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DJ Hero

I got a chance to play Lara’s copy of DJ Hero today. As promised, I found something to comment on!

Problem: The Rewind ability is a dexterity-game mechanic in a rhythm game.

If you get a good streak going in DJ Hero, you gain the ability to rewind. In order you use this ability, you spin the turntable platter a full 360 degrees. The song then jogs back a bit, allowing you to replay an earlier section for double points. It’s an interesting mechanic, adding an extra bonus on top of the scoring bonus for performing well.

However, the physical action of spinning the platter makes a lousy mechanic for a rhythm game.

  • Rewinding requires you to remove your hand entirely from the controller as it spins. Unlike a real turntable, though, you can’t use just any portion of the platter to stop the spin. You need to catch the buttons on the surface of the platter, which constitutes maybe 20% of the platter’s area.
  • Rewinding is nearly guaranteed to break your combo. You’ll either mess it up by missing a note while you’re starting the spin, or you’ll miss a note while you’re fumbling to get your hands back in position after the spin.
  • The rewind ability means that the platter needs to be able to spin a full 360 degrees. This prevents the hardware from having a spring mechanism, like the strum bar on a guitar controller, to return the turntable buttons to a neutral position. Admittedly, a real turntable doesn’t have a built-in spring, but I feel that it would help the accessibility and feel of the game if the turntable was always gently pulling itself back into a neutral position (or, you could think of it as subtly guiding the player’s hand in the direction of the next scratch during scratching segments).

The overall problem with the rewind mechanic is that it rewards players for mastering an arbitrary physical motion. From the video game side, it’s not based on rhythm or pattern recognition, the two primary skills of rhythm games. From the realism side, trying to catch spinning buttons isn’t a DJ skill.

Solution: Remove Rewind.

Not every idea needs to make it into the game. The flaws of Rewind outweigh its benefits.

Perhaps the most glaring flaw of all is that it breaks up the flow of music. Mastery of a rhythm game should result in a flawless musical track coming out of your speakers. But mastering DJ Hero means using the Rewind mechanic, which means that 2-3 times in every song, your music is going to be interrupted by the comedically-exaggerated whirring of rewinding tape.

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