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I pose a question to you: How long is too long, when you’re considering what class to choose in a game? More questions: Do you always choose the same class? Do you instantly know you want to be, let’s say, a warrior? Or rogue?

I’m laboring over this decision for, wait for it, a game that isn’t even out yet.

That’s right. It won’t be out until October.

I’m wasting my brain power on Dragon Age: Inquisition.

Here’s why.

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If you’re unfamiliar with Dragon Age lore, one of the most compelling plotlines involves the never-ending battle between mages and non-mages. More specifically, between the Mages and Templars (who serve as the military protectors of the Chantry). In essence, Mages are allowed to practice magic as supervised by the Templars. Mages who abuse magic, or practice outside the “Circle” run by the Templars are “apostates”, and if an apostate is caught alive, that Mage will be turned into a Tranquil.

The dialog is fascinating if you choose to play as a Mage. You’re the “hero” of the game, whether you’re the Grey Warden in Dragon Age Origins, or Hawke in Dragon Age II. NPCs respond in a multitude of ways upon discovering you’re a Mage and the hero protecting Ferelden. Some NPCs support Mage’s rights, other NPCs are fearful of magic and consider it a sin that should be abolished. Even playing as a Mage yourself, you can still support the Templars. You get the idea – there’s more to the story but that’s the rub.

I enjoy playing games as an underdog. I was a trumpet player, I’m an avid gamer, and I’m a woman. I get what it’s like to be an underdog. I enjoy overcoming stereotypes in real life, and it’s equally enjoyable to triumph over them while gaming.

So, you wonder, why such a hard decision? Be a stupid Mage and be done with it.

For this difficulty in coming to a “class conclusion”, I blame not only my own poor decision making skillz, but I blame developers.

In Dragon Age, you get to bring along members of your party on most quests. In theory, you can choose three of your nine (in DAO) companions. However, Dragon Age makes use of a skill that many fantasy RPGs employ: lockpicking. In Dragon Age, the only class that can pick locks is a rogue. If you walk up to a locked chest or door, you need a lockpicker.

If I play as a Mage, I’m tied to bringing along a rogue in my party every single time. In DAO, this means I have to bring Leiliana on every single mission. In reality, this means I only get to choose two party members for each outing, since two of the four party members will be my own character, and Leiliana. For DA2, it was always the rogue, Isabela (she’s much cuter than Varric).

It takes away the enjoyment of being able to choose the party and mix up the characters to hear fun banter common to followers in BioWare games. If you mix companion A & B, they might argue. If you mix companion A & C, they might help you come to conclusions or joke in the background. They ask each other questions, judge each other, poke fun at each other – it’s enjoyable to hear. However, if I must take the rogue everywhere, I lose out on hearing that banter at the least. And sometimes, you really want all your heavy hitters, not someone with a bow and arrow or a couple daggers.

The solution to this problem is to play as a rogue myself. Now, I can bring whomever I want, and I can pick my own stupid locks.

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Sorry L, we left without you.

And then I lose out on the ability to play as a Mage, and lose that connection to the story at large – the ages long debate about Mages and their ability to practice magic, their abuse of it, the Templars abuse of their own powers, the tragedy of the Tranquil – I lose my direct connection to that monstrous plot line.


Possible alternate solution, and I’m looking at you, Developers: If I’m a Mage, can’t I have, like, Mage-picking powers? Can’t I have a spell that lets me open locks? If I come up to a locked door, I’m a frickin’ Mage. I should be able to Mage it open.


Gandalf gets it..

What are your thoughts?

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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

The first game I ever played on a phone was like Centipede only not. If you’ve seen Orange is the New Black, it’s the game Piper plays on the cell phone in the bathroom.

I put hours of my life into that tiny game. No color, no soundtrack, just a square worm and a dot.

I’m glad those days are gone. My main mobile jam these days is any number of match-three games, a dash of solitaire and one endless runner. If I didn’t know better, I’d obsessively match gems all night long. I can’t play right before bed though, or my mind won’t shut off for sleep. For some scientific reason, it’s too stimulating for my brain. Who knew?

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Were I to list my top 50 gaming tragedies, you’d find Bejeweled on that list. EA/PopCap ruined that game by, seemingly out of nowhere, inserting advertising and forcing me to pay for portions of the game I’d enjoyed for months on end. I had almost all of the trophies, too. I was committed. The first ad I saw, I deleted the game from my phone for good. I really miss “Diamond Mine”. I was killer at that game.

In Bejeweled’s stead, I threw myself full force into solitaire, hidden object games and other match-threes. I’ve found some decent hidden object titles, but none that are amazing. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever played an amazing hidden object game. Suggestions?

If you’re into match-three, I highly recommend Fishdom. It’s kind of adorable, and fun to upgrade aquariums and make your fish love you. There are, however, only three aquariums, which I maxed out in like a weekend. Boss.


I like Fishdom because the board changes each game, adding elements that require you to unlock a square to pass. I’m not a huge fan of timers, but the Fishdom timer is manageable. Once you max out your aquariums, you can still play forever, accumulating more money to no end. Additionally, you can keep futzing with your aquariums if you like.

The Treasures of Montezuma 3 is also a fun match-three. You can upgrade gems in this one, although the upgrade system is a bit odd. The timer is too short for my style, since I tend to play mobile games to relax, not race. But I haven’t felt overwhelmed or defeated by the timer, the goals or the gameplay. I think ToM3 is a well-paced game.

If I want to play something right before I go to sleep, it’s gotta be solitaire. Perhaps playing solitaire accesses a different area of my brain. I can set the phone down and immediately fall asleep if I choose.

There are plenty of options for solitaire, and as much as I dislike going the free-to-play route, Fairway Solitaire is kind of awesome. Yes, I have paid for perks in that game, like more money and clubs.

Sigh. Free-to-play: the gaming development we all wanted to fail that is doing the opposite of failing. You can sort of get around it in Fairway Solitaire, depending on how patient you are feeling. I suppose that’s true of many free-to-plays.


Things I cannot play on a mobile device:

1: Any kind of shooter. I have a controller and a few consoles if I want to shoot something.

2. Racing games. See number one, sub “race” for “shoot”

3. Puzzle games. In this instance, it’s too expensive to get angry and throw and break a phone. It’s less expensive to get angry and throw and break a controller. So, see number one, sub “solve a puzzle” for “shoot something”

4. Any game in the universe that requires audio and/or headphones. I’m not putting on my headphones in line at the DMV just to play your game.

When you’re chilling at the doctor’s office, what’s your go-to game?

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


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!


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 love Cris Velasco’s newest soundtrack for Enemy Front. Although it’s all samples, he uses only orchestral sounds, and it sounds fantastic.

The beauty of the music comes from Cris’s attention to detail. The minor key of the opening track, “Enemy Front”, allows for some simple yet pleasing harmonic colors. For instance, rather than using a minor iv (minor four) chord, he uses the major IV (major four). This happens at the thirty-second mark. Cris didn’t invent that, it’s been done for centuries, but it’s a nice color and it achieves a hopeful tone.

Enemy Front is a first-person shooter that takes place during World War II. One would expect music for an FPS to be bombastic, full of combat music replete with percussion, brass and speedy strings.

Enemy Front Cover                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             The Enemy Front Soundtrack is available now!

Cris’s score, however, is subdued. War is emotional no matter the setting, and Cris chose to focus on the weighty despair of war, rather than the aggressive action.

Don’t fear: there is indeed combat music. You can hear it in “Warsaw Uprising”. You’ll notice that Cris doesn’t rely on any electronic sounds – it’s all orchestral. Orchestral samples, but it’s still straight-up orchestral. It lends itself beautifully to the possibility of live performance.

In “Stick to the Shadows”, Cris uses sounds like bassoon, harp and marimba. These lesser-utilized members of the orchestra pleasantly stand out and draw me into the music.

Lest I forget to mention the delicate use of piano throughout the score, you hear it state one of the main themes in “Enemy Front”. You’ll hear it restate that theme (transposed) in “This is Warsaw Calling”, and several other spots including the credits (“A Story of Resistance”). In “We Don’t Need Another Dead Hero”, the piano takes on a slightly more ominous role than in other cues, like this spot.

That credit music, “A Story of Resistance”, might be my favorite cue on the whole collection. Why does piano affect us so much? Granted, I adore that instrument, yet I’m always surprised by how meaningful I find the sound of a piano to be. It’s unusual that Cris scored the credits, and I’m glad he did. In all the right ways, “A Story of Resistance” recaps main themes in new iterations. I say this with respect and awe: it reminds me quite a bit of John Barry’s music for Out of Africa.

Here’s the best part though: Cris had just recently finished scoring another World War II game, Company of Heroes 2. I’ve written about that score in the past; it’s a score I enjoy quite a bit. I couldn’t be more impressed with how different Cris’s scores are to Enemy Front and Company of Heroes 2. He’d just done one WWII title and could’ve easily, and probably successfully, recycled ideas and materials from one into the next.

Cris_Velasco                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       Composer Cris Velasco

He didn’t do that. It speaks to his dedication to create unique scores for each project and demonstrates his compositional diversity and flexibility. The COH2 score is fabulous, and completely different than Enemy Front. It’s worth owning both, if only to hear how differently one can score war.

Cris will be one to watch as the years go by – it seems safe to say we’re just getting our first nibbles of his music. As I often say, I cannot wait to hear what comes next!

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

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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: 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,, and Lauro without whom, my arcade fantasies would have never been fully realized.

This is just the beginning.


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.

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!

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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.


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 was on vacation last week, and while it was initially perfect, it concluded with a rather horrifically expensive emergency home repair. Got in some gaming though, of course.

I finished Ubisoft’s Watch Dogs early in the week. I was thrilled with the game-play yet irritated beyond repair at the story. This love-hate dichotomy is indicative of my relationship with Ubisoft of late, and reveals a truth about the industry as a whole.

If the employees of the video game industry want to be viewed on equal footing with film and television, they have to step up their game (ugh sorry for the crummy pun). The story for Watch Dogs is a joke, full of holes – typical of a big AAA title.

**I’m going to start throwing out spoilers now, so continue as you please.**

The protagonist, Aiden Pearce, is an a-hole. As gamers, we’ve played the role of loads of a-holes, like Kratos (God of War), or any Grand Theft Auto game. Never once did I mistake Kratos or Tommy Vercetti for good guys, yet Watch Dogs tries to play Pearce off as a good guy on occasion. It rarely works.

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An exemplary citizen..

Nicky Pearce, Aiden’s sister, is infuriating. Ubisoft makes Nicky seem like a useless, clueless and weak human being. Throughout the game, Aiden promises her he’ll stop pursuing the persons who ordered a hit on him (that hit resulted in the death of his niece, Nicky’s daughter).

“Promise me you’ll stop,” she demands from Aiden, who quickly promises, although we know he’s lying with each empty promise. This lie happens several times throughout the game. Aiden is a selfish prick, hell-bent on vengeance.

I understand that Nicky is kidnapped for a good portion of the game; she catches onto the fact that Aiden is the “Vigilante” after he rescues her. This is problematic. For the duration of the game, Aiden has been the subject of every TV or radio news broadcast. He wears a stupid, stupid outfit, which no one else in the game wears. It’s insane to ask me to believe that she didn’t know, or that someone didn’t tell her. That sh*t irritates me in games.

Once she finds out and confronts him, she loses it for about a half a second. Then she’s cool.


Ubisoft goes to some lengths to make it clear that Aiden is a vengeful person, but that piece of his story breaks when we get to Clara Lille.

If I were to say to you, “Hey, friend, let’s put a female character in this game. She’ll be a badass hacker and we’ll call her Clara,” how do you imagine she’d look? If I explained to you that, at a certain point, Aiden and Clara would meet in person, how would you imagine that meeting would go?

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Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With Tattoos That Hacks Good

Clara, predictably, is gorgeous. Punk gorgeous. So, obviously, when Aiden and Clara meet, there’s this unnecessary and nauseating sexual tension between them immediately. I tell you, I roll my eyes every single time I think of that scene.

And then there’s this gem of a scene, where Clara is subjected to the condescending misogyny of T-Bone (another hacker).

From the opening of Watch Dogs, we’re introduced to a character named Maurice. Maurice is the dude who was hired to kill Aiden, but Maurice accidentally kills the niece. Throughout the game, Aiden uncovers audio logs of Maurice telling his story. Maurice was blackmailed by a gang to do the hit. He didn’t want to do the hit. When he killed the niece, he all but lost his mind from the guilt.

That last piece is of no matter to Aiden. He doesn’t care that Maurice is sorry. Aiden doesn’t care that Maurice was blackmailed into doing the hit. Aiden has no sympathy for Maurice.

But how did Maurice know where to find Aiden? That would be because of Clara. Clara gave Aiden’s location to Maurice (whether directly or indirectly) for the hit. When Aiden finds out Clara gave him up, he’s like, no biggie. It’s cool. You’re a woman. You didn’t mean it.


Then Clara dies. Whatever. Of course she dies. It would be unpredictable if she lived, and god forbid Ubisoft ignores a trope for once. I can’t decide if this is what great storytelling is like in France and Canada, or if French and Canadian game developers think this is what we as consumers like in a story. Either way, it’s whack.

One more character, and then I feel like I’ve dissected enough. Let’s talk about “Iraq” – the leader of the “Viceroys” gang in Watch Dogs.

Firstly, that’s not how you pronounce “Iraq”.

Every time I heard them say “eye-rack”, I wanted to scream. Regardless, let’s also talk about how Iraq, the character, is a carbon fricking copy of Vaas Montenegro from Far Cry 3, the type of antagonist that kills his (always a he) followers at the blink of an eye, just because.

I can’t take stories like this seriously. No matter how fun the actual mechanics and game-play are, it’s never going to be enough to hold up a horrible story – an all-too familiar pattern in the gaming industry.

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Did you play Watch Dogs? I totally loved all the hacking. Did you dig it?

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

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?        


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.

Jesper Kyd.

My writing could end there. Just: Jesper Kyd.

In 2007, I was in grad school, getting a master’s in music theory in Lincoln, Nebraska. The proud owner of a new PS3, I couldn’t wait for Assassin’s Creed. The trailer was mind-blowing.

As much as I adored the game, it was glitchy. Not Skyrim glitchy, but I did reach a point where the game broke and I couldn’t proceed. Due to that, I never finished it. Weird, huh?

I didn’t need to finish the game to fall in love with Jesper Kyd and his music.


At the time, I’d never played Hitman, so his music was new to me. Kyd’s attention to detail greatly impressed me. His AC music in general creates an enrapturing sense of location – I go places when I hear his music, and I’m pretty sure I go exactly where I’m supposed to go: a trip to the Third Crusade, where the sounds of plucked guitars, recorders, percussion and men chanting abound. Yet Kyd’s modern twist on these sounds helps place me in the future, and it’s a lovely journey.

Ubisoft made a giant mistake by not continuing to use him as a composer. The music of the major AC titles by Lorne Balfe, Brian Tyler, and Oliviere Deriviere are reputable. I adore Deriviere’s Freedom Cry music above all, but I feel Deriviere and Kyd share some compositional characteristics.

Consider the success of Deriviere’s Freedom Cry. Deriviere chose to incorporate traditional Haitian music into that score. He took time with that music and created a sound unique to his abilities. Deriviere did not write a traditional orchestral score (which might have been just fine would’ve been amazing), but he also didn’t piggyback on the success of Kyd’s electronic prowess.

Above all, that might be the key to Deriviere’s achievements with that score: he became the first composer to capture a new sound for Assassin’s Creed in Kyd’s absence.


As for Balfe and Tyler, I’m a fan of both composers and have written and spoken favorably about them each in the past. If asked to choose a favorite score by both, I wouldn’t choose an AC score by either of them. Balfe and Tyler are fantastic composers with much better soundtracks in their lists of credits.

I want Kyd back, and I know that’s impossible. I miss him, though; State of Decay and Borderlands aren’t enough at the moment. I want more. I even started watching Metal Hurlant Chronicles just so I could hear his music.

Luckily, there is more music coming from him, for sure. Kyd is always writing whether it’s for film, TV, games, or trailers, there’s always something to hear. Do be sure and listen!

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

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