Spin City

If Guitar Hero is the natural progression for anyone who ever shamelessly emulated Joe Perry with an imaginary ax, then Activision’s next gig, DJ Hero, will let anyone who ever did a song mix channel his or her inner spinmaster.

Activision has kept its new product, slated for release this fall, under tight security. The prototype is a mystery to gaming bloggers, who are champing at the bit for a sneak peek. Only the designers, and this reporter, have been allowed to play the prototype—under close supervision, of course.

At Activision’s Santa Monica office, one developer makes the expert level look easy, his hands running across the controller like a deejay behind his equipment. Then it’s my turn: After a miserable attempt to tap the streaming buttons on cue, my beginner session is over, and I’m escorted out. The door is locked, and the developers are told the game must be moved to an undisclosed location. This is the best-kept secret since the Watergate tapes.

DJ Hero uses a mesmerizing neon-color scroll similar to the one in Guitar Hero, which signals commands while the player receives points based on performance. Unlike the neck of the plastic guitar controller, DJ Hero has a wireless controller complete with turntable that spins 360 degrees, mixer, cross-fader and effects knobs.

Just as it did with Guitar Hero, Acti­vision went to the pinnacle of the deejay world for inspiration: One hundred individual artist tracks are featured, including those of 50 Cent, Gwen Stefani, Marvin Gaye, Blondie and Gorillaz. DJ AM created more than 80 mixes exclusively for DJ Hero (you may recall that in September 2008, he and musician friend Travis Barker narrowly escaped a Learjet crash that killed four passengers and left them burned), DJ Z-Trip, DJ Shadow and others. And it’s not just a video­game—DJ Hero is also an extension of your music library.

In addition to sampling the new game, I have a chance to hear from DJ AM—Adam Goldstein—who’s on hand to expound on his role. He says the cultural niche for the craft of deejaying has changed from underground to mainstream. “When I was first starting out, if I was dating a girl and she told her dad, ‘Oh, he’s a deejay,’ he’d want to kill me. Now it’s a respected profession. It’s a pop-culture phenomenon, where everyone wants to be a deejay.”

He recalls the first time he played the DJ Hero prototype. “No genre is sacred in this game, which is the bravest, most exciting, fun thing about it. That’s how I’ve always treated my deejaying. I will play anything. I go from the Jackson 5 to the Wu-Tang Clan to George Michael, and I make it work. The first mix I played was Eminem and AC/DC, and it completely fit. The major point is that you’re marrying two songs you wouldn’t think of—and it works.”

When you play DJ Hero, it’s a new experience. “You’re going to get the feeling I got the first time I rocked a room full of people—so you’re gonna want more.”

Gamers are hungry for it, and Activision can’t wait to give it to them. Which makes sense—the Guitar Hero franchise has generated upwards of $2 billion since 2005, and it has single-handedly revitalized classic rock for a whole new generation. The game has proven as lucrative as concert tours and album sales. Word is Guitar Hero: Aerosmith alone grossed $25 million. If that’s the case, it’s 10 times more than the band’s last record, Honkin’ on Bobo. Now that’s playing for keeps.

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