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Beaterator - first look

The first thing you should know about Beaterator is that it isn’t a game. It isn’t a “toy” like Wii Music, either, although it can be used like one. Instead, Beaterator is a serious tool for making music – or at least as serious as a tool can get while still staying accessible and relatively easy to use. Easy or not, it promises to deliver a wealth of cool options when it’s released on Sept. 29, and after seeing it for the first time, we came away more than a little impressed.

Expanded from a Flash “game” that’s been on publisher Rockstar’s website since 2005, Beaterator revolves around laying down music loops to create songs, and its most obvious hook is that it was made with the participation of hip-hop producer Timbaland, who created 1,300 loops and sounds for the game. That’s not to say Beaterator is necessarily limited to hop-hop, though – from what we’ve seen, there’ll be a lot of different musical styles and genres to choose from. And if the built-in loop libraries you’ll be able to create custom beats and loops with Beaterator’s built-in instruments, as well as record or import your own sounds and samples as WAV files.

The “game” consists of two modes: the game-like Live Play, which enables you to freely mix and play around with eight channels of sound, each of which can play one of four loops triggered by the PSP’s face buttons; and Studio, which is a lot more technical, but also gives you a lot more control over the music you create. Here, you can create new loops, record or import your own sounds and samples as WAV files, drop beats on an eight-channel timeline (which can be filled automatically with a dynamic interface similar to Live Play) and tweak recorded songs while they’re playing back. You can also adjust the tracks and loops individually, changing everything from beats per minute and speaker balance to the tones of synth notes. Yeah, there’s a lot to do here – although if you’re more of a casual dabbler, it might be comforting to know that almost all of it is purely optional.

Above: We’re sure this will seem fun when you can actually hear what all those knobs do

Meanwhile, would-be virtuosos who want to dive in can edit existing beats and melodic loops or compose their own, something that appears to be as easy as just clicking a cursor around a short timeline. For beats, it’s a matter of picking out which drum sounds you want and setting them down as rhythmically as possible, while melodies involve playing notes on a full 88-key keyboard. There’s even a locking feature that can automatically prevent your compositions from going off-key.

Of course, none of this is worth a damn if you can’t save your work, and Beaterator looks poised to deliver there as well; once you’re satisfied with your work, you’ll be able to share it with the world by exporting it to a PC as a WAV file, or by uploading the song data to the Rockstar Social Club network. Sadly, any sounds you’ve recorded or imported can’t be sent to the Social Club, but you will be able to download and remix songs by other users; just don’t take it too personally if someone else tries to “improve” on one of yours.

Above: You’ll also be able to edit any sounds you record/import, which should be fun

Skeptical as we are of a serious music-creator’s chances for survival on the PSP, Beaterator seems well-equipped for the task. Even from our short look at the game, it already looks to be one of the deepest, most accessible music programs we’ve ever seen, portable or otherwise. Whether it’s actually as easy as it looks remains to be seen, but for now, we’ve got high hopes for this one.

Sep 3, 2009