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I had an enlivening experience this week.  I put a potential gamer and a good game together to create a match made in heaven.  May their experience forever be bliss.

I’ve written before that the idea of getting non-gamers to enjoy video games involves getting past that whole “game” part.  Whereas other forms of art involve more esoteric forms of challenges, video games embody an obvious one.  Regardless, I don’t act defeated.  Despite every person who laughs when I talk about my favorite thing to do, I always look for that single drop of curiosity – that twinkle in the eye.  Maybe it requires an extra modicum of watchfulness that other gamers do not possess or are not willing to maintain, but you wouldn’t believe how many people find themselves suddenly interested.

On Sunday, I had some friends over, and one friend out of the blue mentioned that he’s been playing “Mario.”  After some mild questioning, I managed to suss out that he meant Super Mario Galaxy. He expressed that he found it interesting, but it was just too tough.  That is not particularly hard to fathom. Suddenly being tasked with controlling a being in a 3D environment while avoiding obstacles can be very overwhelming.  Personally, I did not make the transition very smoothly.  My experiences with Mario 64 and Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time were downright hilarious.  Regardless, I asked my friend if he liked the game, and he confirmed it but lamented that games, as an entity, seemed challenging.

supermariogalaxy

I’m already disoriented.

My gears instantly began to work. I did not want to lose this one.  So I got to interviewing him about his particular interests.  I completely understood what he found challenging. Starting your gaming interest with Super Mario Galaxy or other games like it is like being given a jet and being asked to fly it. It’s intimidating (and could result in death).  First, I explained to him what a platformer was.  While this kind of explanation could bore someone wholly uninterested, I knew it would help him on his path to true video game enjoyment.  I asked him if he liked the idea of playing more games like that, which he did. Then, to see where we could take this, I asked if he’d like something deeper with a story or more thinking involved, which he did.  In my mind, this could lead to other good platformers, but it could also leads to traditional RPGs where the majority of the challenge is in thinking as opposed to execution.

What could I give him that would be a positive experience?  I just recently finished Okami (for the fourth time) – the game is beautiful and wonderful and fun and…no, it’s too much.  The first thing to consider is the buttons.  One thing my friend said was, “There were just so many buttons to learn.”  Let’s not forget that the vast majority of people who don’t game last remember playing the original Nintendo Entertainment System or even an Atari.  In terms of in-game functionality, we’re talking one or two buttons and a directional pad or stick at most to beat a game.  On the Playstation 3, for example, most games take full advantage of the Dualshock 3 pad, which involves two analog sticks and 16 individual buttons.  Don’t even get me started on motion controls that are often shoehorned in.  Alright, Okami‘s out.  What’s next?

Okami

Deceptively serene. 

I don’t own a Wii, so I couldn’t give him a classic game to play from that bygone era. I’d have to turn to indie games!  They focus a lot on platforming and very simplified experiences.  My first thought was Outland.  Again, this might have been because the game is so darn beautiful, but it had another element that I thought important – it starts simple and becomes progressively more challenging.  Moreover, it involves a lot of puzzle solving.  However, Outland also posed a problem. It gets challenging kind of quickly, and executing the solutions to puzzles involves quick reflexes and, you know, button mastery.  No, that one won’t do.  Why don’t I just give him Ikaruga and open the window so he can jump out?  Ugh.

Ikaruga

…No.

So I sat with him on the couch and looked through what I had downloaded already from PSN, and while scrolling, I hung for a few seconds on LIMBO, before moving further down the list just to see. But my friend asked, “Wait. What’s LIMBO?”  It all clicked then, and I launched the game and gave him the controller.  LIMBO is perfect because it does something many games don’t do. It actually teaches the player how to play modern games. So deceptively didactic, it works like a charm. It had the beauty of Okami and Outland (and a million other amazing games) and it had the progressively challenging gameplay that Outland features, but it lacks the immediacy with which one would feel inundated from a first-person shooter like BioShock or a wild adventure game like Bayonetta.  LIMBO”s story is also more simple and approachable than an RPG, at least in terms of trying to hook someone in under an hour.  I’d hate to make a friend sit through a promising 20-minute cut scene only to be overwhelmed and die during the first battle.

Outland

Not for the faint of heart.

I don’t know that all experiences with introducing a non-gamer to a game can turn out so fortuitously, but he was hooked from the first minute.  The mood, the environment, the mystery about what is going on all lured him in, and the simple gameplay held his hands steadfast to the controller.  What LIMBO does differently is that it starts with a boy lying in a field who does nothing. The game doesn’t tell you to do anything, and it’s clear that out of some frustration, you’ll become tempted to start tapping buttons. Tapping X opens his eyes.    Tapping it again moves him a little.  Soon, he is standing up.  OK.  Now what?  This stick seems to move him, but I’ll fall down that ditch.  One of these buttons has to do something to go over the ditch, right?

So it goes until you reach a point where you absolutely need to grab something and move it with you in order to proceed.  Then, there’s a point where your solution is not further right; it’s actually back where you came from to the left. Sometimes, you’ll hear a sound you never heard before, and because you keep dying, you’re inclined to investigate it.  Don’t get me wrong. In terms of quickly digesting the experience, LIMBO isn’t perfect.  At one point my friend kept trying to float across a pool of water on a box that get dropping him, causing him to drown.  Eventually, I asked him what the definition of insanity was.  I tried to be absolutely subtle and as minimalistic as possible in my hints.  As much as I believed he could figure most of it out on his own, I wanted him to feel nothing but progress on this journey that we were actually taking together.

LIMBO

Fitting first steps.

My friend doesn’t own a video game console to play LIMBO, but when I revealed that it’s available for Mac, he was excited all over again.  That’s something else to keep in mind.  Don’t introduce people to games they’ll only be able to play at your place, especially if you don’t see them that often.  Make them want to go home and continue.  Give them the tools they need to feed the passion themselves.  Also, don’t be too dismayed if your friends don’t instantly change their lifestyles to meet yours.  That will probably never happen.  Although it sounds condescending, like a child, you must only encourage.  Everything that happens from there will make you prouder.

The next day, I told my boss about my experience, and he called me “some sort of video game matchmaker.”  I like that.  It’s a role I constantly try to play, and I consider success maintaining someone’s interest while I talk.  The moment I convince someone not to dismiss gaming is the moment that turning him or her onto games becomes possible.  I will leave you with these tips from this and other different experiences.

  1. Focus on the person’s own interests.  I’d love to show people the brilliance of Asura’s Wrath‘s over-the-top battles and L.A. Noire‘s facial mapping, but I have to remember that the setting, the gameplay, or both might be unappealing to someone who likes science fiction or puzzles in the newspaper.
  2. Use your knowledge of games to ask questions.  You can’t shove a person into any game.  Bring up gameplay concepts and genres to see what even tangentially catches his or her fancy.
  3. Have a diverse library of games, or know how to access one easily.  Frankly, if all you play are first-person shooters or real-time strategy games, your collection could be alienating.  Get to know games you aren’t playing to help this along.
  4. Think a suggestion through.  This is related to the above tips, but it really pays to consider if someone who hasn’t touched a controller since 1983 can handle 3D movement and trigger assignments.
  5. Make the person play the game.  You and I may love watching people play games, but you showing the game off is not the same experience.  You’ll never find out if it’s the right or wrong match if you play it in front of your friend.  Nobody’s watching your fingers.
  6. Don’t be afraid to try something else.  I get it.  The game you chose is amazing, but your friend has a glazed look over his eyes.  Move on.
  7. Recommend something accessible.  If your friend only has a Mac or a work laptop, the latest AAA blockbuster either won’t be available or won’t work.  Don’t ignore the tons of games that are available and do function.

What about you, The Reader?  Have you ever had an experience turning someone onto games for the first time?  Do you remember someone getting you into them?  Maybe you have some tips to share that I glossed over.  Leave me some comments!

——————–

Gil is a video game enthusiast and professional meanderer. When he’s not giving people his unsolicited grammar corrections, he is out and about seeking exciting food and even more exciting single-player experiences. He’s got one of them Twitters (@gilmeansjoy) and a blog or something (fromthebacklog.blogspot.com).

As a kid, my family inherited a lot of furniture from relatives. We once got this huge console record player/stereo system. It was about the size of a coffin and had a large lid (also not unlike a coffin) and was used in my family as an end table catchall for pictures, doodads, and other random knick-knacks.  I actually didn’t even realize it housed a stereo unit inside of it until one day when I kicked the edge of it and the lid popped up an inch or two. I cleared everything off the top and lifted the wooden lid. Inside was a large, recessed stereo radio, an 8-track tape slot, and a fully functioning turntable. I looked behind the unit to see if it was connected. It wasn’t, and the gap between the wall and the unit was too small to reach a hand down to plug it in.  Eventually, I shoved the gargantuan contraption away from the wall and hooked it up.

StereoConsole1

Coffin full-a-BOOM

I turned it on.  A very loud, deep fuzz crackled out of the speakers.  There was no antenna, so I couldn’t get any radio reception.  My mom had some 8-track tapes, but I didn’t know where she kept them.  Records! I had records! So I pulled out my Mary Poppins record.  What?  You didn’t have a Mary Poppins soundtrack on vinyl when you were a kid? Puh-lease.  I set the record to play and was hit with some of the deepest, richest tones I had ever heard. Ok, it wasn’t very clear but it was loud and hit you in the gut like Dick Van Dyke never could before.  And this thing got LOUD.  It was about this time my mom came in to tell me to turn it down a bit. So I did, a bit.

Eventually, I had to put it all back together, close the lid, put the quilt back on and put all the crap back that was on it before since there wasn’t really any place for these things, which is why they ended up there in the first place.  I began to push the console back up against the wall and upon inspecting the back panel, I noticed two RCA IN connectors. I may have been only 9 or 10 but I knew wires, connection types, and the basic laws of conductivity. This means I could theoretically plug anything with an audio out into this machine.  First thing I try? My NES.

The NES was capable of stereo sound, but it only had one RCA audio out which I think was essentially split mono. This would be the red RCA connector on the side of the box. The yellow one carried the video signal if you were routing it to a TV with RCA inputs. So I cleared the top of this wooden sarcophagus again, grabbed the longest RCA cable I could find and routed the NES to one of the two input jacks. Turned the contraption on.  It had a warm hiss of its own. Turned the NES on, pop! Bzzz! And for as much detail as I’m adding here, I can’t for the life of me remember what game was in there at the time. I want to say Castlevania but it could have easily been Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers.

NES

“You hear that new Rescue Rangers joint?”

At any rate, those musty speaker boxes attached to the “end zones” of the console pushed out such a loud, warm sound. A sound I had never heard any game machine emit or any entertainment center reproduce. Not only did these simple bleepy bloopy compositions feel heavy and larger than life but it had a tangible quality to it as well, no doubt due to the high noise floor we’d be dealing with here.  These noises became songs, these songs became identities – the world of music and gaming were meshing for me and I couldn’t look back. I couldn’t bear a quiet game, nor could I play one very long whose compositions were lacking or otherwise offensive to the ear. All of a sudden, everything mattered.

Subsequently, I became obsessed with hooking up other devices to the wooden console after learning more about wire splicing and custom adapters.  I hooked up Game Boys, Game Gears, Commodore 64’s, musical instruments, microphones… if it had audio out, I was running it through this machine.  I ultimately smuggled the console into my room for future experiments in NOISE.

It was a turning point for me. Game music could sound great! Game audio is important and impacts a player’s perception and immersion. I think it was at that point that I was on a collision course with gaming and sound as a career, but I didn’t know it quite yet.

——————–

Tony Porter holds a degree of science in Audio Engineering with extended studies in Game Development. He is currently an audio engineer at n-Space in Orlando, FL and has produced or managed audio for numerous games such as Skylanders Giants (3DS), Square/Enix’s Heroes of Ruin, the portable Call Of Duty series for Activision, and the BAFTA nominated Great Big War Game, among dozens of other titles across all platforms.

 

When the PlayStation Blogcast announced a couple weeks ago that Katamari Damacy (2004) was coming to the PlayStation Network, I was thrilled.

If you’ve never played Damacy or any other Katamari game, I’m not entirely sure what to say to you.  Katamari is an experience, not a game.  An experience in which you roll a ball (your ‘katamari’) around that picks up stuff, making your katamari larger.  And I mean ‘stuff’ in the broadest terms; your katamari begins picking up small objects, like ants or tacks or coins.  As it expands in size, so do the objects you can pick up with it.  Dude.  You can pick up clouds and planes.

All of this is odd. Odd in a sense of – who comes up with this?

In addition to all of that, the music is amazing. AMAZING.

First of all, it’s all super happy. Even better, it’s like chiptunes electronica, but sort of jazzy too. Composer Yu Miyake wrote many of the songs (the other five composers were Asuka Sakai, Akitaka Tohyama, Yoshihito Yano, Yuri Misumi, and Hideki Tobeta).

Miyake said director Keita Takahashi gave them no instructions about what kind of music to write.  They were simply allowed to create the music they thought worked best.  I love when composersare given that freedom.  Sadly, Katamari soundtracks are import only, but you can check it out on YouTube if you haven’t had a chance to roll your own katamari.

22_katamari_PS2

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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 cats Atticus, June Bug and Lee, and loves gaming, with or without friends.

I’ve been playing a lot of Skyrim lately, because I never had the chance to really max out my Khajiit. I named her after Beethoven’s only opera. Somehow, I feel more nerdy.

In any event, I’ve been kicking around Skyrim on and off over the past couple weeks, and I can’t stop thinking about Fallout 3.

And that makes me think of Inon Zur’s score for Fallout 3.

So I tried something whilst roaming Bethesda’s Nordic landscape the other day: I turned down Jeremy Soule’s music all the way (feeling as though I’d go straight to hell for it) and turned on Inon’s Fallout 3 soundtrack.

It wasn’t supposed to work at all, but sometimes the music was surprisingly cohesive to the environment. In fairness, I was usually on a horse when Inon’s music worked the best. Also, it was pretty great fighting a dragon with Fallout 3 combat music playing in the background.

But it’s true; you can’t properly separate Jeremy’s Skyrim score from the landscape of the game. And you shouldn’t. Jeremy and Inon both wrote music for specific lands and times.

 

Khajiit 1

 

So what did I learn? Couple of things. First, I learned that Fallout 3 would be even more rad with Shouts and archery, and that Skyrim needs a Pip Boy (I mean, they totally could do these things, they have those powers). Second, I realized I wouldn’t change one thing about either soundtrack.

——————–

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.

It’s with some regret that our first meeting is one of tears, but you see, the Commander… he’s not doing so well.  He’s not ill, no smallpox, no inflammation of the lower intestine, no sudden life-threatening thyroid condition, but… he’s disappearing.  I knew he would eventually, but we got on so well together, why believe anything so contrary?  He bought us a house, put down Gladiolas. It’s been years since those churlish Reapers stopped delivering their shoddily made penny-saver circulars, but he still churns his stirabout nervously every morning, goes lumbering to bed throwing off his steel greaves, breath clouding his helmet visor. Still though, there was time each day for popcorn, terrible jazz standards and bocce.  Why leave?  So yes, the Commander is not doing well; but what’s more, I’m doing much worse. Because in a very short order, I will complete Mass Effect 3, and my friend Shepard will be gone. His many heavy, ingot armors left to rust and house harmless spiders and junebugs… Who will drive his Normandy?  I will be alone.

mass-effect

Purchase the soundtrack here

I will always remember how we met. It was his music…. it’s what made me take notice in the first place.  The man knows his way around a Moog. It’s the dead of space but to Shepard, it’s channeling the Banana Wind of a young Jimmy Buffet gone positively cast iron! Wardrobe changes, sashaying amongst the curtains… He’s tender, lyrical, positively Macbethian. It was a show not to be missed. The guy can irritate.  He’s cheap, socially inept; he got out of paying last month’s rent.  But I joined him, we traveled, battled… time went on.

mass-effect1We’ll need your Moog.

I will miss his cad wordplay, his tongue always finding new, deadpan ways to express his disappointment in you.  But he still wants you along for the latter acts, the cabaret numbers.  I will lament the absence of his sophomoric poetry and his contemptible taste in leggings.  It was upon reaching the ingress of Mass Effect 3’s intro screen (the one where we find the Reapers have taken to riding Earth bareback) that it hit me. This last hampered leg of our legato world tour would be one accompanied by tombs: mine, his. We might even dig them together. So as the images onscreen strained to make small talk, pleading me to ‘Press Start,’ the minutes slipped to an hour. I sat there staring, unwilling to make hay. The stagnant constriction of lumps in my throat, my hands clamped around joystick, it was absolute paralysis.

I have waited this long to play Mass Effect 3 for no other reason than to delay bidding the Commander farewell. All the minerals we have collected together, all the bumpy rides in his moon-roving carriage — I have dragged him away, soused and mid-monologue, from so many neon terrestrial taverns just as they send round the hammer.  Shepard likes his drink. This is it! I might amble myself out his way again so we can reminisce, but we will never be closer than we are right now.  It’s going to turn through my head for a long time, I will cry… but then I will remember Shepard owes me money, and I’ll think to myself: Death is kind…It’s the relationship we have….

Mass Effect orbit

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

It’s easy to talk about games, isn’t it?  If I ask you to tell me about one of your favorite games, I’m sure you would. I could ask about your favorite characters, scenes, stories, sound effects, actors, genres, artists, developers… and music.

That’s pretty much why I’m here – to talk about music in games.  I’m told I can write about games in general, but I’m here to tell you, I’ll mostly be talking about music.

I’d say music could make or break a game, but that’s not always true, since we tend to have the option to turn it off during gameplay.  And yeah, I’ve done that before; hasn’t everyone?

What I usually end up doing, though, is turning down slightly the effects and the speech, and crank up the tunes.  Unless it’s Dead Space, which should only be played with all lights on and all sound off.

To be fair, there’s something special about game audio in general.  The reason Dead Space is so terrifying stems from the relationship between the sound in the environment and the music Jason Graves wrote.

The marriage (if you will) of string chords with headshots in BioShock Infinite is a remarkable design element.

Music has always been a part of games, which will never change. So, LET’S TALK.

——————–

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 masters 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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