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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.

It’s no secret I’ve played a lot of Bungie’s $500-million MMOFPSWTF Destiny quite a bit since it came out in September. I’ve written about it too much. All three of my characters are maxed out, I have nearly all raid weapons, I have the “Necrochasm”, I have most of the raid gear (enough that all my peeps are level 32), and I have plenty of XP and the various materials and other types of currency in the game.

This wasn’t always the case; when The Dark Below came out, the first round of DLC, I had to buy the armor to get myself to a higher level. I hadn’t earned it through game-play. I was missing key weapons from the initial raid, called The Vault of Glass.*

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A few weeks into The Dark Below, however, I had what I needed (read: wanted) out of VoG. But by that time, the acquisition of those weapons was a waste, because I’d begun collecting new, more powerful guns from The Dark Below.

I acquired those weapons so fast, that soon I had enough of some of them that all of my characters had their own.

I broke all of the extra guns over the weekend. All of them.

Here’s why: Leveling up your arsenal in Destiny requires XP by either using the gun you want to level up, or by turning in missions while holding the gun (or both). Once you have the XP to upgrade the gun, you need currencies like metals and cash to complete the upgrade, and both are easy enough to get. But leveling up requires a third element – another material that’s a bit trickier to get your hands on, and definitely encourages frequent grinding of bounties, raids, daily and weekly missions.

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Yeah, I’m done with all of that. Since I threw out a bunch of guns, I don’t need to do all that senseless grinding anymore. And why would I want to anyway, since once Bungie releases House of Wolves, the raid guns I’ve accumulated to date will become obsolete (as they did with VoG).

I don’t have anything left to do. Not until the new DLC comes out (probably) in May. By that time, I might not care.

When I destroyed the weapons, I felt emancipated from the game. I’ve played a lot of other games in the time since Destiny’s been available, but I’ve always felt this pull – the “I should be grinding” pull.

Bungie lost me as a hardcore player, and most of my friends are moving on as well. Don’t be fooled: we’re still playing, because there are things about the game we all love, or we wouldn’t have spent so much time in it over the last five months. But we’ve moved on to other multiplayer experiences, like Far Cry 4 and LittleBig Planet 3. And if you’re a PlayStation Plus subscriber, be sure to download Apotheon, because it’s a riot.

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Apotheon

I joked with my friends over the weekend that in ten years, Destiny will be the perfect game, and Bungie will go onto Twitter or whatever’s around then, and say, “We told you it was a ten year plan!”. One friend added, “After about a thousand-dollar investment from us”, and I realized he was right. I plan to pay close attention to how much money I spend on the franchise in the future.

*Without a doubt, the most creative aspect of the Destiny experience.

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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.

There are loads of games I never get around to playing. I don’t have any handhelds like a Nintendo 3DS or anything. In fact, I recently loaned out my Wii, so the only Nintendo product currently in my home is my Game Boy. While it sounds promising, gaming on my MacBook Pro isn’t an option without some sort of investment in repairing its several issues, and I don’t have a PC (except work, where supervisors kindly allow me to occasionally download titles on Steam). Otherwise, I try to play the most-talked about Indie console games, and I play loads of the AAAs.

Last year, I was beyond excited for the release of Dragon Age: Inquisition. I hadn’t personally felt that level of internal excitement since Mass Effect 3. Prior to Mass Effect 3, I was pumped for Skyrim, as well as Fallout: New Vegas and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.

There are plenty of other games I’ve been really excited about, but for those games above, I had that feeling like when I was excited for Christmas as a six-year-old, you know? The kind of giddy, pure excitement.

There are several common themes in that list above: all of these are giant, triple-A games. Two from BioWare, a couple from Bethesda, and a game from Rockstar. All of these games were varying degrees of a hot mess. To be fair, Mass Effect 3 wasn’t a total trainwreck, but it had major issues with mission-tracking, the journal was a disaster, and the end made some people mad.

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Mass Effect 3

I don’t think Dragon Age: Inquisition is broken, but holy cow I was let down by that game. I think it was a combination of a number of things – not being allowed to simply import the origins and stories from the first three games (the game requires us to do this manually online, as if I’m going to remember every single choice I made three years ago). I was overwhelmed by the size of it all, I was overwhelmed by upgrading armor and weapons, by meeting a new set of people, by understanding what the War Table is, etc.

I think I lost more sleep over Skyrim than any other game. It was so broken on the PS3. So, so broken. I managed to play it fine on the Xbox, and wish I would’ve started there first. I wasn’t able to finish Skyrim on the PlayStation. It simply didn’t work on that console. And they never really seemed to care. It still bothers me to this day. Bethesda released Skyrim about a year after the mess that they called Fallout: New Vegas, another game I couldn’t finish because it was so broken. Two broken games in two years (from different developers, but the same publisher). Inexcusable.

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Fallout: New Vegas

As far as GTA:SA goes, I had no interest in having a girlfriend, or any friends, and I didn’t want to eat food and exercise, because I have to do these things in real life. Those are all things I do not want to do in a GTA game. In GTA, I want to steal awesome cars and shoot things and find ridiculous ways to create insane explosions. I want to do those things because I can’t do them in real life. Seriously.

I was looking forward to LittleBigPlanet 3, and I finally picked that up last weekend. It’s been out for a couple months now, and it’s still a little bit of a mess. Playing with three other friends, we got booted out of the game frequently enough to mention it to you now, and the lag we experienced made the game impossible to play at times. I was disappointed.

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Little Big Planet 3

No doubt, I had unrealistic expectations for these five games, even six, if you include LBP3. It seems I finally learned a lesson with Dragon Age: Inquisition, because I can’t find it in me to get Christmas-Day-as-a-kid excited about anything coming out. Nothing.

I’m marginally excited for Bloodborne, Evolve, The Order: 1886 and The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. Not nearly excited enough to pick anything up on launch day. I want to play these games, but I refuse to fall in love with them until I’ve spent time playing them. Think of it like a relationship, if you will. I’ll hang out with you, Bloodborne, but you cannot have my heart until you prove you’re worthy to have it. Same goes for the rest of you.

What are some of your biggest gaming let-downs, and in order to keep things more positive, what are some of your most pleasant gaming surprises?

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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 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.

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