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Outside and standing alone against the patio’s railing of a third-floor hotel room is a desperate father. The father stares out into the night’s sky, not caring for the tremble of the blowing trees or the rapid crashing of the pellets of rain. It’s raining again, and Ethan Mars has failed to find his missing son.

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This is the moment when I had to pause my gameplay to sweat over all of the choices I have been making in Heavy Rain. Did I make the right choice? Could I have made a different choice? Is there any hope for my character? The answer to all of these questions is a resounding, and encouraging, yes!

As a single-player detective game for the PS3 console, Heavy Rain is an interactive narrative-driver, but instead of running the script to its end, the player is capable of determining the direction and fate of each of its four characters. Each action or inaction from a character can cause the storyline to change thereafter. It’s crazy addicting, deciding the habits and motives of each character, and I think my favorite feature is that my overall decisions will impact and resolve the game in one of a multitude of different endings.

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I remember when I had to decide to undertake a critical assignment with Ethan Mars – to agree or disagree, thus influencing his role in the plot forever – and the sole reason that made his decision so deliciously dramatic was the music in the background.

Many of the music tracks in Heavy Rain are stimulating, moment-enhancers, but the strongest emotional ride of them all, the “thrumming of the soul’s chords,” is the track “Painful Memories“. The track drifts in and out with a piano’s gentle touch, and it’s somber sound captures the mood of the game perfectly. Composed by Normand Corbeil, who has also composed the soundtrack for Beyond: Two Souls, his performance in Heavy Rain’s soundtrack has allowed the player to digest and share in the difficulties that the characters have been dealing with.

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I feel like if I was ever in an emotional crisis and I wasn’t sure of which direction to take, I would hope that one of Normand Corbeil’s tracks would be playing in my background. It intensifies the scene in everything!

Do yourself a favor and purchase Heavy Rain. Be creative and ridiculous with your character’s actions during the in-the-moment gameplay. Listen to “Painful Memories” whenever your emotional bubble is soon to explode, preferably, during the precipice of a long-going rainstorm – you’ll thank me later.

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Sean Berry is a literary romantic with a B.A. in Creative Writing from Columbia College Chicago. In Brooklyn, New York, when he’s not chasing after subway trains, he could be found at the local coffeehouse with a laptop and large latte.

His most memorable video game moments are traversing the plains of Hyrule alongside an annoying fairy (Hey!) and spending countless of mouse-smashing hours commanding the armies of the ProtossTerran, and Zerg.

This week we continue our countdown of the greatest 25 NES soundtracks ever made. If you missed last week, please click here.

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 Listen: Inside The Tree

20. Wizards And Warriors/ Composer: David Wise/ Release Year 1987

Developer Rare has worn many a wedding ring, and money has changed

hands in pursuit of its exclusive courtship more times and for far more capital than any corporate ledger would likely (within the realm of comfort) admit to. It wasn’t always this way though. At some point, Rare pre-transmogrification to behemoth studio, were just some guys, likely not even guys…dudes: swearing, funny, OCD eccentrics who loved text adventures and who favored command line computer code over vodka and tonic. To be fair, maybe they had a few tiny flasks. Composer David Wise’s score for 1987’s Wizards and Warriors feels like peering through a, for your eyes only, garage days memoir: nuts and bolts, labored failed experiments anchored by dryly comedic notes on the best of days, and single filthy drawings illustrating the worst. Wise’s Wizards and Warriors was an album decades beyond its time, spearheading and prophesizing the intimate attachment of the player to the score laid within the cart. Despite the hiccups in its fevered stitching, Wizards and Warriors remains one of the earliest and best examples of VGM exploiting a feeling. Some prefer later-era Wise, but I’ve always thought this was him at his most candid.

Essential Tracks: Forest Of Elrond / Outside The Castle / Inside The TreeTitle Screen

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 Listen: Title Theme

19. Skate Or Die/ Composers: Rob Hubbard / Kouji Murata/ Release Year 1988

When this list reaches completion, if nothing else, please remember the number one spot, and do not forget Skate or Die. For those who argue against the merits of 8-bit generated scores: you’ve truly not heard enough, nor have you heard the right pieces, and most certainly have had no acquaintance with the anarchic proclamations of Rob Hubbard and Kouji Murata’s Skate Or Die.

The orchestration here is beyond the scope of creatively barren company mandates, not by numbers created, nor its complexity stripped for the sake of cash: It’s real.

Skate or Die’s cassette tape demos can be likened to a runner’s high: air in the lungs, a tensing and then relaxing of muscles brazenly insistent on their own immortality, yielding only to moments without law or reason…physically letting go.

The gorgeously reworked album comes courtesy of Konami composer Kouji Murata, who burnishes the original’s instructions by increasing the tempo, lending a spangled falsetto to the treble, and un-muting whole channels of seemingly lost and questionably muddied, scuttled audio layers.

Despite the reins being handed over, this is ALL Murata’s show. Live and altogether unstable, Murata’s presence as a new front man, is one that gives all. Hours later, despite all those bottles to the head and all stage dives gone spectacularly wrong, Murata’s credible and exceptionally authentic. After all, if we are being real here, skate boarding is nothing more than a wheeled rock show waiting for a bit of glass.

 

Essential Tracks: Title Theme / Skate To Jam / Skating To Downhill / Skating To Pool Joust / Skating To Ramp Freestyle

Stay tuned next week for more of the very best NES soundtracks.

Dedicated to Jacob Thorp.

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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’ve been drawn into this game called Hohokum. It came out last year (forget that I’m late to the party, celebrate that I showed up), and it’s free for PS Plus users this month.

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There isn’t a tutorial, and the only sense I get that I’ve progressed is by collecting little eyeball-snake friends. I think I’ve collected four or five of them. The music is chill and responsive to objects you touch, although it’s not even the music that draws me to the game.

Hohokum is a gorgeous playground of randomness. You play as a long thin snakelike being with an eyeball at one end, making it look a ton like a giant sperm. While I found this distracting and odd at first, the beauty and exploration of the game make it a non-issue.

If you check out the work of artist Richard Hogg, you’ll get a good sense for what the game looks like. There are bright colors with simple shapes, and Hohokum is your playground within that art. Of all the games that tout some sort of meditative vibe, this takes the cake for me.

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thatgamecompany gives a strong showing in this “chillax” gaming category with titles like Flower and Journey, but even these games have semi-stressful levels with enemies to avoid. I’ve not encountered any sense of danger in Hohokum whatsoever. Sure, there are objects you’d better not touch, but it won’t kill you.

Even in Dear Esther, where the entire point of the game is to walk around and look at things, there was always this sense of wanting more – of wanting to be able to interact with items – of wanting to feel some sense of accomplishment.

This is absent in Hohokum.

I’ve put several hours into the game, and I still don’t quite understand the home world, or how you travel between areas. Sometimes, you’ll enter a portal from one world to the next, and then go back to that portal assuming you’ll return from whence you came, and this isn’t always the case. Now, if you’re in a fantasy MMO of some sort, and you expect to return, this is an issue. Not in Hohokum. It just doesn’t seem to matter. In some ways, it’s the perfect metaphor for life: Everything will be fine.

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In my mind, Hohokum is brilliant. You might ask yourself, or me, “What’s the point?”

I have no idea. I have no clue. I don’t know how many levels there are (I don’t want to look it up). At one point, I did a Google search for something along the lines of “red elephant bird hohokum” to see what I should do with a being described as such, but I never could come up with an answer. I carried the bird-elephant around until it hopped off on its own, purportedly to where it wanted to go.

This seriously is the first time in my life where I do not care what the end game is. I don’t care how to get to the end, and I don’t care if I collect all my eyeball sperm friends, because once you collect them, they don’t appear to do anything (I refuse to look that up too).

In many ways, and I’m certain the developer of Hohokum understands this carefree attitude to the game; it’s the perfect antidote to every other game I’m playing (right now, that includes Awesomenauts, Dungeon Hunter Alliance, Dragon Age: Inquisition, Ether One, and a word game on my iPhone).

Of course, once I pick up The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, I might forget all about Hohokum and how calm it makes me feel to play. I’ll check in with you next week!

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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.

Measuring the worth of hundreds of Nes musical scores isn’t something I would call an enviable task. For one, you’re somewhat limited by your own scope: what you’ve heard, what you love, and what your definition of classic consists of. No matter what you do, someone’s bound to disagree. Then, there are the lines that have already been drawn out: it’s been done to death; we’ve already seen this particular pattern play out… what could possibly be different here? Instantaneously, a short list of candidates begins forming inside the head: it’s Zelda, Metroid and Mario Brothers, or some switching of position of those three. So, I’ve chosen to disregard this common holy ground: You might not see them in this countdown…I know. BUT. If we can’t even have an open dialogue about what also might be just as worthy of those top spots, then we’re not being realistic. Let’s have some fun!

Agree or disagree, here are 25 of the very best NES soundtracks ever made.

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Listen: Castle Entrance

 25. Shadowgate/ Composer: Hiroyuki Masuno / Release Year 1989

Composer Hiroyuki Masuno, was no stranger to the crafting of beautiful things when he signed on with Japanese development house Kemco in 1985. Early on, Masuno’s arrangements show promise, and his employers, eager to build upon his sparse balsa wood compositions, are desperate to provide him with a fitting muse.1986’s Uninvited plays a minor footnote to 1988’s palatial Deja-Vu, but it is Masuno’s 1989 score for Kemco’s reinterpretation of Icom Simulation’s Shadowgate is where he finally leaves all fragility behind. Shadowgate is a sequestered bitter labor of protracted, carcinogenic stanzas and boreal darkness. All stone, all remoteness made possible through the draft created by Masuno’s frigid echo.

Essential tracks: Title Screen / Subterranean Cavern / Banquet Hall / Courtyard And of course…Castle Entrance

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Listen: Bernard’s Theme

 24. Maniac Mansion / Composers: David Warhol, George Sanger, David Hayes / Release Year 1990 

When looking back through all of your library of NES vinyl, one thing becomes alarmingly, glaringly apparent: Most musical scores were handled by a single individual. At the time, while integral to every game they were written for, the creation of these records was seen as nothing more than a burden put upon game development companies: It ranked a costly expenditure eating away at the collective’s profit margin. Why pay three musicians to do the work of 1? While this stingy method of corporate rancor may have thrived for most of the NES’s lifespan, there are those few rare instances of hiring a dedicated house band. David Warhol, George “The Fat Man” Sanger, his band “Team Fat” and David Hayes all had a hand in banging out Maniac Mansion’s schizophrenia, one frenetic jam session at a time. Maniac Mansion’s score is a towering monolith hemorrhaging thick, slovenly streams of both diatribe and compromise. The confusion all this interplay generates is fascinating, though, as the languages these composers speak tend to stumble over the others’ more complex dialect. Any effort made to make directions clearer, only adds to their voices growing louder, drowning out all aim and meaning. Sophisticated as it is entertaining, Maniac Mansion is potent math rock for 80’s console sects.

Essential Tracks: Dave’s Theme / Razor’s Theme/ Syd’s Theme/ Edison Family Tentacle theme/Bernard’s Theme

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Listen: Stage Theme

 23. Kung Fu /Composer: Koji Kondo / Release Year 1985 

Take a minute, and think of your favorite NES soundtrack. Now, strip and separate each and every layer that you can from it. What do you hear? Chances are, not much. The addition of sound on sound on sound works only when all the pieces are present. The melody you hum inside your head ceases to work once you’ve extracted some of the required pulp. Now, test it further: can you hear the tune in its entirety without omitting any of the piece’s subtler elements…on the blades of a moving ceiling fan? Try it. Can you hear it on the air? Composer Koji Kondo’s flawless translation of arcade coin-op Kung-Fu Master’s single theme in no way relies on the fattening of the anemic source material. Kondo’s take is one to one: Exact. Kung Fu’s rolling monotony, while admittedly meager, rubs on you like an infection, and hearing it for less than 5 minutes comes with a guarantee: As you’re lying there, trying to fall asleep for the night, you can still hear EVERY single inch of it mercilessly rotating overhead.

Essential Tracks: Stage Theme/s

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Listen: Stage 1 Theme

 22. Rygar/ Composer:Michiharu Hasuya /Release Year 1986

It’s 1986 and Tecmo’s Rygar is mere months from completion. Sadly, Composer Michiharu Hasuya’s ardent love of Red Sonia comics and Sundays spent full regalia in a small band of Japanese Amtguard enthusiasts have failed to reach the heights of immersion requested by his employer. Time had grown short, but looming deadlines can be kind. So what makes up Hasuya’s Rygar? All the leather as seen in Krull, all the official D&D rule books by TSR, and ALL the many legions of brass: Exhibit A: the noxiously loud trumpets from Stage 1… fairly hard to forget. Hasuya is THE barbarian, and not Lothar playing amongst barbarians. Heavy costuming aside, Hasuya’s exhaustingly physical musical presence demands examination and multiple replays.

Essential Tracks: Theme For Stage 2/ Theme For Stage 5/ Theme For Stage 6 / Overworld theme

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Listen: Second and Fourth Guardian

 21. Aliens 3/ Composer Jeroen Tel /Release Year1993 

By most accounts, the NES was a dead system by 1993. Yet, there were those still clinging to the innards of a machine whose carcass had no new secrets to reveal to whoever probed it. Dutch composer Jeroen Tel, however, would most likely relate a very different tale. Tel’s last and desperate act of NES console archeology produced this anomalous and sprawling corridor crawl: it’s not about what’s left to be uncovered, but what is already in situ. Aliens 3, however, isn’t just an assemblage of existing sound frames. NO. Tel’s redirection of the old circuitry, produces some rather brilliant scrambles of code. Aliens 3 is all hot solder, and dangerous sparking experiment.

Essential tracks: Prisoners Die , Missions 1 and 2, Missions 3 and 4,

Stay tuned next week as we continue the countdown.

What are some of your favorite NES soundtracks? Sound off below.

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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.

Did you ever play Black on PS2 or Xbox? EA Games released it in 2006. My cousin and I spent hours amounting to days trading off levels in Black. I waited years for Black 2 before I realized it would never come. In this time, I’m unsure what Black 2 would look like, other than another overly masculine first-person shooter. I’m content with my memories of Black the first, but I’d probably play the hell out of some kind of port.

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Black has a fabulous soundtrack, written by Chris Tilton and recorded at Newman Scoring Sound stage. Michael Giacchino co-wrote the theme, and Chris wrote the rest.

Listen to Tunnel Trouble. Listen for the muted trumpets (sounds a bit like this sort of). There are bassoons honking around underneath, then this great flute solo. The flutist is using a “flutter-tongue” technique – think of how you roll your Rs – it’s like that. It’s a neat section of acoustic music.

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I like Ambush as well, with its bits showing off French horns and the occasional cello. The tracks titled Bunker Buster and Bunker Buster #2 are variations on the motive that opens each cue. In effect, the first 12 notes you hear come back in various ways throughout the piece. If you drew a line in the shape of those first 12 notes, it would be an angular line. And even though the opening has six beats to the measure, it’s not long before Tilton starts mixing up the meters and we, as listeners, tend to lose our footing a bit. It’s an effective way to create anxiety for players.

Simplicity. Tilton’s soundtrack for Black is an excellent example of how to write a great score for a first-person shooter that uses an orchestra. Just an orchestra. It’s aural simplicity. I like it when composers to more with less. I’m a big fan of that. Hey, let’s see if we can get a port of Black for next-gen, huh?

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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.

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I participated in the Elder Scrolls Online beta on PS4 over the weekend. Overall, I enjoyed it. It’s a beautiful game, and it worked better than Skyrim did on PS3 at launch. That’s positive. I chose a Khajiit and named her Jün (all my characters in all games are named after my cat, June Bug. I’m that lady). In both Skyrim and Oblivion, I liked being an archer, so I got Jün a bow.

Playing an Elder Scrolls game on this new generation of console was certainly a dream come true. Jeremy Soule wrote the main theme for Elder Scrolls Online, which is darker than the previous two iterations (here’s Oblivion, and here’s Skyrim). The theme is in here, but it appears toward the end of the track.

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That’s all Jeremy wrote for ESO, though. Composer Brad Derrick wrote the rest, and from the hours I spent roaming around Auridon, he captured the mood I’ve come to expect from the Elder Scrolls. Here’s Auridon Sunrise. By the way, the sounds I expect from Elder Scrolls include lots of reverb, solo instruments with accompaniment, the instruments tend to be orchestral (things like English horn, violin) clear melodies that are memorable, location-specific and sing-able after I shut the game off.

One of my favorite parts about Oblivion and Skyrim: roaming around the landscape, seeing things I probably could see in real life if I could afford to travel anywhere, getting lost in the music and the view. I think there is room to do that in ESO, but I wasn’t keen on the idea of doing missions that require three friends to complete. I’m trying to recall if I’ve ever thought, Wow, I wish I could play Elder Scrolls with other people. It’s always been one of my favorite places to get lost, not to pal up.

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Oblivion was one of the first games I bought for PS3. It was the first time I’d ever played an RPG, in my entire life. I’d never played anything remotely similar to it. It took me until my second play-through to discover I could use magic to heal myself. Seriously.

I played it so many times, and none of them required another human being. It never occurred to me that that would improve my experience with Elder Scrolls. Thankfully, ESO includes missions you’re required to complete alone, so it’s not all social all the time. But it’s the ones that do require friends that bug me.

I’ve yet to meet a gamer who enjoys being told how to play the game.

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My other concern: in Oblivion and Skyrim, I could take full advantage of saving multiple times to replay sections if I killed the wrong person, or accidentally stole from a barrel or gave the wrong answer to a question.

This is not an option in ESO, not that I could figure. Maybe I’m not millennial enough to know how to work it.

Did you happen to play the beta this past weekend? Or have you played on PC for the last year?

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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.

First of all, if you’ve not played Awesomenauts, you have no excuse, because it’s on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, Mac, and Linux (whatever that is).

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Nauts is a MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena), so each team has a series of turrets to defend and a home base to prevent enemies from destroying. MOBAs like Dota 2 and League of Legends have a top-down view, but ‘Nauts is a side-scroller. Rather than a left, right and middle lane, the game has a top and bottom lane.

Four composers, who call themselves Sonic Picnic, wrote the music for ‘Nauts. That’s about as much as I know about them, other than they write great music and they’re from the Netherlands.

Nauts has 16 characters (plus four you can purchase – more on that in a moment). Once you choose to start a game, you have 60 seconds to choose one of those 16 characters. Each character has two individual themes. For instance, “Leon Chameleon” is apparently French, so his character theme is this hysterical French slow rock tune. If you choose to play Leon, you’ll hear his special character theme until the game begins. Once the battle gets going, if Leon happens to be on a killing spree, everyone in the game hears this music.

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“Leon Chameleon”

I recommend you check out all 16 character themes and all 16 killing spree tunes, but I’ll share some of my favorites! They’re all so good.

“Raelynn” is a sniper type, and might have my favorite character theme. My pal Josiah is a beast with Raelynn, although I’m useless. He picks her a lot, and we couch co-op this game (another great reason to own! couch co-op!), so I hear her themes often. Her killing spree song is virtually the same as her theme.

“Coco Nebulon” has a hoverboard she rides around on, so her music reminds me of surf rock. “Skølldir” is a big, Norse tank who can throw enemies long distances. Given his name and appearance, it’s fitting he has a Scandinavian death metal theme, and here’s his killing spree.

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“Coco Nebulon”

I love playing as “Froggy G”, and yeah, he’s a hip hop frog. Here’s his awesome theme. Froggy G, in my opinion, is deceptively dangerous, mostly because he’s very fast. What do I know, though, I die constantly when I’m playing real people online. The only time I ever hear killing spree music is when I’m practicing against the bots (on 20% difficulty). MOBAs are hard, man.

Anyway, the absolute best part of Froggy G is his killing spree music. Make sure you listen for the “ribbit”. Ayla’s theme consists of someone singing “Ayla” over and over again. That rules.” Admiral Swiggins”, well, wouldn’t you write a sea shanty for someone named Admiral Swiggins? Yup.

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“Froggy G”

It’s creative and adorable and fun. Well, maybe not always fun, unless you’re playing the bots on 20%. That can be fun.

‘Nauts was a part of the PS4 Flash sale this weekend, for $2.50. It won’t break the bank, by any means. I paid the full price, ten bucks, and I’ve not bought anything else for the game. There are micro-transactions, however they aren’t essential to the game in any way. If you want all 20 characters, yes, you need to buy the other four. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve encountered these other characters during online gameplay. The sixteen characters the game already has are so enjoyable that I’ve concluded most of us are satisfied with those. Other transactions include special character skins. Some of these skins cost more than SEVEN DOLLARS, and I paid ten for the game.

Play this game. Do custom rounds or practice rounds with bots on a low difficulty setting. You can do these custom rounds with or without friends (no strangers in the custom rounds!). If nothing else, listen to the soundtrack, and enjoy a musical tour around the Awesomenauts globe.

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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.

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The original Mortal Kombat was an idea with little or no interest in long-term fitness. Why bother to fixate about upcoming sequels that hadn’t been green-lit? The money had yet to be made. At this pupa stage, investors were unlikely to shovel bottomless capital at either of the series creators Ed Boon and John Tobias. Yet, somehow between their derelict backyard steady-cam video shoots, their ingenious sleight of hand, and their earnest, willing circle of friends, Mortal Kombat’s creation became an arresting and industry-altering D.I.Y. empire. Key to their placement at the top tiers of the fighting game scene of the early 90’s was composer Dan Forden’s opulent original score/s, and that will be the focus of this article. I will not, however, encompass the entire compositional history of Mortal Kombat, but instead focus on Forden’s albums for the first three games of the series.

Here are four of the best compositions from Mortal Kombat 1, 2 and 3.

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#4: The Subway( As heard in Mortal Kombat 3)

Having spent the years preceding 1992 germinating as a seedling, the Mortal Kombat of 1995 had reached its peak as a full blown glitterati pop phenomenon. Mortal Kombat 3 brings with it all the baggage of any boozed-up, over-worked rock star. It’s looking a bit peaked, a bit treaded on and a bit jealous of anyone who’s seen more than an hour’s worth of sleep: It’s had none. The work though, had been noticed. The excessive licensing, the branding of cartoons, its casual invasion of lunchboxes and figurines bearing its likeness were flooding retail channels. All of this brings money: lots and lots of money. The production of Mortal Kombat 3 was an affair completely removed from the squeamish anorexic budgets of old, and was replaced by a meter-less always running clock with no set time constraint or due date for the finished work to be delivered. Every time an alarm rang, more cases of money arrived, and they would keep arriving and arriving…and arriving. The term “When it’s done” became short-hand speak for exfoliating the very deepest layers of Midway’s coffers. For composer Dan Forden, this meant the fullest, most realized scale orchestration he had yet produced. “The Subway” is a moment of crystallization, and it remains so as it gathers shards from every patch of DNA the franchise had inherited over its short 3 year rise to celebrity. Everything is here. From its promotional mob-rule fist bumping commercials, to its ridiculous melding of machismo chop-sockey ka-ra-te ala Lovecraft. The Subway delegates equal pieces of industrial synth versus noxious yet beautiful butt-rock like no other tune before or after. Head banging is required and not optional.

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#3. TIE Listen: The Living Forest Listen: Air Combat

Imagery is everything to Mortal Kombat, by either suggestion or direct visual cue, and in Mortal Kombat 2, the series poised and ready, looked as if it had been remodeled by minds saturated and poisoned by a litany of late 70’s to early 80’s metal album covers. Floating druids? Check. Bondage? Check. Skull fetishes? Check. Some form of Iron Maiden in either the literal device meaning or allusion to Bruce Dickinson’s long heralded metal super group? Check! While these albums may or may not have been part of Forden’s own musical genesis, he plays along superbly with the given set of directions. At times creaking and gnarled, Forden plays up the ridiculous master and servant leather camp with all the concrete focus of some black magic priest. It seems effortless, and Forden’s Living Forrest is a flawless appraisal of the tortured unclean spirit that is both intrepid and visceral. Air Combat exemplifies further Forden’s knack of drawing out the phantasms within, and he turns the standard Mortal Kombat trade paperback into a gritty graphic novel visualization with some percentage of Def Leoppard’s Rock Of Ages mixed live and high octane caterwaul with the more silver studded of Judas Preist’s most uncomfortable wardrobe. Gunter Glieben Glauchen Globen!

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#2. Listen: Warrior Shrine(As heard in Mortal Kombat)

 Having borne witness to the origins of the original Mortal Kombat, I recall the exact moment of departure from its heavily vested persona of the darkened, dangerous mystic to inebriated slurring comedian sloth. Look no further than the Baballity and the Friendship. These devices, while entertaining, served to detract from Mortal Kombat’s own hard won mythos. Which is one of the reasons why Dan Forden’s original Mortal Kombat long-player is also one of his very best. Of these highest honor candidates is Mortal Kombat’s Warrior Shrine. Forden’s Shrine is a work of slow-marination, a searing of Boon and Tobias’s initial unsullied, unclouded ultra-violent vision, and he makes that permanently. Forden gathers all these disparate elements, both benign and integral, weaving the two designers’ more general touchstones of John Carpenter films and multi-colored karate gi’s into something starkly rancorous and evil. Forden’s initial score is not only about generating a slight discompose from players, but it is also meant to agitate them greatly long after the session with the machine has ended. It’s supposed to be absolutely unsettling and something about it feels a bit cursed. You’re meant to walk away feeling a bit jarred and disoriented. I know it, because I felt all of the above the instant my initial encounter with the first Mortal Kombat machine had ended: so much so, that I even remember the exact date. October 24th, 1992. It’s a fantastic but chilling memory that was made all the more redolent by Forden’s blighted material.

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#1. Listen: The Pit (as heard in Mortal Kombat )

FINISH HIM!

What? You were expecting something else? Something LONGER? Wrong.

A very special thanks and the absolute highest of praise to the genius of Dan Forden and his incredible decades of work.

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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.

The two best pieces of music from Dragon Age: Inquisition aren’t on the soundtrack. I find it odd that they’re my two favorites, because they’re both combat tracks. I personally find myself worn down after a lot of combat music (unless Jesper Kyd wrote it), but fighting to this music was one of the best gaming experiences I’ve ever had.

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Do you hear that? The best gaming experiences I’ve ever had!

Exhibit A: We’ll just call this one “Extended Combat” music by Trevor Morris. It’s fast, in 7/8 (meaning there are seven beats to a measure, rather than any other number divisible by 2 or 3). You hear this music during a couple select fights, one being the Haven fight. The music, through its harmonies, instrumentation, meter, and everything else it is – it’s weighty and sad, with that tinge of hope. The sorrowful melody epitomizes the battle at hand: you’re losing friends, allies, and resources, and you must fight to save everything that’s left. And if you don’t hurry, or try to help, more people will die; people who helped you build what the Inquisition has become to that point in the game. “Key” NPCs can die (although no one on your team).

That music makes me want to save them. The meter (the 7/8 part, where there are seven beats to a measure, and yeah, they go by fast), the meter is uneven, right? Seven is an uneven number, divisible by none. So it almost feels as though the musicians are skipping a heartbeat, and this creates anxiety in the listener. It almost had to be in 7/8, really. It’s quite common to hear battle music in 7/8, to be honest.

I’m crushed this isn’t on the soundtrack. We have YouTube, thankfully, and folks out there willing to loop stuff like this for people like me. On to the next…

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Exhibit B: Calling it “Vinsomer Battle Theme” by Trevor Morris. Even more crushed about this one, this is so unfortunate. It’s also unfortunate I couldn’t find a video with better audio, but alas, this was the best I could do.

This is not in seven, but a nice normal four. The tempo here is much, much slower, but the pulse gains its momentum from the percussion and the ostinato (repeated pattern) in the strings. The horns are so effing amazing in this song. They don’t sound real to me, sadly, but a girl can dream.

Interesting how Trevor Morris creates the same sense of urgency, of hope and of sorrow in this piece, even as different as it is from the previous track.

You hear this particular cue so rarely in the game, although it’s the soundtrack for several of the dragon fights. P.S. Those dragon fights are so amazing omg.

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I’m glad I found these on YouTube, because I love this music so very much. The Vinsomer theme has been in my head for about two weeks straight. I hope you enjoy them both!

Do you have examples of songs you couldn’t find on a soundtrack?

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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, I never thought it would get this bad: Video game collecting I mean. I’ve talked to you about this scourge before: buckets of money I don’t actually have in my account soullessly sopped up procuring limited editions and musty old NES carts. You know all about my trembling trigger fingers on a closing Ebay auction, and you can imagine with great detail those MANY weeks I’ve gone hungry just to satisfy some slaving collection taskmaster. Thing is that’s NOTHING. When you start collecting, you start small, you stay domestic, and you make rookie mistakes. BUT. As your hubris grows with confidence, you begin to look East, and that’s when the logistical and financial nightmares truly begin. Yes, you’ve decided to import from Japan. My condolences to you and your soon-to-be bewildered direct deposit checking account. Here’s a quick guide to some of my most favorite and most trusted online Japanese videogame retailers who just so happen to ship to the United States.

I wasn’t going to let you do it all alone! We’re pals you know.

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 4. Play-Asia.com-

Play-Asia?

Sure, you may be rolling your eyes, you expected this old war horse, didn’t you?

It can be argued at some length that the flagship Japanese exporter has seen better days, but I’m guessing like many of us, you started here, and to this day, you’re still a frequent customer, albeit with some hesitation. It’s become increasingly, and in some cases, outrageously overpriced. I seem to recall a Premium Edition Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain for the cost of a first class ticket to Medford Oregon. You COULD be a part of Medford’s legendary Red Robin Spring Fling Brunch complete with indoor waterslide, but INSTEAD, you’ve chosen the come hither of a disembodied set of metal fingers. I should know, I bought this very same prosthesis and denied myself the very same trip. Anyway, the recent increase in overall pricing and a new highly taciturn policy regarding cancellation of orders are indeed hiccups, but it doesn’t undermine their history of excellence when it comes to regular boxed Japanese releases. The sheer whale enormity of the catalog on offer makes Play-Asia a fantastic option: for those just starting out, or those so old to the game, the customer service agents know them by name or ridiculous pseudonym. They groan as the screen flashes with yet another angry follow-up email they will need to answer. Yes, that’s me…but only sometimes.

PROS

  • Trusted brand.
  • Secure payments through Paypal.
  • Prodigious library of games and video game soundtracks and some film.

CONS

  • Returns and cancellations are best left to a multilingual legal counselor.
  • Prices and shipping frequently draw out breathless gasps.

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3. Ami Ami Character and Hobby Shop- You’d be wrong to think Ami Ami ONLY does figures. Though it may appear that way from a passing glance, Ami Ami actually plays all manner of cards. Videogames (regular/limited/collector’s editions), Manga, DVD, Blu-Ray, books, actual card games, model kits and of course…high end figures. On top of all this, you wouldn’t believe it, but most everything is actually quite affordable. Another thing to note, their used stock is well…not really used. A couple of months ago, I purchased a “used” Mercedes figure ( a character from Vanillaware’s peerless Odin Sphere game) I expected signs of wear, maybe paint chipping or fading, anything that might reveal the item’s true nature. NOTHING. The box was still sealed; the figure was still perfect, and it was still classified as used. It’s much too labyrinthine a term in Japanese, I suppose, where they are still trying to nail down and decide upon its exact meaning. As it stands now, used lies along the lines of being gently pressed upon during manufacture. One thing to be aware of when ordering from Ami Ami, your first order must be paid in full upon check-out and through Paypal. For in-stock items, this is of course expected, but for pre-orders the same rules apply. Think of it as a small tax to become part of a very exclusive club. After you’ve made that initial purchase, however, all your pre-order items can be paid at a later time, closer to their shipment date. Ami Ami will send you an invoice once your goods have arrived, or in most cases two weeks prior to their release, and you will have 7 days to pay. This is a fantastic option, but it’s one that can get you into trouble if you fail to make the purchase on time. Ami Ami will suspend your account and you will no longer be able to order from them. On this, there is NO debate. Be upstanding about your orders though, and you’ve nothing to worry about.

PROS

  • Used figures have no comprehension of what the term actually means.
  • Prices are usually a notch or two lower than most other import sites.
  • Offers diverse spectrum of goods from figures and trading cards to video games.

CONS

  • First order has to be paid in full upfront. Really though, that is not a con.

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 2. Nippon-Yassan.com-It’s a DELICATE thing when you’re first branching out from under the safety of trusted websites. BUT. Something happens, and you’ll suddenly have no choice. Let’s say your premium edition of some game based off the console wars has suddenly and unceremoniously sold-out on all the websites you usually frequent. GONE. How will you pre-order now? Ebay? No, that’s a last option, and one that usually admits you’ve been defeated. You still have fight in you, I know it. So you begin a search in earnest. Just who can be trusted though? Then, up comes Nippon-Yassan.com. Things look good: Site looks legitimate, stock updates look current, and prices…they’re really LOW. This is too good to be true? NOPE. I stumbled across this last year in an attempt to secure that gorgeous E-Capcom Strider set, which…I did, and I did it through Nippon-Yassan. The adage at least for now and probably not for long, is that if everybody else is out, there’s always Nippon. Why people don’t come here first is beyond me. You’re paying the lowest end possible for just about everything on the site, even shipping is a few dollars cheaper than most everywhere else. Making orders is a painless process, and for pre-orders you’re given the option to pay up front or just before release. Much like Ami Ami though, Nippon will also cancel accounts for unpaid orders so again, order within your means. Customer service is courteous and quick to respond to inquiries with the turnaround in some cases being mere minutes. Nippon-Yassan is quickly yet quietly becoming the platinum standard for all import video game shops.

PROS

  • Most absolutely EVERYTHING.

CONS

  • A somewhat limited catalog.

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1. Solaris Japan.com-Following up Nippon-Yassan is tough. Solaris Japan however takes the top spot on this list for a number of reasons, not least of which they have actual boots on the ground. Need something a bit harder to find? Need something older? Check them out first. Last year, I ordered hundreds of dollars worth of hard to find Resident Evil and Metal Gear Solid stuff. All of it new, all of it discounted heavily when compared against a vast number of Ebay sellers and online import shops. In one instance, I saved almost 200 dollars. Solaris Japan looks frequently to adjust their prices. If one day, you stop in and the price is a little high, come back next week, as chances are the price has dropped, in some cases, significantly. This is the fervor of a young retailer actively battling those who’ve already dug in their heels. This also means that the contact you have with Solaris is one on one. Anytime I had a question, I dealt with the same person, and quickly got to know his name. On the single occasion that I had a problem with my order, that same person not only shipped out a replacement that very evening, but covered my expenses in returning the product in question. You won’t find that sort of service anywhere in dealing with these online video game storefronts. Solaris Japan brings back the idea that the customer is not just a moment at the point of sale, but a relationship to further and nurture continuously. The products were always exactly as described, the packing was always impeccable, and the price was always surprisingly competitive. Solaris Japan should be at the top of your shortlist when it comes to navigating the confusion and disorientation that accompanies buying video games from Japan.

PROS

  • All that money wants!

CONS

  • Money runs out eventually leaving you haphazard, stumbling and in a state of constant nameless desire.
  • Your wallet has been warned. See you next week.

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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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