sumthing else

Insider Blog

Author Archive

Sometimes, I wish I could dial back the difficulty settings in life. Most of us are set on HELL MODE from the day we’re born.

For me, this is an important part of why I dislike hard games.

I’ve battled through several games of late, including Infamous: Second Son, Luftrausers, Demon’s Souls, Thomas Was Alone, Lone Survivor, Thief, Guacamelee and Rayman Legends, to name a few (along with the ever-present Diablo 3).

The savvier gamers will understand which of these is hard from the outset: Luftrausers and Demon’s Souls. First however, let’s talk about Infamous: Second Son and its siblings, Infamous and Infamous 2.

The Infamous series makes me feel like a major league gamer. In the first two games, I played through the Normal difficulty with good karma and Hard with bad karma. When playing Infamous as a good conduit, you can’t kill civilians without taking a hit to your overall karma; in effect, you must be careful where you fire your powers.

Sucker Punch expanded upon this in Second Son by adding safe-zones or hot-spots on enemy bodies, depending on which power you’re using. If you peg an enemy with a headshot while using your smoke powers, you’re able to subdue them without killing them. However, if you fire a headshot at an enemy with neon powers, you’ll automatically ‘obliterate’ them, earning you bad karma. You need to pay attention to where you shoot, and I enjoy this aspect of the gameplay.

infamousheadshot

Purchase the Infamous: Second Son soundtrack here!

Good karma requires good precision. Bad karma really doesn’t. I save that for the Hard playthrough so I can fire at will. Honestly, it makes the Hard playthrough much easier, and I can earn my platinum trophy without too much sweat. Yay, I win the game.

Game Informer’s Tim Turi kept pestering me about playing Luftrausers. He knew I’d appreciate the music in the game, which is indeed phenomenal. It’s a shoot-‘em-up airplane game with old-school graphics and dozens of ways to upgrade your plane. Cool thing: as you upgrade your plane, the soundtrack changes. Each upgrade has a unique loop that mixes with the other upgrades, creating multiple different soundtracks.

Luftrausers gives you goals to reach, which unlock your upgrades. Goals like, “Kill 6 enemies without taking damage”, or “Kill a battleship” or “Kill a blimp”. My friend Paul and I played the game for a couple hours; never saw a blimp.

So I tweet Tim, and I’m like, “What’s a blimp?”

He says, “The blimp appears if you survive long enough. You uh… can’t miss it. ;D.”

Hah. “Survive long enough.” Exactly.

luftrausers-1250-610

“Unleash ze BLIMP!!”

Luftrausers is really hard. I’d love to be able to unlock all the upgrades and hear as many combinations of the soundtrack as I can, but that will never happen. I swear to you, my highest score so far is something like 9,000 points, and it might take me eternity to make that score again. Maybe I’m too old? I dunno. It’s hard, and I feel bad for the composer that I’ll never hear all of his music. I’ll have to listen on YouTube or something, and I won’t experience it first-hand as a gamer.

I don’t need to go on and on about Demon’s Souls. Part of that game’s “draw” is its difficulty, and I knew this when I bought it, so shame on me. Let’s just say I spent a lot of time choosing my class based off of class-build forums, and I thought I had a decent chance. I learned pretty early that you cannot pause the game, and that’s just insanity, because humans need to pause from time to time, but whatever. I played on, thought I was doing well, then I died (totally because I got all cocky).

Fine, I can handle dying, no bigs. It spawned me all the way at the beginning of the area again, and I thought, whatever, I’ll just run back to where I died.

Nope. You gotta kill every a-hole again, including all the ones that you barely survived the first time through. Again, I say “nope.”

Demons_Souls_003

I have plenty of “brick wall” moments in real life. Sometimes, all I need to do is wake up, and I feel like I’m hitting a brick wall. Most of us have days like this. I don’t want to feel like I’m playing a game where the purpose is to repeatedly bang your head against a brick wall. They should’ve named that game Demon’s Walls or Brick’s Souls instead.

Perhaps people who don’t feel challenged in real life enjoy these games? I feel like that’s a horribly overblown statement. But I am curious why people enjoy games that are stupid hard. I like to feel the illusion of winning. I like to win! Yay, winning! Perhaps that’s part of the problem.

Tell me about the hardest game you played, the hardest game you beat, and the hardest game you hated. And come see me in Boston this Saturday!

——————–
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 cats Atticus, June Bug and Lee, and loves gaming, with or without friends.

Coming up on Saturday, April 12th, I have the opportunity and honor to host a panel called “Maestros of Video Games” at PAX East in Boston. Over the past several weeks, I’ve highlighted music from five of the six composers who will attend. My final profile covers Mark Morgan, and there simply isn’t another way to say it: I adore Mark Morgan’s music.

A bit of background: When Fallout came out in 1997, scored by Mark, it was referred to as a “spiritual successor” to 1988’s Wasteland. Presently, Mark is writing the soundtrack to 2014’s (hopefully) Wasteland 2.

The post-apocalyptic world can be considered as Mark’s wheelhouse. A post-apocalyptic world is an uncomfortable idea for most of us, however Mark seems… quite comfortable with it.

mark-morgan-photo

I’ve spent a great deal of time with his score to the first two Fallout games from 1997 and 1998, respectively. Mark’s music is a fantastic study of creating space with music. As you hear Fallout, you’re taken to a three-dimensional sonic landscape.

I’ll include a link to his newest music for Wasteland 2 momentarily, but oh my, we need to talk about the Fallout games first.

Aural Network released a collection of Mark’s music from Fallout and Fallout 2 called “Vault Archives”. If you’re unfamiliar with this collection, I encourage you to listen to it in its entirety. For the sake of brevity, I’ll point out several of my favorite tracks.

fallout 2

As you might expect, the soundtracks for the Fallouts are ambient and dark. The lovely thing about music is that there are many ways to accomplish darkness and ambience – Mark’s approach in Fallout is to use minimalistic motives to implicate melody without relying on it to tell the musical story.

For instance, if you listen to “Khans of New California”, you’ll hear these ideas weave in and out of the texture. At 7:23, the bass creeps in, carrying on its own conversation underneath the flute-y sounds (technical term notwithstanding). Not until 7:45 do you get a hint of melody, and then only in a fragment.

These fragments of melody help establish boundaries within the track, making directional changes in the music stand out. Your ear catches these changes, like when that initial melodic fragment drops out at 8:27. By the time it comes back at 8:51, you remember it. And if composers learned anything from the 20th century (which many still haven’t), it’s that many of us like some sort of melody, even if it’s just a slice.

One of the creepier tracks is “Acolytes of the New God”. I’m not certain what the sound is at the beginning, but sheesh it’s creepy. The church bells add religious overtones, and Mark adds fragmented layers of chanting voices to further imply a perversion of the sacred. The falling minor-third of the church bells becomes mildly annoying to marvelous effect – as you listen, you know it’s not a safe place, but hearing bells you think church = safe – it’s wonderful.

Perhaps my favorite track is called “Dream Town”. The details in this track are breathtaking, for lack of a better phrase; it’s music for floating. It’s music for dreaming. I adore the wood block/claves sound in the background. The manipulated strings, organ-ish sounds, voices – there’s even the din of birds tucked into the atmosphere. If I put this track on repeat all day, I would get a lot accomplished and feel pretty happy – or maybe free – while I was working.

fallout C

In doing research on Mark, I stumbled across this fantastic interview on PC Gamer’s site. When I read about Mark’s love for modern architecture, something clicked. Not everyone can build space with music. Mark can.

In many ways, Mark accomplishes this by developing a lovely balance of sounds in the foreground, background and middleground of each track. Check out “Beyond the Canyon”. There are voices in this track too, he introduces them briefly 56:41 before it becomes clear by their second statement that these voices are a significant part of the texture.

My final offering of Mark’s music from his “Vault Archives” collection is “My Chrysalis Highwayman”. This track has a comparatively discernible form with more structured harmony. This is not to say that his other music lacks form or harmonic progression; with “My Chrysalis Highwayman”, these elements are more traditional and (deceptively) less complicated than his other offerings.

All of this is to say that we’re all in for a real treat when we get to hear Mark’s score for Wasteland 2. I, for one, cannot wait. And come see us in Boston!!

——————–
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 cats Atticus, June Bug and Lee, and loves gaming, with or without friends.

I love Billy Martin’s music. I love it because so very much of it makes me smile.

Music elicits such a wide range of emotions. When I speak to composers who’ve written “funny” music – music for comedy – they universally state how difficult it is to score humor. So when I hear music that routinely makes me smile or even laugh out loud, I’m impressed.

Billy Martin

Composer Billy Martin

I was first introduced to Billy’s music through Rayman Origins, that fantastic platformer from Ubisoft. He worked with Christophe Héral on that soundtrack, and they both did a fabulous job.

I listened to his tracks from Origins again tonight while I was playing Diablo 3. At first, it was odd, but it became amazing: there’s Azmodan, looking like the demonic, acid-dropping-version of Mr. Waternoose from Monsters, Inc., shouting, “Arrogant nephalem, my servants will feast on your pride as they devour your flesh,” and this was playing – “Food World Paradise – Chase”.

That music also would be spectacular in a convertible with the top down on California’s Highway 1. It was spectacular enough during the Azmodan battle – certainly the most fun I’ve had sending that hairy creepy demon and his too-many legs into the soulstone.

Rayman-Fiesta-Run

Billy plays all his own flute and sax parts, along with several other woodwind instruments. He also sings, which you can hear throughout a handful of the tracks he wrote for Origins and Legends. Hear him here in “Ocean World Thaiti”.

N.B. When I misspelled “Thaiti”, this popped up.

Perhaps my favorite Billy Martin track is “Strategy and Spying” from Rayman Legends. It reminds me of watching reruns of Magnum P.I. and MacGyver and Hawaii Five-O and all those spy/crime shows as a kid. From the opening notes of the track, you know exactly what’s up and what type of setting you’re supposed to be in. Plus, it has super cool little sax riffs in it.

Another fantastic tune is “Mambo Mambo”. Billy plays flute and sax, and probably other stuff, in this track as well. It’s a contagious tune that spreads instant joy. The percussion is great. Ah, to be in a jazz band again – this music would be incredibly fun to play.

If you ever find yourself in need of a genuine smile, listen to Billy Martin’s music.

He’s scored many different genres across all media. You can hear more of his music on SoundCloud, if you’re interested in exploring his less “comedic” music.

Billy Martin is a guest on the “Maestros of Video Games” panel at PAX East on Saturday, April 12 in the Condor Theatre at 12:30 pm. Other guests include Mark Morgan, Garry Schyman, Peter McConnell, Cris Velasco and Tom Salta. I’ll be hosting the discussion, and we all hope to see you there!

——————–
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 cats Atticus, June Bug and Lee, and loves gaming, with or without friends. – See more at: http://www.sumthing.com/blog/#sthash.QB3LCzaF.dpuf

Halo fans are keenly aware of the unique soundscape in the universe. Martin O’Donnell and Michael Salvatori did what media composers need to do above all else: create an immediate association between what we see and what we hear.

Tom Salta is a Halo fan, and it was Halo: Combat Evolved that inspired him to pursue work as a video game composer in 2001. He’s scored a few dozen since then, and his credits include Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands, Red Steel & Red Steel 2 and a handful of Tom Clancy titles.

Tom_Salta

Composer Tom Salta

I never played any of those, so I wasn’t introduced to Salta’s music until Eric Chahi’s God game, From Dust. The soundtrack for that game is sublime. Salta created an organic world out of a lot of synthetic instruments, which I found most impressive. Although, he used plenty of acoustic instruments too, calling on the talents of percussionists Bashiri Johnson and Kimati Dinizulu to add to the score.

You can hear the magnificent sounds in tracks like “Repelling Water” and “Breath of Plants”. Long after I stopped playing the game itself, I refused to delete it off my system if only to leave it on the start screen to hear the main theme, “Passage”, over and over again.

The more you learn about Salta, the better life becomes. Because dig a little bit deeper, and you discover that he is Atlas Plug (notice how Altas is an anagram of Salta). Anyway, Atlas Plug gives us joy such as this.

I liked all of the music I heard from Salta, but I was blown away by his score for Halo: Spartan Assault. He tapped into that soundscape as though he’d been a part of the Halo composition team from day one. It’s the perfect amount of homage and innovation.

halospartanassault

If it doesn’t hit you immediately upon listening to “Legacy”, I can’t help you. Actually, I can. Listen to this, from Martin O’Donnell and Michael Salvatori:

Opening Suite” – Halo

You only need to hear the first :40 or so to get the idea. Now listen to “Legacy”. Again, the opening few seconds will suffice. You might notice one special addition, however: female voice. I’m biased, certainly, as a woman, but holy cow it adds so much depth and beauty to the universe.

Stark” is my favorite. I love how Salta left all of the breaths in the music – audio editors deal with breathing all the time. Leave it in? Make it quieter? Take it out? Leaving it in was the right call, and adds a layer of humanity to the music.

So, singing, particularly chant-like singing, is an established sound in the Haloverse.

Also, piano. If you know your Halo scores well, you’ll recall piano was absent until Halo 3. In fact, it was added by O’Donnell for the E3 trailer unveil, I think. “Luck” might be my favorite Halo track of all time. The piano is such a nice surprise, and I imagine it sounded amazing to be there for that experience.

You can hear that influence in Salta’s score here.

Dude can rock, too, as evidenced in his Altlas Plug alter-ego, as well as “Wolverine’s Return” from Spartan Assault.

halospartanassault1

If you’re coming to Boston for PAX East, you can meet Tom Salta, as well as Peter McConnell, Mark Morgan, Garry Schyman, Billy Martin and Cris Velasco (and me, fwiw) after our “Maestros of Video Games” panel at the Condor Theatre, Saturday, April 12 at 12:30 pm.

I’ve interviewed Salta twice, McConnell three times, Schyman twice, Martin once and Velasco twice. All are kind and amazing human beings. I look forward to meeting Mark Morgan for the first time!

Look at that list of names!! Holy cow. Hope to see you there!!!! Lots of exclamation points to emphasize my joy!!!!!!!

——————–
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 cats Atticus, June Bug and Lee, and loves gaming, with or without friends.

When I was younger, I used to capitalize on my sister’s fear of spiders by stashing toy arachnids in places she was likely to encounter. Even just pointing and shouting the word ‘spider’ could get her to jump.

I had what I considered to be a normal relationship with spiders – mostly ambivalent, although the Hawaii Brady Bunch episode was creepy. I didn’t mind learning about spiders in school. I remember watching slides of them on the movie screen in 2nd grade. At home, we had a World Book Encyclopedia set, and I would look at the pictures and read about them.

I watched the film Arachnophobia when it came to the theaters the summer of 1990. I remember watching it again on HBO, or maybe at a slumber party – it’s hard to say.

In 1982, my parents bought us Smurf: Rescue in Gargamel’s Castle for the Atari. Remember this? It didn’t faze me. Not long after that, I lost my gaming privileges until my folks bought me a Game Boy in the late 80s. I found these arachnids to be creepier, but quite manageable.

Then there was an “incident”. Late summer, 1998.

I grabbed a package off the front porch. It was a birthday present, which I took upstairs to the bedroom to open. I sat on the bed with a box cutter, and sliced through the tape.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a shape coming toward me. I turned to see a half-dollar sized spider meandering my way. It scared me so hard I fell off the bed and cut a gash into the bedspread with the knife. I stood up just in time to see the spider do a 180 and hide between the legs of my teddy bear leaning up against the pillows.

I was frozen. Absolutely frozen. There were no rational thoughts in my brain. I wanted a flamethrower. Or C4, or a rocket launcher. Maybe an airstrike?

jeff daniels

I settled on grabbing the Shop-Vac, after standing against the wall for ten minutes, staring at several legs jutting out of my teddy bear’s private zone.

Who knows if I collected the spider within the Shop-Vac or not? It may have gone in a pillow case, or down into the sheets, or under the bed and far away. But something about the experience changed me, and I’ve had a paralyzing fear of spiders ever since.

By the way, that package? It was a present from my sister.

I got back into gaming during the PS2 years. I loved the 2003 game The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. It took me days, however, to make it through the first moments of this level. I kept shutting the game off from the terror.

How’d I get through it? It’s only a game… it’s only a game…. It’s only a game… That’s how. Over and over in my head. And thank goodness, because EVERY GAME IN THE WORLD HAS SPIDERS.

Spiders in every single fantasy game. Every one. Skyrim. Oblivion. Dungeon Hunter Alliance. Two Worlds II. In Diablo 3 you can wield spiders as a weapon, in essence fighting giant, poison spitting, web-jetting arachnids by throwing jars of your own at them. There are spiders in Okami and Mario games. Spider(ants) in Borderlands. Weren’t there even spiders in The Unfinished Swan?

You and I could list hundreds of games with spiders in them.

Once I learned of the spider in Limbo, which is more or less right away when you start the game, I shut it off and never played it again. Not once. I can’t understand, much less explain, why the Limbo creature would bother me so much, but I did this for hours on end.

limbo_game

Perhaps this is why they are called “irrational” fears.

Touché, game developers. It’s cool. It’s a super easy way to creep us out. I know you’ll never stop, and that’s okay. Loads of us are scared of spiders, in which case I hope you also understand I might not be able to finish your game.

Reader and friend, are there fears you’ve confronted in gaming?

——————–
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 cats Atticus, June Bug and Lee, and loves gaming, with or without friends.

I was first introduced to Cris Velasco’s music while playing Mass Effect 2 DLC. Specifically, the “Kasumi’s Stolen Memory” DLC, which was pretty rad. Jeez, I need to play through Mass Effect again.

Cris and composer Sascha Dikiciyan teamed up for the ME2 DLC’s and also worked on Mass Effect 3 & Borderlands together.

Cris_Velasco sascha_artist

Cris Velasco (left) & Sascha Dikiciyan (right)

Sascha is the electronics guy and Cris is the classically trained guy, and they make a fabulous team. As much as I enjoy the music they make together, I was pretty stoked when I heard Cris was scoring Company of Heroes 2 solo with a full orchestra.

Cris was asked to write a score that sounds Russian. There can be several interpretations of this, because Rachmaninoff wrote much different Russian music than Shostakovich, but there is a middle ground. Rachmaninoff (here’s a famous Rachmaninoff tune) and Shostakovich (likewise) both used the colors of the orchestra to great effect.

Rimsky-Korsakov, another Russian, gets a lot credit for, in many ways, changing the way composers wrote orchestral music. The German composers wrote so differently, still heavily relying on the string section for the bulk of the drama. If you listen to a bit of the final movement of Brahms Symphony No. 2, you can hear how the winds and brass largely play supporting roles only have the spotlight on occasion.

277057326CompanyofHeroes2_Online_AirSupport

Additionally, Russians have amazing folk music. Some of the best, really, and Cris nails the flavor of Russian song right away in the “Main Theme”. I encourage you to listen from the beginning, but if you’re short on time, here’s the violin solo.

I really like “The Advancing Hordes” too. It sounds a bit like the strings are col legno at the beginning. And let’s be honest, the Capellen Orchestra is fabulous.

Cris writes several nice solos for various instruments in the orchestra. I enjoy the English horn and bassoon spots in “Epitaph”. Cameron Stone is the cellist, and Nicole Garcia is the violinist. Cameron and Nicole play together throughout the soundtrack, and have some nice duets. Listen closely to the violin solo in “Not One Step Back”, and you might recognize a quote from this by Prokofiev.

Cris’s music for CoH2 recently got nominated for a BSO Spirit Award, and he’s gotten other, much-deserved attention for the score.

I plan to ask Cris about Russian music when he joins us in Boston for the “Maestros of Video Games” Composer Panel. I sincerely hope to see you there.

COH2_F+B_INSERT

Company of Heroes 2 is available now on Sumthing.com

In the meantime, if you’d like to hear more Russian music, here are some good places to start.

Sergei Prokofiev: Romeo and Juliet Suite, “Montagues and Capulets

Alexander Borodin: In the Steppes of Central Asia

Dmitri Shostakovich: Piano Concerto No. 1

Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov: Capriccio Espagnol

Alexander Glasunov: Violin Concerto

——————–
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 cats Atticus, June Bug and Lee, and loves gaming, with or without friends.

Peter McConnell is one of my favorites. He’s everything I enjoy in a composer – the perfect mix of humor, skill and creativity.

Grim Fandango is pretty amazing, and if you’re unfamiliar with it, I encourage you to listen to it today. Not now, though, because we’re going to talk about Broken Age, his newest score.

The majority of the sounds you hear are acoustic. Peter worked with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra for the big pieces and a sextet of winds and strings for the chamber-type music. Peter also played a variety of instruments himself, like violin and wood flute.

Broken Age is a programmatic score in a lot of ways. It almost tells the story on its own, which is a fantastic feat. Trumpets soar, horns wail, strings swoon – I’d say it’s “cinematic” but that’s an overly 20th-century way to describe it.

Time to Get Up Little Spaceman” is a special track. It’s a great title, for one. But it’s a great example of Peter combining synths and strings and such. It sounds naïve and brave.

Broken Age 1

I think one of the most successful aspects of Peter’s writing is his use of space. Even the heavy music isn’t heavy – he scores lightly but effectively. Listen to “Battle at Shellmound”. There is momentum to the music, you can tell it’s an anxious situation, but Peter doesn’t overwhelm with 90 musicians playing at once.

Like Schyman’s BioShock Infinite soundtrack, Peter’s Broken Age is a study in fine scoring. If you start “Battle at Shellmound” at :54, you’ll hear the horns give a hint about the brass sounds to come. Trumpets join the horns, then the horns drop out and it’s just trumpet for a second. And the descending bass that ends the track is great too – lots of rumble-y low instruments like bass clarinet and tubas. Sounds cool.

I appreciate how Peter represents the openness of space in multiple ways. In “Hello Space” he begins with low brass over a drone, but this shifts to synth sounds – almost like whale songs echoing through miles of sea.

Broken Age 2

Operation Dandelion” cracks me up every single time. The clarinet writing – both “regular” clarinet and bass clarinet – is brilliant. I’m tellin’ ya – clarinet is amazing. How do you score mischief? Ask Peter McConnell.

I hear a ton of music. All the time. When I game, after I’ve gotten a handle on that particular game’s soundtrack, I shut off the music and listen to other things. I don’t have time to listen to the same score through 20 or 50 hours of a game; not when so much of my job relies on listening to, and knowing, a ton of music that not only spans media but centuries.

When I hear music from (dear Peter please forgive me for phrasing it this way) “younger” composers, that music is frequently over-scored. This is one of the inconspicuous drawbacks of not having any kind of budget for live musicians. When your only choice is a computer with an endless amount of samples from which to choose, I can imagine things get overwhelming.

Broken Age

But for Broken Age, the initial budget only allowed for those six players – the mix of strings and winds you hear in the smaller pieces.

I wish more composers would start there.

Think of it. The overwhelming success of Schyman’s Infinite was created by a handful of players, who in most cases weren’t even overdubbing themselves. And Infinite is a giant game.

You might think I’m advocating for an elimination of large ensemble scores, which is a ridiculous idea, and I’d never say that. Peter ended up using the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra because they added so much to the score. They brought a fabulous dimension to the soundtrack. But initially, this wasn’t a part of the equation. The assumption for the score was that there’d be six musicians, plus whatever Peter wanted to play.

It ended up working perfectly, dare I say. The bar has already been set quite high for video game scores in 2014. But Peter, watch your back – you have magnificent colleagues.

——————–
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 cats Atticus, June Bug and Lee, and loves gaming, with or without friends.

Music in games is a beautiful thing, all thanks to the beautiful people who write it. If you’re heading to PAX East this April, you can come hear from a handful of the best.

The “Maestros of Video Games” composer panel includes Garry Schyman, Peter McConnell, Cris Velasco, Tom Salta, Mark Morgan and Billy Martin.

If you’re unfamiliar with any of these fine gentlemen, I offer an audio introduction from their most recent (available) music.

Garry Schyman is, more or less, sweeping Score of the Year from 2013’s BioShock Infinite. I feel genuinely sorry for any composer who had to ‘compete’ with that score last year, given its perfection, and I do not use that word lightly. There were so many fantastic scores last year – so many! But there was only one BioShock Infinite score. Anyway, here’s a track: Elizabeth’s Theme.

bioshock-infinite-elizabeth

Peter McConnell has an incredible new score out for Broken Age. Peter needed to score two worlds – a terrestrial world, and one in outer space. He does both with style, as always; his music = cool. He’s like the coolest cat on the planet. To hear his skills strictly acoustic, check out Vela Wakes. If you’d like to hear how he handles outer space, listen to the magnificent blend of synths and strings in Shay’s Secret Mission.

I adored Cris Velasco’s score to last year’s Company of Heroes 2. The main theme is absolutely gorgeous, fraught with emotion, and evocative of the Russian landscape he was faced with scoring. He worked with the Capellan Orchestra and Choir, as well as violinist Nicole Garcia and cellist Cameron Stone. It’s fantastic orchestral writing, rich and full, and Cris’s classical training shines through. Here’s the Main Theme.

COH2_F+B_INSERT

Available on Sumthing.com!

I first learned of Tom Salta when From Dust came out. Loved that main theme. I was further impressed by his score for 2013’s mobile Halo: Spartan Assault. The trick for Tom was to write a score inspired by Halo that wasn’t ripping off O’Donnell or Salvatori, and he did an incredible job. In order to refer to the Halo universe, he used a choir, but added women and children’s voices to the mix. I encourage you to listen to the first 3.5 minutes or so of the score.

Mark Morgan? I think he’s a wizard – totally a wizard. And the music for the upcoming Wasteland 2 is sonic magic. It helps that Mark established the sound for the first two Fallout games, which are successors of sorts to the original Wasteland. Mark’s music takes you far into whichever world he’s scoring. If you didn’t know what Wasteland 2 was about, you might have a better idea after you listen to this track. His music sounds so open – it’s impressive.

And who doesn’t love the work Billy Martin and Christophe Heral did for Rayman Legends? This is some of the cleverest writing, complete with whistling. It is fantastic music, telling a story all its own. I hear the influence of Carl Stalling, Richard Wagner, Leonard Bernstein – all great narrative composers. I’ll give you two songs for these two fellas, even if Christophe can’t make it to Boston. Here’s the Enchanted Forest, with a side of Mysterious Swamps.

paxeast

It’ll be a delight to speak with them, and I hope you’re able to come hear the panel. You’ll get some free music out of the deal, and you can meet everyone after our discussion. Including me, since I’m hosting the panel. I look forward to seeing you there!!

——————–
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 cats Atticus, June Bug and Lee, and loves gaming, with or without friends.

It’s hard to live in Minnesota in the winter, and this season has been especially rough. It’s been 32 years since we’ve had such a frigid winter. It gets difficult to leave the house. Every time I leave, it’s such a process.

It’s going to warm up later this week, but that means it will snow. It warms up, snows, and then we have to shovel. Because if we don’t shovel right away, it’ll be below zero again within hours. If the sun shines, it’s because it’s below zero. If it warms up, it’s because it’s snowing. Thanks, Obama.

I live in Minneapolis proper. I’m fortunate enough to have a garage, but like the majority of homes within the city, it’s not attached. And because my side entrance is snowed in, I have to use the front door, walk around the back of the house along a hard pack of snow, avoiding the three giant pustules of ice from the life-threatening icicles hanging from the roof, through a carved-out path in the backyard.

My car always starts. That’s a bonus. It complains about it, but it starts. The tires freeze into a flat spot, so for the first few blocks, I can feel a bump for every rotation. No sense turning on the heat for a solid ten minutes, if you’re lucky enough to have the car moving instead of sitting idle (idling is the worst way to warm up a car).

My fingers feel like frozen sausages attached to frozen fish filets. Toes? Forget about ‘em. And oh, my face. My face feels like one of those V for Vendetta masks. I often wonder if the air bag went off, would my face shatter into a thousand pieces. My nose is a rock. My cheeks hurt. The temperature gauge of the car will start to climb. Mockingly, though, because when I crank the air up, there’s still so much frigid air in the car that all it does is blow that around.

skyrim_frost_atronach

Emily on her way to work

Fifteen minutes now, and I finally feel warm air on my face. Ohhhhhh snap, though, the windshield responds by fogging up. Now I have to switch the fan to defrost, and my face gets all cold again as the air blows on the windshield instead of my mug. I wish engineers could find a solution for that.

There comes a moment where I can take off my gloves. I usually decide to leave them on, mostly because I’m almost to work, and the parking garage is as cold as the outside anyway.

It’s brutal. It’s so brutal, and the only thing we can do about it is stay inside, which is why we all go crazy in February. We don’t need a damn groundhog to tell us how much winter is left. We know what’s coming – a seemingly endless cycle of freezing and melting, complete with ice dams on my house and ruts in the road. Screw that dumb groundhog.

Last night, my buddy Fred sent me a message, “Wanna grab a burger somewhere?”

The first thought is always, ‘do I want to go out into nature right now or stay in my warm house with a cat on my lap playing Diablo?’ But one can only take so much staying in the house, because there are other places you can go to be inside.

Fred picked me up, and we went to this place in South Minneapolis called Adrian’s Tavern.

We have this phenomenon in the Twin Cities called a “Juicy Lucy”. If you’re unaware of this phenomenon, you might want to correct that. You can find them at a handful of places – Matt’s Bar (who spells it “Jucy Lucy”), The Nook, the 5-8 Club, Blue Door. Those places are always packed, because they’re pretty small establishments, and Juicy Lucy’s are amazing and delicious.

There’s another place to get a Juicy Lucy: Adrian’s Tavern. You also can play arcade games. So Fred & I ordered a couple Two-Hearteds and Lucys, then played Captain America and the Avengers, Galaga, Badlands and Raiden. We had a ridiculously fun time. I qualified for a Captain America high score, but it’d been so long since I achieved a high score on an arcade game that I screwed up entering my initials and it says “A?” or something.

P.S. Always play as Iron Man; he’s a beast.

capandavengers

We spent the majority of our time reminiscing about the arcade days, swapping stories about our favorite machines to play. Sigh. Good times. Then we had amazing burgers, and we shared fries and tots (another Minnesota staple).

It’s a nice reminder to get out of the house. Only next time, I’ll bring more quarters. If you’re cooped up and cold, grab some change, find an arcade and get out of the house. What were, or are, your favorite arcade games?

——————–
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 cats Atticus, June Bug and Lee, and loves gaming, with or without friends.

I was looking into building a great PC gaming rig right around the time we all learned of SteamOS. Problem solved – no need to build a gaming PC if Valve is going to, more or less, build it for me.

I figure having SteamOS solves a lot of problems:

  1. I don’t need a desktop computer. I have a laptop, a smart phone, and plenty of computers at work.
  2. I dislike gaming on my laptop
  3. I don’t like gaming at a desk. I sit at a desk (sort of) most days, in front of a computer. I don’t like sitting in front of a computer screen to game. I want to sit on my couch, and I do not want to use a keyboard, no matter what kind of “edge” it gives me. I’m happy with my 60″ flat panel.

I’ll buy a Steam Machine of some sort for sure. I’m pretty stoked about the Alienware one. But there will be more, and I’ll get somethin’.

steamos

Consequently, the Xbox One keeps getting bumped down the list. #sadface

Oddly, the quicker SteamOS approaches, the faster my excitement turns to dread. All right, all right. Not dread. Maybe “concern” is a better (softer) word.

Here’s why: I’m a tad concerned with time management. You should be too. Maybe. I don’t know. Maybe you’re a wizard with time management. For the purposes of this blog, let’s assume you’re not good at it.

There are currently more than 3,000 games on Steam. If I finished one each day, it would take me more than 8 years to play them all. Obviously, I’ve already played some of them, and I wouldn’t play them all anyway.

Also, many games take longer than one day to play. So let’s say for every 10 games, I want to play one, and it takes me two days to get through it. That’s 2 years of time, gaming every day on Steam, never touching Xbox, Wii or PlayStation. Or playing solitaire on my smart phone.

What. The. Hell.

938417-halp_large

Thankfully, there’s a lot of crossover. I won’t play 3,000 games. Most people don’t, and it’s okay. I’ll start a lot more than I finish, and that’s okay too. Here are some of the games I really, really, really want to play: Dota 2. I really want to play Civ V. I loved Civ Rev, so it’d be nice to get dirty with some of the other Civs. You can bet I’ll be playing Counter-Strike a lot. I’m dying to play Torchlight and Torchlight 2.

The Binding of Isaac.

Doom.

Guild Wars.

Morrowind.

The Banner Saga.

The Stanley Parable.

Broken Age.

Quake. Myst. Riven.

You understand. Plus, YOU are on Steam. Nearly every gamer I know is on Steam. In fact, some of my best friends only game on Steam, and now we can game while they’re sitting on their own couch.

It’ll change my pocketbook too. I already established a savings method for Steam sales (every time get one-dollar bills for change, I take one and put it in my change jar). Gotta save for Steam sales!

If you’re a hardcore Steam gamer, what games do you think I should plan to play? What are your favorite Steam/PC games? How much money should I save, and how much vacation time should I take?

Composer - Song Name
00:00 0:30
close