E3 2008: Lips - Extended Demo Impressions

A new wireless microphone and the ability to import your own music are among the reasons we're interested in Microsoft's new singing game.

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Announced at Microsoft's E3 2008 press conference, Lips is a new karaoke game that aims to bring more people into the party than just the singers. We sat down with Keiichi Yano, chief creative officer of developer iNiS, who sang us a few songs and showed us some of the ins and outs of this new title. It has a clean, SingStar-esque presentation and a brand-new microphone peripheral, and it enables you to import songs from your own personal library. So far, so good.

The title screen of Lips shows a cloud of album art that reflects the many different songs you have available. The three confirmed songs we saw were "Mercy" by Duffy; "Young Folks" by Peter, Bjorn, and John; and "Bust A Move" by Young MC. Yano didn't reveal the number of songs that will ship with the final package but did tell us to expect a bevy of downloadable titles and a store that can be accessed directly from the game. Singers will also be able to import their own songs. We watched as one of the presenters hooked up his Zune (iPods will work too) and the game immediately accessed all the songs (titles, artists, and album artwork) and prepared to stream them live to the TV. Songs shackled with DRM protection won't play in Lips, but you'll be able to sing along and be scored for DRM-free tracks, though we didn't see this in action.

Before selecting a song, you can choose from a number of options. Two players can sing in co-op or versus mode, and we're told this will affect the way performances are scored, as well as some presentation elements. Voice reduction can be set to hard, soft, or disabled, depending on whether you prefer to sing along to the lead vocals or take center stage by yourself. This feature will also react dynamically to your voice, so if you stop singing for a phrase, the volume of the actual vocals will increase to cover the gap. You can also add a number of audio effects to your voice, like reverb or other such distortions. Finally, you can decide what type of noise makers you want enabled by choosing from a number of different-themed sets of percussive sounds.

The noise maker set is one of the ways that nonsinging players can get involved in the action. With Xbox 360 controller in hand, up to four spectators can tap the face buttons to activate cymbals, claps, maracas, and more. It's easy to see this devolving into a cacophony of arrhythmic mischief, but it could also create a fun, layered experience, especially if you have a room full of two singers and four controller-wielding band members.

When you step up to sing, you'll wield the new wireless microphone peripheral. It comes in black and white and looks like something you might see on American Idol. Wireless mesh on the top gives it a realistic look and weighted feel, and the handle tapers down to about eight inches from top to bottom. Around the base of the mic are a number of LED lights that shine and change colors as you sing, though these colors won't be mapped specifically to how well or how poorly you are singing. It also has motion-sensing capabilities that are used to activate star stream, Lips' version of Guitar Hero's star power. This functionality will also factor in to some interactive backgrounds that you can choose instead of the standard music video display. Yano remained tight-lipped about specifics, issuing noncommittal responses when asked about gesture-based rhythm play or Xbox 360 avatar integration.

Singers will be guided by the karaoke game standards while they are performing: bars that indicate the pitch and length of the notes accompanied by large, legible lyrics. You won't select a difficulty level at the outset, but you will get a better score for being on pitch and hitting more notes. Lips will also recognize phonemes, so knowing the words (or following the lyrics) well will pay off for skilled players and will add a deeper degree of difficulty to rap songs, since they focus more on lyrics than pitch. As Yano sang "Mercy," his compatriot picked up a second microphone, shook it twice, and the song immediately became a duet. This jump-in feature will make it easier for more folks to join in the fun.

Lips is looking to break new ground on the Xbox 360 with extensive song selection and new forms of interactivity, though there's still a lot we don't know about these two elements. The microphone is a solid new peripheral with some interesting possibilities, including possible integration with other Xbox 360 games that involve singing. We're eager to find out more about it, so be sure to keep an eye here for continuing coverage.

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