Hardcore Gaming 101: Project Diva }


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By djb and takoatma

Introduction Mix

Yamaha is known for making audio equipment. They're also known for making synthesizers. Since they've dabbled in manipulating musical instruments to generate sounds that they don't naturally make with the aid of another machine, they've decided to apply this technique to human voices. The end result of their efforts was a voice synthesizer software series called Vocaloid, which is an amalgamation of the words "Vocal" and "Android."

Now whenever you hear people mention that name, they're usually referring to the 2nd generation of this product in Japan, as one of the companies who licensed Yamaha's software over there was the first one to make it extremely popular.

How this came to be was by a combination of both smart business tactics and perfect timing, although luck might be the better term for the latter. Crypton Future Media was responsible for this phenomenon, and the reason for it becoming so overwhelmingly successful that it's already caught the eyes of several people overseas was very, very simple - instead of just simply basing the synthesizer's voice samples taken directly from a real person like it's been traditionally done with the series' first-generation software, they took it a few steps further by trying to make the product appeal to those within the doujin community.

And how they accomplished this was also just as simple: they created a manga-esque illustration of the character that was supposed to represent the synthesized voice you were going to buy. In order to appeal to the typical Japanese nerd, they decided that the character would obviously be female and have three fetishes (or four if you're into that one) tacked onto her but isn't strongly emphasized unless the end user really wanted to: zettai ryouiki (the area of uncovered thigh between the skirt and the knee sock), detached sleeves, twin pigtails, and a sailor school uniform. They also decided to take the samples from a voice actress since it tends to be more cost-effective for producers to have them sing the anime theme songs instead of hiring another singer to do that job.

Now this alone would've generated healthy sales for the software. However, they were going for the gold with the 2nd generation of Yamaha's voice synthesizer by adding one more element that would attempt to catch the eye of the mainstream - she was to be an avatar for the future of our music:

So not only is she a schoolgirl, she's a digital schoolgirl from beyond the 21st century.

And to further emphasize this trait, she was given the name "Hatsune Miku," or when translated from Japanese, "First Sound (of/from the) Future."

With all of this in place, sales exploded and Vocaloid became a household name amongst otaku almost overnight.

But it wouldn't have taken off as quickly as it did if it weren't for another deciding factor that even Crypton Future Media admits to as well: Niconico Douga (or Smile Video for those want a translation of EVERYTHING) was beginning to be used extensively despite a whole bunch of legal issues plaguing the site. While people in Japan could use Youtube to upload videos, Nicovideo had (and still does bear) a few features that Youtube didn't at the time which made it more enticing, with the most apparent one being able to easily place a block of text to appear at certain time frames within the uploaded video for every other user to see, which essentially replicated live commentary. And fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on your point of view) for Crypton, this was where the power of content creation using their software was discovered; while some were simply satisfied to upload their tunes using Miku as the vocals, more ambitious individuals decided to add animated videos to accompany their music. And with the template Crypton laid out for Miku, these people applied their own interpretations of what her personality would be like through the songs they made.

In a span of less than a year, Miku became a superstar on Nicovideo, which itself was already one of the top websites visited in Japan. A Vocaloid-specific event was in the planning stages only a few days after Crypton released Miku to the public and has already surpassed 9 meetings at the time of this writing. Some people became famous just because they were using her vocals to accompany their compositions and have even been able to sell these works either commercially or thorough special events like the aforementioned Vocaloid-specific ones or Comic Market. Someone else created Miku Miku Dance, free PC sofware which allows users to manipulate a 3D model of Miku or any of the other Vocaloids to perform various animations within whatever environment they so choose for the sole purpose of making it easier for people to create music videos. She's even made several commercial video game cameos, including Nippon Ichi's Tori no Hoshi 13 Sai No Hello World and Pangya

And a few days after Miku's first year anniversary, Sega came out of nowhere announcing something rather unexpected: they were the ones developing a videogame focused entirely on her.

...Which I initially didn't care for since it was to be on the PSP, a system I loathe for reasons that are beyond the scope of this article. But then I realized something: Sega must be pretty serious in making this if they're the first ones to be able create a game entirely focused on a Vocaloid, especially since Crypton isn't going to tolerate it if Sega ends up releasing a terrible game, since they do have a policy of only allowing people to sell works using Vocaloid products as long as they see that it doesn't ruin the software's image. Sega's culture also makes them more than qualified for handling something like this since they liked Michael Jackson enough to make a pretty neat game using him awhile back on the Sega Genesis and even brought him in for a cameo for >Space Channel 5. Sega also has a knack for making highly stylish yet wacky games that are fun to play whenever they put enough effort into it.

But all of these factors did not make me forgive Sega for bringing Project Diva to the PSP. What did it for me was this:

Well, don't just stare at the logo! CLICK IT!

Videogame Mix

Now Sega could've gone and made any kind of game with Miku, but they decided that it was probably a good idea just to focus on exactly what made her popular in the first place: personal music or music videos created either by one person or in a group which is then distributed either through the internet or at special events. But both of these are passive experiences and don't qualify as a game. So Sega just went with the tried-and-true genre paved out by Parappa the Rappa and Konami's Bemani series: the rhythm game. And since Vocaloid software essentially gives people the tools to manipulate an artificial voice to sing to a musical score, why not include some tools to allow these players to make their own custom notes to accompany the music video they created for the game and make it easy for them to distribute the data for others to enjoy?

And that's pretty much how Sega ended up with the title "Project Diva."

The rhythm mechanics of Project Diva has been finely tuned to be part of the music video itself. Instead of having the notes fall to a predetermined location like it's typically done, the note destinations pop up all over the playing field, with the notes themselves flying into the viewing area from one of the ends of the game screen and making a beeline towards it. Now sometimes this can get pretty hectic, so Sega also placed a clock hand inside the note destination that spins clockwise, and by the time it reaches the 12 o'clock mark again, the note should already be on top of it, which at that point the player needs to press the appropriate face button or else they'll drop their combo, though that doesn't help sometimes since the notes will either blend in with the background or that Sega's a bunch of perverts and decided to make the camera either cut to Miku's gyrating hips, have it placed at angles where it might accidentally reveal a panty shot, or focusing on her legs for almost no bloody reason, and... well, this.

Now if you're one of those expert rhythm game players that can pull feats off like these without much thought, you're most likely going to be disappointed by the rest of the rhythm engine, as it wasn't designed to pull that kind of stuff off. It only utilizes the PSP's four face buttons, and the notes that the player has to hit in Sega's provided songs are usually timed to coincide with Miku's voice. The engine also prohibits setting up a note that requires more than one face button to be pressed simultaneously, so there's no odd three-button note that's going to pop up during the middle of the song, nor are there ones that require the face button to be held down for a certain period of time.

But the real reason as to why Sega placed all of these restrictions into the rhythm mechanics and deliberately structured the notes to coincide with the vocals is to emphasize what the game is about: experiencing the Vocaloid phenomenon without have to spend a lot of time surfing Nicovideo or Youtube to find the best songs out there. The note markers will pop up on one location, and the player will typically react to them by scanning the rest of the screen for where the markers will lead to as well as where the notes are coming from, which always gives them a constant view of parts of the music video that isn't obscured from the all the important stuff the player needs to keep track of flying all over the place. There's even sections during the middle of some songs where no notes appear just so the player has a short moment to bask in the music video before being assaulted with another barrage of them. And even if they are close to failing the song but are near the end of it, the game will thrust the player into Chance Time mode which prevents them from both failing out if they keep missing notes during this point as well as giving them one last opportunity to get a decent score if the player managed to pick up the song's rhythm by then, as some of its easier melodies are played during this time.

What? Still don't believe me? If the player does well enough on one of those songs, it'll unlock a PV (Promotion Video, the Japanese term for music video) appreciation mode for it where they can watch the music video without the obtrusive HUD and having to worry about pressing buttons to hit the notes that are flying all over the screen. It'll also allow them to take screenshots during this mode and save them directly onto the memory stick by pressing the R button any any time throughout the entire song, but it'll leave a watermark on the top-right corner of the image.

First Generation Vocaloids






Second Generation Vocaloids
(Vocaloid 2)

Rin and Len Kagamine

Luka Megurine

Kamui Gakupo (Gackpoid)

GUMI (Megpoid)



Project Diva (PSP)

Project Diva (PSP)