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It’s no secret I’ve played a lot of Bungie’s $500-million MMOFPSWTF Destiny quite a bit since it came out in September. I’ve written about it too much. All three of my characters are maxed out, I have nearly all raid weapons, I have the “Necrochasm”, I have most of the raid gear (enough that all my peeps are level 32), and I have plenty of XP and the various materials and other types of currency in the game.

This wasn’t always the case; when The Dark Below came out, the first round of DLC, I had to buy the armor to get myself to a higher level. I hadn’t earned it through game-play. I was missing key weapons from the initial raid, called The Vault of Glass.*

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A few weeks into The Dark Below, however, I had what I needed (read: wanted) out of VoG. But by that time, the acquisition of those weapons was a waste, because I’d begun collecting new, more powerful guns from The Dark Below.

I acquired those weapons so fast, that soon I had enough of some of them that all of my characters had their own.

I broke all of the extra guns over the weekend. All of them.

Here’s why: Leveling up your arsenal in Destiny requires XP by either using the gun you want to level up, or by turning in missions while holding the gun (or both). Once you have the XP to upgrade the gun, you need currencies like metals and cash to complete the upgrade, and both are easy enough to get. But leveling up requires a third element – another material that’s a bit trickier to get your hands on, and definitely encourages frequent grinding of bounties, raids, daily and weekly missions.

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Yeah, I’m done with all of that. Since I threw out a bunch of guns, I don’t need to do all that senseless grinding anymore. And why would I want to anyway, since once Bungie releases House of Wolves, the raid guns I’ve accumulated to date will become obsolete (as they did with VoG).

I don’t have anything left to do. Not until the new DLC comes out (probably) in May. By that time, I might not care.

When I destroyed the weapons, I felt emancipated from the game. I’ve played a lot of other games in the time since Destiny’s been available, but I’ve always felt this pull – the “I should be grinding” pull.

Bungie lost me as a hardcore player, and most of my friends are moving on as well. Don’t be fooled: we’re still playing, because there are things about the game we all love, or we wouldn’t have spent so much time in it over the last five months. But we’ve moved on to other multiplayer experiences, like Far Cry 4 and LittleBig Planet 3. And if you’re a PlayStation Plus subscriber, be sure to download Apotheon, because it’s a riot.

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Apotheon

I joked with my friends over the weekend that in ten years, Destiny will be the perfect game, and Bungie will go onto Twitter or whatever’s around then, and say, “We told you it was a ten year plan!”. One friend added, “After about a thousand-dollar investment from us”, and I realized he was right. I plan to pay close attention to how much money I spend on the franchise in the future.

*Without a doubt, the most creative aspect of the Destiny experience.

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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.

There are loads of games I never get around to playing. I don’t have any handhelds like a Nintendo 3DS or anything. In fact, I recently loaned out my Wii, so the only Nintendo product currently in my home is my Game Boy. While it sounds promising, gaming on my MacBook Pro isn’t an option without some sort of investment in repairing its several issues, and I don’t have a PC (except work, where supervisors kindly allow me to occasionally download titles on Steam). Otherwise, I try to play the most-talked about Indie console games, and I play loads of the AAAs.

Last year, I was beyond excited for the release of Dragon Age: Inquisition. I hadn’t personally felt that level of internal excitement since Mass Effect 3. Prior to Mass Effect 3, I was pumped for Skyrim, as well as Fallout: New Vegas and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.

There are plenty of other games I’ve been really excited about, but for those games above, I had that feeling like when I was excited for Christmas as a six-year-old, you know? The kind of giddy, pure excitement.

There are several common themes in that list above: all of these are giant, triple-A games. Two from BioWare, a couple from Bethesda, and a game from Rockstar. All of these games were varying degrees of a hot mess. To be fair, Mass Effect 3 wasn’t a total trainwreck, but it had major issues with mission-tracking, the journal was a disaster, and the end made some people mad.

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Mass Effect 3

I don’t think Dragon Age: Inquisition is broken, but holy cow I was let down by that game. I think it was a combination of a number of things – not being allowed to simply import the origins and stories from the first three games (the game requires us to do this manually online, as if I’m going to remember every single choice I made three years ago). I was overwhelmed by the size of it all, I was overwhelmed by upgrading armor and weapons, by meeting a new set of people, by understanding what the War Table is, etc.

I think I lost more sleep over Skyrim than any other game. It was so broken on the PS3. So, so broken. I managed to play it fine on the Xbox, and wish I would’ve started there first. I wasn’t able to finish Skyrim on the PlayStation. It simply didn’t work on that console. And they never really seemed to care. It still bothers me to this day. Bethesda released Skyrim about a year after the mess that they called Fallout: New Vegas, another game I couldn’t finish because it was so broken. Two broken games in two years (from different developers, but the same publisher). Inexcusable.

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Fallout: New Vegas

As far as GTA:SA goes, I had no interest in having a girlfriend, or any friends, and I didn’t want to eat food and exercise, because I have to do these things in real life. Those are all things I do not want to do in a GTA game. In GTA, I want to steal awesome cars and shoot things and find ridiculous ways to create insane explosions. I want to do those things because I can’t do them in real life. Seriously.

I was looking forward to LittleBigPlanet 3, and I finally picked that up last weekend. It’s been out for a couple months now, and it’s still a little bit of a mess. Playing with three other friends, we got booted out of the game frequently enough to mention it to you now, and the lag we experienced made the game impossible to play at times. I was disappointed.

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Little Big Planet 3

No doubt, I had unrealistic expectations for these five games, even six, if you include LBP3. It seems I finally learned a lesson with Dragon Age: Inquisition, because I can’t find it in me to get Christmas-Day-as-a-kid excited about anything coming out. Nothing.

I’m marginally excited for Bloodborne, Evolve, The Order: 1886 and The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. Not nearly excited enough to pick anything up on launch day. I want to play these games, but I refuse to fall in love with them until I’ve spent time playing them. Think of it like a relationship, if you will. I’ll hang out with you, Bloodborne, but you cannot have my heart until you prove you’re worthy to have it. Same goes for the rest of you.

What are some of your biggest gaming let-downs, and in order to keep things more positive, what are some of your most pleasant gaming surprises?

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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.

It’s my birthday this week. No big deal. I don’t feel strongly about it one way or the other; that all ended about the time I hit 30. The only concern I really have now is what to do for it. Food and drinks? Nah, I don’t really like either of them. Skydiving or Zip-lines?  I can’t stand heights. Traveling to Europe or Japan? With what money? You see it’s kind of a chore to not only identify the desired activity, but to then shoehorn it into one weekend spread over a couple hours on those nights. Suddenly it came to me. While visiting my friend Val last week, I noticed his newly renovated front room. Gone were the chairs, gone the end-tables and glass-candy jars .What did I see in their place? Well, it looked very much like Val was ready to open a discoteche: It was one huge empty cube of open space. What’s more, it’s a slightly elevated room, so you have to step up and in. Throw a fog machine in there, a disco ball…rave till dawn.

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That’s when it hit me: I think its time for a dance party. If you think my friends roll with remixes of One Direction, Katy Perry, and Daddy Yankee, however, you’d be sorely mistaken.

When we talk the Charleston and the Hop, our backdrop is always set against ALL video game soundtracks. Here’s my DJ picks for our upcoming night on the floor!

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Listen: Satoshi Ise: Capcom Vs. Snk Soundtrack: This Is True Love Makin’

 Satoshi Ise and the Capcom Vs. Snk Series- This dual set of long-players that comprise this LONG-festering rivalry between Capcom and SNK remains untouched in terms of pure energy and high-gloss production. Time has done nothing to tarnish its relentless vitality nor slow its unyielding BPM’s. Composer Satoshi Ise’s tracks veer erratic: one moment, it’s Serge Gainsbourg, the next, all vapid fashion runway shows, the next diamonds and the Riviera… and the next a hands of stone, blood in, blood out fight club. Jarring, showy, and rightfully unapologetic,  Ise’s cuts of precious stone are pieces well worth their bonkers inflated asking price.

Choice Cuts:  Staff Roll: Master Mind, Naked Blow: Stage Of Sagat,

Real Eyes: Training Stage, Simulation: New York Stage, Wipe Out: Osaka Stage 1

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Listen: Yuzo Koshiro: Streets Of Rage/ Bare Knuckle Soundtrack: Go Straight

Yuzo Koshiro’s Complete Works Streets Of Rage/Bare Knuckle-   There is no other way to speak of Yuzo Koshiro other than in terms of a God. Koshiro was doing this sort of vicious and densely impregnable house music long before DJ’s in the actual club business could even fathom his most elementary two-track demos . Koshiro stands alone when it comes to vocalizing the epileptic pulsating lights of an all-elbows dance floor. What’s more, his anthems serve double the purpose, as they provide the backbone of Sega’s walking tall crime trilogy Streets Of Rage. Koshiro provides not only a definitive glimpse of a thrill at the turntables, but also encapsulates a moment in history post Reagan/ Bush administrations, post failed DARE initiatives, and post all extravagances of a decade from which not everyone had quite yet fully awoken.

Choice cuts: Never Return Alive, Alien Power, Fighting In The Street, Back To the Industry, Spin On The Bridge

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Listen: Konami Sound Team: Snatcher Soundtrack: Pleasure Of Tension

Konami Sound Team: Snatcher’s Pleasure Of Tension  I will remain tight lipped about the Snatcher soundtrack as a whole, as I will be doing a full review sometime this year, but for any dance party I attend, we’re going to play Pleasure Of Tension. Half crowd pleasing fan service( ala Bauhaus Bela Lugosi’s Dead), and half an ample moment for all floor patrons to test their most bizarrely underdeveloped choreography. As with any gathering of this kind, someone’s going to do the robot…this is their window.

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Listen: Atlus Sound Team: Shin Megami Tensei IV Soundtrack: SDDS IV

Atlus Sound Team: Shin Megami Tensei IV’s SDDS IV Last year’s numbered Shin Megami Tensei release carried with it a soundtrack so deprived and deficient of sunlight, that you’d not be faulted for thinking it was culled directly from the 1982 archives of an imploding Pornography era Cure. Atlus’s sound team brings fear to a crowd of flailing hands and feet: those who came for the line dances and the drink specials. There’s something wonderfully fatal about SMT: IV’s score: its compulsion to draw gasps is intricately tied to the spastic rhythms on its specified radio dial.

No longer anemic and now incorrigibly voracious , this is the Atlus sound played with full boss drum.

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Listen: Daisuke Ishiwatari: Blazblue: Chronophantasma: Sword Of Doom II

Daisuke Ishiwatari and BlazBlue: Chronophantasma’s Sword Of Doom IIAt some point during this night, my friend Jorge will fall completely off the fence. Sure, he says that he’s fine, but you know…you just know that he’s not. For a while, he’ll rant still halfway, decently coherent and when he can no longer conceal his outrage, he’ll flat-out change the record that is playing. I’m not above requests, and BlazBlue composer’s Daisuke Ishiwatari and Galneryus play their guitars so completely elevated above their heads, it is amazing their fingers are still attached to the hands moving them.

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Listen: Le Castle Vania: John Wick Soundtrack: Red Circle

Le Castle Vania and John Wick’s Red Circle– While technically having nothing to do with videogames whatsoever, with a artist name like “Le Castle Vania”, one has to beg for pause. The track highlighted Red Circle even seems to pay homage to the old NES style of minute long music loops. You want the thing to play longer, but due to its limited capacity of memory…a minute is all you get. Just so you know, this also gives me the right to call my next band : The Le Phantom Pain’s. Yep.

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Listen: Konami Sound Team: Castlevania 2: Simon’s Quest: Bloody Tears

Konami Sound Team: Castlevania 2: Simon’s Quest’s Bloody Tears-  Speaking of Castlevania, I think this one is pretty much self-explanatory. I am talking about that last piece of the night, where people have stopped dancing and when all the food and drinks are gone. Long after the cake’s been served, ( I really hate to rhyme folks), but Jorge will be passed out on the lawn. That last moment of party revitalization: Bloody Tears.

I think it’s time to call it.

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

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I had a great time at MAGFest. I met great people, heard great music, went to great panels, and ate some delicious food in a beautiful city that was mostly warmer than my home.

I left Washington, D.C. Sunday afternoon, thankful to be well ahead of the giant storm (a storm with a much worse bark than bite). Each time I leave a conference or festival, I leave a bit more inspired than before I got there, and MAGFest was no exception. My praise is high, and even though I think my concerns are important, I don’t have many complaints at all.

My favorite part was the community of attendees itself, and that didn’t surprise me. As vicious as gamers can be online, they tend to be much nicer in person. If I have to be in a crowd of 15-thousand people, at least stick me in with the kind of people who say “excuse me” or “my bad” or “sorry about that” if they bump into you or inadvertently cut or take your seat or something. Largely, these are good people to be around for a few days.

My second favorite part was the arcade, because inside, I’m still that 8-year-old kid who wants to play Galaga over and over again. If you’ve never been to MAGFest, the arcade is insane. Huge and insane. And set on free play!!!!!!!!!!!! There aren’t enough exclamation points for that, seriously. I played arcade games I’d never heard of before MAGFest. Most of those machines are donated, which brings me to my next favorite part/s about MAGFest:

No sponsors! No corporations looming! Lots of free stuff to play! Super short lines, because there’s a lot of everything, and it’s open 24/7. This festival is seriously by the fans, for the fans.

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The music was, for the most part, fabulous. The sound systems, however, were abysmal. The sound was so bad in every single panel I attended, and every single concert or show I wanted to see, that it honestly was worse than I ever would’ve imagined. It never occurred to me, before I left town, to prepare myself for terrible audio at a festival designed to celebrate music.

Now, to be fair, it was in a convention center. But it was in the $870-million dollar Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center, opened in 2008. How is that possible? I’m baffled how such a state-of-the-art, gorgeous, new, expansive, 21st-century building which exists, in part, as a convention center where audiences would presumably sit in large rooms and listen to people talk about things could have such terrible audio.

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Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center

I understand why the concerts didn’t sound great. A rock band or a string quartet playing inside a hotel ballroom is always going to sound below average compared to an arena or a concert hall. It makes sense that the live shows didn’t sound great. They played in hotel ballrooms, for crying out loud.

Those panels were so frustrating though, even though they were all full of great content! I was encouraged by the amount of conversations I heard, in and out of panels, about copyright law relating to original content, parody and covers. It’s a great conversation to continue to highlight!

My final complaint was borne from the “Welcome to MAGFest” speech that happened in the afternoon on the first day. It was the first organized event I attended in my MAGFest history. It started with a man telling the audience that MAGFest started so many years ago one weekend with a bunch of guys getting drunk and talking about video game music, and he made a joke about how he thought MAGFest should’ve been called “A Bunch of Dudes” instead. I looked around the room to all the women, since there were loads of us, and thought, wow. What a dick.

Obviously, if I’d gone up to him and said something, he wouldn’t have meant it that way, I’m sure he’s a feminist, and that he supports equality and fairness in gaming, but he said it, whatever, it’s done.

Despite that, you should go. Go to MAGFest. You’ll meet great people. Washington, D.C. is cool, the food is great, there are a lot of wonderful things to see and great bands to hear, awesome merchandise to browse (haha! true!), and games to play. Go to MAGFest.

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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.

Red Bull Music Academy. I had no idea who or what they were about until they recently aired a string of shows highlighting a slew of luminous game composers last fall. Did you catch this thing? You didn’t? My God. You have NO idea what you missed. It was a series called Digging In The Carts and it was comprised of 6 very meticulous, very high-end episodes. Particularly amazing is how much they managed to shoehorn into the allotted 16 minute time slot they were given. A show like this is just absolutely huge to those who celebrate the sounds of silicon, and Red Bull Music Academy is to be commended for doing the good Lord’s work. So rather than spoil it, which would be no fun at all, I will leave you to it. BUT wait!

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Listen: Masashi Kageyama : Mr. Gimmick Soundtrack: Good Morning

Okay, okay! Just let me talk about this one guy featured in it. It will be REAL quick. No spoilers either or my name isn’t Anthony. So Masashi Kageyama. Heard of him? I hadn’t either until the series highlight reel. Maybe, like me, you hadn’t heard the soundtrack to an old Famicom/NES  game called Mr. Gimmick. Certainly, I have extolled the values of 8-bit orchestration over and over on this very blog, but THIS guy…THIS guy, man, he’s CAPITAL, surpassing even the most celebrated saucier of the NES’s 2-channel NSF hardware. Watching his particular story and hearing his music, even for the small instant it is played, really, really stuck with me. There was something about him too: gentle, a very warm sort of  aww shucks demeanor. You want to go up to this man immediately after the show and treat him to really expensive everything, then praise him for hours, because when you hear the stuff he has done, that’s all you’ll be able to do. It is that incredible.

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Listen: Masashi Kageyama: Mr Gimmick Soundtrack: Just Friends

 

I was fortunate enough to find Kageyama’s entire score for Mr. Gimmick  buried amongst the refuse of ads and obnoxious unboxings on youtube, and for the first time since 1988, I proceeded to capture Kageyama’s streaming audio on an old cassette tape recorder. I had no other options, no viable course of action. It’s not like I could walk into a Best Buy or Amoeba Music for that matter and pick up all of Kageyama’s discography. I was a 9 year old boy again, making the most of a bad situation, recording straight from the television. You all did it! Yes you did. So, anyway, I take the recording with me to school the next day, and start listening to it on the bus, of all places. It’s snowing (yes it snows in Texas), and that dichotomy of miserable sleeting ice outside against  Kageyama’s heartbroken yet obstinate trail of sunshine made that moment of sitting idly in that  bus something both resilient and sobering.

Then Sophia (Take 2) happened…

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Listen: Masashi Kageyama Mr. Gimmick Soundtrack Sophia (Take 2)

 

Sophia( Take 2) is a rare experience. More importantly it’s the rarest of its kind among the particular 8-bit musical world it inhabits.  If it were left unsupervised, say the song (or entire Mr. Gimmick score) were to escape into the land of regular radio, it would stand  stronger than anything recently contemporary or exceedingly current in rotation. These compositions are beyond the superlative, and to analyze and assign them with values would be undermining their entire purpose for drawing air. Still though, one has to try, and Kageyama’s plaintive, dejected exposition on Sophia( Take 2) passionately details that spark of youthful infatuation as it brims over emboldened, then repressed, and then utterly defeated. Kageyama’s song-bird melancholy is gorgeous in spite of its injuries, and Sophia (Take 2) is a mournful masterpiece that manifests very real, very intense emotions. For me, It was SO acute and SO poignant that I lost it, right there on that bus. Now those of you that have read my articles know that I cry at the drop of a hat, so this might seem like nothing out of the ordinary, but I don’t know…these tears seemed ever the more gourmet. I didn’t care if anyone saw me either: let them see! This way, if they ask why, it gives me the impetus to introduce them to Kageyama. I thought it was a pretty fair trade off.  Dignity? What’s that? Who cares? Let the tears roll down.

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Listen: Masashi Kageyama: Mr. Gimmick Soundtrack: Happy Birthday

 

Very few artists, constrained by the bit, have ever demonstrated such a capacity to truly emote, and touch their audience with their stories with such limited tools available to them. Kageyama seems like the type whose all embraces conversations and laughter, and when he plays, that warmth and affection comes through unfiltered and unimpeded. Kageyama’s earnest and gorgeously sanguine audio display exemplifies a sophistication and intimacy rarely seen in this genre, and it also stands as some of its very best.

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Listen: Masashi Kageyama: Mr. Gimmick Soundtrack: Slow Illusion

While I will leave the rest of the blanks for Red Bull’s short films to fill in, I wanted to make sure you walked away with a larger cup of Kageyama’s wine to sample. He’s certainly one of the most important, yet seemingly overlooked, artists of that era.

Not anymore.

To get an even better idea about his works, please visit vgmdb.com

A very special thanks to Red Bull Music Academy for all their fantastic efforts in bringing the Diggin In the Carts series to completion. It couldn’t have been easy, nor without its very own set of near insurmountable hurdles.

Here is hoping for a second season.

Now please…by all means, enjoy the shows!

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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.

So it’s still 2015, despite my constant attempts to write and type “14” everywhere. The advent of 2015 means some great festivals and conventions are coming up fast, like PAX South and MAGFest.

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I’m missing the inaugural PAX South in favor of MAGFest. I’ve never experienced anything like MAGFest before, to my knowledge, and I’m a tad overwhelmed looking at the list of possibilities.

It’s a long list, and it’s been a pleasure to comb through it and hear a ton of great music. Even though I spend a lot of time working with video game music, and speaking with people about it, I’m constantly impressed by the magnitude of the game music community.

First of all, I’m thrilled that Do a Barrel Roll will be there. These folks all came from McNally-Smith College of Music, which is right across the street from my workplace. I watched them perform live in November at Gamer’s Rhapsody, and they were flawless. Seriously. Their performance was incredible, as if we were listening to a studio recording. I’m still in awe of it all, and I can’t wait to hear them play again.

Regarding folks I haven’t seen perform – well, that’s nearly everyone else on my list.

I’m dying to hear SAMMUS and Mega Ran. Mega Ran has a pretty great recap of 2014 here, and SAMMUS hardcore rocks the Metroid in this track.

mega ran

How about a band that plays video game covers mixing styles of jazz fusion, funk and rock? Enter “missingNo”, a handful of instrumentalists from Vancouver, B.C. Here’s their record called Warp Zone. Be sure to check out “Stickerbrush Symphony”, and listen to the frickin’ bass player. Now that’s some amazing bass-ing. I’m pumped to see these folks play live!

Here’s a confession; I’d never heard of a visualist before I started digging into the MAGFest program. It seems there will be three there, and I’m going to try and check them all out. Enerjawn, noukon and SBthree are all visualists, combining art and music live. Sounds cool. I’ll report back for sure on these folks.

The Triforce Quartet is a video game-themed string quartet. They’ve recorded a bunch of Zelda, Final Fantasy, Mario – nothing too surprising on the playlist, but I guarantee my ears will be begging for the lovely sounds these fine string players make by the time Friday night rolls around.

My biggest “OMG I CAN’T WAIT” show is Yuu Miyake, who’s the primary composer for Katamari Damacy. You can check out his SoundCloud here, but more importantly, if you’re unfamiliar with his Katamari music, go educate yourself as quickly as possible.

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Others I hope to catch in concert include virt (Jake Kaufman, of Shovel Knight fame), On Being Human and the Super Guitar Bros. There will be dozens of other shows too, with dozens of other performers I didn’t mention.

It’s gonna be nuts. I’m bringing the recorder – not to record the shows, of course, but to capture as many conversations about game music as I possibly can. I look forward to sharing it all with you when I come back, or maybe I’ll see you there!

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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.

I’m excited for a lot of games coming out this year, and I’m crossing my fingers that 2015 will be a better year than 2014 was for gaming.

I have a list of titles I’m excited to play, and titles I’m excited to hear. Some of these games fit into both categories!

I look forward to playing The Banner Saga, Bastion, and Grim Fandango on PlayStation 4. These aren’t new games – they’ve been out on other platforms. I’ve played and loved Bastion several times, but it’ll be a blast on next-gen. Grim Fandango has one of the best soundtracks in the history of video games, thanks to Peter McConnell. I can’t wait to hear it and play it!

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Bastion

There are a handful of titles on my list that I probably won’t play, but for which I look forward to hearing the soundtracks. It’s no secret I’m a chicken when it comes to almost any type of horror game, particularly survival horror. I won’t play Until Dawn, but I’m always fascinated by music in horror games and films. I look forward to hearing what fear sounds like.

I might skip Bloodborne and The Order: 1886. First of all, Bloodborne is the not-a-sequel to the games Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls, games known for their punishing difficulties. Not my cup of tea.

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The Order: 1886

The Order: 1886 was scored by Jason Graves (Dead Space, Tomb Raider), and I gotta hear it. But there are these things called “half-breeds” in the game, and I don’t look forward to those encounters. I haven’t decided if I’ll play it, but I definitely want to hear it.

Let’s get one major disappointment for 2015 out of the way: the fantastic composer Greg Edmonson is not the composer for Uncharted 4. This is heartbreaking, because Edmonson’s music to the first three Uncharted games was perfect. Perfect! He will be missed, and I begrudgingly anticipate hearing Henry Jackman’s score.

Here are some other upcoming titles that are bound to have fantastic music: Tearaway Unfolded, The Witcher 3 and Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture.

Tearaway Unfolded is a relaunch, of sorts, of 2013’s Vita game, Tearaway. Therefore, it’ll include the awesome music that Kenny Young and Brian D’Oliveira wrote. Kenny works in-house at Media Molecule, who develops the Tearaway games, and you might remember Brian from his flawless score to Papo & Yo. I can’t wait to hear more from them.

I’ve never had the opportunity to do an audio interview with composer Mikolai Stroinski, but I did do a print interview with him and now I can’t wait to hear his music in the upcoming The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. Firstly, I’ve never played any of the Witcher games, and I look forward to healing that gaping wound in my past. Secondly, Mikolai’s music for The Vanishing of Ethan Carter was great.

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The Vanishing of Ethan Carter

Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture is the highly-anticipated release from The Chinese Room, the British game company run by husband-wife team Dan Pinchbeck and Jessica Curry. Jessica is the composer, and she’s magnificent. I loved and admired her music for Dear Esther and for Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs. I think Jessica is one of the cleverest composers writing for games, and I can’t wait to hear her new sounds.

A couple other games I’m stoked about: For some reason, I’m not afraid of zombies, so I’ll probably play the hell out of Dead Island 2, as long as it’s a better game than Riptide was. I don’t have strong feelings about the music one way or the other, but I have very strong feelings (cravings, even?) about stomping zombie heads.

I’m intrigued by Volume (made by the same dude who did Thomas Was Alone), No Man’s Sky, and The Tomorrow Children. Let’s do this, 2015!

What are you excited to play or hear this 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.

So it’s Friday night, and my friend Frank and I are busy listing off musical acts and bands we have yet to see live. All my top choices were video game composers, and Frank shared the sentiment equally. It has been this way for quite some time, and I am totally okay with NEVER seeing the bands of my youth or the present ever again so long as I get to see these true masters in full form beyond the volume knob of my stereo and record player. Want to know who I have to see before I die? Here’s my personal top 3.

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                                 Listen: Masafumi Takada:  Killer 7 Soundtrack

 

3. Masafumi Takada– I could explain away all the billions of reasons WHY Takada’s SO brilliant, but sometimes you just need to hear it for yourself. I will say that once you’ve heard his low grumblings to the devil himself (as seen in Killer 7), it’s likely you’ll take up the magical arts just to hear exactly what he was saying. There must be more? Something I missed? I must know.

Killer 7, one night only and played in its entirety. How much money do you want? I can only give you EVERYTHING!

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             Listen and Watch: Shoji Meguro: Persona Live Show 2009

 

2. Shoji Meguro– I once wrote that posters of Shoji Meguro should be on every young person’s wall. That Meguro should be as revered, idolized and ranked with the likes of Michael Jackson, The Beatles, The Bee Gees, and Elvis Presley. Meguro’s musical accent is unlike any other in videogames: it zigzags the bizarre obstacle course it has set for itself with deft and singular style. His live show is half saturated Persona fan-service, and half 1990 Grammy Award show homage complete with nondescript rappers and In Living Color denim dressed Fly Girl dancers. There’s NOTHING like it out there anywhere in the world.

Meguro is a consummate, wildly creative and immaculately rehearsed musician, and his  sound is something, that once you hear it, you’ll never mistake it with anyone else, and you’ll recognize it after only 1 bar.

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Listen and Watch: Akira Yamaoka: LIVE

 

1. Akira Yamaoka – There is an unfortunate true story I have about Akira Yamaoka, and that is, I missed him completely when he played just 3 HOURS from my hometown. It seems unfathomable, but I missed one of my musical idols by simply not having my ear close enough to the ground. In one plain and average weekend, Yamaoka, spur of the moment, decided to play at some dingy out of the way club, and he didn’t even bother to phone me.  Surprise can be wonderful, so they say: in this case, NO. Yamaoka, through his veneer of startlingly loud discordant No Wave, is really an artist with a broken heart.

To write emotive, effective, and truly despondent music,  you have to be willing to go all in, sparing no expense. Yamaoka details a sordid trail of debilitating and frightening loss.  More than alone, and more than disenchanted, Yamaoka paints forlorn and desperate like no other musician before or since. To him, to be filled with longing also carries with it something terrifying, and in equal doses he brings that despair and horror to bear with no compromise. True to his unflinchingly harsh methods, Yamaoka is a visionary and not one to miss…again.

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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.

Late on Christmas Eve, my friends and I noticed something amiss with the PlayStation Network. We were all playing Destiny together, but some of us kept getting booted off the network. Two others couldn’t see anyone on their friend’s list, as though they were offline.

We had plans to play more Christmas Day, but thanks to the DDoS attacks on PSN and XBL, we were unable to do so. I was able to get back online Saturday evening. Some of my pals couldn’t get on until they heard they could change their MTU settings.

One of the alleged attackers (I learned that DDoS-ing is not hacking) appeared in a filmed interview, and said this: “I’d be rather worried if those people didn’t have anything better to do than play games on their consoles on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day”.

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Other than the fact that Mr. DDoSer also doesn’t have “anything better to do” with his time than play on his computer to ruin other people’s who are trying to do much the same thing, I’d like to tell you what I missed out on during the PSN outage.

Sure, I missed playing certain games, but I had plenty of other games to play. A lot of the games I’m currently interested in playing couldn’t be played offline (like Dragon Age: Inquisition, or Destiny, or eventually, Far Cry 4).

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On the bright side, this forced me to explore other titles on my “shelf” that I’d ignored to date, like Never Alone and Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light. Both of these games are amazing and awesome and you should play them immediately.

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In reality, I personally didn’t miss gaming. I missed my friends.

I’ve connected with many friends outside of PSN, via Twitter, Facebook or text messaging, but not all of them.

This will sound far more dramatic than I intend, but I lived through the “Outage of 2011”. My biggest anxiety during the 48-hour Christmas outage was that that would happen again. We’d be unable to communicate for weeks. Screw gaming, I was worried I wouldn’t get to talk to my friends.

I didn’t hear too much talk about this during the Christmas DDoS attack. I heard about the kids and friends and brothers and sisters and boyfriends and girlfriends and moms and dads opening their gifted Xbox One or PS4 and not being able to play.

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I wanted to hear more about the people who connect to their friends and family via PSN. I’ve met some amazing humans through gaming. Like my friend, Jeffrey, from Manchester, England, who always felt so worthless and unloved and insignificant, until he met a girl, married her, had a kid, and is the happiest guy on the planet now. Or Mitch, who’s brother is struggling with substance abuse and can’t seem to pull it together. Or Javier, who’s about to go to Afghanistan again. Or Maria, who’s trying to finish her PhD in Microbiology but has an overbearing and unhelpful advisor. Robbie just bought his first house, after getting home from his first tour overseas. Willie’s dad is in the hospital. None of these names are real, but the stories are. These are my friends. And for that 48-hour period of time, over the holidays, during the DDoS attack, I didn’t know when I’d get to talk with them again.

Boo hoo? Maybe, but I’m not so sure. That type of human interaction is the aspect of gaming that counters the non-gaming public’s assumptions about it: playing video games can be a richly social experience.

I’m glad the network was down for such a short time. It prompted many of us to find connections outside of PSN, a silver lining of the grey cloud. Game on, my friends.

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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.

Every year, I make video games submit a new station I.D., because I have to make sure they are still pointing the way forward. The way I see it, this hobby takes so much time away from so many other sources of life that it is necessary to legitimize my support of it on a yearly basis. That may sound harsh, but all it really means is that I need a reminder of WHY I play. This year, it came on Christmas day. Now aside from my usual huge video game vault opening (a gesture that suffices most every time), I spent some time that day actually PLAYING, which is rarer an opportunity than you might actually think it is. What did I play? My Terminator 2 cabinet.

It is Christmas after all…duh.

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Listen: Double Dragon NES Soundtrack

I will say again, the arcade experience of Terminator 2: Judgment Day cannot be replicated by any means of emulation or ports, you have to be standing there with that plastic gun in your hand, the sound so loud it could feasibly crack the glass, and the discharge of actual smoke from your weapon as you fire and miss or destroy multiple targets. The smell of that gun as it heats up, I cannot even describe it, and the noise, the sensory overload, almost nothing on earth can reproduce it. Then while still waiting for family to show, I turned on my NES: Kung Fu, Ninja Gaiden, Double Dragon then Contra. The NES is my system of choice when I am looking to be reminded about how much I enjoy this past time, and undoubtedly it never fails to fill the blanks on my extended stay visa questionnaire. The NES is a perfect machine with perfect games: that uncomfortable brick controller, its limited motion, the sticking buttons, and the sound it makes when you hit pause. The straining palette of color it draws with, that gorgeous midi synthesizer, and Kung Fu: It’s always going to lead back to Kung Fu. That’s a story for another time though. In short the NES still delivers! Anyhow you get it, these reminders staved off my never-to-happen abandonment of the hobby, but you have to at least pretend to challenge the notion. Right?

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Listen: Marvel Vs. Capcom Soundtrack – Morrigan’s Theme

Ultimately, my new year needs to be armed with all things progression and all things that like I said point forward,and every year I am VERY quickly shown evidence that indeed these games deserve some form of status or exalted place in my personal hierarchy. Why? Video games single-handedly produced the bond that brought about ALL of my best friends in life. This was not just some casual or fleeting camaraderie either, they have all been life-long. I speak to each one of them on a regular basis. How much more forward momentum can you possibly achieve? So, um, maybe forget this whole thing? Wait, wait… there is a point to this diatribe. Eh… question your idols, false or otherwise, frequently. It makes you appreciate and remember why you ever signed on to their worship in the first place. I am glad we had this talk.

As you were, I have games to play.

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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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