Exclusive Interview With Zivix On JAM Live Music Arcade

We recently had the opportunity to speak with both Matt Cannon and Jarod Hadaway from Zivix, the developer of the upcoming title, JAM Live Music Arcade, for both Xbox LIVE Arcade and PlayStation Network. Our interview offered more insight into the way the game’s two main modes both play, the incorporation of existing guitar controllers into the game, as well as the inspirations and goals behind the game’s development.

Check it out below.

WGTC: How did you first come up with the idea for the game?

Matt Cannon: In the early days of Zivix, we were involved in digital instrument technology, including guitars with digital touch control. We wondered what else we could do with it, so we experimented with using different tracks, like drums and synth. We thought it was pretty cool, and seeing how Guitar Hero and the accompanying guitar controllers were pretty popular at the time, we thought we could do something with that peripheral and started messing around. Over time, it’s evolved and become its own thing.

WGTC: Describe the basics of how the two main modes, Jam Mode and Arcade Mode, both work.

MC: Jam mode is what we’re hanging our hat on; it’s the selling point. It’s an open music sandbox where you pick songs that people know and love, boil them down to their basic components in the form of audio loops, and enable people to create their own versions of the songs.

Jarod Hadaway: We got the stems, which are the individual instrument audio tracks, from some big songs, took sections like the verses and bridges, and gave the user the ability to take full control of each stem individually, along with freeform riffs you can add to the main mix. It’s really nice to have something different from the follow-the-leader gameplay of other games, and have the reward be from your own creativity. You can also record your remixes and have the game save the remixes you’ve made, and then translate your remixes into levels for the Arcade Mode.

You earn points for being on rhythm and unlock additional content in the game with them, including venues, which are audio-visual background stages that react to the song. Points aren’t the main focus of the game, but they can still be used to unlock additional material.

MC: Arcade Mode was created as a way to welcome people coming from games like Guitar Hero and Rock Band who are used to the follow-the-leader gameplay, with notes coming down that you press at the right time. In it, you have the same visual setup as Jam Mode, but with specific visual cues. Different techniques are showcased, but you still get the same arcade feeling you get from the other games.

JH: It helps you “get” the rhythm of each song, so you get an idea of how they work, and how to break down the dynamics of each song in Jam Mode. Most of the tracks are playing in sync with each other to help with this. We offer special tracks called one-shots that play once, which you can add effects to. It’s really cool. It will definitely help players to learn the songs better.

WGTC: What was the inspiration behind incorporating the guitar peripheral compatibility?

MC: Playing games like Guitar Hero gives you the illusion that you’re playing music. There’s something really visceral and nice about it, so we brought the idea over.

JH: It’s the controller setup that allows you to not just play guitar in our game, but also switch between and play each track. The five buttons on the guitar controller each represent different things – red is bass, green is drums, and so on.  Each button represents a certain instrument. We got the original stems for songs, but also went one step further and added some extra options to each song.

Let’s say you’re playing drums. Drum 1 might be the kick, Drum 2 might be the snare, Drum 3 might be electronic, and so on. Bass 1 might be the original acoustic track, and Bass 2 might be deeper. There are a lot of possibilities to mix and match things and get some really cool sounds out of it. All the tracks are produced to work together and sound in sync and in tune with each other, and it’s up to the player to bring it all together like a DJ, but it’s still simple, since there are only 5 buttons.

WGTC: What do you think the game offers that makes it a unique experience compared to other rhythm games?

MC: Definitely the fact that the reward is based on your own creativity, and it’s not as linear. It’s all open to you, and there’s nothing to hold you back from creating your own song. Few people have really had the means to get in touch with some of their favorite music, and this is more of a participatory experience than most.

JH: We have a big jam room with speakers in the office, and it’s really nice to turn things up while playing the game and be like, “Hey, I’m doing this!”.  You can play for 2 minutes, or 20 minutes, or however much you feel like it.

MC: It kind of gives you the chance to be a producer, but in a really accessible way. There are still lots of techniques and a lot of depth to it.

JH: Matt brings up a good point. It’s cool that the ability to do this kind of thing will be opened up to the general public; it will give them access to something that hasn’t been as easily accessible before.

WGTC: The game has an impressive track list, with artists like Modest Mouse, Fall Out Boy, and Owl City.  What was the process like for selecting who to incorporate?

JH: We started off working with a lot of local musicians. Minneapolis has a great local music scene, including Steve Greenberg, who produced and wrote the song Funkytown in the late 70s or early 80s. That was the first big song we got for the game, and it was like “Wow!”, playing a recognizable song like that with its famous chorus. We started talking with other music lawyers and represntatives after that, and got in contact with bigger bands, and we’re also adding some local bands to the mix, so you’ll get some bands you know and some you don’t.

MC: There’s a lot of variety on the track list – we started off creating our own original game format with the artists from around here, and as we went, we worked our way up. We have plans for downloadable content after the game is released, and we’re always in talks with bands we might add in the future. We definitely have some big names for DLC that I’m personally excited about that we will be announcing in the future.

WGTC: Do you think the game will create some musicians in training? That is, inspire some of its players to create their own music from scratch, after trying out the game’s remixing capabilities?

JH: Yeah, I think it’s going to be inspiring to a lot of people. Having access to something that people can’t easily get right now will inspire people to listen to music in a new way. Our boss tells us all the time that he listens to music a lot differently now. It really trains your ear and helps you pick out individual elements you might not have noticed before.

MC: Definitely. It gives people the chance to feel like what it’s like to be a music producer, and might be what pushes certain people to make their own stuff. It’ll be interesting to see what comes out of it.

A big thank you to both Matt Cannon and Jarod Hadaway for taking the time to talk with us.  JAM Live Music Arcade will be available for digital download on May 16. We will have a review up shortly after its release.