Rihanna, Duran Duran kissing Lips mid-November for $70

Twenty-first-century songstress and '80s pop phenom top 40-song tracklist; Microsoft's Chris Esaki explains karaoke game's modes and DRM-free music importing.


Lips isn't a game that's overly new to gamers. It was first unearthed in June, when market-research firm Intellisponse sprung a leak, spilling details on Lips as well as a number of other unannounced products, including the avatar system that will debut later this year in Microsoft's New Xbox Experience dashboard update. The game was also displayed to great spectacle during the publisher's E3 Media & Business Summit press conference, when pop singer Duffy performed a live version of her song from the game.

However, Microsoft has been holding out on any fresh details on the game, despite its looming launch later this year. That changed today when the publisher finally puckered up for new details on the iNiS-developed Lips, revealing the game's 40-song setlist, gameplay modes, and mid-November release window. The game, which comes with two wireless, motion-sensing microphones, will retail for $69.99.

On most gamers' minds are the microphones, which were first teased during the game's early exposure in June. "The microphones have lights in them that we've timed to each of the songs," Chris Esaki, Microsoft Game Studios' director of design for first-party games, told GameSpot. "Both the microphones are individually timed, so they can have a really interesting light show all by themselves."

For Microsoft's part, creating Lips went beyond just making a karaoke singing game, and the microphones played a central role in seeing that happen. "We wanted to make sure that Lips was different in the marketplace, was perceived as different in the marketplace, and ultimately when people experienced it they realized that there's nothing else like this," noted Esaki. "That was first and foremost what we wanted to make, so building that new advancement into the microphone itself I think was critical to the success of the product, and ultimately just unlocked a lot of the game."

Nevertheless, the Xbox 360's current controllers won't be rendered moot in Lips. In addition to the two mics, the game will let up to four controllers sync so that other players can chime in with a percussive element. "Pretty much six players can play at the same time," said Esaki. "And it's all additive, it only adds to your points... It isn't a punitive model of gaming at all." Indeed, Esaki noted that "there's no failing in the game," and that all of the songs will be unlocked from the beginning.

According to Esaki, the microphone's motion-sensing capabilities extend beyond recognizing a tilt mechanism such as the one built into the guitars of Guitar Hero and Rock Band. "We wanted players to get off the couch and really get into the music, and in any way they could," he said. "So not just shake it and play an instrument, be it like a tambourine or some other type of percussive instrument, you could actually get up there and dance or do silly poses, and you'd get rewarded for that."

Those "silly poses," he continued, are one of the primary, and beneficial, results of working with acclaimed Japanese developer iNiS, a company which is responsible for such cult rhythm-game hits as Osu Tatakae Ouendan and Elite Beat Agents. "Those games are supremely humorous, the narratives are awesome, the characters are awesome," said Esaki. "We wanted to make sure this kind of humor and zany personality was really shown through the product."

So does Microsoft plan to go all-in with the motion-sensing microphone and extend its use to other games? "We've talked a lot about it, but nothing to announce today," confirmed Esaki. The director did note that Microsoft is at least considering the mic as a peripheral akin to Nintendo's Wii Balance Board, saying that third parties are "absolutely" expressing interest in working with the device.

"It of course takes two to tango, we've obviously been approached by all the majors making a game that might have a mic in it that's on the Xbox," he said. "It's up to them to make sure they integrate the code. It's ready, there, and willing for the other parties. So we don't have any announcements around that at this time. But we're really excited about our partners being a part of this as well."

As for the game itself, Lips will include a variety of party games to augment the core karaoke component, including Time Bomb, Vocal Fighters, and Kiss. The game also includes a Freestyle mode in which you can import your own DRM-free music by way of an iPod, Zune, PC hard drive, or the Windows Media Center. The imported songs will not display lyrics in Freestyle mode ("Obviously we know people want lyrics, and that's something we'd like to deliver"), and as for that DRM-free caveat, Esaki noted, "If it works on your Xbox right now, it will work in Lips."

These modes are what Esaki feels will differentiate the game from the likes of Guitar Hero, Rock Band, SingStar, and Karaoke Revolution. "These products are all very one-dimensional, and I don't mean that in a negative way, I really don't," he said. "They have one set experience, they have one thing and one way of playing the game, where you have difficulty modes and it's like, 'More notes, awesome. Great. Perfect. And then more notes again'... As great a model as that is, that's very limited. It's fantastic, we think they're doing a great job, I love it and will continue to buy their products."

"But for us," he continued, "building out these awesome experiences around the music is really why we partnered with iNiS. Every time you play a song, it could be a little bit different, be it that you're playing by yourself, be it that you're playing in a versus mode, be it that you're playing cooperatively now, be it that you're playing in any number of our party games. Switch up the background now, you've got a custom video or visualize. We want you to experience music over and over again, because we know players love their music, we know players want to experience their music in new ways."

Another way in which Microsoft and iNiS have sought to differentiate Lips from current market leaders Guitar Hero and Rock Band is by deemphasizing the rock genre. "Obviously, one of the main differentiators from Rock Band and Guitar Hero is that once you've seen the tracklist, it's not just rock," he said. "We know there's a whole variety of other genres out there that are not rock. Most of people's libraries are so diverse these days, it's not just one genre, it's like everything. And that's really what's informed Lips in terms of the content selection and who we want to serve. It's a lot of different content that's all about the love of music, not just the love of a certain genre."

Microsoft plans to augment the 40 on-disc tracks with a "regular flow" of downloadable content postlaunch. According to the publisher, the first song to be made available for download will be Estelle's "No Substitute Love."

Esaki also confirmed that support for the Xbox Live Vision Camera is under consideration for future installments in the franchise, but it won't make it into the first version of Lips. "Certainly being able to put yourself into the game, we'd love to have that feature," he mused.

Lips' full on-disc song selection is listed below:

A-ha "Take on Me"
Alicia Keys "No One"
Aly & AJ "Potential Break Up Song"
Avril Lavigne "Complicated"
Ben E. King "Stand by Me"
Beyonce "Irreplaceable"
Blondie "Call Me"
Chris Brown "With You"
Coldplay "Yellow"
Depeche Mode "Personal Jesus"
Destiny's Child "Survivor"
Dido "White Flag"
Duffy "Mercy"
Duran Duran "Hungry Like the Wolf"
Johnny Cash "Ring of Fire"
Leona Lewis "Bleeding Love"
Lil' Mama "Lip Gloss"
Lupe Fiasco (featuring Matthew Santos) "Superstar"
Maroon 5 "Makes Me Wonder"
Nirvana "In Bloom"
Peter Bjorn and John "Young Folks"
Queen "Another One Bites the Dust"
R.E.M. "The One I Love"
Radiohead "Fake Plastic Trees"
The Ramones "I Wanna Be Sedated"
Rascal Flatts "Stand"
Rihanna "Umbrella"
Roxette "Listen to Your Heart"
Sara Bareilles "Love Song"
Sheryl Crow "Soak Up the Sun"
Taylor Swift "I'm Only Me When I'm With You"
The Bangles "Walk Like an Egyptian"
The Fray "Over My Head (Cable Car)"
The Jackson 5 "ABC"
The Police "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic"
The Raveonettes "Love in a Trashcan"
Trace Adkins "Ladies Love Country Boys"
Weezer "Island in the Sun"
Young MC "Bust a Move"

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