Beaterator First Look

Rockstar's latest is less game than software, but it looks like a fun opportunity for musicians to create songs on the go.

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One of the PSP's selling points has always been its role as an all-purpose multimedia device rather than a portable gaming machine. And while the ability to play your own music on the PSP is certainly nice, Rockstar will soon give players the chance to make their own music when Beaterator is released later this month. Beaterator is a portable music mixing and editing studio for creating songs that can later be exported to your computer or shared online using Rockstar's official community site. With more than 1,000 loops made by Timbaland and a host of features to ease in players who lack musical expertise, Beaterator is designed to appeal to a wide variety of would-be musicians. Rockstar recently took us through a demo to see what players can expect when the game arrives in a few weeks.

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There are three modes to Beaterator: Live Play, Studio, and Song Crafter. Live Play is the most accessible of the three game modes. It mainly serves as a way for novice musicians to play a song before learning all the ins and outs of the studio. The way it works is simple: You select the genre you'd like to play, and your choice gives you a template of eight instrument tracks that fit with the style of music. Those tracks are divided into four quadrants per screen. As an example, the upper-left quadrant might show bass loops, with drum loops on the upper-right quadrant, backing sound effects on the bottom-left quadrant, and the lead keyboard on the bottom-right quadrant. Then, there's another set of four on the second screen. Each of those quadrants has four loops that are assigned to specific face buttons. So you might kick off by highlighting drums, press the triangle to get one of those drum loops going, wait a few moments, then jump over to the bass quadrant and hit the circle to get that bass loop going. It's as simple as selecting a quadrant with the D pad and hitting a face button to start or stop a particular loop.

Once you get the hang of Live Play, you can take a stab at recording your live performance. When you've done that, you can bring your recording into the Studio and either fine-tune it or just start a new song from scratch. The Studio mode is something that will feel more familiar to those who've spent time with traditional music editing software. You're given a visual layout of all eight tracks, with each loop depicted as a colored rectangle on the screen. You can pick up a loop, move it around, highlight entire sections of a song, then copy and paste those sections to reproduce parts of a song elsewhere (for example, repeating a chorus later on in the track). You also have the option to tweak a few onscreen dials, such as number of beats per minute and pan (how far to the left or right speaker a track is).

Adding new loops is as easy as pulling up a menu, sorting the available loops by characteristics--such as instrument and genre--and dropping them right into the song. Rockstar tells us that Timbaland provided roughly 1,300 loops, with its Leeds studio adding quite a few more to bring the total to a figure slightly north of 3,000. It's not just hip-hop, either. You've got loops that span a wide variety of genres, with loops named everything from "synthesizer laser" to 'lively flute."

You can create an entire song using just the Studio, but if you want to explore the real meat of the game and put your own personal touch on each song, you can use the Song Crafter mode. Song Crafter allows you to take any of the loops in the game and edit them down to the individual note or go a step further and use an instrument emulator to make your own brand-new loops. If you want to make a drum loop, you select a kit and determine how many bars you want the loop to last. Then, you go in and drop each note manually on a grid and shift them around until the overall effect meets your standards. You can also make your own keyboard and synth loops, with the latter offering all the effects dials you'd find on a real synth. The cool part about these loops is that if you have no idea how to play piano or keyboard, you can elect to lock all available notes into the appropriate key so that it doesn't sound like a dissonant mess. While we didn't get a chance to play, the Rockstar rep guiding the demo was able to make some fairly impressive loops with very minimal effort.

Beaterator's interface should look familiar to anyone who's spent much time with music editing software.
Beaterator's interface should look familiar to anyone who's spent much time with music editing software.

Other Song Crafter options include the ability to use the built-in microphone on the PSP-3000 (or an external mic on older PSPs) to record vocals for your song. You can also import WAV files directly from your computer and drop them into the song. Once you've got an entire song complete, you can then do the opposite--export the song you made onto your computer as an uncompressed WAV file. You can also share that song on the Rockstar Social Club community site so that others can download it and edit it to their liking. We're interested to see what sort of songs players are capable of making when the game ships on September 29.

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