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MM1

Listen: Mega Man 1 – Wily Fortress 1

In all the press that you’re likely to read for the next, as yet unannounced Mega Man, nowhere will you see the term “reboot“. While that term is a necessary evil used for ailing franchises choosing to anchor themselves on name alone, their infractions and stumbles growing with every second that passes, it is unlikely that Mega Man will ever have to seek out the counsel of that self-correcting moniker. The reason for that carries no large mystery with it: Mega Man is a bolts-simple formula that works perfectly in every iteration that bears his name. Left to right shooting, excruciatingly precise platforming, soft strategy, and bosses named after elements, sea creatures and mundane household items of two syllables – Mega Man will never have to assimilate or conform to popular gaming trends. So you’ll never see him grow a beard, dual-wield guns, turn angst-ridden, or add superfluous quick-time events to his repertoire. His mixture is faultless and time-tested. In fact, Mega Man, when you think about it, is one of the very last of his kind. Limited in pixels, limited in memory, and limited in commands, he’s two buttons and the slightest swap of color palette, but there’s nothing like him anywhere else in gaming. Which brings me to his musical score.

MM2

Listen: Mega Man 1 – Select Screen

Composers Manami Matsumae and Takashi Tateishi of Mega Man and Mega Man 2 weren’t looking to make exploratory double albums when they cut the master reels for Capcom’s Mega Man pilot episode in 1987. Indeed Mega Man’s first LP feels more like a series of stunted blips. It doesn’t matter though, because for each of the seven levels that make up that inaugural 8-bit obstacle course, you’re treated to what essentially becomes THE biblical text, THE vanguard of all chiptunes of the fast-forwarding future.

MM3

Listen: Mega Man 1 – Ice Man Stage

It’s the shrieking sound you’re first drawn to in Ice Man’s stage. It’s a prime example of how this composer duo makes something stick permanently inside your memory. Its execution matches each note to every trial and nuance of Mega Man’s onscreen movements. Mega Man’s sliding is made frantic, uncontrollable by the opening’s whirling repetition, but it is the descent into that gelid water and the actual chill of his bones, that shrieking is what counts here. You can see that heart monitor: the high and low, the frenetic jostling cursive of the lifeline; it’s unlikely that you will ever forget that melody, and even with the sound turned off, humming it… you won’t miss a beat.

MM4

Listen: Mega Man 1 – Elec Man Stage

The theme for Elec-Man, when taken separately from the villain it embodies, away from his costume, and away from his maniacal trappings, makes you begin to wonder about the poster-less pop group that made this sound so effortlessly. That’s what this is: a gorgeous and pure radio-friendly, billboard-charting single with no b-side. Elec Man is also leagues above any of his challengers. This isn’t some by-the-numbers verse-chorus-verse. It rolls off the NES tongue so sweetly saccharine, it is almost bubblegum. You can say what you will about video game scores being inferior to actual radio and popular music, go ahead and keep spinning all of that ridiculous rhetoric, but none of what’s coming through today’s speakers even comes close to the flair and ingenuity of this Ashford and Simpson duo of 8-bit.

 MM5

Listen: Mega Man 2 – Bubble Man

Why should I describe what the Mega Man 2 sound is like when I can leave it up to Echo and The Bunnymen’s Ian McCulloch? He summed it up perfectly in a song title off of the band‘s 1984 record Ocean Rain: Thorn Of Crowns. That’s it! So many heavy crowns, so many victories, so many accolades, and where so many come to pay homage. Mega Man 2’s score hits with the weight of a kingdom’s chair. Where the same king has been made king trillions of times over. His rulings are absolute. Even the immutable laws of buoyancy (as seen in Bubble Man‘s theme) are repealed wholesale. Mega Man 2’s compositions are full-on deity.

MM6

Listen: Mega Man 2 – Flash Man Stage

The prowess and absolute awareness in Mega Man 2’s score completely confounds. It is not only nimbler and more dexterous than its original counterpart, it is also free of complications when  ridding its own structure of the faulty, weathered, and needless bricks that weigh it down. If you’re looking for doldrums, you’ll not find them here. Mega Man 2 bulldozes through a set-list of towering one-liners, meaty guitar solos and epigrammatic hooks without so much as a moment spent re-tuning instruments: this is a focus that never wavers. These composers are readying themselves to be jettisoned heavenward, and are not interested in shrugging off their responsibilities indolently shoe-gazing.

MM7

Listen: Mega Man 2 – Metal Man Stage

Mega Man 2’s orchestra is THE sophomore effort that not only avoids that dreaded sophomoric slump, it is one that changes fortunes from gold to platinum, breaks rules with no regard for recourse, and places those at its helm in the pages of history. Not a one of these compositions draws breath without the others present. It is that show of strength, that spectacular united front that makes each of these pieces so bulletproof and indelible… much like the blue bomber that they are tasked with moving along.

Megaman 25th Anniv Vol 1

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.

Buying games in excess of more than five titles a year, inevitably, brings about one MAJOR problem: You’ll never, ever finish them all, yet we habitually continue to procure more. Which is fine actually because the point of purchasing these things, at least from my perspective, is to have shelves of options catering to disparate moods, times of day, and a variety of choices made available to surprise company: It’s a library, and no two patrons are likely to share the exact same dispositions at the exact same time. I’d like to think of it as a service to myself and to my friends, and so in that sense, the acquisition of multiple software cartridges shouldn’t cause even the slightest stir. BUT.

geno pic 1

I finally finished Capcom’s brilliant 2006 release Okami in 2013 – only a few years late

It becomes an issue when negotiating with the fickle nature of a moment and individual attention: You’ve just started playing a game, are five to ten minutes into it, and your mind has already begun to daydream about that unwrapped pile of software to your right. While you’re enjoying the introduction, immensely even, you can’t seem to sway that instinctive curiosity, those blinking shiny lights: What might the others be doing better?

geno pic 2

2008′s Mirror’s Edge almost never saw completion. I finished it in 2012.

I want to finish my games. All of them, but I am also guilty of this very crime. I will keep this dry PSA as short as it should be, but I entreat all of you to begin every new game with a commitment to not only see it through to conclusion, but to avoid that 20 minute stumbling block. Don’t switch off games before they even begin, and don’t switch off your own focus.

geno pic 3

2011′s Asura’s Wrath was completed without pause, or space between sessions – three days ago

In fact… when you start a game, try to set aside two hours, and then PLAY for two hours non-stop. That uninterrupted playtime gives game protagonists, their worlds, and their stories a chance to marinate. Without this initial two-hour window… games usually flat-line and die right there in your lap, or the life of the title spans over a period of  months played with fatigued disinterest. You must fight it! Choose your game, play your two hours, then until it’s done, play only that. Long story short: Don’t dabble; commit and be faithful. FINISH IT!

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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.

T2 A

Listen: Terminator 2 The Arcade Game – 2nd Level

The day that I came to take his custom arcade cabinet away forever, my friend Sean warned me rather sternly: “You’re going to want another one man, it’s an addiction.” I thought his prediction to be ridiculous… how? I now had EVERYTHING, every arcade game I had ever wanted contained within this one aging behemoth Atari shell. Owning multiple machines just seemed like some kind of grand overkill. The ride home in my friend Bobby’s truck was also a total nightmare. The relatively short distance we had to travel was somehow made to feel each and every curve, every turn as that ancient husk buckled, and protested the idea of having yet another new owner. The last bit of actually getting that machine through my front door and into my TINY room all but sealed the silent agreement in my head: Never again! Never again!

T2 B

Listen: Terminator 2 The Arcade Game – Escape from the T-1000

Firing up that beast for the first time though, that initial taste was extraordinary! Arcade games I hadn’t played for over 25 years were now all at my command. The next few weeks, my life crumbled sleepless and unending into a hazy 24/7 grade school pizza party. A day’s activity centered around deciding which dusty old arcade board would be next to play. It was intoxicating this power of control, where one minute it’s 1987’s Double Dragon and Shinobi, and the very next 1994’s Alien Vs. Predator. As far as I was concerned my gaming life had reached its very apogee.

T2 C

Watch: The opening level of Terminator 2 The Arcade Game

Then, however, I hit a snag. Terminator 2:The Arcade Game. My very favorite arcade gun game… needed guns. These joysticks were never going to recoil and smoke like I so fondly remembered, and I positively had to take in the sweet aroma of that burning solder once more. So rather than be mildly satiated with my fully playable and available Terminator 2 rom, I forged ahead with a decades old dream: owning an actual Terminator 2 machine.

This hadn’t been planned out, but rather it was a knee-jerk decision that suddenly, after germinating quietly within my deep subconscious for exactly 20 years, now needed immediate and complete satisfaction. It was just another day, but this one had to end with me signing the deed of ownership to a vast plot of Terminator 2 land, and it did. Surprisingly, it only took a few minutes. Scrolling through Ebay listings, I found a machine that matched all my search criteria – the FIRST one that had ever done so. I took it as a sign of divinity. This had always been mine; it was simply lying dormant awaiting my arrival. Then…

T2 D

Watch: T2 – up close and in the buff

Cost! What no one ever tells you about when you first start collecting these huge pieces of property is just how much they will empty your pockets. You’re thinking the cost of purchase… no, no that’s just the entry-fee, like getting into a special champagne- after-party-V.I.P. club. You’re forgetting monitors, soundboards, and replacement parts. What if the wiring shorts or the parts go bad? You’ll need spares. We’re getting ahead of ourselves though, let’s talk about transport and insurance. I wanted everything to go smoothly, so I had to make multiple trips to and from my machine’s point of origin: I even packed up the towering mountain myself, which took in excess of 8 hours, and I have never spent so lavishly on bubble wrap in my life.

On top of that, I still had to hunt down technicians locally who would be able to fix the machine if need be. Everything listed here cost money, and at this point I was hemorrhaging it violently from every orifice imaginable. Then of course there was still the act of getting it into my shrunken head of a room. I even toyed with the idea of removing my bed and sleeping in my living room permanently. Thank God I wasn’t in a relationship, because this I imagine is the point at which the other half takes their cue to leave. I would have. Somehow I got it inside. Somehow it fit. Somewhat it worked. More money was spent. BUT.

T2 E

Watch: Various port failures – Part 1

I had tremendous help – and it’s a good thing too. A local arcade technician Lauro replaced out tons of parts for almost nothing, performing labor I would have never been able to do on my own. My luck didn’t stop there, because many of these same parts I found through one eBay seller in particular, Rob Ignatowicz. He provided me with all of my machine’s most essential nuts and bolts, many of them absolutely free of charge. Mind you, none of the stuff he had was easy to come by: all of it was highly valued by those looking to rebuild or repurpose their own Terminator cabinets. Years later, he’s still sending me coils and screws specific to my T-1000 colossus as he finds them, and still he asks nothing in return. You just don’t see that sort of goodwill anywhere anymore! My monitor was one of my biggest problems, and luckily I stumbled across Chad Entringer and his amazing website: arcadecup.com. He brought my flat-lined, dinosaur monitor back to complete animation, restoring every color, eliminating every conceivable hiccup, and recreating the look of a Terminator 2 monitor fresh from the factory floor. Chad provided that final piece, and I could now play the game just as I remembered it. It goes without saying that all three of these guys did spectacular work. It’s because of them that I caught some much needed, much appreciated breaks.

T2 F

Watch: Various port failures – Part 2

While all of this cost me a rather large fortune, when I hit the power button on my Terminator 2 machine this past 4th of July weekend (playing with both guns simultaneously), I’d have to say it was COMPLETELY worth EVERY single cent I spent on it. It may seem that I am trying to dissuade you from making the leap to owning actual arcades, but in truth, I am encouraging you to make that jump, albeit with the warning I wish I had received: Be ready for the monetary commitment that comes with it. Know that you’re also not alone, that there are tons of great arcade collecting forums, YouTube videos, and an incredible amount of services catering to your exact arcade dilemma. Owning your own arcade carries with it a near-psychedelic, unmatchable high, a summit of pleasure that is absolutely singular. Waking up next to your favorite, once-buried arcade game titles quite literally in their wooden flesh, is nothing short of misty-eyed emotion. Thing is, when you think you’re done with them, vowing never to buy another, and listing off all the multiple cons… another wired minx is sure to catch your eye. Somewhere… Sean is cackling, laughing hysterically at both of us. He knew the score all along.

T2 G

My arcades (2014)

Special thanks to: Sean Harding, Bobby Morales, Manny Ochoterena, Rob Ignatowicz, Chad Entringer, Arcadecup.com, and Lauro without whom, my arcade fantasies would have never been fully realized.

This is just the beginning.

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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.

Christmas Eve is the longest day of my year, every year. I bring this up because it is now officially six months until the 25th of December. I felt it my duty to inform those not watching the clock. It’s not so much the obvious, like last minute shopping and working late; it’s the after-hours rituals that begin sometime after 10:00PM. After leaving work at about 9:00PM, I set off wrapping my massive video game vault.

You see, throughout the year, I buy a whole lot of games, but I don’t play or open any of them. This is all intentional of course, and while it’s a routine part of my collecting, the desire to unwrap all of them as they come through my door never gets any easier to resist. So why do this? Common sense dictates when you pay for something, you should immediately begin using it. Well, this common sense never took into account the demands placed on my Christmas morning: I want it to be HUGE!

xmas 1

I never known to have much sense, common or otherse… this is my Xmas story.

It didn’t used to be like this; years ago, I was current: I PLAYED all the newest releases. This was until 2001 where I began this whole idea of saving a handful of games for Christmas morning. It started out with me saving say 9 or 10 titles. This was fine. The next year that number grew larger, around 17 or 18. I kept putting more and more away for that tree. In 2003, I was a bit burned out on the waiting, and broke my own rules, opening a number of big-name titles like The Legend Of Zelda: WindWaker, Metal Gear Solid 2:Substance, Zone Of The Ender’s: The Second Runner. I couldn’t help it, could you blame me? In any other year, this would have been fine, but 2003 was the year that EVERYTHING I was looking forward to playing was unceremoniously moved into 2004 release windows. You need a couple banner titles for this whole “vault” idea of mine to work. Without the bigger games, you lose that wow. My problem was that I had opened too much, and all of December’s marquee stars were already sitting on my shelf. All except one: Team Ninja’s 2003 guiding light Ninja Gaiden.

xmas 2

Ninja Gaiden magazine ad from 2003 – It was all going so well..

Next to Metal Gear as far as my favorite series, is Ninja Gaiden, next to that Street Fighter, next to that Strider. Games from any one of these franchises can prop up a holiday morning on sheer presence alone. Metal Gear: The Twin Snakes was the shoe-in for the number 1 spot that year, but was moved into 2004 at the Tokyo Game Show that October. I reeled a bit, but figured, “It’s okay, I still have Ninja Gaiden, and um… Max Payne 2.” Once Metal Gear moved into early 2004, everything else followed suit. I began cobbling together a list of games that would make the short-list for haloed Christmas fodder: Viewtiful Joe, P.N.03, Max Payne 2: The Fall Of Max Payne, Star Wars Knights Of The Old Republic, Prince Of Persia, Silent Hill 3, Castlevania: Lament Of Innocence, Manhunt, Mafia, Tron 2.0, The Legend Of Zelda: Collectors Edition, Beyond Good and Evil, and at number one Ninja Gaiden. The list was precariously being held afloat by one single game, but things looked great. Team Ninja even went so far as to promise delivery for holiday 2003. Halloween came and went, but then the internet rumblings began.

xmas 3

Sneaking, eh Snake? Not during holiday 2003 you weren’t!

It started in hearsay fashion: some forums ruminated on how a game, only 60 percent done in September would be ready to ship by early December. Team Ninja boss Tomonobu Itagaki similarly lay coy and guarded in interviews, offering no real timetable or official release date. The machine of marketing, however, clamored on. Ninja Gaiden standees were EVERYWHERE, pre-order bonuses sprouted from the ground, and magazines proclaimed early reviews, but the doubt had spread. So I stayed glued to the Tecmo forums and game news sites, ignoring the new and troubling facts slowly coming to light. Thanksgiving was the following week.

xmas 4

One of 2003′s most brilliant games: Viewtiful Joe

The news came literally as I was packing up the car to leave for Thanksgiving. It wasn’t an official statement, but now the writing was too dark and boldly accented to ignore. Tecmo stalled, and no official press release was issued until that following Monday. It hit me HARD. Really HARD. Why though? To understand, you have to realize that back then, I was miserable from January until Thanksgiving (it’s a LONG story for another time). But that long story shortened: this vault was the jewel at the end of an incredibly dark tunnel. And… okay, I will admit it to you… there were tears. Looking back at it now I can laugh.

xmas 6

Did you miss Star War: KOTOR? I almost did.  Thanks Ninja Gaiden Delay!

Things however, turned out just fine. That list of games sans Ninja Gaiden was incredible. I was also quick to remind myself that this problem was NOT a problem at all; in fact this was a selfish and ridiculous first-world dilemma I was having. This holiday was not about any of this to begin with, and among the horrific and terrible things in the world, Ninja Gaiden’s extended time under its creators’ microscope was NOT among them. Ninja Gaiden’s delay DID teach me something though: if I wanted to keep doing this Christmas vault of games, DON’T OPEN IT. I also learned, never put faith in projected or even solid video game release date calendars. This way, I make sure everything goes into the safe, and should something be bumped, there’s always another admiral ready to take the reins from the previous fallen captain/captains.

xmas 7

Sleeper hits were strewn all over 2003.. BG&E had it all!

I also decided to immortalize Ninja Gaiden‘s 2003 delay by picking up one of those standees I saw so prominently displayed in store windows that winter. We’ve been together 10 years now, mostly, he stands in my room, reminding me never to fall to the temptation to break any games’ Y-fold seal until that once yearly designated date. He’s a bit beat up now, but every relationship has its ups and downs.

xmas 8 copy

The number of games in my yearly Xmas safe (storage space) is typically in the high 50’s. So as I was saying earlier, it takes a while to wrap all that stuff – let’s say around 4 to 5 hours, if I don’t stop. After that I always spend at least some time playing the first Metal Gear Solid , and then I listen to records until about 8 AM. Finally I fall asleep until about 1PM. We don’t open gifts until about 11 PM at night on Christmas Day proper, another long story. Unwrapping the stuff, putting it in the collection and cataloging every title… that’s another 2 days!

xmas 9

Max Payne 2: My Lord… My Lady!

So don’t ask me what I thought about Metal Gear Solid 5: Ground Zeroes, because I haven’t played it; I don’t have a clue. What about Bravely Default? You’ve got me. (Something about cherubs?) What I can tell you though is how to have a Christmas morning on par with that of a 5 year old. Just be ready to sit on your hands for a while, we still have six more months.

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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.

SF 1

Consider the emergence of Street Fighter Alpha 3 in the summer of 1998 as the end of your youth. While you might disagree, you should consider it anyway, because it marks the end of Street Fighter’s decade long movement from infancy to adulthood. For readers of a certain age, Street Fighter was close at hand for most of their awkward and sullen teen years. The transformation was side-by-side and blow-by-blow. Certainly, Street Fighter Alpha 3 is far from the end of the series, but it does signal the beginning of a coming permanent change in play: Street Fighter would never control quite like this ever again. The turbo engines were used to fire up Street Fighter Alpha 3 and its aging counterparts began to give way: stalling, grinding to a halt, no matter how many gallons of lubricant were applied daily. Time was running short. As final runs go though, Street Fighter Alpha 3’s final set of worldwide dates employed only the most expensive and costly set of stage crews, make-up artists and celebrated musicians to play its to-capacity amphitheaters and stadiums. Of incredible note… Alpha’s all-star house band featuring longtime Capcom composers Takayuki Iwai, Yuki Iwai, Isao Abe, Tetsuya Shibata, and Hideki Okugawa. This is a celebration of their raving, and impeccable fusion, archived to tape on their final night of performance: Here are 4 of the best cuts from Street Fighter Alpha 3.

SF 2

Listen: Crimson (Theme of Vega)

4. Crimson (Theme Of Vega) - Vega’s character is one of distinctive panache, and while his past is littered with themes each playing to his arrogance and unabashed flamboyance, it’s only Yuki Iwai’s relentless brandishing of escalating, bestial, and zigzagging rpm’s that discards outright the scenic, fashion forward and international flavor of his persona, pushing forward Vega’s most instinctual traits: killer first, effeminate, preening shampoo model later. Iwai’s low crawl resuscitates that once prowling and charmless man to full figure, proving once and for all, that you don’t dress up a knife’s edge; it’s a knife and nothing more.

SF 3

Listen: Doll Eyes (Theme of Cammy)

3. Doll Eyes (Theme Of Cammy) - Most fighting game tunes walk a classic fine line, straddling a fence, unsure of its own identity. Will it be Montana or Wyoming? To whom is it paying lip service? Which side nurtured its roots? Does its tempo make grittier the brawl unfolding onscreen? These atypical questions usually have but two predetermined answers, each of which offers little to no true pabulum whatsoever. There will be gratuitously distorted techno spun by low-end DJ’s or heinously dated chainmaille rock of the ages. Doll Eyes bypasses this inquisition, outwardly rejecting these recycled rules. Who wants to live uncomfortably in their own skin? Doll Eyes is obsessed with the hustle of the dance floor and the repetitious anodyne properties of a beat. Cammy’s theme foams and bubbles hypnotically, accentuating the movement of legs to rhythm , and not the obvious nod to the oncoming deluge of jabs. This one’s going to do exactly as she pleases. Where once stood a stoic Malaguena… now Saturday Night Fever.

SF 4

Listen: Performance (Theme of Dan)

2. Performance (Theme Of Dan) - Like the friend who you begrudgingly grandfathered in, Dan similarly needs you to prop him up. His social graces are lacking and his luck with the ladies as arid and flat as the Mojave. He talks too much… to himself even, and he collects the most ridiculous of things. He’s a good guy, but he needs that ever-vigilant guidance. After weeks of one-on-one personal instruction, composer Hideki Okugawa emerges unbroken, if somewhat annoyed by the close proximity and constant torrent of day-in-day-out Dan Hibiki. Okugawa’s work was not in vain though, as his method of polish and brand of turtle wax finally removes the layers of mud and debris of questionable origin, revealing the man who was always there, but never actually present. Cool, confident and now overrun with screaming groupies and devotees, Hibiki begins to shrug off your company in favor of his minions, but that was the goal this entire time – setting him free.

SF 5

Listen: Shining One

1. Shining One (Sagat’s Theme) - Every encounter you will ever have with Alpha 3’s version of Sagat begins with his laugh. It’s a small gesture, almost tiny enough to ignore, but you can’t, it’s there. He’s taller than you, physically superior, completely self-assured, and by the time the bell rings for your match, he knows it, so he laughs! This idea of pretending to scuffle with you, him holding you like a dog by the scruff of its neck as you flail and hiss, it’s amusing. You’re garbage to this man. And of all the scenarios to play out in your head, the ones where you might lose, might win, and might escape with a few minor bruises? None of them are likely to match the reality of the wretched and grisly beating you’re about to receive. Composer Tetsuya Shibata equates Sagat’s gleam of commanding superiority with the jaws of the possessed and rabid bullmastiff: slovenly, cruel and without remorse. Shining One is a punishing performance that trumps the brood of tracks that make up Street Fighter Alpha 3. It’s the one that never forgets its own storied history of violence. You can hear him now, can’t you?        

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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.

DD 1

Listen: Fanfare

For me, when it comes down to it, anything claiming to be fantasy has but one job, and that is to accurately convey the neighing of horses and the clopping of their hooves. Perhaps that’s oversimplifying and obviously there is more to it than just the sound of a stampede: regardless of the context, however, be it mountains, burning villages or wizened sages taking quill to paper… the most paramount necessity is that clippety-clop. Why? Everything else is just cars, guns and urban sprawl… who cares about that? I want magic and my own horse. You see now? Fantasy! With Capcom’s brilliant 1996 arcade release Dungeons and Dragons: Shadow Over Mystara, this understanding of stallions is not only ingrained and inherent, but rapturously expanded upon by composer Masato Koda, who has chosen to abandon a cautious ride on Capcom’s D&D steed, choosing instead to gallop at a full tilt, side-saddle and bareback. Giddyup.

DD 2

Listen: The Journey

You’d think tackling the lore and universe of such an established and legendary franchise as Dungeons and Dragons would require the work of a vast and coordinated sound team. Each of these musicians would be focused, pained in creating a very specific string of notes:  lowering drawbridges, the clanging of metal on a sword smith’s table, and the aerial spread of wings from a wrathful clan of dragons. Every facet of sound in this score would employ a different set of tradesmen. BUT… Capcom was wise to fault this approach as they must have anticipated a score far too antiseptic in nature. This path would have ensured a soundtrack so banal and insipid that the final flavor would stand as flat and barren as the many low-lying plains the game’s multiple protagonists were tasked with crossing. Too many hands in one pot: No this wouldn’t do at all. So like any good king would, Capcom placed the duty on the head of ONE of its many knights in service. This mission required a singular vision stirred within the consciousness and mannerisms of a single man; he alone would add his slant and skew to the lines and bars of music yet to be filled. He would have some help of course, but this party of his would be a small one. Masato Kodo began his travels on foot waving a large colorful banner of sigils despite being oblivious to their meanings and origins.

DD 3

Listen: Lost Forest

Regardless of his initial numbers and novice, Kodo must have been the charismatic type, as he seems to have won the affection of hundreds, if not thousands of soldiers, all of them intent on and committed to raising his gorgeous noise: brigades of horn, lines of them, thick gobs of blaring brass complemented by a colossal and exorbitant variety of chimes, flute, and barrage of woodwinds, but this symphony is a grand illusion. Remember Kodo is very much working alone with an odd squire or two. His phantom orchestra, however, lays out a series of movements, equal parts concentrated wallop and much softer dulcet tones. Victories are won through colossal magnification of this man’s once-impish shadow.

DD 4

Listen: Timbre of Rejuvenation

Masato Kodo is more than one single trick though. He’s unpredictable, personable and funny, and after months of tolling the bells of war, he seems quite ready for a drink. While he could simply order himself a single dark ale and turn in before sundown, he prefers to let loose – ready to gamble away the spoils of his armies’ victories, ready to drink all of them under the table, ready to heckle the next table over, and ready to run when he realizes he’s unarmed, outnumbered and has lost his shirt. This is his journey, and he’s going to write you a tune for all of it. The sound of hamlets, tavern stops, open air markets all bear his signature.

DD 5

Listen: Spiral Battle

Kodo’s score also carries great distinction for its length. Side scrolling brawlers were not known to encompass much more than E.P.’s worth of material. With Shadow Of Mystara, however, Kodo crafted his very own White album: a multi-sided double L.P. of lute solos and bards’ tales that fluctuate wildly in both mood and timbre. Kodo’s music covers so many set pieces and speaks so many different languages here; it’s amazing that his final set of minstrels are as cohesive as they are brilliant. Each track stands as a varied orchestral tome of the lands he’s traversed and the spells he‘s cast. He’s never treading water or filling these levels with anything gratingly repetitious or seemingly auto-pilot. Fantasy is about the unexplored and the foreign, and Kodo’s every step works towards detailing that empty map with every point of interest.

DD 6

Listen: Final Decisive Battle

Masato Kodo is one of few composers to successfully translate the daunting lands of Dungeons and Dragons into song. Like Monty Python’s migrating coconuts, Kodo took something so completely foreign to him and transformed it to fit a more diverse and global fantasy palette. Now his coconuts are found everywhere. Those curious to ride with Kodo are in luck; he still gives daily tours on your console mare of choosing and his work still sounds every bit as audacious and resonant as when it was first scored almost 20 years ago. Dungeons and Dragons:Shadow Over Mystara stands as one of Capcom’s greatest musical and arcade achievements: one of the very last of its kind.

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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.

Over the next few weeks I will be highlighting Capcom game soundtracks from the CPS-1 and CPS-2 Q-Sound era. Today begins a series of articles celebrating Capcom’s proprietary arcade musical blends of the 80’s and early to late 90’s. To start us off, let us look at the work of composers Yoshihiro Sakaguchi, Yasuaki Fujita, Yoko Shimomura, and Kumi Yamaga and their contributions to Final Fight.

Final Fight 1

Listen: Opening Theme

I often describe the music I am reviewing as something bold, and not to be missed. I mean that each and every time I write it, but when talking about the score to Capcom’s 1989 arcade title Final Fight, I REALLY mean it. For the music snob ensconced in soulless avant-garde, to the audiophile concerned only with per-grams of vinyl, and the noise-canceling, over-the-ear-wearing headphone enthusiast… if you haven’t heard Final Fight, haven’t counted it among your inventory, have never pressed your fingers over its raised, embossed LP cover, than by my measure, you’re not only missing out but you’ve also heard nothing. So let me ask you: do you even music?

Final Fight 2

Listen: Warehouse

So why should you listen to this particular record? What makes it such a breakthrough? Why even bother writing home about it? I am glad you asked.

One of the key differences that separates Final Fight from other game scores, and scores of this same kind of formula (i.e. Double Dragon, Crime City, Burning Fight, River City Ransom) is that those compositions are at best contrived, composed on some expensive piano, directed by screenshots and written to convey something foreign to its creator. They read books, watched films, and talked to people associated with the undesirable element. Final Fight on the other hand sounds authentically criminal, crafted, bred and born by the hands of gifted sociopaths who have meticulously projected the odor of gas burning flesh, the blight of trash laden alleys and the corner peddler of illicit trades. When these composers get together, you either pay tribute or get out of their way.

Final Fight 3

Listen: Metro City Subway

Gritty violence is key to Final Fight, and musically, the execution of its primary tenet comes across as just that. This is intimidation, initiation and calling out the gun-shy member among the group. It’s one of the few arcade experiences I have ever had where the actual machine shakes in the presence of its accompaniment, the speakers just barely able to handle the task to which the factory set them. I thought perhaps that was just a made-up idea in my head, a memory I put there, and so a few days ago, I fired up my arcade machine, and found that recollection to be no figment, but rather simple and total fact. It shook in fear. There will be casualties tonight, the ruckus neither gentle nor clean. People will beg for their lives, and you’ll hear their pleas through those slithering, angular guitar lines. The bass and drums throb in unrelenting chunks: spasms of noise landing their knuckled hooks into tender rib and bone. Things are going down!

Final Fight 4

Listen: Bay Area

Final Fight compositions serve as both a gateway to dangerous mischief, and to lurid powerful suggestion that leaves nothing to the imagination, one that seeks to fill every conceivable gap. While younger minds may come to its joysticks filled with victimless playground gossip and knowledge of the best secret places in which to build makeshift clubhouses, Final Fight brings that innocence to ruin, with thoughts left seasoned and vice-riddled. Filthy, decadent and overwhelming to the senses, Final Fight as a score is the equivalent of growing up too fast, seeing things you can’t un-see, suddenly feeling things once alien to you, and perhaps most importantly making you the most experienced child on your block. Now viewed as a sage among your friends, they will come to you with their questions, seek your counsel, and ask you to take them under your wing.

Every element of every terrible thing you were ever warned about or shielded from finds a nefarious definitive musical chord in Final Fight. These composers trade dirty for sleazy, and opt for depravity over perversion, however, there are no grades of wretchedness here: it’s all scum and mold with a different name.

Of course…this is also WHAT makes it sound SO incredible, SO vital and WHY it still holds up almost 3 decades later.

Final Fight 5

Listen: Slum Restroom Battle

Final Fight offers up the most vividly fleshed-out and vicious game score of the 80’s, effortless in capturing the sound of opposing gangland factions and the clinking of their knives. 25 years after its release, it remains every bit as inexorable, savage and guilty of stealing many a childhood, mine among them, and you don’t see me complaining… it’s all about the company you keep.

P.S. – My friend Val would be miffed if I didn’t at least mention the re-arranged and amazing Final Fight CD score. Also make it a point to check out Simon Vikland’s own brilliant take on Metro City 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.

Video games save lives, and last week we looked at the first entry in a series of games that have personally saved my life.  These titles are so powerful they may just aid you through your own crisis. We were talking about Deus Ex: Human Revolution, and I should point out that I played the next game on this list back to back and during the same time period I spoke of in the last article. Today we look at the second entry: the psalms of El Shaddai: Ascension Of the Metatron. Next week…something lighter it’s almost summer for God‘s sake!

El Shaddai 1

Listen: El Shaddai: The Faraway Creation

El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron

So let’s go back to the mid 2000‘s – In retrospect, I should never have answered the phone that afternoon, because the call I was about to take was one of the most blundered and capitally botched conversations of my life. I can still hear the static on my end of the line, that silence. Half of it was my brain processing, sifting through an enormous registry of incarcerated emotions, feelings held palms down, my hands trading in shifts, alternating the chest compressions. This constant daily weight, the angle of the pressure… it wasn’t meant for my feelings to draw breath, it was in fact, the only means of keeping them silent. As for the other half, it was a total lack and inability to phrase: where the idea of actually forming a sentence with your lips feels physically painful, and the words that are to make that sentence stand fail to coherently collaborate with one another. You have something to say, and you need to say it, but all that your mouth and grey matter can come up with is gaping, slack-jawed, mute panic. This girl just told me at some point in the recent past she HAD liked me, and all I can muster is some ridiculous catch-all phrase like “ that’s awesome!”. …That’s awesome? This is the girl I am in love with, and instead of telling her so, I opt to become the poster child, the number one billboard star of half-witted, poindexter morons everywhere!

Where is my moron-o-meter? It was a scene, man.

El Shaddai 2

Listen: Dignified Time

When this happened initially, I was completely insulated from the trauma of that first blow, but years went by and one day that shielding, that cocoon gave way. Without protection, I was about to take the brunt of over a half decade of bottled emotions. One of the more painful of these wildcards centered around that phone call made some years earlier. It’s now 2012, and I have just completed Deus Ex: Human Revolution, and I am not yet in the clear.

El Shaddai 3

Listen: Twilight Overture

While Deus Ex: Human Revolution was charged with rebuilding me, a nuts and bolts structure isn’t necessarily fit to pass inspection, nor truly ready for habitation. El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron’s focus was three-fold: actual nourishment, correction of obvious deficiencies and spiritual renewal. It needed to take me beyond Deus Ex’s threshold of impoverished misery. It needed to do more than hold my hand. If El Shaddai was to be the final stop in my retreating, fearful gestation period, then it actually had to speak to me, but do so softly, and reach for me when my head goes down on that table in frustration. The professional boundaries set by its predecessor were something to be broken at the hands of El Shaddai. The final set of obstacles set in front of me were perhaps the most difficult, and any therapeutic approach taken would have to be slanted at an angle much wider than 90 degrees.

El Shaddai 4

Listen: Echoes of the Gods

El Shaddai was absolutely lyrical in the way it defined all things found in its world, Here its divisions are black and white, good and evil: Simple, but written with such a striking and squiggly penmanship that the original source material resembles something closer to Abba visiting the Wailing wall as a sequined Barry Gibb with pant suited Barbara Streisand duet behind them. Isn’t this the parable of Enoch? Despite its artistic liberties and truncation of many of the events in that story, it is absolutely beautiful. Its use of stone-washed Prismacolor biblical imagery, the narrative of God versus throngs of fallen angels, the levity of heaven, and the feel of clouds all helped to realign my waning strength.

El Shaddai 5

Listen: Scarlet Liturgy

Never setting its heels firmly to the ground, El Shaddai moved from maternal warmth and tearful coddling to polarizing moments of confrontation. It gave only as much as I could handle, but then expected me to actually handle it, all the while reinforcing its teachings, reminding me verbally what it was I needed to do, how I needed to proceed, and always mindful to praise my dedication and celebrate my milestones. Forward momentum.

El Shaddai 6

Listen: Enoch’s Darkness

Light, however, is but one way to leave the darkness. El Shaddai knows this. This darkness is at the core of everyone, however, and here it’s something you’re expected to explore, to question and take great pains to defeat. For a while though, you’re allowed to wear your heartbreak: live in it, sulk, (oblivious to those offering comfort), and become a recluse to a dangerous fault. It goes so far as to facilitate the time and place, leaving you to decide how long is too long, even offering the choice to stay wrapped up in it permanently.

El Shaddai 7

Listen: Receiving the Blessing of the Gods

El Shaddai is one of the few games ever to manifest itself in deity form: didactic, watchful of your actions, concerned for your well being, all-knowing, and free of judgment. This is a God ardent in his belief that you have value and possess redeeming qualities. He knows when to back off and when to insist, mercifully covering your eyes when necessary, but never afraid to show you the damage your actions have wrought. El Shaddai’s poignant and jolting ascent heavenward was essential to my recovery, and it finally provided the means for me to leave all of this behind.

When the spirit moves you…

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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.

Video games save lives, and I know this because they have saved mine repeatedly. Now granted, it’s highly unlikely I would have ever actually taken any sort of plunge, or pulled triggers, or inhaled car exhaust, BUT there’s always that moment when things can feel absolutely hopeless and grim. I am here to tell you that your games are here to help you. They are every bit as powerful as the greatest records, organized religions, and friends that you may or may not have to look to or lean on. Sometimes all it takes to coax you down from the ledge are the titles hidden in your software library. Imagine: instant, personalized therapy at the push of a power button. So recline and X, square and R1 your way back to good mental health. Here are a list of games that saved my life, and some suggestions for you to begin your own healing.

DeusEx 1

If you haven’t already, purchase Deus Ex: HR’s AMAZING soundtrack here!

Deus Ex: Human Revolution

From March 17th, 2006 to December 31st, 2012 I lived inside an emotional vacuum. Peering outside my windows each morning, I seemed to only grow happier with every passing hour. It was a constant loop, one single emotion: exaggerated and boldly highlighted on the very best of days, its color muting only slightly on the worst of them. I was removed from pain, from any sort of depression, and void of natural feeling like some programmed, mute automaton. I wasn’t complaining though, bliss comes more naturally than you would think when it’s all around you, and the only thing you see. There was a moment though that fundamentally changed everything. I detailed it all here. Rarely do things change in an instant, or overnight even, but in this instance the sea change was so quick, so degenerative and the damage so irreversible that I came away from it sputtering and utterly broken.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution met me as a nearly obliterated shell that required much more than a simple application of modeling glue. This title allowed me to freely grasp and fumble for reason. It gave voice to the most inaudible of things: the anxiety, the doubt that was crowding and populating exponentially inside my mind. It enveloped me, drew me into its bleak and hopeless world in order to bait my battered subconscious from its seclusion. I spent hours, weeks, on that couch being goaded and violently prodded to action. This game took me apart piece-by-piece, assembly line style, and tooled about my every limb refitting bone and scraping away all pockets of stripped, worn and graying cartilage.

DeusEx 2

Deus Ex: Human Revolution is an essential piece of the mind’s Jungian therapy, and while it sets you up to recover, to succeed, it also realizes that you are the one who has to keep walking. So, like any good practitioner, he or she is not interested in providing you with permanent crutches, instead expecting you to invest the time, work and effort needed to bring your legs back to sufficient strength. This title is the first measure of antibiotic: fortified, effective and depending on the dosage, a logical means to the final cure.

Stay tuned next week for the next game on our list…

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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.

 

 

A few weeks ago, I shared with you a bit about my thoughts on collecting videogames. While I could have stopped there, the picture would not have been complete. I haven’t talked about eBAY, and I find that some of the best tales, the choicest cuts in any collectors den can be culled from their many eBAY victories. In these detailed triumphs, I am at my most brainless and primitive. Here are my three favorite auction house rumbles, ranked and detailed.

ebay 1

Watch: Snatcher’s Intro Sequence

3. Hideo Kojima’s Snatcher On Sega CD

I missed Snatcher during its initial theatrical run on Sega CD back in December 1994. I wasn’t buying nearly as many games in the mid 90’s, as my fixations were bound to temporary alliances tying up my money and attention. I missed closet loads of great titles the first time around by simply having my headphones turned up MUCH too loud. The years of increasing attrition left my library of software mildly starved and disconcertingly comatose. Upon my return to the occupation of hoarding what is essentially someone else’s moldy, old, derelict junk, my shelves looked at me eyes sunken, and wildly voracious. They needed to eat.

When it came to Hideo Kojima’s Snatcher, I wasn’t looking to desperately haggle, looking to cut deals or bother looking for a cheaper point of sale. I just wanted it NOW. So, I appealed straight to the buyer, ignoring the already invested participants, and their lowly monetary proposals: I asked the seller to name his price, and he found a number he liked rather quickly. It was like casually ambling late into a heated Sotheby’s bidding war with a mouthful of Walgreens Sunflower seeds, no shirt and some pajama bottoms. There I was: inconsiderate, inappropriately, belligerently loud and obnoxiously entitled. Finding my way to the podium, I throw fistfuls of money at the auctioneer, let fly some sautéing seed shells from my mouth and nonchalantly stroll away, scoliosis-hunched, game in hand and answering an incoming call on my cell phone, everyone gasping at my intrusion. The bidders first cursing in my general direction, then directing their anger at the emcee who’s currently scrambling to gather the soiled wet wads of $2 bills and 50 cent pieces I had strewn across the room. A more perfect middle finger has never been staged.

FINAL COST: $170

GENO’S MORON-O-METER: 2 OF 5

OVERALL FEELING: Happily smug

 ebay 2

Watch : Original 2001 Xbox advertisement

2. An Original Xbox on launch day 2001

Silly as it may seem, the magazine cover you see above SOLD me on the Xbox as a games machine. When that issue hit newsstands, I hadn’t placed a pre-order for the system (cardinal among the sins of those lusting after day 1 hardware.) Thirty days till its launch, there was NO way I would have ever stumbled upon one come shipping date. Thing is, I had spent the entirety of 2001 saving EVERY, SINGLE DIME for bills and rent for some very planned and future unemployment that lay just over the hill in 2002. I was poised to leave my job in favor of a VERY long Christmas vacation… one that spanned over 2 months, and I planned it down to the cent. I needed every drop, every leaf of change, every last Susan B. Anthony dollar to cover the target of a year’s worth of uninterrupted, manageable, and joyous living that trades a weekly paycheck for still cooling fat stacks of cash in a darkened vault somewhere – I had to be prepared.

My sister Jen called me “One Bean Gene” for the better portion of several months trying to make light of my refusal to spend money on anything at all, save for groceries and the monthly expenses. Everything was done on the cheap: my nightly buffet of salt-less saltines and bargain diet soda, to making the dollar movie rental an all-encompassing entertainment event. It drove all those close to me to the very edge of their patience. All this preparation, all this toil collapsed in a SINGLE moment of furrowed, nervous brow. Unwilling and unable to accept an Xbox-less Christmas, I perched my trembling finger over the BUY IT NOW button and lavishly, uncontrollably imploded… Goals be damned. I paid by Western Union thinking no one would ever find out, and the secret would die with me. I forgot about the email trail that was left in the wake of the transaction. Let’s just say there were words exchanged. It was still one of the best Christmases EVER, and I was still able to lounge for the better part of 2002 completely unfettered. I win.

FINAL COST: $700 dollars (proving that the Pixies Black Francis was RIGHT: Clearly The devil is 6,6,6 while reaching God takes 7,7…700 DOLLARS!) This monkey’s gone to heaven.

GENO’S MORON-O-METER: 4 of 5

OVERALL FEELING: Sickly Gozer The Gozerian gives way to the fat and contented Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man.

 ebay 3

Watch: Marvel Vs Capcom PS2/Xbox trailer

1. Marvel Vs. Capcom 2 for PS2

You know what? Let me just get this out of the way RIGHT NOW. I paid more for a factory sealed PS2 copy of Marvel Vs. Capcom 2 than you would for a brand new Playstation 4. There… it’s out there. Not only that, my obsession with Capcom’s Vs. fighting series is such that ONE sealed copy just doesn’t quite sit right with me, my own physical inertia struggles to compute and carry out its daily tasks in a world such as this, and so rightly about a year later… I purchased yet another sealed copy for the cost of almost more than half an Xbox One machine. You see folks, there are morons and then there are MORONS, those who take this occupation to a higher, more fully realized astral plane. I am that perfect fool: truly savant, gifted, a beautiful oil-on-canvas painting of glistening pure white snow. Behold in all its striking beauty: a sealed Marvel Vs. Capcom 2, the most stunning pheasant under glass.

FINAL COST: Close to the entire cost of ALL the next…next generation consoles in 2018.

GENO’S MORON-O-METER: 19 OF 5

OVERALL FEELING: 10/10 Would play again!

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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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