Hands-on with DJ Hero

As the music games genre overflows with add-on packs for Guitar Hero and Rock Band (and too many plastic guitar variations to count), consumers might be feeling a little gun-shy about adding a turntable to the mix. Smartly, however, Activision has countered the skepticism by adding what might be the best video game soundtrack of all time to DJ Hero.

Ninety-three tracks (double the amount on The Beatles: Rock Band) of unique mashups and remixes from some of the world's most renowned DJs are not only great listening, but each one takes two excellent source songs to make music with. That's actually 186 songs floating around somewhere in this game.

Scott: The turntable in DJ Hero almost feels like an afterthought compared with the track selection, but it's solid and thankfully compact, with a free-spinning platter that's extremely smooth. The plastic buttons, crossfader, and other knobs feel a little jiggly, but the rubber feet beneath will make sure the controller stays put on a table.

To make music in DJ Hero, a very similar-looking "notes approaching" interface is repurposed to resemble a spinning record. Three different note-tracks are controlled by pressing colored buttons on the plastic turntable, just like Guitar Hero or Rock Band. You can also scratch the notes by pressing and turning at the same time.

On the left side of the controller, the crossfader is activated during certain zig-zaggy cues in the track, and alternates the two tracks. Above that is a "euphoria" button that is DJ Hero's version of "star power." Beside that is also a knob that either controls pitch effects during some sections, or selects sound effects in another portion of gameplay. As you can imagine, it starts to get complicated. DJ Hero might have one knob too many, but it adds to the feel of deck manipulation, and keeps your hands pretty busy. The end result--awesome hip-hop--is worth the effort.

Months ago, we were skeptical about DJ Hero--we worried that it was shameless music game exploitation. We were wrong. The effort has been exceptional, and that level of incredible musical talent should earn DJ Hero serious consideration this fall, perhaps even over the latest Rock Band and Guitar Hero entries.

Jeff: The real star of DJ Hero is without a doubt the music. The game boasts 93 mashup tracks that are sure to appeal to music tastes of all kinds with some of the most renowned DJs in the business lending their talents to the game.

So how does it play? DJ Hero is an interesting beast as its wireless turntable controller must be played on flat surface. We found success laying it on an ottoman while sitting on a couch behind it. For the most part, the tapping, crossfading, and scratching works, but you may have a problem with the button closest to the center of the faux record. Since it's anchored so closely to the center, it's tougher to scratch than the outer buttons. Regardless of how you orientate the controller, that last button may give you a problem.

The crossfader is also tough to master as its center position is not as easy to detect as you might think. During songs you'll have to switch it left and right, but we wish the center was more noticeable just by feeling its position--a definitive notch here would have helped.

DJ Hero may have less of an appeal to the more mainstream Guitar Hero franchise fan; it's a different demographic that this game is trying to reach. That combined with the intimidation of finding room for yet another plastic accessory and its $120 price tag may turn off prospective buyers.

Dan: We've spoken before about the threat of guitar game fatigue, with semiannual installments of music games vying for consumer's increasingly stretched dollars. Successfully injecting a little new life into the genre, DJ Hero is the biggest sea change in music games since the addition of drum kits. … Read more

Princess Zelda spits hot fire in debut album, 'Ocarina of Rhyme'

If you enjoyed Eric Franklin's post on 8-bit NES-style hip-hop, you'll definitely enjoy Team Teamwork's "The Ocarina of Rhyme." It's a mix tape of mashups that combines hip-hop tracks with the score to the Zelda game Ocarina of Time.

Team Teamwork produced the mix, which features unique tracks by Spank Rock, Common, Aesop Rock, Clipse, and my personal pick: MF Doom. Most of the songs fit well with the background score; for example, in "Fumbling Over Words," artist Edan Portnoy's intensity melds seamlessly into the rumblings of the "Battle" … Read more

How do you replicate big-box retailers online? Mashery has an answer

Offline, vendors recognize the importance of moving products as close to the would-be consumer as possible. Retailers, fast food chains, and other vendors therefore build physical locations all over the world, seeking to be physically proximate to potential customers.

Online, we still somehow believe that it's acceptable to build one store (e.g., and expect the world to beat a path to the vendor's door.

Best Buy doesn't think so, and is doing some exceptionally interesting work with San Francisco-based Mashery to effectively replicate and extend the local shopping experience online.

The key to it all is the API (application programming interface), as The New York Times describes, which "lets Web sites make their content easily available to other Web developers, who can import it, display it on their own sites and mash it up with other material."

In Best Buy's case, this means making its product catalog available to the world. No big deal? Consider that this essentially opens up a Best Buy store on every niche Web site on the planet (that chooses to use the Best Buy Remix API, of course). Perhaps I'd like to provide detailed information about scanners that I want to sell. Best Buy's Remix lets me leverage its catalog (along with product reviews and more).

The next phase for Best Buy? Open up its shopping cart, as well, so that each of these corner stores becomes not only a place to browse but also a place to buy Best Buy products, taking a share of the sale in the process. Best Buy everywhere...even more than it could hope to achieve offline.

Best Buy, however, isn't alone in this. Mashery is also working with MTV, which suggests the following services with its API as a starting point:… Read more

Intel Mash Maker: Mash-ups for the masses

Intel wants to make the whole Web editable, just like a single Wikipedia page.

The chip giant on Tuesday will make a beta available of Intel Mash Maker, a free browser extension that allows users to modify Web pages and combine information from different sources. Its first beta works with Firefox 3 and Internet Explorer 7, though at this point the features are far more mature in Firefox, Intel said.

The product, which originated in Intel's research labs, is similar to existing mash-up tools like Yahoo Pipes and Microsoft Popfly in that it has a graphical design tool.

What's different is that the actual mashing up of information on Intel Mash Maker happens on the client, rather than the server. So instead of making a different Web application to, say, plot real estate listings on Google Maps, Intel Mash Maker lets people add a widget that adds visualization to the real estate listing site.

Read more

ThisIsMyJam offers intelligent mash-up creation

Most of us remember mix tapes as those carefully curated cassettes that collected our favorite music together into one 90-minute playlist. Ask a DJ about mix tapes, however, and you'll hear about a whole other side to the art, involving matched beats, seamless crossfades, and other nuances of literally mixing music together. If you're looking for an alternative to mix tape sites such as Muxtape and Mixwit, ThisIsMyJam offers people a way to create mix tapes that emphasize the science of blending songs together.

Based off of the Musical Brain API, ThisIsMyJam allows you to create interwoven music … Read more

IBM touts Web 2.0 cred with Lotus Mashups

At its annual Lotusphere conference, IBM on Wednesday showed off an early version of Lotus Mashups, a tool designed to let businesspeople, rather than professional programmers, quickly assemble Web applications.

The application will let people combine, or mash up, data from enterprise applications and the Web. It uses a browser-based visual tool and a set of pre-built widgets for displaying information.

It is scheduled to be released in the middle of this year.

IBM has been pursuing the idea of giving end users in businesses powerful enough tools to build their own applications.

These Web applications may be relatively simple … Read more

Are you a passionate worker...?

...or just a workaholic?

In a poignant post, Seth Godin explains the difference:

"A workaholic lives on fear. It's fear that drives him to show up all the time. The best defense, apparently, is a good attendance record.

A new class of jobs (and workers) is creating a different sort of worker, though. This is the person who works out of passion and curiosity, not fear.

The passionate worker doesn't show up because she's afraid of getting in trouble, she shows up because it's a hobby that pays. The passionate worker is busy blogging on … Read more

Microsoft opens beta of Popfly mashup builder

Microsoft started an open beta program for its consumer-oriented mashup builder Popfly on Thursday at the Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco.

Popfly is a hosted application that enables people to assemble mashups by dragging and dropping components, rather than writing code. It's built with Microsoft's Silverlight Web browser plug-in.

When Microsoft released the alpha in May, it had prebuilt "blocks," or connections, to popular Web sites Flickr and MySpace.

Now it integrates with Facebook and people can create gadgets (also called widgets) that run on Windows Vista or Windows Live.

There are a growing … Read more

Zude site riot

Zude, a new Web site by Fifth Generation Systems (5g), lets you make a collage of all your favorite items from the Web and present them in one spot.

The site took down its password-only entrance and went into "soft launch" last week. In other words, it's testing the waters to see who in the public sphere will find and use it.

And I'm just not sure who that is.

Similar to, Zude allows you to create your own, personalized Web pages or profile page--called a "Zudescape"--with text, photos, videos, audio … Read more

Micro-productivity: man vs. machine, divergence vs. convergence

According to a McKinsey & Company study of US economic activity, "Raising the productivity of employees whose jobs can't be automated is the next big performance challenge." The study argues that "as more companies come to specialize in core activities and outsource the rest, they have greater need for workers who can interact with co-workers, partners, and vendors," supported by highly personalized organizing and communication tools. 40 percent of labor activity, says McKinsey, comes not from making things or from traditional transactions but from what the consultancy calls the "Interaction Economy," which it … Read more