As with many of my goals in life - learning Japanese, losing weight, becoming the world’s finest table tennis player - I have a genuine desire to be musical, but lack the resolve to do anything meaningful about it.
I love music, but I’m just too lazy (and probably not talented enough) to learn an instrument. Except for the kazoo. I do play a mean kazoo.
As a result, the idea of a computer program that places a whole studio at my fingertips holds a certain appeal. The only trouble is, such programs require a dedicated learning process of their own and/or considerable expense.
Rockstar’s Beaterator could be the perfect solution.
The premise is simple: make a powerful music-making package that’s accessible to lazy gamers like me, or to those who would like to dip their toes into music creation but haven’t a clue where to start.
The program (it would be stretching it to call this a game) is split into three main areas.
Live Play is the closest thing to a game here (although there are no goals or rewards), enabling you to take a bunch of pre-recorded loops, ranging from hip hop to rock, and mix them together to form a track. All you need to do is assign a loop to one of the four face buttons in each of the eight areas surrounding a digital representation of co-creator and production-ace Timbaland.
Each loop has been carefully assembled so that they complement each other perfectly, and the timing is taken care of for you. Whichever elements you choose to mix in, then, you can’t help but produce something that sounds slick and professional.
As you might imagine, though, this mode has extremely limited mileage. Whilst it’s fun to get up and running with a listenable track, there’s little to no creative input required on your part. You’re basically just shuffling a musical pack.
The real meat of Beaterator lies in Studio mode which, upon entering, presents you with an approximation of an 8-track recorder. From this hub you can enter the Song Crafter, which is where the real magic occurs.
Here you’re able to chop and change the order of each loop and - most importantly - create your own. Whatever you want to create, be it an aggressive drum beat or a trippy synth section, you have all the tools at your disposal to create a complete and distinctive track on your humble PSP.
Whether it’s a tribal drum loop or a lush string section, you can sculpt a piece of music to the smallest detail. Once you’ve selected your instrument you have the choice of either mapping out the tune by placing markers on a horizontal time bar, which spreads across the length of a virtual keyboard (unless you’re on the drums, of course), or mapping a number of notes or beats to the PSP’s main buttons and D-pad. This then allows you to play out your tune ‘live,’ as it were.
You can even record into the device (provided you have a PSP 3000, PSPgo or the mic attachment) to create your own loops.
If the preprogrammed sounds are a little too conventional for you, you can go in and edit them until they’re unrecognisable, controlling the pitch and adding effects like reverb. You can even reverse the sound completely.
Once your masterpiece is complete, you can export it to your PC, where it can become another track on your playlist. Alternatively, you can send it directly to Rockstar's Social Club where it can be appraised by like-minded Beat-niks.
We can barely scratch the surface of what’s on offer here within the confines of a 700 word review. Ultimately, that hints at the game’s key sticking point: for all its flashy tutorial videos (narrated by Timbaland himself), the immediate thrills of Live Play and the relative ease with which you can get a basic tune together, Beaterator is a tough nut to crack.
Learning your way around its labyrinthine menus takes time and a great deal of effort before it really clicks. Even after a number of hours spent with the program, I know there’s still a great deal for me to discover and explore.
If the thought of such commitment and depth frightens you, or if you have anything less than a passing interest in music production, then Beaterator isn’t for you.
If, however, you lack only the skills to make music and not the desire, and have the patience and will to learn a new language, then Beaterator is one of the best musical Dummies Guides you could hope for.