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Music Studio

Main menu of the Music Studio
The Music Studio is a brand new addition to the Guitar Hero band, errÖ brand, which finally gives players the ability to create their own music and corresponding note charts to be played and shared by the rest of the Guitar Hero world. A lot of care and attention went into the development of this revolutionary system, so we spent a good deal of time with it to present you with a solid primer of how it works and what you can expect.

Once you step into the Music Studio, youíll be greeted with four menu options to choose from; the Recording Studio, GHMix, GHTunes and Tutorials. If all you want to do is mooch off of the hard work of everyone else and play some free songs, then youíll want to just skip the first two options and go directly to GHTunes.

Upon entering GHTunes, youíll be given a list of sorting and searching options to best find the music youíre more likely to enjoy or to find the highest ranked song. Itís the developerís hope that the community will police itself and essentially rank the best as the best and the worst as the worst, so a song thatís highly ranked should in theory be a good one to play. This kind of thinking makes me wonder if theyíve ever used the internet, ranking systems on the net have always been exploited and I didnít get any notion that this one will be any different. I can only imagine how many ďM2AF! Rank my song high plzzzz!!Ē messages are going to hit my Xbox Live inbox. Regardless, the option to download any number of free songs to play any time I want is intriguing and will likely be very popular, but is it a good answer to Rock Bandís steady stream of weekly songs? Quality over quantity I always say.

Now if you want to actually roll your sleeves up and get into making your own songs for community consumption, I suggest that you first visit the tutorials section, you wonít do much of anything if you just jump right into the Recording Studio without knowing what youíre doing. I watched about half of the tutorials, theyíre the sort where they show you something and then ask you to repeat it (which can be annoying in the basic sections), and it was enough to get me comfortable with being able to lay down tracks of my own. In addition to these tutorials, Neversoft told us that they are planning on releasing documentation online that details everything even better.

Now we hop on over to the Recording studio to lay down some tracks and gems!
Create a song menu
When you first choose the ďCreate a New SongĒ option, youíll be taken to a settings screen of sorts that lets you set the tempo of the song or add a bassline or drum track. You only have three settings of tempo available here, Slow Ė 100, Medium Ė 120 or Fast Ė 140, but donít fret, you can change the tempo later on in increments of 1 to achieve the desired speed. The bassline and drum track options give you the, errÖ option, of adding some pre-generated backing tracks to play guitar to. There are a lot of different styles of bass and drum tracks to choose from, listed as music genres, which will give you a great starting point.

Once your basic settings are configured, youíll be taken to the studio where you can choose which instrument to rock, configure the instrument specific options, record your music on the fly or jam with a band. That last bit is the main facet of the Recording Studio that sets it apart from GHMix, as the rest of the options are available in both modes, and therefore makes it worthwhile. All four players can log in and choose an instrument to play (Rhythm, Lead, Bass, Drums, Mic and Keyboard), though the drums and microphone peripherals can only play their own instruments, the guitar has access to all instruments.

As soon as an instrument is chosen, the player will see a vertically scrolling track and the actions they play on their instrument will be registered by the game as a sound and a fret/gem/note (whatever you want to call them). The D-Pad is used to move through the track and to enable recording, pushing right on the D-Pad plays the track, pressing right again stops, holding left rewinds and pressing left while itís playing will begin recording.

So now you can just press frets and strum to play (probably not so) beautiful music, you have access to the sound of your instrument as well as the scale it plays on by going into the options menu, which is less than ideal while jamming with friends. It would be awesome if you could set macros that change the instrument sound and/or scale at the press of a button and on the fly so you could continue playing under a new sound and not screw everyone else up by going into the pause menu. The controls for laying down music on the guitars is a bit strange and will take some getting used to, and if youíre playing on lead, I hope you donít want to play chords as it didnít appear as if you could on anything but rhythm.
Create a song menu
Like I said earlier, the real draw of the Recording Studio is actually in the jamming aspect where all four players can simultaneously play and record separate instruments. On paper this sounds really cool, in practice, not so much. What you have to realize is that all of the sounds produced are coming out of the same speakers, so if everyone is wailing on their instrument, you end up with a cacophony of noise that makes fine tuning your sound nearly impossible. I will be extremely impressed to see if a full band out there could actually play some Ďliveí music in this mode and not have it sound like something my cat shat out.

Now letís go over to the real meat and potatoes of the Music Studio, GHMix. GHMix is essentially your mixing board where you (and only you, no multiplayer in here thankfully) can fine tune the notes you played in the Recording Studio or add in new ones. Thatís the purpose of this mode on paper anyway, I found that it was better to just avoid using the Recording Studio and do everything in GHMix, since it could do everything the studio could do minus the annoying Ďjamí feature. With GHMix, youíve got something that looks more like a computer program, which means itís more useful and more confusing. In here, you can play notes, move notes, copy and paste notes, delete notes and everything in between, all from the discomfort of your guitar or drums. Letís face it, navigating anything with the guitar or drums is always a pain in the ass, and this isnít much different. Iím sure you can just use a standard controller, but that wasnít something I tried out as I wasnít deep into the mixing of my tracks and was still kind of in that Ďpressing-lotsa-buttons-to-make-lotsa-soundsí phase of recording.

GHMix is probably the one aspect of the Music Studio that is going to require the most documentation, it looks daunting and it has a lot of options to it, it took me much longer than it should have to figure out how to actually move a note.
Create a song menu
So, now that youíve got a good understanding as to what the Music Studio is, youíre probably wondering how it actually plays right? Well, my general impression is that there is going to be a lot of crap that gets produced with this, which means there is going to be a lot of crap to wade through while searching for the good songs. Neversoft has a grand plan that users will rank each other and songs so that only the good ones rise to the top and so forth, but Iíll believe it when I see it. No doubt that some really cool stuff is going to get produced here, but the majority of people are going to spam some notes for a few minutes, hit the publish button and be done with it, the good stuff is going to take time to produce and I donít hold much hope in the general public being willing to spend it.

Then thereís also all of the limitations that comes with the studio, you didnít think youíd be able to create a song/chart combo on par with the on disc songs did you? We all already know that we wouldnít be able to record vocals, but that was kind of expected considering the liability that it carries. But what about Star Power? Were you particularly giddy about planning out a devious star power path? Well sorry to burst your bubble but star power is added automatically by the engine, you canít add or edit it. Same with HOPOs, no manually placed HOPOs for us. In something of a blessing and a curse, the lower difficulties are also automatically generated by the engine, so you donít have to dumb down your chart for lesser difficulties, but you donít have the option of doing it either. Also, the bevy of guitar chart changes Neversoft implemented in GHWT that weren't in any of the previous games can't be put into any of your custom tracks, so no sustains played in the middle of sustains and no tapped notes in the middle of a sustain.

Finally, I hope you didnít harbor any dreams of creating some epic 20 minute rock-opera; each instrument has a limit of how many notes can be placed in the track. Drums, for example, can only lay down 1000 notes. Oh yeah, there's also the fact that you can't chart any BPM changes in the song, at least we couldn't find the option to do so anywhere.

In what certainly looks to be a key element in Activisionís rhythm gaming strategy for market domination, Neversoft crafted a fine first attempt, but I just canít help but get the feeling that they couldnít correctly figure out where to cater to the hardcore and where to leave it casual.

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