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 Darkstalkers 1

Listen: Darkstalkers: The Night Warriors – Opening Title

It’s the very, very late 1990’s and as the third installment of Capcom’s Darkstalkers completes its production cycle, so too does the developer’s own dedicated house band Alph Lyla (aka Alpha Lyla). As Darkstalker’s motherboards and connecting PCBs are shipped to arcades across Japan and North America, for reasons unknown Alph Lyla internally disintegrates, implodes and disbands. Was it a partnership that ended in some bitter he-said/she-said infighting? Contractual disputes? Dueling artistic visions? Who made that final round of calls? Who dropped the axe? The truth of those final days most certainly is a truth to which we’ll never be privy. What is certain is that after almost a decade spent crisscrossing the globe playing the largest and most celebrated arcade halls, this was the end, and Alph Lyla had fully accepted what was now to come: its true death.

 Darkstalkers 2

 Listen: Darkstalkers: The Night Warriors – Demetri’s Stage

You’ve heard Alph Lyla, and seen them play more times than is even fathomable. While you may never have bought their t-shirts or purchased their records, chances are you’ve been their biggest and most unwitting fan. Stepping into an arcade, even once since 1988, guarantees you’re familiar with their brand of score.

From Strider to Captain Commando and Street Fighter 2, Alph Lyla’s rotating membership of immensely gifted players spun a black circle that defined and re-defined what could be done within the constraints of video game audio, and likewise should be regarded as THE pioneers of the genre. Today however, I am most concerned with their life at the end and that last cycle that produced six of the most bizarre, spectacular and seductive albums of their career. This is the story of their penultimate contribution to gaming audio: Capcom’s 6-disc soundtrack anthology Darkstalkers Vampire Soundbox.

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Listen: Darkstalkers: The Night Warriors – Jon Talbain Stag

For a moment on disc one, you’d never know that what you’re listening to is a Darkstalkers score. Over the multiple albums that comprise this set, it is this very first record that finds Alph Lyla actively struggling to create the universe of its accursed succubus Morrigan and vampire Demetri. These initial accompaniments are not at all bad, nor necessarily confused takes on the undead, but they are ones in which the group becomes saddled with the ideas and directions of the score’s objectives: no perimeter is to be present, and none of the established grids well protected. Darkstalkers’ inaugural set of character and stage themes rides its monster noir pulp to each and every cardinal point on a compass. Alph Lyla is not averse to experimentation and willfully trades musical genres as its own quick and dirty petty cash. The band barters and haggles with every merchant along the way, leaning strongly for a moment towards Amandla-esqe fusion jazz, and then quickly altering their course, steering from barrelhouse to bottleneck air guitar, and genteel monster muzak. With so many disparate demon tribes being sent to contribute verse to Darkstalkers, Alph Lyla had to carefully mediate the negotiating table, offering each and every one of its participants a first draft mock-up of their signature sounds. Vampire Sound Box’s first record offers a gorgeous yet puzzling set of pre-renderings that, while accomplished, are models and arrangements not yet fully formed.

Quality takes time though, and the groundwork laid here for Alph Lyla’s Darkstalkers starter home contains all the necessary elements on which they will build their crowning, ever-evolving masterpiece. But…so much work still remains to be done.

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 Listen: Night Warriors: Darkstalkers’ Revenge – Morrigan’s Stage (Scotland)

At this point, Alph Lyla’s scattered collection of Polaroids, snapshots and location files had begun to overtake their studio. Those days of whittling are central to the music of discs 2 and 3 of the set. This is where each photograph would be rated and vigorously tested for its inflection of horror and Samhain musicality. You can almost see them all stretched out on their office floor debating at length about which of the hundreds of theme sketches will take lead. Are these heroes or villains? What was missed in the first go-around? “Anyone here ever been to Egypt?“ What most people don’t realize is just how quickly Alph Lyla had to evolve. Regular pop or rock groups are usually given the benefit of advances on salary, holidays between releases, and the artistic carte blanche of “It’s done when it’s done.” The traveling distance between 1994’s Darkstalkers: The Night Warriors and its sequel, Vampire: Darkstalkers Revenge is less than one year, with Darkstalkers 3: Vampire Savior debuting early in 1997. Alph Lyla’s now cancerous and terminal sound evolution would have to be a very, very quick one. BUT. The immense pressure placed on the group begins to produce seed and on the second disc, the series’ iconography begins to take shape. Yes, that IS Morrigan’s theme in its purest and barest form. Yes, the Bishamon, Hsien-Ko, and Sasquatch themes have clearly turned their own corner. Yes, that’s Demetri’s theme dictating the full terms of sound tone for all future sequels. From this point on, Alph Lyla’s stew of magical arts and skeleton hodgepodge ceases full stop. There’s not only focus here, but a fervor, an excitement .You can see the band collectively starting to grin, walking together, being in on their secret, and functioning as a truly exclusive unit. If you doubt me, just take one listen to Lord Raptor’s concrete slab of metal-heavy soloing and tell me that’s not chemistry.

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 Listen: Night Warriors: Darkstalkers’ Revenge – Felicia’s Stage (U.S.A.)

Alph Lyla isn’t satisfied with simple grade school chemistry though, finding its array of mole, Torr and Kelvin as something both cursory and unambitious. As such, discs 4, 5 and 6 of the Vampire Sound Box stand as a revelatory treaty of the blackest holes, the most unexplained of anti-matter, the darkest of space. The contents of these recordings are beyond all expectation, boldly vanquishing even the very best of Alph Lyla’s musical catalog. Here, the group’s earliest Darkstalkers workings now sound absolutely timid. What’s most interesting about this slate of material is how clearly they now understand the world for which they are scoring. It goes beyond that though, to ownership, to signing over the castle deed. Alph Lyla becomes the only set of individuals who can make music for this series from now on. Genius bandies about between all, myself included, but it’s the only assessment of intelligence to accurately describe Alph Lyla’s metamorphosis from Australopithecus to modern Homo sapien.

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 Listen: Darkstalkers 3: Vampire Savior – Vanity Paradise

On this concluding trio of discs, all musical concerns are thoroughly addressed, corrected, and admonished. In their dealings with Darkstalkers, Alpha Lyla’s most pronounced blockade to full musical realization was tempo. In the two previous games, the group seemed to struggle to match the intensity of the onscreen demon-world brawl, oftentimes falling out of synch completely with not only the pace of the match, but with the flavor of their characters’ identity. Darkstalkers 3, perhaps taking cues from lessons learned by Alph Lyla’s own members on other projects like Street Fighter Alpha 3, makes considerable impact in this final Darkstalkers installment.

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 Listen: Darkstalkers 3: Vampire Savior – Tower Of Arrogance

Secondly, weight and muscle are important things in life, and time and time again, Alph Lyla seemed determined to starve itself, refusing even to eat the smallest of portions. Pale and emaciated, the band’s set lists grew harder and harder to slog through as even modest heat burned up what few calories they consumed. They needed more gristle behind these compositions if they were ever to last, and so Alph Lyla somewhat begrudgingly made that crucial change: they beefed up.

 Darkstalkers 9

 Listen: Darkstalkers 3: Vampire Savior – Feast Of The Damned

Where once you could have easily grabbed these arrangements by their frail and dainty wrists, Darkstalkers 3’s sudden weight gain, its amply muscled girth makes this an all-out impossibility. Alph Lyla’s very last collaborations were a collection of menace, speed, and dangerous corrupting shadows falling directly in line with the house of the devil. While the band’s increased speed of tempo, dialed-up bass, and downplayed treble all seem like simple fixes, they actually work as a bottomless flow of currency to fund the group’s apocalyptic second coming. The band’s mixture of obsidian chaos, underworld, blood pacts, and soul-sale imagery go beyond mere sweat and cowardly desperation –  Alph Lyla finally makes Darkstalkers’ creatures an integral and permanent part of the night. And what comes with night? FEAR!

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 Listen: Darkstalkers 3: Vampire Savior – Deserted Chateau

Lastly, there’s one facet that has yet to be explored here musically, and that’s the game’s heavy emphasis on nobility, beauty and sexuality. There needed to be an elevation of these characters from just your simple monster movie archetypes. Some of these playable fighters are charged with the keeping of bloodlines, oral histories, and realms free of opposing factions, and above all else, preserving their own physical beauty. Likewise, Darkstalkers’ final score should reflect that judiciously. Alph Lyla correctly made no assumptions that the additions spoken of in the last paragraph would be enough to convey this as muscle does not smoldering nor dignified make, and so the group proceeded to add all shades of lipstick, blush, and slow-rising mist to their soundtrack’s already well supported curves. Characters’ walks become more elegant, their costumes more decorated, and their accomplishments more embellished. The band’s end result is an anesthesia so hypnotically bewildering and powerful, its true feat is that anyone can even play the game without simply staring fixatedly upon it. Darkstalkers’ score is a highly potent, near-toxic spell of crossed desire lines, carnal yearning and forsaken allegiances. Even the logo screen (the unparalleled and now famous opening “Dirty Beret” teaser) has the ability to captivate, narcotize and enslave.

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 Listen: Darkstalkers 3: Vampire Savior – Dirty Beret

Not a single moment inside Vampire Sound Box’s compilation fails, and that’s saying quite a lot. This being their closing set of recorded tracks together as Alph Lyla, they’ve placed emphasis on every snippet of film intro, plot device and win/loss hook. Not a moment is silent, and nothing is left to be repeated. This is poring over their legacy, their last written word in stone. It captures their towering scale at its highest point and provides the clearest, most thorough memoir of one of video games’ greatest and most revered groups at the moment of their passing.

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 Listen: Darkstalkers 3: Vampire Savior – Red Thirst

From Darkstalkers onward, sound duties for a varied and great number of Capcom titles fell to single, past members of Alph Lyla. With a decade of recordings in its portfolio, their carefully constructed body of work would find its way onto a numerous number of compilations and retrospectives. There was a small tremor after their demise in the form of a BioHazard Drama album done in 1999, but it didn’t amount to a reforming of the group. It’s of no matter though, I suppose, because with Darkstalkers: Vampire Sound Box, Alph Lyla ends its career with the truest sound of night. And night, as it’s understood, seems to be stronger than death.

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Listen: Darkstalkers 3: Vampire Savior – Fetus Of God

To purchase the entire digital Vampire: Soundbox click here. This ends our Summer of Capcom, if you missed any of the previous articles, please click here…..here….here…..here and here.

And remember, Darkstalkers are not dead!

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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.

 SotC1

Listen: Prologue

Video games save lives and a few months ago we looked at the first two entries on a list of games that have personally saved mine. Today we will look at the third and final title in this series, and how exactly it helped me through crisis. Today it’s Fumito Ueda and Team ICO’s Shadow Of The Colossus. First though, I need to tell you a story that goes back over a decade ago.

 SotC2

Watch: Intro Movie

In 1997, if you had told me that I would be the first to leave my old band, I would have fallen over laughing at you. How could you know about the oaths I had sworn in my head? This group was about a lifetime of allegiance. It was a duty born to ensure the survival of something I had helped to create. The band needed four good men, and I never pegged myself as THE deserter. I also never suspected I would walk away from that duty early: Who could have known that I was the Ides of March? I was. So the end came.

 SotC3

Listen: Prohibited Arts

It’s August 23rd, 2005; I am on stage for the last time as a member of the group.  I picked the day of our eight-year anniversary to leave. When you separate from people, nothing makes any sense. I did feel a very clear sense of acrimony. A distinct betrayal. My musical ideas within the band had started going unheard, and the conversations stopped including me. I began as this group’s front man, and I still sang, but only just barely. The quartet we had felt like a trio, with me relegated to what was essentially tambourine duty. I couldn’t help but feel abandoned by these people around whom I had built my life.

My role in those final months can be likened to that of a sickly dog. Quite literally, I limped into a corner and died a slow mute death.

In this our final show, before our last song had even ended, I turned off my equipment and jumped off the stage. I watched the end of the performance instead of participating in it. I was done. The night ended with few tears, I felt almost nothing, and said even less.

 SotC4

Listen: Resurrection

The problems with the band of course had two sides. It wasn’t their fault, and I was in no way blameless. I had been miserable company for most of the time I had lived in Austin with them, and I was not around when I needed to be around. I was homesick… mentally, physically and emotionally exhausted. I worked three jobs and never left my house.

I was not living for myself; I was living for them. I knew these men would always be my family, so I got out.

There was one caveat for which I had not prepared. With the group, I had felt like my own heroes. I was Marty Mcfly saving Doc Brown from the Libyans. Batman telling Commissioner Gordon, “You don’t have to thank me”. I was invincible, worthwhile, and important. Now at best, I was just some guy with a funny walk who had once been a part of something bigger. I was a nothing, a has-been at age 26.

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Listen: The Opened Way

I left Austin, but coming back home did very little to ease my mind. I had just experienced the biggest breakup of my entire life. I had whittled away a good portion of my twenties, damaged my hearing, and compromised my own sanity for something I was no longer a part of. I was completely heartbroken, and heartbroken people are usually vampiric insomniacs who actively diminish the value of a daily shower.  I lived in my bedroom, playing Street Fighter 2 and only went out when I wanted to see Batman Begins… which I saw some twenty times in theaters. I was not on earth; I was floating in a haze! Then the walking began.

Walking became everything to me. I circled neighborhoods and paced in front of convenience stores. All this mobilized meandering held such value – as long as I was walking, I was in control. This is also, might I add, when interventions needed to happen. In short, I needed therapy.

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Listen: End of the Battle

I had been in therapy before when I was about ten years old. This one morning, between breakfast and Nintendo, I wanted to die. Then, overnight, I became afraid of everything and everyone.  Therapy, if you haven’t experienced it, can be a completely alienating experience in the wrong hands, or it can be permanently, positively transformative when administered by a skilled practitioner. Your therapist is someone who wants to take that sick bullet for you, bending and curving the wind to scatter the remnants deflecting the shrapnel. It comes at a cost, though – they WANT answers, and they WANT action. The truth, however, is that the answers they seek can be vicious, uncomfortable, and downright mentally excruciating to produce.

My therapist, in case you’re wondering, saved my life and I will always love him for it.

 SotC7

Listen: Idol Collapse

Back to the present… this walking I’m doing desperately needs attention. While I never thought that I would find myself back in the position of needing therapy again, here I am. Unbeknownst to me, Shadow Of The Colossus would be both my intervention, and my therapy.

How on earth did Shadow Of The Colossus make me feel safe, how did it save my life (are you still there)? The simple and most obvious answer would be the space and silence it afforded me, much like the other games on this list. There is one major difference between those experiences and Shadow; this time you’re not alone. Shadow is a game of lengthy clinical examination: long stretches of probing one-on-one analysis via your horse Agro. On the many trips, the rides to each of the 16 Colossus battles, I was given jarringly pointed and sobering assignments. I cried a LOT, through a good 90% of the game even. I don’t mean tear up, I mean sobbed. It was nothing short of physical. The other ten percent of Team ICO’s sessions revolved around actually battling its Colossus.

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Listen: Lakeside

This video game, this inanimate plastic object, knew I had just lost the love of my life. It saw me pounding her chest, actively searching for a way to revive her slowly festering corpse. Even after the fiasco, the end of my involvement in my band… I still wanted to be part of it. I still wanted it back. The fear of letting go requires facing the actual fear, and Shadow Of The Colossus held my arms and legs restrained, my gaze forcibly narrowed and jammed down the fish eye of my assailant in the form of those Colossi. In order to reach that point, however, you guessed it… there must first be some time spent riding around in the dark.

So mounting Agro meant I had to first seek out these creatures, working through my problems as I rode to their lairs. Then I had to go close-quarters with the actual beast in their second, more leviathan-like form: The colossus.

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Listen: Silence

For game software to competently masquerade as a therapist, it has to be many things. Foremost, it has to be breathing. Shadow inhales, exhales, coughs and has its own history of questionable and reprehensible choices. It is one of the few games that I consider to be a living being. Shadow is also no fan of hoarding, and it sees no value whatsoever in the collecting of aged and piling newspapers. This title is one of focused ambition, and successfully steers you away from your desire to acquire useless baubles as is customary in most video games. No plunder, no dawdle, no distraction. Here you are tasked with very specific things and its single goal is a straightforward one: best the entities paralyzing you.

If Shadow Of The Colossus is actually human, then by definition so are the few characters that inhabit its world. If you have not played the game: there are a few spoilers ahead, begin reading again at “Lastly“. It all begins and ends with Agro, your horse. He’s your therapist and thankfully, a competent one. All your trials are cataloged, examined, and medicated by Agro’s prescription pad; he is always there. This poor horse takes you from sand dunes to the hinterlands, never wavering, never tiring. I grew so attached to the horse that I tried to minimize my attempts to make him run faster. When my character would dismount, I would always gently pat his mane (which the game allows you to do), never wanting him to feel that I was someone who could not be trusted. If he felt it, I felt it: his bruises, his exhaustion… all of it.

When Agro dies in a final act of loyalty to you, it was too much. I stopped playing for days. The bond was such that when death came for Agro, it was the first time I ever actually mourned a video game avatar, and his death signifies Shadow’s last and painfully capitalized push to make you finally go it alone.

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Listen: The Sunlit Earth

Lastly, the game’s soundtrack as scored by composer Kow Otani builds upon game director Fumito Ueda’s garishly dotted landscapes with contrasting cycles of panoramic silence and broken verses intoning fear, mourning and helpless paralysis. Otani’s instrument is one of the game’s most essential mechanisms. His work here is a profoundly emotive and densely passionate set of pieces, without which Shadow might have failed to translate the onslaught and weight of its slow and piecemeal collapse. While Ueda’s scenes have been carefully orchestrated and expertly blocked, they still require Otani’s guidance to make them traversable, unscrambled and enduring. Without his material, it is quite likely that my therapy would have failed. Tackling problems with only the vision and limited black and white perspective of Ueda would have been a single pronged approach that would have failed to understand the full prognosis and broad spectrum of my troubles, which Otani was more than capable of translating.

 SotC11

Listen: The Final Battle

When I finally reached the end of the game, I just felt better… enough even, to start moving around before sundown. The lift Shadow provided was a genuine one, wholly altering the course of my descent, creating a viable, steady path forward. It’s likely your experience will differ from mine, meaning substantially more or less to each player. Regardless, Shadow Of The Colossus will still be something I am certain you will feel the need to talk about some 40 years from now.

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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.

Summer is usually the time I am most able to play video games. Sadly that time is coming to an end. Among the slew of titles that I’ve had a chance to play through fully, these moments stand out. Don’t worry: No spoilers.

summer 1

Listen: In Your Belief

Asura’s Wrath

One of Asura’s Wrath’s grandest traits by far is its commitment to its own gargantuan scope. By the time you’ve reached the end of the game, that first once unanimously colossal opening scene will feel almost inconsequential, weak… corporeal even. This title goes beyond any description, any manner of word trying to portray the idea of epic, huge, or over the top. It just keeps getting bigger and bigger and bigger.

Asura’s Wrath does all it can as quickly as it can to build up its own mystical monolith. Capcom and developer Cyber-Connect 2 are concerned only in extending those physical inches and feet upward, and if the summit can be reached, they’ll simply add more men to their crew and more wood to the peak. It is obvious that they discarded those ideal, more modest plans the moment shovels turned dirt on groundbreaking day.

Asura’s Wrath is a beware lesson that exposes the limitations of simply settling for magnifying glass magnification. The point is not to appear taller through glass, but to actually BE that tall.

summer 2

Listen: The Infraworld

Beyond: Two Souls

One of the most enjoyable things about Quantic Dream’s Beyond: Two Souls? The quiet. David Cage and Quantic Dream are more interested in telling their narrative than being bothered with a cumbersome layout of buttons used to make their onscreen avatar jump:  there can be very long stretches of silence dotted with minor activity, and it’s okay. This is all very deliberate, as it opens you up and focuses you on the battered psychology of Cage’s characters. While its emotion can become a tad heavy and even oppressive at times, I found it to be genuinely moving. The ending which I wouldn’t dare spoil here resonated with me on a very personal level. Did I cry? That’s a silly question. Yes, of course!

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Listen: Heaven’s Divide

Metal Gear Solid Peace Walker

I realize I am coming to this party VERY late, but in my head, the timing had to be JUST right. I had to play it with as little amount of time between the next major Metal Gear release as humanly possible. Since I am slated to begin Metal Gear Solid 5: Ground Zeroes on Christmas day this year, I figured time was actually running out. I could go on and on about Peace Walker, but I won’t. You see… these fools I have hired as guards, have let a certain someone go free yet AGAIN! And here I thought coerced mercenary and trust went hand in hand. Slippery this game.

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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.

I turned 30 on February 7th, 2009. What should have been an esoteric examination of my few personal achievements, collected friends and backwards to forwards play by plays of scenes from my life up to that point, suddenly became NOTHING more than tossing quarters into a jar. Instead of probing the past or looking towards some distant future horizon, I was firmly planted inside a tiny Austin, Texas arcade playing Street Fighter 4 for the very first time. There is nothing else, nowhere else in the world I would have rather been that night, or for that matter, any night since the release of Street Fighter 4.

SF1

In the near-decade that comprised publisher Capcom’s self-imposed, fighting-game silence, one thing remains clear: it was one born of necessity. The drawing of any new plans for the Street Fighter brand would be heavily wagered against from all sides of its own community. Had Street Fighter 4 been some disconsolate, abysmal or unsalvageable failure, the series itself would have died a victim of its own historical footnotes. Street Fighter 4 would have been the botched progeny, the last and only numbered entry in the franchise to be cannibalized from hair follicles to unkempt toe nails by its ever-voracious and ever-looming parent shadow Street Fighter 2. Street Fighter 4 HAD to work. More importantly, the series had to survive.

It’s obvious at this point that indeed Street Fighter 4 was incredibly successful and so before I stray any further… this article here is concerned with the SOUNDS, the music of Street Fighter 4 and its four successive incarnations: Vanilla 4, Super 4, Arcade Edition 4, and Ultra 4. For every tweak of this engine, a cyclopean entourage of new musical compositions debuted alongside the game’s new challengers and locales. You might not realize it, but counting every flourish of music within Street Fighter 4’s world, numbers well beyond 125 pieces. Indeed with so much ground to cover, so many places to visit, and so many world warrior themes to catalog, I thought It would be helpful for you if I detailed some of the more important people, residences, decrepit domiciles, crowds, and legends that you’re sure to find along your map of its scattered hostels and petrol covered highways. Consider me the Rick Steves of composer Hideyuki Fukasawa’s refulgent Street Fighter 4’s soundtrack. I do hope however, that you brought money, because this tour isn’t one I tend to give to those on a budget.

The Best Of Street Fighter 4’s Most Famous Musical Locales:

Overpass Stage - While certainly nothing to look at from afar, and not really much to take in up close (pictures optional), the urban overpass that our tour begins with is actually one of Fukasawa’s more strangely autographed pieces. It’s one in which the ill-advised, nasally robotic drip of an auto-tune meets the second-rate glamour of out of work Cobra-Kai extras attempting a power ballad. While it may seem bizarre, even ridiculous at first pass… muster the courage to sing along, and you’ll soon be right there with them. Fukasawa’s “Overpass”is nickel and dime, street corner, Hill Street hustling, and his perversion of soured doo-wop curdles and chunks in all of the right places. This is just the beginning, however; it’s time for a luxury cruise.

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Listen: Overpass Stage

Cruise Ship SternContains all that money wants: Shrimp, expensive aged liquors, and first row tickets to tonight’s fight, all but guaranteeing your need for both a moist towlette and dry face towel as you’re most assuredly going to be hit with some manner of bodily fluid. I promised you the sights, and for this particular event… feeling them is key.

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Listen: Cruise Ship Stern

Small AirfieldIt’s the things you’d never know about unless somebody actually bothered to tip you off to them, and I for one think “Small Airfield”deserves a much wider audience. This is one of Fukasawa’s most skilled musical embolizations, illustrating the deftness of his ear, and the instinctual, selective way it blocks the passage of unnecessary internationally flavored musical archetypes. Fukasawa beautifully discerns need from overstated pandering, creating one of the most stripped down arrangements of this enormous musical endeavor. Light and overwhelmingly joyous, “Small Airfield”succeeds where the likes of “Dhalsim’s Theme”just oversteps that desired mark.

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Listen: Small Airfield

Inland Jungle/ Pitch Black Jungle – Getting dirty is perhaps the most rewarding part of this vacation, and Street Fighter 4 is not only interested in showing you the vendors and draw of its big city, but also the thrills of its nearby foraging grounds. We start our descent into an area of small game and poisonous berry trees, as the introduction of “Inland Jungle”preps us with the necessary tools to enter the “Pitch Black Jungle,”which by its very nature is the more destructive of these two grumbling and powerful seisms. We can’t stay here too long, but make sure to take a good look.

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Listen: Inland Jungle / Listen: Pitch Black Jungle

Solar Eclipse -Emerging from our jungle surroundings we arrive back on the arid and flat fields of Chad. This is Fukasawa’s way of coming up for air. Intent on seeing the wild in the wild, Fukasawa gives contented expression to grazing giraffes, zebras and hippos. Sure you may have come for a one-on-one battle, but squabbling meerkats offer just as much entertainment as the headlining brawl. Gorgeous.

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Listen: Solar Eclipse Stage

Training Stage/ Blast Furnace - Street Fighter 4 is about more than just catering to its established, aging, and vitriolic fan base. Street Fighter 4 is just as much about those who will be lacing up their gloves for the first time ever. “Training Stage”moves with an algid and steeled synchronicity where the casual, flaying heel strike meets the calculated crunching of those truly laboring beneath its pitiless regime. It’s Fukasawa’s Russian “Blast Furnace” that really aims to sweat down those stubborn lazy pounds. “Blast Furnace”expands on the tools and techniques derived from the beat of “Training Stage,” and manifests an even crueler form of sensei: live pressure. Sure you learned the moves, pulled them off even, but how about now? While these two locations aren’t even indicated on your tour map, I felt that missing them would be like missing the point of our trip entirely.

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Listen: Training Stage / Listen: Blast Furnace

Run-Down Back Alley – You thought you’d seen the filthiest of Fukasawa’s slums already, but you’d be wrong. Here in this dimly lit street overrun with the stench of long-past fermented beer, and trash that would give inspire hesitation even from within a full-body hazmat suit… we find our opponents ALREADY battling each other. Truly, that’s the point of Fukasawa’s “Run-Down Back Alley”.It captures perfectly the nature of a fight’s hostile impulse, that spur-of-the-moment physical engagement, and it plays at its best when delivering the bout’s winded crescendo; the point where the war of footsies begins to wear noticeably on both sides. Fukasawa further entangles the odds – what looked to be a sure thing, now nothing more than inaccurate guesswork. Two may enter…

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Listen: Run-Down Back Alley

The Best Of Street Fighter 2’s Character Themes As Heard In SF4:

Theme of Ryu- Become the Storm/ Theme of Ken- Burning Blood -Two of the most important of Fukasawa’s musical Street Fighter 4 creations, and the reason anyone of us signed for this tour in the first place, remains his most faithful to the aging analog presets of Street Fighter 2. Ryu’s fighting stance has not changed and his famously stoic melancholy never seems to interfere with his quarter-circle preoccupation. Ken’s theme plays all the more debutante, as expected. His tousled blonde locks, brand-name fighting apparel, and learned social graces, provide a sort of yang-ish sophistication to Ryu’s perpetually gruff, unwashed pretensions. Just as they were in 1991: excellent.

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Listen: Ryu’s Theme / Listen: Ken’s Theme

Theme Of Bison- Silent Gravestone -Fukasawa’s wire taut arrangement of M. Bison’s signature bell adds further layers of ruination to his toll. Seemingly without effort, Fukasawa makes Bison’s jaw line, his eyes and his physical grip an expert study of factionalism and cruelty that has no need for masks.

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Listen: Theme of Bison

Theme Of Zangief- Dread! Vaccum Man! – Zangief’s original presentation in both orchestral and illustration was one that wore few smiles. Zangief was a man starved of color. Neither carny nor Bozo clown, he shouldered this loutish tone for almost two decades. His costume, however, is everything, and Fukasawa has been rummaging: estate sales, clearance racks and all things left at the curb. All of this in an effort to betray the many preconceived and long-standing notions about our morose, red wrestler on the verge… From behind Fukasawa’s curtain emerges a man aureate, chatty, effusive and doting. This is a character in love with the vibrancy of his scene change, and he’s alive with laughter and conversation, disproving myth and rumor both. Is this love, or am I dreaming?

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Listen: Theme of Zangief

Theme Of Guile- Lonely Wolf -Fukasawa’s theme for Guile is no simple remixed concoction. It doesn’t rely wholly on its anemically thin and trebled source material. This is stereo sound that’s been boosted to the red. These are dangerous levels, and… Fukasawa’s cut is washboard lean, arrogant, imposing and celebratory. Fukasawa’s Guile is a man whose purpose now echoes again the promise and vigilance of a celebrated hero, who for once, however briefly, stole the spotlight from even the series’ marquee stars.

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Listen: Theme of Guile

The Best Of Street Fighter 3’s Character Themes As Heard In SF4:

Theme Of Hugo-The Circuit -It’s always been hard to get a fix on exactly how tall Street Fighter 3’s Hugo actually is. That’s because his musical handlers, while immensely capable of capturing his mug shot, labored and failed to photograph his physique, his still life. They could only hint at it. Fukasawa, however, seems infinitely skilled in drawing back the camera’s focus. The outline is the thing and Fukasawa toils and scrutinizes, closing his aperture further and further, washing Hugo’s image in noxious, echoing swells. This is the acid test, and it’s the only accurate record to judge both the size and force of the behemoth now charging at you.

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Listen: Theme of Hugo

Theme Of Dudley- Dudley remains one of the most eloquent, stylish and beloved of Street Fighter 3’s cast. To top the likes of Street Fighter 3’s original composer Hideki Okugawa, Fukasawa would need to somehow make Dudley’s collection of weaves even lighter than was previously thought possible. It would have to be God moving across the face of water or nothing at all. Dudley’s vast agglomeration of moves would have to be effortless… single motions, where neither cautious sliding nor ungainly gliding would suffice. Fukasawa’s Dudley is more of a full-on ballet than some lowly fists-for-cash prizefighter. True beauty needs not excessive gloss nor creams and powders to conceal  imperfections. True beauty is natural, and Dudley is just that.

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Listen: Theme of Dudley

Theme Of Elena- Beats In My Head- When you’re describing Street Fighter 4’s Elena, the bulk of that description should concern itself with her many points of articulation. Where Dudley embodies the grace and fluidity of movement, Elena’s focus is her overwhelming range of motion, twisting and turning pinwheel style, unencumbered by her own joints. Fukasawa fully pronounces the B in “Beats” found so prominently in the lyrics here, capitalizing on every twitch of her leg, clapping in unison, and moving you directly alongside her. A risky theme to re-imagine, but Fukasawa nails it flat.

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Listen: Elena’s Theme

The Best Of Street Fighter Alpha’s Character Themes As Heard In SF4:

Theme Of Cody- Smack talk should be considered an art form. Throwing out a slew of   harsh insults simply isn’t enough. There has to be some manner of comedy included, because threats alone only serve to focus your opponent, where the mixture of comedy draws the focus from the center: it distracts. Cody’s theme does away with his pre-recorded Alpha 3 musical setup almost entirely, and redresses him not only as a formidable adversary, but a biting and masterful stand-up comedian.

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Listen: Theme of Cody

Theme Of Sakura – While Fukasawa’s take on Chun-Li’s classic Street Fighter 2 theme is great, I can’t help but feel it’s a bit too mature. There’s a line between sounding aged and wise and actually looking like the village elder. It’s alright though, because when it comes to Sakura, she’s not aged a day since her mid-90’s Alpha debut. Irritatingly spry and distractingly bubbly, Sakura still IS that self-assured and overly confident schoolgirl who haplessly seeks the affection of World Warriors’ almost twice her age.

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Listen: Sakura’s Theme

The Best Of Street Fighter 4’s New World Warrior’s As Heard In SF4:

Theme Of Poison -Free of the restraints that held Fukasawa down for the bulk of this project (fan-service, expected homage, and explicit contractual ink), he does some of his most brilliant jam sketches with the christening of Street Fighter 4’s new world warriors. With no existing patent to follow, one of his most startling reveals has to be Poison. Her five-star theme is a stroll down the most gaudy, lascivious, and crass boulevards in all of Street Fighter’s existing fiction. Fukasawa’s brilliant saxophone chops provide THE tell-all conduit to Poison, an unencumbered channel of profane stumbling raunch. As David Bowie posits: “Golden Years…Golden Rule”.

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Listen: Poison’s Theme

Theme Of Abel – Abel was a safer character by design. He’s someone whom the community would feel more comfortable playing, while they worked themselves into the new systems and overall feeling of Street Fighter 4. To complement his persona, Fukasawa may have also played it safe, but by doing so, he gave Abel one of the most commanding, hungry and palatial ring entrances in the history of the Street Fighter series.  Abel’s signature brand of pacing about an arena filled with screaming spectators is a relentless, diaphoretic endeavor, where referee, two knock-down rule, and the tap out cease to exist. This one is all about muscling through it.

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Listen: Theme of Abel

Theme Of Hakan- This may be an understatement, but Hakan’s not an easy read. What do you make of him? How do you make of him? Human? Terrestrial? Body artist? That first look is harrowingly deceiving. Despite guidance from Fukasawa’s marching band of baglamas, uds and didgeridoos, Hakan remains difficult to pin down. The theme of Hakan is a busy patchwork: a workman’s brew spanning endless regions and showcasing a true dedication to unearthing the greatest and most fragrant of spices.

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Listen: Hakan’s Theme

Theme Of Decapre – There’s something inherently voodoo about the idea of winding up a record and then proceeding to play it backwards. The fear of encrypted messages, hidden intent, and the workings of the indecipherable… it’s all there, you just have to listen. It’s an idea beautifully realized and utilized in the design of Ultra Street Fighter 4‘s Decapre. She’s so close to the look and feel of her obvious counterpart Cammy, but there’s something in those curves. It’s a wickedness not immediately evident, but certainly suggested at: her subtle tics, physical cues, and general temperament all raise questions. Where Fukasawa could have hammed her up, piling gloom upon destruction upon absurd villainous monologue, he opts to play her with a shadowy, cool suavity. Fukaswa’s piercing reverse design creates one of the darkest of Street Fighter 4’s bible passages.

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Listen: Theme of Decapre

—–

While the music of Street Fighter 4 encompasses something much larger than an article’s worth of nods to a number of its truly outstanding compositions, I would like to think of this piece as something of a starting point for you. There were SO many exemplary and amazing recordings made by Hideyuki Fukasawa for Street Fighter 4 that describing each and every one of them would have taken months to write. Like any good destination of travel, however, you’re never going to see it all in that first pass. Hence the many return trips you have yet to plan.

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Purchase the Street Fighter 4 Soundtrack now!

For most of you reading this article, I imagine this happens on an almost hourly basis.

I myself have racked up some 500 plus hours of Street Fighter 4 flight time since 2009. Until the next numbered Street Fighter… here’s to composer Hideyuki Fukasawa for all his genius musical work, and to Capcom for all iterations of every Street Fighter game known to man.

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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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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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…

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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