Okay, it might take more than a video game for you to even think about comparing your musical talents to that of Daft Punk. But when I tried my hands at virtual reality (VR) company Survios' Electronauts VR DJing game, for a moment I felt like I had some real music mixing skills and live in a spaceship, which is basically how I think of Daft Punk. Arriving August 7 on Steam and Oculus Home for HTC Vive and Oculus Rift for $19.99, on PlayStation VR for $17.99 and in VR arcades in 38 countries, Electronauts lets wannabe DJs mix songs by well-known electronic artists in a colorful, VR world. Through a pair of VR controllers that feel like drumsticks, you can layer different effects, rearrange songs, alter vocals, record loops and sequences and create a remixed masterpiece worthy of the club scene--or at least your living room.
I tried out the game for myself, and putting on an Oculus Rift headset instantly teleported me into a rainbow-colored cosmic utopia. Survios didn’t take any shortcuts in designing the game. When I spun around I was met with a full DJ stage with podiums behind me. The ceilings had long, vertical windows that let me watch an interstellar world pass me by. And, of course, there was the front view, which made me feel like I was effortlessly gliding down a techno-spaceship’s never-ending moving walkway.
I tried to master Electronauts in five minutes by putting my spin on Krewella and Yellow Claw featuring Vava’s “New World.” However, there were just too many different features and options for me to do so. Still, each feature was activated easily - I simply dragged and dropped the effect I wanted to my DJ table’s center with the VR controllers and adjusted any individual sub-options that popped up.
I could also strike effervescent orbs as if they were drums to replicate different instruments. But, again, making all of this first nature would’ve taken a lot more practice for me. Occasionally, I had to strike different options with a controller more than once for the game to notice my command (you can see this around :14 in our hands-on video when I tried to play parts of the verses but the game thought I was trying to pick them up, at 1:15 when I tried to activate Trap but instead picked it up and at 1:45 when I tried to mute the snare).
Regardless, I had a delightful time in my virtual jam session. I tweaked different verses to fit my mood. Like a madwoman I tossed grenades, which instead of exploding added quirky sound effects. I went on a power trip, altering percussion, synth, kick, bass and snare, and even eliminated them all in favor of getting my trap on and teasing a dramatic drop. There was more than enough to do in the game to keep me fully entertained.
Mind you, I don’t have any musical skills or play any instruments. But with enough time playing this game, I do believe one could gain a firm understanding of what things like percussion, synth and snare truly sound like and how they impact a song.
Luckily, just fooling around in Electronauts is a lot of fun, too. Even without full knowledge of every control and option, I had a really good time just bopping around the different instruments, playing with the different effects and even taking in the beautiful colors and scenery, which reacted and evolved to match the music.
One thing that’s very easy to learn is the selfie-stick. Simply grab the virtual stick with your VR controller and take a picture of your avatar getting the room hyped. I wouldn’t really think this was cool if it wasn’t for the fact that the avatar looked an awful lot like a member of Daft Punk. The avatars aren’t customizable, but why would you want to look like anything else?
Through Electronauts, you can feel like you’re enjoying EDC in the comfort of your home. In fact, a list of the game’s included artists looks like a lineup for a real music festival…and a good one, really. They have electronic legends like Tiësto and Steve Aoki, emerging stars like The Chainsmokers and even some of my favorites, like Odesza (who I actually saw live earlier this week).
In fact, I was told that Odesza’s complex, large set-ups inspired the game’s design. Odesza is respected for their performance style (if you’re unfamiliar, take a look here), so ravers and other fans should appreciate this effort. You can tell the people behind the game truly love electronic music.
Electronauts reminded me a lot of Dance Dance Revolution (DDR) in its prime, when hanging with friends at home could mean taking turns making your video game character dance. But what takes this VR game a step above DDR, and most video games, is that spectators can enjoy it in a more engaging way. Sure, in DDR and other games you can have friends watch and hope they find your gameplay interesting. But with Electronauts, everyone in the room can hear the music you’re making, whether they’re watching or not, and groove.
I see great use for this at parties where instead of speakers, the music comes from guests taking turns at Electronauts. People hanging in the living room can watch the trippy images on the big screen, while those in the kitchen can listen and turn the room into a bonafide dance floor...assuming you’re any good. You can even jam with someone with genuine music talent by playing the game alongside their instruments.
Survios, whose VR gaming rep also includes Sprint Vector, Raw Data and the upcoming Creed: Rise to Glory, advertises the game as a way to introduce music to the non-musical, claiming that it teaches basic music fundamentals, like bars, tempos and genres.
However, I don’t see myself genuinely understanding how to play or mix music by paying Electronauts, as I’m a classic learner and the game doesn’t offer any distinct lessons or definitions. Plus, the game doesn’t yet have other genres, like R&B or country, and some instruments, like the violin, are incompatible with the game currently.
On the other hand, if you never thought you could carry a beat before, Electronauts is an easy way to get your hands dirty (virtually) and learn how to keep a tune going. The game could encourage people who love music but are too intimidated by it to expand their horizons.
If you really want to see how you’d fare in the music industry, you can play your best mix for a friend. Electronauts allows you to save your music in the game so you can play it for others. If you don’t have any friends willing to suffer through your amateur VR mixing, there’s also a co-op mode with voice chat, so you can jam – and be criticized – by other players.
I chatted with some of the Survios team, and they were optimistic about the game bringing “soul” back to music by encouraging live, free play reminiscent of times when songs were played back by memory instead of recordings. I’m doubtful about Electronauts having that strong of an impact, but it does create an excuse to gather people around for a good auditory and visual show and even lets the rhythmically challenged take the spotlight.
MORE: Virtual Reality Basics