One of the common complaints about music games like "Rock Band" and "Guitar Hero" is that they only mimic the experience of making music and teach nothing about how to create the real thing.
Regardless of whether you agree with that criticism, it raises a fair point. In addition to being fun diversions, videogames have the potential to be effective educational tools. And with all the interest surrounding music-based videogames these days, why not find a way to marry the enjoyment of music with a learning experience in a way that's still fun?
That's the goal of a new application called "Beaterator" that Rockstar Games has created in conjunction with producer Timbaland. The title is due Sept. 29 for the Sony PSP.
Other games like "Guitar Hero World Tour" and the upcoming "Scratch: The Ultimate DJ" have music creation modes, but only as secondary features. By contrast, the primary aim of "Beaterator" is to make, mix and play with music.
By its very nature, "Beaterator" is destined to appeal to a smaller group of users than those who'd rather pretend to play a song by Bon Jovi or Metallica. But it also illustrates a different approach to fashioning entertainment options from music.
Despite the fact that "Beaterator" was developed by a company best-known for videogames like the "Grand Theft Auto" franchise and "Bully," don't call it a game.
"It's not a videogame in any sense," says Rockstar Games music supervisor Ivan Pavlovich. "We've been proactive about putting in as much music as we can in all our games. This is an extension of that. We want people to create their own music."
Billboard.com spoke with Timbaland about his involvement with "Beaterator:"
Why did you want to get involved in creating Beaterator?
At first there were no music games out there. Next thing you know, "Guitar Hero" came out, and the world responded to it. It was the biggest thing going. So people want to know where music comes from. Guitar Hero teaches the history of certain old groups, but mine is more like what people hear on the radio --Timbaland, Timbaland, Timbaland. Timbaland is known for beats and music. So if Timbaland is known for beats and music, why not make a beats and music game? Why not make my own version of what I think Guitar Hero should be for Timbaland? The world of Timbo.
Beaterator seems less of a game as a way to teach people how to make music.
"It's a game, and you can challenge people on who can make the best beats. It's almost like you can use it at a party, like how people use Serato. You can use it as your drum machine. I probably missed a few corners, but thats what going back in and fixing things will do once I hear what fans want and say I didn't do. That's why it takes almost four years to make the game.
Were you looking specifically to focus on teaching people to make music rather than just play along like "Guitar Hero" or "Rock Band?"
I wanted people to feel like they can also make a beat too. Like everybody could do it. If you're feeling down, it gives you something to do. It's a creativity thing. It's more than just pressing a button. It's like a stress reliever too. It's just one of those things where I just can't describe it. I was so excited by the finished product that I just don't know what it is. It's a drum machine, it's a ProTools set, it's some of everything you can possibly name.
What are your thoughts of the broader music game genre, such as the upcoming "The Beatles: Rock Band" game or "DJ Hero?" How does it affect how fans relate to music?
What's out is more teaching people about the history of certain kinds of music. But they also want to play to what's current. That's where I come in.