Special: Minus the annoying boy bands... unless that's what you want.
Have you ever played a game that had awful, ear polluting music? I bet you have, and I bet you either turn off the music, or mute the TV and play a CD through your normal music player. Now, what would you say if you could substitute that crap music for some of your own tunes, in the actual game? That way you could enjoy the sound effects of the game, while still listening to your own tunes as you race, skateboard, or play the latest cheese-extreme sports game. I bet you'd say, ?Sign me up!?
That's where the Xbox comes in ? not only is Microsoft's console wonder a powerful machine for games, it doubles as a great DVD player, and thanks to the ability to rip your own music and play CD's, the Xbox's music manager becomes the 3rd wheel of a great overall home game console. Instead of just being there as a feature, working in the ability to listen to your own music adds not only entertainment to a possibly poor musical experience, it adds a multitude of your own personality into your favorite games that support it.
How Does It Work?
When you put a regular CD into the Xbox, the console automatically recognizes the CD and begins to play it. This is fine for just listening to a CD while you do other things, and with the DVD remote you can handle all the commands using that instead of the controller. If you want a lightshow, you can hit the info button on the DVD remote and you'll get one of those trippy things that try to freak out your mind.
That's all well and good, but you still can't listen to the CD while you play a game ? since you kinda sorta have to put an Xbox game disc into the console to play it. So, in order to pick out a few tunes to jam to, you'll have to rip some songs onto the roomy Xbox hard disk. All you have to do is go backwards a bit on the X-Dashboard, and select copy. From there you can select the songs you want to copy, and the last step before the process begins is to select a soundtrack. So if you have a soundtrack for playing Project Gotham, and another for playing Tony Hawk 2x. You can designate a ?PGR? and ?THPS? soundtrack and fill it up with your favorites. There isn't a limit to how many songs you can put in a soundtrack, but there is a limit to how many songs can be ripped on to the hard disk (which is a lot).
Just as an added note, the discs need to be CDA, or Compact Disc Audio. You can't give the Xbox a disc of MP3's and let it convert, since it only recognizes CDA files.
Contrary to the norm, songs are not ripped in the standard MP3 format most of us use for listening to digital music. Instead, the Xbox uses a special version of WMA, also known as Windows Media Audio. This isn't too shocking, considering Microsoft makes the system, as well as the WMA format. Cuts down on costs, no? The songs are encoded with encryption methods, which make your songs copy protected. So no going on WinMX or Morpheus using your Xbox and sharing songs with the world once you can go online with it. The ripping process takes only a few minutes and I have yet to have any problems when ripping a song.
Each song, if you estimate that they only last about 4-5 minutes (minus Dream Theater songs anyway, those last hours sometimes), takes about 200 blocks of your Xbox hard drive. Halo takes about 230 or so for one character save?thus it isn't quite that bad in terms of memory conservation. And despite having a bunch of songs ripped, along with a handful of game saves, my HD still says 50,000+ blocks available. So go wild with your ripping.
What about CD-Rs and CD-RWs?
Microsoft obviously is looking out for ?The Man? with this feature, because only regular music CD's will work on the Xbox, with CDA files on it. CD-R's will not work. I've tried many brands of CD-Rs that I use and none of them work in the console, instead it just asks me to put a DVD, Xbox game, or music CD in. However, CD-RW's do work on the Xbox, for some reason. I haven't tested this myself, since I don't have any CD-RW discs, but apparently they do work, as long as you close the session and make it a regular audio CD that way. Why it reads CD-RW's and not CD-R's is beyond me, but whatever works.
How's It Work While Playing?
Seamlessly. For instance, if you're playing Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2x, when you pause the game and go to sound options, you can select right on there the soundtrack type? the regular songs included, and whatever soundtracks you have stored on your HD. Same goes for another big Xbox game that allows this, Project Gotham Racing. Obviously, game developers aren't going to make it a pain in the arse to use the feature, thus making it so user friendly it is a strong bonus that encourages the customization process.
And if you ask me, mixing your own songs into the fray makes the experience of a game much more personalized and real. Many games have forgettable music, but when your own favorites work into the actual gameplay, it changes the game.
Actually, it's rather fun to mix up different song styles with different games, because they change the pace of the game completely. Playing one of those extreme sports games while listening to something fast, can speed up the pace, but changing it around with some slower music makes the pace much more deliberate. Just goes to show what music does to people.
What Games Support It?
Since the console is still brand new, not many games support it. Partially because the feature wasn't implemented, others because they just wouldn't work. As comical as it might be to listen to Britney Spears while playing Halo and blowing the shit out of the Covenant, it just wouldn't work given the game's mood and emotion. Others simply wont use the feature for their own reasons (which I'll touch on in a bit). But for now, these are the current games that allow for your own music:
Project Gotham Racing
Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2x
Transworld Surf (Ed. Note: I couldn't find the feature in this game)
Dave Mirra Freestyle BMX 2
This is by no means a large list, but a great start, and this number will surely increase plenty in the coming months.
Some companies are slightly concerned about using this feature due to the touchy copyright issues. For instance, the upcoming Sega game Jet Set Radio Feature will not support it. The reason? Smilebit is concerned about artists not being compensated for their songs being used in the game. Instead they hope that JSRF's music will be enough to tide over those who happen to be disappointed with this feature.
This trend seems to be common abound Japanese companies who obviously don't think Xbox's copy protection ability is enough. I don't think it's because of copyright laws, but more along the lines of compensating the artists. But that's a whole ?nother can of worms that's better suited for a different topic and website.
Eventually most games will use this feature in some form or another. WWF Raw doesn't have this feature yet, but Anchor claims the sequel will allow for this ability. This could drastically enhance the games replay department, especially for creating wrestlers. With this, you could scour the Internet for the theme song of an old-school wrestler, put it on a CD-RW, import it to the HD, and apply it to that wrestler in-game for a much more true to life experience.
Eventually almost all racing games and extreme sports games will all have this feature ? and it may be possible that some games won't even come with music ? instead it will search for your soundtrack and apply it to the game automatically. While I don't see Halo 2 having this, or the next Oddworld game, I do figure to see Wreckless 2 (if there is one) and games of that ilk support it for maximum personalization.
Honestly, I really think the ability to rip songs to a hard disk is part of the future of gaming, to immerse the player even more into the world of a particular game by making it more tuned to the tastes of the gamer. And what a concept that is.
While using the Xbox as a jukebox, or as a replacement for game music isn't really necessary gamewise, the ability to replace a soundtrack that may not be to your liking with your own music makes the game that much more satisfying to play, especially if the gameplay is still great. As more and more games use the feature, and in different ways, you'll see how much better your own music makes the experience of playing your games. So enjoy your Xbox ? the games, DVD, and jukebox mega-machine.