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E3: DJ Hero – “Any record, any music, any era”


Play caught up with Freestyle Games’ Chris Lee to chat about the latest title in the ever-expanding Hero family, DJ Hero

Play: Could you tell us a little about Freestyle Games and how you ended up creating DJ Hero?
Chris Lee: We’ve always been focused on music videogames. We developed a game called B-Boy, which was very much in the hip-hop music vein. We learned a lot from that previous experience and from working with Guitar Hero. We wanted to create something that blew out from just specific genres and opened up a whole remit of possibilities. And really the deejay was the one guy who could pick any record, any music, from an era, any part of the world and was completely unlimited. So that was really attractive for us, to almost use this an excuse to play all the music we really like.

Although most DJs don’t interact with ‘band-mates’. Are you sure DJ Hero is going to be as social an experience as the likes of Guitar Hero and Rock Band?
What we found from getting people to play this and from some of the other market research we’ve done is that people perceive this as an opportunity to be the life of the party. So they want to invite their mates ‘round and rather than playing music on some kind of passive MP3 player, they want to perform the music in front of their mates so yes, you still have to look at the screen because you’re following the highway but essentially you are performing and you are showing off. We allow the player to create their own setlists from any of the 80+ mixes we have in the game and then execute seamlessly from setlist to setlist to setlist. Definitely, that’s the enthusiasm. Does everybody want to be a DJ? From what we can tell, they want to have that experience, they want to feel maybe cooler than they really are – for me, that’s what Guitar Hero allows me to do. This enables people to be that life of the party. It allows people to perform, and to show off and to interact with the music.

And DJ Hero will be compatible with the Guitar Hero guitar and microphone on some tracks too. What kind of mixes are they?
They’re all unique mixes. We’ve taken guitar tracks that we know Guitar Hero players will really love – things like Nirvana or Beck – but then we’ve remixed them with something that’s maybe a little bit unexpected. Maybe a bit of 50 Cent of the Gorillaz or something like that.

Was it always the plan to incorporate a turntable controller?
We wanted to make it as accessible as possible and as authentic as possible as well, so it was always a game that would be driven from a turntable controller of some description. What we love about it is that it does give you that experience, it does give you that authenticity.
When you get up to the very, very hardest level of the game pretty much everything you’re doing is an authentic representation of everything the DJ had to do when he created the mix in the first place.

Has it been a challenge to develop the controller (in collaboration with RedOctane) alongside developing the game itself?
We’re innovating hardware at the same time as software, and that brings good things and challenging things. The good thing is you can do anything with the software because you’re actually creating the controller, so there are no rules. But at the same time for predominantly a software developer, which is what Freestyle is, being able to drive and understand how to create hardware was an interesting challenge. But the most exciting thing about Freestyle as a development studio is that we’re pretty unfamiliar as a developer. We’re not a bunch of artists or programmers or producers. We’re predominantly just a bunch of people that really love the music.

Is it exciting for you, as music fans, to be working in games?
There’s a lot of privileges that come with the process and it’s predominantly to do with the people you work with and the content that you’re working with, so we feel pretty fortunate to be doing music games. Really we’re working on new music, new tracks all the time. You’re not locked into very specific places, you have the opportunity to experience a whole bunch of different things. And it’s great to work with some of the artists.

How do you go about persuading artists that they should be in your game?
What we have done is provide what we call mix sketches, which gives you an idea of the artist we might want to mix you with and some of the thought process we’re going through. We started to do that at the beginning but actually what happened is once we started to create such a volume of work and we could demo the game, so many artists were just, “whatever you like, you just go for it, feel as though you’ve got a complete freedom,” which obviously is an amazing place to be, especially when you’ve got people like the Black Eye Peas or Benny Benassi or Tears For Fears or whatever just saying, “yep, if you want to do it, just go for it”. It’s just been incredible.

Are you giving players any of the same freedom to do whatever they like and add freestyle touches of their own?
We’ve pre-mixed and pre-scripted the way in which the remix happens, so the highway is guiding you as to when to cross-fade and when to scratch. However, we do allow you to do freestyle samples. You can pre-load sample packs of about eight different samples and then during the song you can use the effects dial to go through that sample pack and pick which one you like then you can start layering that sample over the track. There are sections within each song that give you the opportunity to start laying samples, but the choice of sample is up to you. We’ll ship with scores and scores and scores of samples, and we’ll also make more samples available as downloadable content.

Do you think music gaming is probably the biggest growth area in the whole games industry?
Absolutely. Obviously we work incredibly closely with Neversoft and have been inspired by what they’ve done. There’s just so much great music out there and I think what we’re seeing is that videogames are a wonderful platform for people to experience music that they might not have done, but even if they have, to experience it in a new way and actually interact with it. So I see things like DJ Hero and Guitar Hero as genuinely a music distribution platform, bringing to life artists or music or content that maybe people won’t have experienced. It definitely excites me, and who knows what’s going to come next or where it’s going to come from? But just as a consumer I can’t wait to play it.

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