Interviews// Def Jam Rapstar: James Waller & Jamie King

Posted 20 Sep 2010 14:30 by
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Games: Def Jam Rapstar
James Waller (L), Jamie King (R)
James Waller (L), Jamie King (R)
'Do we really need another karaoke game,' I hear you cry. Well, yes, we sort of do as it happens. You may have noticed that there are several iterations of SingStar and Rock Band that cater to specific genres of music. There's even a Motown-themed game.

One glaring omission is the rap and hip-hop genre. Get On Da Mic tried to be an all-out hip-hop themed music title - but it turned out it had the charm of a brick to the head. Nobody's really ever tried it since.

It could be because the community of hip-hoppers and rappers have high expectations. That's understandable, given the background and history of the genre. Luckily, it seems one organisation has the knowledge to give it a concerted effort - Def Jam.

4mm has been working with the hip-hop company on Def Jam Rapstar, a karaoke game that promises to gauge your performance better than anything before it, while offering a huge social networking experience for wannabe rappers to freestyle as they please and show the world their creations.

It's ambitious, but Def Jam knows it has the history and the talent to make such goals a reality. Here, I chat to Def Jam's James Waller and 4mm's Jamie King to learn more about the game and its future.


SPOnG: There are a lot of karaoke and singing games out there, like SingStar and Lips, and some of those are starting to adopt rapping mechanics. What is it about Def Jam Rapstar that sets it apart from the rest?

James Waller: Our game isn't strictly the performance part of it, it's a lot about the interactivity that people can do online. So once you've had fun in the living room playing the actual music, you upload your performance to the community and that's where the game really comes to life.

People can rate your content, people can comment on your videos... you have the ability to challenge other users to battles, and that's something that's new to the music-based gaming space.

Going online, uploading your media, having another person upload theirs, and letting the community decide who does the better version. On our game, one of the things that's special with us is that we actually judge the words you say. You're not going to get away with humming your way through a song on Rapstar.

So the game judges your lyrical accuracy, but it can't judge how you look, how you sound, how well you customise your video, how creative you were with the things you did in the video. That's where the community comes into play. And once you add some sort of interactivity between people, that's where the game becomes more than just a karaoke product.

Jamie King: I'm thrilled that we've just focused on rap and hip-hop. I actually think it's better that we have done this, because there's just so much work ? there's so much music ? out there in terms of hip-hop in the last 30 years.

It was important to us, and as James mentioned, getting the lyric recognition implemented with Terminal Reality ? and they did a great job on that ? means that from a gameplay point of view, it's a lot more compelling.

Especially the Battle Mode, where James and I will always battle it out... because you have Solo Mode and Duet Mode, but the Battle Mode is where there's a long tail in terms of gameplay here. And that's where the competitive spirit comes out, regardless of the song you've picked, regardless of the music genre.

This mode is about James and I, for example, in that moment. Every time you get on the mic, it's different. So there's tremendous competition that comes out in that moment, and for all the people that have been exposed to this game, that Battle Mode is where there's a desire to really start understanding the songs and really perfecting your craft ? certainly from a more 'casual gamer' point of view.

And looking at the other titles on the market ? I mean, I don't know what's happened recently in terms of content they've been putting in ? when we started this project, as far as we were concerned there was no real rap or hip-hop in these games.

Aesthetic was also important to us, and the whole way that we designed the menu interface and the whole presentation of this game was directly targeting and speaking to the hip-hop community. We feel that community has been ignored and that hip-hop is worthy of a game in its own right.

A lot of people have been talking about it, sort of toying with the idea, but they never really committed to it. So obviously for us, knowing that we could partner with Def Jam gave us the confidence to even attempt making a game like that.

These guys have worked with us from Day 1, and have been super-involved in the game, ensuring that it is authentic and that it really is representing a game that is coming from the heart of hip-hop and is for the hip-hop community. It's a very pure game in that regard. At the same time, with the mechanics like voice recognition and the community aspects, we do feel like we're pushing forward the music genre.


SPOnG: Speaking of targeting the hip-hop community... it would seem that audience may be more interested in creating their own freestyle songs instead of rapping over someone else's records. I notice there is a Freestyle Mode where you can go at it against various backing beats ? what's the scope with that? Is that also going to be part of the online element?

James Waller: Absolutely. That Freestyle Mode is dedicated to the guys who really believe they have what it takes to be a real lyricist. You can rap over the top of any of the tracks ? we'll include 15 in the box, and then there'll be some additional tracks later down the line. Even localised tracks for the UK, Germany and France. A lot of those will be available for download.

Once you record your freestyle, you upload to the community and those can be used in Battles as well. You can have guys from Germany battling guys in the States, guys from France battling guys in the UK.

And then you can have guys in the middle ? guys who just don't have the funds to travel to the big cities and be like 'Hey, here's my demo, come listen to my music' ? you give them a real quality beat, get them to rap over the top of it and now people all across the world can watch and listen to it for themselves.

Jamie King: We had a number of the artists, whose tracks and songs are in the game, come into the office over the last few months and... I was particularly taken by one of the guys who was blown away by the quality of the producer beats that have been put into the game.

He said to us, 'You don't understand ? a lot of us can't get these producers for our album, and we didn't have this growing up as kids.' And to have these talks and to get these guys in this game so that you can put your own freestyle over beats from this lineup of producers ? the opportunity is astounding.

And it really is an opportunity now to be discovered, to rise to the top, to actually be noticed by the professional music industry. So for the serious and the hardcore, this is very exciting and definitely very important.
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