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The sound of the chiptune is by nature a fiendishly compressed one. If you choose to create a set of songs in this genre, at first I imagine you would have at least some difficulty coming to grips with the inherent limitations of your chosen horn. Limitations it seems, however, do little if anything to impede, dissuade, or prevent the chiptune artist in dictating his or her melody through the brittle wired tentacles of this instrument, despite the hampering of static with which the mouthpiece is charged. Recently Sumthing Else Music Works added a sizable stable of chiptune artists to their catalog and to celebrate, I thought I might play you a few of my favorites.

Chiptunes 1

Listen: KRUNCH OST by Disasterpeace & Dirk Rugged

Let’s not talk about KRUNCH as a software; let’s talk about KRUNCH as a reel-to-reel record: An LP that is loose of the tin-pan and jarring treble that has come to define the sound of this music. KRUNCH is an eyeful of colorful free association that is given both thickness and heart through therapy.  Not content to sit too long in their chairs, this duo is prone to physical outbursts. They explore their disconnect, their deep-seated and painful memories. This analysis, however goes beyond thorough examination, as even the most negligible and superficial events will be combed through: the hues prevalent in their dreams, overheard mindless gossip, and horoscopes on the second Thursday of each month. KRUCH culminates its psychological fixations with tearful transference placed upon their practitioner and surprising explanation of the collapse of function that brought them here. This room was to be their safe place, and KRUNCH illustrates their imaginative, confrontational and heartbreaking move to padded cell.

Chiptunes 2

Listen: Sysop – Modemoiselle by ComputeHer

Beat and hook are two of the most pronounced and important ingredients when dealing inside the gauntlet of 0/1/1/0 musical time signature. Granted, you could look elsewhere for a groove and chorus, but the chances are the two constituents you’d find would ring deflated, ornery and tired. You’ve heard these rhythms before; you have NOT heard ComputeHer’s Modemoiselle: it exploits the nature of the chiptune, drawing canvas to full extent by proudly accentuating the concentration of bleeps that make up the record’s shaded strokes. Modemoiselle understands that to engage new converts, you must make them fully aware of the offerings and knick-knacks hidden inside your coat pockets. Show them the merchandise that is on-hand, not ideas from a catalog. You came to hear a hard drive sputter and Modemoiselle wiselyrejects the penchant to lean too heavily on collaboration with live instruments, opting instead to glamorize and revel in spools of enslaved viral code.

Chiptunes 3

Listen: Safety Comes First – Silo 64 by 8 Bit Weapon

8 Bit Weapon should be considered a caustic frontline necessity and Silo 64 is its war.  In war why would anyone settle for jolting their enemy to their feet, when they have the means to send them sprinting, cowering back into their foxholes with multiple calculated blasts? 8 Bit Weapon wants to violently shake its audience out from underneath those few remaining pockets of safety. 8 Bit Weapon is not collecting POWs here; it’s counting bodies. An expert in the field of war game psychosis, 8 Bit Weapon uses its tactical campaign, waged against the inhabitants of Silo 64, to perfectly highlight its unapologetic, simple-yet-brilliant missile strategy: Hit them hard, then hit them harder!

All of these records can be purchased right here on Sumthing.com.

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Having fallen in love only 4 times in his life Geno counts Double Dragon as his second and truest love.  He has worked in record retail since 2000 and believes David Hayter to be the one true Solid Snake.  Currently, he is putting together a band which only perform songs from Street Fighter 3rd Strike.

It’s no secret: I’ve been collecting video games for a very, very long time. Shocking news I know. It’s funny how after you initially begin to amass a catalog of software, you seldom look back to question why you do it. I haven’t thought twice about it in over 20 plus years. Mostly, there’s been no real reason to do so; if it’s boxed, mint and complete, I want it. I even recall a few instances where foolishly money seemed to be no object; It can be an addiction like anything else, and it can be incredibly hard to tame.

It becomes a cycle without limits and without reason. So how did it start? I got my answer this past weekend , as I was reminded exactly why I ever began the practice of hoarding cartridges and game disks in the first place.

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So my friends Frank, Jorge, Mike and I are going around to Phoenix’s game shops. No big deal, we spend a couple hours pouring over cases of pristine copies of Breath Of Fire and Enemy Zero (which Frank picked up.) We pick through old strategy guides; Jorge is complaining as he usually always does, and Mike buys an original Gameboy… sedate, enjoyable and expensive. Hours later, though, I was still waiting for something to choose me, from high atop one of those shelves. Seemingly each store disappointed my hunger, an almost carnal need to leave with something fantastic. But then…

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But first…a couple of things you should know. When you’re first building a collection you have to make some rules, otherwise your personal museum of game software will never truly flourish. I have made two tenets the bible for my game expansion. Number 1: Focus on the ONE collection, and be ready to neglect anything else you enjoy more casually. I don’t have a ton of figurines, and my DVD library is tiny. I buy games. PERIOD. Number 2: I do not to seek out complete Nintendo games (cardboard boxes/ manual/ Styrofoam) The cost of procuring these can become prohibitively expensive, and your stock only increases by one title. I of course have some games in this condition, just not too many. And this is what I want to talk about, because I officially got rid of this rule last Friday, wiping it permanently from my dry-erase board. A time-tested adage such as this did not come down with any amount of ease, but it did, and here’s why… back to the story!

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So there we are shopping and Frank points out a wall of complete Nintendo games, while Mike, having paid for his Gameboy, is already playing his newly purchased machine, and Jorge…well he’s still complaining. I am in the middle of trying to complete a few game libraries both Ninja Gaiden and Metal Gear. I glance over and I faintly make out two complete NES Ninja Gaiden games. My mind immediately starts churning total cost and benefit versus con: There they are, what do I do? I railed against the idea for a minute, but as soon as the employee put the boxes in my hand the whole thing became elevated, spiritual even. I was immediately transported to 1989.

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It wasn’t just 1989, but the dead of summer 1989: I remember vividly being in Sears department store. It was the first time I had ever seen or heard of Ninja Gaiden: its factory seal, golden looking even under the glare of bad fluorescent lighting, trapped, imprisoned under that glass display. I began to tremble, spouting excited gibberish; I had to take a knee. This game was mine, and it was coming with me right now! Sadly, it didn‘t happen, and I was crushed. I rented it a bit later, but it is simply not the same to rent games: you have to own them. Somehow Ninja Gaiden had to be annexed to my then-microscopic amount of belongings.

I quickly devised a plan to keep this possibility alive: I frequently spent hours staring at the picture of the game in the Sears catalog that came in the mail, imagining that if I stared at it long and hard enough, somehow it would materialize in my hand. It was as if that pamphlet were a gifted Soothsayer. It would both prognosticate and facilitate that final transaction at the Sears cash register. All I had to do was sear that image of Ninja Gaiden’s box into my whole being. On the many subsequent trips to Sears that summer, never did that verdict change: I never got to own Ninja Gaiden. I never forgot that catalog though, as it felt like a piece of divine providence, and as the cashier handed me that pair of Ninja Gaiden games, it felt as if the creases in that 20-year-old advertisement’s celestial prophecy had finally become straightened. My chance to take it home was finally here.

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It didn’t take long; within the span of two minutes I had the games all bagged up, protected by size-perfect hard plastic sleeves, and IT FELT SO GOOD. This was a premium moment, layered in victory, and oozing with personal contentment. Without question it is also one of the most amazing game purchases I have made in the last 8 years. It is also why I have forever dropped the ban on buying complete NES titles: I want to always remember being that kid who wasted hours salivating over chain-store circulars pining for games, falling for games, ONLY wanting games. To me, that’s a pure memory: having everything in front of me, but all I care about is Ninja Gaiden. I started collecting software to keep that vision absolutely unclouded, visceral and always with me. That, and making sure, of course, that it’s all from a smoke-free, pet-free home, complete, boxed, and mint.

Yes… how far I have come.

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Having fallen in love only 4 times in his life Geno counts Double Dragon as his second and truest love.  He has worked in record retail since 2000 and believes David Hayter to be the one true Solid Snake.  Currently, he is putting together a band which only perform songs from Street Fighter 3rd Strike.

Killer7 1

Watch: Killer7′s E3 2003 debut trailer

Killer7 is a game for which development should have ended with a real life tragedy. It should have gone down with the likes of cursed movie productions like Poltergiest, The Omen, and Rosemary’s Baby.  Let me say this: Killer7 is in my estimation a CURSED property, and a baffling mystery should have risen around it. THANKFULLY no such thing ever took place.  You can imagine it though: it would have begun with Goichi Suda’s (aka Suda 51) mysterious death. His death would leave no answers, no clues. The items found on his person, his collection of strewn diaries would uncover only snapshots of his escalating madness. What had happened to him in those final hours, those final days? Things seemed to be going so well.

Months later, the staff at Suda’s production house Grasshopper Manufacture began disappearing. As their numbers dwindled, investigators’ only feasible lead seemed to tie to Killer7, but it all seemed like nonsense. Nothing would ever be solved. Only Suda knew: the completion of Killer7 was the moment he felt himself slipping from cognizance and stumbling into a realm of forces beyond his control.

Killer7 2

Listen: Vinculum Gate — Rave On

Killer7 is the work of desperate last resort. A final frenzied plea bargain to save the remaining sanity of those involved. It was supposed to purge, to completely dispel the phantasmal horrors beginning to take over the collective brain of Suda and his small team at Grasshopper Manufacture. While the team had dabbled in bizarre art house before, with the 1999 Japan only The Silver Case and Flower, Sun, Rain, 2005′s Killer7 walked blackened, desolate miles that would have destroyed the weaker, less austere individual or company. This game’s path is carved from logical escalation. While at first, Grasshopper’s curiosity to toy with evil forces might have begun with say, conjuring urban myths like The Bloody Mary, or to playfully question a store bought Ouija board, eventually there was an opportunity to take things a level deeper. Suddenly there were séances, hands being clasped together. It all began with a SINGLE step, and here in Killer7, Suda 51’s downward spiral begins with a SINGLE image and a sound that invades and hypnotizes. Welcome to the full moon.

Killer7 3

Watch: Killer7′s chilling opening scene

Nothing is gentle in Killer7, least of all its characters. They fashion themselves from the shards of some vicious memory: disembodied, helpless, and translating their misery through slanted, cryptic limericks. They never let on their true intentions or purpose. You don’t hold their hands; you disregard their advice; you avoid them. You feel them tower over you, stalking behind you. Encounters with them are coarse with panic, their riddles are dangerous; the nonsense they spout becomes a yammering gateway of disorientation.

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Watch: Meet the masked and obscured inhabitants of Suda 51′s Killer7

Everything that Killer7 divulges to you, it does so in the harshest, most unflinching fashion, and it’s done primarily in two parts, through environment and sound. These dual elements work in tandem to ensure that you’ll never look away, and Killer7 does all of this mainline: injects you straight as to poison the view of your looking glass as quickly and as immediately as it was administered. It romances your tolerance for its nefarious sensibility with angular shards of warm primary color, tricking you into believing that what is going on is commonplace, banal, safe as milk. Paths are linear, not vast or branching; rooms are covered with the most ordinary of objects: pencils, clocks and washing machines. It draws down your guard, and unwittingly you let Killer7’s multitude of hexes fall upon you. Submersion inside Killer7 will feel nothing like the takeover of your mind that it actually is, and it leaves you wide open to accept its whispering, wicked Mandala.

Killer7 5

Listen: Masafumi Takada’s Rebirth of Cool — Sweet Relief

And then there is the sound… that sound – composer Masafumi Takada’s sultry ping-pong. His ever-present BOING grows louder, sending waves over you. His numbing curves yin-yang across your lobe; it’s so physical that it’s almost sexual. From edge to edge, Takada adds flourish on flourish, and acid to acid.  Killer7’s orchestra tears down your will to fight it by putting you on its take. In exchange for these songs, you commit to turn a blind eye to its horror. Takada is a modern day Salome, the player his Jokanaan, as he uses his every wile to keep you under the spell… his hands all over you. Takada is beautiful, vain, and corrupt and he turns tricks every bit as powerful as the demons running Killer7’s sold-out Burlesque matinee.

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Listen: Soul Shell — Russian Roulette

What sets Killer7 apart from videogames past and present is that it’s one of the few that truly feels beyond realm, soaked in an oily rag of upside down voodoo, a blood sigil malevolence that’s absolutely fascinating to behold. I will warn you though, you will carry it with you LONG after the game is over. When you work through the levels, you WILL feel more than uncomfortable, as it burrows itself so deep beneath your skin that you have to work, scrub to get it out. Playing it demands a certain constitution, and even the mightiest of its players will need to do so in spurts, with breaks in-between. You were never meant to see the things inside Killer7, and it requires that you take things slowly to absorb and cleanse after its every scene.

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Listen: The Heaven Smile — Shoot Speed

Grasshopper Manufacture dove so deeply into the hidden subconscious that they themselves narrowly escaped the curse we spoke of earlier, marginally defeating the specters inhabiting those tiny crevices within the game world. Killer7 flawlessly showcases the genius of Suda 51, mixing his renowned punk rock esthetic with a very real and terrifying sense of danger. With Killer7, Suda 51 unequivocally proves that only some get to laugh at the devil after having danced so provocatively with him. Killer7 is a masterpiece!

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Having fallen in love only 4 times in his life Geno counts Double Dragon as his second and truest love.  He has worked in record retail since 2000 and believes David Hayter to be the one true Solid Snake.  Currently, he is putting together a band which only perform songs from Street Fighter 3rd Strike.

Musicians and composers are a difficult bunch when it comes to the application of restraint. Understandably so, why parcel out any idea in its most barren form when you can layer and add to it? Moreover, why stop at a few perfect tracks when in a given hour it’s possible to string together nine almost-there compositions. Two and four-track recordings we are made to believe to be anemic and slight: “This is a rough draft, not the final mix.” EP’s are thought of in the same sort of spectrum: “Here’s a few of our best, but we have this monstrously boring 30 track album on the way… please look forward to it!” This may not be of significant news to anyone, but a less meandering, more concise piece of music is all the more able to align you with its worldview, willing you even to forego your own fast depreciating time on earth to simply sit still and listen to it… again and again and again. This is where Namco’s 1986 big box arcade release Rolling Thunder comes into our discussion.

Rolling Thunder 1

Listen: Stage 1 Areas 1, 2 and 5

When you saw the title of this article, I bet you started humming the game’s first stage theme. You didn’t have to think about it, you just went into it. What’s more, you started wanting to play the game tied to the music. It created an instant sensation in your mind, a tangible sort of strange desire you can taste. You of course can thank Namco’s talented arcade teams of the early 80’s mostly, but I am here to remind you not to overlook Junko Ozawa, Rolling Thunder’s unrelenting musical nutritionist. How do you expect to stay fit if all you’re doing is putting every old damn thing in your mouth, huh?

Rolling Thunder 2

Listen: Stage 2 Areas 3, 4, 8 and 9

It amazes me that there isn’t some overbooked weekly press junket or sweltering-to-capacity Comic-Con panel dedicated to Ozawa. I mean, you could get those details, that inside track. I can see her sitting there recalling all her cold, flat refusals to herself speaking in both argument and rebuttal: “No too much bass… lose those God-awful midi bells you amateur! The flanging on that ding needs to be higher in the mix! HIGHER! No, No, No Turn it down, or I will turn you off!”

Ozawa must have felt conflicted… near paralyzed; it is what I imagine since it feels like so much has been scraped away. I mean we’re talking two main tracks here, and one of them feels more like a variant on the first tune. BUT! What Ozawa left to be heard is something so perfectly, minutely tinkered with, that when you finally stand back to have a better look, you see that handsome, fully fleshed double agent. Tell me, do secret agents need three separate themes? No! Imagine if James Bond had a secondary musical theme? Chances are you’d hate it and wonder why they weren’t playing the other bit without all the cymbals.  Why overdo it when all you really need is one memorable piece. That’s what Ozawa nails so perfectly.  She made the most out of our protagonist’s entrance, playing off the strength of that initial first set of notes, and that’s all she needs to do. Albatross is towering by suggestion; he says as little as possible. Above all else, he’s subtle.

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Watch: Rolling Thunder composer Junko Ozawa fit a glove

Ozawa, having purposely narrowed her field of vision, can now focus on fitting Rolling Thunder’s custom glove. When you played the game in arcades, did you ever notice how the sound effects (the grunts, gunshots, door openings) all sort of meld? Not just meld, but actually create a seamless union? The music stands gorgeously on its own, but without the throttling sound bite of those collapsing lackeys, you start to notice holes. Something is missing. Something feels off. What if you changed the sound of the gunfire? Doesn’t play to your memory’s recollection right? Ever play any of the ports of Rolling Thunder? While some capture a tiny vial of Junko’s wafting black magic, they all lack the audio potency of the original game’s richly scripted, sweeping phonics. It’s why ALL those ports fail. If you swap that pained grunt for a lifeless thud, you drastically alter Ozawa’s dome of perfection. In Rolling Thunder, nothing can be altered: Ozawa magnified and scrutinized for a reason.

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Visit: Take a look at Ozawa’s brilliant video game discography

I didn’t want to forget to tell you that Rolling Thunder is one of my very favorite video games of all time. It’s one of my greatest memories somewhere between 1985’s Back To The Future and first dates. I have played it hundreds upon hundreds of times. I know it backwards, forwards and sideways. My love for it however comes down mostly to Junko Ozawa’s lustrous musical finish. The few pieces of music it has conquer without fear of the score’s size or inventory of its instruments. Why pay fifty artists to help you create something larger and downright bloated when all it takes is one single-minded, hard-nosed composer that won’t flinch for gnashing mosquitoes or demands for something larger in scope. Sometimes musicians just need to be told when to hush, whittle down and listen. Please… don’t make me get Junko out here. She has this habit of turning people off.

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Having fallen in love only 4 times in his life Geno counts Double Dragon as his second and truest love.  He has worked in record retail since 2000 and believes David Hayter to be the one true Solid Snake.  Currently, he is putting together a band which only perform songs from Street Fighter 3rd Strike.

strider A

Listen: Raid

Some things you can fake. Take for instance the feigning of interest in some long-winded conversation on beading and buttons. You’ve been cornered and there you sit… generalized in your remarks, nodding in larger, grander motions with your neck. Your hands move, you shift positions in your chair and lean forward, eye contact. By all accounts you are engaged, taut, showing palpable anticipation, and it is pleasing whoever is opposite you. This is a false connection between both parties (albeit one that feels real enough) and that’s fine. Nothing is on the line here and everyone loves a good show.

However, there are things you simply cannot fake. True story. Once I was compared to a fake Rolex watch. I looked, sounded and ticked like the real thing, but as it turned out passing through the metal detector, exposed my fraud. From precious to semi-precious, to clouded, muddied stone; I couldn’t ever be that genuine sought after prize. This anecdote proves that in some cases, either you ARE the real thing or you aren’t. Well, at least I had the look.

And that brings us to composer Michael John Mollo’s take on the world of Capcom’s legendary ninja Strider Hiryu.

Strider E

Listen: Coup

Close your eyes. Now imagine how you personally envision the music that would make up Strider in 2014. Whatever it is, it would have fallen doornail flat. Your mixture would have ended up a maligned, ill-conceived schematic of contrived homage. Your ideas reaching to strike a balance between a personality of its own and a nod that might find a mere wink of acceptance from the series original composer Junko Tamiya. I say this harshly because the entirety of Mollo’s LP for Strider is something I imagine ONLY coming from him. Something that is so gorgeous and well fitted to the universe of the Strider legend, it becomes absolutely integral, an ingrained piece of the series canon after a single, solitary flip of the record from side A to side B. While your musical take might have been passable, capable even… your salt, mine, anyone else is nowhere near the grain of Mollo when it comes to Hiryu.

strider B

Listen: Military

It all comes down to understanding. You may read a paragraph in a textbook, a passage in a novel, and think your paraphrase aptly summarizes and plucks the meaning from every letter. In reality, you are missing details. Something about it, those words, your words, feel grayer once the pen leaves the page. Then you start scratching your head. What were they saying? Mollo, however, KNOWS Strider. KNOWS those details that anyone else would have missed. He has swung that light-cypher, recalls the oddity of its texture, its uneven handling. Mollo’s sat and traveled with Hiryu long enough to know his flaws. Hiryu’s not perfect, but you wouldn’t know it until you’re standing physically next to him. To have a genuine comprehension of a person requires more than you can discern from hastily written Cliffs notes. Mollo knew that to reach the full summation of Strider as a man, one must stand inches from his breath, watch him shift just as he’s about to leap. The ordinary and the spectacular are things not lost on Mollo. Legends after all are just people carrying upon them a fictional paradigm. Mollo understood that to make their stature larger, you must tap into every conceivable avenue available however mundane the task they are performing.

Strider C

Listen: The Mechanical Dragon

Mollo is beyond the understanding of Strider, and that’s what makes his interpretation so faultlessly compelling. He is able to do anything he chooses. Each move he makes seems richer, more alluring than his previous play. He knows this world so well that he can let loose with his material; time signatures fluctuate rapidly, his tone shifts completely inspired, and his cross fades are playful. Mollo knows when to apply hard pressure, ease his hand if need be, and steer towards any bearing of his choice. Strider is so lively and brilliant a concoction that its closing shot remains as fascinating and impeccable as the album’s opener. Mollo is nothing short of jubilant on Strider and you can hear it. It is a picture that couldn’t be any clearer. Mollo loves Strider and it is this love that puts Strider as an LP into a class completely its own.

Strider D

Listen: Kazakh City

Strider in the hands of composer Michael John Mollo is as monstrous and bold as its namesake. It is doubtless one of the most intoxicating, exciting collections of music in recent memory. Mollo effortlessly plays all sides of Strider’s daunting field: paying sumptuous and expected tribute while expanding boundlessly upon the possibilities, the dimension’s within Strider Hiryu’s frozen world of ice, tundra, and mechanical Dragon. While there may have been many candidates to helm this score,  Michael John Mollo is most assuredly the ONLY REAL choice, the ONLY GENUINE article. Everyone else would have simply looked the part but like that Rolex, the tell is in how it ticks.

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Having fallen in love only 4 times in his life Geno counts Double Dragon as his second and truest love.  He has worked in record retail since 2000 and believes David Hayter to be the one true Solid Snake.  Currently, he is putting together a band which only perform songs from Street Fighter 3rd Strike.

With the release of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 just one day away, Geno sits down with series composer Oscar Araujo to discuss his work on this collection of epic games.

Geno: Mr. Araujo, it’s so great to finally meet you! It’s something that I have imagined ever since your score for Castlevania: Lords of Shadow effortlessly pulled me away from the chaos of an E3 show floor back in 2010. I was avoiding the demo station for the game out of fear that the experience would be marred by the inescapable white noise easily found on all sides of me. They had some headphones, so I took the gamble; your score made such an impression on me, that I actually replayed the demo over and over just to hear the opening bars of that first intro sequence. I made people mad, and held up a line at one point. I didn’t care; some things you have to learn to savor no matter the circumstances. Life’s too short, you know! I really wanted to say thank you. What are you up to these days?  

Composer Oscar Araujo:

Hi Geno. Thank you for your kind words, I’ve been at an E3 show myself and I can imagine those queues and all the people waiting for you to stop playing. These days I’m working on two projects that are very important to me. One is directing an animated film called “Leo”. It’s about the extinction of humanity with only animals, including insects, surviving on earth. And it is from this point of view that the film is told. We are using a technique that has not yet been done in any film, so hopefully it will surprise the industry. And then there’s an electronic music LP that took eight years to compose with symphony orchestra and a heavy electronic base without a typical structure of conventional electronics, I think it’s going to make quite an impression on the community.

Geno: One of the first things to catch my attention throughout the compositions Lords of Shadow is how you wrestle with one of the game’s central themes: the ugliness of death. While most composers feel the need to approach the subject with lilting, morose shades of sorrow, you attack with your fists, pummeling, working over your opponent into near lifeless submission. Even at its most understated, your score’s temperament here is defiant, without mercy and mindful of some impending doom, specifically that fabulous opening number “Besieged Village“ not to mention “The Warg“ and “The Hunting Path“. It’s rare to be thrown so quickly to the ravenous dogs in wait. Tell me, did you feel a particular need for the soundtrack to convey a sort of physical invulnerability? It’s all so incredibly powerful!

Araujo:

The idea with the first map was to show that the game wouldn’t be a game like any other, but a game that is about the struggle of a man who will do whatever it takes to get back his love. That is the absolute force that has always moved the world. So the best way was to introduce the music from the very beginning, even knowing that there would be moments in the game in which the music would also be very important. So the player knows from the outset that a complex and lovingly crafted score awaits him.

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Geno: Castlevania: Lords of Shadow is very much the story of a broken man calling upon whatever resources he can scavenge regardless of the powers he is meddling with. It’s a snapshot of an individual’s companionless journey. Within the confines of your score, can you pinpoint the origin of our protagonist Gabriel’s quest? Which of your pieces would you offer as his main theme aside from “Belmont‘s Theme“?  Can you tell me a little bit about the creation of “Belmont’s Theme”? What’s your interpretation of the Belmont’s cursed lineage? What did you want to personally impart on the series overall soundscape?  

Araujo:

In the first meetings with Mercury Steam and Konami it was decided we wanted a very different score, a soundtrack that focused on the main character and that belonged uniquely and exclusively to Gabriel, because the adventure of the protagonist is a dramatic one, from start to finish – a powerful love story like Romeo and Juliet, which follows a path to a dramatic ending. And that was my role as the composer, to lead the player into that path. And from the first moment the player begins the game I had to convey that. “Belmont‘s Theme” is a nod to Super Castlevania and the old saga; it is a theme composed thinking of the fans of the old Castlevania games. You need to know I’ve played those Castlevania games and I’ve also been a fan and I am still one, and probably no one has ever noticed, but just like “Belmont‘s Theme”, there are other hints and nods that I have included in the composition that maybe with the symphonic treatment sound different, but if you analyze them well, you will see that they are a tribute to Michiru Yamane.

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Geno: From the outset of the project, did you ever change course musically? Were there any things you eventually scrapped in favor of the final tally of songs? What sort of ideas did you eventually leave on the woodworking table? Do you have any distinct, warm memories regarding that time period or those recording sessions?

Araujo:

In Lords of Shadow I’ve not had any music turned down, because I was the first filter myself. If something did not fully convince me, I would not use it. Thus, I assured they had only the best music. On my hard disk there are dozens of ideas that went unused. That is how I usually work. I am my first and main critic.

About the style, it has always been clear to me where the LoS saga music needed to go; sometimes I was given suggestions of movies or scores but I tried not to delve too much into those suggestions, so that in the end the LoS music had its own identity and no one can state that it sounds like this or that movie or score. Some cues might have some nod or resemblance to the Lord of the Rings scores, but that happened at the beginning of the composition and Konami became more confident and allowed the score to slowly achieve its own personality.

Geno: I was talking earlier about how pounding and visceral the score is, but it also has a wealth of moments dedicated to dignified repose.  “Waterfalls of Agharta” and “Agharta” combine to make one of the score’s most poignant and gorgeous paintings. “God Mask” too delivers something both revelatory and muted by its own sadness.  It’s a gripping thing this collection of material. To create that sort of cathartic, emotive response do you find that you have to put yourself into a somewhat vulnerable position emotionally?  Do you borrow from your own experiences to go to different places within your music, or do you compose completely detached from the ins and outs of your daily life?

Araujo:

Well what has always been pursued is to give dashing and special music to those special moments in the game, and especially that the music helps to enhance the images or the action that is happening at every moment of the game. When Enric (the Project Director) or Dave wanted background ambient music, that music was sought out to accompany Gabriel in the most beautiful way, but always implying the misfortune of the main character to the gamer. It was still beautiful music but with a dramatic touch. And I think it has been one of the strengths of the score and one of the main reasons both players and critics praised it.

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Geno: I was raised a staunch Catholic growing up… all that means really is that I am afraid of the devil, evil demon pustules and am certain that if I were to encounter a real vampire, I’d do something ridiculous like try to recite broken verse from Leviticus, which I’ve never read! That also undermines the fact that I am no longer Catholic but… Bottom line: I am fearful of all malevolent creatures. How much of that primal, uncertain response did you want to incorporate into the blood of Lords of Shadows musical veins?  There are perfect, chilling examples to be found within (i.e. “Carmilla “, “Laura’s Mercy” and “The Last Battle“).  You never overdo the encounter though, it’s always just enough to remind you that your character is still mortal, and possession, curses and black magic will still weaken and exploit his nature. Did you go into the score with a sound you wanted to avoid? Not naming names, had you heard other similarly themed monster-infested scores and thought to yourself, “My vampire will be scarier than that old thing!”?  How did you want Lords Of Shadow to stand apart?

Araujo:

Well, I love Alan Silvestri and James Newton Howard – they are my favorite composers. Alan made ​​a vampire film, Van Helsing, that I adore – forceful music with vocals that fits perfectly with the film. And James composed Lady in the Water, and “The Great Eatlon” is one of my favorite themes ever. So what I meant to achieve was that the fights had that musical force, that when you think the cue is at the very top, nevertheless it continues to rise and grow even more and more. Because fighting monsters is fighting with the unknown, I wanted the music at a melodic level to have unexpected changes. Ferran also did a spectacular job with the orchestration so it all sounded great without harmony faults.

Geno: I am guessing that “The Swamp Troll” was great fun to compose; it nearly gallops off my iPod screaming for my head! Can you tell me a bit more about this particular piece? I envision you moving all over the studio individually directing each member of that gigantic symphony, deftly crafting their each and every move; manually sliding that precariously held bow over violin, taking over the kettledrum as the horn section collapses all around you. It’s a definitive moment in your score, like you have been completely overtaken. Do you ever find yourself wholly consumed by your musical projects? Was there something more intense about creating for Lords of Shadow? What would you consider the defining piece here, where the sound in your head perfectly matched the rumblings of the recorded tape?   

Araujo:

Well, I try to be involved with just a few projects at the same time to keep my creativity fresh. If you get involved in too many you can end up doing the same music and that is wrong. So that is the way I work, a few projects well made, and combining composing with photography, filmmaking and enjoying life. This way I can devote 100% to one project and my brain is always alert. I don’t know whether LoS is my best work or not, only time will provide an answer to that eventually. The important thing is that I really enjoyed composing this music and I think that it shows. My favorite cues are the “Final Confrontation”, “Laura’s Mercy” and “The End”. Especially “Laura’s Mercy”, because I am moved every time I listen to it along with the images, and more than a tear has been shed while composing that particular cue. Although it may not seem so, I am a very sentimental person from the musical point of view.

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Geno: I noticed you tied many of the game’s central players with their very own specific theme throughout the soundtrack. It’s a bold move. Veer too far to the left or right and a character’s nature, his or her identity, can become muddled and confused with another of the game’s inhabitants. “Cornell”, “The Ice Titan” and spectacularly “The Evil Butcher” successfully carve out an indelible musical persona to complement their onscreen presence. Where do you look for traits in a character that you are scoring for? Is it more an examination of physical traits or things implied in the person’s movements or actions?  How do you get to know these people? Moreover, how do you get close to them? What you’ve done here is incredibly impressive!

Araujo:

Well, each character or enemy has a past history, which is developed in the script and Enric tells me where each character comes from. So I sought for a distinct identity to each of them, like in the case of the Titans, The Evil Butcher or Satan. For the Titans it had to be something big and majestic. The Butcher needed something unpleasant, grotesque and musically dirty; it is one of my favorite character themes, as it has a lot of personality, and Satan’s reeked of intelligence and fear. I think video games allow you to get more deeply into the characters than a movie, and therefore I think they deserve extra attention.

Geno: What was it that initially attracted you to the Lords of Shadow project? Were you already a dedicated follower of the Belmont’s MULTIPLE attempts to silence the pestilence of Dracula and his cursed offspring? Do you enjoy playing video games? If yes…what would you consider to be your favorite game?

Araujo:

My main motivation when composing LoS was doing something I personally enjoy. My favorite scores are Conan the Barbarian, the Lord of the Rings saga, Van Helsing, The Abyss, as you can see all highly epic music, so I was allowed to do something to live up to these scores: epic combat music and romantic sentimental music as well. Besides, I got an absolute carte blanche to compose and to choose songs. And the truth is that it really helped that Mercury and Konami have always provided everything to motivate me the most.

Indeed I was a fan of Castlevania, because from Super Castlevania 4 to Symphony of the Night, I think there have been really good games in the series and some others not so good, but I’ve enjoyed them all. I would love to compose for a Tomb Raider game since I got into composing because of the first Tomb Raider. Lara Croft is the culprit for my interest in video game music :)

 CLOS_UE_SOUNDTRACK BOOKLET.indd

Get the exclusive Director’s Cut on Sumthing.com

Geno: I recently purchased Castlevania Lords of Shadow: Mirror of Fate. I was pleasantly surprised when I heard your signature sound rising up from my 3DS machine. You already have Lords of Shadow under your belt as well as the DS game, and the Lords of Shadow sequel. I noticed that the soundtrack in Mirror of Fate was just as rich and enormous as Lords of Shadow. Did you have to make any compromises due to the constraints of the hardware, or did you find that handhelds were just as able as consoles to deliver a completely unedited symphonic suite? It didn’t sound like anything was sacrificed on your end in the slightest. Anything you can tease us with in regards to the sound of Castlevania Lords of Shadow 2?

Araujo:

Technically we had to sacrifice a few things that would be later included in LoS2; there is no doubt that the Nintendo console is a great handheld console, but as such it has a number of limitations including the sound. The sound card and the speaker cannot be added or purchased separately as in home consoles or computers, so knowing that, I looked for a sound that could enhance the experience with the software and hardware of the console in mind. And besides, being a platform game in the vein of the old Castlevania, the music had to be atmospheric but in the style of LoS1.

Geno: I was looking at your official site: that’s quite a lot of work you’re doing. Impressive stuff, man! From photography, to ads and film scores…WOW. What were your formative years like in your native Spain? When did you get your start in the entertainment business? What was the first thing that sparked you to create? Were you a troublemaker, or shy and reserved in high school? 

Araujo:

Yes, the truth is I’m lucky I can devote time to do different things. This way I do not run out of ideas. When I’m not composing music, I take pictures, when I do not, I direct video clips or ads, or I create ideas for the future. No time to be bored. Unfortunately, due to overweight I had a heart attack in March last year, I had too much work and I was not taking care of myself properly. Now I’m completely recovered and weighing 30 kilos less, I take care of myself a little more and I’m not as obsessed with work as before. But I still manage to do many things. And as a kid I was a little thug, too. I achieved higher degrees than what was usual for my age, but afterwards I was expelled for not being attentive in class. I toured several schools and child psychologists back then.

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Castlevania: Lords of Shadow composer Oscar Araujo

Geno: Thanks again Oscar for sitting down with me today! It’s been such an honor to get to speak with you.

Before you leave us, what’s 2014 looking like for you? Do you have any major plans like say… touring with a full symphony to play Castlevania: Lords of Shadow in its entirety? I know I would be the first one in line for tickets! It’s just an idea. Any final thoughts for our readers at Sumthing?

Araujo:

Thank you Geno for your patience and the time you have taken to prepare these questions.

So far, as I have said, I am immersed in the electronic music LP that will be released in April, and in the film, and because of confidentiality obligations I cannot mention two AAA projects that are underway. I hope I will be able to talk about them soon. But those two games will keep me busy until 2018, since they are just being developed right now. And in one of them I will try something that I hope no one attempts in the near future, because it has never been done and I think it will be very original and daring.

CLOS_UE_SOUNDTRACK BOOKLET.indd Castlevania Mirror of Fate Cover CLoS2 Cover EXCLUSIVE

Oscar Araujo’s soundtracks for Castlevania: Lords of Shadow and Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate are available now on Sumthing.com.  The Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 soundtrack releases tomorrow February 25th and can be pre-ordered right here!

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Having fallen in love only 4 times in his life Geno counts Double Dragon as his second and truest love.  He has worked in record retail since 2000 and believes David Hayter to be the one true Solid Snake.  Currently, he is putting together a band which only perform songs from Street Fighter 3rd Strike.

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Capcom’s original Strider arcade game is one of the most important games of my entire life. It marks a very personal point of change in my own history, as well as what I consider to be the birth of ALL modern gaming up to this point. Strider to me, however goes beyond the applications of its ROM or cartridge. I have been known to get wildly emotional about it. You can ask my lifelong friend Joseph Villescas – he has seen my outbursts and was there the first time I ever laid eyes on the arcade machine… Strider is a very BIG deal.

When I heard Capcom and the development team at Double Helix were in the midst of creating a new Strider title I could BARELY sleep, and I made sure to tell you about it. One of my main curiosities lay within the new game’s musical foundation. How would Strider Hiryu sound in 2014? This thought stewed in my brain for months. When I finally heard the snippets of material recorded by Strider’s brilliant composer Michael John Mollo, I immediately felt the absolute NEED to reach out to him. Mollo’s visionary mixture of emaciated mountaintops, steely chrome and Strider Hiryu’s dizzying kaleidoscopic sprint make for one of the most radiant and exciting scores of this year. It is also my first nomination for video game album of the 2014.   My conversation with Michael here took place on a very cold and grey January evening. A cold so chilling, I suspect Strider Hiryu would approve. I took it as a sign of fate.

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Composer Michael John Mollo

Geno:  Strider HD’s audio absolutely glows! What’s rather amazing to me is how you managed to bring out the old spirit of the series past musical themes. What’s even more incredible is how you expanded on them sonically without the songs losing their identity. I’d like to talk about the original NES Strider music in particular, which is fairly threadbare in its arrangement. There is very little to go off of. Tell me what sort of challenges you faced when translating these older 8-bit NES sound materials?

Composer Michael John Mollo:

The original 8-bit chip tunes of the late 80s and early 90s didn’t have a lot of real estate to work with in terms of timbre. They compensated by creating really cool melodies, advanced harmonic structures and incredibly funky rhythmic elements. The original Strider melodies are immediately catchy and hummable while still being harmonically complex. My challenge was to keep the integrity of each tune intact and adjust the musical arrangement to bring the sound forward into the 21st century. Once we decided on which original Strider materials to arrange, it was just a matter of breaking down each tune to its bare bones and building it back up again against a new backdrop. I listen to a lot of electronic music. Early game music is a precursor to a lot of the EDM you’ll hear today. So once I boiled the original Strider tunes down to their core elements, the arrangement of each tune just sort of presented itself in a logical manner. It was truly a fun and educational process!

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Listen: The sound of Strider’s old-time religion

Geno: The rearranged sound material is only a fourth of this project though. Did you ever feel any desire to take the music in Strider in a vastly different direction than what will be heard in the final version of the game? For example, something much more sparse and ambient, or maybe all rock guitars and no synth?

Mollo:

When I was first brought on to the project, Double Helix already had an idea of how to approach the music. It was very important to them to pay homage to the original sound of Strider. His tunes are iconic and very much a part of the game play experience. Severing that aural connection was never something we considered. That said, I knew that I could also bring a fresh perspective to the game and approach the classic sound from a unique angle. I’m a guitar player so yes, I included a bit of that in the score, but for each new tune my goal was to maintain a sound palette that would support the arrangements of original material as well a pushing the sound forward in time. Also, in terms of ambience I was encouraged by the team to explore a sense of space and depth. The 2.5D landscape, which serves as a visual backdrop to the game, really supports long textures. So I tried to make sure each tune had a solid yet evolving bed of sound that could support the low level game play states but also would help give size to the heavier action elements. In terms of the new compositions, for each level area and each boss, I was given a host of materials: buzz words, color palettes, sketches, 3D renderings, maps etc. These loose instructions helped me to give each new piece a sense of individuality. It was also important that my materials fold into the Strider catalog and not sound diametrically different, so I tried to craft the melodies in short catchy fragments with similarly cool harmonic and rhythmic elements as the original tunes.

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Watch: Strider in all its console-conversion glory

Geno: I have always thought that direction would be the hardest thing to establish when scoring for a video game. On the one hand you have an established world, character design and number of objectives to complete, but what about motivations of the character? What sort of person are they? What’s going on that you can’t necessarily see outright?  I have always felt Strider Hiryu to be a bit like a chameleon. How do you balance his temperamental darkness with playful light and resolve? How did you dissect his character musically? Where do you feel he’s coming from personally?

Mollo:

That’s a fun question. On the one hand he’s an assassin. You know, the badass ninja type. On the other hand, he’s Kazkh’s only hope to escape from the evil grasp of Grandmaster Meio, so he’s got to have a soft side as well. I think personally, he’s probably a weird dude to be around, not much of a conversationalist, but when you have a cypher like he does, you don’t need to say much. I think his actions in the game speak for themselves. From the beginning we wanted to let Hiryu kind of speak for himself so I focused my resources more on the original adaptations, the level areas and the bad guys.

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Listen: Strider vs. Strider

Geno: After having scored for television and film, what do you feel to be the greatest difference between that type of process and developing pieces of music for video games? Were you surprised by anything, methods, sequences, etc?

Mollo:

The actual nuts and bolts of composing music that is intended to be interactive requires and significantly different set of skills than that of film/tv music. In Strider, the music needed to be incredibly elastic and each piece of music I wrote needed to support many states of game action. The audio lead on the project, Andrew Dearing was a lifesaver in this respect. He handled all of the in-game implementation using Wwise, which was fantastic since it let me focus completely on creating the tunes and the arrangements. I delivered each piece of music in multiple layers, sometimes as many as 50+ and he sub mixed each piece so that the audio would seamlessly transition based on the various intensity levels of game play. I was brought onto the project incredibly early, so that was probably the biggest (and most welcome) surprise. I am generally accustomed to starting a film and having to deliver a polished score in a matter of weeks, or even days for television. Double Helix was building the game as I delivered score materials so we worked in tandem for many months. It was pretty much a dream experience. I can’t imagine that schedule being rivaled ever again. Read More

It was a Wednesday night, winter of 1987. I remember it vividly. I was 8 years old. Let me tell you, I had been in love before, two years earlier. She was so beautiful and sweet, and more importantly, human. And now, I was in love again, except this time… it was with machine! All cold bolts, motherboard, and intoxicating light… I’d like to say that since I first laid eyes on the seminal Double Dragon arcade machine, I have not had a decent night’s sleep in 25 years. I want to own it. I want to wake up with it next to me; watch it softly bludgeon its foes for an eternity in my room. My devotion to Double Dragon extended past the machine. Want proof? Behold one of my many tributes to the game via comic:

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My very own hand-drawn 1987 Double Dragon comics

Double Dragon altered my existence profoundly. It’s why I play video games. PERIOD. So when I heard that the versatile collective genius of developers at WayForward Technologies and Majesco Entertainment was reviving my favorite video game franchise of all time with the brilliant Double Dragon Neon, I wrote love poems anew! One of my heavy-handed prose reached WayForward Studios and so we met up for an interview about the blessed birth of Double Dragon Neon and the resurrection of one of video games greatest franchises.

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Geno: It’s 1987, and suddenly there you are standing in front of that singular arcade machine Double Dragon. What was your first initial reaction to the game? It was such a leap forward for me at the time, that I felt the medium had just left horse and buggy travel for sweating speedway cars.

Sean Velasco (DIRECTOR, WayForward): My first Double Dragon experience was playing the original on Sega Master System. The NES version didn’t have co-op, but you could play the SMS version with 2 players! So my next-door neighbor Ryan Peart and I played Double Dragon, Ghostbusters, Shinobi, Zaxxon 3D, and many others. Drinking Ecto Cooler, sitting on the carpet, blowing in cartridges… these early gameplay experiences are what made me fall in love with games in the first place. We were 5 in 1987: the perfect audience!

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Watch: Level One (Original Double Dragon Arcade)

Geno: The Double Dragon franchise has changed hands a number of times over the last two decades. It seemed in danger of being lost forever, withering in a vault of some unseen corporation, no one to bid it farewell. Double Dragon Neon will fix this of course. How did Majesco and your team resuscitate the brothers Lee? Were there significant hurdles to get the project green lit? Who was last to hold the rights to Double Dragon?

WayForward:

The original Technos guys still own the rights for Double Dragon under the name “Plophet”. I don’t know the details of who was contacted first, but as we were wrapping BloodRayne: Betrayal, the opportunity arose. Majesco called WayForward and asked, “Would you guys be interested in making a Double Dragon game? If so, we can get the license.” We jumped at it of course! We immediately pitched the “Neon” direction, and here we are!

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Watch: Double Dragon Neon Steam Trailer

Geno: What made Double Dragon Neon a priority for Wayforward and Majesco? Is Neon the opening number in a series of new Double Dragon games? Or was it simply a mutual love of the source material. I am hoping you say yes to the first part!

WayForward:

The answer to your first question depends totally on the sales of Double Dragon Neon. We want to make a sequel and have tons of ideas that were left on the cutting room floor, but first we need to know that people are into it!

As far as the source material, we are all reverent toward Double Dragon. We love working with Majesco because we never know what is coming down the pipe next; Double Dragon was a very pleasant surprise. After making the combat-focused BloodRayne, this was a really good fit.

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Watch: Relive 80′s NES fever

Geno: Was there a temptation to rewrite the series in terms of say a prequel? Did the staff want to add more flesh to the existing story, add new characters maybe?

WayForward:

We approached this game as a reimagining. It’s an over-the-top, 80’s themed feast of insanity! So we rewrote the story, added many new characters and enemies, and gave Billy and Jimmy some more personality. It has echoes of classic Double Dragon throughout, and the game is really funny!

There are female Karate masters, warlocks, robots, and more. This game takes the series into a more fantastical direction, so we went wild with the designs. We have a new arch-villain, Skullmageddon, who is your stereotypically diabolical, Saturday-morning-cartoon type of bad guy. The story is very light because we are gameplay focused, but what’s there is madness. I still laugh every time I play the game.

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Watch: The short-lived 90′s Double Dragon cartoon

Geno: Given that Double Dragon is now 25 years old, you must have had some very opinionated fans running about begging you for everything Double Dragon, Billy Lee’s reanimated corpse perhaps. What was the number one request from fans? What did they want to see? What did they not want to see?

WayForward:

People are extremely vocal about this game! Abobo busting outta the wall tops the list. Then you have the weapons-based combat: beating someone up, taking the bat, and using it against him! Certain moves like the spin kick and the flying knee were also must-haves. Beating up your friend was also a must-have, and this game is full of ways to either help or antagonize one another!

We have controversially not included the ability to grab people by the hair and beat them up; we decided that this would slow the gameplay down too much. Overall we strived to include everything that players loved about the original series; there are tons of references and throwbacks to the original. However, like any game developed by passionate people, our mark is all over the game. We hope that fans embrace this new direction for Double Dragon!

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Watch: The original Double Dragon Neon Trailer from 2012

Geno: Have you had any contact with the original Double Dragon arcade team? What do they think of this new coat of paint?

WayForward:

Yoshihisa Kishimoto, the original creator of Double Dragon, has been involved from the beginning, to ensure that the game was up to the standards of the Double Dragon legacy. He read the initial documentation, gave feedback on the character designs, and even helped critique some of our gameplay choices! We were even given access to some early character art from the original games, which was ridiculously cool. Getting his opinion has helped us separate the wheat from the chaff when it came to what was important. I’m honored to have worked with such a legend, and I hope that he and the entire original staff enjoy the completed game. We have the best job in the world!

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Watch: Double Dragon 2 NES Commercial

Geno: Double Dragon has arguably one of the most recognizable and influential video game scores in history. What sort of treatment is being made of the soundtrack? It has obviously been redone (and sounds excellent by the way!) How do you hit all the old notes, and still manage to forge a striking personal fingerprint? Who is in the conductor’s chair for this title?

WayForward:

Jake Kaufman is a freaking virtuoso genius and this is among the best soundtracks I have ever heard from him. I’m gonna let him speak for himself!

Jake Kaufman (Composer):Like many on the team, I spent insane amounts of time playing Double Dragon in the arcade and at home. I put its music (with Ninja Gaiden and TMNT2) on a cassette tape, listened to it on the way to school, and picked fights with the Sega kids. Man, it was so good. All of the classic Technos games were just massively influential on me as a composer (read: I steal all my ideas from them constantly.), so it blew my mind to work on this. I’ve long felt that Double Dragon‘s music was clearly inspired by 80s pop and film music to begin with, so I tried to slam together a wide variety of stylistic homages to my own 80s heroes — Michael Jackson, Van Halen, Devo, Harold Faltermeyer — which made it super personal (and ridiculously challenging).

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Listen: Composer Jake Kaufman’s brilliantly saturated 1980′s score

Geno: I love that the Lee brothers have finally learned to play air guitar! I always felt they needed a taunt for their unworthy opponents. This is a new thing, how about new moves? I saw all the classic moves, and shed joyful tears. Have you all implemented anything new to the move set? I always thought they needed an air grab!

WayForward:

We have many new moves, yes! First off, you can now dodge, and then counter with super-powerful attacks. This is a little similar to Super Double Dragon’s counterattacks and it adds tremendous depth to the combat.

We added a high-five system to power up co-op play. Basically, you can high five during combat to do extra damage or share your health with your bro. It’s rad as hell because you can initiate it from far away and your characters leap across the screen, high five in the center, and swap places. It’s so awesome!

You now also have a mix tape, which gives you super moves, but you can only have one equipped at a time. So you can pull a bomb out of nowhere, jet across the screen in one motion like a bulldozer, or even summon an awesome-looking dragon to aid you! The mix tape can level up over many games so there is a good amount of replay value, which we thought was sorely lacking in the series.

You can grab a guy out of the air. You can do a big ground finisher to smash foes lying on the ground. You can knee a guy into a wall, and catch him with another move using our expanded air combos. You can bonk two enemies’ heads together.

Finally, brace yourself… we put jump onto its own button!

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Listen: Double Dragon Neon – all about the wild

Geno: I see space, stars and ship interiors. Will our duo be fighting in space? Does this particular stage have anything to do with Battletoads and Double Dragon? I am thoroughly impressed!

WayForward:

I don’t want to spoil the settings too much, but the places you go in Double Dragon Neon are really varied. You do go to space, and you can get sucked out of an airlock (kind of like the helicopter level in Double Dragon II). Unfortunately there are no Battletoads… but mobilize the internet and maybe we can get them in for Double Dragon Neon II: The Search for Sensei’s Gold!

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Watch: Battletoads and Double Dragon… yes it happened and it was awesome!

Geno: Getting into the mindset for the creation of Neon must have taken a number of rituals. How did you channel 1987 for wisdom? Were weeks of hair bands, pizza parlors and all night sessions of Nintendo the order of the day before the programming began? Any funny stories from development?

WayForward:

You just described our lives, man! We still have our old consoles hooked up. We have a holiday called “Mega May” where we play all the Mega Man games during May. Our design notebooks are hot pink. We use the word radical in every day conversation, and I am currently wearing a Captain EO T-Shirt. We live this stuff!

The development on this game was bonkers. We mostly talked in Wario voices and we thought it was really hilarious, but it was probably just annoying to everyone else at WayForward. Honestly just imagine a huge group of turbo nerds in the same room for an entire year and think about how unintelligible they would be. If I tried to tell you one of those stories, you would look at me weird… just like everyone else!

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Listen: The gorgeously muck-covered Double Dragon “Stage 2″ theme

Geno: There are a billion versions of Double Dragon out there today. Nintendo, Mega Drive, Neo Geo, Commodore 64, Zeebo, Gameboy Advance, Gameboy, on and on and on. Which do you feel is the best port of the original Double Dragon arcade?

WayForward:

My favorite Double Dragon games are the SMS Double Dragon, Double Dragon Advance on GBA, and Double Dragon II on NES. As far as the perfect arcade port… there are just so many versions. I’d probably go with the SMS version just because it’s the one I played as a kid!

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Watch: One of the million Double Dragon arcade ports in action

Geno: Do you have any final words from the dojo of Majesco and Lee about Neon for our readers?

WayForward:

It’s funny you call it that, because we put up ramen shop-style cloth flaps at the entrance of our Double Dragon workplace, and refer to it as the dojo!

To everyone: We really got into this game and poured our energy into it. Please download Double Dragon Neon, crack open a beer (or soft drink of your choice), and play it with a friend. If you are drunkenly laughing and high-fiving one another a couple hours later, then we succeeded!

Geno: Thanks for making the time for me today, WayForward has certainly done this legendary franchise incredibly proud!

Double Dragon Neon jumps on the Steam-powered train very soon.

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Having fallen in love only 4 times in his life Geno counts Double Dragon as his second and truest love.  He has worked in record retail since 2000 and believes David Hayter to be the one true Solid Snake.  Currently, he is putting together a band which only perform songs from Street Fighter 3rd Strike.

You see… arcade machines are kind of my thing. I have spent the better portion of my life trying to chase down the authenticity of that experience, to recreate it at any cost. The thing is you can’t REALLY get it anymore. These machines are still around, but not in the way that they were some 25 to 30+ years ago. That’s why I’ve made it my personal mission as a video game music enthusiast to expose you to the soundtracks and long players of these tragically vanishing behemoths. My weekly column here will spend at least some of 2014 exploring the music and composers of video game’s crumbling high art. Since it’s my birthday this week, lets start with one of my favorites: Konami’s 1990 arcade classic Aliens.

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Listen: Stage 1 – Setting Charges

Konami was nearly unrivaled as purveyors of the 80’s arcade soundboard. Their springboard into the ultra violence and grit of 1987’s Contra and its rather immediate successor 1988’s Super Contra was a treatise of basic yet gorgeously layered shrapnel, pounding boots, skulls, and bombastic musical fracturing. For as memorable as it is, it wouldn’t dare raise a finger to 1990’s Aliens, because where Contra emphasized the charge of an explosion, Aliens pores over the idea of menace, the noose of terrestrial close-quarters war. The Aliens arcade soundtrack is more complex than even that though. It realizes that to create a harrowing narrative around the chaos, there must also be hope in its resistance, a credible, paralyzing dread, and an emphasis on time… which is by the way, running very, very low. Emotion is imperative here, and each scene needs to incite some level of harried, knee-jerk decision… usually ending with more quarters down the arcades 25-cent chute. Level 1’s opening fist pump, lays down a gauntlet of showy bravado: Doors sprung wide open, back to back, weapons hot… you can do this. You can do this…YOU CAN!

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Listen: Stage 2 – The Make and Model @ 3:00

Once confident, the player is quick to meet the blurred and dangerously frazzled nature of composer Adachi’s Level 2. His on-rails barrage of bass triples and magnifies the steps of the unstoppable, the oncoming creatures of closer and closer proximity. Adachi is precarious when he plays with his swords, and the interplay between that bass and the sickeningly hypnotic line-up, line-down of his wavering synth is a fantastic piece of sideshow juggling. If you listen only once, it is likely you will be drawn to one instrument or the other, as both make a play for dominance in the track. Listen twice and your attention falls to the other, but on a third or fourth listen, you fall into its synthesis, the real rhythm. A back and forth that is so perfectly executed that even years and years of explication would never fully reveal the layers still left unseen.

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Listen: Stage 3-2 – Thirteen Floors of Elevator

Listen: Stage 3-1 – Laundry Chute @ 3:57

Paramount to Konami’s Aliens is the seduction of the game world’s heavy friction. Here the idea is that the space is indeed so tight and the sweat so ample that for every movement, for every physical exertion, the iron bars, platforms, and steel walkways swelter unbearably further. This is a fog, and your brain has no wipers for which to see through it. Adachi was wise to carry a number of cruel tools, namely the drill. You can hear him slamming down, tearing through each note of his keyboard’s militant cadence. These keys are being jammed, not pressed nor pushed, and the sound is becoming more and more pronounced, shadowy, thicker. Over and over, the melody rubs sickly hot against you, and all that can really be done… is to try and not rub back. Stages 3-2 and 3-1 showcase Adachi’s mastery of pulling someone right out of their own skin. This is the sound of their coercion, the breakdown of their functions and processes. Submission.

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Listen: Stage 7 – Capturing The Blue Flag @ 11:47

Adachi isn’t finished yet though. In the game’s final segue of acts, we’re treated to his definitive draft. Incorporating all his techniques, his brimming cauldron is now at last placed upon the high ground.

Adachi charges his melody with the unexpected: a highly mournful and emotive last push. It gives highlight to the players’ struggle while keeping intact the original objective of wiping out your alien enemies. His structure of chords, his attention to a higher reverberating pitch sends gasps and hands into the air.

This is the ultimate culmination of his labor: the moment he would have probably stormed offstage, amps still buzzing and microphones strewn over the edge into the orchestra pit, leaving his audience to beg for the encore.

In space, the prevailing mindset is that no one can hear you scream. Adachi however proves it’s not that no one can hear you, rather you just have to know how to make them scream loud enough.

(Please note: Songs are listed only as stages 1-7, and not the names I gave them.)

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Having fallen in love only 4 times in his life Geno counts Double Dragon as his second and truest love.  He has worked in record retail since 2000 and believes David Hayter to be the one true Solid Snake.  Currently, he is putting together a band which only perform songs from Street Fighter 3rd Strike.

On January 17th of this year, I celebrated working 14 years in music retail, and by every measure since then, I seem to have come in at the very end of its existence.  My first record store job at a Cheapo Discs in Austin, Texas required the usual resume, three grueling hour-long interviews, and an actual music knowledge exam.  It was a tense week to be sure, but when I was finally offered the job it felt nothing short of revelatory.  When you’re 20 years old and all you’ve done your whole life has revolved around records and music (and games of course), getting this kind of thumbs up was absolutely unfathomable.  From Cheapo Discs to Tower Records, to vintage shops peddling records, to my current position managing a music department, I have heard enough music to outlast the brittle cruelty of several unmitigated Pleistocenes‘.   I’ve had to try to sell every kind of artist, every con masquerading as a musician.  BUT.  Spreading the word about those individuals and bands I truly admire, turning someone onto something that was completely alien to them before our conversation, can be its very own, rather tremendous reward.

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Me at Tower Records in 2003, before the fall of the chain

There are, of course, those albums that come over the loudspeaker that make me give pause, and unfortunately not all of them are moments of epiphany.  I had one of these recently, more akin to the side of auditory distress, that made something very, very clear. I won’t name names, but this artist’s new single is just the perfect candidate for me to make this point.  Nothing against her personally, her voice and talent are to be applauded as she has the sales numbers, concert attendance figures, and Grammy wins to counter my opinion, however it’s still something I feel the need to say.  This particular track, “You Loved Me Back To Life” is as manufactured as music could ever possibly become.  I blame the team around her, that meddling pool of agents and businessmen steering both hair products and body wash into its array of possible uses and sponsors.  While listening to the track you can see them all palling around that hotel lobby talking at her:

“Your career, it’s not dead… you’re not dead, so we’ll put you on the cover of the record, then everyone will know!  Then we have this song, gonna make a GREAT video; we’re going to dress you in spangles, the most elegant, flowing hand loomed virgin silk, and from behind this curtain, down a catwalk out you come bellowing ‘You Loved Me Back To Life!!!’ Boom! You’ve been resurrected!”

This song, this music is the sound of a machine assembly line, a cannery.  Its whirring blades, moving parts, plastic being coated by chemicals, lacks any real emotion, it’s gaudy, and epitomizes the absence of creativity.  It’s a construct whose mechanical prowess lies in bringing those who’ve fallen back to the living, but not much else.

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Me at Cheapo Discs in May of 2000

This incident may seem isolated, non-exemplary of popular music as a whole, but it’s quite the contrary.  The packaging of music as goods, as a product, reigns king over both mainstream and independent avenues of song, which brings me to my point: The scores, the music found within videogames is arguably some of the freest form of musical expression to be found.  Sure these composers are given a range and trajectory for which to aim, but outside of that, this is the closest thing to full artistic autonomy and control.  It used to be these musicians were relegated to some pseudonym towards the back of forgotten, creased software manuals.  While things have progressed vastly since those early days, it is that anonymity, the hidden nature of it all that seems to persist and perpetuate the most untouched, creatively pure genre in all of music. Even at its most gargantuan, its most advertised and cross-promoted, the video game score remains free of the blemishes and banality that money, quotas, and scheming executives tend to create.

After 14 years of working inside the music retail industry, the only thing that truly excites me now are the musicians of whom I write about here on this site weekly.  It’s not that I’ve lost faith in all other music, just… there seem to be these archaic, unspoken rules in popular music, and that’s what makes these artists so separate and so fascinating – they have none.

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Tower Records Austin, Texas early 2000′s

A special thanks to my friends and mentors of my music retail days : Derek A. Gray, Lindsey Culpepper, Lori Jones, Jen Hantzopulos, Bonnie Falkenberry, Erin Fernandes, Ben Juarez, Mike Dunworth, Lauren Dixon, Keith Mefford, Dave Lazko, Alejandro Calderaro,  Allison Kemp, Dave Mulholland, Kevin McCorkle, Jason Shields, 8bitfix.com, Violent Success and of course Sumthing Else Music Works.

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Having fallen in love only 4 times in his life Geno counts Double Dragon as his second and truest love.  He has worked in record retail since 2000 and believes David Hayter to be the one true Solid Snake.  Currently, he is putting together a band which only perform songs from Street Fighter 3rd Strike.

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