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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.


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.


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.


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?


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).


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.


“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.


“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.


“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.


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.


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.


#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.


#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!


#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.


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


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.


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.


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…


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.


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?


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.

playasia (1)



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.


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


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


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.


  • 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.


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


 2.’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 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.


  • Most absolutely EVERYTHING.


  • A somewhat limited catalog.


1. Solaris Japan.comFollowing 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.


  • All that money wants!


  • 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.


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’m gonna throw you a bone today, and encourage you to download a game that’s been out since 2010, and then get its sequel that just came out four months ago. Your enjoyment of these games depends largely on whether or not you enjoy co-op gaming, particularly couch co-op.


Crystal Dynamics released Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light in 2010. It’s a little puzzle game with an isometric view. You and your friend choose to play either Lara or Totec, her partner throughout the experience (plus, “Totec” is fun to say randomly while you play together).

Lara and Totec have different skills – Lara’s grapple helps her, and Totec, get to hard-to-reach spots; Totec has a spear Lara can jump on to climb, and he’s blessed with a shield. Simple skills, but Crystal Dynamics implements them creatively, requiring players to work together to solve puzzles.


My best friend of all best friends, Josiah, is my special gaming buddy. We adore couch co-op (he doesn’t have a console), and we’ve dumped hundreds of hours into games like Diablo 3, Dead Nation, Call of Duty split-screen chaos, Dungeon Hunter: Alliance (such an amazing game), and we’ve recently started Helldivers (not far enough to give you a review, but it seems promising!).

When we discovered these Lara Croft games, we instantly fell in love. We finished both games fairly quickly, but the replay value is ridiculously high because of all of the challenges (I think I’ve spoken to you about how much I adore silly challenges). There are points challenges, speed challenges, and various tests like “make it through this hectic falling bridge section without dying”.


Bring it on. I love it.

Josiah and I are working our way through the challenges in the Guardian of Light before we return to the newer title, Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris.

Osiris just came out in December, a downloadable game with several hours of gameplay. It goes quickly, but again, there are challenges and worthwhile rewards for completing the challenges, so we know we’ll get another dozen or so hours out of it.


It’s comforting when a developer can find that balance between repetition and reward – how many times will we need to repeat a level to “win” whatever that ultimate reward is, and is it even worth the trouble? This is a question facing millions of Destiny players since September.

Josiah and I were searching for games exactly like these Lara Croft titles, and we’ve not regretted a single moment playing them. He doesn’t like the second game, Osiris, as much as I do. I found it to be a satisfying sequel, but he thinks Guardian of Light is better (I suspect he doesn’t like it as much because Totec isn’t in it).

The bonus to Osiris? This game is up to four-player couch co-op, so you can play with even more of your friends. I’m a huge fan of this type of gameplay, and with studios like Crystal Dynamics, Blizzard and Arrowhead (who made Helldivers) making successful co-op titles, I can only imagine more on the horizon.

So, grab a buddy and start with Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light. I promise you’ll enjoy 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 cat June Bug and loves gaming, with or without friends.

I want to provide a bit of a summary of the events I attended at GDC. I didn’t have the opportunity to attend the entire week, although it sure felt like I did when it was all said and done (in a good way).


I flew in late Wednesday night, and I couldn’t get much work done before the next day. Thursday morning, I headed straight for the San Francisco Conservatory of Music for a tour and some interviews.

SFCM has a new Technology and Applied Composition program, and I got to see the new studios they’ve built and some of the new equipment they’ve acquired to accomplish the goal of teaching students how to write for media in the year 2015.

As impressive as the new facilities are, that’s all just a façade in the end. The nuts and bolts come from the faculty and services provided by the Conservatory, and the faculty is as strong as the services for students are deep.


With composers like Austin Wintory, Jeff Beal and Dren McDonald lending a hand, the program seems well-poised to offer students a well-rounded approach to media composition. So students are better prepared for employment after graduation, they receive training and counseling at SFCM about the business side of the industry.

All in all, it was a wonderful visit, and I look forward to hearing what’s next for the program at SFCM.

Thursday afternoon, I finally made it over to GDC for interviews, panels and the G.A.N.G. awards. I won something at those, which was neat and unexpected and totally a career highlight.

emily tweet

Editor’s note: Congrats Emily!

Friday – I feel like I can’t even remember Friday. I interviewed the Massive Chalice composers, Brian Trifon and Brian Lee White. Both quite amazing fellas, truly. The game itself sounds amazing, and I can’t wait to share what the Brians said about writing the music. After the Massive Chalice duo, I spoke with Penka Kouneva about a panel in which she participated (and spearheaded) called Women in Game Audio.


I don’t want to give away what Penka and I spoke about, but here’s a takeaway: 11% of astronauts in space have been women, while fewer than 2% of major Hollywood films are scored by women.

Disparity, much?

Anyway, that was a fascinating conversation I look forward to sharing as well.

Friday night was a blast; I emceed a concert put on by the Videri String Quartet, right across the street from the convention center. These four musicians are fabulous and I felt honored to share the stage with them. And Laura Intravia! Laura came and sang “Invincible” from World of Warcraft and “I Was Born for This” from Journey. Man, that was magnificent. She’s great.


Laura Intravia

Videri played a giant set of music from so many games, like Final Fantasy X, The Order: 1886 and even the anime series RWBY.

GDC was a great experience, and I hope to go back again next year. It was my first visit to San Francisco, and I had some amazing food, met amazing people, saw and heard great things. If you’re in the industry and you’ve never gone, I highly recommend 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 cat June Bug and loves gaming, with or without friends.

I had a brief but passionate love affair with Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn over the weekend. Then I deleted it off my PlayStation 4.


For a time, my friends and I played a lot of Destiny. We got sick of it. Since then, I’ve been aimlessly wandering around games like Far Cry 4, Pillar, Apotheon, Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light (also Temple of Osiris), Dragon Age: Inquisition, LittleBigPlanet 3, and more for the last several weeks, trying to fill the Destiny-sized hole in my heart (which isn’t nearly as big as they promised it would be).

A couple of my buddies got into Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, and encouraged me to grab the two-week free trial. After 8-million years of downloading, I built my first ever Final Fantasy character.


She was an elf, tall with a head too small for her size. White hair with silver highlights, blue eyes… these are all typical choices for me. Also typical, I chose the Thaumaturge class, in hopes of becoming a black mage someday.

Elf? Check. Mage? Check.

I played on and off all day Saturday and Sunday, picking up every single side-quest I could find, and generally being the most badass low-level mage I could possibly be.

I set ladybugs on fire, found missing crates, delivered potions and messages. Nothing seemed innovative about any of these side quests – just your typical RPG side-quest kind of stuff. Uninspiring, but I know that’s not why people play the game. FFXIV players play for the boss battles, but I was several levels away from that type of gameplay.


I knew I had to stop playing immediately. I can’t play MMOs like this, with endless content and countless opportunities for entertaining gameplay. For me, personally, I could see myself playing Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn until I’m in my 70s. I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to spend thirteen or fourteen dollars a month, in addition to the initial cost of the game, to become a 400-pound spinster in adult diapers who plays video games with her cat. I’ve avoided MMOs for this exact reason.

I played World of Warcraft for about three hours before I knew that needed to stop too. Final Fantasy is similar.


The games I play need to have endings, so I know when to stop and move on to the next one.

Not to mention, the graphics are annoyingly last-gen, and the music. Oh god the music. I love it, but please make it stop. It’s on an eternal loop, like in the old days of games. There is no silence. Only music. And it’s loud too compared to the rest of the audio in the game. Music music music music. Too much music and of course there’s such a thing.

This all came down to cost for me. The costs are much too high for me to play FFXIV. Goodbye, FFXIV – we had a fierce and quick love. I do not think we should be friends.


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.

It’s 1993, and young, universally celebrated composer Yuzo Koshiro has grown tired. His living space is no longer his own, and months ago he began taking resumes and holding interviews in the hopes of hiring a full time staff to see to the managing of his seemingly endless cache of awards. These talks…have yet to bear fruit. What began as a small trophy room in the back of his house sometime in1986 was now inching up his leg like bottom feeding moss and lichen. So praised was Koshiro that his every waking moment guaranteed another sumptuous congratulatory bouquet. His physical awards were more numerous than the throng of ardent and fanatical fans who had slowly taken up residence on his front lawn. Everyone wanted a piece; everyone had an agenda…everyone wanted Yuzo Koshiro. Employers, handlers, friends, fans, things had gotten way out of hand, and a fraying Koshiro, nearly incapacitated, retreated from the impenetrable wall of expectation and endless homage to craft a record that defied all assumptions, labels and objections placed upon it. From seed to birth to masterpiece, this is a celebration of Yuzo Koshiro’s Streets Of Rage 3.

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Listen: Yuzo Koshiro: Streets Of Rage 3: Beat Ambiance

When you think of Koshiro, it’s likely you’ll immediately recall Streets Of Rage 2 and its musical centerpiece Go Straight. And why wouldn’t you? It is a stunning piece of black and white negative capturing Koshiro at one of his most pronounced and analyzed peaks. A gorgeous print will remain a gorgeous print, and it’s one of the reasons why you store its image in memory…it’s something beautiful. With Streets Of Rage 1 and 2, Koshiro became something of a vigilante exposing the more complacent side of audio within the video game industry. His typeset, however, was so radical and so unexpected that the massive waves Koshiro himself created, dictated a change in sides from Cerberus to outlaw.

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Listen: Yuzo Koshiro: Street Of Rage 3: Moon

Streets Of Rage 3 finds our youthful composer at a particularly thorny crossing. He was THE golden boy, a no-brainer first draft pick chosen to helm a host of triple-A releases the likes of Actraiser, Ys, and Sega’s Revenge Of Shinobi, all before he hit the age of 22. Koshiro’s work went from high watermark to higher watermark, as with each release his ear tightened and his layers became ever more intricate. BUT. No doubt, he was being watched, directed and told in some manner to skew and tame his more outlandish touches. While Streets Of Rage 1 and 2 present him in a furious bare-knuckled state of creative carte blanche, Streets Of Rage 3 is the all dispensatory enema of contracts and direction from his masters.

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Listen : Yuzo Koshiro: Streets Of Rage: Dub Slash

Streets Of Rage 3 on the surface is the sound of Koshiro finally baring his teeth at all those who ever once told him no, and to those more concerned with crafting him as a marketable brand instead of the genius musician he clearly is. It’s stark, abusive, and overrun . That’s just it though, you see, all of that is merely its surface. SOR 3 is Koshiro at his most powerful, at his most in-synch, and at his most chaotically unapologetic avant-garde. You HAVE to listen and listen carefully. It’s not that the tunes in SOR 3 don’t come as easily as his freshman and sophomore efforts. Not at all. It’s that there are tunes inside of tunes and melodies tripping over hooks. It’s that there’s so MANY points of articulation that if you turn your head too suddenly you’re likely to have missed one of his more central choruses.

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Listen: Yuzo Koshiro: Streets Of Rage 3: Spinning Machine

Let’s take an example. In each of the tracks for SOR 3, you’re never made to stand on the ground floor. Just when you think you’ve interpreted Koshiro’s jargon, he changes his dialect. The opening number, Spinning Machine, while not adding up to much in terms of time on the clock at a mere 25 seconds, consists of three very different levels. The first 11 seconds play out like blunt force head trauma, but with the later 12 comes a lightness of touch more akin to fusion jazz… much more Bob James. Each of the two very distinct stanzas have their very own legs, but then it becomes 3. Their collision point is where the song actually begins… never mind that each of these 3 verses is STILL very much its own complete piece of music.

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Listen: Yuzo Koshiro: Street Of Rage 3: Happy Paradise

On that note, let’s listen a bit further down the LP tracklist at Happy Paradise. While Spinning Machine briefly illustrates this point, Happy Paradise showcases this method with far greater detail. As the song begins, and then begins to wear on you, you’re deceived into thinking that you’ve heard all there is to this particular offering. As you toll the minute mark, however, you uncover Koshiro’s gold. My God! Listen to it. Moreover, listen to HOW it is done: all inside the pocket, that sweet spot. Like some saccharine sweet glaze. He plays it like nothing! Listen to his fingers because when you hear them barely bristle the tops of the keys, that’s your signal to cross over into one of several hundred dimensions Koshiro has created specifically for this album. Believe me, when you hear it, OH MAN.

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Listen: Yuzo Koshiro: Street Of Rage 3: Inga Rasen

Those looking for that immediacy, that unmistakable Koshiro signature, and that direct sequel to the sounds of SOR 2, will not be disappointed as Dub Slash, Beat Ambiance and Random Cross are in fact the heirs apparent to the likes of Go Straight, Alien Power, and Never Return Alive. BUT. Where SOR2’s signature singles were mere anarchy and intermittent brush fires, SOR 3 is a state under martial law and curfew .The audio for SOR 3 IS brutal and Koshiro plays both manic and unpredictable. Koshiro seems to self-medicate though, and as he toys with the levels of lithium in his blood, the more erratic his creations become. Bulldozer, Cycle 2 and the particularly busyInga Rasen,whose beat chafes and ultimately dismantles the underlying melody, and buries the listener in sheet upon layer upon slab of bombastic babbling and indefatigable discordance. They are also markedly brilliant and widely ahead of the established dance music curve set for 1992. Crystal Waters and The Shamen this is not.

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Listen: Yuzo Koshiro: Street Of Rage 3: Shinobi Reverse

What is also just as fascinating is how brazen Koshiro is about dismantling, satirizing and caricaturizing his own work. Shonobi Reverse and pieces of Percussionare a tantrum born of necessity, a middle finger resolutely engaged in the kersplat of all that has come before it. Mocking, jaded and spent, Koshiro’s backwards squall of lampooning fried noise picks apart his legacy, destroys any notion of him returning to previous form, and sets a dangerous, cloaked precedent of ambiguity for the road ahead. It’s a risky proposition, but from time to time, all great composers need to censure and rebuke all that makes their fortunes stand, and here, Koshiro’s condemnation of his own artistic affluence stands self-assured and void of defect.

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Listen: Yuzo Koshiro: Street Of Rage 3: The Poets 1

Closer to the end of side two of the SOR 3 LP, you’ll find two songs The Poets 1 and The Poets 2.

Go ahead. Listen to the first 10 seconds of each. Not only are these completely alien to all of the other works on this record; they are perhaps the only ones working with a structure of verse, chorus, verse. What’s interesting here isn’t so much that fact, nor the fact that it is so strikingly different from all Koshiro’s previous takes, it is the sound, the style of it, and how he has split this obviously single epic composition into two. The Poets 1 and ThePoets 2eschews our composer’s penchant to straddle all genres of dance and instead finds him focused on delivering some kind of sermon on the mount, a definitive rock performance. Not just rock though, this is the early 90’s: the burgeoning of alternative music. This is where aging new wave and college rock meet the 90’s Manchester Sound, Chapel Hill, and Shoegaze. Albeit brief, both remain strikingly fresh today: snarling, dynamic and cutthroat. Koshiro’s radio singles play like all the best from that era: individual, peculiar and entirely euphonious. Yeah, listen again.

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Listen: Yuzo Koshiro: Street Of Rage 3: Good Ending

Streets Of Rage 3 is a stunning about-face, a reckoning whose applications of bedlam and chaos served to give birth to Yuzo Koshiro as a singular, visionary artistic force.

While the scores of Streets Of Rage 1 and 2 are without question masterpieces like that of The Beatles Revolver or Bob Dylan’s Blood On The Tracks, Streets Of Rage 3 is a masterpiece for the Orwellian times in which we currently live and much more akin to David Bowie’s Low or My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless.

Koshiro’s insistent and frigid rejection of both his own past master tapes and the shunning of direction from admirers and superiors, facilitated an audacious work going far beyond the present for which it was written. Streets Of Rage 3 is Yuzo Koshiro’s ultimate test of faith, a double bind bet made under extremely tenuous conditions, but it ushered him from mere mortal to untouchable sonic deity. Sometimes, you just have to run with it.

Side Note: Readers, please note that the opening story in this piece is a work of fiction.


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.

Far Cry 4 has some pretty great music. Set in a fictional country in the Himalayas, composer Cliff Martinez incorporated native sounds like throat-singing, gamelan, sitar, sarangi and tabla into the music to bring the landscape alive.


Far Cry 4

It’s like a lesson in Himalayan music, if you concentrate on the multitude of tracks that incorporate instruments and sounds that are indigenous to the region. The Far Cry 4 soundtrack succeeds wildly with these direct references to music of the Himalayan region.

If you’re unsure what any of these things sound like, take a listen to Sudden Trouble. The stringed instrument you’re hearing is the sarangi. You can hear solo sarangi here. Do you hear how resonant the instrument is? The sarangi has “sympathetic strings”, a set of strings under the set that are bowed. A sarangi player doesn’t “play” the sympathetic strings – these strings exist to resonate sound from the strings that are played.



With regard to sympathetic strings, a sitar also has them. Two of the world’s most famous sitar players are Ravi Shankar and his daughter, Anoushka. You can hear Anoushka play a sitar solo here.

“Gamelan” features prominently throughout the score as well. A gamelan orchestra contains several players, many of whom play metal bell-like instruments with mallets. Listen to Secrets of the Goddesses to hear what gamelan sounds like, or you can see an adorable (short) video explaining gamelan here.


One of my favorite tracks is called “The Mountain Watches“. You’ll hear the “table” drums here as well as gamelan. Learning of table gives you an opportunity to learn about Zakir Hussein. In fact, if you ever have an opportunity to see or hear either Zakir Hussein or Anoushka Shankar in concert, DO IT. In “The Mountain Watches” – listen for the tabla and the gamelan.

One of my favorite Himalayan references in the Far Cry 4 soundtrack is “throat-singing”. This stuff is pretty cool, because these singers able to sing in a way that gives the impression they’re singing more than one note at a time.

HOW? The overtone series. Here’s one example.


When I was in grad school, I saw a group of singers from Tuva called the Alash Ensemble in concert. My life changed. First of all, their website is fabulous and provides an excellent tutorial in throat singing. Please, spend some time learning about this fascinating and glorious niche of humanity. Visit them here, and listen to the various types of singing. When you return to listen to the Far Cry 4 soundtrack, you’ll hear these amazing sounds spread throughout.

The game might not be your cup of tea; however, I encourage you to give the soundtrack a spin. It’s a great example of fusing Western and Eastern music in a 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 cat June Bug and loves gaming, with or without friends.

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