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Seriously, Destiny is ruining my life, one short week after I welcomed it into my life. It’s not new for me to be consumed by a game, but I’m especially frustrated by Destiny’s hold on my soul while I face down week after week of new game releases. Over the course of the last few days, I’ve started dreading the release of Dragon Age: Inquisition, Sunset Overdrive, Fantasia: Music Evolved, Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor, Far Cry 4 and LittleBigPlanet 3.

I feel like I’m cheating on Diablo 3. All I can do is Destiny. I keep looking at my character on the app and on Bungie.net. She looks amazing.

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I’ve only begun with a Hunter, and she’s up to 21 at this point. It’s no surprise to me that I’m hooked on a game that allows you to micromanage your inventory and obsess over your stats while away from the console.

I’m still not even really sure how to deck her out. I have no idea what to buy from whom, and I’m not entirely certain what types of salvage I should try to acquire. I have about 10,982 Spirit Blooms, or so.

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I wrote an entry here when I learned that Destiny cost $500-million to make. I was concerned that a high price tag would translate into too many people with too many visions and too many directions leading to too many errors. As of now, I’ve had zero connection issues, and I’ve never encountered a glitch. My complaint thus far is the ridiculously brief story, most of which I didn’t understand. Luckily, it’ll only take me about a half a day to storm through it again if I need help comprehending the lore.

I think it’s a beautiful game. There is a balance between colorless, lifeless terrain (like on the Moon) and lush, vibrant landscapes (like Venus). And yes, there is a fair amount of repetition, depending on how much grinding you’re willing to do. I have a particularly high threshold for grinding, that I believe corresponds directly with the amount of time I’m willing to spend interacting with other humans.

Speaking of which, I thoroughly enjoy interacting with strangers on a “whenever-the-hell-I-want” basis. Other players come and go, and I get to decide if I want to help them or keep doing my own thing.

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There are exceptions to this, though, like in the Strike missions. These are co-op missions with up to three players. They’re challenging battles with waves of enemies and incredibly tough bosses. As you move through these levels, Bungie eventually restricts respawning, and if all three players die without resurrecting each other before killing the final boss, that section resets and you begin the entire boss battle over again. When you’re facing bosses that take a solid 20 minutes to kill, it gets frustrating if all three players continue to die. Strategy becomes paramount, and I enjoy that quite a bit. Ammo isn’t necessarily abundant either, forcing you to consider ammo conservation and resource management.

In my opening moments of playing Destiny, it felt like Borderlands without the humor. I still have this opinion sometimes; however, I love the hell out of Borderlands so it’s hardly a criticism.

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Here’s the bottom line for me on Destiny: if you enjoy first-person shooters, get this game. Wait until the price is lower if you want, but get this game. There are plenty of enemies – in fact, after you clear an area, the enemies respawn so quickly it’s occasionally frustrating.

I need to spend a bit more time with Destiny’s music before I review that, but look for those comments next week.

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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.

Over the course of the next couple of weeks, I will be talking about my favorite games from the last generation of consoles (PS3/Xbox 360/Wii). If you remember, last year I made a similar list, but that particular set of favorites concerned itself with the best music tracks of the 7th gaming generation and not the actual games. Well, time is really up for these machines I’m afraid, and my catalog of its ultimate experiences is complete. It will also be done out of order. Ready? Here we go!

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Watch: Vanquish Announcement Trailer 2010

# 3 Vanquish (Shinji Mikami and Platinum Games 2010)

In all honesty, though it may not seem like it, I tend to get tired of using superlatives. If you were to even casually glance over any one of my articles, however, you’d see that I tend to polish and gloss most all of the things I talk about. It comes instinctually, due to my love of the subject matter, and believe me, I REALLY do love it. I can’t however, simply place a game soundtrack title or a game title that I like at the top of one of my written pieces and follow it with a thousand puerile smiling emoticons. That is not writing; that’s me decorating my bedroom walls (Oh if you could see them!). These superlatives unfortunately are necessary to this process. Thing is, not everything deserves to be described as something with such a beautiful sheen that it’s translucent. Except VANQUISH!

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 Listen: Vanquish Soundtrack – Grandhill’s Highest Part

Few software titles from this previous generation have left me genuinely speechless, and I don’t just mean figuratively. The demo Platinum and Sega were showcasing on the E3 2010 show floor was one of the most searing, visceral and transformative moments in all of my action gaming life. Less than 10 seconds after completing the available single level, I was suddenly approached by some Sega representatives with a camera rolling. They began to ask questions: “ What did you think?” “How do you like the boost?” “What do you think of the character design?” “How do you feel.” I kept nodding in their direction, but nothing was coming out of my mouth, nothing at all. Why? I was sweating, panting like I needed to catch my breath. Their amusement turned to slight irritation as I just stood there gasping heavily. Suddenly I blurted out a single slurred stutter: “It’s fast!” Thinking that they could now move forward with their questions, their slog of inquiries continued. To each I answered “It’s fast!” Insistent, they pressed me with different angles and at each level of interrogation, I could only make the same or variant reply. Then, understandably frustrated, they thanked me for my time and walked away.

The picture below was taken moments after that botched interview.

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 Listen: Vanquish Soundtrack – Tutorial

Shinji Mikami and Platinum’s Vanquish may disguise itself as some twitching Killroy come Mr. Roboto acrobatics, run and gun, but it is far less synthetics and frigid infusion and much, much more akin to James Brown: Moving it, doing it.

Like Brown, Vanquish is a gutturally vocal master of stepping on and punctuating a note; like Brown, it’s much deeper than sloppily coordinated elbows and knees and hip gyration; and like Brown, Vanquish ties its greatest rewards to YOUR delivery, the succinctness of YOUR timing and the power of YOUR phrasings. It’s not WHAT you say, it’s HOW you say it. Vanquish adds such grand interstellar pop spectacle to its love supreme soul that it leaves reverent adulation to follow every minutia of movement in its full-figured repertoire. Mikami in his heart is all Rhythm and Blues, not rigid metal, pessimistic post-punk, nor bleeding, tearful slow-core. He don‘t know karate but he knows crazy! And as it stands, Shinji Mikami’s Vanquish is the transcendental Yahweh Godfather of action games, and if it doesn’t somehow manage to reach the very top of gaming’s all-time greatest of the genre, then quite simply put, there’s no real reason to keep playing them.

Namaste.

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 Listen: Vanquish Soundtrack – Argus Battle

Stay tuned next week as our countdown continues!

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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.

There are loads of Mass Effect and probably some Dragon Age spoilers up in here:

I wrote in defense of Morrigan from the Dragon Age series a few weeks ago. I’ve continued playing BioWare games lately, perhaps in a quest to find an artificial girlfriend so willingly offered up by their titles, or perhaps because I enjoy their stories. Maybe both.

I’ve failed miserably with regards to finding a BioWare mate. In Dragon Age: Origins, I attempted to romance Morrigan with my lady Grey Warden, only to find out Morrigan is straight and can’t be in a same-sex relationship. That’s cool because it’s like life where humans are a variety of bi, straight and/or gay.

However, even though Leliana’s romance meter was set to “LAND THE PLANE”, I forgot to consummate my relationship with her before starting the final mission. So my Grey Warden never experienced true bliss, as it were, before the final battle.

In Dragon Age II, I went for Isabela (every playthrough). All you need to do is be nice to her like once and she’ll spend some “quality time” with you.

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Hawke: “Hey Iz, new bandana?” Isabela: *focuses gaze, stares ravenously*

When I played through the Mass Effect series on the Xbox, I stuck with Liara the entire time. Liara is, hands down, the best romance option. Like, ever. In those early days of my Mass Effect life, I didn’t know that BioWare was all “equality” about their romances and such in games. I encountered a conversation in which my FemShep could flirt with Liara, or tell her I thought lady sex was gross. I chose to tell her I thought it was gross, because in my mind, I thought, this is a video game; they’ll never let me have a same-sex relationship, and they’ll mock me if I agree with her. So I turned her down and lost my chance. As the game progressed, my lack of BioWare know-how led me to accidentally romance Kaiden. The memory of that brings a small nugget of bile to the back of my throat.

Fast forward to now, when I’m all about Mass Effect. I’ve played all three enough times to know what’s what. Kind of.

I never played the first Mass Effect on PlayStation. Oh, dude, I tried. I tried so hard. But I got to the Citadel, and remembered how much walking around Shepard has to do, and how Shepard doesn’t have a run button, and I just. couldn’t. do it.

So I popped in Mass Effect 2 and started that. But surprise! You can’t romance Liara in Mass Effect 2 unless you did in the first one. I mean, you kind of can, but there’s no plane that lands. Liara leaves Shepard sitting on the end of her bed in the Captain’s Cabin, walking away while Shepard depressingly says something like, “Come back soon.”

It gets worse for the ladies who want to romance other ladies in Mass Effect 2. FemShep can romance Kelly, assuming you go save her as soon as the Collectors take her. Otherwise, Kelly dies.

If FemShep tries to romance Samara, it’s bleak. Samara is an Asari justicar who follows “The Code” and cannot be in a relationship. Even though Samara is intrigued by FemShep, Samara still turns her away. Truly heartbreaking, in a video game sense.

If you’re playing as FemShep and you want the romance trophy (aka the Paramour Achievement), you can’t romance a female at all. You must romance Thane, Garrus or Jacob. All of those choices suck, no matter how awesome Thane or Garrus are. Maybe if Thane or Garrus were blue, I’d be down?

Since Samara won’t seal the deal due to her Code, and Kelly may or may not die, the only other choice is Morinth, unless you kill her (which I did since I’m playing as Paragon).

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And choosing Morinth isn’t the most intelligent decision…

It’s a sad, sad state for a gay chick to play Mass Effect 2. After my failed BioWare relationships, I feel like the only true solution is to start over from scratch. Again. Force myself through the stupid Citadel, romance the hell out of Liara, and carry her along through ME2 into ME3.

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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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Listen: Darkstalkers: The Night Warriors – Opening Title

It’s the very, very late 1990’s and as the third installment of Capcom’s Darkstalkers completes its production cycle, so too does the developer’s own dedicated house band Alph Lyla (aka Alpha Lyla). As Darkstalker’s motherboards and connecting PCBs are shipped to arcades across Japan and North America, for reasons unknown Alph Lyla internally disintegrates, implodes and disbands. Was it a partnership that ended in some bitter he-said/she-said infighting? Contractual disputes? Dueling artistic visions? Who made that final round of calls? Who dropped the axe? The truth of those final days most certainly is a truth to which we’ll never be privy. What is certain is that after almost a decade spent crisscrossing the globe playing the largest and most celebrated arcade halls, this was the end, and Alph Lyla had fully accepted what was now to come: its true death.

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 Listen: Darkstalkers: The Night Warriors – Demetri’s Stage

You’ve heard Alph Lyla, and seen them play more times than is even fathomable. While you may never have bought their t-shirts or purchased their records, chances are you’ve been their biggest and most unwitting fan. Stepping into an arcade, even once since 1988, guarantees you’re familiar with their brand of score.

From Strider to Captain Commando and Street Fighter 2, Alph Lyla’s rotating membership of immensely gifted players spun a black circle that defined and re-defined what could be done within the constraints of video game audio, and likewise should be regarded as THE pioneers of the genre. Today however, I am most concerned with their life at the end and that last cycle that produced six of the most bizarre, spectacular and seductive albums of their career. This is the story of their penultimate contribution to gaming audio: Capcom’s 6-disc soundtrack anthology Darkstalkers Vampire Soundbox.

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Listen: Darkstalkers: The Night Warriors – Jon Talbain Stag

For a moment on disc one, you’d never know that what you’re listening to is a Darkstalkers score. Over the multiple albums that comprise this set, it is this very first record that finds Alph Lyla actively struggling to create the universe of its accursed succubus Morrigan and vampire Demetri. These initial accompaniments are not at all bad, nor necessarily confused takes on the undead, but they are ones in which the group becomes saddled with the ideas and directions of the score’s objectives: no perimeter is to be present, and none of the established grids well protected. Darkstalkers’ inaugural set of character and stage themes rides its monster noir pulp to each and every cardinal point on a compass. Alph Lyla is not averse to experimentation and willfully trades musical genres as its own quick and dirty petty cash. The band barters and haggles with every merchant along the way, leaning strongly for a moment towards Amandla-esqe fusion jazz, and then quickly altering their course, steering from barrelhouse to bottleneck air guitar, and genteel monster muzak. With so many disparate demon tribes being sent to contribute verse to Darkstalkers, Alph Lyla had to carefully mediate the negotiating table, offering each and every one of its participants a first draft mock-up of their signature sounds. Vampire Sound Box’s first record offers a gorgeous yet puzzling set of pre-renderings that, while accomplished, are models and arrangements not yet fully formed.

Quality takes time though, and the groundwork laid here for Alph Lyla’s Darkstalkers starter home contains all the necessary elements on which they will build their crowning, ever-evolving masterpiece. But…so much work still remains to be done.

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 Listen: Night Warriors: Darkstalkers’ Revenge – Morrigan’s Stage (Scotland)

At this point, Alph Lyla’s scattered collection of Polaroids, snapshots and location files had begun to overtake their studio. Those days of whittling are central to the music of discs 2 and 3 of the set. This is where each photograph would be rated and vigorously tested for its inflection of horror and Samhain musicality. You can almost see them all stretched out on their office floor debating at length about which of the hundreds of theme sketches will take lead. Are these heroes or villains? What was missed in the first go-around? “Anyone here ever been to Egypt?“ What most people don’t realize is just how quickly Alph Lyla had to evolve. Regular pop or rock groups are usually given the benefit of advances on salary, holidays between releases, and the artistic carte blanche of “It’s done when it’s done.” The traveling distance between 1994’s Darkstalkers: The Night Warriors and its sequel, Vampire: Darkstalkers Revenge is less than one year, with Darkstalkers 3: Vampire Savior debuting early in 1997. Alph Lyla’s now cancerous and terminal sound evolution would have to be a very, very quick one. BUT. The immense pressure placed on the group begins to produce seed and on the second disc, the series’ iconography begins to take shape. Yes, that IS Morrigan’s theme in its purest and barest form. Yes, the Bishamon, Hsien-Ko, and Sasquatch themes have clearly turned their own corner. Yes, that’s Demetri’s theme dictating the full terms of sound tone for all future sequels. From this point on, Alph Lyla’s stew of magical arts and skeleton hodgepodge ceases full stop. There’s not only focus here, but a fervor, an excitement .You can see the band collectively starting to grin, walking together, being in on their secret, and functioning as a truly exclusive unit. If you doubt me, just take one listen to Lord Raptor’s concrete slab of metal-heavy soloing and tell me that’s not chemistry.

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 Listen: Night Warriors: Darkstalkers’ Revenge – Felicia’s Stage (U.S.A.)

Alph Lyla isn’t satisfied with simple grade school chemistry though, finding its array of mole, Torr and Kelvin as something both cursory and unambitious. As such, discs 4, 5 and 6 of the Vampire Sound Box stand as a revelatory treaty of the blackest holes, the most unexplained of anti-matter, the darkest of space. The contents of these recordings are beyond all expectation, boldly vanquishing even the very best of Alph Lyla’s musical catalog. Here, the group’s earliest Darkstalkers workings now sound absolutely timid. What’s most interesting about this slate of material is how clearly they now understand the world for which they are scoring. It goes beyond that though, to ownership, to signing over the castle deed. Alph Lyla becomes the only set of individuals who can make music for this series from now on. Genius bandies about between all, myself included, but it’s the only assessment of intelligence to accurately describe Alph Lyla’s metamorphosis from Australopithecus to modern Homo sapien.

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 Listen: Darkstalkers 3: Vampire Savior – Vanity Paradise

On this concluding trio of discs, all musical concerns are thoroughly addressed, corrected, and admonished. In their dealings with Darkstalkers, Alpha Lyla’s most pronounced blockade to full musical realization was tempo. In the two previous games, the group seemed to struggle to match the intensity of the onscreen demon-world brawl, oftentimes falling out of synch completely with not only the pace of the match, but with the flavor of their characters’ identity. Darkstalkers 3, perhaps taking cues from lessons learned by Alph Lyla’s own members on other projects like Street Fighter Alpha 3, makes considerable impact in this final Darkstalkers installment.

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 Listen: Darkstalkers 3: Vampire Savior – Tower Of Arrogance

Secondly, weight and muscle are important things in life, and time and time again, Alph Lyla seemed determined to starve itself, refusing even to eat the smallest of portions. Pale and emaciated, the band’s set lists grew harder and harder to slog through as even modest heat burned up what few calories they consumed. They needed more gristle behind these compositions if they were ever to last, and so Alph Lyla somewhat begrudgingly made that crucial change: they beefed up.

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 Listen: Darkstalkers 3: Vampire Savior – Feast Of The Damned

Where once you could have easily grabbed these arrangements by their frail and dainty wrists, Darkstalkers 3’s sudden weight gain, its amply muscled girth makes this an all-out impossibility. Alph Lyla’s very last collaborations were a collection of menace, speed, and dangerous corrupting shadows falling directly in line with the house of the devil. While the band’s increased speed of tempo, dialed-up bass, and downplayed treble all seem like simple fixes, they actually work as a bottomless flow of currency to fund the group’s apocalyptic second coming. The band’s mixture of obsidian chaos, underworld, blood pacts, and soul-sale imagery go beyond mere sweat and cowardly desperation –  Alph Lyla finally makes Darkstalkers’ creatures an integral and permanent part of the night. And what comes with night? FEAR!

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 Listen: Darkstalkers 3: Vampire Savior – Deserted Chateau

Lastly, there’s one facet that has yet to be explored here musically, and that’s the game’s heavy emphasis on nobility, beauty and sexuality. There needed to be an elevation of these characters from just your simple monster movie archetypes. Some of these playable fighters are charged with the keeping of bloodlines, oral histories, and realms free of opposing factions, and above all else, preserving their own physical beauty. Likewise, Darkstalkers’ final score should reflect that judiciously. Alph Lyla correctly made no assumptions that the additions spoken of in the last paragraph would be enough to convey this as muscle does not smoldering nor dignified make, and so the group proceeded to add all shades of lipstick, blush, and slow-rising mist to their soundtrack’s already well supported curves. Characters’ walks become more elegant, their costumes more decorated, and their accomplishments more embellished. The band’s end result is an anesthesia so hypnotically bewildering and powerful, its true feat is that anyone can even play the game without simply staring fixatedly upon it. Darkstalkers’ score is a highly potent, near-toxic spell of crossed desire lines, carnal yearning and forsaken allegiances. Even the logo screen (the unparalleled and now famous opening “Dirty Beret” teaser) has the ability to captivate, narcotize and enslave.

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 Listen: Darkstalkers 3: Vampire Savior – Dirty Beret

Not a single moment inside Vampire Sound Box’s compilation fails, and that’s saying quite a lot. This being their closing set of recorded tracks together as Alph Lyla, they’ve placed emphasis on every snippet of film intro, plot device and win/loss hook. Not a moment is silent, and nothing is left to be repeated. This is poring over their legacy, their last written word in stone. It captures their towering scale at its highest point and provides the clearest, most thorough memoir of one of video games’ greatest and most revered groups at the moment of their passing.

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 Listen: Darkstalkers 3: Vampire Savior – Red Thirst

From Darkstalkers onward, sound duties for a varied and great number of Capcom titles fell to single, past members of Alph Lyla. With a decade of recordings in its portfolio, their carefully constructed body of work would find its way onto a numerous number of compilations and retrospectives. There was a small tremor after their demise in the form of a BioHazard Drama album done in 1999, but it didn’t amount to a reforming of the group. It’s of no matter though, I suppose, because with Darkstalkers: Vampire Sound Box, Alph Lyla ends its career with the truest sound of night. And night, as it’s understood, seems to be stronger than death.

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Listen: Darkstalkers 3: Vampire Savior – Fetus Of God

To purchase the entire digital Vampire: Soundbox click here. This ends our Summer of Capcom, if you missed any of the previous articles, please click here…..here….here…..here and here.

And remember, Darkstalkers are not dead!

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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.

Another PAX Prime is in the books, and this was a big one. So many people. So many games. So many lines.

Saturday, I hosted two panels. The first, at noon, was called Disney’s Fantasia: Music Evolved – From 8-Bit Soundtrack to Gameplay, and involved Chris Nicholls (Executive Producer of Fantasia: Music Evolved), Gwen Riley (Head of Business Affairs Music at Disney Interactive), Inon Zur (composer) and Eddie Kramer (producer/engineer).

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The panel was fabulous, but my favorite part was playing the game. Disney teamed up with Harmonix for this one, and Harmonix proved again that they have a handle on creating fantastic interactive music games.

I chose to try the game out by playing Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik. Much like the very first time I played Guitar Hero, I didn’t nail many notes, but all I wanted to do was try it again and again. It was addicting, fun, challenging, colorful and engaging.

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Composer Inon Zur channeling Wizard Mickey

The bummer of it is that it’s an Xbox One exclusive, but between Disney’s Fantasia: Music Evolved and Insomniac’s Sunset Overdrive, I know at least one person who’s buying an Xbox One before October. (me)

I finally want an Xbox One! That’s good news for Microsoft, as I’m sure I’m not the only one excited by some of their upcoming exclusives.

The afternoon panel I hosted was called Maestros of Video Games, and included composers Martin O’Donnell, Darren Korb, Sascha Dikiciyan, Oleksa Lozowchuk, Jesper Kyd and Boris Salchow. All six of those composers are fabulous in their own right, and they were a delight on the panel. That panel ended at 5:30, followed by a 2-hour signing session from 7 PM – 9 PM.

All six have exciting projects – some are announced, some are not. Jesper’s newest music will be heard in Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel. You’ll hear Sascha’s music in The Long Dark, Boris’s in Sunset Overdrive, and Marty’s in Destiny. Darren’s newest tunes are in Transistor, and I highly encourage you to listen to every single note written by Oleksa, whether it’s from Dead Rising 3 or any number of amazing projects he’s scored.

Saturday was a lonnnnnng day, but easily one of the best days of my life.

The lines, as I mentioned, were as epic as ever. When I finally had the chance to walk the floor Sunday afternoon, every single line was capped and said “Please come back in 5-10 minutes, and no, you can’t make a line for the line”.

But there was no line for LittleBigPlanet 3, at least not at the instant I walked by it. I played it, loved it, I can’t wait to buy it. LBP3 was set up at Sony’s PlayStation exhibit. They happened to have a couple PS4s set up running Far Cry 4, so I played that without a wait also, standing not 50 feet away from the 2+-hour-long line at Ubisoft’s actual Far Cry 4 booth. I will buy that without hesitation as well.

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Sunday, I bumped into Peter McConnell. He was at PAX Prime to do a panel about Grim Fandango, which Double Fine is re-releasing. Such good news!!!

All in all, PAX Prime was fantastic. PAXtastic. Hard to believe it was my fourth PAX (2nd Prime)! I met some great people, fans and industry folk alike. I look forward to the next adventure!

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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.

Game Music Connect

Sumthing Else Music Works partners with Game Music Connect 2014, the international video game music conference created for fans of music in games, aspiring and professional composers of all backgrounds and those interested in learning about the art and craft of creating today’s cutting edge video game soundtracks. Game Music Connect 2014 attendees will receive a free digital soundtrack sampler, featuring selections from Sumthing’s extensive catalogue www.sumthing.com, when they attend the second annual event at Southbank Centre’s Purcell Room, London on September 24, 2014.

Game Music Connect 2014 will feature a highly distinguished and dynamic line-up of international A-list music talent including: Garry Schyman (BioShock), Jessica Curry (Dear Esther, Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs), Olivier Derivière (Remember Me), Jason Graves (Tomb Raider), Richard Jacques (Mass Effect) and David Housden (Thomas Was Alone).

Programme: http://www.gamemusicconnect2014.com/#schedule.

Speakers: http://www.gamemusicconnect2014.com/#speakers.

Tickets: http://www.gamemusicconnect2014.com/#registration.

Game Music Connect is created by BAFTA and IFMCA award-winning composer James Hannigan (Transformers Universe, Runescape 3) and veteran game audio director, composer and industry commentator John Broomhall (Forza 5, Transport Tycoon), to celebrate and explore the music of video games together and the extraordinary talent behind it. For more information, visit www.gamemusicconnect.com.

Saturday, August 30th, I’m moderating a discussion called “Maestros of Video Games” in Seattle at PAX Prime. As usual, I’m pretty frickin’ excited about this. Here’s a bit of background on each panelist, along with a couple of my favorite samples of their music.

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Sascha Dikiciyan

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Sascha’s Mass Effect 3 music hits me with such nostalgia that all I need to do is see the title of one of those tracks and I’m hit with a wave.

Here’s the character creation music. Sascha is great at creating the illusion of spacious landscapes in his tracks. He worked on both Borderlands games; here’s one of my favorites from Borderlands 2.

Lest we forget Dead Rising 3, a soundtrack with more than five hours of music on it. Sascha isn’t responsible for all five of those hours, as you’ll learn below. He contributed a lot of music, though, such as “Infected”, which you can check out on Sascha’s website.

Darren Korb

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Darren is the audio guy and composer for Supergiant Games. His soundtrack for Bastion pretty much blew everyone away. He came back with more amazing music for Transistor in 2014. Both games are all but unplayable without the soundtracks. Here’s a favorite track from each:

Slinger’s Song” – Bastion

Sandbox” – Transistor

Jesper Kyd

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Oh man I love this dude so much it hurts. I mean no disrespect to the other incredible talents on the panel. One of game music’s greatest tragedies was the separation of Assassin’s Creed and Jesper, although I tell myself this opened up opportunities for us to hear his music elsewhere.

One of my favorite “elsewheres” is Darksiders II, which quite possibly will forever remain a favorite soundtrack of mine. Here’s that.

He’s done much since then, as he did much before AC with his Hitman music. Borderlands, Borderlands 2, State of Decay, and the TV series Metal Hurlant Chronicles. Here’s some awesome Borderlands 2 music.

Oleksa Lozochuk

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Oleksa joined the Dead Rising series for Dead Rising 2. Oleksa is a pretty great songwriter, for one. Check out “Halfway Dead”. It’s amazing.

I adore this track from Dead Rising 3 in so many ways, too. Yay Prince!

Not all his music has words, such as this.

Martin O’Donnell

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What honestly to say about Martin, the king of Halo, that hasn’t been said? My favorite soundtrack from the Halo series is from ODST. My favorite other Halo track is “Luck” from Halo 3.

I kinda can’t wait to hear more Destiny music, and I’m bummed that won’t happen until after the panel (Destiny releases September 9). Here’s a taste, though!

Boris Salchow

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Huge huge huge Boris fan. I loved his music for Resistance 3; he’s written amazing music for Ratchet & Clank, and I cannot wait to hear what’s up with Sunset Overdrive.

However, if you want to hear a hidden gem, I highly, highly recommend you listen to his score for a film called Germany from Above (Deutschland von Oben). It’s fantastic, and you can hear it on his website.

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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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Listen: Prologue

Video games save lives and a few months ago we looked at the first two entries on a list of games that have personally saved mine. Today we will look at the third and final title in this series, and how exactly it helped me through crisis. Today it’s Fumito Ueda and Team ICO’s Shadow Of The Colossus. First though, I need to tell you a story that goes back over a decade ago.

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Watch: Intro Movie

In 1997, if you had told me that I would be the first to leave my old band, I would have fallen over laughing at you. How could you know about the oaths I had sworn in my head? This group was about a lifetime of allegiance. It was a duty born to ensure the survival of something I had helped to create. The band needed four good men, and I never pegged myself as THE deserter. I also never suspected I would walk away from that duty early: Who could have known that I was the Ides of March? I was. So the end came.

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Listen: Prohibited Arts

It’s August 23rd, 2005; I am on stage for the last time as a member of the group.  I picked the day of our eight-year anniversary to leave. When you separate from people, nothing makes any sense. I did feel a very clear sense of acrimony. A distinct betrayal. My musical ideas within the band had started going unheard, and the conversations stopped including me. I began as this group’s front man, and I still sang, but only just barely. The quartet we had felt like a trio, with me relegated to what was essentially tambourine duty. I couldn’t help but feel abandoned by these people around whom I had built my life.

My role in those final months can be likened to that of a sickly dog. Quite literally, I limped into a corner and died a slow mute death.

In this our final show, before our last song had even ended, I turned off my equipment and jumped off the stage. I watched the end of the performance instead of participating in it. I was done. The night ended with few tears, I felt almost nothing, and said even less.

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Listen: Resurrection

The problems with the band of course had two sides. It wasn’t their fault, and I was in no way blameless. I had been miserable company for most of the time I had lived in Austin with them, and I was not around when I needed to be around. I was homesick… mentally, physically and emotionally exhausted. I worked three jobs and never left my house.

I was not living for myself; I was living for them. I knew these men would always be my family, so I got out.

There was one caveat for which I had not prepared. With the group, I had felt like my own heroes. I was Marty Mcfly saving Doc Brown from the Libyans. Batman telling Commissioner Gordon, “You don’t have to thank me”. I was invincible, worthwhile, and important. Now at best, I was just some guy with a funny walk who had once been a part of something bigger. I was a nothing, a has-been at age 26.

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Listen: The Opened Way

I left Austin, but coming back home did very little to ease my mind. I had just experienced the biggest breakup of my entire life. I had whittled away a good portion of my twenties, damaged my hearing, and compromised my own sanity for something I was no longer a part of. I was completely heartbroken, and heartbroken people are usually vampiric insomniacs who actively diminish the value of a daily shower.  I lived in my bedroom, playing Street Fighter 2 and only went out when I wanted to see Batman Begins… which I saw some twenty times in theaters. I was not on earth; I was floating in a haze! Then the walking began.

Walking became everything to me. I circled neighborhoods and paced in front of convenience stores. All this mobilized meandering held such value – as long as I was walking, I was in control. This is also, might I add, when interventions needed to happen. In short, I needed therapy.

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Listen: End of the Battle

I had been in therapy before when I was about ten years old. This one morning, between breakfast and Nintendo, I wanted to die. Then, overnight, I became afraid of everything and everyone.  Therapy, if you haven’t experienced it, can be a completely alienating experience in the wrong hands, or it can be permanently, positively transformative when administered by a skilled practitioner. Your therapist is someone who wants to take that sick bullet for you, bending and curving the wind to scatter the remnants deflecting the shrapnel. It comes at a cost, though – they WANT answers, and they WANT action. The truth, however, is that the answers they seek can be vicious, uncomfortable, and downright mentally excruciating to produce.

My therapist, in case you’re wondering, saved my life and I will always love him for it.

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Listen: Idol Collapse

Back to the present… this walking I’m doing desperately needs attention. While I never thought that I would find myself back in the position of needing therapy again, here I am. Unbeknownst to me, Shadow Of The Colossus would be both my intervention, and my therapy.

How on earth did Shadow Of The Colossus make me feel safe, how did it save my life (are you still there)? The simple and most obvious answer would be the space and silence it afforded me, much like the other games on this list. There is one major difference between those experiences and Shadow; this time you’re not alone. Shadow is a game of lengthy clinical examination: long stretches of probing one-on-one analysis via your horse Agro. On the many trips, the rides to each of the 16 Colossus battles, I was given jarringly pointed and sobering assignments. I cried a LOT, through a good 90% of the game even. I don’t mean tear up, I mean sobbed. It was nothing short of physical. The other ten percent of Team ICO’s sessions revolved around actually battling its Colossus.

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Listen: Lakeside

This video game, this inanimate plastic object, knew I had just lost the love of my life. It saw me pounding her chest, actively searching for a way to revive her slowly festering corpse. Even after the fiasco, the end of my involvement in my band… I still wanted to be part of it. I still wanted it back. The fear of letting go requires facing the actual fear, and Shadow Of The Colossus held my arms and legs restrained, my gaze forcibly narrowed and jammed down the fish eye of my assailant in the form of those Colossi. In order to reach that point, however, you guessed it… there must first be some time spent riding around in the dark.

So mounting Agro meant I had to first seek out these creatures, working through my problems as I rode to their lairs. Then I had to go close-quarters with the actual beast in their second, more leviathan-like form: The colossus.

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Listen: Silence

For game software to competently masquerade as a therapist, it has to be many things. Foremost, it has to be breathing. Shadow inhales, exhales, coughs and has its own history of questionable and reprehensible choices. It is one of the few games that I consider to be a living being. Shadow is also no fan of hoarding, and it sees no value whatsoever in the collecting of aged and piling newspapers. This title is one of focused ambition, and successfully steers you away from your desire to acquire useless baubles as is customary in most video games. No plunder, no dawdle, no distraction. Here you are tasked with very specific things and its single goal is a straightforward one: best the entities paralyzing you.

If Shadow Of The Colossus is actually human, then by definition so are the few characters that inhabit its world. If you have not played the game: there are a few spoilers ahead, begin reading again at “Lastly“. It all begins and ends with Agro, your horse. He’s your therapist and thankfully, a competent one. All your trials are cataloged, examined, and medicated by Agro’s prescription pad; he is always there. This poor horse takes you from sand dunes to the hinterlands, never wavering, never tiring. I grew so attached to the horse that I tried to minimize my attempts to make him run faster. When my character would dismount, I would always gently pat his mane (which the game allows you to do), never wanting him to feel that I was someone who could not be trusted. If he felt it, I felt it: his bruises, his exhaustion… all of it.

When Agro dies in a final act of loyalty to you, it was too much. I stopped playing for days. The bond was such that when death came for Agro, it was the first time I ever actually mourned a video game avatar, and his death signifies Shadow’s last and painfully capitalized push to make you finally go it alone.

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Listen: The Sunlit Earth

Lastly, the game’s soundtrack as scored by composer Kow Otani builds upon game director Fumito Ueda’s garishly dotted landscapes with contrasting cycles of panoramic silence and broken verses intoning fear, mourning and helpless paralysis. Otani’s instrument is one of the game’s most essential mechanisms. His work here is a profoundly emotive and densely passionate set of pieces, without which Shadow might have failed to translate the onslaught and weight of its slow and piecemeal collapse. While Ueda’s scenes have been carefully orchestrated and expertly blocked, they still require Otani’s guidance to make them traversable, unscrambled and enduring. Without his material, it is quite likely that my therapy would have failed. Tackling problems with only the vision and limited black and white perspective of Ueda would have been a single pronged approach that would have failed to understand the full prognosis and broad spectrum of my troubles, which Otani was more than capable of translating.

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Listen: The Final Battle

When I finally reached the end of the game, I just felt better… enough even, to start moving around before sundown. The lift Shadow provided was a genuine one, wholly altering the course of my descent, creating a viable, steady path forward. It’s likely your experience will differ from mine, meaning substantially more or less to each player. Regardless, Shadow Of The Colossus will still be something I am certain you will feel the need to talk about some 40 years from now.

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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.

It’s time for another round of Emily’s pet peeves in gaming. Isn’t it? I think it is. I’ve been brewing up this list for a while.

Being Taunted

I’m not talking about being taunted by humans in multiplayer scenarios. I’m not talking about being chided by my friends while they watch me gloriously fail a poorly planned frontal assault in whatever game. I’m talking about being taunted by the game itself when I make a mistake or do poorly.

Here’s a simple example: I play a solitaire game called Fairway Solitaire by Big Fish Games. If I have more than five cards left over at the end of a round, this insipid little gopher pops into the middle of the screen and laughs at me. Occasionally, he’ll stick his tongue out. Sometimes, I have to set the phone down and walk away for fear I’ll chuck it into the wall.

Look, I know that fourteen-over-par is horrible. I don’t need you to laugh at me.

Is this because I got bullied as a child?

I remember Bastion’s narrator giving me crap for falling off the sidewalk a million times when I first started the game. That was annoying. Great game though. Awesome music. Made up for it.

Elaborate death screens sometimes feel like mockery. Some giant bleeding skull with gothic font saying “YOU DIED” or some such obvious language. Whatever. I hate being taunted.

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Mark Hamill: among the greatest of gaming’s offenders

Horde Mode

Wait, wait, wait. I actually love horde modes. I don’t always enjoy how horde modes are constructed.

Every once in a while, I’ll get home from a day – maybe it’s not even a bad day, relatively; it might be a great day. So every once in a while, I really enjoy just beasting on some bots, to feel like the queen of all games for a short amount of time, to feel… invincible.

Horde modes can let you feel this way for a short amount of time, until inevitably, you’re overwhelmed. In my opinion, this happens way too quickly.

I don’t always want a challenge. I don’t always want it to be hard. Sometimes, I just want to win all the things. I want the waves of enemies to stop when I want them to stop, not when they overwhelm me either by their rising armor and weapon levels or by their sheer numbers.

I want a game that gives me waves of the most moronic, incapable bots that gather in large groups ripe for predator missiles or acid bombs or energy beams or whatever my weapon of choice happens to be. I want those bots to keep coming, and I want my armor and weapon upgrades to keep coming, so I can continue to wreak endless havoc on the worthless, useless AI, until which time I decide I’ve had enough. Perhaps I’m driving a car over zombies, or shelling the opposition, or firing a mounted death beam.

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[Editor's Note] I’m just gonna leave this heeeere…

Timers

I hate being timed, largely in puzzle games. My whole life revolves around time, at a radio station. That is fine. It is my job. Parameters have benefits in this line of work. When I’m not at my job, please don’t time me. If your game has a stupid timer, please give me an untimed mode.

I understand timers on powers and such, and the occasional “get through here as fast as possible” board. I still mourn the loss of Zen mode in Bejeweled 3 since that mobile game got ruined by ads. Speaking of puzzle games:

Puzzle Games

I’m so bad at them. So, so bad. Often, when I play puzzle games, I’m left feeling like the kid in the corner wearing the dunce cap. I have to put in a game with shooting or driving just to feel in command again.

On the bright side, I feel like a genius when I solve one without a walkthrough. I’ve played many, many puzzle games. Too many to list. Games like Thomas Was Alone or Braid or Fez or The Unfinished Swan or whatever omgggggggg I get so frustrated. Even Uncharted puts me over the edge sometimes.

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Ugh.

Did I mention I like to win?

I make myself play them though. I can feel my brain work. Kind of like in quick time events.

Interestingly enough, I heart Portal to death. I love the Portal games so very much, and enjoy playing them. Most of the time.

Lockpicking

I spoke about this recently, so no need to go into too much detail. All I’ll say is, anyone should be able to learn how to pick a frickin’ lock. If a character has hands with opposable thumbs, that character should be able to learn that stupid skill.

Stationary Maps

In Dragon Age, the mini-map on the HUD doesn’t rotate. I think it forces my brain to use a different area that never gets used, like maybe the math or reason area. I struggle mightily with stationary mini-maps. I get up and down and left and right all mixed up, I get dizzy going in circles, and I get that brain whiplash you get when something comes into focus quickly.

How about you? What are your gaming pet peeves?

——————–
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.

Summer is usually the time I am most able to play video games. Sadly that time is coming to an end. Among the slew of titles that I’ve had a chance to play through fully, these moments stand out. Don’t worry: No spoilers.

summer 1

Listen: In Your Belief

Asura’s Wrath

One of Asura’s Wrath’s grandest traits by far is its commitment to its own gargantuan scope. By the time you’ve reached the end of the game, that first once unanimously colossal opening scene will feel almost inconsequential, weak… corporeal even. This title goes beyond any description, any manner of word trying to portray the idea of epic, huge, or over the top. It just keeps getting bigger and bigger and bigger.

Asura’s Wrath does all it can as quickly as it can to build up its own mystical monolith. Capcom and developer Cyber-Connect 2 are concerned only in extending those physical inches and feet upward, and if the summit can be reached, they’ll simply add more men to their crew and more wood to the peak. It is obvious that they discarded those ideal, more modest plans the moment shovels turned dirt on groundbreaking day.

Asura’s Wrath is a beware lesson that exposes the limitations of simply settling for magnifying glass magnification. The point is not to appear taller through glass, but to actually BE that tall.

summer 2

Listen: The Infraworld

Beyond: Two Souls

One of the most enjoyable things about Quantic Dream’s Beyond: Two Souls? The quiet. David Cage and Quantic Dream are more interested in telling their narrative than being bothered with a cumbersome layout of buttons used to make their onscreen avatar jump:  there can be very long stretches of silence dotted with minor activity, and it’s okay. This is all very deliberate, as it opens you up and focuses you on the battered psychology of Cage’s characters. While its emotion can become a tad heavy and even oppressive at times, I found it to be genuinely moving. The ending which I wouldn’t dare spoil here resonated with me on a very personal level. Did I cry? That’s a silly question. Yes, of course!

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Listen: Heaven’s Divide

Metal Gear Solid Peace Walker

I realize I am coming to this party VERY late, but in my head, the timing had to be JUST right. I had to play it with as little amount of time between the next major Metal Gear release as humanly possible. Since I am slated to begin Metal Gear Solid 5: Ground Zeroes on Christmas day this year, I figured time was actually running out. I could go on and on about Peace Walker, but I won’t. You see… these fools I have hired as guards, have let a certain someone go free yet AGAIN! And here I thought coerced mercenary and trust went hand in hand. Slippery this game.

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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.

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