After the Zombies, karaoke with Lips on the Xbox 360

I guess we’ve reached the stage where zombies – even a city of full zombies – just aren’t scary enough to carry a whole movie anymore. Ah well, it was a good blow-em’up as long as you were happy with video-game like plot-points – e.g., motorcycles flying through church stained glass windows. Which I was.

After Resident Evil, I fired up a new Xbox 360 karaoke signing-party-game Lips. And I had fun. A snippet from an IGN review:

What it does have is a collection of 40 songs, all of which are master tracks with lyrics included. Those from the MTV era onward also include a music video, which you can set as the background while you belt your heart out. The $70 Lips bundle also comes with two beautifully designed wireless microphones that possess the uncanny ability to elicit gasps of delight from both 13-year-old girls and 30-year-old men alike.

It’s pretty easy to dive in and start singing and understand what you need to do with the lyrics and pitch and such. I have zero karaoke experience. Trust me. So that’s good.

My first song pick to sing: “Ring of Fire” by Johnny Cash. I listened to that song over, and over, and over again as a kid. I did okay, but I made the mistake of letting a random video play in the background since no Johnny Cash video was available and I got pretty distracted by dinosaurs licking on some kind of huge dripping vanilla ice cream cone.

The first benefit I always love about this or a game like Rock Band is, well, learning the full correct lyrics to songs. I’m pretty embarrassed I didn’t realize that “mountain mamma” was in “Take Me Home Country Roads” by John Denver. What did I think it was… sigh… I thought it was “Mount Mahamma” and figured it was a peak or something in West Virginia. It’s not. Oh, and “ABC” by The Jackson Five: wow, there’s a lot more to that song than I remembered… which was pretty much just the chorus.

Strangely, the song I did the best on via the game’s scoring mechanism was a-ha’s “Take on Me” which has some pretty high notes to sing. Bella remained sleeping on the floor, though she would have been totally justified in biting me good and hard during that performance, sensitive superior hearing and all.

Importing music tracks from the network is not fun. I’m sure there’s a way to quickly move through 3,500 tracks but it’s not obvious. And while I have ratings for my songs, they didn’t appear to come up. I’m not sure if it’s using the WMP server or the Zune server. Also, there was no highlight, say in the song or artist view, which album a track was coming from, and given that I have some songs that appear multiple times (original CD and best-of CD or different versions) I very much want to know which album Lips is getting the track from.

The device filter UI is totally too subtle and should be reworked. I had no idea what I was doing with the filter UI until I sorted the song list by device source. All I wanted to do is find out what songs were available for download from Live. I finally – finally – figured out there was a on/off state for each device glyph: CD, Music Player, Live, and Network. There should be some sort of bright, labeled pop-up UI to manage device filters in a circular fashion, like choosing a plasmid from BioShock, for instance.

Imported tracks come along with an icon for the genre but no album art. That makes it clear what tracks are imported when selecting a song, but makes everything look really, really boring. They should have come with album art and some sort of framed gleam or such for genre to help distinguish them. The bitmap is there, right?

The biggest weakness is the lack of lyrics when you import a track. I understand lyrics are a touchy legal thing and thank goodness Microsoft has a legion of Intellectual Property lawyers. I think there’s a big opportunity for Microsoft here to do something like give you free pitch-tagged lyrics for songs you buy from Zune. The lyrics can work in Lips and then even display when you’re playing the same media via the Xbox music player or Media Center. Or, ooo, also on your Zune. That would be a huge end-to-end music differentiation for Microsoft. And something groovy like making the lyric files well documented could allow a community effort to spring up.

Once I managed to figure out the UI, I discovered there are only a few $2 tracks available for download right now, with a few more lighting up 11/28/2008. That’s awfully unfortunate and very disappointing. The biggest weakness of Lips is it comes with just 40 songs: you figure 1/3 people know well, 1/3 people kind of know and will sing to, and 1/3 it’s doubtful people will ever play. It would have been better to have 140 songs vs. 40.

It should also be the case that if I download a song for Lips, I should then be able to download the same song for free from the Zune marketplace. That seems like something really easy to wire up now for people who have associated their LiveID with a Zune sign-in account. Not only are people into smart end-to-end experiences right now, they are also into being thrifty. There’s a lot of emotional connection to music, and the more you can surprise and delight people the more benefits Lips / LIve / Microsoft / Zune can reap.

The fact that people love the included microphones gives Lips the advantage that people will certainly buy the game to play but also to get the microphones with the hopes that Rock Band etc will support the wireless mics soon. Microsoft Games Studio should do everything possible to help make that happen. If they could have a joint announcement this next week around this then Lips has a high chance of being a popular 2008 Christmas gift.

If the content and expansion options start fast and furious, a lot of good things can happen here for Lips and Microsoft. But if the number of available songs doesn’t crack 100 before Christmas -and keep going upwards and upwards – Lips risks fading quickly. Which would be a shame, because I’m having a great time murdering these songs I love!

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Low Key Weekend

My Sweetie is out of town until Tuesday so I’m baching-it this weekend. My Bill-the-Cat Cold of 2008 is still running its course. I tried getting off of cold drugs but that wasn’t a good idea so I’m back on them. The term productive-cough is fine in the abstract, a little gross in practice.

I’ve got a pizza in the oven and a zombie movie from NetFlix. Excellent.

I’m taking a break from playing Fable II. I have to think how my generation is one of the first raised on video games, Pong onwards. I have to think of that first to justify a 40-something year old man playing a video game late into the night.

The Fable II visuals are outstanding and the play is pretty good. I only had to resort to online help once (I didn’t realize, when doing the first archeologist quest, that you actually need to leave Fairfax Gardens). Other than that I’ve been able to muddle through the ending (Theresa’s last word spoken to the game’s hero character changes everything) and then play on some of the additional quests.

I decided to be the most pure, good character possible. I’ve got a little halo floating over my hero character’s head to prove it! I don’t know what it says about me, but when I wander into town, I want to see all those little hearts floating above the villager’s heads and have them all gather around to admire me. Maybe one day I’ll fire it up again and play a bad dude. Or bad dudette.

But I’ve got to take a break. I’m up to 43 out of 50 gargoyles and wasted a lot of time getting those last few. I took a walk near the woods near The Tree House today and I kept thinking about bandits, balverines, and hobbes jumping out of the trees.

Time out. Eh, I’ve got a stack of business books to get around to reading. I’ll get there.

Right after the zombies.

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