DJ Hero Q&A: Jaime Jackson

FreeStyleGames' creative director drops details on the upcoming rhythm game, which puts players behind the wheels of steel.

You won't need to be a world-class mixer like DJ AM to have fun in DJ Hero, but some skills on the turntables certainly won't hurt. The upcoming game from Activision and developer FreeStyleGames will put some of the same skills you've developed from the long-running Guitar Hero series to a different sort of test. In it, you mix, twist, and scratch tunes in styles as varied as club music, hip-hop, electronica, and Motown. We last saw the game at E3 2009, and recently, we caught up with FreeStyleGames' creative director Jamie Jackson to see how DJ Hero has progressed since then, as well as what to look forward to between now and the game's release in late October.

GameSpot: So how has the game been coming along since our last look at E3? What aspects have the team been focusing on?

Jaime Jackson: Basically since E3, we've been running full speed toward submissions. We've been polishing and finalizing the art, cleaning up a few known issues, and tweaking some of the over 90 on-disc mixes.

On the art side, the team has really been pushing the effects and light show markups. We really want to put players into the most amazing venues they have ever seen, which make them feel like they're in the club!

The design team has also been diligently working on the DJH turntable controller, and we're really happy with the feel and look of the final version. We've had a number of people who have played the game tell us they were amazed how solid and real it feels.

GS: Since the game was officially unveiled, what's been the most common compliment from fans? What are fans complaining about most? Have there been any changes to gameplay/control/song choice/etc. based on fan reception so far?

JJ: I'd say the biggest compliment for me is seeing the turn in opinion once we release footage and tracklists to the public. I think once people actually saw what we're doing, they realized it's not a copy of anything; it truly is its own game, albeit in the music game genre.

The biggest complaint seems to be about who is and is not in the game. All I can say is, every time we announced someone, say, DJ Shadow, DJ AM, or Z-Trip, we had a few fans say, "Yeah that's great, but what about Grandmaster Flash?" Then we revealed him, and we still have some big artists up our sleeve, so watch this space.

Did we mention Jay-Z and Eminem? [grins]

GS: What's the process for picking songs and mixes for DJ Hero been like? Did you have a wish list of folks to work with? Did artists come to you looking for exposure or a mixture?

JJ: Track creation was one of the hardest parts of DJ Hero. You have to remember: We're doing something with music never before done in a video game. We're asking two artists to let us create a unique mix for gamers to play and enjoy. We mixed some pretty random stuff--stuff you would never think would work, but it does.

The process basically starts with the music team here at FreeStyleGames submitting a request list to the (legendary) licensing team at Activision. These guys will then go and see what we can get. In the meantime, the FSG team will create track sketches. Essentially, these are quick mixes of the music. These get sent to the "Sound Board," a random group of anonymous music lovers spread through FSG. These honest folks provide feedback on the basics: Does this sound any good? Would you dance to it? Buy it or leave it? This process helps us get a broader feel for the appeal of each track. If it looks like we'll be able to use the tracks, then the music team will go full tilt at it and make the game mix.

At the DJ Hero reveal party at E3, I had a few artists come up to me after I'd demoed the game on stage and say, "Man, I need to be in this game." First: Holy crap! Guys who I've only seen on television are asking to be in our game! (Names remain hidden for now, just in case). Second: We must have done something right because they wanted in based on our mix of Black Eyed Peas versus Benni Benassi...credit to the mixers for that one!

GS: When working with the DJs in the game, how much back and forth was there in terms of choosing songs/mixes between the artists and the development team? Did the development team need to make changes to mixes in order to better serve gameplay, for example?

JJ: This process varied depending on when the DJ came on board and how much time they had. There was back and forth with everyone because we're doing something a little bit different than they do on stage. But the roots of it are the same, so they all got it real quick. In fact, I don't think they would have got on board if they didn't because they only want to be involved in an authentic, fun product.

The process with the named DJs is the same as the London team. We gave them the cleared list, and they picked what they wanted to do. We didn't want to interfere in that process. They know what they can do with what they have better than we do.

Dan Neil, our music director, would spend time with each DJ to explain the gameplay and help give them an understanding of what we could do. Once they submitted a mix, we would tweak a few things to make sure the gameplay was tight--all of which was done with the DJ's approval.

GS: In the Guitar Hero games, players are gradually introduced to more complex songs as they progress, resulting in a pretty smooth learning curve. What's the approach to sequencing in DJ Hero and how does that affect the learning curve?

JJ: We have taken the same approach and also extended the thinking into how we mark up different difficulties. Instead of adding streams, we add actions as you step up from easy to medium, medium to hard, and so on.

So, in easy, you have no cross fader, this is all done for you. But in medium, we add some basic cross fader action. As you get through medium, you'll notice they get harder, getting you ready to step up to hard. In hard, we add directional scratches. This basically means you have to scratch in the direction of the arrow onscreen and, therefore, scratch in the direction the actual DJ scratched in.

In expert, you do everything the DJ did! All cross faders, all scratches, everything!

GS: The game will feature mixes from DJ Shadow, DJ AM, and DJ Z-Trip, among others. Can you characterize each DJ's style and how that will translate to gameplay?

JJ: If you are a fan of these DJs, you'll instantly be able to tell which tracks they mixed. I've been a Shadow fan for as long as I can remember, and a defining moment in making this game came when he delivered his first two tracks. Bear in mind, these are new tracks--mixed by Shadow. Both could easily make his albums. We had them marked up and playable, so when I hit the first and second scratch sections on his first track, I knew we'd hit big. It was his signature style of track blending and scratching. I think I smiled for about three weeks and told everyone to call me Shadow.

Shadow also did a mix, not revealed today, which features an unreleased track from one of the biggest bands in the world. This mix will melt faces and is definitively Shadow--it's pretty rad.

Z-Trip's song selection totally defines him: a bit more guitar, more eclectic, and super tight. AM is more like his TRV$ DJ-AM show, where Travis Barker and AM do a crazy, live drums and DJ stage show--real quick cuts, very good fun. To be honest, I think he could have made a track out of about 12 songs if we'd let him.

GS: Finally, what's your personal favorite mix to play in DJ Hero and why?

JJ: Can't tell you...we haven't revealed those artists yet. I'll mail you when I can.

GS: Looking forward to it. Thanks for your time, Jaime.

Written By

Want the latest news about DJ Hero?

DJ Hero

DJ Hero

Discussion

118 comments
blazetiger89
blazetiger89

cool.i just played a demo today, and for you guitar hero players complaining,ive played guitar hero and dj hero and it seems that dj hero is easier and better.i'll play dj hero any day than guitar hero.

Coojy6
Coojy6

I have played this game in a shop. I belive its for people who wern't as good at guitar as others. I'm getting it without question

osmprog
osmprog

it will all come dowen to the tracks they include ...

jeffv541
jeffv541

moronic franchise invention hero next please!!!

joezombie15
joezombie15

they really need to just stick to guitar hero.....

perphekt
perphekt

I think i'm going to have to get this...

kabuto959
kabuto959

Hmm you know i might just get this. The uniqueness of it all seems cool you get a turn table and you well u know turn it.so i am pretty happy with it it looks cool so. I'm a fan of guitar hero so cant wait.

pip3dream
pip3dream

This looks pretty cool, and agree with comments said about the realism; as a dj of 10 years this looks like the skills of actual turntablism (quick, nimble, accurate fingers) would transfer over to the controller better than in Guitar Hero. Also, it is cool that DJ AM will be immortalized in this game. He was a rad dude and always brought the party. RIP Adam :(

big_boss_george
big_boss_george

ooh come ooon it could be worse 13 years later:guitar hero XXX|||| (34) releashed with a new plastic guitar. only 320$ i guess we have to wait for that too!!

PS3gamer890
PS3gamer890

All problems with this game listed here. 1.Too expensive 2.WTF DJ HERO!!!!!! what's next trumpit hero!!!?! 3.This looks really dumb. 4.Who's the idiot that invented this bull***** 5.All you do is the same thing over and over again. 6.If you think your a real dj or going to be real dj by playing this game you must be screwed up in your brains!! 7.A person with no life and no job and no future would buy this game!! 8.Did i mention that this is going to suck real hard.!!!

kuco31
kuco31

[This message was deleted at the request of a moderator or administrator]

auto_fan
auto_fan

Best game!!!!with oblivion Best game!!!!

BlackShadow1595
BlackShadow1595

Looks horrible, just another spin off from guitar hero. Next would be Band Hero i bet.

custerke
custerke

Looks pretty wicked, and I think this game will be more like the real deal than Guitar Hero. This might rly feel like you are DJ'ing, Guitar Hero didnt feel like playing a real guitar at all.I will defenitely like this game more than GH.

ITQcaleb
ITQcaleb

Looks really good. Seems to hold a lot more technicality than Guitar Hero. Can't wait.

GROMkill
GROMkill

This looks absolutely, horribly retarded.

wars45
wars45

been better if it was dance has they have the best djs in the world. never heard of some of the djs it gose on about. that will be the same for most outside the usa

KieranCottrell
KieranCottrell

I wasn't really interested in DJ Hero before I read this interview: I am such a sucker for PR-speak. >.

Shadow_Fire41
Shadow_Fire41

1. Guitar Hero 2. DJ Hero 3. Jonas Brothers Hero? (shudders at the mere thought.)

wiifan001
wiifan001

A DS Lite is $120. DJ Hero bundle the same price(?)...Definitely passing this one up, simply because I'm not rich enough.

ryuu-drako
ryuu-drako

i think its stupid, next they'll have trumpet hero

Wiiownzzz
Wiiownzzz

Even tho it's expensive, i'm still getting it. It looks sick!

russell452
russell452

this game could end up being pretty good can't wait to try it

solidniko
solidniko

what i need is slipknot songs and DJ sid

grant4500neo
grant4500neo

If it wasn't going to be like $100 or $150, I would probly get it, but too much for a game.

Mac11_Fanboy
Mac11_Fanboy

At first I thought this game was gonna suck and had no interest, coming from the perspective of using turntables for almost 9 years a was really impressed with what the gameplay looked like and they seem to have paid attention to the DJ's helping them build this game. But Scratch has a ridiculously better peripheral and the soundtrack for DJ Hero is, pretty wack. They should be paying attention to some of the newer and more current faces in the scene, especially the Scratch Perverts; those guys push things forward. More DrumAndBass, more Grime and Dubstep style music, obviosly some Deep Hip Hop. But meh, maybe I'm not the guy this is aimed at....

IamCuddles
IamCuddles

I want to see someone play it. Looks challenging, hope it's cheap

Ruffin316
Ruffin316

I'm probably gonna get a lot of negative points for this (not that I care all that much), but this needs to be said: those of you saying that this game is little more than a "crappy hip-hop hero" know absolutely nothing about hip-hop culture. My advice is that you wise up and either be quiet or do some research before you end up getting your feelings hurt.

playstation_dad
playstation_dad

I still think its interesting but will it be entertaining enough to keep you playing for a long time. The unit that you use looks awsome but im still holding till ive played the game to give an honest opinion on it.....

madSomnambulist
madSomnambulist

After so many news bits, demos and Q&A I would seriously pay someone to ask the development team how this is any different than Beatmania and why they think just putting an American-centric soundtrack on essentially the same package will make it work. That was a miserable experiment in rhythm games in the American market. I fear the game will mostly only sell because of its name and the font of the text on the box. It's not hard to make a profit that way, but it doesn't mean the end result will be better because it has more popular tracks. Some credit is due on the hyper-scratching gameplay style, though, but 3 buttons would get pretty boring without such twists.

griffinshotc
griffinshotc

Hip hop is definately ALIVE!!! HAHAHAHA! DO GET MAD PEOPLE! EMBRACE IT!!

griffinshotc
griffinshotc

awesome! I'm not a big fan of rock music (I like some of it) so DJ hero will be an investment I may consider.

Uga_ruga
Uga_ruga

Why not half-way base it off of hip hop? Guitar hero is based off of the rock genre. It's a good thing to be diverse.

shadowkiller11
shadowkiller11

it looks interesting but the soundtrack might be mainly one genre with only some different tracks.

16bitmaster
16bitmaster

I think this is a good idea... it means the people who dont really enjoy rock music (like me) can enjoy a physical and practical game with the general idea of guitar hero. I think this can really be as big as guitar hero.

Excedra
Excedra

im so confused!!! this looks like an act of desperation, or that theyre running out of ideas. Im not so interested with this one, ill just look forward to beatles, guitar hero 5, band hero(with taylor swift...awesome), or lego rockband instead.

mike1146l
mike1146l

i might get this if it costs less than 100$ and gets a rating of 8.0 or above

Xx_Hopless_xX
Xx_Hopless_xX

I'm not into the whole DJ thing, plus i prefer playing RB and GH , i play an instrument so I'm more comfortable with the feel of actually being able to play along to songs i like as well as learning them on my real guitar.

DayvM
DayvM

i dont think im gonna like this as much as GH and RB just cause it doesnt loo like it would have the same enjoyment and feel as the guitars did...

illmatic87
illmatic87

it's turning out better than i was expecting, DJ Z-trip & DJ Shadow?, add q-bert, Cut Chemist, Numark, Krush & the X-Ecutioners and its a wrap as far as hop-hop is concerned. i was honestly expecting some shotty game with random djs mixing up some crappy lil wayne & kanye west just for some excuse to cake in on the sheep aka the urban culture (eg. the Platinum life game). Though the tracks ive heard so far seem tolerable for a game targeted towards a mass market. Plus at a crappy time when all these fake modern "DJs" that just mix mp3s of a computer with a keyboard/mouse and shout all over their mixes, this game is kinda revitalizing a lost art and putting the emphasis back to the turntables. as for the electronica DJs... since most of them DJ at more of an Audio Production level, there would be no surprise that there will be a lack of them in the game (im not knocking electronica DJs or anything as there are exceptions, James lavalle & fatboy slim are exceptional during a live DJ set) its just that this game isnt about what appregio'd synth DJ Tiesto can arrange & come up with, its more about the mixing and sampling of breaks through the form of TURNTABLISM, that is how hip-hop was born after all.

Z9K
Z9K

I want QBert damnit.