Of all the differences between Guitar Hero 5 and its predecessor, World Tour, the changes to Music Studio seem to be the most dramatic.
Before, the music-making mode was limited in what it could do, what kind of music it could produce and the interface was less than intuitive. Now, the UI has been overhauled and the options expanded so that would-be musicians can record longer songs in different genres – or completely zone out as they jam to their own private laser show. But best of all, you can now record songs as long as 10 minutes (depending on how much fancy editing you're doing within the song) and upload 50 to the Guitar Hero site instead of just three.
For my tour of the new Music Studio, Neversoft's Travis Chen walked me through the three modes – Tunes, Mix and Jam. Unfortunately, the Johnny Cash cover band blaring down below our demo site sort of made it hard to hear his music compositions (or even what he was saying, really), but the new UI is so effectively arranged, I could understand what was going on just watching him navigate menus and play notes. And thankfully skipping through menus and tracks seemed to go way faster on 5 than it used to on World Tour.
First, we went through Mix mode. Chen showed me the new sample tracks added to the lineup to get you going if you're not sure how to begin making your own song. Once you're playing down the track, you can pause and edit notes you've played – stretching them out, speeding them up or adding special effects to the note without having to re-record it. Also, Mix takes a page out of the Wii Guitar Hero's Mii Freestyle mode by letting you set down pre-created "blocks" of notes within songs much like the cards you could select in Mii Freestyle to give the mode some structure.
Next up was Jam mode – and this will probably become the default party mode for hipsters, stoners or people who've got that one artsy friend that needs to be doing something with his hands during polite conversation. Like the name suggests, you're pretty much just rocking out however you'd like in the style of one of 14 pre-sets (jazz, blues, country, etc.). The floating laser background makes this mode especially soothing and engrossing – to the point where I could remember what I'd played even five notes before my current laser-show butterfly induced haze. However, if you go on a crazy music bender and can't remember the sheer brilliance you played at 5:43, you can rewind or skip forward through the track to play certain segments. Also, you can record what you play and move it to Mix mode to edit.
Finally, Chen demoed what he could of Tunes mode for me and by now the Cash cover band had taken a break, so I was able to hear the music he played. Tunes mode is the space where you upload your creations to the music store for other people to enjoy or download for their own playlists. Chen scrolled through some the songs that we created by the Neversoft team that will ship with the game. One super-industrious tester created an insane version of Flight of the Bumblebee that even Chen couldn't pull off.
Quick note about copyrighted material: You will still get your stuff yanked if it's found to be infringing on someone else's licensed music. However, Chen says the screening process for songs like these will be far less militant and rely more on user complaints.
I finished my demo with another Neversoft-created song that turned out to be a Back medley. I don't think I'm enough of a musician (or any kind of musician, really) to ever make something so wonderful myself. But if I buy Guitar Hero 5, I'll be a getting a ticket to enjoy the brilliance of other budding musicians. I count that as a win, even though Music Studio isn't a game.