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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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Bastion

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

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

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The Order: 1886

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

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

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

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

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

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The Vanishing of Ethan Carter

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

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

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

What are you excited to play or hear this year?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 mordor

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

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

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

Borderlands Pre-Sequel Cover

Purchase Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel Soundtrack

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

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

blpschar

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

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

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

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

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

I watched a show tonight called Doomsday Preppers. It’s a NatGeo show, I have no idea how many seasons there are, and I don’t care. In this program, the producers profile Americans who spend an above-average amount of time preparing for the end of the world.

In the episode I watched, one couple feared the North/South pole shift, another man hiked around Los Angeles foraging food from plants in preparation for a devastating earthquake, and a woman who readied herself for an impending oil crisis (she lives in Houston).

doomsday

Additionally, I’m an avid fan of The Walking Dead series of games and TV. I’ve played Fallout, State of Decay, The Last of Us, and plenty of Earth-has-been-invaded-and-life-as-we-know-it-is-over games like Resistance or Mass Effect.

Here is my conclusion: I’m not built for the apocalypse, no matter how it comes. Exception: if aliens come and have special interest in classical music or video game music or radio hosts, I’ll be A-OK.

When I watch or play The Walking Dead, I have *no* desire to live like that. None.

walkingdead

There are survival skills I’d be willing to learn that could come in handy now, pre-apocalypse. Things like how to purify water, or how to start a fire. I was a Brownie for a while but I don’t recall being taught how to start a fire at age 8. It could come in handy in real life, if I ever get stranded somewhere.

I don’t want to learn how to stitch a wound, or barter for supplies. I can’t barter now. The other day, I got incorrect change back from a cashier (to the store’s favor) and I didn’t say a word. Imagine me in the apocalypse.

I don’t want to shoot anything but spiders. In fact, I would love to shoot spiders. But I don’t want to shoot an animal to eat it. If I shot spiders, it’d be for fun. My uncle shoots deer with crossbows and uses every last scrap of that animal for various foods and such. It’s impressive. Maybe I’d go crash at his place?

But that’s far away from where I live, and I already know I’d never make it. It’s a solid three tanks, maybe two, in a fuel-efficient vehicle. And that’s the other thing; I’d potentially be escaping life in a two-door Honda Civic. It’s probably not the best choice.

No music. There wouldn’t be music anywhere. I wouldn’t be able to hear Bach or Beethoven, or Jesper Kyd or Nobuo Uematsu or Respighi or Brahms or Rameau or Björk. I’ve dedicated my life to music. What would I do without it? There are no mp3 players, Discmans or Walkmans in the apocalypse once the batteries run out.

I don’t have any interest in learning any elaborate evacuation plan to get out of Minneapolis. Such a plan seems as though it might require some sort of physical strength or endurance. I can’t do a single push-up; I haven’t done a pull-up since middle school. I can walk fast because I’m six feet tall. But, the last time I ran a mile was 2005. I do not own a bike (someone stole it off my porch a few years ago).

When I watch shows like Doomsday Preppers, or The Walking Dead, or I play a game like State of Decay (or any sort of game in the survival genre), I can’t stop thinking: I don’t want to live this way. I don’t want to plan for a life in which I’m eating food out of jars and cans until it runs out. I don’t want to excessively ration supplies. Life isn’t nearly that hard now, but it’s weird enough, and I don’t want to fight to live.

state of decay

As I talk with friends about this, some wholeheartedly agree. My friends who disagree, however, really disagree. I wonder if they don’t think I value my life? I totally value my life as it is now. My actions, my career, all of these things demonstrate how I value my life. In the apocalypse, I would not feel the same way.

For the “Preppers”, maybe preparing for the end helps them feel in control of an uncontrollable event. It gives them purpose and focus. Well, music and games are my focus, neither of which seems that likely when the power grid shuts off.

In the coming weeks, I’ll highlight some of my favorite video game music from 2014. Thanks for listening to me rant about the end of the world.

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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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