Monday, October 8, 2007

Traxxpad Portable Studio

Developer: Definitive Studios
Publisher: Eidos Interactive
Release Date: June 26, 2007
Systems: PSP
ESRB Rating: E10+
Official Web Site

Today's Game for Lunch comes from guestblogger Cyril Lachel of Defunct Games.

In a nutshell: A music making program for those who own a PSP instead of a computer.

0:01 As I turn on my PSP I'm greeted with the kind of repetitive beat that usually accompanies top 40 rap artists (50 Cent, Kanye West, etc.). Seeing as I'm not a huge fan of the hip hop I'm a bit worried that this "game" may just drive me up the wall, but I intend to see out this hour and learn whether or not I am able to compose a song with this time limit.

0:02 After choosing "Make Beats" I am met to a rather lengthy load screen and then a second start menu. While the game loads I should probably take this time to mention that the song I make can be used on more than just the PSP. The back of the case says that I will be able to export my music (er, beats) to the computer and cell phones. I'm not going to say that the beat I come up with is going to be good enough to be featured on a lot of cell phones, but it's got to be better than using Fergalicious as your ring time.

0:03 As I stare at the screen I mumble to myself: "what the bloody hell am I looking at?" The PSP's widescreen display is filled to the brim with graphics that are completely foreign to me. The only thing I recognize are the four face buttons (triangle, circle, square and X). When I push the face buttons four different sounds come out of the speaker ... nothing else happens, just four drum-like sounds. The rest of the screen is made up of nobs, glowing columns, a big dollar sign, and a play, pause and record button. I decide to see if I can figure all this stuff out.

0:06 After several minutes of playing around (read: pushing every button on the PSP) I decide that I'm getting absolutely nowhere. If I'm going to create a beat in an hour then I'm going to need to swallow my pride and read the ... gasp ... 50-page instruction manual. I can't even remember the last time I had to consult a game manual so early into my experience, but then again I can't remember the last time I played a music-making video game.

0:08 Only four pages into the instruction manual and I feel like I was making real progress. I knew that I was on the right path when I stumbled across a page called "Instant Music!" (their emphasis, not mine). Unfortunately all of the words ended up blurring together as my eyes glazed over. There is a lot of technical mumbo jumbo to deal with - R.T.I.S.T., MeLOD, S.T.A.C. and something called MyXxer. I feel like I should have taken some music production courses at the community college before jumping into this game. I decide to read on.

0:10 I make my way to page 10 and read an entry called "Instant Music!" (their emphasis, not mine). It talks about a bunch of technical stuff, like R.T.I.S.T., McLOD ... wait a second, didn't I just read this page a couple minutes ago? Sure enough, the first six pages are repeated twice in this instruction manual. Apparently there was some sort of printing mishap when they constructed this manual. I think it's time I skip ahead a little bit.

0:14 Okay, I figure out how to start recording the various beats in the R.T.I.S.T. mode. I actually have to hold the "select" button down in order to trigger the record feature, and then push "select" again in order to make everything start to move. That's a little awkward, but now that I understand how to get it going it's not so bad.

0:20 After playing around with the R.T.I.S.T. mode I finally laid down my own beat. It's a simple beat, but give that I'm only 20 minutes into this process you can't expect perfection.

0:22 After completing my beat and listening to it a couple of times I decided to head on over to one of the other modes. Of course, this means that I need to figure out what the new buttons do and read about these different modes. Back to the instruction manual I go.

0:27 Apparently the MeLOD section is for refining the melody (which actually makes sense now that I look at the name). Instead of giving you four face buttons to work with, MeLOD is set up like a keyboard. The problem is that there are more keys than face buttons, so in order to hit a lot of the notes you will have to hold a directional key and then hit one of the face buttons. It's awkward to figure out just what note to hit, but with some practice I'm sure I could make this interface work for me.

0:32 I'm still working on trying to get used to the interface. The good news is that my song is finally coming together. It may be short, but at least the melody and samples sound right. It's time to replay it a few times and figure out what it's missing.

0:40 After tweaking the beat a bit more (thanks to my newfound understanding of the various modes) I have decided that it's time to start rapping over it. Unfortunately I don't know how to rap, so I decide to just kind of mumble over it. To do this I will need that PSP headset that I bought a couple years ago for SOCOM: Fireteam Bravo. Now where is that thing ...

0:45 After searching through my drawers for that headset (and listening to a loop of my beat for five minutes) I now know what I'm going to do. I plug in the headset and switch over to the mode that supports singing/rapping. Like everything else, this mode looks completely foreign to me. Going between the various modes is like playing a bunch of different games, you literally have to relearn everything just to do the most basic functions. All I want to do is sing, how hard can that be? It's time to reference the instruction manual once again.

0:49 Recording my voice was easier than I thought it would be. It took me a few seconds to figure out what to say, but before long I was rapping my ode to yummy breakfast foods. Toast, eggs, pancakes, omelets, it all sounds so good right now. I guess I shouldn't be rapping on an empty stomach.

0:53 After a few more tweaks I have come up with a song that I feel happy with. I'm surprised that I was able to do it in under an hour; I feel a real sense of accomplishment. This song won't make it onto the radio or MTV, but it's far from the worst thing I've heard before (it's definitely better than anything Fergie has done). The only thing left to do is listen to it a few more times.

1:00 I've now listened to my song several times. Unfortunately I'm now sick of it, all it does it make me want to go and eat some food. Perhaps next time I can do a better job at assembling a song, but for my first attempt this isn't so bad. I feel like there's a lot of nuance in the interface that I didn't even touch on, perhaps some other time I'll sit down with the game and give it a fair shake. But for now I have decided to shut off my PSP so I don't have to listen to that song over and over again.

Would I play this game for more than an hour? Probably not.
Why? Although I like the idea of making my own music, Traxxpad's interface is just too difficult to navigate. Even the simplest tasks are a pain, and almost every part of the game requires you to read all about them in the instruction manual. I can see how this could be a fun time waster for all of those aspiring rappers who want to try out something different, but this game just makes it too frustrating to get real work done. I think I'm just going to stick to the computer programs that let me do the same thing without all of the fuss.

No comments: