Rockstar (makers of Grand Theft Auto) has teamed with producer Timbaland in the hopes of creating a full-featured music creation program that both musicians and music fans can enjoy. Beaterator is capable of quite a bit, but also sacrifices some usability in exchange for depth. Cramming all these features onto the handheld comes at a cost. People looking for a music game will have to look elsewhere, but if you want to create some tunes Beaterator will do the trick – so long as you have a little patience.
Rock/folk/classical music fans take note: Beaterator deals with loops, which means it's really ideal for dance and hip-hop music that uses a lot of repetition. Of course, with a title like Beaterator you probably don't expect to be composing string quartets.
There are two sides to Beaterator: Live Play and the Studio. Live Play is a pretty cool performance tool that lets you mix either Beaterator's or your own loops together. A session consists of several tracks represented by speakers in the corners of the screen, and each track can contain four loops that are triggered with the PSP's face buttons. One loop from each track can play at a time (up to a total of 8 simultaneous loops) and you can jump from loop to loop in real time. Using this mode to perform compositions of your own loops seems to be the best application for Beaterator. Playing with the templates and included loops is amusing for a bit, but creating your own material or loading in your own samples from your PC is much more rewarding. Not all the loops in a template go well together, which is another reason to stick to your own creations.
You can replace loops as your song plays, effectively allowing you to transition to another song during a performance. Beaterator can also record a performance and dump the loops you play into the timeline of your Song Crafter, saving you the trouble of laying it all out piece by piece on your own. Once captured, you can edit the clips in the timeline as desired. This is actually a very convenient way of composing songs and I wish the entire Beaterator experience was this user friendly. I can even imagine bringing a PSP and Beaterator on stage with me and using Live Play in my own projects.
The Studio is where things start to get bogged down with menus. To add a loop you dive into the "loop menu" to browse samples and create your own loops. You can preview any sample or loop in the library, but it takes a moment to load the file. A drum hit that is less than a second long may take several seconds to load, which makes browsing samples a chore. Another problem: Beaterator will stretch its loops as you adjust a project's tempo, but the time stretch algorithm isn't great so altering the tempo too much will result in audio degradation.
There is an enormous library of sounds available but not all are usable – some of the electric guitar loops, for example, are a complete joke. You know how an "electric guitar" patch on a cheap keyboard doesn't actually sound anything like the real thing? Same deal here. The sounds provided by Timbaland are great, though, and these are handily kept in their own folder, sortable by instrument, genre, or length. And the synth editor, a built-in synthesizer for creating your own sounds, is quite impressive, although it does require some knowledge of synthesis to use. You are also able to import your own samples and record your voice, opening up Beaterator's sonic possibilities immensely. It's possible to make a song with all original samples, loops, and recordings, which is a pretty cool feat for a little PSP disc.
For each track in your song you can adjust parameters like volume and pan, accessed by pulling the PSP's analog nub down to enter the knobs and buttons area. This is where you begin to realize that maybe the PSP isn't the best system for this kind of music studio, because an act that is a simple mouse click on a PC becomes a multi-step process here. Your cursor is on one side of the screen, and in order to get to a knob on the other side you have to click through everything in between. I realize it's not fair to compare PSP software to that of a PC, but it's a developer's job to make software easy to use, regardless of what platform it's on. Maybe the iPhone version of Beaterator will fare better because a touch screen interface seems like it would really speed up the process of building a song.
Once you've managed to create that masterpiece you can export it as a wav file. Rockstar's Social Club website will also be hosting Beaterator songs, allowing you to share your tracks and discover others.
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