Hack and / - Wii Will Rock Linux

Why should your Wii have all the fun? Find out how to connect all those Rock Band instruments to your Linux machine and use them with a number of different audio programs.

In my August 2008 column, I wrote about how to use a Wiimote from a Nintendo Wii on a Linux system as a general-purpose wireless joystick. In that column, I covered how to bind use buttons not only on the Wiimote, but also on the Nunchuck and Classic Controller, so that you could use them with a number of different video game emulators. Well, since that column, Rock Band for the Wii was released, and with it three extra peripherals: a wireless guitar, a microphone and a drum set.

Everyone knows that only old people play real guitars, so I couldn't pass up the opportunity to rock out with an entire band of plastic instruments on my Wii. I hadn't read too much beforehand about the instruments that came with Wii's Rock Band, so when I unpacked everything, I was surprised to note that all three instruments were connected to the Wii via USB. That left me with only one question, do these instruments work in Linux?

It turns out that not only do all three Rock Band instruments work in Linux, they also all work with very little extra effort. In this column, I describe how to configure Linux to see these instruments and highlight some applications you can use them with.

The Microphone

Probably the simplest instrument to get working with Linux was the microphone. The moment I plugged it in, I got dmesg output that identified it:

[  188.006918] usb 1-1: new full speed USB device 
    using uhci_hcd and address 2
[  188.132102] usb 1-1: configuration #1 chosen 
    from 1 choice
[  188.474088] usbcore: registered new interface 
    driver snd-usb-audio

I then fired up Audacity, one of my favorite sound recording programs, to see if the microphone would work. By default, Audacity was set to my system microphone, so I clicked Edit→Preferences, and under the recording section of the Audio I/O window I chose ALSA: Logitech USB Microphone: USB Audio from the Recording Device drop-down menu. I also changed it to be a Mono device.

After I clicked OK to accept my changes, I clicked the big red Record button on the main Audacity window and started talking. I was able to see my voice in the output immediately, and once I clicked the Stop button and played it back, I definitely was able to hear myself.

Figure 1. Audacity

The Guitar

Considering how easy it was to use the microphone, I wondered what Linux would make of the wireless guitar. It appeared to connect a lot like a wireless mouse or keyboard with a small USB dongle that had a connect button you could use to sync with the wireless device. When I connected the dongle, I could see in the dmesg output that my Ubuntu Hardy install had detected the device as some sort of USB Human Interface Device (HID):

[  775.322361] usb 1-1: new full speed USB device 
    using uhci_hcd and address 3
[  775.369009] usb 1-1: configuration #1 chosen 
    from 1 choice
[  775.525791] usbcore: registered new interface 
    driver hiddev
[  775.531822] input: Licensed by Nintendo of America  
    Harmonix Guitar Controller for Nintendo Wii as
[  775.545411] input,hidraw0: USB HID v1.11 Gamepad 
    [Licensed by Nintendo of America  Harmonix Guitar 
    Controller for Nintendo Wii] on usb-0000:00:1d.0-1
[  775.545444] usbcore: registered new interface 
    driver usbhid
[  775.545451] /build/buildd/linux-2.6.24/drivers/hid/
↪usbhid/hid-core.c: v2.6:USB HID core driver

It appeared like a new gamepad device had been installed under /dev/input/js0, so I used the useful jstest utility (packaged by a number of distributions) to test whether the buttons on the guitar generated events. To use jstest, simply execute the program with the joystick device to test as an argument (in my case, /dev/input/js0). Each time a joystick event is registered, the output in the terminal updates. The four lines shown in Figure 2 are examples of the output when I pressed and released the green and red buttons on the guitar, respectively.

Figure 2. jstest Output

If you compare the lines, you can see that the green button corresponded to button 1, and the red button corresponded to button 2. Because the guitar interfaces directly with Linux like a regular joystick device, that means I can use its buttons with any game that supports joysticks.

Of course, probably the best game for the Rock Band guitar on Linux is Frets on Fire. Frets on Fire is an open-source guitar game written in Python and packaged for a number of distributions and operating systems. By default, it is designed to be used with your regular keyboard held in your hands somewhat like a guitar. The F1–F5 keys are frets on the guitar, and the Enter key can be used to strum. That works okay, but it certainly is nicer to use a guitar intended for the purpose, and sure enough, Frets on Fire supports remapping the default keyboard keys to joystick buttons.

To configure Frets on Fire for my guitar, all I needed to do was start the game, go into Settings and then modify the key settings. I just went through each key configured for the game, selected it, and then when it asked me to press a new key to set it to, I chose the corresponding key on the guitar. After you change the keys in this method, you will notice that you can navigate the Frets on Fire game completely from your guitar. You can strum up or down to move through the menus and use the green button to make selections.

Figure 3. Frets on Fire Key Settings

Figure 4. Frets on Fire Gameplay


Kyle Rankin is VP of engineering operations at Final, Inc., the author of many books including Linux Hardening in Hostile Networks, DevOps Troubleshooting and The Official Ubuntu Server Book, and a columnist for Linux Journal. Follow him @kylerankin


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excuse me I got the rock

Dominicque Lorenzi's picture

excuse me
I got the rock band 2 wii drums and I got the double bass attachment and a double cymbal expansion
do you think hydrogen will seperate these ass seperate sounds as the game does in the freestyle mode or will it just be interpreted as yellow and blue

also I got ubuntu 8.10 (Intrepid Ibex) so this maybe different...but I'm having a hard time opening jstest and joy2key