"Timbaland knows the way to reach the top of the charts / Maybe if I work with him I can perfect the art."
So sang Weezer on their 2008 single, Pork and Beans. It's a piece of advice that Rockstar has taken to heart, working alongside the lauded producer to create Beaterator - the brand new music creation tool for the PSP. You might have doubts about whether a handheld console is really the best platform for a tune-making program, but as it turns out this one of the best mix-em-ups we've seen in quite some time.
Beaterator kicks off with a sublime video in which Timbaland himself explains the various modes on offer, introducing the entire package via an a cappella mix of beat-boxing and rap. It's an unbelievably cool start to proceedings, to the extent that I found myself sitting through the whole thing every time I started up the program ("game" would be a bit of a misnomer). As it turns out, this intro is also fairly indicative of Rockstar's overall approach to presentation - both in terms of its slickness and in its willingness to explain the various features and options that are on offer.
In broad terms, there are two experiences available here. During Live Play you choose a pre-set collection of audio loops (samples that can be played over and over) and use them to mix music on the fly. The player is presented with eight mini-menus, one for each of the eight audio tracks that can combine to make a song. Every menu is associated with a different musical element - one might be basslines, while another might be a lead melody - and within each category you have four loops, one for each of the PSP's four face buttons. When you activate one loop it'll start to play in an endless cycle, allowing you to go off and activate another one: you might start with some drums, add in a bit of synth and some bass, then pull the synth away and replace it with some strings.
There are several different song templates to choose from, each focusing on a different musical genre, and you're able to record your creations, but to be honest this is the most limited part of the Beaterator package. Live Play is just a quick and easy way to play around with samples; it's largely just a spot of fun, a point emphasised by the cartoon Timbaland who dances about in the background during play. That's all well and good, but the meat of Beaterator lies in its more creative toolsets.
The other two modes on offer are Studio and Song Crafter, and each is designed to work with the other. In the Studio the player can manually select a collection of elements for each of their eight tracks, plucking each loop from a library of thousands, or they can set about building their own loops from scratch. You can do this in different ways, but in a nutshell you pick an instrument and then either "play" the new loop by using the PSP as a sound pad, or else you manually arrange the notes by setting them out on a timeline. It sounds complicated, but as with everything else in Beaterator, there's a help video that clearly explains everything you need to do. You'll be offered this assistance every time you enter a new editor, and Rockstar allows you to pause and rewind these instructions - so you can go over something a few times if you're having trouble understanding it. When you know what you're doing you can turn these tutorials off, but they're a massive help in the early days.