DJ Hero a ‘new outlet to experience music’

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Hopefully by now you’ve had a chance to check out my preview of DJ Hero. Like I said there, it is certainly a unique experience, and it would certainly take a unique studio to make a game like that. Enter the Creative Director of DJ Hero, Jamie Jackson, one of the main guys behind the turntable-based mash-up game. We had an opportunity to discuss the game, obviously, but that wasn’t the only thing we addressed.

While you might have heard his somewhat disappointing remarks on cross-compatibility on the controller, we discussed other things. From the DLC method they hope to offer, Scratch: The Ultimate DJ, the musical divide between Europe and America, to the tragic death of DJ AM, our few minutes in conversation underlined one goal Jackson and the DJ Hero team aim for: to be a “new outlet to experience music.”

Hit the jump for our conversation.

DESTRUCTOID: What do you think DJ Hero represents for the music industry, as well as the games industry?

Jamie Jackson, Creative Director for DJ Hero with FreeStyleGames: Good question. I think for the music industry, what it means is that, where in the past with music games, which are actually quite young, only four or five years old, with Guitar Hero really as the modern music game, what we are doing now is something completely new, where this is the future of music games. We are bringing all the other genres of music that hadn’t been previously been in a game into a game, so a lot of people think DJ [Hero] is just hip-hop.

It’s not just hip-hop, it’s dance, it’s electronica, it’s drum and bass. We’ve got 92 plus mixes. We are covering so many musical genres, I think it means positive things, because we know where the music industry is, this is a new outlet for people to experience new music. This is all unique music, but it’s all current and relevant music, as well. I think it’s a really positive thing.

There has been some talk lately that the music games reached saturation point, and that people are not interested in buying new music games, or music games with peripherals. What do you have to say to that?

I think the great thing about DJ [Hero] is it is new stuff, it’s stuff that hasn’t been out before. Music games have been really rock focused since its inception, and it is still young. It is inevitable that people were going to tail off on that. The reality is, it is still selling incredibly well.

We are in tough times and in a recession worldwide. I think that games as a whole have stopped selling. It’s easy to go “It’s just music games”, but it’s not, it’s all games. Everything has stopped selling. I think the great thing about DJ [Hero] is that it is kind of invigorating it. That’s the response we have been seeing, we are bringing all this new music to a whole new audience, and various audiences that perhaps wouldn’t have played a game like Guitar Hero because they are not necessarily Rock or Indie music fans. You go to any major city in the world, or in small cities for a weekend, and the dance clubs are full of people. There’s something now for them to play. I think with DJ [Hero], you could see that turn around.

I want to ask you if you have anything to say with regards to that other DJ game, Scratch: The Ultimate DJ?

Um, I don’t really know much about it. I haven’t really seen it. I’ve just had my head down doing DJ Hero the last three and a half years. I think, you look around and see what it’s all about. I couldn’t really say anything.

So DJ Hero has been in development for three years now?

Yeah, about three and a half probably, since we first started it. It has had a funny old journey. As a developer, FreeStyle, we came up with the idea, we were working on something for the Wii, and it was a bit hip-hop focused back then, but the DJ element in it was very strong. That was when we looked around, and that was when Guitar Hero was obviously breaking barriers, and as a studio, we were probably more ingrained in music. We just started to focus on that.

It has been a fun journey. I think the reason why, not so much that it has been in development for so long, but what we have done with the music is unique. It has never ever been done in games before. We are delivering to you fresh music, music you know, but it is mixed in a different way, unique. It took a while to figure out how to do that, and still make it fun. I don’t know, have you played it yet? It’s a hellava fun game.

How do you guys decide what music gets in the game?

Basically, we have a really cool process. We have a bunch of DJs in London, and what we do is we look at licensed music, like the cleared stuff we have, and the boys will go away, and they will make sketch mixes. They are all super talented guys, so it doesn’t take long for them to make sketch mixes. What generally happens then is it goes to what we call the “freestyle soundboard”, and this is just a bunch of people in our company. They could be admin, staff, they could be QA, it doesn’t matter who they are, they just love music. They listen to the music remotely through our wiki-system, and they just give feedback. Comments, just simple like “would you dance to it?” “would you buy it?” “if you heard it in a club, would it make you get up and dance?” simple stuff like that.

The great thing about that is it all goes back anonymously to the London studio, and it gives a real broad idea of how something is being responded to, because it is very easy to make music for yourself, as a DJ, you know, and what we want to do is appeal to the masses. I think the guys have done an incredible job of that, and I think the process we have has helped that.

You mentioned London, and the DJs over there. Now, Rock Band and Guitar hero are both US-based studios, and music genre before that was all Japanese-based. The music scene in Europe is noticeably different than Japan or America. How do you think the sort of European-feel will bleed over into DJ Hero?

Firstly, I think that with music these days, I don’t think it’s actually massively different. I guess, I think that my European’s opinion of America could be just Rock and Hip-Hop, but having spent time here, it’s not. It’s really not. A lot of our DJs, they are worldwide. We have guys that travel and play worldwide. It just happens that they all live in London, in a place called Brick Lane, which is like a music center, super creative. I guess virtually the music is still broad. I think we’ve done a really good job of making it globally appealing.

On the other side, we have a bunch of DJs who like Shadow, Z-Trip, AM, all those guys that made music, Cut Chemist, J. Period, whatever, they are all American-centric DJs. I think we’ve got a really really good balance. Celebrity DJs providing a North American skew. Our guys providing their skew, and I can we got stuff that’s different. We’ve got a drum and bass called D-Code, and he plays all over the world. From Australia to India to all over Europe to America. So all the music he has done is drum and bass for global, you know?

You mention DJ AM. Are you guys going to be doing anything special or any reference to his recent death?

I don’t know what we have planned. Obviously we are deeply saddened by it. He was an amazing guy to work with. Very very positive, made some phenomenal music for the game, and it is a really tragic thing to happen. I’m not sure what we’ve got planned, but I know we have a tribute to him on the website, and things like that.

One of the things that are special about the Rock Band guitars and the Guitar Hero guitars is that by and large work together pretty well, and they are able to work with other games as well. Are you open to the DJ Hero controller being flexible and playable with different company’s products?

[pauses]…No. You know, DJ Hero is DJ Hero. If someone needed to use our controller, then they would basically have to rip our game off.

Is there anything else you would like to say and talk about for our readers?

Yeah, sure. I think the one thing we are excited about, well really the two things I’m are excited about recently is, one, the Jay-Z/Eminem stuff. With “Renegade Edition”, it’s a phenomenal proposition, as a purchase, it’s really cool. For a European perspective, announcing Daft Punk recently, that was awesome. I’ve been dying to talk about it for ages, and it is really cool to finally get it out there. Hopefully you’ll be able to check it out today, see what it looks like in game, check out the mixes, but I’m really stoked about that.

What is the plan for DLC?

So we are going to have a whole bunch of DLC coming from day one. We are going to have mixes, which I cannot announce what they are yet, but there is going to be some real cool stuff. You are also going to be able to download sample packs as well. So one of the features is you can basically pick custom sample packs, for each track. So every time you play it, in theory, the mix could be different. So we are going to have all that, and we are going to have it from day one as well.

And how regular is it going to be?

That’s to be confirmed. We are going to go with the day one stuff to see how we go.

Awesome, thank you very much, I appreciate talking with you.

No worries, thanks very much.

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