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I’ve been drawn into this game called Hohokum. It came out last year (forget that I’m late to the party, celebrate that I showed up), and it’s free for PS Plus users this month.

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There isn’t a tutorial, and the only sense I get that I’ve progressed is by collecting little eyeball-snake friends. I think I’ve collected four or five of them. The music is chill and responsive to objects you touch, although it’s not even the music that draws me to the game.

Hohokum is a gorgeous playground of randomness. You play as a long thin snakelike being with an eyeball at one end, making it look a ton like a giant sperm. While I found this distracting and odd at first, the beauty and exploration of the game make it a non-issue.

If you check out the work of artist Richard Hogg, you’ll get a good sense for what the game looks like. There are bright colors with simple shapes, and Hohokum is your playground within that art. Of all the games that tout some sort of meditative vibe, this takes the cake for me.

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thatgamecompany gives a strong showing in this “chillax” gaming category with titles like Flower and Journey, but even these games have semi-stressful levels with enemies to avoid. I’ve not encountered any sense of danger in Hohokum whatsoever. Sure, there are objects you’d better not touch, but it won’t kill you.

Even in Dear Esther, where the entire point of the game is to walk around and look at things, there was always this sense of wanting more – of wanting to be able to interact with items – of wanting to feel some sense of accomplishment.

This is absent in Hohokum.

I’ve put several hours into the game, and I still don’t quite understand the home world, or how you travel between areas. Sometimes, you’ll enter a portal from one world to the next, and then go back to that portal assuming you’ll return from whence you came, and this isn’t always the case. Now, if you’re in a fantasy MMO of some sort, and you expect to return, this is an issue. Not in Hohokum. It just doesn’t seem to matter. In some ways, it’s the perfect metaphor for life: Everything will be fine.

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In my mind, Hohokum is brilliant. You might ask yourself, or me, “What’s the point?”

I have no idea. I have no clue. I don’t know how many levels there are (I don’t want to look it up). At one point, I did a Google search for something along the lines of “red elephant bird hohokum” to see what I should do with a being described as such, but I never could come up with an answer. I carried the bird-elephant around until it hopped off on its own, purportedly to where it wanted to go.

This seriously is the first time in my life where I do not care what the end game is. I don’t care how to get to the end, and I don’t care if I collect all my eyeball sperm friends, because once you collect them, they don’t appear to do anything (I refuse to look that up too).

In many ways, and I’m certain the developer of Hohokum understands this carefree attitude to the game; it’s the perfect antidote to every other game I’m playing (right now, that includes Awesomenauts, Dungeon Hunter Alliance, Dragon Age: Inquisition, Ether One, and a word game on my iPhone).

Of course, once I pick up The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, I might forget all about Hohokum and how calm it makes me feel to play. I’ll check in with you 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.

Did you ever play Black on PS2 or Xbox? EA Games released it in 2006. My cousin and I spent hours amounting to days trading off levels in Black. I waited years for Black 2 before I realized it would never come. In this time, I’m unsure what Black 2 would look like, other than another overly masculine first-person shooter. I’m content with my memories of Black the first, but I’d probably play the hell out of some kind of port.

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Black has a fabulous soundtrack, written by Chris Tilton and recorded at Newman Scoring Sound stage. Michael Giacchino co-wrote the theme, and Chris wrote the rest.

Listen to Tunnel Trouble. Listen for the muted trumpets (sounds a bit like this sort of). There are bassoons honking around underneath, then this great flute solo. The flutist is using a “flutter-tongue” technique – think of how you roll your Rs – it’s like that. It’s a neat section of acoustic music.

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I like Ambush as well, with its bits showing off French horns and the occasional cello. The tracks titled Bunker Buster and Bunker Buster #2 are variations on the motive that opens each cue. In effect, the first 12 notes you hear come back in various ways throughout the piece. If you drew a line in the shape of those first 12 notes, it would be an angular line. And even though the opening has six beats to the measure, it’s not long before Tilton starts mixing up the meters and we, as listeners, tend to lose our footing a bit. It’s an effective way to create anxiety for players.

Simplicity. Tilton’s soundtrack for Black is an excellent example of how to write a great score for a first-person shooter that uses an orchestra. Just an orchestra. It’s aural simplicity. I like it when composers to more with less. I’m a big fan of that. Hey, let’s see if we can get a port of Black for next-gen, huh?

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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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I participated in the Elder Scrolls Online beta on PS4 over the weekend. Overall, I enjoyed it. It’s a beautiful game, and it worked better than Skyrim did on PS3 at launch. That’s positive. I chose a Khajiit and named her Jün (all my characters in all games are named after my cat, June Bug. I’m that lady). In both Skyrim and Oblivion, I liked being an archer, so I got Jün a bow.

Playing an Elder Scrolls game on this new generation of console was certainly a dream come true. Jeremy Soule wrote the main theme for Elder Scrolls Online, which is darker than the previous two iterations (here’s Oblivion, and here’s Skyrim). The theme is in here, but it appears toward the end of the track.

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That’s all Jeremy wrote for ESO, though. Composer Brad Derrick wrote the rest, and from the hours I spent roaming around Auridon, he captured the mood I’ve come to expect from the Elder Scrolls. Here’s Auridon Sunrise. By the way, the sounds I expect from Elder Scrolls include lots of reverb, solo instruments with accompaniment, the instruments tend to be orchestral (things like English horn, violin) clear melodies that are memorable, location-specific and sing-able after I shut the game off.

One of my favorite parts about Oblivion and Skyrim: roaming around the landscape, seeing things I probably could see in real life if I could afford to travel anywhere, getting lost in the music and the view. I think there is room to do that in ESO, but I wasn’t keen on the idea of doing missions that require three friends to complete. I’m trying to recall if I’ve ever thought, Wow, I wish I could play Elder Scrolls with other people. It’s always been one of my favorite places to get lost, not to pal up.

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Oblivion was one of the first games I bought for PS3. It was the first time I’d ever played an RPG, in my entire life. I’d never played anything remotely similar to it. It took me until my second play-through to discover I could use magic to heal myself. Seriously.

I played it so many times, and none of them required another human being. It never occurred to me that that would improve my experience with Elder Scrolls. Thankfully, ESO includes missions you’re required to complete alone, so it’s not all social all the time. But it’s the ones that do require friends that bug me.

I’ve yet to meet a gamer who enjoys being told how to play the game.

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My other concern: in Oblivion and Skyrim, I could take full advantage of saving multiple times to replay sections if I killed the wrong person, or accidentally stole from a barrel or gave the wrong answer to a question.

This is not an option in ESO, not that I could figure. Maybe I’m not millennial enough to know how to work it.

Did you happen to play the beta this past weekend? Or have you played on PC for the last 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.

First of all, if you’ve not played Awesomenauts, you have no excuse, because it’s on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, Mac, and Linux (whatever that is).

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Nauts is a MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena), so each team has a series of turrets to defend and a home base to prevent enemies from destroying. MOBAs like Dota 2 and League of Legends have a top-down view, but ‘Nauts is a side-scroller. Rather than a left, right and middle lane, the game has a top and bottom lane.

Four composers, who call themselves Sonic Picnic, wrote the music for ‘Nauts. That’s about as much as I know about them, other than they write great music and they’re from the Netherlands.

Nauts has 16 characters (plus four you can purchase – more on that in a moment). Once you choose to start a game, you have 60 seconds to choose one of those 16 characters. Each character has two individual themes. For instance, “Leon Chameleon” is apparently French, so his character theme is this hysterical French slow rock tune. If you choose to play Leon, you’ll hear his special character theme until the game begins. Once the battle gets going, if Leon happens to be on a killing spree, everyone in the game hears this music.

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“Leon Chameleon”

I recommend you check out all 16 character themes and all 16 killing spree tunes, but I’ll share some of my favorites! They’re all so good.

“Raelynn” is a sniper type, and might have my favorite character theme. My pal Josiah is a beast with Raelynn, although I’m useless. He picks her a lot, and we couch co-op this game (another great reason to own! couch co-op!), so I hear her themes often. Her killing spree song is virtually the same as her theme.

“Coco Nebulon” has a hoverboard she rides around on, so her music reminds me of surf rock. “Skølldir” is a big, Norse tank who can throw enemies long distances. Given his name and appearance, it’s fitting he has a Scandinavian death metal theme, and here’s his killing spree.

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“Coco Nebulon”

I love playing as “Froggy G”, and yeah, he’s a hip hop frog. Here’s his awesome theme. Froggy G, in my opinion, is deceptively dangerous, mostly because he’s very fast. What do I know, though, I die constantly when I’m playing real people online. The only time I ever hear killing spree music is when I’m practicing against the bots (on 20% difficulty). MOBAs are hard, man.

Anyway, the absolute best part of Froggy G is his killing spree music. Make sure you listen for the “ribbit”. Ayla’s theme consists of someone singing “Ayla” over and over again. That rules.” Admiral Swiggins”, well, wouldn’t you write a sea shanty for someone named Admiral Swiggins? Yup.

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“Froggy G”

It’s creative and adorable and fun. Well, maybe not always fun, unless you’re playing the bots on 20%. That can be fun.

‘Nauts was a part of the PS4 Flash sale this weekend, for $2.50. It won’t break the bank, by any means. I paid the full price, ten bucks, and I’ve not bought anything else for the game. There are micro-transactions, however they aren’t essential to the game in any way. If you want all 20 characters, yes, you need to buy the other four. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve encountered these other characters during online gameplay. The sixteen characters the game already has are so enjoyable that I’ve concluded most of us are satisfied with those. Other transactions include special character skins. Some of these skins cost more than SEVEN DOLLARS, and I paid ten for the game.

Play this game. Do custom rounds or practice rounds with bots on a low difficulty setting. You can do these custom rounds with or without friends (no strangers in the custom rounds!). If nothing else, listen to the soundtrack, and enjoy a musical tour around the Awesomenauts globe.

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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.

One of my favorite soundtracks I rarely discuss comes from Portal 2. I figure I forget about it because it’s so completely not orchestral music. But my, my… it has delicious counterpoint!

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Mike Morasky wrote it, and if you don’t know much about Mike, I imagine he’ll be your hero before the end of the day. I dunno, just a hunch. Here’s a taste from Valve’s website:

“Teenage guitar player in a bar band in Montana; award-winning experimental composer in Tokyo; audio hardware programmer in Silicon Valley; underground art rocker touring the world; 3D animator and director for television; electronic audio collage artist in France and Japan; visual fx artist on The Lord of the Rings and Matrix trilogies; AI animation instructor at an art college.”

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Yup.

There’s an overarching theme to this soundtrack worth mentioning, and forgive me for diving into the music theory waters for a moment. Major and minor scales are built from a series of half-steps and whole-steps. The scales aren’t symmetrical. For instance, the major scale consists of the following series of steps: whole whole half, whole whole whole half.

In the 20th century, composers started using symmetrical scales like the diminished scale (also called the octatonic scale, because it has eight notes instead of seven). The diminished scale can start with a whole step or a half step, but then it alternates until you get to the top. So, whole half whole half whole half, etc.

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The whole tone scale is symmetrical too, and is constructed only of whole steps, no half steps. This scale only has six notes, and all the chords you can build from it are augmented chords. It has an otherworldly sound. To me, an augmented chord (or a whole tone scale) sounds very open and wide, compared to a more crunchy, compact diminished chord or scale.

Hungarian composer Bela Bartok was into all of these scales, as were Claude Debussy, Igor Stravinsky, and a ton of the Russian composers. Bartok supplies some pretty amazing, concise examples. Here’s an example of the octatonic scale from Bartok.

And here’s an example of the whole tone scale, also written by Bartok. To my ears, whole tone sounds open, and the octatonic scale sounds closed.

In any event, with that sound of the whole tone scale in your ears, listen to Technical Difficulties by Mike Morasky for Portal 2. In fact, listen to the full soundtrack with that in mind (you can, to this day, download the entire thing for free on their site here). Morasky expertly chose that sound to weave throughout the game. It’s brilliant, and I love it.

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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.

The two best pieces of music from Dragon Age: Inquisition aren’t on the soundtrack. I find it odd that they’re my two favorites, because they’re both combat tracks. I personally find myself worn down after a lot of combat music (unless Jesper Kyd wrote it), but fighting to this music was one of the best gaming experiences I’ve ever had.

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Do you hear that? The best gaming experiences I’ve ever had!

Exhibit A: We’ll just call this one “Extended Combat” music by Trevor Morris. It’s fast, in 7/8 (meaning there are seven beats to a measure, rather than any other number divisible by 2 or 3). You hear this music during a couple select fights, one being the Haven fight. The music, through its harmonies, instrumentation, meter, and everything else it is – it’s weighty and sad, with that tinge of hope. The sorrowful melody epitomizes the battle at hand: you’re losing friends, allies, and resources, and you must fight to save everything that’s left. And if you don’t hurry, or try to help, more people will die; people who helped you build what the Inquisition has become to that point in the game. “Key” NPCs can die (although no one on your team).

That music makes me want to save them. The meter (the 7/8 part, where there are seven beats to a measure, and yeah, they go by fast), the meter is uneven, right? Seven is an uneven number, divisible by none. So it almost feels as though the musicians are skipping a heartbeat, and this creates anxiety in the listener. It almost had to be in 7/8, really. It’s quite common to hear battle music in 7/8, to be honest.

I’m crushed this isn’t on the soundtrack. We have YouTube, thankfully, and folks out there willing to loop stuff like this for people like me. On to the next…

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Exhibit B: Calling it “Vinsomer Battle Theme” by Trevor Morris. Even more crushed about this one, this is so unfortunate. It’s also unfortunate I couldn’t find a video with better audio, but alas, this was the best I could do.

This is not in seven, but a nice normal four. The tempo here is much, much slower, but the pulse gains its momentum from the percussion and the ostinato (repeated pattern) in the strings. The horns are so effing amazing in this song. They don’t sound real to me, sadly, but a girl can dream.

Interesting how Trevor Morris creates the same sense of urgency, of hope and of sorrow in this piece, even as different as it is from the previous track.

You hear this particular cue so rarely in the game, although it’s the soundtrack for several of the dragon fights. P.S. Those dragon fights are so amazing omg.

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I’m glad I found these on YouTube, because I love this music so very much. The Vinsomer theme has been in my head for about two weeks straight. I hope you enjoy them both!

Do you have examples of songs you couldn’t find on a soundtrack?

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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 gonna throw you a bone today, and encourage you to download a game that’s been out since 2010, and then get its sequel that just came out four months ago. Your enjoyment of these games depends largely on whether or not you enjoy co-op gaming, particularly couch co-op.

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Crystal Dynamics released Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light in 2010. It’s a little puzzle game with an isometric view. You and your friend choose to play either Lara or Totec, her partner throughout the experience (plus, “Totec” is fun to say randomly while you play together).

Lara and Totec have different skills – Lara’s grapple helps her, and Totec, get to hard-to-reach spots; Totec has a spear Lara can jump on to climb, and he’s blessed with a shield. Simple skills, but Crystal Dynamics implements them creatively, requiring players to work together to solve puzzles.

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My best friend of all best friends, Josiah, is my special gaming buddy. We adore couch co-op (he doesn’t have a console), and we’ve dumped hundreds of hours into games like Diablo 3, Dead Nation, Call of Duty split-screen chaos, Dungeon Hunter: Alliance (such an amazing game), and we’ve recently started Helldivers (not far enough to give you a review, but it seems promising!).

When we discovered these Lara Croft games, we instantly fell in love. We finished both games fairly quickly, but the replay value is ridiculously high because of all of the challenges (I think I’ve spoken to you about how much I adore silly challenges). There are points challenges, speed challenges, and various tests like “make it through this hectic falling bridge section without dying”.

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Bring it on. I love it.

Josiah and I are working our way through the challenges in the Guardian of Light before we return to the newer title, Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris.

Osiris just came out in December, a downloadable game with several hours of gameplay. It goes quickly, but again, there are challenges and worthwhile rewards for completing the challenges, so we know we’ll get another dozen or so hours out of it.

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It’s comforting when a developer can find that balance between repetition and reward – how many times will we need to repeat a level to “win” whatever that ultimate reward is, and is it even worth the trouble? This is a question facing millions of Destiny players since September.

Josiah and I were searching for games exactly like these Lara Croft titles, and we’ve not regretted a single moment playing them. He doesn’t like the second game, Osiris, as much as I do. I found it to be a satisfying sequel, but he thinks Guardian of Light is better (I suspect he doesn’t like it as much because Totec isn’t in it).

The bonus to Osiris? This game is up to four-player couch co-op, so you can play with even more of your friends. I’m a huge fan of this type of gameplay, and with studios like Crystal Dynamics, Blizzard and Arrowhead (who made Helldivers) making successful co-op titles, I can only imagine more on the horizon.

So, grab a buddy and start with Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light. I promise you’ll enjoy it!

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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 want to provide a bit of a summary of the events I attended at GDC. I didn’t have the opportunity to attend the entire week, although it sure felt like I did when it was all said and done (in a good way).

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I flew in late Wednesday night, and I couldn’t get much work done before the next day. Thursday morning, I headed straight for the San Francisco Conservatory of Music for a tour and some interviews.

SFCM has a new Technology and Applied Composition program, and I got to see the new studios they’ve built and some of the new equipment they’ve acquired to accomplish the goal of teaching students how to write for media in the year 2015.

As impressive as the new facilities are, that’s all just a façade in the end. The nuts and bolts come from the faculty and services provided by the Conservatory, and the faculty is as strong as the services for students are deep.

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With composers like Austin Wintory, Jeff Beal and Dren McDonald lending a hand, the program seems well-poised to offer students a well-rounded approach to media composition. So students are better prepared for employment after graduation, they receive training and counseling at SFCM about the business side of the industry.

All in all, it was a wonderful visit, and I look forward to hearing what’s next for the program at SFCM.

Thursday afternoon, I finally made it over to GDC for interviews, panels and the G.A.N.G. awards. I won something at those, which was neat and unexpected and totally a career highlight.

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Editor’s note: Congrats Emily!

Friday – I feel like I can’t even remember Friday. I interviewed the Massive Chalice composers, Brian Trifon and Brian Lee White. Both quite amazing fellas, truly. The game itself sounds amazing, and I can’t wait to share what the Brians said about writing the music. After the Massive Chalice duo, I spoke with Penka Kouneva about a panel in which she participated (and spearheaded) called Women in Game Audio.

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I don’t want to give away what Penka and I spoke about, but here’s a takeaway: 11% of astronauts in space have been women, while fewer than 2% of major Hollywood films are scored by women.

Disparity, much?

Anyway, that was a fascinating conversation I look forward to sharing as well.

Friday night was a blast; I emceed a concert put on by the Videri String Quartet, right across the street from the convention center. These four musicians are fabulous and I felt honored to share the stage with them. And Laura Intravia! Laura came and sang “Invincible” from World of Warcraft and “I Was Born for This” from Journey. Man, that was magnificent. She’s great.

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Laura Intravia

Videri played a giant set of music from so many games, like Final Fantasy X, The Order: 1886 and even the anime series RWBY.

GDC was a great experience, and I hope to go back again next year. It was my first visit to San Francisco, and I had some amazing food, met amazing people, saw and heard great things. If you’re in the industry and you’ve never gone, I highly recommend it!

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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 had a brief but passionate love affair with Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn over the weekend. Then I deleted it off my PlayStation 4.

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For a time, my friends and I played a lot of Destiny. We got sick of it. Since then, I’ve been aimlessly wandering around games like Far Cry 4, Pillar, Apotheon, Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light (also Temple of Osiris), Dragon Age: Inquisition, LittleBigPlanet 3, and more for the last several weeks, trying to fill the Destiny-sized hole in my heart (which isn’t nearly as big as they promised it would be).

A couple of my buddies got into Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, and encouraged me to grab the two-week free trial. After 8-million years of downloading, I built my first ever Final Fantasy character.

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She was an elf, tall with a head too small for her size. White hair with silver highlights, blue eyes… these are all typical choices for me. Also typical, I chose the Thaumaturge class, in hopes of becoming a black mage someday.

Elf? Check. Mage? Check.

I played on and off all day Saturday and Sunday, picking up every single side-quest I could find, and generally being the most badass low-level mage I could possibly be.

I set ladybugs on fire, found missing crates, delivered potions and messages. Nothing seemed innovative about any of these side quests – just your typical RPG side-quest kind of stuff. Uninspiring, but I know that’s not why people play the game. FFXIV players play for the boss battles, but I was several levels away from that type of gameplay.

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I knew I had to stop playing immediately. I can’t play MMOs like this, with endless content and countless opportunities for entertaining gameplay. For me, personally, I could see myself playing Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn until I’m in my 70s. I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to spend thirteen or fourteen dollars a month, in addition to the initial cost of the game, to become a 400-pound spinster in adult diapers who plays video games with her cat. I’ve avoided MMOs for this exact reason.

I played World of Warcraft for about three hours before I knew that needed to stop too. Final Fantasy is similar.

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The games I play need to have endings, so I know when to stop and move on to the next one.

Not to mention, the graphics are annoyingly last-gen, and the music. Oh god the music. I love it, but please make it stop. It’s on an eternal loop, like in the old days of games. There is no silence. Only music. And it’s loud too compared to the rest of the audio in the game. Music music music music. Too much music and of course there’s such a thing.

This all came down to cost for me. The costs are much too high for me to play FFXIV. Goodbye, FFXIV – we had a fierce and quick love. I do not think we should be 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.

Far Cry 4 has some pretty great music. Set in a fictional country in the Himalayas, composer Cliff Martinez incorporated native sounds like throat-singing, gamelan, sitar, sarangi and tabla into the music to bring the landscape alive.

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Far Cry 4

It’s like a lesson in Himalayan music, if you concentrate on the multitude of tracks that incorporate instruments and sounds that are indigenous to the region. The Far Cry 4 soundtrack succeeds wildly with these direct references to music of the Himalayan region.

If you’re unsure what any of these things sound like, take a listen to Sudden Trouble. The stringed instrument you’re hearing is the sarangi. You can hear solo sarangi here. Do you hear how resonant the instrument is? The sarangi has “sympathetic strings”, a set of strings under the set that are bowed. A sarangi player doesn’t “play” the sympathetic strings – these strings exist to resonate sound from the strings that are played.

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 Sarangi

With regard to sympathetic strings, a sitar also has them. Two of the world’s most famous sitar players are Ravi Shankar and his daughter, Anoushka. You can hear Anoushka play a sitar solo here.

“Gamelan” features prominently throughout the score as well. A gamelan orchestra contains several players, many of whom play metal bell-like instruments with mallets. Listen to Secrets of the Goddesses to hear what gamelan sounds like, or you can see an adorable (short) video explaining gamelan here.

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One of my favorite tracks is called “The Mountain Watches“. You’ll hear the “table” drums here as well as gamelan. Learning of table gives you an opportunity to learn about Zakir Hussein. In fact, if you ever have an opportunity to see or hear either Zakir Hussein or Anoushka Shankar in concert, DO IT. In “The Mountain Watches” – listen for the tabla and the gamelan.

One of my favorite Himalayan references in the Far Cry 4 soundtrack is “throat-singing”. This stuff is pretty cool, because these singers able to sing in a way that gives the impression they’re singing more than one note at a time.

HOW? The overtone series. Here’s one example.

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When I was in grad school, I saw a group of singers from Tuva called the Alash Ensemble in concert. My life changed. First of all, their website is fabulous and provides an excellent tutorial in throat singing. Please, spend some time learning about this fascinating and glorious niche of humanity. Visit them here, and listen to the various types of singing. When you return to listen to the Far Cry 4 soundtrack, you’ll hear these amazing sounds spread throughout.

The game might not be your cup of tea; however, I encourage you to give the soundtrack a spin. It’s a great example of fusing Western and Eastern music in a game.

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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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