Some companies decide to show games at E3. Other companies, like 4mm Games, decide to take a small set of E3 attendees, by Rolls-Royce, to a penthouse a mile away from the Los Angeles Convention Center. Several developers formerly from Rockstar games have brought in TV producers, venture capitalists and others, to try their hand at the music/rhythm genre, which has been out there for a while but has certainly never been done in the way they had planned to do it.
The game is Def Jam Rapstar, in association with Def Jam Interactive (not Def Jam Records). It's not affiliated with the EA Def Jam fighting game series either. It is an effort to take the stale hip-hop genre and, through judicious use of Internet functions, produce a game that reflects and enhances the entire hip-hop culture and then rapidly pull out releases based on other genres. If what they showed me so far is any indication, they're well on their way to doing this.
Glitzy lights reveal a short seven-song demo featuring the Notorious B.I.G., Flo Ride, Pete Rock, T.I. and Kanye West. None are confirmed for the final game — actually, no songs have yet been confirmed for the final game, as the team plans to work on figuring out the best set of songs to attract a wide variety of players. They promised a "competitive" number of songs, with massive DLC support after launch. The interface is slick, with bits of the music video representing each selection, and nice glitzy light towers in the background. Picking a song at random because I am exceptionally white and am not familiar with any of the songs, I am shown Def Jam Rapstar's Duel mode.
I neatly got served. Trying to face the game like I face a Rock Band vocal chart that I'm not familiar with, I warbled my way through the song in a panic while Kanye West's music video showed how it was done even better than the game's producer standing right beside me. The game's scoring system doesn't handle like Rock Band's. Not only does it use phoneme analysis to make sure you're saying the right words, but it also follows extremely tight per-word timings. While the occasional sung sections are done in the normal karaoke fashion, the rapping that represents the vast majority of each song is done by following a bouncing ball that links from marker to marker. To say this is confusing to a player used to a linear motion of words is an understatement, though it was reasonably representative of how tight the word timings are and would be for scoring. As in Rock Band, though, the system judges more and more tightly as you raise the difficulty level. The exact scoring system may be changing, but it went up with a combo to a 12x score multiplier per note. My attempt produced a score of 3,000 compared to the developer's 60,000.
Having just gotten served, my humiliation had to be made even worse, as the video was quickly put up online — as in, on the Web. As the producer showed, this is as easy as selecting a choice 30-second clip, putting a name on it, and going on to the next song. The game uploads the file entirely in the background. The custom site then receives your upload and puts it up on a YouTube-style service, allowing for the rating of videos, geotagging of players so you can see who's best in your neighborhood, and full comment functionality. This video upload feature will also allow players to challenge one another; each makes his or her attempt (this doesn't have to be at the same time), and the winning player is shown off. The video support even offers a chroma-key function, where you take a photo of the background around you and record yourself into various clips, such as boats or the beach, to help your video clip feel more like an authentic hip-hop video.
Def Jam Rapstar's online functionality will even extend to the introduction of clans and clan challenges, where each selects a person to see who has the better rhymes. Your position in the ranking system is at stake during these challenges, so you should make your selection carefully.
The game is planned for a "T" rating, using the music videos of songs to provide cleaned-up edits. The current beta shows the first letter of each curse word, but the developers indicated that this would likely be removed.
The plan is to have localizations for many countries, using famous rappers from the corresponding country. When asked if songs from foreign releases would be added to the U.S. DLC selections — a planned feature for the Japanese release of Rock Band — the devs admitted that no one had given it any thought yet.
4mm Games has a very ambitious goal and hopes to produce a game that will let players create a hip-hop culture of their very own making. The developers have taken many existing ideas to new levels and put them together into a very authentic-feeling hip-hop work. If the current product pans out solidly into the final release with enough polish and quality song choices, 4mm could have a major hit on its hands.
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