RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Music video games are among the world's most popular, earning billions of dollars selling to gamers who delight in shredding through a song by Jimi Hendrix or Aerosmith. NPR's Neda Ulaby says the company that makes Guitar Hero is tweaking that franchise with a new game that comes out tomorrow.
NEDA ULABY: The game is called DJ Hero. And it's about as true to actual DJ-ing as Guitar Hero is to actual rock stardom.
(Soundbite of music)
ULABY: Jamie Jackson is creative director of FreeStyle Games, that developed both DJ and Guitar Hero.
Mr. JAMIE JACKSON (FreeStyle Games): It's not about you being a DJ and simulating. That wasn't the idea. It's about having fun and feeling like you're controlling the party. So all the music is pre-made by our DJs.
ULABY: Meaning it's a pre-mixed, pre-sampled, pre-beat matched assortment of popular tunes.
(Soundbite of music)
ULABY: FreeStyle developers worked with about 20 DJs to figure out how to turn turntabling into something playable on an Xbox. It works like Guitar Hero, but instead of that plastic guitar you get a fake turntable and a fake little mixer, while a funky DJ avatar struts, cuts and scratches onscreen.
Mr. ROBERT CARTER (DJ): He is enjoying himself.
ULABY: Robert Carter is a DJ who plays nationally under the name DJ Cuzzin B. By day you'll find him including audio for NPR's Web site. I asked him to play DJ Hero.
Mr. CARTER: It takes some getting used to, but then again, this is a game.
ULABY: FreeStyle Games recruited a few illustrious DJs to add cred.
GRANDMASTER FLASH (DJ): It's your boy DJ Grandmaster Flash. I'm going to be a professor...
Mr. CARTER: Okay. You've got Flash on here. Okay. So it's official.
GRANDMASTER FLASH: Now, let's talk about tapping.
MR. CARTER: I've never had Flash teach me how to DJ, so let's do it.
ULABY: We decided to pit DJ Cuzzin B against a gamer - NPR intern Brian Reardon.
BRIAN REARDON: You're overthinking it. You've just got to move it - just moving it back and forth.
Mr. CARTER: Oh. Yeah, I'm overthinking it. I'm at NPR, not the club.
(Soundbite of laughter)
ULABY: DJ Cuzzin B was experiencing the same problems some guitar players have with Guitar Hero. Real skills don't translate. They confuse you.
Mr. CARTER: That's weird, because you normally don't scratch with just one finger. So it's really strange. But okay.
ULABY: When FreeStyle Games first developed DJ Hero, creative director Jamie Jackson asked regular people what they thought DJs did.
Mr. JACKSON: Ninety-nine percent of them put one hand to their ear and the other made a scratching sound and kind of went wika, wika, wika.
(Soundbite of turntable scratching)
REARDON: See, I don't know anything about turntables, and I'm sure like - like I have no idea what this - I've never known what guys are doing when they do that.
ULABY: Gamer Brian Reardon still utterly destroys the DJ in this virtual battle. Robert Carter is a fabulous DJ in real life. He's not fabulous at scoring points in the game's glamorous industrial nightclub.
REARDON: You are just stinking up the joint.
Mr. CARTER: They just booed me.
REARDON: Oh, you didn't even get one star.
Mr. CARTER: I didn't get a star, man. They booed me.
ULABY: Is there anything about this that's like actual DJ-ing?
Mr. CARTER: DJs fantasize for an environment like this. You have about 30,000 people out there going crazy. I mean, everybody's reacting - no fights out there.
ULABY: DJ Cuzzin B, a.k.a. Robert Carter, says this game is perfect if you want to one-up a DJ.
Mr. CARTER: Say, man, you know what? I think you would be nice at DJ Hero. Let me check you out. And then you just kill them.
ULABY: Still, Carter plans to get the game for his little eight-year-old nephew. In a few years, he says, he'll teach him how to DJ for real.
Neda Ulaby, NPR News.