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.

BeyoncĂ© 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
and is on Twitter at
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