Out in stores now is Konami’s original game in the Bemani series, beatmania. While the game has been around for eight years, the series is making its first console appearance on the Playstation 2. We speak to Jason Enos, the product manager for beatmania, about the decision for a USA release, how they plan to attract gamers to try this out and the future of the series in North America.
Siliconera: The Beatmania series has been around for a long time, but never had a release outside of Japan. What prompted Konami to localize it?
Jason: In actuality, the game did make an arcade stateside release under the name hiphopmania. We actually had two different versions come out and there certainly was a popular fanbase for the game. At the time the game was available in the arcades, the music rhythm genre was really in its infancy in North America. There had been some experimentation with the genre on home gaming consoles, but the genre was still too early in development. In March 2001, Konami brought Dance Dance Revolution to the original PlayStation® game console and that really expanded the genre in North America. It was important to first build up this genre in North America with games like Dance Dance Revolution and Karaoke Revolution. Of course we realize that the beatmania fanbase have been waiting patiently for the day that beatmania would come out here, so we are really excited about the game’s potential. We hope that all of the original fans of Konami’s music/rhythm games along with the new fanbase we have built up through DDR and KR will embrace the launch of beatmania.
Even though it never had an official release there’s a fervent US fanbase due to the import market. How do you plan to encompass this “hardcore” group with a new audience?
The game has been designed to appeal to both hardcore fans and new players. It’s not easy to please everyone, so we have taken several approaches to design the game for each group. For new users we have added the tutorial practice mode along with the inclusion of the original 5-key beatmania in addition to the 7-key beatmania IIDX. Players can now start off with practice mode and get the general hang of the game mechanic and then move onto 5-key beatmania. Once they move up the ranks in 5-key beatmania, the more challenging 7-key beatmania IIDX has three different default difficulties for each song plus 1 unlockable difficulty level. If players are still having problems, there are various game options that can make the transition easier, such as playing 7-key songs as 5-keys or having the turntable play automatically so that players can focus on playing the keys.
For core fans, the inclusion of the original 5-key beatmania is a nice bonus. This game and many of these songs have never seen the light of day on the PlayStation®2 because this mode was only available on the original PlayStation® console in Japan. The overall game has a really good list of songs and we definitely have the challenge and difficulty if the players want to bring it on. Other bonuses include brand new songs that have never appeared in the series before as well as the ability to save your performances for later viewing. We also have Internet Ranking for the expert players.
What tips can you give new players who are just getting into Beatmania?
Start off with practice mode and then move into the original beatmania 5-keys mode. Choose songs that you personally enjoy listening to or that are easy to follow the beat. Focus on your hand placement on the beatmania controller and if necessary, don’t worry about scratching the turntable at this point – instead just concentrate on playing the keys and develop those skills first. The first time I played beatmania, I decided to turn on the “auto-scratch” option so that my fingers could completely concentrate on the 5-keys. I allocated three fingers on my right hand and two fingers on my left hand to make sure I had one finger assigned to each key. Eventually you will need to move away from always having your fingers mapped to each key, but it can be helpful when first starting out.
One thing about Beatmania’s music selection is it’s slanted towards the techno scene. Did this change in the US version?
We do place a heavy focus on providing a wide variety of music, but at the same time, we wanted to keep the variety within the framework of a “DJ” style of game. Keeping with that theme, the music in the game is a collection of various genres that are common to DJing and clubs. If beatmania grows in fanbase and popularity, we will definitely try to cater to different musical tastes and styles as well.
The Japanese PS2 release, Beatmaina IIDX: 7th Style has a bunch of licensed songs from artists like Armin Van Buren and Svenson & Gielen. What licensed music appears in the US Beatmania release?
The game features a wide variety of sub-genres within dance music, such as hip-hop, techno, trance, house, drum’n’bass, etc. In terms of licensed tunes, you can play songs by well-known electronic artists like Moby or Timo Maas. We also have exclusive remixes of popular songs like Toxic and Virtual Insanity. One of the new licensed songs in the game is the classic hit Funkytown. A lot of people seem to enjoy playing Funkytown because of the note sequence.
A major challenge for games that use special controllers is convincing consumers to pay a premium over the regular game price. Konami has pulled it off successfully with Dance Dance Revolution, but Beatmania is a whole different story. The game can’t draw in the “get fit and have fun crowd” or pull in masses that tried it out at the arcade. What does Konami have planned to face this challenge and sell the game?
We have seen with DDR and Karaoke Revolution that gamers and non-gamers have purchased these games despite the requirement of a special peripheral. For fans of beatmania, I think they are going to be really surprised to see that the beatmania controller + game bundle is roughly the same price as DDR and KR (Karaoke Revolution). Of course it ultimately depends on where you shop for games, but the suggested retail price for the beatmania bundle is $59.99. If you are a beatmania fan who follows the import scene, you can’t even buy a controller and game in Japan near that price – not to mention that we have made several improvements to the beatmania controller for the North American release. If you are a first-time player of beatmania, the price is very reasonable for someone to “give it a chance” and see if they like it.
Here’s an idea for the US Beatmania series. Since installments of the game are really similar would Konami consider releasing less expensive expansion packs for $20 or so with just a bunch of songs?
This is a topic that has come up in the past, but ultimately we want to try to focus on each game independently. There can always be improvements, new modes, new songs, different themes, etc. I think our fans have definitely seen continual progression and improvements in each DDR or KR game that has released. Sometimes we try one direction or new idea and the fans definitely give us feedback once the game is out. This feedback helps further refine the game, especially if we revise that idea or direction. Expansion packs would limit the amount of progression since the product essentially becomes new songs only. We want to provide the fans and consumers more than just the music.
If Beatmania is successful will Konami consider brining over IIDX machines to US arcades?
Since beatmania is just about to release in North America, it is too early to tell what is going to happen. We are definitely very excited about beatmania and want to see the game grow in fanbase and popularity. We certainly know the fanbase is out there to support the game, so your guess is as good as mine.