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From the Database of Home of the Underdogs




Copyright 2004, Mat Dickie

Popscene is a fun “band simulation” from MDickie, probably the world’s most underrated “lone wolf” game designer. In the author’s words, “Popscene is your backstage pass to the entire music industry. Build your own act, of any kind, and then guide them to fame and fortune. On the rocky road to a record deal, you’ll hire talent, produce songs, release albums, and perform the material live in glorious 3D. All in a bid to secure the rave reviews that will catapult you to the top of the charts and into the history books. Professional success is only half the battle though. Your personal life is just as important – as you attempt to negotiate contracts, manage your finances, schedule concerts, and endure soul-destroying scandals. All the while trying to satisfy your demanding boss, restless employees, and fickle fans. With over 100 rival artists, spread across 6 unique record labels, the competition has never been tougher. Have you got what it takes to make an impact?”

Gameplay-wise, Popscene is similar to Rockstar, but with many more options and a stronger focus on exciting, non-quantitative aspects of the music industry such as the personalities of various singers, scandals, industry awards, and taking your band on a tour. Of course, the addition of graphics alone will interest Rockstar fans who are used to seeing everything presented in text. The blocky 3D graphics in Popscene, like MDickie’s wrestling games, are nothing to write home about in terms of realism, but they do a great job of conveying the various moods of your band, the crowd, and the (usually moody) record company representatives.

The best thing about Popscene is the tremendous amount of personality. Like MDickie’s wrestling games, characters in Popscene have a wide range of unique traits, moods, and actions. Putting together musicians whose personalities are opposites – and making sure they stay together as a band – is a lot of fun, since you will see them bicker, fight, and, of course, constantly ask for a higher cut of your income. As a band, you have to keep a close eye on the collective “Popularity,” “Reputation,” and even “Attitude.” As in a real-life band, you need to attract and retain the best mix of talents, since a well-rounded band needs someone with good production skills, a good writer, an entertaining performer, and a real artistic talent. If you are lucky, you can sign musicians who have most of the required qualities, but most of the time you will need to hire a specialist in each area. There is a plethora of options in Popscene that you will never run out of things to do. You can create songs, select up to 4 songs from each album to release as singles, book concert venues (naturally, you can only book prominent venues when your band is famous), negotiate your band’s contract with the record company and also with each band member, and watch your band perform in concerts. As you become more famous, cool things start to happen – for example, you might get a visit from a well-known singer who wants to collaborate with you, endorse products, and even go to court when scandals break out.

As fun as Popscene is, I do have a few complaints. The most glaring omission, in my view, is the inability to record or use your own songs in the game. Each song in the game has only 2 traits: an “entertainment” rating, and an “artistic” rating. As MDickie describes, “…Entertaining songs are those with commercial appeal that can expect to do well in the charts. Artistic songs, on the other hand, are those that warrant critical acclaim and take longer to lose their appeal. Naturally, a good combination of the two is required for a decent song. Although these qualities are somewhat random, they are strongly influenced by the skills of your production team. A poorly managed team will be lucky to have more than a couple of hits on an album, whereas those with dedicated producers will boast a more consistent hit rate.” This all sounds well and good, except it is hard to judge whether the song you just produced is going to do well or not. The ability to actually create songs or use MP3s from your own collection in the game would have added a lot of atmosphere to the game and make it more believable. Other than that, there are some niggling faults here and there, such as quirks in 3D animations, some cumbersome interface designs, and the weird feeling of watching your singer’s mouth move in a completely asynchronous fashion with the song he is singing. These are minor complaints, though, and they definitely do not detract from the overall enjoyment. If you like Rockstar but wish it were more interactive, deep, and colorful, Popscene fits the bill. Two thumbs up, way up!

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