sumthing else

Insider Blog

This is a bit of a shameless plug, but I do not think it’s without merit. If you’ve never heard of the Videri String Quartet, I encourage you to read on.

The violist, Rosie Samter, started the quartet in 2012. She’s not a gamer, but fell in love with video game music while playing with the Video Game Orchestra. She joined that group while studying at the Boston Conservatory.

The other members of Videri (Aubrey Holmes, Lizzie Jones and Jeremiah Barcus) are from the Conservatory as well; and let’s be clear, the Boston Conservatory is a highly regarded musical institution.

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When I was in Boston recently for PAX East, I crashed at Rosie’s house. I had a chance to learn a lot about the quartet, like how they choose music, which composers they’ve worked with (folks like Austin Wintory, Peter McConnell, Garry Schyman and Dren McDonald) – even how they practice.

About the first – how they choose music – it’s as simple as finding great arrangements of music that make sense. They work with arrangers who understand how to write for a string quartet: a string quartet is a fickle beast – there are four players, each with their own part – it’s intimate, and almost naked. Some of the best music in the world is for string quartet, which would intimidate the heck out of me, personally. People like Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Shostakovich, Bartok, Dvorak, Ravel and Mendelssohn wrote epic string quartets, and I could go on and on.

The Videri players know those famous compositions quite well. They’ve studied them throughout their lives, played many of them, listened to them – they are students of the art.

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When they practice, they record themselves and talk about how to make things sound better. Like all good string quartets, they’re more or less family. They hang out together, make decisions together, travel together. I’ve been around the block enough to know that being in a string quartet isn’t like work or a job; it’s a lifestyle.

You can find out more about them here. I have the Portals album, and it’s great. They have a handful of videos you can watch on the website. I love love love love love the Halo Medley they do. It’s really beautiful.

I’m pretty sure they’re working on another album, and I hope there are more and more and more in the future. What music do you think they should include on their next project?

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Emily Reese is an on-air host for Classical Minnesota Public Radio. She is also the host and producer for Top Score, Classical MPR’s podcast about video game soundtracks, and created MPR’s Listening to Learn series. She earned an undergrad certificate in music education and jazz studies from the University of Colorado — Boulder, and a Master’s degree in music theory from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Emily lives in Twin Cities with her cats Atticus, June Bug and Lee, and loves gaming, with or without friends.

The sound of the chiptune is by nature a fiendishly compressed one. If you choose to create a set of songs in this genre, at first I imagine you would have at least some difficulty coming to grips with the inherent limitations of your chosen horn. Limitations it seems, however, do little if anything to impede, dissuade, or prevent the chiptune artist in dictating his or her melody through the brittle wired tentacles of this instrument, despite the hampering of static with which the mouthpiece is charged. Recently Sumthing Else Music Works added a sizable stable of chiptune artists to their catalog and to celebrate, I thought I might play you a few of my favorites.

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Listen: KRUNCH OST by Disasterpeace & Dirk Rugged

Let’s not talk about KRUNCH as a software; let’s talk about KRUNCH as a reel-to-reel record: An LP that is loose of the tin-pan and jarring treble that has come to define the sound of this music. KRUNCH is an eyeful of colorful free association that is given both thickness and heart through therapy.  Not content to sit too long in their chairs, this duo is prone to physical outbursts. They explore their disconnect, their deep-seated and painful memories. This analysis, however goes beyond thorough examination, as even the most negligible and superficial events will be combed through: the hues prevalent in their dreams, overheard mindless gossip, and horoscopes on the second Thursday of each month. KRUCH culminates its psychological fixations with tearful transference placed upon their practitioner and surprising explanation of the collapse of function that brought them here. This room was to be their safe place, and KRUNCH illustrates their imaginative, confrontational and heartbreaking move to padded cell.

Chiptunes 2

Listen: Sysop – Modemoiselle by ComputeHer

Beat and hook are two of the most pronounced and important ingredients when dealing inside the gauntlet of 0/1/1/0 musical time signature. Granted, you could look elsewhere for a groove and chorus, but the chances are the two constituents you’d find would ring deflated, ornery and tired. You’ve heard these rhythms before; you have NOT heard ComputeHer’s Modemoiselle: it exploits the nature of the chiptune, drawing canvas to full extent by proudly accentuating the concentration of bleeps that make up the record’s shaded strokes. Modemoiselle understands that to engage new converts, you must make them fully aware of the offerings and knick-knacks hidden inside your coat pockets. Show them the merchandise that is on-hand, not ideas from a catalog. You came to hear a hard drive sputter and Modemoiselle wiselyrejects the penchant to lean too heavily on collaboration with live instruments, opting instead to glamorize and revel in spools of enslaved viral code.

Chiptunes 3

Listen: Safety Comes First – Silo 64 by 8 Bit Weapon

8 Bit Weapon should be considered a caustic frontline necessity and Silo 64 is its war.  In war why would anyone settle for jolting their enemy to their feet, when they have the means to send them sprinting, cowering back into their foxholes with multiple calculated blasts? 8 Bit Weapon wants to violently shake its audience out from underneath those few remaining pockets of safety. 8 Bit Weapon is not collecting POWs here; it’s counting bodies. An expert in the field of war game psychosis, 8 Bit Weapon uses its tactical campaign, waged against the inhabitants of Silo 64, to perfectly highlight its unapologetic, simple-yet-brilliant missile strategy: Hit them hard, then hit them harder!

All of these records can be purchased right here on Sumthing.com.

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Having fallen in love only 4 times in his life Geno counts Double Dragon as his second and truest love.  He has worked in record retail since 2000 and believes David Hayter to be the one true Solid Snake.  Currently, he is putting together a band which only perform songs from Street Fighter 3rd Strike.

What does it take to write music for video games? Hear from six of the industry’s most accomplished composers with diverse musical backgrounds as they share their experiences and discuss the craft of scoring music for some of the most popular franchises in interactive entertainment.  Hosted by our very own blogger and host of Top Score on Minnesota Public Radio Emily Reese!  Watch the full panel from PAX East 2014 in the video below!

Featuring award-winning composers Garry Schyman (BioShock series), Peter McConnell (Broken Age, Sly Cooper, Psychonauts, Grim Fandango), Cris Velasco (Company of Heroes 2, Mass Effect 3, Borderlands 1 & 2, God of War Trilogy), Tom Salta (Halo: Spartan Assault, Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary, Ghost Recon, Red Steel), Mark Morgan (Wasteland 2, Fallout 1 & 2), Billy Martin (Rayman Legends, Rayman Origins).

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Peter McConnell & Billy Martin

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Tom Salta & Cris Velasco

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Garry Schyman

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Mark Morgan

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The music of Killer Instinct will always remain close to my heart, even if it was a product of its time. When I was a kid just getting into music, Killer Cuts and Gold Cuts were very influential for me thanks to their incredible mix of dance, pop, industrial, and electro-funk, very popular genres of the 90’s. Even today, these soundtracks from composers Graeme Norgate and Robin Beanland are regarded as some of the best game soundtracks. KI as a whole represented a proud, unashamed snapshot of everything that was “cool” and popular during that time.

So, when a new KI was announced at E3 in 2013, I had a miniature freak out just thinking about the implications of a new Killer Cuts album. Even though a new OST hasn’t yet been announced, Mick Gordon, composer of the new music for KI, has teased it via Twitter and even asked for fan input.

As a huge fan of KI’s music, I have to say that I’m extremely impressed with Gordon’s work thus far on his Soundcloud page. He’s clearly a fan, and that he “gets it”. He also seems to know exactly what other fans would like to hear, and is even throwing little references to the original music in his work.

But how did we get here? A lot has changed over the last 20 years, for games and for music. Let us embark on a musical journey of cheesy 90’s video game music and how it was reimagined and reinvigorated for a new decade of gaming. (Check out PART 1 here)

Sabrewulf

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Sabrewulf’s theme, or, “Tooth and Claw” on Killer Cuts, fits the character perfectly but is very unlike the rest of the songs on the album. Rather than going for a pop, dance, or industrial vibe like almost every other track, his theme focuses on classic horror elements, particularly werewolf-themed ones. Dramatic violins, organs, and even a wolf howl round this one out. I found it very reminiscent of Castlevania.

Sabrewulf’s theme for Gold Cuts does something similar, but has a much more dramatic tone, with glorious 16-bit horn samples. It has a much more action-oriented feel to it, something the 2013 version would embrace… sort of.

Gordon’s take on Sabrewulf’s theme harkens back to the original “Tooth and Claw” track, but clearly has its own identity. Frantic, eclectic string instruments are used to great effect, creating the most unsettling of all the new themes. His amazing use of percussion and brief stops in the music also creates an amazingly brooding and impending theme depicting Sabrewulf’s descent into madness.

Spinal

Killer Instinct 2B

Of all the themes, Spinal’s seems to have the most natural progression from where it started to where it is now. The instrumentation used to create that erratic “bone sound” (forgive me, I have no idea what it’s called), has remained a staple of his theme since the beginning.

From the moment Killer Cuts’ “Ya Ha Haa” begins, it paints the perfect picture for the type of character Spinal is – unpredictable, ruthless, and cutthroat. For his updated theme on Gold Cuts, more choir chants were added to give him a creepier, more demonic tone.

Gordon took these as inspiration for Spinal’s new theme and created something that completely surpasses the originals.

Through his Twitter account, Gordon revealed that creating Spinal’s theme was a global effort, combining the talents of 20 people across five countries over three months’ time. The “Spinal Choir” consisted of 13 men singing in Swedish and Gothenburg, written by Gordon himself and Pontus Rufelt. Also, as a fun fact, the “horn” sound you hear over the “Ready” text is the sound of a Tibetan Kangling, a human leg bone flute. An actual HUMAN BONE was used in the making of this one track. How metal is that?!

Fulgore

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The cybernetic knight Fulgore has been the face of KI since the beginning. His menacing mug adorns the box art of the SNES game, and to this day remains one of the most iconic fighting game characters. His blood-red eyes, dual arm blades and helmet plume are unmistakable, and a perfect way to end the Xbox One’s first season of content.

Creating a theme for an iconic character such as Fulgore requires a careful and respectful touch, something he has more or less received over the course of three games. His theme on Killer Cuts (titled “Full-bore”) portrays him as this unstoppable force that has escaped confinement. An eerie siren starts off this track, followed with some staccato percussion evoking the sound of clanging metal. Some effective electronic sounds and synthesizers complete Fulgore’s brooding industrial theme, a tone that did not continue on with Gold Cuts.

Fulgore’s theme for KI Gold starts off with some unfortunate butt-rock guitar soloing, a sound that has aged even more poorly thanks to the Nintendo 64’s sound processor. Thankfully, the crummy guitar samples are mostly short-lived, as the chorus features an otherworldly melody. Appropriate assembly line and machinery sounds depict a new Fulgore model being assembled midway through this track. Makes sense, since the KI canon states Jago destroyed the first Fulgore model during the original game.

Canonical accuracies aside, Fulgore’s theme for Xbox One is a total sonic assault on the ears, making up for any cheesiness in Gold Cuts. Starting off by paying homage to the original Killer Cuts track with the signature siren erupting in the background, Gordon’s new theme quickly erupts into furious double bass drumming and pummeling guitar riffs. Just fast forward to 00:57 and listen in awe of this track’s unrelenting ferocity.

At about the 2:04 mark, fans will notice once again that Gordon pays tribute to the past, this time to Gold Cuts, by incorporating Fulgore’s chorus, and it works out perfectly. The new direction that Gordon takes Fulgore’s theme strikes the perfect balance of being completely awesome and new while still paying respect to the original music, which is the mark of a talented, true fan. Well done, sir.

Main Theme and Character Select

KI’s Main Theme and Character Select theme haven’t changed much over the course of each game. The new ones are heavier, louder, and much more impactful, but that is to be expected. Their general melody and tone has remained the same, which is very good for fans of the game and its continuity.

The Main Theme, which has been a staple of the series (and one of the coolest main themes in my opinion), has aged amazingly well. This YouTube video uploaded by user Patricio Herrera perfectly mixes the three Main Themes together so you can hear their evolution:

However, I will say that the guitars sound a bit more muffled here than in the game itself, but you get the idea.

The Character Select theme, which wasn’t introduced as its own track until Gold Cuts, underwent a few changes, namely from being more dramatic to just straight-up-in-your-face metal. For Killer Cuts, it only appeared briefly at the end of the track “The Instinct” at around the 4:08 mark. Here, it appears as a much more dramatic and creepy theme.

On Gold Cuts, it gets a bit grittier and edgier thanks to the electric guitar samples. However, Gordon’s new version blows the old ones out of the water. Heavier and harder, the new Character Select theme hits with more impact than ever before. It really makes you feel like you’re pitting the ultimate badasses against each other.

As of this writing, neither Microsoft nor Mick Gordon has announced a new Killer Cuts album. As a fan it’s frustrating to not have an official release yet, especially considering the original Killer Cuts album came packaged with the game during a time when game music wasn’t really a priority for game publishers and developers. I’m confident an album will be announced at some point though, so until then, lets at least enjoy the evolution of Killer Instinct’s music!

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Tyler is the managing editor of Gamemusicfans.com, a small site dedicated to promoting video game music and composers. He lives in Milwaukee, WI with his wife and 2 cats. Tyler met his wife playing Mass Effect 3 online multiplayer, and each have tattoos to honor their special bond. Together in their spare time, they enjoy gaming, cooking, and listening to music. You can follow Tyler @Tylertr0n for semi intelligent tweets and cat pics.

 

Borderlands 2 Volume 2

 

Featuring previously unreleased music by Jesper Kyd and Cris Velasco,
Soundtrack to be released digitally April 15

Sumthing Else Music Works, the premier record label dedicated to video game soundtracks, presents a Volume Two soundtrack featuring previously unreleased original music from the blockbuster Role-Playing-Shooter, Borderlands® 2. The Borderlands 2 Volume Two Original Soundtrack will be available digitally from iTunes, Amazon.com, Sumthing.com and other music sites on April 15.

Borderlands 2 Volume Two Original Soundtrack features the remaining original music scores composed by Jesper Kyd (Assassin’s Creed) and Cris Velasco (God of War), and several tracks from Raison Varner (Gearbox Software). The Borderlands 2 team of composers created a colorful and dynamic music score fusing multiple music styles for the game’s adrenaline-fuelled combat and diverse atmospheric environments. Music samples from Borderlands 2 Volume Two Original Soundtrack are available on SoundCloud and the album is now available to pre-order at Sumthing.com.

Developed by Gearbox Software and published by 2K Games, Borderlands 2 is the sequel to the critically acclaimed four-player cooperative shooter-looter that combined intense first-person mayhem with role-playing gameplay. For more information visit www.borderlands2.com or Facebook.com/BorderlandsGame.

Sometimes, I wish I could dial back the difficulty settings in life. Most of us are set on HELL MODE from the day we’re born.

For me, this is an important part of why I dislike hard games.

I’ve battled through several games of late, including Infamous: Second Son, Luftrausers, Demon’s Souls, Thomas Was Alone, Lone Survivor, Thief, Guacamelee and Rayman Legends, to name a few (along with the ever-present Diablo 3).

The savvier gamers will understand which of these is hard from the outset: Luftrausers and Demon’s Souls. First however, let’s talk about Infamous: Second Son and its siblings, Infamous and Infamous 2.

The Infamous series makes me feel like a major league gamer. In the first two games, I played through the Normal difficulty with good karma and Hard with bad karma. When playing Infamous as a good conduit, you can’t kill civilians without taking a hit to your overall karma; in effect, you must be careful where you fire your powers.

Sucker Punch expanded upon this in Second Son by adding safe-zones or hot-spots on enemy bodies, depending on which power you’re using. If you peg an enemy with a headshot while using your smoke powers, you’re able to subdue them without killing them. However, if you fire a headshot at an enemy with neon powers, you’ll automatically ‘obliterate’ them, earning you bad karma. You need to pay attention to where you shoot, and I enjoy this aspect of the gameplay.

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Purchase the Infamous: Second Son soundtrack here!

Good karma requires good precision. Bad karma really doesn’t. I save that for the Hard playthrough so I can fire at will. Honestly, it makes the Hard playthrough much easier, and I can earn my platinum trophy without too much sweat. Yay, I win the game.

Game Informer’s Tim Turi kept pestering me about playing Luftrausers. He knew I’d appreciate the music in the game, which is indeed phenomenal. It’s a shoot-‘em-up airplane game with old-school graphics and dozens of ways to upgrade your plane. Cool thing: as you upgrade your plane, the soundtrack changes. Each upgrade has a unique loop that mixes with the other upgrades, creating multiple different soundtracks.

Luftrausers gives you goals to reach, which unlock your upgrades. Goals like, “Kill 6 enemies without taking damage”, or “Kill a battleship” or “Kill a blimp”. My friend Paul and I played the game for a couple hours; never saw a blimp.

So I tweet Tim, and I’m like, “What’s a blimp?”

He says, “The blimp appears if you survive long enough. You uh… can’t miss it. ;D.”

Hah. “Survive long enough.” Exactly.

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“Unleash ze BLIMP!!”

Luftrausers is really hard. I’d love to be able to unlock all the upgrades and hear as many combinations of the soundtrack as I can, but that will never happen. I swear to you, my highest score so far is something like 9,000 points, and it might take me eternity to make that score again. Maybe I’m too old? I dunno. It’s hard, and I feel bad for the composer that I’ll never hear all of his music. I’ll have to listen on YouTube or something, and I won’t experience it first-hand as a gamer.

I don’t need to go on and on about Demon’s Souls. Part of that game’s “draw” is its difficulty, and I knew this when I bought it, so shame on me. Let’s just say I spent a lot of time choosing my class based off of class-build forums, and I thought I had a decent chance. I learned pretty early that you cannot pause the game, and that’s just insanity, because humans need to pause from time to time, but whatever. I played on, thought I was doing well, then I died (totally because I got all cocky).

Fine, I can handle dying, no bigs. It spawned me all the way at the beginning of the area again, and I thought, whatever, I’ll just run back to where I died.

Nope. You gotta kill every a-hole again, including all the ones that you barely survived the first time through. Again, I say “nope.”

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I have plenty of “brick wall” moments in real life. Sometimes, all I need to do is wake up, and I feel like I’m hitting a brick wall. Most of us have days like this. I don’t want to feel like I’m playing a game where the purpose is to repeatedly bang your head against a brick wall. They should’ve named that game Demon’s Walls or Brick’s Souls instead.

Perhaps people who don’t feel challenged in real life enjoy these games? I feel like that’s a horribly overblown statement. But I am curious why people enjoy games that are stupid hard. I like to feel the illusion of winning. I like to win! Yay, winning! Perhaps that’s part of the problem.

Tell me about the hardest game you played, the hardest game you beat, and the hardest game you hated. And come see me in Boston this Saturday!

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Emily Reese is an on-air host for Classical Minnesota Public Radio. She is also the host and producer for Top Score, Classical MPR’s podcast about video game soundtracks, and created MPR’s Listening to Learn series. She earned an undergrad certificate in music education and jazz studies from the University of Colorado — Boulder, and a Master’s degree in music theory from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Emily lives in Twin Cities with her cats Atticus, June Bug and Lee, and loves gaming, with or without friends.

It’s no secret: I’ve been collecting video games for a very, very long time. Shocking news I know. It’s funny how after you initially begin to amass a catalog of software, you seldom look back to question why you do it. I haven’t thought twice about it in over 20 plus years. Mostly, there’s been no real reason to do so; if it’s boxed, mint and complete, I want it. I even recall a few instances where foolishly money seemed to be no object; It can be an addiction like anything else, and it can be incredibly hard to tame.

It becomes a cycle without limits and without reason. So how did it start? I got my answer this past weekend , as I was reminded exactly why I ever began the practice of hoarding cartridges and game disks in the first place.

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So my friends Frank, Jorge, Mike and I are going around to Phoenix’s game shops. No big deal, we spend a couple hours pouring over cases of pristine copies of Breath Of Fire and Enemy Zero (which Frank picked up.) We pick through old strategy guides; Jorge is complaining as he usually always does, and Mike buys an original Gameboy… sedate, enjoyable and expensive. Hours later, though, I was still waiting for something to choose me, from high atop one of those shelves. Seemingly each store disappointed my hunger, an almost carnal need to leave with something fantastic. But then…

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But first…a couple of things you should know. When you’re first building a collection you have to make some rules, otherwise your personal museum of game software will never truly flourish. I have made two tenets the bible for my game expansion. Number 1: Focus on the ONE collection, and be ready to neglect anything else you enjoy more casually. I don’t have a ton of figurines, and my DVD library is tiny. I buy games. PERIOD. Number 2: I do not to seek out complete Nintendo games (cardboard boxes/ manual/ Styrofoam) The cost of procuring these can become prohibitively expensive, and your stock only increases by one title. I of course have some games in this condition, just not too many. And this is what I want to talk about, because I officially got rid of this rule last Friday, wiping it permanently from my dry-erase board. A time-tested adage such as this did not come down with any amount of ease, but it did, and here’s why… back to the story!

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So there we are shopping and Frank points out a wall of complete Nintendo games, while Mike, having paid for his Gameboy, is already playing his newly purchased machine, and Jorge…well he’s still complaining. I am in the middle of trying to complete a few game libraries both Ninja Gaiden and Metal Gear. I glance over and I faintly make out two complete NES Ninja Gaiden games. My mind immediately starts churning total cost and benefit versus con: There they are, what do I do? I railed against the idea for a minute, but as soon as the employee put the boxes in my hand the whole thing became elevated, spiritual even. I was immediately transported to 1989.

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It wasn’t just 1989, but the dead of summer 1989: I remember vividly being in Sears department store. It was the first time I had ever seen or heard of Ninja Gaiden: its factory seal, golden looking even under the glare of bad fluorescent lighting, trapped, imprisoned under that glass display. I began to tremble, spouting excited gibberish; I had to take a knee. This game was mine, and it was coming with me right now! Sadly, it didn‘t happen, and I was crushed. I rented it a bit later, but it is simply not the same to rent games: you have to own them. Somehow Ninja Gaiden had to be annexed to my then-microscopic amount of belongings.

I quickly devised a plan to keep this possibility alive: I frequently spent hours staring at the picture of the game in the Sears catalog that came in the mail, imagining that if I stared at it long and hard enough, somehow it would materialize in my hand. It was as if that pamphlet were a gifted Soothsayer. It would both prognosticate and facilitate that final transaction at the Sears cash register. All I had to do was sear that image of Ninja Gaiden’s box into my whole being. On the many subsequent trips to Sears that summer, never did that verdict change: I never got to own Ninja Gaiden. I never forgot that catalog though, as it felt like a piece of divine providence, and as the cashier handed me that pair of Ninja Gaiden games, it felt as if the creases in that 20-year-old advertisement’s celestial prophecy had finally become straightened. My chance to take it home was finally here.

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It didn’t take long; within the span of two minutes I had the games all bagged up, protected by size-perfect hard plastic sleeves, and IT FELT SO GOOD. This was a premium moment, layered in victory, and oozing with personal contentment. Without question it is also one of the most amazing game purchases I have made in the last 8 years. It is also why I have forever dropped the ban on buying complete NES titles: I want to always remember being that kid who wasted hours salivating over chain-store circulars pining for games, falling for games, ONLY wanting games. To me, that’s a pure memory: having everything in front of me, but all I care about is Ninja Gaiden. I started collecting software to keep that vision absolutely unclouded, visceral and always with me. That, and making sure, of course, that it’s all from a smoke-free, pet-free home, complete, boxed, and mint.

Yes… how far I have come.

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Having fallen in love only 4 times in his life Geno counts Double Dragon as his second and truest love.  He has worked in record retail since 2000 and believes David Hayter to be the one true Solid Snake.  Currently, he is putting together a band which only perform songs from Street Fighter 3rd Strike.

Coming up on Saturday, April 12th, I have the opportunity and honor to host a panel called “Maestros of Video Games” at PAX East in Boston. Over the past several weeks, I’ve highlighted music from five of the six composers who will attend. My final profile covers Mark Morgan, and there simply isn’t another way to say it: I adore Mark Morgan’s music.

A bit of background: When Fallout came out in 1997, scored by Mark, it was referred to as a “spiritual successor” to 1988’s Wasteland. Presently, Mark is writing the soundtrack to 2014’s (hopefully) Wasteland 2.

The post-apocalyptic world can be considered as Mark’s wheelhouse. A post-apocalyptic world is an uncomfortable idea for most of us, however Mark seems… quite comfortable with it.

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I’ve spent a great deal of time with his score to the first two Fallout games from 1997 and 1998, respectively. Mark’s music is a fantastic study of creating space with music. As you hear Fallout, you’re taken to a three-dimensional sonic landscape.

I’ll include a link to his newest music for Wasteland 2 momentarily, but oh my, we need to talk about the Fallout games first.

Aural Network released a collection of Mark’s music from Fallout and Fallout 2 called “Vault Archives”. If you’re unfamiliar with this collection, I encourage you to listen to it in its entirety. For the sake of brevity, I’ll point out several of my favorite tracks.

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As you might expect, the soundtracks for the Fallouts are ambient and dark. The lovely thing about music is that there are many ways to accomplish darkness and ambience – Mark’s approach in Fallout is to use minimalistic motives to implicate melody without relying on it to tell the musical story.

For instance, if you listen to “Khans of New California”, you’ll hear these ideas weave in and out of the texture. At 7:23, the bass creeps in, carrying on its own conversation underneath the flute-y sounds (technical term notwithstanding). Not until 7:45 do you get a hint of melody, and then only in a fragment.

These fragments of melody help establish boundaries within the track, making directional changes in the music stand out. Your ear catches these changes, like when that initial melodic fragment drops out at 8:27. By the time it comes back at 8:51, you remember it. And if composers learned anything from the 20th century (which many still haven’t), it’s that many of us like some sort of melody, even if it’s just a slice.

One of the creepier tracks is “Acolytes of the New God”. I’m not certain what the sound is at the beginning, but sheesh it’s creepy. The church bells add religious overtones, and Mark adds fragmented layers of chanting voices to further imply a perversion of the sacred. The falling minor-third of the church bells becomes mildly annoying to marvelous effect – as you listen, you know it’s not a safe place, but hearing bells you think church = safe – it’s wonderful.

Perhaps my favorite track is called “Dream Town”. The details in this track are breathtaking, for lack of a better phrase; it’s music for floating. It’s music for dreaming. I adore the wood block/claves sound in the background. The manipulated strings, organ-ish sounds, voices – there’s even the din of birds tucked into the atmosphere. If I put this track on repeat all day, I would get a lot accomplished and feel pretty happy – or maybe free – while I was working.

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In doing research on Mark, I stumbled across this fantastic interview on PC Gamer’s site. When I read about Mark’s love for modern architecture, something clicked. Not everyone can build space with music. Mark can.

In many ways, Mark accomplishes this by developing a lovely balance of sounds in the foreground, background and middleground of each track. Check out “Beyond the Canyon”. There are voices in this track too, he introduces them briefly 56:41 before it becomes clear by their second statement that these voices are a significant part of the texture.

My final offering of Mark’s music from his “Vault Archives” collection is “My Chrysalis Highwayman”. This track has a comparatively discernible form with more structured harmony. This is not to say that his other music lacks form or harmonic progression; with “My Chrysalis Highwayman”, these elements are more traditional and (deceptively) less complicated than his other offerings.

All of this is to say that we’re all in for a real treat when we get to hear Mark’s score for Wasteland 2. I, for one, cannot wait. And come see us in Boston!!

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Emily Reese is an on-air host for Classical Minnesota Public Radio. She is also the host and producer for Top Score, Classical MPR’s podcast about video game soundtracks, and created MPR’s Listening to Learn series. She earned an undergrad certificate in music education and jazz studies from the University of Colorado — Boulder, and a Master’s degree in music theory from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Emily lives in Twin Cities with her cats Atticus, June Bug and Lee, and loves gaming, with or without friends.

PAX East 2014

 

Saturday, April 12, 2014
Boston Convention & Exhibition Center
Composer Panel: PAX Condor Theatre, 12.30PM
Autograph Session: Queue Room, 1.30PM

Boston, MA – On Saturday, April 12, hear from the composers of BioShock, Borderlands, Broken Age, Destroy All Humans!, Fallout, God of War, Grim Fandango, Halo, Mass Effect, Plants Vs Zombies, Prince of Persia, Rayman, Red Steel, Sly Cooper and Wasteland 2 at the PAX East 2014 “Maestros of Video Games” panel in the Condor Theatre (12.30pm-1.30pm). Then join the composers in the Queue Hall (1.30pm-2.30pm) for an autograph session immediately following their panel.

The meet and greet / signing session will feature all the composers plus a special guest appearance from the composer of GREY GOO, Frank Klepacki of COMMAND & CONQUER fame.

The “Maestros of Video Games” are:

Garry Schyman
BIOSHOCK INFINITE, BIOSHOCK, BIOSHOCK 2, DANTE’S INFERNO, DESTROY ALL HUMANS! Series.

Peter McConnell
BROKEN AGE, PLANTS Vs. ZOMBIES: GARDEN WARFARE, SLY COOPER Series, BRUTAL LEGEND, PSYCHONAUTS, GRIM FANDANGO, FULL THROTTLE.

Cris Velasco
COMPANY OF HEROES 2, MASS EFFECT 3, BORDERLANDS 1&2, STARCRAFT 2, DARKSIDERS, GOD OF WAR Series.

Tom Salta
HALO: SPARTAN ASSAULT, HALO: COMBAT EVOLVED ANNIVERSARY, GHOST RECON Series, RED STEEL 1&2.

Mark Morgan
WASTELAND 2, TORMENT: TIDES OF NUMENERA, FALLOUT: NEW VEGAS, FALLOUT 1&2.

Billy Martin
RAYMAN LEGENDS, RAYMAN ORIGINS, RAYMAN FIESTA RUN, RAYMAN JUNGLE RUN.

For more information:

“Maestros of Video Games” Composer Panel (12.30PM – 1.30PM)
http://east.paxsite.com/schedule/panel/maestros-of-video-games

“Maestros of Video Games” Autograph Session (1.30PM – 2.30PM)
http://east.paxsite.com/schedule/panel/autograph-session-maestros-of-video-games

The music of Killer Instinct will always remain close to my heart, even if it was a product of its time. When I was a kid just getting into music, Killer Cuts and Gold Cuts were very influential for me thanks to their incredible mix of dance, pop, industrial, and electro-funk, very popular genres of the 90’s. Even today, these soundtracks from composers Graeme Norgate and Robin Beanland are regarded as some of the best game soundtracks. KI as a whole represented a proud, unashamed snapshot of everything that was “cool” and popular during that time.

So, when a new KI was announced at E3 in 2013, I had a miniature freak out just thinking about the implications of a new Killer Cuts album. Even though a new OST hasn’t yet been announced, Mick Gordon, composer of the new music for KI, has teased it via Twitter and even asked for fan input.

As a huge fan of KI’s music, I have to say that I’m extremely impressed with Gordon’s work thus far on his Soundcloud page. He’s clearly a fan, and that he “gets it”. He also seems to know exactly what other fans would like to hear, and is even throwing little references to the original music in his work.

But how did we get here? A lot has changed over the last 20 years, for games and for music. Let us embark on a musical journey of cheesy 90’s video game music and how it was reimagined and reinvigorated for a new decade of gaming.

Orchid

Killer Instinct 1A

K. I. Feeling” from the first Killer Cuts album is an awesome, cheeseball track that sounds like it was used in a club scene for a 90’s sitcom.

Female vocals start off with “Such a feeling, such a feeling, such a feeling, killer feeling!” and it only gets better from there. The track really hits its stride when the female vocalist starts getting all breathy and sensual, whispering “Touch me, touch me, feel me, feel me” to main chorus of “Killer, Killer! She’s a killer!” Truly, this was great stuff.

It actually does fit Orchid’s look, though – dressed in a green, skin-tight leotard with knee-high boots and dual glowing nightsticks, you couldn’t tell if she was going to a rave, or getting ready to kick someone’s ass, or both.

It’s great music that worked perfectly for a new, edgy fighting game in 1994. For the modern era, however, it’s hard not to laugh – both at the music and the impracticality of Orchid’s sexualized outfit. While her outfit remained almost unchanged for the Xbox One version, thankfully the music has undergone a complete overhaul.

Updated and re-imagined for the modern era, Orchid’s new theme is a great tribute to the original song. It retains its own identity, though, and features minimal dubstep! It’s a very energetic song this time around, and makes you feel hyped to be fighting someone.

Thunder

Killer Instinct 1B

As a kid, I really hated Thunder. I have very vivid memories of him beating me using a single, match-long Ultra Combo, denying me even one button press. I’m also pretty sure this was the last time I played a Killer Instinct game until 2013.

His theme, titled “Oh Yeah” on Killer Cuts, was definitely a more unique track from the album. It had this cool indigenous/industrial beat to it, but the echoing, Native American chants come off sounding more like an extremely racist fever dream. Without it, though, how were we to know this was the Native American character’s theme?!

As good as it was back then, Thunder’s new theme needed a serious makeover, and boy, did it get one.

Probably my favorite theme of all of the new ones, the rock intro with the percussion just hits so hard. Gone are the electronic themes of the original, as are the weird Native American chants throughout. There’s some impressive flute work in this one as well, adding to the overall heroicness. The awesome acoustic folk guitar breakdown caught me off guard, and adds some great overall depth, too.

Jago

Killer Instinct 1C

The track “Do It Now” (again, from Killer Cuts) is a sweet, energetic track perfect for a fighting game. It has this cool, upbeat dance vibe while still retaining its Asian influences. Of course, it doesn’t resist the urge to “get all urban” on ya, with some record scratching in the middle, to the lyrics “Let-let-let-let-let’s do it now!” As a kid, I always imagined Jago doing a home workout video to this music.

Jago’s theme was updated for Gold Cuts, which features a much more Asian sound it this time around. It has a bit of a heavier feel it as well, and features some powerful chanting. Overall, it better suited to a character guided by the powerful Tiger Spirit, and serves as the basis for the Xbox One version of his theme.

The new theme is quite fantastic, and does good service to the character. Heavy guitars, deeper percussion, and louder chants make this track much more exciting to listen to while fighting on his stage.

Galcius

Killer Instinct 1D

Controlling Transmission” is a fantastic electronic song in its own right, and one of my personal favorites from Killer Cuts. Some excellent melodies really come together in this one, and besides a couple of other tracks on this album, is one of the few to stand the test of time.  It still sounds good to this day.

However, Glacius’ theme in Gold Cuts took on a completely different (and more badass) sounding path, with a grittier, heavier electronic sound to it. Mimicking Glacius’ “voice” if you will, it served as inspiration for his theme in 2013.

Again, Gordon’s impressive use of percussion in conjunction with a very staccato electronic beat helps create the impression of an unsettling, hostile character that defies our laws of physics.

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Tyler is the managing editor of Gamemusicfans.com, a small site dedicated to promoting video game music and composers. He lives in Milwaukee, WI with his wife and 2 cats. Tyler met his wife playing Mass Effect 3 online multiplayer, and each have tattoos to honor their special bond. Together in their spare time, they enjoy gaming, cooking, listening to music, and laughing at cat .gifs on Reddit

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