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Will my retirement from
wrestling prove to be the best move I ever made, or the biggest mistake? Hoping to
prove otherwise comes "Popscene" - a music simulator in the mould of the
Wrestling MPire series. God knows the music business has just as
many vibrant personalities as wrestling does, so let's see what they could
be getting up to...
Back To The Future
Although it never materialized,
Popscene was actually conceived some 4 years ago in the summer of 2000.
This crude 2D version was arguably the first decent game I ever made, but its
large file size condemned it to the history books. Even in this early,
unfinished state, the game still showed plenty of potential though. So now, 4 years
later (and 4 years a better game designer), the concept has been resurrected for
one more shot at the big-time...
All Around The World
The name is about the only thing
that remains the same, because the concept has now been promoted to a huge 3D
world - the likes of which we've come to expect from the wrestling games! It
features a staggering 150 artists, spread across 6 unique record labels.
Introducing "Epic Talent" (the home of legendary veterans), "Super Sounds" (the
home of pop artists and divas), "Rock-out Records" (the home of traditional rock
bands), and "Urban Records" (the home of hip hop artists). There's also "The
Underground", where all the aspiring young acts (or washed up veterans) strive
to get recognized. In "Legacy Records", there's even a place for the deceased
artists so that they can release records posthumously! It might be called
"Popscene" but, evidently, every major genre has been represented to ensure that
the game caters for all tastes...
The characters that make up those
rosters are as unique as the labels themselves! Although there are technically
no real-life artists, there are plenty of familiar faces to look out for. From
the legendary acts of the 60's, through to the chart-toppers of the 90's and
present day, the range of characters is exceptionally broad. They're all
perfectly unique too - not only in appearance, but in the role they play in the
industry. In amongst the usual vocalists and dancers, you can also find
guitarists, drummers, keyboardists, and even DJ's! Some characters have even
dedicated their lives to behind-the-scenes roles, such as writing and
Each artist's appearance is as
unique as their role in the world. The game boasts the best character modelling
yet - and there are plenty of ways to enjoy it. From gaunt body shapes to fat,
from tight-fit to baggy, from male to female... there are countless
possibilities. Not least because there's even more fun to be had with the
hairstyles - ranging from shaved to wild Afro's, and all kinds of long-haired
variations. There's the usual selection of headwear and eyewear to experiment
with too. Above all else, there's the best range of face and costume textures
yet. By mixing and matching the different designs, on different body parts, you
can truly create your own style...
You can edit the costumes of your
characters at any time, but more adventurous changes (such as those to the face
and body) require plastic surgery! This costly procedure is your ticket to the
image that you've always wanted. An artist's appearance can fluctuate over time
as surely as their skills do. They lose weight, gain weight - and even gain
wrinkles as they get older! You'll be thankful of this opportunity to turn back
Tale Of The Tape
Underneath the cosmetics, the
most important aspect of a character is their personality. As in the wrestling
games, there are 8 key statistics (rated out of 100) that determine how useful or
valuable they are. "Popularity" indicates their drawing power, and is therefore
the most important quality. Similarly, "Reputation" indicates how much respect
they command in the outside world. Meanwhile, "Attitude" governs how reliable
they are and "Happiness" indicates their enthusiasm. In addition to those
personality traits, there are also musical skills to consider. "Production"
influences their ability to produce entertaining songs, whilst "Writing" governs
their artistic output. Similarly, "Performance" influences how well an artist
delivers an entertaining song, whilst "Talent" is their ability to deliver
artistic tracks. As in real life, that balance between art and entertainment is
the key to a successful career...
Best Of The Best
With all those statistics flying
around, you'll be glad of the game's "Database" feature that helps you make
sense of it all! It's like a record book that reports the top 10 artists in any
given category - ranging from the "Most Popular" to the "Most Troublesome".
These rankings are a fantastic way of keeping track of who's hot and who's not.
You can even refine the search to one particular label, so you can see where you
stand in the greater scheme of things. It's a depressing reminder that the world
doesn't revolve around you!
Seal The Deal
After studying the world
rankings, you'll often discover an artist that you want to sign. Fortunately,
you have the power to approach any artist at any time - but getting them to sign
on the dotted line is another matter! Fans of the wrestling games will recognize
the tug-of-war that is the contract negotiations. You have to offer artists a
signing-on fee, a contract length, and the percentage of the income that you're
willing to pay them. The royalties are broken down into 3 distinct categories:
those from CD sales, those from ticket sales, and those from endorsements. All
of them are a regular occurrence in any successful artist's life, and your
employees will expect their cut. Sometimes even the most reasonable of deals
doesn't cut it though, because artists can also have personal reservations.
Whether it's the prospect of working with an artist that they don't like, or
simply the fact that they're happy where they are, there are plenty of doubts
that need to be addressed. Sometimes contract negotiations are as much about
politics as they are about money...
Making The Band
There's more to putting together
a great band than simply signing a handful of chart-toppers. A band functions on
the same 8 cylinders that drive an individual artist - it's just that they're
compromised in a team environment. There's the collective "Popularity" and
"Reputation" to worry about, and also the collective "Attitude" that governs how
well the unit functions. More importantly, you also need to cultivate a good
melting pot of talent. A well-rounded team needs good production skills,
thoughtful writing, a consummate performer, and undeniable talent. Sometimes a
couple of artists will demonstrate all of the required qualities, but more often
than not you'll need to hire a specialist in each area...
True To Form
You can have up to 5 artists in a
team, but that doesn't mean that they all have to be on-stage. You have access
to "Formation" options that allow you to dictate who plays what role - whether
it's in the limelight or behind-the-scenes. Furthermore, you can also specify
what shape the band takes (from a boy band line-up to a traditional band
layout) and you can even determine who goes where. Far from an aesthetic
decision, these layouts are actually an important part of good management. By
confining an artist backstage, you can make the most of their production skills
(otherwise they would have been diluted). Likewise, an artist needs to be
on-stage to contribute their performance skills. A successful unit will use the
right skills, in the right way, at the right time...
A Word In Your Ear
You don't necessarily have to
make all the decisions though. You have a very real relationship with your
employees, and they will often come to you with ideas of their own! Whether it's
a change of costume or a change of attitude, they're always there to add their
two cents. You might meet under less happy circumstances though. Sometimes artists
can be more demanding than helpful - asking for more money, more time off, etc..
Ruling with a firm hand is tempting, but it invariably results in an unhappy
work environment. Treading that line is yet another responsibility on your
What's The Deal?
The most lucrative "meeting" you
can expect to sit through is that with the boss of a major record label! After
paying your dues on the independent circuit, it's only a matter of time before
an offer comes your way. If not, you can even barge into their offices and
perform for a deal! In any case, when the times comes, you'll find it's similar
to negotiating a contract with an employee of your own. Only the tables are
turned: instead of negotiating a reasonable deal, you're now out to get as much
as you can! As you do with your artists, the label boss will offer you a
signing-on fee, a combination of royalties, and a contract length. It's then up
to you to demand a more favourable deal, but if you push your luck you may find
that the whole thing falls through...
Even when you do settle in at a
major label, the meetings don't stop there. The boss will regularly call you
into his office to discuss your progress. More often than not, he'll have ideas
of his own about what you should be doing - and may even set you a
career-threatening ultimatum! Whether it's hiring a particular character or
achieving a particular goal, failure to obey these demands could see you demoted
back to the small-time. On the other hand, you may find that the pressure brings
out the best in you! Business meetings aren't always so tense though. In
addition to your boss, you can also get visits from other entrepreneurs and
fellow artists that want to collaborate with you. This is where your
"endorsement" royalties pay off, because you can earn millions by lending your
name to a product or selling the rights to your material...
As The World Turns
The careers of all the other
artists evolve as surely as yours does. Whether it's a change of label, a new
relationship, or a fluctuation in talent, the latest gossip is reported to you
via weekly news reports. It's important to pay close attention to the exploits
of your peers, so that you know who's worth working with and where they can be
Sometimes the news is so close to
home that you get caught up in the mess! Scandals and accusations are
commonplace in the music industry, and you're fair game as soon as you become
successful. Whether it's fellow artists, business contacts, or complete
strangers, you will regularly find yourself being dragged through the courts.
Sometimes the claims are legitimate (such as those to song rights), whilst
others are just plain bogus (even extending to claims of sexual abuse!).
However, the process is frighteningly random - so you can't rely on the judge to
make the right call. When a decision doesn't go your way, it can damage your
bank balance as much as your reputation...
With so much tension in the
industry, you'll be relieved to attend fun events such as the award ceremonies!
These crop up occasionally throughout the year to honour the finest artists in
each of 3 categories: "Best Single", "Best Album", and "Best Artist". Like the
news reports, this feature reminds you that there is an outside world to keep an
eye on. The nominees are accurately linked to who really is causing a stir in
the charts. Naturally, it's possible for you to be one of them - but it's far
from guaranteed. You genuinely have to become one of the hottest artists to
scoop one of these awards - so when it finally happens, it really is something
to celebrate! Not least because it boosts your profile like nothing else...
If you want to become an
award-winning act, it all begins in the recording studio. You can specify a
track to work on with each passing week and eventually it will materialize,
ready for you to use. When that happens, a song is blessed with 2 unique
qualities: an "entertainment" rating and an "artistic" rating. 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...
Exactly what the tracks sound
like is all down to you. The game is designed to call on a music CD or a folder
of MP3's. You can specify which one (including those of your own!) in the
"Publishing" screen. You can then customize the project further by entering the
title of the album, the title of each song - and even their style. Each track
can be assigned a style of animation (ranging from slow ballads to wild moshing!)
and also a tone (as in happy or angry). This is handy for making sure that the
performances are as faithful to the real-life material as possible. Let's face
it, the game has absolutely no hope of doing it perfectly - so it needs all the
help it can get!
Whatever your arsenal contains,
the most important part of the process is bringing it to life on stage. After
using your production skills to create the material, you now call upon your
performance skills to ensure that it's delivered properly. The better the
performer, the more likely they are to fulfil a song's maximum potential. This
is where it becomes apparent that an act is only as good as a material - because
even the best of performers can't salvage a bad song! Consistency is important
because the total entertainment of a set is the average of each song that was
delivered. This means that a good show can be tainted by one miserable
performance. Inversely, it also means that a bad show can be salvaged by pulling
an amazing performance out of the bag...
If the crowd don't make it clear
how well your set was received, the journalists certainly will! Each major
performance is followed by an actual review that summarizes the night's
entertainment (including a genuine photo from the show!). These critics pull no
punches, and won't hesitate to punish you for a lacklustre effort.
Unfortunately, their opinion matters because these reviews are instrumental to
your progress. A good review boosts the popularity and happiness of your act,
whereas a bad review does more harm than good...
Fortunately, touring isn't the
only way to make your name. You get similar review opportunities from singles and
albums once they're released. These tend to be more favourable because
the material doesn't get lost in translation. However, they're few and far
between - so they have to be deployed strategically. You can release up to 4
singles from one album, before releasing the album itself...
Before you release anything, you can even shoot your own photo for the cover!
There's a whole system in place to help you take in-game photos - and it's even
accompanied by the titles and label logos that you'd expect. You can even get a
"Parental Advisory" sticker if your reputation demands it! However, the best
thing about this feature is loading in your own designs from outside the game.
The game simply saves an image to the hard-drive, and it's right there to
replace if you so desire. It's handy for loading in the real box art when
working from your own albums...
Top Of The Pops
The box art is merely cosmetic.
What you should really pay attention to is how well the product performs in the
charts! Every week, the latest list is compiled to show the best-selling records
- and hopefully you'll be amongst them. It's far from guaranteed though. The
charts are as competitive as they are in real life - with hundreds of artists
throwing their names into the hat. The sales are accurately calculated too - so
you can see songs slowly losing their appeal, whilst newcomers storm to the
Show Me The Money!
Between CD sales, ticket sales,
and endorsements, there's a lot of money flowing into a successful act. As
accurate as it is, you'll be pleased to know that the process is blissfully
simple. Whenever a transaction occurs, the original sum is clearly stated before
it filters down to you and then onto your employees (based on the percentages
you negotiated). You're left in no doubt as to how much was made, how much you
took away, and how much you gave away. If you don't like what you see, it may be
time to talk about a new contract!
Not only do live shows bring in
gate money, but they can also be used to enhance sales elsewhere in your empire.
In addition to the more traditional venues, you may find yourself playing at
shopping malls, radio stations, TV shows, and even sporting events! Although
these venues tend to be the least spectacular, their high-profile nature brings
other benefits. A good performance here can boost an act's profile even more
than usual, and they invariably boost CD sales too - which helps to stop a
release from sliding out of the charts...
On The Road
Rarely will you be able to demand
performances at those lucrative venues, so you have to spend a lot of time
making your name on the road. There are plenty of places to visit though! All in
all, there are a dozen unique venues - ranging from humble bars to spectacular
stadiums. Many of them boast my best modelling yet too. From the stage to the
surroundings, a lot of effort has gone into making the locations look as
realistic as possible. The atmospheres are as smooth as ever too. Whether it's
the colourful ambience of an indoor venue, or the very real ambience of an
outdoor festival, the atmospheres are very convincing. Nothing makes the
atmosphere quite like the crowd though! As you'd expect, each venue has a
capacity - and they fill up according to how many fans you attracted. Rather
embarrassingly, you may find yourself performing to a half-filled venue! A
situation made all the more poignant by the fact that the attendance is linked
into the sound. The more people there are, the louder the crowd volume is. It
definitely highlights the difference an intimate crowd and a full house...
The Property Ladder
Your access to these venues is
limited to how popular you are. You have to "negotiate" bookings much like you
would a contract - and if you're not popular enough to call the shots, you may
find the doors are closed to you. Climbing up the ladder is a gradual process.
You start at bars and clubs (or maybe even busking on the streets!), before
progressing to halls, and then to stadiums. However, there are two ways of
approaching bookings. You can also specify how many songs you're willing to
perform. A long headline set might get shot down, but you can always lower your
ambitions to that of a supporting act. It doesn't pay as well per ticket, but
sometimes the experience is worth compromising for...
With all these different venues
and commitments filling up your days, you'll be grateful for the game's
scheduling system! As in the wrestling games, it clearly states what lies ahead
of you. This allows you to plan your tours efficiently, and it also helps you
prepare for big shows. Speaking of big shows, they don't get much bigger than
"Tribute" and "Charity" events! Whenever an artist passes away (which is a very
real possibility), you may find yourself participating in a huge super-card to
honour their work. As their portrait haunts you from the video screen, you
deliver a performance worthy of the occasion. Naturally, all the proceeds go to
a memorial or charity fund - but they're a priceless way of boosting your
profile and reputation...
The Hall Of Fame
No matter how many plans you
make, all things must come to an end. Although you can choose to retire at any
time, you can't rest on your laurels because failure can force you out! The longer you work, the higher the expectations are - and as soon as
you stop meeting them, it could spell the end. Retirement isn't so bad though.
Your achievements are summarized in one final news report. It states how many
weeks you were in business for, how many CD's you sold, how many awards you won,
and how much money you banked. These achievements are then ranked in the "Hall
Of Fame" for you to cherish (and compare with other efforts!)...
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