Pre-E3: Eric Clapton, ‘drumless’ drums, and more revealed for Power Gig

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Earlier this year when Seven45 Studios revealed Power Gig: Rise of the Six String, it introduced a new concept to the world — a music videogame that would put a real instrument into the hands of players. How? Well, by giving them a real guitar, of course.

That’s Power Gig‘s hook, its unique guitar peripheral that they’re simply calling the “Six String.” But it’s unfair to call it a “controller” because that’s not exactly what it is — the six string is an actual, playable electric guitar. When in “game mode,” the guitar can recognize where a player’s fingers are on any of the six strings and up and down the guitars neck at any fret. Using on-screen cues not entirely dissimilar to what you might see in other music games, the game has players jamming along to songs with a real guitar in their hands. But the instrument has another neat trick up its sleeve — you can plug it into any amplifier and use it as a fully functional electric guitar.

At E3 this year, Seven45 will introduce another element to Power Gig, pulling together the full band experience — drums. But it’s not what you’re expecting. The surprising peripheral, along with some of the game’s exclusive music, was revealed at a recent pre-E3 event. Hit the jump for the first details.

Okay, I’m about to blow your mind. Here’s the drum controller:

A little bit of explanation is probably in order, as I’d imagine you’re thinking the same thing I was when they pulled back the curtain — where the f**k are the drum pads? Simply put, there are none. The AirStrike drum controller is a small, wireless unit that sits on the ground; attached to it is a tiny kick pedal, as well as a secondary pedal used to trigger “mojo,” Six String’s version of Guitar Hero‘s “Star Power.” The base itself features four sensors, with colors that correspond to on-screen cues on a vertically scrolling note highway.

To play, you simply strike the air over the corresponding sensor; the special drum sticks that ship with the controller have their own sensors, which work in tandem with the base’s sensors. According to Seven45, this unique set up allows players to play using proper form, as the hardware is said to be aware of which hands you’re using to strike at a sensor. Secondly, because there are no physical pads, the AirStrike is entirely soundless during gameplay. It’s also obscenely small and unobtrusive when compared to other drum peripherals already on the market; it could easily be slipped underneath a couch or a coffee table.

So does it really work? Yes and no. Sitting down in front of the kit for the first time and launching into my first song, it took me a handful of measures to start figuring out the “hot spots” for the sensors to pick up my hits. Maybe more importantly, it was hard to let go and simply trust that the game controller “knew” where I was attempting to strike. And for the most part, it did, especially after making a few adjustments in my hand placement.

Keep in mind that the hardware isn’t final, but I did run into some issues where I’d hit an adjacent pad I hadn’t intended to, or the sensor simply didn’t seem to pick up my hit. But my biggest problem with the experience may be inherent to the very concept itself — the lack of tactile feedback. With my sticks not landing on anything, I had no indication that I was hitting the snare, the hi-hat, the tom, or a crash cymbal. Drum rolls and other brisk movements were difficult without that much-needed bounce back. And when I was done with a session, my wrists and arms were more than a little worse for wear.

The drums, in a way, seem to stand in stark contrast to the guitar peripheral. While one actually is the instrument that other games attempt to emulate, the other seems to do away with that most of the real experience entirely. Plus, it’s human nature to want to bang on stuff with sticks… hard. I’m not sure that The Muppets‘ Animal would be pleased.

The guitar on the other hand is an interesting step in the teaching direction. As a guitarist, I had little problems picking up and playing the game’s medium and hard modes. The hardware I used (again, not final) was mostly responsive on my fret hand, able to pick up most of my finger movements relatively well. It was also interesting to find that the songs were charted in a way that felt relatively comfortable to me as a player; the notes all “felt” like they were in the right place, and I was even able to hit many of the notes by simply playing by ear.

Power Gig‘s guitar game will also feature an advanced mode that will have you playing chords instead of single notes. Upon watching me play, a rep suggested I switch over — I was already playing the right power chords anyhow. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to see it in action, as the earlier software they were demonstrating didn’t seem to have the chording mode implemented properly. I hope to get a chance to try it out at E3, though; it’ll be interesting to see how they can quickly communicate those chords and changes to players on the fly.

It seems that Seven45 has already turned a few heads in the music industry with its unique take on the genre, as it’s secured exclusive agreements with musicians who have previously turned their noses up at music videogames. So far, Eric Clapton (“Layla”), Dave Matthews Band, and Kid Rock are all confirmed to have tracks in the game. The game will also feature other tracks from major label artists like Jet (“She’s a Genius”) and The Donnas (“Fall Behind Me”).

The game will be playable with up to three people for a band experience — drums, guitar, and vocals. The vocal mode looks pretty straight forward, with the game picking up notes in a traditional manner; no fancy peripheral for singers, unfortunately.

Power Gig is slated for release this October for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. I’ll keep my eyes out for more details at E3 next week.

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