MMW-126 -- Nintendo and Taito Take Music Games in New Direction


J@pan Inc Magazine Presents:


Commentary on Japan's music technology news


Issue No. 126


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++ FEATURE: Nintendo and Taito Take Music Games in New Direction


** Kenwood releases new stereo system with AMG Lasso on SD card

** Taito demos mobile game for playing classical music

** Label Mobile starts new service for anime and game music

** Roland announces Sonar V-Studio 700

** Yamaha to release two new iPod docks

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++ FEATURE: Nintendo and Taito Take Music Games in New Direction

After more than three years of media speculation since its initial unveiling at
the Tokyo Game Show 2005, Nintendo's highly anticipated 'Wii Music' finally
hit stores on October 16 in Japan, followed by a US release four days later. In
Japan, the game was heavily promoted during the weeks leading up to its
launch, including a special demonstration by Nintendo's famed game producer
Shigeru Miyamoto at the Nintendo Fall 2008 Conference in Tokyo on
October 2.

Music 'rhythm games' such as Guitar Hero and Rock Band have gained
mainstream popularity in the US and Europe recently, and many people
have come to associate music games in general with this type of game.
The basic object of a rhythm game is to press certain buttons at specific
times corresponding with the music, with points awarded based on the
accuracy of a player's timing. Japan has been saturated with these types
of games for over a decade, however, and rhythm games are available
here for just about every conceivable theme. In fact, Guitar Hero itself
is essentially a slick adaptation (repackaged nicely for the US market)
of Konami's Guitar Freaks game, which first appeared in Japan in 1998,
and is now on its sixteenth iteration.

With Wii Music, Nintendo appears to have wisely stayed away from the
well-worn rhythm genre, choosing instead to forge a whole new path in
music games. Rather than award points based on rhythmic accuracy, the
purpose of Wii Music is to allow people without any musical training to
participate in collaborative music-making and musical improvisation. The
game allows players to perform music using the Wiimote and nunchuck,
and is able to simulate 60 different instruments, including the violin, piano,
guitar, trumpet, harps, sitar, marimba, and various drums and percussive

One of the main features of Wii Music is the multi-player 'jam mode', in which
up to four players can join together in different kinds of jam sessions. At the
most basic level (quick jam), instrument parts are assigned randomly, and
allows everyone to quickly get into the game and play somewhat together.
In the custom jam, players choose instruments, style and venue, and the game
becomes a much more realistic simulation of an actual jam session. One key
difference, of course, is that the music made by each player is always adjusted
by the program to fit the context of the song being played. Unlike in a real
session, it's hard to hit a dissonant series of notes.

It is still a bit early yet to gauge the general reception of Wii Music.
According to Enterbrain, which compiles sales data for Japanese games,
Wii Music sold a respectable 50,000 copies in its first day on sale in Japan,
at a unit price of JPY 5,800 (USD $50). Reviews have been mixed, with
detractors pointing primarily to the overabundance of public domain songs,
and not enough variety in song selection. Several critics have also said that
the game might be good for families with young children, but most adults
will likely tire of playing with the instruments in a matter of hours.

Of course, much of the Wii remote functionality for this kind of game can
be handled by today's mobile phones in Japan. Just as Nintendo was readying
its Wii Music launch, Taito showed up at the Tokyo Game Show with a live
orchestra on stage all playing their... mobile phones. This eye-catching
demonstration was done to promote Taito's upcoming mobile game 'Chokkan
Classic' which will be released in November for NTT DoCoMo handsets
(see newsbrief below). Not to be outdone, Yamaha has also recently partnered
with KDDI to help develop a new series of phones that can double as music
instruments. With these phones, Yamaha and KDDI have abandoned all
pretense of making a game, instead treating the mobile phone as a legitimate
musical instrument.

Like Nintendo with Wii Music, Taito and others are now taking the music
game genre in a whole new direction. The basic idea of these new releases
is to treat the controller or mobile phone as a musical instrument, and have
the player actually participate in the process of making music. This could be
a very tough sell, however. The appeal of rhythm games such as Guitar Hero
is that they are simple and goal-oriented, and allow you to feel like a rock
star while playing a game. They are first and foremost games that anyone
can play, and the actual musical component is minimal by comparison. For
the average casual game player with no particular interest in playing an
instrument, a game like Wii Music or Chokkan Classic can be a bit
confusing. And the sight of orchestra players blowing on their game
controllers or a band on stage jamming with mobile phones just seems a
bit... well, you can judge for yourself:

While it is unlikely that Wii Music will ever be a huge hit on the scale of
Guitar Hero, Nintendo nonetheless deserves credit for being the first
company to market this new type of music game to the mass market.
Music game developers have long wrestled with the issue of how to make
a game that captures the essence of real musicianship, yet is accessible to
non-musicians. Several companies in Japan and the West were established
with lofty ambitions of making innovative music games that allow
non-musicians to experience the joy and thrills of playing music. After a
few attempts, though, most of these companies eventually settle into a
pattern of releasing some variation of the tried-and-true rhythm game.
Harmonix, the developer of Guitar Hero, is a good case in point.

With Wii Music, Nintendo has at least taken a big step toward closing
the gap between making a game that is both musically challenging and
interesting, while at the same time remaining accessible to everyone.
At the very least, the game will introduce hundreds of thousands of
people to the basic concepts of jam sessions and musical improvisation.
It's also exciting and refreshing to see a major release for a music game
that actually has something new to offer.

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** Kenwood releases new stereo system with AMG Lasso on SD

In brief: Kenwood has announced the release of a new mini-component
home stereo system that uses the AMG Lasso Local Edition music
recognition system via an SD card to identify and provide metadata for
CDs and MP3 files. Previous standalone systems without a network
connection have required a hard drive for CD recognition. The new
Kenwood system signals a move toward inclusion of Lasso in lower-
priced standalone devices. AMG Lasso is licensed exclusively in Japan
by Rainbow Partners.


** Taito demos mobile game for playing classical music

In brief: On October 10, Taito unveiled a new mobile music game at
Tokyo Game Show 2008. The new game, called 'Chokkan Classic',
allows the player to perform music by moving their fingers in front
of infrared sensors on the handset. The game can simulate various
instruments found in classical orchestras, including violin, flute and
cello. Taito says the game is scheduled for release on NTT DoCoMo
in November.


** Label Mobile starts new service for anime and game music

In brief: On October 20, Label Mobile opened a new mobile service
specializing in anime and game music. The new site is available initially
on NTT DoCoMo, to be followed soon by KDDI (au) and SoftBank
Mobile. There is no monthly subscription fee, and songs are priced
between JPY 100 to 500 (US$1 to $5).


** Roland announces Sonar V-Studio 700

In brief: Roland announced this month that in January 2009 it will begin
selling a new integrated hardware/software music production system that
includes a dedicated console controller, an audio interface box, and the
Sonar 8 Producer software package. The integrated system will be released
under the name Sonar V-Studio 700.


** Yamaha to release two new iPod docks

In brief: Yamaha recently announced the release of two new speaker
docks for the iPod. The PDX-50 features a wireless unit which allows
the iPod to be used as a remote control, while the PDX-30 requires the
iPod to be docked while playing. Both docks come with 2 full-range
8cm speakers. The PDX-50 will go on sale in mid-November, while
the PDX-30 is schedule for release in early December.


Music Media Watch is written by Steve Myers, president of Theta Music
Technologies, a Tokyo-based developer of music-related software



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