DJ Hero vs. beatmania iidx

Activision has just released the newest US mimic of japanese bemani that has been a popular video game trend ever since Guitar Hero made it big. But unlike Guitar Hero’s japanese predecessor which sports pretty much the exact same control scheme and gameplay paradigm as Guitar Hero except with two extra buttons, DJ Hero decided to make a few significant changes to the iidx aesthetic that gave me incentive to do a comparative analysis.

first, a couple of videos for background:

tatsujin video of a guy playing V another on iidx. i chose this one because he kept the sound of him hitting the keys in, and the middle part where he mashed to deal with the trill chords is hilarious.

video of a guy playing kid cudi vs black eyed peas on expert. Unfortunately he decided to show the controller play upside down relative to the screen, but you get the idea.

and here’s a video of my friend playing one of the harder charts of DJ Hero.

Other than the fact that difficult charts are much rarer in DJ Hero than in iidx, the most striking distinction between the gameplay has to do with the handling of multiple responsibilities and how the player deals with them. one of the things that annoys me the most about 7key iidx is that while there are many notecharts that employ polyrhythmic ideas in them, players aren’t forced to think of them as polyrhythmic because they can read them as single rhythm streams with some chords put in. The easiest example i can come up with on this is this section of Colors Heavy. (Sorry that the guy playing in the video isn’t that good. This is the only video of colors heavy that i could find not on random.) For as long as i’ve played this song, i’ve dealt with this section by thinking it as polyrhythmic, reading it like this:

because that’s a polyrhythmic pattern i always used to play on tenors or drumset or timbales or whatever. Right hand is doing triple strokes, left hand is doing 1..a..+.1..a..+. i treat those as independent rhythms in my head. But in talking to a lot of people who play iidx, they don’t think of it that way at all. They see it as a single stream of notes with a few two-note chords thrown in, so the concept of polyrhythm isn’t important. Even if they understand that that’s what’s happening, they don’t have to think of it that way in order to execute it. The only times in iidx where people have the potential to be forced to think and execute two rhythms happening simultaneously instead of a single stream of notes is a scratch heavy song or when playing 14key.

What i think DJ Hero does is change that; while it takes away the concept of scratching being independent from note hitting most of the time, the concept of the left-right fader adds an extra element that iidx doesn’t have. Regardless of how complex and/or streamy iidx can get, it’s still a hit or scratch aesthetic, while DJ Hero has a hit, sctrach, or L/R fade aesthetic. Because all of those things are executed very differently, it potentially forces the player to have to think of those elements independently in order to execute them. So the base skillset between that and iidx is somewhat different and employs a more advanced musical concept, and that makes it more interesting than GH or even Rock Band.

Given that, i feel like the success of DJ Hero as a paradigm then depends primarily on two factors. The first is more obvious: how far the bar will raise in difficulty as new installments come out? Surely when beatmania first came out back in 1997, no one imagined that it would reach a difficulty level that dominates iidx now. Similarly, DJ Hero is in its own sort of initial conception, so it offers a potential to raise the bar somewhat, but even with the level of demand placed on the player for hit/scratch/fade, i suspect that it will become clear how limiting it is that they decided to go with only three buttons and three hit lanes.

The second is less obvious but much more important, which has to do with the philosophy and approach to what i’m going to term “internal pedagogy”, or maybe more simply the learning curve. Does the game have charts or section of charts that successfully teach the base polyrhythmic fader/hit/scratch concepts so that players can then comfortably execute the more difficult charts? Does the complexity of those concepts ramp up in a pedagogical and gradual manner?

Unfortunately those aren’t questions i can answer since i’ve only seen a few select charts of the game and most of them are on the easy side of the spectrum. As more charts come to surface and as the game evolves over time, i may have more to say about it.

Ultimately, though, the game has to get at least one negative mark from me for not having the ability to play double. I’m a 14key player by trade; no matter how much more you might add to the mix, three buttons is still three buttons.

when whac-a-mole goes digital

i’ve found that the easiest way to explain Pop’n Music to someone who doesn’t know anything about it is to say, “it’s basically a much more complicated version of Whac-a-Mole.” and on the surface, this seems a decent analogy because you have to hit the nine buttons at a particular time, and the configuration of the buttons is reminiscent of what you see in Whac-a-Mole. Where the analogy falls apart is in how you know when to hit the moles or buttons – in Whac-a-mole, you get a visual “cue” directly on the spot where you have to hit. In Pop’n, you’re given a screen cue based on column notation that essentially mirrors what all music video games currently do.

Enter Jubeat – the true digital version of whac-a-mole, where you’re given a 4×4 playfield of “tv screen buttons” that you hit as the individual buttons lights up. Shrouded in mystery when first announced in December of 2007, this
newest addition to Konami’s series of bemani games created a buzz in the music video game community. how exactly does it work? how complex and demanding will it be? Will it reach tiers of difficulty like that of iidx/pop’n, or is it more of a fluffy game like Dance Maniax?

I happened to stumble across two new Jubeat vidoes on youtube that show songs on a level other than what i would consider “basic.” The videos also do a good job of showing the interface for choosing songs or options related to the song.

Video 1

Video 2

I have to say that after watching these two videos i’m suitably impressed, both in its conception and in its execution of “chart writing” (is it a chart in the same way that DDR has charts?). It’d be easy when given something like this to fall into a trap of “create a lot of random patterns and notes for no good reason whatsoever”, but it seems that at least with these charts, even the difficult one (Snow Goose), there’s logic and a sense of idiomaticism to this digital whac-a-mole paradigm that makes it look like it would be not merely fun to play but fun to develop skill in, especially considering how well the easier difficulties (based on earlier demo videos i’ve seen) help to get people used to the new style of play.

There are still a few questions that i have about it that aren’t very explicit in the videos:

a) how difficult is it to press the buttons to get a response, and what’s the mechanics behind them? Obviously finger pushes seem to do the job in registering the button, but light touch versus hard press can make a big difference in if someone is going to do long-term playing. The mechanics are important because it can help answer how easily the buttons can “break” (stop registering), and what happens in that case.

What would be clever is if the game could figure out that a button is broken and readjust the chart to compensate for that broken button.

b) Are there more judgements involved other than hit or miss, and how can you tell?

c) how easy is it for you to know exactly when you’re supposed to hit the button? how much warning/prep time do you get before you hit the button, and does it depend on the bpm of the song (as in is the warning relative to the bpm, or is it a static amount of time)?

it’s interesting nonetheless. I wonder if it will have any marketability in the united states.

a different music video game concept

if you look at the evolution of music video gaming, some of the execution styles may be different (stomping arrows with your feet, playing fake drums or guitar) and some of the judgement granularities are different (guitar freaks gives you perfects/greats/goods/poors where guitar hero is you-get-it-or-you-don’t), but all of them follow a similar model: the performer or performers are executing based on what they see on the screen and they’re being judged based on how accurate they are to what’s happening on the screen.

I never got much into the co-op mode of guitar freaks/drummania/keyboardmania, but i’ve played Rock Band for a couple of sessions now and while i like it a lot, the nature of that particular game brings out a fundamental flaw in all of them – you’re not actually playing with other people, you just happen to be playing next to them.

As in, when you’re playing the game with someone else, what you do has no impact on how they get judged because everyone is keying off of what the game tells them, so everyone is executing in silos with the blinders on. If i’m the drummer and i start to fall behind the beat, it doesn’t matter to anyone else – they just do their own thing.

But a real band doesn’t operate like that, and marching bands/drum corps in particular can’t operate like that. Musicians have to be able to adjust to each other and listen to each other to be able to execute their best. At the extreme level, high level marching drum lines have to learn to be able to adjust and react to what’s happening around them to the millisecond sort of degree or else they sound dirty.

So i want a music video game to have the option to emulate that – to make it so that the judgement that is received is based on how the players are playing in relation to each other.

With something like Rock Band, simple enough. The drummer or the bass guitar or the rhythm guitar acts as the tempo lead, and the video game adjusts its “judgement window tempo” based on what that lead is doing. So if the drummer is the tempo lead and slows down or speeds up, the tracks slow down and speed up with him and everyone else playing has to slow down and speed up with him. Promote the idea of the ensemble truly being an ensemble.

With something like DDR, i had this idea where two players playing the same chart get judged on how closely they hit the arrows in relation to each other, so as opposed to getting a perfect by hitting your arrow within 20ms of the arrow hitting the casings exactly, you get a perfect by hitting your arrow within 20ms of your partner. Then turn on “autosync” (and furthermore autosync the music as opposed to just the visual arrows) so that if the couple slows down or speeds up, the arrows and music adjust with the couple.

If i had to build a piece of electornic music programming from scratch that could do something like that i bet i could pull at least a basic form of it off with some complex Max/MSP work. In an actual music video game that would be more challenging. If i knew the ins and outs of stepmania programming i could probably change the code to measure the judgements based on each other, but i wouldn’t be able to get the “adjust the BPM of the song based on the player’s performance” part since it’s not fundamentally built into the code (and no, speeding up the song in the extended options screen doesn’t count).

fun to think about.