Def Jam: Icon Interview


"Music is the Weapon" may be the official tagline for the detestable Revolution X, but the slogan seems more appropriate for EA Chicago's forthcoming Def Jam: Icon. Instead of acting as a typical soundtrack, Icon's music acts as a weapon with which the game's lineup of rap artists can bludgeon and bash each other. Kudo Tsunoda, the game's executive producer, took some time to answer my questions pertaining to the game's roster, the new combat controls, and why pounding your adversary with actual music is much more effective than simply throwing CDs at them.

Shack: What superstars are available in this iteration of Def Jam?

Kudo Tsunoda: We have a huge roster of artists that represent the wide variety of music styles prevalent in the hip hop scene today. Some of the superstars include The Game, T.I., Ghostface, Big Boi, Ludacris, and Paul Wall. Each of the artists has their own fighting style and moves. The cool thing about Def Jam: Icon is that each of the rappers' fighting styles are also tuned to the beats of their songs in the game. Music is such a big part of the fighting and each artist has abilities unique to them and matched to their type of beats.

Shack: What sort of character creation options are available?

Kudo Tsunoda: We have the most extensive character creation system in games today. Besides having the ability to sculpt in real-time every feature of your face and body, there are over 1,200 different items you can customize your character with. Whether it is your hairstyle, fighting style, tattoos, kicks, pants, jacket, shirts, hats, sunglasses, chains, rings, watches, whatever -- all things you can deck out your character with to create your own unique style.

Shack: Why was the decision made to transfer some of the combat controls over to the right analog stick?

Kudo Tsunoda: The right analog stick is used for the huge directional strikes and our grab and throw mechanics. We decided to put more attacking and combat abilities on the right stick not because of Fight Night Round 3, but because this was the most intuitive ... control set up for Def Jam: Icon.

The basic quick and power strikes are on the face buttons. There are four buttons -- one for quick strikes to head, one for quick strikes to body, one for power strike to

head, one for power strikes to the body. Then the right analog stick is used for directional strikes, our grab and throw mechanic, blocking, and our innovative new DJ Controls. To grab you just push up on the right analog stick and then point the stick in the direction you want to throw somebody. To do a front kick that knocks somebody backwards, you go down on the right stick and then push up, et cetera.

Both left and right analog sticks are used for our DJ Controls. The sticks are set up just like a DJ's turntables; you can use the sticks to add your own beats, trigger hazards, or switch songs during a fight to give you an advantage.

Shack: In previous Def Jams, the music was simply that: background music. How does music play a more important role in Icon?

Kudo Tsunoda: Everything in the environment animates and bumps to the beat of the music. The beats also trigger hazards that are in the environment. The main game play involves directional striking and throwing people into the hazards as they are being triggered by the beats of the music. So each player chooses a song at the beginning of the fight. Knowing the beats of the songs and having a fighting style tailored to those beats is a huge advantage. Then during the fight, you can use the DJ Controls to power down your opponent's track and power up yours.

Shack: What if I want to choose the same song as my opponent?

Kudo Tsunoda: Players have to choose different songs. We just felt that switching songs was a big part of the game play and each player should have their own beats to fight to.

Shack: Do I have to wait for the proper beat to come along in order to use my chosen music?

Kudo Tsunoda: While knowing the beats makes using the hazards easier, you can also add your own beats using the DJ Controls. You just scratch the song using the right analog stick just like a DJ would using a turntable to add your own beat and trigger a hazard.

Shack: How does the game choose which player's song will play?

Kudo Tsunoda: The game can start with either person's song playing. But again, you can switch songs using the DJ Controls so it is more user-controlled than just the game choosing for you.

Shack: In what ways can players defend themselves against these devastating music attacks?

Kudo Tsunoda: The music moves, both on offense and defense, goes back to the old school rap battles that happen between DJs in the underground clubs. If somebody grabs you to throw you on a hazard, you can scratch your analog turn table to break the grab. If you get thrown on a hazard, while your opponent is trying to scratch their turntable to trigger a beat and do damage to you, you can scratch your turntable to get up faster and get out of the way. A lot of it comes down to who is the better DJ.

Turn the page for more info on the game's music-based fighting system.


Shack: What if both players attempt to play DJ at the same time? How does the game determine who takes control?

Kudo Tsunoda: It is all done on a fighter damage system. The more damage you are inflicting on your opponent, the lower their health is. But we do not use any on screen health bars that you see in the older generation of games. All our health indicators you can see right on the in game characters via cuts, bruising, blood, and procedural animations.

Shack: Can my music increase the strength of my attacks?

Kudo Tsunoda: When you switch to the song that you chose, your fighter will get a boost to their attacks -- they go faster and they can knock you farther and with more accuracy. This gives you a better ability to use the hazards.

Shack: Are you worried that casual fans who don't know the game's music catalogue will feel alienated by the fact that, to some extent, players that know every rap song ever made may have a distinct advantage over other players?

Kudo Tsunoda: I think like any game, part of the fun is learning the features in the game. We have a great soundtrack of over 30 songs so there will be songs people know and songs people really enjoy learning. But we also developed our "My Soundtrack" feature which allows people to import any song in to the game and fight to it. If you don't know or like hip hop songs, just load up your own music.

Shack: Can players import their own custom soundtracks?

Kudo Tsunoda: Totally! This is a great feature in the game. Def Jam: Icon is the first game that actually allows you to not just play music via the Xbox 360, but actually has your music driving the core game play mechanics. You can load up any song and the music and environment will animate and bump to the beats of your music.

Shack: Can music be imported on both the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions of the game?

Kudo Tsunoda: Xbox 360 only currently.

Shack: What types of backgrounds are available--and more importantly, how destructible are they?

Kudo Tsunoda: There are 8 different environments [ranging] from a club scene, to a block down south near the ATL, to the actual set used on BET's 106 & Park show. Each environment has its own hazards. For example, in the club there is anything from a big set of speakers blasting out a giant sonic boom on the beat to go-go dancers swinging around a pole and kicking you. In the BET studio, you have a giant camera boom swinging down on the beat, light rigs that will smack you, and pyrotechnics that explode to the music.

Shack: Are all hazards visible at the start of a fight, or can I uncover extras?

Kudo Tsunoda: In each environment there are hazards that are available right at the start of the game and there are ones you uncover as the environment is getting busted up. Pretty much the entire environment can be destroyed and a big part of the fun is discovering new hazards as the fight progresses.

Shack: Winning isn't as fun unless I'm able to rub my opponent's face in his lack of skills. Any way to talk smack in Def Jam: Icon?

Kudo Tsunoda: Taunts are not only a great way to humiliate your opponent, but are also a key part of our combo system. The combos you put together in game power up your directional strikes. The more successful strikes you land, the farther your directional strikes will launch your opponent. In ICON, taunts count as a successful strike in the combo chain so you can use them to power up directional strikes and do big damage in the game.

Shack: How's the game's multiplayer shaping up?

Kudo Tsunoda: Multiplayer is definitely a huge part of our game with several different multiplayer modes. But the best thing for sure with Def Jam: Icon is that this is the first Def Jam game to have online play. So you are no longer confined to playing friends in your house -- you can know play anybody, anywhere, anytime. Thanks for your time. Anything else you'd like to add?

Kudo Tsunoda: Just a big "thanks" to Shacknews for letting me do this interview. I love your site and it will be great to see something about a game I work on posted there! I hope you have as much fun playing Def Jam: Icon as we had making it!

Def Jam: Icon is due out for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 on March 6, 2007.

Long Reads Editor

David L. Craddock writes fiction, nonfiction, and grocery lists. He is the author of the Stay Awhile and Listen series, and the Gairden Chronicles series of fantasy novels for young adults. Outside of writing, he enjoys playing Mario, Zelda, and Dark Souls games, and will be happy to discuss at length the myriad reasons why Dark Souls 2 is the best in the series. Follow him online at and @davidlcraddock.

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