music they’re listening to than playing along on plastic instruments.

Check out more on the album and the different applications of RjDj here.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Because You Can Never Have Enough Plastic Guitars

Peripherals have had a good last few years. They’ve gone from a subset of vision to a music video game industry wide pissing contest, and now it seems two more will be joining the competition.

Activision’s Bobby Kotick was quoted as saying “…you should expect to see many of our products to be playable on the television independent of console” at the Deutsche Bank Securities Technology Conference. (source) This comment was brought up after inquiries of the possibilities of a guitar hero that would plug directly into the television a la Hannah Montana Guitar Video Game (no seriously it exists).

Also, the You Rock Guitar (official site) is trying to bridge the gap between guitarists and guitar hero enthusiasts. Inspired Instruments is now taking pre-orders for this $180 stringed and fretted digital guitar that functions as both an instrument and game controller with the addition of $20-$30 console cartridges. It also acts as a USB/MIDI guitar and has an input for iPod’s to allow users to stream their own music with their guitar playing.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Pixelh8 brings chip tune music to the DS

Pixelh8 has released a YouTube video demoing his new Music Tech Master Stroke for the DS. The beta is available now on his website for the next week. He explains all its functionality in the video much better then I ever could, so just watch it.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Scar Symmetry and Steve Richard Together At Last

Games have officially brought Swedish progressive metal and country music together. Both Scar Symmetry and Steve Richard have recently released online games to help garner attention for their new album and single respectively. Scar Symmetry has released “Dark Matter Asteroids”, a clone of Asteroids to help promote their new album “Dark Matter Dimensions”. The high score holder wins a meet and greet during their Neckbreakers Ball Tour. Updated graphics include a Scar Symmetry branded spaceship.

To promote his single “Stomp”, Steve Richard, in collaboration with KBCR radio, has created a whack-a-mole type game where you act as a casting director and stomp out dancers unfitting for his new music video. I particularly enjoyed receiving points for crushing an old lady with a cowboy boot, as all casting directors do. Both are casual quick play games feature the bands music. Links to each game are below (as of right now I have the high score on Stomp, so bring your A-game).

Dark Matter Asteroids

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Don't call it a comeback

It's a seasonal thing. Fall is here, time to get gaming for real. My personal feel good hits of the summer were Peggle, Batman: Arkham Asylum, and Beatles Rock Band, with some Guitar Hero: Metallica and GH5 thrown in there. Also acquired a PS3, which frankly has yet to reveal its assumed potential.

Here are some recent links from the unofficial MVGRP twitter stream:

Music first, now games. Suggests content ain't king, if it ever was. NYT:Apple’s Shadow Hangs Over Console Makers http://tinyurl.com/yawdllu

Dumb hed, interesting article about game biz corporate culture. "Can Trent Reznor Reinvent Video Game BusinessT?" http://tinyurl.com/y9hpvgt

Bit of a stretch, but ref takes me back. I was a Blur man myself. "RB Vs GH - This Generation's Blur Vs Oasis" http://tinyurl.com/y9sv79b

Tenacious D on Rock Band + singing/playing Tribute at the same time = epic win. "Be you angels? / And we said Nay / We are but men. Rock!"

Don't call it a comeback

It's a seasonal thing. Fall is here, time to get gaming for real. My personal feel good hits of the summer were Peggle, Batman: Arkham Asylum, and Beatles Rock Band, with some Guitar Hero: Metallica and GH5 thrown in there. Also acquired a PS3, which frankly has yet to reveal its assumed potential.

Here are some recent links from the unofficial MVGRP twitter stream:

Music first, now games. Suggests content ain't king, if it ever was. NYT:Apple’s Shadow Hangs Over Console Makers http://tinyurl.com/yawdllu

Dumb hed, interesting article about game biz corporate culture. "Can Trent Reznor Reinvent Video Game BusinessT?" http://tinyurl.com/y9hpvgt

Bit of a stretch, but ref takes me back. I was a Blur man myself. "RB Vs GH - This Generation's Blur Vs Oasis" http://tinyurl.com/y9sv79b

Tenacious D on Rock Band + singing/playing Tribute at the same time = epic win. "Be you angels? / And we said Nay / We are but men. Rock!"

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Top Pop'n

Joystiq thinks a version of Pop'n Music might come to the US. I've never seen the game before, it looks like a nightmare. But I'm feeling the video because it just goes to show that virtuosity can come in many forms.

More NYU-MVGRP updates on the old twitter.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Pics of pretty plastic

Shots released this week of the guitars for Rock Band: The Beatles and the turntable controller for DJ Hero. Purdy.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Updates on Twitter

Just a note that for the most part I'm updating my Twitter feed far more often than this blog (obviously). As the NYU-MVGRP grows after the summer, this blog will have a handful of contributors and so will hum with life again later this year. I'll update it here and there, but for more frequent links to music game articles and various bon mots, please hit up twitter.com/samhowardspink. kthxbai!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Crossover rhythms

Nice interview at Game|Life with Tsunku♂ -- aka Mitsuo Terada, the J-pop producer behind hit DS game and Beyoncé endorsed Rhythm Heaven. I liked these quotes:

Rhythm games have always transcended nationality, though. Rhythm is something that can be learned without complex theories; it just takes practice and repetition. This is true for children, adults, men and women. This is why I thought a worldwide release of this title wasn't just a pipe dream.
I think there will be increased potential for game music to cross over into the mainstream in the future, but avid fans usually don't respond to gimmicks they feel are too contrived. The key is to start with as pure a game concept as possible, and give it the type of music that suits it best. If the fans respond well as a result, performing the song live in concert would be a natural next step. That sort of pattern seems ideal to me.

I was rocking away at RH quite happily this week until I hit the level with the off-beats, and now I'm stuck. Here's a Japanese trailer with examples of many of the mini-games within Rhythm Heaven.

Oh Activison, why must you be so eeeevil?

I've been quite looking forward to seeing this fall's DJ console games compete head to head, as they both seem different enough from each other to appeal to different types of music fan and/or gamer. But did Activision -- who publish GH, and therefore cannot be totally evil, right? -- really buy out a rival developer to make sure that its DJ Hero will be the only contender? What's going on, Gamestop?

Now yet another company is taking the Guitar Hero and Call of Duty publisher to court. Tuesday evening, Scratch DJ Game LLC, publisher of the forthcoming Scratch: The Ultimate DJ, filed a legal action accusing Activision of various misdeeds. The LLC is a joint venture between DVD distributor Genius Products and audio-equipment manufacturer Numark Industries, who commissioned indie shop 7 Studios to develop Scratch to try to break into the rhythm-game market.
[The suit] alleges that "Activision has engaged in intentional interference with contract, breach of contract...and misappropriation of trade secrets obtained from Genius to purchase 7 Studios, which is under contract to develop the much-anticipated new hip-hop video game, Scratch: The Ultimate DJ." (Emphasis added.) The buyout, which had not been publicly announced, is already complete.

The whole case is a mess and it's far from obvious who's right and who's wrong, but it's still disheartening to see corporate shenanigans and lawyers decide what kind of innovation can be possible in music games, as well as in the music business per se. Bring the beat back!

Friday, April 10, 2009

April fuel

I've been most neglectful of the blog so far this month. But I've been keeping up on my own research, playing GH: Metallica, GTA: Chinatown Wars, and Rhythm Heaven. I have to admit that GH:M is much better than I'd expected, and is even making me appreciate the band; 'tallica is more entertaining to play than to listen to, I think. Rhythm Heaven is silly beyond words.

Here are some links I've been not posting all week.

In further Metal news, I see Jack Black is "starring" in a new game called Brütal Legend from the many who brought us Secret of Monkey Island. And speaking of legends, two members of the Blue Oyster Cult contributed to an original song for Warhammer Online titled "Kiss My Axe (While I Drink My Beer)".

Meanwhile, Technology Review asks "Can Video Games Be The New MTV?" My personal answer to this question was, "Wait, what's MTV again?" In a similar vein, something called the World News Network (I think that's where Ron Burgundy ended up) has a piece on "Rock Band and The Future of the Music Industry". Nothing very new in it, but still good to see the meme spreading.

And finally, video games -- and shoot'em ups specifically -- improve your eyesight. It's science!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

So LoudCrowd, what's this all about then?

A student waiting to see me this morning told me that she was getting into LoudCrowd, which I'd read about on Epicenter but still haven't found time to try out.
Conduit Labs' LoudCrowd, co-founded by former Harmonix employee Dan Ogles, generated tons of buzz with its Tuesday SXSW announcement of a social music gaming network, somewhat along the lines of Guitar Hero meets MySpace. After playing around with the LoudCrowd site for a bit today, we feel like that hype is somewhat justified.

The second paragraph has the twist -- using music discovery as the reward incentive for playing.
One of the coolest things about LoudCrowd is that it makes you want to earn virtual money by playing games to collect actual music. When we won our first track after performing well in a DJ game, we were thrilled even before we heard it. This is an intriguing way to get people excited about music, because it encourages active listening.

So I'm going to try it out at some point soon. Anyone else playing it already?

Monday, March 30, 2009

It's hard work

My mate Kevin D tweets over this video of hip-hop producer Just Blaze. At 4:50mins he laments that it's hard out there for a DJ -- scoring beats for a basketball video game. Plus there's scratchin'.

Next MVGRP-hosted Open Gaming Session this Friday, April 3

This coming Friday the NYU Music Video Games Research Project will host its second Open Gaming Session on the 9th floor of Tisch, from 4-8pm. Hopefully this will be a more convenient time than the last one. New additions to the library include Guitar Hero: Metallica (including double-pedal drumming) and GTA: Chinatown Wars on the Nintendo DS.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Rock Band cracks $1 beelleeon!

From Rolling Stone, of all places:
In a press release, the makers of Rock Band have revealed that after only 15 months of business, the franchise has surpassed $1 billion in North American retail sales alone. MTV Games and Harmonix also announced than more than 40 million individual tracks had been downloaded and purchased via the Rock Band platform.

And this is before the Beatles RB game drops. I believe the term "ka-ching!" is in order.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Don't sweat the technique

The Daily Swarm is all over your DJ Hero/Scratch: The Utimate DJ games news these days. Both titles arrive this summer, with brand new large chunks of plastic with which to decorate one's living room.

The headline is a little TMZ-esque, but "DJ Hero gets Z-Trip and DJ Shadow Tiesto" sho is grabby. "Mixmaster Mike: Scratch Will Be Bigger Than Guitar Hero" is cockier than I'm sure Mike intended. What's the actual news?

Well, Daft Punk are said to be involved in DJ Hero somehow (did you know they're doing the soundtrack for Tron 2? The first Tron is a touchstone childhood memory for me so I feel strangely invested. I think it contributed to why I've played Ultimate Frisbee since my teens). Anyway, Activision will ship 1.5m units in June, no doubt with a flashy ad drive. Word has it that DJ Hero will focus more on mixing tracks in real time, and Scratch will be more about, well, scratching. From Kotaku:
Improvisation occurs in another of the Scratch’s segments, as portions of the note highway will encourage turntable tricks, not just button presses. This is where the "chika chika fantasy" comes in, with some 15 to 20 tricks available on the controller’s spinning wheel. The DJ will be able to throw in sounds from a pre-picked "battle record" which can be packed with custom beats, quirky sound effects or even custom-recorded sounds via a USB microphone.

Artists with original or licensed tracks in Scratch include - in order of my personal interest - Gorillaz, Eric B. and Rakim ("Don’t Sweat the Technique", swheet!), Beastie Boys, Run DMC, Deltron 3030. Oh. and Karaoke Kanye.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Life is a gateway drug

Fair's fair, it's encouraging to see the various members of Metallica promoting Guitar Hero as good for music generally in their SXSW interviews, along with the usual hype around their game coming out on March 29. Examples:

Edge - "Guitar Hero a 'Gateway Drug Into Music', says Hetfield" -- stupid expression, worthy point.
Rolling Stone - "Metallica’s James Hetfield Calls 'Guitar Hero' a 'Gateway Drug': Inside the Band’s New Game" -- ditto RS, which should know better.
Billboard - "Metallica Talks 'Guitar Hero,' Hall Of Fame at SXSW" -- I'm intrigued by Billboard's ordering of GH in front of the HOF.
CNET - "Metallica's Kirk Hammett speaks about Guitar Hero"

Photo from Brooklyn Vegan set.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Get uppa, get on up

The Godfather, Mr Dynamite himself, James Brown – my personal number one all-time music hero – brings a dose to the Rock Band download store. The Get The Funk Out 01 track pack features "Sex Machine Pt 1", Earth, Wind & Fire's "Shining Star", and The Average White Band's "Pick up the Pieces". Although the JB track is way too obvious a choice, I can only hope there’ll be more to come. Hello MTV/Harmonix, I’d like "Talkin' Loud and Saying Nothin'", "I Got The Feeling" and "Hot Pants" please! And "Funky Drummer" so I can actually be the funky drummer! And "The Payback", so I can sing the line "I don’t know karate, but I know ca-ray-zey!" Hell, put up "Living in America" and we can get a dash of Stevie Ray Vaughn into the bargain. I think you get my point.

Messed with Texas

Finally back from SXSW. Too overwhelming to summarize, though I'll have more to say about it after a long snooze. Meanwhile, a hat-trick of music game news from around the internets this week:

The Apple iPhone OS upgrade is going to great for music. Let’s see: iPod library access (Audiosurf, baby!); Bluetooth A2DP for streaming to speakers or ‘phones; P2P Wi-Fi connectivity, so two devices can communicate -- ie, jam together -- sans a Wi-Fi network; and audio recording using a standardized API, so everyone can go crazy. This is going to be great!

Always keen to see new instruments applied to the GH/RB model, I was intrigued by the Trumpet Hero mod played at the Tangible Tech Exhibition in San Francisco this week. I’m still waiting for Sousaphone Hero.

Beyoncé reveals herself as a gamer, including love for GH, although since it’s all part of a promotional drive for upcoming Rhythm Heaven on the DS one may be forgiven a small degree of skepticism. Her old man Jay-Z is also looking to get into the game business too. Cute quotes:
I've been rehearsing for my [upcoming] tour in stilettos and uncomfortable corsets, learning all these arrangements. Today I was playing the game with my socks on, on the couch, and it was very relaxing … I like all the Wii games. Love Guitar Hero. This reminds me a little bit of a portable Guitar Hero, which is great, because I don't want to carry around a big guitar! Growing up, I liked Tetris. I even like BrickBreaker on the BlackBerry.

The stars, they're just like us!
[My first gaming system growing up was] a Nintendo. I would play Super Mario Bros. We weren't supposed to play it after 9 o'clock, and I would sneak and play all night. I loved it.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Pre-SXSW news nibbles

This week saw our first open gaming session at the Tisch Games Center. Thanks to everyone who came out to play. After Spring Break we'll form a student-led steering committee, and all looks rosy. I'm packing to go and mess with Texas at SXSW for a week.

Quick links:
Ars Technica says that Rockstar Games and hip-hop producer Timbaland will be releasing PSP mixer game based on a loop sequencer the company developed for the Web three years ago.

Great piece at The Gamer Limit with some thoughts from futurist/genius/nutter Ray Kurzweil on the "Future of Gaming". I love Kurzweil, The Age of Spiritual Machines is a turn-of-the-century corker.

The BBC makes an old limey smile with two great stories this week. One on the particular "magical challenge" of composing for video games. Here's the best on though: the feature "Disability no barrier to gaming" opens with a biomechanics researcher at Duke University, who is also an Iraq war vet and amputee below the elbow, playing Guitar Hero.
To play the game, users wear electrodes on their residual muscles, such as those found on their chest and shoulder. The system translates the signals from the electrodes as if they were coming from the game controller, allowing players to strum along, despite not having any hands.

Dr Armiger came up with the idea after becoming a Guitar Hero fan himself. He realised that the movements used by the game were similar to those required during the hours of tedious rehabilitation needed to learn to control a prosthetic limb.

Oh, and Destructoid says that some Osaka elementary schools are requiring Nintendo DSs for every student, thanks to all the educational software released for it in Japan.

Monday, March 9, 2009

I like pie

Video Games Orchestra sells out Berklee gig

A Google alert pointed me to an article on an orchestra performing video game compositions at the Berklee College of Music. Nice enough, but it buried the lead. It turns out that there is a group called VGO (Video Game Orchestra) that comprises a 45-piece chamber orchestra, a 40-plus member choir, and a five-piece rock band. These guys are going all-out.

The VGO's members are drawn from Berklee, The Boston Conservatory, the New England Conservatory, and Boston university, and represent 20 different countries. Not only that, but last week the VGO sold out a concert at the Berklee Performance Center, apparently the first time a student project has ever done so.

Started last year by Shota Nakama with classmates Simon Lee and Kian How, the VGO has a 25-song setlist that includes the Super Mario and Sonic The Hedgehog themes (old skool!), and selections from Metal Gear Solid, God of War, and Silent Hill among others. The VGO YouTube channel is worth a stay. Here's a crowd-pleasing rendition of One Winged Angel from Final Fantasy VII.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Starting from Scratch

I feel like letting this screenshot do the talking as far as this Wired Game|Life article on Scratch: The Ultimate DJ, goes. Lots more deets on the game, due out this summer, at the link.

Kids these days

Via The Daily Swarm, here's The Mentalists playing "Kids" by MGMT using only iPhone apps Ocarina, Retro Synth, miniSynth, and DigiDrummer Lite. Groovy.

The past, the future, and the going-nowhere-fast

Too many interesting news bits already this week to stay on top of them all. Here are a few links.

Arstechnica ran a two-page feature on Tuesday titled "Roots of rhythm: a brief history of the music game genre," and a handy guide it is too. Nice quote from Masaya Matsuura, the Japanese musician, game designer and co-creator of the seminal PaRappa the Rapper:

It pleases me from the bottom of my heart to see the current success enjoyed by titles like Guitar Hero and Rock Band. The dream I envisaged 15 years ago, of music games gaining mass appeal, has to a degree become a reality... To me "Rhythm Action" can be viewed as nothing more than a gateway to the endless possibilities that music games hold. We truly hope that our fellow developers can help to unlock the potential of this blooming genre."

In "Game Music Goes Indie," Wired Blog GeekDad extrapolates from the emerging opportunities for independent gamemakers offered by XBox Live Arcade, Nintendo's WiiWare Channel, and the Playstation and iPhone App stores, to point out that this is also great news for musicians and sound designers. The author gives a shout-out to the self-described "unofficial game music arrangement community" OverClocked ReMix, which worked with games publisher Capcom to produce and then release as MP3s the "Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix Official Soundtrack."

And yes, there is now a semi-official "stalemate" between Warner Music Group and MTV Games over licensing any part of its catalog to the Rock Band download store. Billboard calls it a stalemate anyway, taking issue with Wired's description of a "boycott" of WMG content by MTV Games. It's all rather convoluted and a bit petty. Ultimately Warner is setting itself up for a fall if it keeps up this kind of intransigence in the face of promising new revenue opportunities.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Invite to Open Music Gaming Session on March 11

Announcing The First NYU Music Video Games Research Project Open Gaming Session

Join students and faculty from the Steinhardt Music Business Program, the NYU Games Center, and the Clive Davis Dept of Recorded Music at Tisch for the inaugural NYU-MVGRP Open Gaming Session. Play the games, meet musicians/gamers, and learn about upcoming NYU-MVGRP events.

NYU Games Center foyer,
Tisch School of the Arts,
721 Broadway, 9th Floor

6pm to 9pm
Wednesday March 11

Consoles: Xbox360, Nintendo Wii, Sony PS3, PS2
Handhelds: 2 Sony PSPs, 2 Nintendo DS-Lites, 1 Apple iTouch),
Games: Parappa The Rapper 1 and 2, Elite Beat Agents, Patapon, Guitar Hero: World Tour, Rock Band 2 and Rock Band AC/DC Live Edition, Rez HD, Auditorium, Afro Samurai, GTA IV, Little Big Planet, and more.

NYU-MVGRP now officially exists!

This is the email that went out to various departments at NYU today.

Dear students and colleagues,

It is my great pleasure to announce a new Steinhardt Music Business Program initiative, the NYU Music Video Games Research Project (NYU-MVGRP). This letter is an invitation to be a part of this exciting endeavor, and its evolution. The NYU-MVGRP has been set up to explore the convergence of musical businesses and cultures with those of video games and other interactive technologies, including iPhone apps, handheld media devices, Flash advergames, and whatever lies just around the corner that we can only detect hints of today.

Recently the NYU Games Center, which is housed in Tisch and is designed to link the many departments and scholars interested in the study of video games, opened its doors. The NYU-MVGRP, in conjunction with the Games Center and the Clive Davis Dept of Recorded Music, will host a regular Open Gaming Session event open to the whole university beginning Wednesday March 11 (see details below). It is hoped that students from various departments and disciplines will find common ground at these sessions, and begin to develop cooperative projects of their own. Other activities planned for NYU-MVGRP participants include talks from guest speakers, group discussions about news in the music and games industries, and outreach to professionals and companies working in the city.

The NYU-MVGRP has at its disposal all the major gaming consoles (Xbox 360, Nintendo Wii, Sony PlayStation 3 and PS2) and handhelds (Sony PSPs, Nintendo DS-Lites, Apple iTouch), and a growing library of games software. Examples include rhythm action games (Guitar Hero, Rock Band, Elite Beat Agents, Patapon), music generation games (Rez, Auditorium, Bloom), and games with action-integrated soundtracks (Little Big Planet, Afro Samurai), licensed soundtracks (Grand Theft Auto, NFL/NBA games, Bioshock), and original soundtracks (God of War, Prince of Persia, Halo).

The NYU-MVGRP has a blog at http://nyumusicgames.blogspot.com/
and is on Twitter at http://twitter.com/samhowardspink/
It also has an as yet unpopulated Facebook page at:

I look forward to collaborating -- and playing the games, of course -- with as many of you as possible.

Yours sincerely,

Sam Howard-Spink
Clinical Assistant Professor
NYU Music Business Program

Friday, February 27, 2009

Guitar Heroics in the news this week

Gametrailers has a good Guitar Hero: Metallica interview/trailer with more gameplay than the usual quick-cut promos on YouTube. Full disclosure: I never had any real love for Metallica. I never detected a hint of a sense of humour in anything they wrote or how they played, which is a wee bit much for corporate metal. Then Lars' bullshit in the early Napster days sealed the deal. So the fact that there are some 45 Metallica tracks on this doesn't really stir my tea. Queen, Thin Lizzy, Slayer, Mastodon, and double-pedal drumming are quite another matter, plus the open drumming with no track to follow is pure win. (Completely hilarious upgrade of lyrics to "One" by MetalSucks.)

Kotaku tells me that EA wants some of this hot music game action. Might Activision, EA and Viacom/Harmonix turn up on music retailer market-share charts sometime soon? There's at least as much skepticism regarding the rock/rhythm genre's future as there is money being thrown at it. Is there actually a shark to be jumped here, or, as I'm inclined to think, will there be steady growth in the music game business overall even if certain high-profile efforts turn out to be epic fails?

And finally, a Wired headline writer rather labors the point with Why The Music Industry Hates Guitar Hero, but the article itself is a very sensible call for Warner Music, Bronfman and his lawyers to chill on the bitching about licensing fees and start cooperating with gamemakers. If it's really true that MTV/Harmonix is boycotting WMG and Warner/Chappell content from the Rock Band online store, the acts that "get it" ought to be kicking up dust. (GH: Bronfman edition pic from Digital Daily link.)

A mind less bound by the parameters of perfection? Sez who?

The ideas expounded upon in this Epicenter Q&A with Vint Cerf -- one of the "creators" of the Internet and now Chief Information Evangelist at Google -- on Recession, Recovery, and Innovation in Hard Times are not music/game specific, but both businesses will benefit from paying attention to what he has to say. And I never knew that he looks almost exactly like The Architect from The Matrix, which in a way makes sense.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

How safe is the rhythm method?

More on handheld gaming today. Since the DS and PSPs arrived at the office, I've been playing Elite Beat Agents on the former (screenshot right) and Parappa The Rapper on the latter. EBA is original and weird and totally Japanese and I'm into it. Parappa is a PS1 classic and excellent nostalgia, and as fun to play as it used to be. So the portables are getting my attention at the moment, and apparently I'm not the only one.

After a lengthy period of lackluster support, on Monday Sony Corp began a major push to put the PSP back in the spotlight it had enjoyed at its US launch in early 2005. A slew of titles were announced, including the debut of Rock Band Unplugged, for which extra songs will be downloadable via wifi. Incidentally, Guitar Hero: On Tour for the DS was the top selling handheld game in the US in 2008, so a miniature Rock Band is not a total longshot. Other upcoming exclusive PSP games include LittleBigPlanet, Assassin's Creed, Madden NFL 10, and Motorstorm: Arctic Edge, all of which of course have their own busy soundtracks. And there will be a Hannah Montana rhythm game, which with any luck will coincide with the end of her 15 minutes. In a very welcome move, the games will also be interoperable with their PS3 console cousins.

Today Gamasutra ran an article titled "Behind The Charts: The Portable Rhythm Game Jam," about the discrepancy between the critic-and-gamer rhythm-action favorites Elite Beat Agent and Patapon, and those games' actual sales figures. EBA was voted Nintendo DS 2006 Game of the Year by IGN and Best Music/Rhythm Game of 2006 by GameSpot. But as of last month it had only sold 179,000 copies (according to NPD Group), when Nintendo had expected 300k in its first month on the market. It's worth mentioning that I don't think this figure includes used-games sales, which I suspect would be high for a game that only takes a handful of sessions to finish. I bought my used copy at Gamestop on Broadway for $10.

I'm waiting for Patapon to arrive at the office to see what it's really all about, but I've heard it's truly brilliant (trailer at bottom of post). Here's the Gamasutra description:

The Patapon... is a warrior tribe bent on reclaiming its land from the enemy Zigotons. Ultimately, the tribe finds meaning in a loftier goal and that quest leads them, literally, to the far end of the world. The player commands the Patapon in battle through a set of four talking drums, each mapped to one of the standard PlayStation controller face buttons. By tapping out command phrases in time with the game's background beat, the Patapon can be instructed to advance or retreat, attack or defend. Keep the beat well enough and the Patapons reach a fever pitch, during which their attacks are exceptionally potent.

Sounds great, but despite IGN's 2008 Best New IP award and GameSpot's Most Innovative Game for the year, and a huge promotional push from Sony, after one year on the market Patapon had sold only 229,000 units in the US. In contrast, Guitar Hero: World Tour, which cost around $50 because of the additional hardware that has to be attached to the DS unit, sold 1.1m copies in its first six months on sale.

So is the problem with rhythm games per se, or did the mighty GH brand make the crucial difference? Is it that handhelds are not well-suited for rhythm gameplay, or simply that the mass market will tend to favor familiar franchises over ground-breaking but unknown titles? The article and its commenters throw some ideas around, but the precise answer is obviously elusive. This will be a busy space for watching break-out hits and lamenting the ones that fell by the wayside.

Monday, February 23, 2009

More on music and mobile apps

My post last week on music promotion via iPhone apps preempted a smattering of news on the subject. Yes, I have special powers too weird to go into right now.

MusicAlly reports that Universal Music Group acts Lady Gaga, the Pussycat Dolls, Soulja Boy Tell ‘Em, the All American Rejects, and Keri Hilson are all releasing apps today. They're all free, and include "video content from the artists’ Kyte channels, as well as branding and advertising, click-through links to buy music and merchandise, a built-in RSS reader to pull in news updates, and community features like chat, comments and sharing."

Small bespoke games will be an utterly normal element of these packages in the near future.

And there's this from Wired's Gadget Lab on the introduction of paid apps to Google's HTC G1 phone and any other device running the Android mobile OS. Apple/iTunes keeps a tight rein on what kinds of apps it will sell, and keeps 30% of the revenues they generate. The open Android app market has no approval system, and all the coin will go to the app makers.

We live in the future. More please.

Cute article at Games Radar on "Things gamers would never have believed 20 years ago." In at second place:

The Boss would be releasing new music through videogames.
-- The only example of games and rock colliding 20 years ago was the Atari 2600 effort, Journey Escape, which featured mullet-haired denim rockers, Journey... So who would have dared believe that, one day, video games would be used by such immense legends of rockery as Def Leppard (Guitar Hero III), Motley Crue (Rock Band), Guns N' Roses (Rock Band 2) and Bruce Springsteen (Guitar Hero World Tour) to debut songs? That's Bruce Springsteen. Born in the USA. The Boss. So massive the whole of the 80s could barely contain him and now, in the 21st Century, he's harnessing the power of games to release new music.

Adding: "A Nintendo console would be used for playing Sega and NEC games" and "That boring load times are still blighting us" are also good'uns. I have a mate in London called Alex Kydd. Photo from Game Radar piece.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Lily Allen gives me the fear

Ars Technica reports that cheeky chanteuse Lily Allen's label is crediting a Flash game with boosting interest in, and hence sales of, her single "The Fear." EMI-owned Parlophone hired viral marketing company Matmi to create an "advergame" to promote Ms Allen's release. Matmi came up with a wee platformer called "Escape the Fear," which has apparently been played over 2m times, for an average of five minutes a go, with "tens of thousands" of clickthroughs to downloads and pre-orders. "The Fear" is charting worldwide and has been #1 in the UK for all of February.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Music distribution via mobile apps is on the way

A story on Wired's Epicenter blog, ostensibly about an iPhone app offering all four albums by 90's guitar-string dodgers The Presidents of the United States of America, offers a glimpse into the potential for mobile apps to forge a new music market. Apple has led the way but RIM and Android will be along shortly, if they know what's good for them.

Points of note:
- Dave Dederer, former singer and guitarist for the band, is now vice president of business development for mobile audio company Melodeo.
- Crucially, he and his bandmates retained the full rights to all their music. Since the iPhone store is open(ish) he can do what he likes with his own content and avoids the licensing entanglements that usually make such efforts hugely problematic.
- For $3, fans old and hopefully new get access to (via streaming) four albums, rare and live recordings, and anything else the band wants to make available. Plus updates.
- Next step is more bands with their own versions. A label-centric app for Seattle-based Sub Pop is hinted at.

From the article:
Dederer also said Melodeo is looking at the idea of using the iPhone app store to promote albums before their official release, circumventing the old way of "paying tens or or hundreds of thousands of dollars in... to get the album in heavy rotation on the radio." He continued, "instead of paying for exposure, you let the fans pay for the right to preview the music -- they can't own it, it's going to be streaming -- and have them link through to iTunes to pre-purchase the album."

Image found on Textually.org via Google.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Nom nom noms

Joystiq reports on the nominations for the Game Audio Network Guild awards, the development community's top honours for video game sound design and music. The PS3's Little Big Planet has the most noms with eight, followed by World of Warcraft (5), Fable II, Gears of War 2, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed and Dead Space (4 each). The full list of recognized games -- aka titles to acquire for the NYU-MVGRP library -- is at the link above. Voting is open now at the GANG site.

From the perspective of this blog, the category list provides a useful classification system for audio design and music in games. The top award is for Audio of the Year, followed by Music OTY, Sound Design OTY, and Best Soundtrack Album. Then it gets into the nitty-gritty. Best Interactive Score, Handheld Audio, Audio - Other (??), Cinematic Cut-Scene Audio, Dialogue, Original Instrumental, Original Vocal - Choral, Original Vocal - Pop, Best Use of Licensed Music, Best Game Audio Article, Publication or Broadcast, and Best use of Multi-Channel Surround in a Game.

There's a lot of music business going on in that lot...

Monday, February 16, 2009

Indie label Asthmatic Kitty on "What is Working?"

This is a fantastic article from a Hypebot series in which indie music sector professionals are asked, "In this fractured media landscape, what is working? What outlets and tools are helping your artists build an audience?" The guys at Asthmatic Kitty give one of the most lucid and positive responses you'll ever read to this kind of question. Not going to summarize here, except to concur with them that the frequent and spectacular failures of "sprinters" should not be distractions to the "marathon runners" -- even asthmatic felines. As Mr Colbert would say, "These guys get it!"

Short calls and long views

Ran into two contradictory headlines on music games over the weekend. The Motley Fool (I had no idea they were still around after dotcom era 1.0) goes with Activision is Music to My Ears, reporting on the Guitar Hero publisher's holiday quarter net profits of $429 million, adding:

The company doesn't break out sales or profits by product line, but it was happy to announce that Guitar Hero III has passed the $1 billion sales mark. Guitar Hero: World Tour was the best-selling console game of the quarter, dollar for dollar. And Nintendo may rule the handheld sales charts in number of units shifted, but Guitar Hero: On Tour collected more money than any other handheld game in 2008.

See a pattern here? So do Vivendi-Blizzard's management, and the analysts following the company. In that conference call, the best-selling PC game franchise World of Warcaft was mentioned 15 times, and the equally successful Call Of Duty 20 times. Guitar Hero got 47 mentions, plus another nine for the upcoming Metallica expansion -- more than even "sales" (27 mentions).

The author also notes that Europe is just getting started on GH and RB, that penetration in Japan is a possibility, and that Activision Blizzard "will live and die with the Guitar Hero franchise."

So it's all coming up roses until I see Music Games Fall Off a Cliff, in reference to a Silicon Valley Insider article titled Guitar Zero: Gamers Growing Bored Of Music Games. The horror! Apparently earnings at Viacom (owner of MTV and Rock Band) are being dragged down by a sales slump in RB, and that Activision is even more poorly placed to deal with the apparent collapse because it was "doubling down" on music games, hyping more GH titles and the upcoming DJ Hero. The SVI piece includes:
We're a bit surpised at how quickly music game sales are falling, but not by the general downturn. Two factors at work here: First, music games sold so amazingly well the past few years the market is approaching its saturation point ... Music games were, basically, a very 2008 sort of fad. And all fads come to an end."

I'm with the Motley Fool on this, and find the SVI analysis to be very narrow. No mention of the suddenly alarming economy and the effect it might be having on entertainment industry revenues; no mention of the massive popularity of downloaded tracks and song packs to GH and RB; no mention of this year's Beatles game, which will grow the rhythm games market to include all sorts of people who hate Aerosmith and/or Metallica; and the fact that music games are ruling the PS2 charts, still the most widely owned console in the world. And these are just the most obvious blind spots. Music and video games are going to continue to expand each others' overall businesses in ever more harmonious and lucrative ways. There's a bigger picture here that post-holiday-season sales drop-offs are not going to reflect adequately.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Just because one lolcat is never enough

Song request

FAO Activision and/or Harmonix MTV: I can haz Franz Ferdinand song download pack? The original GH had a (pretty bad) cover of "Take Me Out," def time for an upgrade.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Top games sales in January

Wired's gaming blog Games | Life posted January 2009's Top 10 Game Sales By Platform. Let's see how the music titles stack up:

Guitar Hero World Tour on the Wii was the 7th best-seller overall, and #4 in the Wii top ten. The Xbox 360 version of GHWT was 18th overall, just behind the 360 version of Rock Band 2 at #17.

In the Xbox 360 top ten, RB2 comes in 7th ahead of GHWT at #8. On the PlayStation 3, GHWT is 5th and RB2 is 10th.

More interestingly, on the PlayStation 2 -- lest we forget, far and away the best-selling gaming console evah -- music games absolutely dominate.


Not only do rhythm games take four out of the ten spots, but at least four other titles (Madden, WWE Smackdown, NBA2K9 and GTA:SA) are all known for soundtracks with strong exposure effects for featured artists. It's expected that the next-gen consoles will get most of the spotlight, but the PS2 has by far the higher user base -- 140m PS2s sold worldwide compared to 44m Wiis and 28m Xbox 360s, sayeth Wikipedia -- and continues to sell well. The PS2 chart is a stronger indication of music games' overall popularity than the other top tens.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

On hip-hop and samurai

This deserves a longer post, but one of my absolute favourite cultural mash-ups is Japanese hip-hop. There's a history here. I saw DJ Krush live in London in 1998, celebrated my 27th birthday in a hip-hop club in Shinjuku, and have watched every episode of Samurai Champloo at least twice. So the buzz that's picking up around the new Afro Samurai game, and in particular the soundtrack by The RZA, is piquing my interest. I haven't seen the anime itself, but the game looks and sounds a little like this:

Adding: The RZA, mastermind of the Wu-Tang Clan and one of the few truly gifted weirdos in hip-hop, also produced the soundtracks for Jim Jarmusch's Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai and most of Kill Bill. As for Samurai Champloo, I bought two soundtrack albums and the PS2 game, which was undeservedly overlooked. It was rather too much of a button-masher, but the soundtrack was fully integrated into the gameplay, to the extent that it had DJ controls as part of the HUD (heads-up display) and fight mechanic. Within the game you enter a record store -- this is all in late feudal Japan, mind you -- to buy various tracks, which you select from during play to perform different groups of moves. It doesn't always work smoothly, but it's an honest stab at being true to the hybrid hip-hop/samurai/anime aesthetic that defined the series.

A great book on this topic is Ian Condry's "Hip-Hop Japan: Rap and the Paths of Cultural Globalization" (Duke University Press, 2006), which I've used in class and in the lit review of my dissertation.

Kids rock

A European Union report has concluded that games pose no threat to children, and that in fact they stimulate "learning of facts and skills such as strategic reflection, creativity, cooperation and a sense of innovation." The report pegs the total value of the European games market at $9bn, calls for the strengthening the existing "PEGI" voluntary content ratings system shared by the EU's 27 member states, stresses parental involvement over national bans, and reveals the average age of the European gamer as 33.

All jolly sensible. And therefore clearly inappropriate for policy. But as the song says, "The Kids Are Alright." For readers born post-1990, that's a track by the Who. They were great, the song's great, go download it. The Best of the Who is also available in Rock Band, all master tracks.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Well, he's paid tha cost

Snoop Dogg -- I'm so old I saw him live at a club in London when there was an extra Doggy in there -- is coming to Rock Band as part of a global-MTV-media-mega-deal that includes a weekly late-night variety show called "Dogg After Dark" set in an LA nightclub, an album with Dr Dre and Pharrel titled Malice in Wonderland, and "bringing hip-hop to" the Rock Band download store (fo'shizzle? I guess the Beasties don't count, huh*). No details on which tracks yet. The D-O-double-G indulges in a little Dali-esque third person license in the press release:
When [MTV overlord] Van Toffler and I sat down boss to boss, a global quintuple threat takeover was masterminded. The world of entertainment keeps changing, we felt it was the right time to let Snoop Dogg back on MTV so we could continue to run thangs (sic) with music, movies, DVDs and bring hip-hop to 'Rock Band'.

Word. So, hip-hop on RB. With DJ Hero set for release this year, we might finally be seeing a little musical/racial diversity in the rhythm game space.

*I picked up the remastered reissue of Paul's Boutique tonight. It's 25 years young and phatter than ever. I'm hearing layers and undertones on the CD that'll never make it through an MP3 compression. Sometimes only the best will do.

Break-ups go better with jazz

Tried out Erik Loyer's first Opertoon iPhone app, a mash-up of grown-up graphic storytelling, animation, and music that's quite unlike anything else you've seen before. "Ruben & Lullaby" is a love story told in expressions and gestures, both of the characters in the "game" and of the player manipulating the device. Below is the YouTube demo, which is better than any description I might attempt. I played it for about 20 minutes last night and after I'd exhausted what the characters could do I closed my eyes and just played around with the musical variations the app is capable of. This is a very promising innovation in interactive music games and narrative, even if as a standalone it feels somewhat limited. The app sells for $2.99, and I hope it shifts more than a few units. More like this please.

Adding, until I looked up this game on iTunes I didn't know that there is an age rating system for iPhone apps; this opertoon is for 4+ only. What other age cut-offs might there be? What are the criteria? Hmmm...