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I had a great time at MAGFest. I met great people, heard great music, went to great panels, and ate some delicious food in a beautiful city that was mostly warmer than my home.

I left Washington, D.C. Sunday afternoon, thankful to be well ahead of the giant storm (a storm with a much worse bark than bite). Each time I leave a conference or festival, I leave a bit more inspired than before I got there, and MAGFest was no exception. My praise is high, and even though I think my concerns are important, I don’t have many complaints at all.

My favorite part was the community of attendees itself, and that didn’t surprise me. As vicious as gamers can be online, they tend to be much nicer in person. If I have to be in a crowd of 15-thousand people, at least stick me in with the kind of people who say “excuse me” or “my bad” or “sorry about that” if they bump into you or inadvertently cut or take your seat or something. Largely, these are good people to be around for a few days.

My second favorite part was the arcade, because inside, I’m still that 8-year-old kid who wants to play Galaga over and over again. If you’ve never been to MAGFest, the arcade is insane. Huge and insane. And set on free play!!!!!!!!!!!! There aren’t enough exclamation points for that, seriously. I played arcade games I’d never heard of before MAGFest. Most of those machines are donated, which brings me to my next favorite part/s about MAGFest:

No sponsors! No corporations looming! Lots of free stuff to play! Super short lines, because there’s a lot of everything, and it’s open 24/7. This festival is seriously by the fans, for the fans.

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The music was, for the most part, fabulous. The sound systems, however, were abysmal. The sound was so bad in every single panel I attended, and every single concert or show I wanted to see, that it honestly was worse than I ever would’ve imagined. It never occurred to me, before I left town, to prepare myself for terrible audio at a festival designed to celebrate music.

Now, to be fair, it was in a convention center. But it was in the $870-million dollar Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center, opened in 2008. How is that possible? I’m baffled how such a state-of-the-art, gorgeous, new, expansive, 21st-century building which exists, in part, as a convention center where audiences would presumably sit in large rooms and listen to people talk about things could have such terrible audio.

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Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center

I understand why the concerts didn’t sound great. A rock band or a string quartet playing inside a hotel ballroom is always going to sound below average compared to an arena or a concert hall. It makes sense that the live shows didn’t sound great. They played in hotel ballrooms, for crying out loud.

Those panels were so frustrating though, even though they were all full of great content! I was encouraged by the amount of conversations I heard, in and out of panels, about copyright law relating to original content, parody and covers. It’s a great conversation to continue to highlight!

My final complaint was borne from the “Welcome to MAGFest” speech that happened in the afternoon on the first day. It was the first organized event I attended in my MAGFest history. It started with a man telling the audience that MAGFest started so many years ago one weekend with a bunch of guys getting drunk and talking about video game music, and he made a joke about how he thought MAGFest should’ve been called “A Bunch of Dudes” instead. I looked around the room to all the women, since there were loads of us, and thought, wow. What a dick.

Obviously, if I’d gone up to him and said something, he wouldn’t have meant it that way, I’m sure he’s a feminist, and that he supports equality and fairness in gaming, but he said it, whatever, it’s done.

Despite that, you should go. Go to MAGFest. You’ll meet great people. Washington, D.C. is cool, the food is great, there are a lot of wonderful things to see and great bands to hear, awesome merchandise to browse (haha! true!), and games to play. Go to MAGFest.

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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 cat June Bug and loves gaming, with or without friends.

Red Bull Music Academy. I had no idea who or what they were about until they recently aired a string of shows highlighting a slew of luminous game composers last fall. Did you catch this thing? You didn’t? My God. You have NO idea what you missed. It was a series called Digging In The Carts and it was comprised of 6 very meticulous, very high-end episodes. Particularly amazing is how much they managed to shoehorn into the allotted 16 minute time slot they were given. A show like this is just absolutely huge to those who celebrate the sounds of silicon, and Red Bull Music Academy is to be commended for doing the good Lord’s work. So rather than spoil it, which would be no fun at all, I will leave you to it. BUT wait!

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Listen: Masashi Kageyama : Mr. Gimmick Soundtrack: Good Morning

Okay, okay! Just let me talk about this one guy featured in it. It will be REAL quick. No spoilers either or my name isn’t Anthony. So Masashi Kageyama. Heard of him? I hadn’t either until the series highlight reel. Maybe, like me, you hadn’t heard the soundtrack to an old Famicom/NES  game called Mr. Gimmick. Certainly, I have extolled the values of 8-bit orchestration over and over on this very blog, but THIS guy…THIS guy, man, he’s CAPITAL, surpassing even the most celebrated saucier of the NES’s 2-channel NSF hardware. Watching his particular story and hearing his music, even for the small instant it is played, really, really stuck with me. There was something about him too: gentle, a very warm sort of  aww shucks demeanor. You want to go up to this man immediately after the show and treat him to really expensive everything, then praise him for hours, because when you hear the stuff he has done, that’s all you’ll be able to do. It is that incredible.

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Listen: Masashi Kageyama: Mr Gimmick Soundtrack: Just Friends

 

I was fortunate enough to find Kageyama’s entire score for Mr. Gimmick  buried amongst the refuse of ads and obnoxious unboxings on youtube, and for the first time since 1988, I proceeded to capture Kageyama’s streaming audio on an old cassette tape recorder. I had no other options, no viable course of action. It’s not like I could walk into a Best Buy or Amoeba Music for that matter and pick up all of Kageyama’s discography. I was a 9 year old boy again, making the most of a bad situation, recording straight from the television. You all did it! Yes you did. So, anyway, I take the recording with me to school the next day, and start listening to it on the bus, of all places. It’s snowing (yes it snows in Texas), and that dichotomy of miserable sleeting ice outside against  Kageyama’s heartbroken yet obstinate trail of sunshine made that moment of sitting idly in that  bus something both resilient and sobering.

Then Sophia (Take 2) happened…

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Listen: Masashi Kageyama Mr. Gimmick Soundtrack Sophia (Take 2)

 

Sophia( Take 2) is a rare experience. More importantly it’s the rarest of its kind among the particular 8-bit musical world it inhabits.  If it were left unsupervised, say the song (or entire Mr. Gimmick score) were to escape into the land of regular radio, it would stand  stronger than anything recently contemporary or exceedingly current in rotation. These compositions are beyond the superlative, and to analyze and assign them with values would be undermining their entire purpose for drawing air. Still though, one has to try, and Kageyama’s plaintive, dejected exposition on Sophia( Take 2) passionately details that spark of youthful infatuation as it brims over emboldened, then repressed, and then utterly defeated. Kageyama’s song-bird melancholy is gorgeous in spite of its injuries, and Sophia (Take 2) is a mournful masterpiece that manifests very real, very intense emotions. For me, It was SO acute and SO poignant that I lost it, right there on that bus. Now those of you that have read my articles know that I cry at the drop of a hat, so this might seem like nothing out of the ordinary, but I don’t know…these tears seemed ever the more gourmet. I didn’t care if anyone saw me either: let them see! This way, if they ask why, it gives me the impetus to introduce them to Kageyama. I thought it was a pretty fair trade off.  Dignity? What’s that? Who cares? Let the tears roll down.

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Listen: Masashi Kageyama: Mr. Gimmick Soundtrack: Happy Birthday

 

Very few artists, constrained by the bit, have ever demonstrated such a capacity to truly emote, and touch their audience with their stories with such limited tools available to them. Kageyama seems like the type whose all embraces conversations and laughter, and when he plays, that warmth and affection comes through unfiltered and unimpeded. Kageyama’s earnest and gorgeously sanguine audio display exemplifies a sophistication and intimacy rarely seen in this genre, and it also stands as some of its very best.

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Listen: Masashi Kageyama: Mr. Gimmick Soundtrack: Slow Illusion

While I will leave the rest of the blanks for Red Bull’s short films to fill in, I wanted to make sure you walked away with a larger cup of Kageyama’s wine to sample. He’s certainly one of the most important, yet seemingly overlooked, artists of that era.

Not anymore.

To get an even better idea about his works, please visit vgmdb.com

A very special thanks to Red Bull Music Academy for all their fantastic efforts in bringing the Diggin In the Carts series to completion. It couldn’t have been easy, nor without its very own set of near insurmountable hurdles.

Here is hoping for a second season.

Now please…by all means, enjoy the shows!

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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.

The Vanishing Of Ethan Carter

Sumthing Else Music Works today announced the worldwide digital release of The Vanishing of Ethan Carter Original Soundtrack featuring the original score from the breathtakingly atmospheric first-person mystery game focused on exploration and discovery. Created by jazz and classically-trained Polish composer Mikolai Stroinski (The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Dark Souls 2 trailer), the game’s evocative music soundtrack will be available digitally from Sumthing.com, iTunes, Amazon and other digital music sites on January 27.

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter soundtrack has garnered numerous accolades for its immersive and ethereal emotional quality including nominations for Outstanding Achievement in Original Music Composition at the 18th Annual D.I.C.E. Awards and Best Audio at the 15th Annual Game Developers Choice Awards.

Describing his process for finding the musical voice for Ethan Carter, Mikolai Stroinski explains, “I’m a pianist. Through improvisation I was trying to come up with a central theme that would capture the story of Ethan Carter. I was planning on orchestrating it once approved. As it turned out, The Astronauts loved it so much they didn’t want to add anything. And so it stayed. If you listen closely to the melodic pieces from the score, you will notice that each one is a variation of ‘Ethan’s Theme’. It borrows either the melodic shape, or the rhythms or the distinguishing melodic intervals.”

Developed by Polish indie game development studio The Astronauts, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is a “weird fiction” horror focused on atmosphere, mood and the essential humanity of its characters. With its mixture of a beautiful world with the haunting and macabre, the game is catered to immersive storytelling for adult players.

You play as Paul Prospero, an occult-minded detective who receives a disturbing letter from Ethan Carter. Realizing the boy is in grave danger, Paul arrives at Ethan’s home of Red Creek Valley, where things turn out to be even worse than he imagined. Ethan has vanished in the wake of a brutal murder, which Paul quickly discerns might not be the only local murder worth looking into.

Experience in non-linear fashion, a story that combines the pleasures of pulp, private eye and horror fiction inspired by writers such as Raymond Chandler, Algernon Blackwood, Stefan Grabiński, and H. P. Lovecraft. Explore and interact with the beautiful yet ominous world of Red Creek Valley, which was created with the use of revolutionary photogrammetry technology that allows for nearly photorealistic environments.

For more information on The Vanishing Of Ethan Carter visit: http://ethancartergame.com/.

So it’s still 2015, despite my constant attempts to write and type “14” everywhere. The advent of 2015 means some great festivals and conventions are coming up fast, like PAX South and MAGFest.

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I’m missing the inaugural PAX South in favor of MAGFest. I’ve never experienced anything like MAGFest before, to my knowledge, and I’m a tad overwhelmed looking at the list of possibilities.

It’s a long list, and it’s been a pleasure to comb through it and hear a ton of great music. Even though I spend a lot of time working with video game music, and speaking with people about it, I’m constantly impressed by the magnitude of the game music community.

First of all, I’m thrilled that Do a Barrel Roll will be there. These folks all came from McNally-Smith College of Music, which is right across the street from my workplace. I watched them perform live in November at Gamer’s Rhapsody, and they were flawless. Seriously. Their performance was incredible, as if we were listening to a studio recording. I’m still in awe of it all, and I can’t wait to hear them play again.

Regarding folks I haven’t seen perform – well, that’s nearly everyone else on my list.

I’m dying to hear SAMMUS and Mega Ran. Mega Ran has a pretty great recap of 2014 here, and SAMMUS hardcore rocks the Metroid in this track.

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How about a band that plays video game covers mixing styles of jazz fusion, funk and rock? Enter “missingNo”, a handful of instrumentalists from Vancouver, B.C. Here’s their record called Warp Zone. Be sure to check out “Stickerbrush Symphony”, and listen to the frickin’ bass player. Now that’s some amazing bass-ing. I’m pumped to see these folks play live!

Here’s a confession; I’d never heard of a visualist before I started digging into the MAGFest program. It seems there will be three there, and I’m going to try and check them all out. Enerjawn, noukon and SBthree are all visualists, combining art and music live. Sounds cool. I’ll report back for sure on these folks.

The Triforce Quartet is a video game-themed string quartet. They’ve recorded a bunch of Zelda, Final Fantasy, Mario – nothing too surprising on the playlist, but I guarantee my ears will be begging for the lovely sounds these fine string players make by the time Friday night rolls around.

My biggest “OMG I CAN’T WAIT” show is Yuu Miyake, who’s the primary composer for Katamari Damacy. You can check out his SoundCloud here, but more importantly, if you’re unfamiliar with his Katamari music, go educate yourself as quickly as possible.

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Others I hope to catch in concert include virt (Jake Kaufman, of Shovel Knight fame), On Being Human and the Super Guitar Bros. There will be dozens of other shows too, with dozens of other performers I didn’t mention.

It’s gonna be nuts. I’m bringing the recorder – not to record the shows, of course, but to capture as many conversations about game music as I possibly can. I look forward to sharing it all with you when I come back, or maybe I’ll see you there!

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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 cat June Bug and loves gaming, with or without friends.

I’m excited for a lot of games coming out this year, and I’m crossing my fingers that 2015 will be a better year than 2014 was for gaming.

I have a list of titles I’m excited to play, and titles I’m excited to hear. Some of these games fit into both categories!

I look forward to playing The Banner Saga, Bastion, and Grim Fandango on PlayStation 4. These aren’t new games – they’ve been out on other platforms. I’ve played and loved Bastion several times, but it’ll be a blast on next-gen. Grim Fandango has one of the best soundtracks in the history of video games, thanks to Peter McConnell. I can’t wait to hear it and play it!

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Bastion

There are a handful of titles on my list that I probably won’t play, but for which I look forward to hearing the soundtracks. It’s no secret I’m a chicken when it comes to almost any type of horror game, particularly survival horror. I won’t play Until Dawn, but I’m always fascinated by music in horror games and films. I look forward to hearing what fear sounds like.

I might skip Bloodborne and The Order: 1886. First of all, Bloodborne is the not-a-sequel to the games Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls, games known for their punishing difficulties. Not my cup of tea.

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The Order: 1886

The Order: 1886 was scored by Jason Graves (Dead Space, Tomb Raider), and I gotta hear it. But there are these things called “half-breeds” in the game, and I don’t look forward to those encounters. I haven’t decided if I’ll play it, but I definitely want to hear it.

Let’s get one major disappointment for 2015 out of the way: the fantastic composer Greg Edmonson is not the composer for Uncharted 4. This is heartbreaking, because Edmonson’s music to the first three Uncharted games was perfect. Perfect! He will be missed, and I begrudgingly anticipate hearing Henry Jackman’s score.

Here are some other upcoming titles that are bound to have fantastic music: Tearaway Unfolded, The Witcher 3 and Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture.

Tearaway Unfolded is a relaunch, of sorts, of 2013’s Vita game, Tearaway. Therefore, it’ll include the awesome music that Kenny Young and Brian D’Oliveira wrote. Kenny works in-house at Media Molecule, who develops the Tearaway games, and you might remember Brian from his flawless score to Papo & Yo. I can’t wait to hear more from them.

I’ve never had the opportunity to do an audio interview with composer Mikolai Stroinski, but I did do a print interview with him and now I can’t wait to hear his music in the upcoming The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. Firstly, I’ve never played any of the Witcher games, and I look forward to healing that gaping wound in my past. Secondly, Mikolai’s music for The Vanishing of Ethan Carter was great.

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The Vanishing of Ethan Carter

Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture is the highly-anticipated release from The Chinese Room, the British game company run by husband-wife team Dan Pinchbeck and Jessica Curry. Jessica is the composer, and she’s magnificent. I loved and admired her music for Dear Esther and for Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs. I think Jessica is one of the cleverest composers writing for games, and I can’t wait to hear her new sounds.

A couple other games I’m stoked about: For some reason, I’m not afraid of zombies, so I’ll probably play the hell out of Dead Island 2, as long as it’s a better game than Riptide was. I don’t have strong feelings about the music one way or the other, but I have very strong feelings (cravings, even?) about stomping zombie heads.

I’m intrigued by Volume (made by the same dude who did Thomas Was Alone), No Man’s Sky, and The Tomorrow Children. Let’s do this, 2015!

What are you excited to play or hear this year?

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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 cat June Bug and loves gaming, with or without friends.

So it’s Friday night, and my friend Frank and I are busy listing off musical acts and bands we have yet to see live. All my top choices were video game composers, and Frank shared the sentiment equally. It has been this way for quite some time, and I am totally okay with NEVER seeing the bands of my youth or the present ever again so long as I get to see these true masters in full form beyond the volume knob of my stereo and record player. Want to know who I have to see before I die? Here’s my personal top 3.

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                                 Listen: Masafumi Takada:  Killer 7 Soundtrack

 

3. Masafumi Takada- I could explain away all the billions of reasons WHY Takada’s SO brilliant, but sometimes you just need to hear it for yourself. I will say that once you’ve heard his low grumblings to the devil himself (as seen in Killer 7), it’s likely you’ll take up the magical arts just to hear exactly what he was saying. There must be more? Something I missed? I must know.

Killer 7, one night only and played in its entirety. How much money do you want? I can only give you EVERYTHING!

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             Listen and Watch: Shoji Meguro: Persona Live Show 2009

 

2. Shoji Meguro- I once wrote that posters of Shoji Meguro should be on every young person’s wall. That Meguro should be as revered, idolized and ranked with the likes of Michael Jackson, The Beatles, The Bee Gees, and Elvis Presley. Meguro’s musical accent is unlike any other in videogames: it zigzags the bizarre obstacle course it has set for itself with deft and singular style. His live show is half saturated Persona fan-service, and half 1990 Grammy Award show homage complete with nondescript rappers and In Living Color denim dressed Fly Girl dancers. There’s NOTHING like it out there anywhere in the world.

Meguro is a consummate, wildly creative and immaculately rehearsed musician, and his  sound is something, that once you hear it, you’ll never mistake it with anyone else, and you’ll recognize it after only 1 bar.

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Listen and Watch: Akira Yamaoka: LIVE

 

1. Akira Yamaoka – There is an unfortunate true story I have about Akira Yamaoka, and that is, I missed him completely when he played just 3 HOURS from my hometown. It seems unfathomable, but I missed one of my musical idols by simply not having my ear close enough to the ground. In one plain and average weekend, Yamaoka, spur of the moment, decided to play at some dingy out of the way club, and he didn’t even bother to phone me.  Surprise can be wonderful, so they say: in this case, NO. Yamaoka, through his veneer of startlingly loud discordant No Wave, is really an artist with a broken heart.

To write emotive, effective, and truly despondent music,  you have to be willing to go all in, sparing no expense. Yamaoka details a sordid trail of debilitating and frightening loss.  More than alone, and more than disenchanted, Yamaoka paints forlorn and desperate like no other musician before or since. To him, to be filled with longing also carries with it something terrifying, and in equal doses he brings that despair and horror to bear with no compromise. True to his unflinchingly harsh methods, Yamaoka is a visionary and not one to miss…again.

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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.

Late on Christmas Eve, my friends and I noticed something amiss with the PlayStation Network. We were all playing Destiny together, but some of us kept getting booted off the network. Two others couldn’t see anyone on their friend’s list, as though they were offline.

We had plans to play more Christmas Day, but thanks to the DDoS attacks on PSN and XBL, we were unable to do so. I was able to get back online Saturday evening. Some of my pals couldn’t get on until they heard they could change their MTU settings.

One of the alleged attackers (I learned that DDoS-ing is not hacking) appeared in a filmed interview, and said this: “I’d be rather worried if those people didn’t have anything better to do than play games on their consoles on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day”.

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Other than the fact that Mr. DDoSer also doesn’t have “anything better to do” with his time than play on his computer to ruin other people’s who are trying to do much the same thing, I’d like to tell you what I missed out on during the PSN outage.

Sure, I missed playing certain games, but I had plenty of other games to play. A lot of the games I’m currently interested in playing couldn’t be played offline (like Dragon Age: Inquisition, or Destiny, or eventually, Far Cry 4).

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On the bright side, this forced me to explore other titles on my “shelf” that I’d ignored to date, like Never Alone and Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light. Both of these games are amazing and awesome and you should play them immediately.

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In reality, I personally didn’t miss gaming. I missed my friends.

I’ve connected with many friends outside of PSN, via Twitter, Facebook or text messaging, but not all of them.

This will sound far more dramatic than I intend, but I lived through the “Outage of 2011”. My biggest anxiety during the 48-hour Christmas outage was that that would happen again. We’d be unable to communicate for weeks. Screw gaming, I was worried I wouldn’t get to talk to my friends.

I didn’t hear too much talk about this during the Christmas DDoS attack. I heard about the kids and friends and brothers and sisters and boyfriends and girlfriends and moms and dads opening their gifted Xbox One or PS4 and not being able to play.

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I wanted to hear more about the people who connect to their friends and family via PSN. I’ve met some amazing humans through gaming. Like my friend, Jeffrey, from Manchester, England, who always felt so worthless and unloved and insignificant, until he met a girl, married her, had a kid, and is the happiest guy on the planet now. Or Mitch, who’s brother is struggling with substance abuse and can’t seem to pull it together. Or Javier, who’s about to go to Afghanistan again. Or Maria, who’s trying to finish her PhD in Microbiology but has an overbearing and unhelpful advisor. Robbie just bought his first house, after getting home from his first tour overseas. Willie’s dad is in the hospital. None of these names are real, but the stories are. These are my friends. And for that 48-hour period of time, over the holidays, during the DDoS attack, I didn’t know when I’d get to talk with them again.

Boo hoo? Maybe, but I’m not so sure. That type of human interaction is the aspect of gaming that counters the non-gaming public’s assumptions about it: playing video games can be a richly social experience.

I’m glad the network was down for such a short time. It prompted many of us to find connections outside of PSN, a silver lining of the grey cloud. Game on, my friends.

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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 cat June Bug and loves gaming, with or without friends.

Every year, I make video games submit a new station I.D., because I have to make sure they are still pointing the way forward. The way I see it, this hobby takes so much time away from so many other sources of life that it is necessary to legitimize my support of it on a yearly basis. That may sound harsh, but all it really means is that I need a reminder of WHY I play. This year, it came on Christmas day. Now aside from my usual huge video game vault opening (a gesture that suffices most every time), I spent some time that day actually PLAYING, which is rarer an opportunity than you might actually think it is. What did I play? My Terminator 2 cabinet.

It is Christmas after all…duh.

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Listen: Double Dragon NES Soundtrack

I will say again, the arcade experience of Terminator 2: Judgment Day cannot be replicated by any means of emulation or ports, you have to be standing there with that plastic gun in your hand, the sound so loud it could feasibly crack the glass, and the discharge of actual smoke from your weapon as you fire and miss or destroy multiple targets. The smell of that gun as it heats up, I cannot even describe it, and the noise, the sensory overload, almost nothing on earth can reproduce it. Then while still waiting for family to show, I turned on my NES: Kung Fu, Ninja Gaiden, Double Dragon then Contra. The NES is my system of choice when I am looking to be reminded about how much I enjoy this past time, and undoubtedly it never fails to fill the blanks on my extended stay visa questionnaire. The NES is a perfect machine with perfect games: that uncomfortable brick controller, its limited motion, the sticking buttons, and the sound it makes when you hit pause. The straining palette of color it draws with, that gorgeous midi synthesizer, and Kung Fu: It’s always going to lead back to Kung Fu. That’s a story for another time though. In short the NES still delivers! Anyhow you get it, these reminders staved off my never-to-happen abandonment of the hobby, but you have to at least pretend to challenge the notion. Right?

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Listen: Marvel Vs. Capcom Soundtrack – Morrigan’s Theme

Ultimately, my new year needs to be armed with all things progression and all things that like I said point forward,and every year I am VERY quickly shown evidence that indeed these games deserve some form of status or exalted place in my personal hierarchy. Why? Video games single-handedly produced the bond that brought about ALL of my best friends in life. This was not just some casual or fleeting camaraderie either, they have all been life-long. I speak to each one of them on a regular basis. How much more forward momentum can you possibly achieve? So, um, maybe forget this whole thing? Wait, wait… there is a point to this diatribe. Eh… question your idols, false or otherwise, frequently. It makes you appreciate and remember why you ever signed on to their worship in the first place. I am glad we had this talk.

As you were, I have games to play.

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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.

Today I am counting down my favorite records of 2014, and if there is one absolute in my daily routine, it is listening to videogame scores…repeatedly. There is absolutely NOTHING I would rather be listening to.  If you knew me personally, you would also know that there is nothing I enjoy talking about more.  Congratulations to these tremendous artists.

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                    Listen: Persona Q: Shadow Of the Labyrinth: Maze Of Life

 4. Persona Q: Shadow Of The Labyrinth/ Shoji Meguro- Composer Shoji Meguro’s sheepishly long de-railed bullet train of scores in the name of Atlus’s hallowed Shin Megami Tensei :P ersona series carry with them perhaps the very definition of tangential madness. As such, coherence widely varies from listener to listener as Meguro’s rules of play are dictated with little to no regard for order, direction or movement along any legible or explicitly defined curve. Meguro, however, never misses a stop, and his routes of travel though entirely unconventional and round-about seem to have garnered him a rather ardent and staunchly dedicated mass of devotees. It’s so much bigger than that though; in fact, Meguro is an idol, a household name in his native Japan. His work is the stuff of stratosphere legend now, selling out even the largest of music venues. He has become a viable solid gold brand with unmeasured clout. The only thing on the market still yet to bear his name, though largely foreseeable to change, is breakfast cereal, and I imagine it’s only simply because they are still in the test-market stage. For those new to Meguro’s torrential storm of neon washed mish-mashed shapes, Persona Q: Shadow Of The Labyrinth is the quintessential guidance counselor for the Meguro novice walking you through the creation of his batter ingredient by ingredient. But while Persona Q offers up its conductor at his most revealing, his answers raise more questions than answers, and that’s a VERY good thing. Because while others would have sat back and gone creatively bankrupt, happy to collect the residual checks their name afforded them, Meguro creates fiendishly onward. He is seemingly lost in the chase of his platypus muse, devising the ever more convoluted ruse and spectacular quagmire in a never ending cycle of catch and release…to be in love.

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                           Listen: A Taste Of The Alien Isolation Soundtrack

 3. Alien: Isolation/ The Flight - Fear is least effective when erroneously channeled through the stomach instead of along the nerve. Too often, scores of this nature target a  part of the body that manifests its objections all too softly. Queasiness, unease and discomfort all begin in that pitted vessel of churning gastric acid, but it is something readily alleviated, something instinctually subjugated by simply turning away, tuning out.

It can only harm you in the dark, but not in the daytime, and certainly not in a situation you can control. European duo The Flight, however, are the mould and caste of an absolute and primitive horror, attaching and binding themselves to the proteins and nerve endings essential to traveling throughout the body unfettered. Terror is only truly effective at the level of neurasthenia, at breakdown, where closing your eyes medicates one side of the searing sensation but greatly swells the other. It is not something you can ignore or medicate. To get rid of The Flight is to expel its rapidly multiplying burrow from your system, and to do that is to rid yourself of you. The Flight’s accelerated rate of disability in the user is key to their genesis, much like the creature they are remolding some 35 years after its initial contact. The Flight, however, isn’t interested in some gloaming retread of original Alien composer Jerry Goldsmith’s work. While certainly some manner of pastiche may have been discussed, The Flight were quick to scuttle those ideas, and instead intend to sow seeds of horror specific to the times in which they live: where true evil and reality lie familiar bedfellows with one another…the lines have been completely blurred. The menace of The Flight’s Alien is no longer as easily definable, no longer as distant, and most of all, no longer as predictable. As of now, it can come from anywhere. The Flight makes possible the vision of developers Creative Assembly by authenticating their voice with authority, delivering what was once thought to be impossible: an exhaustively rewritten Alien doctrine. Never delicate, never expected, The Flight’s score for Alien: Isolation unleashes the brutality of H.R. Giger’s original designs. They enable them to hunt using fear as a mind killer, fear that travels along the nerve and not in the stomach, and a fear that will find you, regardless of sunshine, sunlamp, fluorescent bulb or otherwise.

 

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                         Listen: Fantasia Music Evolved: Meeting The Master

2. Disney Fantastia: Music Evolved/ Inon Zur - One of the most unsettling trends I have seen in all my years working music retail is the slow erosion of classical music from store shelves. I started out working primarily with classical music at age twenty, an age associated more with rocking out than it is an explosion of mid-day Baroque. I was at first a bit resistant to my post, but mostly afraid, because to be honest, classical as a genre is one of the most dauntingly complex in all of music. I feared being uncovered, found out by my customers as they sauntered in with their aged list of esoteric movements in whatever e-major or flat they had VERY specifically outlined. Each point on their list took time to research and dislodge from beneath the soil it had seemingly been buried under. Out of print catalog numbers, Sony Red, Naxos, Deutsche Grammophon, my customer’s single written clue a miniscule part of a VERY long trail. When I found their piece, we would often listen to it together, and they would do a play by play of their favorite moments in the composition. I learned classical music very much hands on, and find it criminal that an entire generation might miss out on it entirely, because I have seen my stock and sales decline astronomically in the past 8 years, but there is hope.

Composer Inon Zur whose scoring credits span the length of multiple unabridged volumes of encyclopedia Britannica has joined forces with developer Harmonix, and they have somehow impossibly found THE glitch, THE exploit, THE clandestine inside track granting them access to those youth who once shunned them for no real reason, tossing their literature to the ground just as it was handed off to them. Disney’s Fantasia: Music Evolved is that key. What now though? They finally have a room at attention. You let the master play and let his master marketer interpret. Inon Zur and Harmonix have that rare partnership here, and it is one that is at its absolute best. Where Harmonix once created new devotion for relics of the rock genre, it now does the same for stars of the violin, chamber orchestra, throngs of woodwind and piano. Zur’s newly minted original score plays high level and equal peer amidst some of the most celebrated and recognizable classical themes ever created. Zur brings with him not only his gifts of composition but of conducting and producing as well. His arrangements feel buoyant, vital, at times even coruscant. He has also brought along some very powerful friends: Academy Of St. Martin In The Fields, The London Chamber and Symphony Orchestra to name a few.

The Director’s Cut adds even more color to the overall package as remixes of everything from Tchaikovsky to Dvorak will no doubt make a case to those still on the fence. Each one showcases a different angle from which to view these masterpieces, making them easier on the palate of the uninitiated. It takes only one truly great piece of anything be it music, games, food, movies or books to alter the course of a life, and Inon Zur’s Fantasia: Music Evolved brings with it the possibilities of expansion over extinction, and the hope that new apprentices will one day outnumber the old guard.

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                                         Listen: Strider: Kazakh Theme

 1. Strider- Michael John Mollo - It’s not an easy thing to generate an open discussion amongst flat refusals, and for the better half of almost two decades, the only certain things when speaking with Capcom on the subject of Strider was the brief flashing of cards they held so closely guarded against their chest, and the walls instantly erected around the stubborn inquiry. Capcom’s reasoning, though seemingly strained of logic, is not without merit. Developers are given at most the smallest blinking of a mascot, perhaps a smaller grain of franchise, and rarest of all, the natural born legend. Strider is legend, and the few pieces of software that bear his name exist only because each parcel of space they inhabit has passed a litmus test of platinum standards raised by significant degrees of difficulty as each gets the green light. This makes the road more difficult for others to traverse, and near impossible for new contents to meet in whole. Exposure with even the slightest of lapses or compromises can and often does spell the end. Undoing a legacy of past and most importantly, future. Capcom’s reticence then is understandable. This weight, ALL of this weight lay squarely upon Strider’s brilliant new composer Michael John Mollo. Strider becomes HIS story, in his charge, and ultimately the ONLY reason you have a new canonical entry emblazoned with the Strider logo.

Because without his compositions, Strider is only half of what the storybooks make him out to be. Mollo is the fit that had long gone missing, the absent detente that would finally bridge the title from standard readiness to assured perfection.

Without knowing it, Mollo is of the same ilk and heritage as the long buried Capcom house band Alpha Lyla; he’s not foreign but rather the most native and organically spun element of the entire proceedings. He is one of them and always has been their spiritual successor. Mollo’s work on Strider is no sloppy collage of various diametric applications made to fit inside a grid. Mollo is poignantly, naturally textural, and sensitive to the meter of his scenes, and while he may scrutinize, he never once manufactures. To do this though, Mollo needed to fully understand the subject he was scoring, not textbook memorization, but to actually press the flesh, to know Strider, befriend him, and become him. What would have been a dry stage-left walk-on exercise in another composer’s hands instead becomes fully aware and alive with Mollo, who is by all accounts immersed in his method portrayal of Strider Hiryu. Now indistinguishable from the source, Mollo is also completely free to arrange as he sees fit. His compositions touch on the classic Strider sound flawlessly, but his focus remains resolutely on the sound of the future, and that is what separates, defines and elevates Mollo’s LP: his singular prodigious fingerprint. It takes steady hands to live in the shadows of original Strider composer Junko Tamiya, but Mollo won’t be second to anyone, and seeing as he’s rightfully a part of the Alpha Lyla brood, this is a passing of the torch, and an acknowledgement that Michael John Mollo has been, always was, and always will be the only REAL candidate to further one of gaming’s greatest and most hallowed icons.

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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.

This week, I’m supposed to come up with a (mostly) self-imposed task of choosing the five best video game soundtracks of 2014.

My current count is nine, and I’ve already narrowed it down.

To clarify, this is not 2013. There was no BioShock: Infinite in 2014. Not even Garry Schyman could top himself with his own Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor soundtrack, as fabulous as that music is.

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If I’m brutally honest with myself, there are four that will stay on the list, and only one slot is up for grabs. I’m going to get a load of grief for quite possibly leaving one of the most popular soundtracks of the year off the list.

One of the soundtracks that already made that list has received very little recognition. I hope to change that a bit, because it’s mildly disheartening to me that no one seems to remember it (it came out earlier this year).

Critics and bloggers seem to be glossing over another fine soundtrack from 2014: Jesper Kyd’s Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel.

Borderlands Pre-Sequel Cover

Purchase Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel Soundtrack

If you read my words on occasion, you’re aware of my admiration of Jesper and his music. I feel like Jesper is a true magician with sound and melody. He creates the most incredible musical experiences while gaming. Here are some examples:

This track is called “Persistent Impulse”. Jesper is so good at “the groove”, amirite?? There’s a spot where it sounds like voices come in, although knowing Jesper’s music, that sound could be anything. And I love how the 8-bit, Mario-esque noise drops in as the track winds down. It’s perfect.

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The track right after “Persistent Impulse” demonstrates what I consider to be a trademark of Jesper’s (I hope calling it that doesn’t discourage him from using the technique). The track is called “Beyond the Biodome”. It starts with a winding, 16th-note motive that echoes and twists around until he flips where it starts and ends. Jesper does it so subtly that, unless you’re really paying attention, you could miss it. I love that trickery.

System Interference” is another great song to get your blood pumping. Or, if you need to chill out and take a trip, listen to “Outlands”.

Gearbox, the developer of the Borderlands series, tends to have difficulty creating games independent of lengthy swaths of repetition. Thankfully, these moments go by quickly thanks to a couple of the things they do well: great one-liners and Jesper Kyd.

Take a listen today, and let me know what you think. I think this deserves a spot on the list for sure.

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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 cat June Bug and loves gaming, with or without friends.

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