As a child of the 70’s I remember two very distinct things growing up. I can remember hearing my first Hip-Hop song (Sucker MC’s) and playing my first videogame (Space Invaders). I can recall hearing my uncle play the record on an old turntable that caught every pop and hiss of the wax while it revolved, and being mesmerized by the feel of the kick drum that boomed from our stereo’s speakers. I also remember when my Grandmother brought home this box of awesome-smelling plastic called an Atari. It wafted this subtle aroma of non-biodegradable plastic and rubber and came with this meat mallet of a controller with the one red button. So simplistic in its form factor, but this design has cemented it in the bedrock of videogaming’s foundation.
I talk about these two very different things so fondly because they (along with my family) have influenced and constructed huge pieces of the person I am today. Hip-Hop culture imbued a style of talk, dress, self-confidence and a way to navigate the world around me. Videogames opened my mind to new worlds, concepts and language. It provided a place for me in which intelligence and logic were not the exceptions but the rule. They both ran parallel but for me also took on a symbiotic relationship; one that today is the basis for most of my friendships and social interaction.
This crossover in my life made me think about some of the games I’ve played over the years that best embody what “The Grandfather of Hip-Hop,” Africa Bambaataa, calls “The Four Pilliars of Hip-Hop”. They consist of MCing, DJing, B-Boying and Graffiti Writing. Here are some of my favorite examples.
Def Jam RapStar released by Konami in 2010 was the Hip-Hop version of karaoke. The “watch the bouncing ball” gameplay left a lot to be desired but was the best thing most home console gamers had to satiate their inner battle rapper. To date this is the only game that even comes close to replicating or giving the player the feel that they are emceeing.
ToeJam and Earl -
PaRapper The Rapper -
It all really started in 1997 with Beatmania, a game from Japanese developer Konami. One of the earliest home console rhythm games, it mixed both a simulated “keyboard” setup with a turntable for scratching. It was hugely popular in Japan but much less so here in the states.
The game that really made an impact on this front was DJ Hero from Activision. It incorporated most of the gameplay from the Guitar Hero series and mixed in its own version of DJing notation to make the game feel like you were actually mixing and scratching. The game surprisingly wasn’t a big hit. My guess is that this was more due to the oversaturation of rhythm games in the market, and less because it was a Hip-Hop game. (Though you could argue that Rap music is harder to use because of some of the profanity and repetitive hooks in most commercial songs, and that fact could have led to the disappointing sales.)
There is one game that comes to mind when talking about this pillar. B-Boy from FreeStyleGames launched in 2006 with not only authentic breakdancing moves in but an awesome soundtrack that had some of the most recognizable songs in B-Boy battle history. The motion capture that must have gone into that game must have been extensive, looking at how smoothly the animations blended into each other. While watching a couple of YouTube clips, I wondered what a next-gen version of this game would look like. I know it would be niche but it would be great nonetheless.
Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure from Atari and the mind of Marc Eckō, was a real “love letter to Hip-Hop” kind of game. It embodied and celebrated bomber culture and “backpacker rapper” lifestyle. It did this by having a bass thumping soundtrack from RJD2, having its main character Trane voiced by prominent underground MC Talib Kweli and using tags from world-renowned graffiti artists . They brought authenticity to a game that most critics and people in the gaming community passed over. Although the game had issues, it gave a great glimpse into the graffiti scene and urban culture.
A couple of games that have to be on this list because of their status as “classics” are the games from the Jet Set Radio series. Set in a futuristic Japan, they told the story of skater gangs who needed to graffiti their turf, and escape the Shibuya police and rival crews. The first game debuted on the Dreamcast in 2000 with the sequel coming out two years later. The game was known for its vibrant graphics, eclectic soundtrack and graffiti mechanics. By using the analog stick you would mimic the sweeping motions that would draw out your tags. It felt innovative and intuitive and immersed you in the world; the added ability to make your own specialized tags brought the whole experience together as well.
In all of Bambaataa’s infinite wisdom, I believe he left out one very vital element of Hip-Hop: beatmaking. This is the integral piece that never made it into the pillar structure that holds up the culture today. The funny thing is that videogames for a long time now have been used in making music, and especially rap music. I recall a couple of friends that would compete in “beat battles” here in New York. One specifically would come and do his sets with a 13-inch TV, a PS2, and a copy of the game in the video below:
Up to that point it was unheard of to use a gaming console to make fully fleshed out tracks, but he did pretty well against his competition and won a couple rounds on some nights. It showed that videogames had a reach far beyond your living room. They became more than just tools for entertainment and games, but also musical instruments.
The convergence of Hip-Hop and Gaming was one that the founders of Hip-Hop culture could not have seen coming. These innovators reaching back into the past to snag African beats and poetry pushed forward new systems and thought processes that have influenced many of the music artists we have today. The same can be said of the Pongs, Space Invaders and Pac Mans: their reaches have metamorphosed into the Gears of Wars and Heavy Rains of today’s games, showing just how everything influences everything.
The beauty of this is that although they are on very separate tracks, in my mind and heart they are passengers on the same train going into hopefully a gorgeous, thoughtful and conscious destination.
We want to give a huge thanks to Rowan Parker, Lead Designer of 4AM. He was super awesome and took some time out to give us an interview about the game. Check it out below and then take a peek at our review.
Over the years I’ve collected numerous games, spent hours traversing levels and killing bosses. Many of those games have gone by the wayside and into either the trade pile or the digital scrap heap. The few games I have kept are there because they are either artistically compelling, socially interactive or sensory feasts. 4AM from Pixeljunk hits all these notes beautifully. Powered by DJ Baiyon’s eclectic mix of trance and house music, the game puts you in the seat of virtual DJ. Using the Playstation Move as your only tool, you are able to mix and remix the tracks in the game with both precision and style.
4AM is both music creation tool and audio visualizer. You can play tracks from your PS3′s hard drive and delight in the gorgeous art the team put together, or you can go into the creator and get down to the nitty gritty. The aforementioned gritty takes place on what Lead Designer Rowan Parker calls the “Virtual Audio Canvas”. This canvas is represented on screen by different “tapestries” that move in sync with both the music and your motions. Each of the move’s four buttons correspond with each instrument of the different tracks. The square button might be a baseline while the circle might be a synth. Adding in solos and loops by holding a button or dragging in a instrument from the corners of your virtual space adds to the complexity or simplicity of the song you are performing.
Everytime you launch into the create space your routine is being broadcast live to anyone who might be using the live viewer at that time. This is one of the reasons why I like this game so much: the ability to have what you are doing be heard by others in real-time adds a level of both excitement and a small bit of anxiety to the mix. People can follow you and also give you feedback in the form of “Kudos”. If viewers are digging what you are doing a set of equalizer type bars will rise from the bottom of the screen. The instant feedback gave me an idea if a specific drum loop or one-hit loop was connecting with the crowd. I think I would have made Girl Talk or Tiesto proud.
You can download the free viewer if you are curious or just want to be a voyeur, but if you want to gain international fame a price of $10 USD will get you a lot for your money: 10 tracks that you can manipulate, Twitter and Facebook integration so you can promote your performances, and a really sweet interactive audio visualizer that is way better than the vanilla one pre-installed with the PS3. I believe this should be a pack-in game with every PS Move. It showcases the precision you can get with the device, has lots of physical and visual feedback and great music. Let’s hope that Pixeljunk continues to support games like this via DLC and other extensions of the social media hooks that work so well within the game.
4AM is a game that hits all the right beats and is something that any music lover should own. Bravo, Pixeljunk, bravo.
- 4 A.M. Is When Everything Gets Interesting. (thespawnpointblog.com)
- 4 A.M. Is When Everything Gets Interesting (nerdgasmnoire.wordpress.com)
- PlayStation 3 Music Maker PixelJunk 4am Enters Beta (wired.com)
Have you ever wanted to orchestrate music real time with thousands or even millions of people as your audience? Have you ever dreamed of being one of those DJ’s in a rave party with music at your fingertips? If so, I think I might have found the game for you. The wonderful folks at Pixeljunk have come up with a really cool game called 4 A.M.
The game is equal parts music manipulator and music visualizer. You control everything with the Playstation Move controller. Bouncing from four tracks, looping in samples, waggling in drums and other sounds was easy and intuitive. The trance-like music I played with in the demo fit along with the “Rez-like” visuals on screen. Tutorials were easy to understand and taught on the fly while composing my performances and anytime you start a performance it’s broadcast to anyone who is playing the game at the time. You get feedback on how much people like what you are doing via a “Kudos” system that shows rising bars on the bottom of your screen. It’s actually pretty awesome trying something during a track and seeing whoever is watching react to it in real-time.
For now here is a video that shows you better than I can tell you. Look out for a review coming shortly.
- PixelJunk 4AM launch trailer entrances (vg247.com)