Music games have always had that small, bemoaning crowd. “Why not just play a real guitar?” and so on. The obvious answer is that learning to play the guitar is hard work! It also costs a good chunk of money. Even with the pro guitar capabilities in Rock Band 3, it’s still a lot of work and lot of money for a new guitar controller (even more for the real guitar).
This is why it interested me to hear about Music Construction Set: The Blues. It’s a guitar synthesizer/simulator for PCs running Windows. While there are a ton of music synthesizers out there, the majority of them are meant to be played on a keyboard. As a hobbyist “bedroom DJ,” this is the first of its kind that I know of to use fake guitars to synthesize music.
So here’s the breakdown: you need a wired Xbox 360 Guitar Hero/Rock Band guitar or a wireless Xbox 360 guitar with a wireless receiver (which are admittedly hard to find in brick and mortar stores these days). You also need a webcam. I’m not exactly sure what is trying to be accomplished by requiring one, but you can’t do anything without it.
Once you have those set up, it’s time to launch the program. After a few splash screens, you’re given a simple screen and not a lot of direction, unless you go watch their YouTube videos. I watched the first one, and got the basic idea.
As you can see from the image above, the two most prevalent portions of the screen is the effects knob, which changes the tuning of the guitar sounds, and the camera output at the bottom right. The button to the left of the effects knob shows which mode your guitar controller is currently set to, rhythm or lead. Each mode has their own set of effects, and this can be changed from the guitar by hitting the back button.
The top blue button of the three buttons to the right of the effects knob determines whether the backing music is played. The music is very bluesy, which should be a given, considering the name of the software. The middle green button toggles on or off your microphone’s input, which is entirely optional. And the red bulls-eye button starts the recording progress with a three-second countdown.
When you’re done recording, Music Construction Set processes the video for you and gives you three options, cancel, which discards the video, preview, which opens the video in an external video player, and upload, which uploads the video to YouTube with your credentials.
I’ve been asked to give my impressions on the current beta of Music Construction Set: The Blues. And to be honest, while I like where it’s headed, I’m not too impressed.
Being a music nerd, I love all of the different samples used in the program. These are real samples that have been engineered for quality, not some fake pre-generated samples from a piece of software. The backing music generically fits the blues template, letting you do your thing on guitar without having to worry about them. Personally, I’m not sure how to make music that fits, considering I don’t listen to a lot of the blues, but I can easily see different genres being released once they get this first one gets out of beta.
The problems I have with Music Construction Set: The Blues are directly tied with computer hardware. The software red-lines my single-core 2.0GHz processor. I’m not sure how the software could even perform on a 1.2GHz Celeron processor they claim is the minimum CPU required. While it does run and record, there’s a severe lag when playing music (even with an ASIO driver as they recommend) that makes it hard for me to coherently make something up. Rendering the video takes a significant amount of time, and the program often goes unresponsive while doing so, making it hard to actually cancel the rendering.
The webcam requirement irks me. I don’t have one myself, instead I borrowed one in order to check Music Construction Set out. Other than that, the ability to upload straight to YouTube is awesome. I hope, though, that there will be another option eventually, even if it’s to save the video to your hard drive so you can upload to other services manually.
When I first downloaded the software, they claimed that only Guitar Hero controllers were supported, but I was able to use my Rock Band 2 wireless Stratocaster just fine. The solo buttons worked just like the other set. A patch was posted a few days ago that officially support Rock Band guitars.
While I have some complaints, I think if the minimum system requirements are increased to a proper level that allows playing without lag, or the software becomes more efficient at what it’s doing, then this will end up being a pretty good piece of music creation software. I could easily see a VSTi plugin being pretty successful if the developers were to go that route.