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Insider Blog

This weekend in the Twin Cities (in St. Paul, technically), there’s a new game media convention called Gamer’s Rhapsody. I’m participating in two panels, although I think I’m most excited for performances by Dale North, Nerd Enhanced Sound, Disasterpeace and Jake Kaufman. Here are some reasons you should come if you’re in the neighborhood:

Saturday at noon, I’m sitting on a panel called “Hey Listen! Linking video game music to its classical roots”. Coolest part is, this one wasn’t even my idea. Tim Turi of Game Informer, along with the three brothers (two of whom are pictured in the link) of the Super Marcato Bros., hatched that plan. We’ll be talking about how classical music inspired composers from all walks of video game life, 8-bit era through modern game scores.

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Later the same day, I get to have a panel conversation with Disasterpeace (Rich Vreeland, who wrote the soundtrack to Fez), and Jake Kaufman (Shovel Knight). I’m looking forward to this – I’m fascinated by the workings of the 8-bit composer’s mind. Even though Rich and Jake wrote Fez and Shovel Knight using similar sounds, these are two completely different soundtracks. Like BioShock’s orchestral score vs. Dead Space 2. Similar tools, different results.

If you live in the vicinity and want to be connected to the gaming community, this is the place to be. The International Game Developers Association Twin Cities chapter will be there. Several Twin Cities developers and studios, like Yellow Chord Audio, Big John Games and Thought Shelter Games will have tables there.

If you’re into remixing video game tracks, there are a couple must-see options: Dale North has a panel about what makes a remix great, and (trying to contain my glee) OC Remix is coming!

Saturday night is all about the music. Dale North, who is Destructoid’s editor in chief, recently finished a score for Dragon Fantasy Book II. He’s also a singer/songwriter and is doing a set Saturday evening.

Nerd Enhanced Sound is a local trio that normally goes by the name Orange Mighty Trio. These three fellas play covers of video game soundtracks from the old days, like Contra, Metroid, Duck Tales and Marble Madness. There’s plenty of Mario in there too. Piano, bass and violin makes for a great alternative to the originals!

Disasterpeace is doing a set – he’s also a singer/songwriter and I’m looking forward to hearing a different side of Rich’s musical brain. His Fez score was so intelligent and thoughtful – well planned, well constructed – I imagine his other music will do the same.

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Purchase the Fez soundtrack right here!

Jake Kaufman is the only one I’ve never interviewed or met. That right there is reason enough to hear his set Saturday night at the end of a long day! I love his Shovel Knight score and can’t wait to hear more of his music.

If you’re in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area, I highly encourage you to come to Gamer’s Rhapsody. It’ll be an intimate group (it’s the first year, remember) so you’ll have plenty of opportunities to meet folks and ask questions, or show off your own creativity!

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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.

A little over a month ago, I began counting down my favorite games across the last generation of consoles. If you missed the last couple entries please: click here.

# 9. Ubisoft and the Assassin’s Creed series

Say what you will about the first Assassin’s Creed, its ad nauseam parade of derivative objectives, repetitive mission structure, and its dead-eyed, bloodless protagonist Altair – any of these may be chief among your complaints. I hear you. BUT. That’s not the reason so many left unsatisfied. No, no… it all came down to what was initially outlined, what was not so much promised, but alluded to, er promised. There were some rather large dice being tossed about Ubisoft’s conference room shuffleboard set, and even larger bets.

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Watch: The first Assassin’s Creed Trailer

The trouble inherent with big promises is that they remain an elusive and seldom delivered ingredient within packaged games, and Assassin’s Creed’s trail of strewn letters to its many lovers all promised an affair like no other: exclusive, gorgeous, many the gifts and most importantly, hot and heavy. Assassin’s Creed’s first date, however, if you will, is more akin to a blind double date with dinner at a Wienerschnitzel, and a dingy, two- transfer bus ride to your love in waiting. It’s all on your dime though, because the man on your arm just skipped out on the bill. Promises, promises.

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Watch: The Madness Of King George

What I realized though was that UbiSoft ran out of time, plain and simple, because the glimmers of what might and would be coming were nothing short of cosmic. So what if at its inception, corners were painstakingly cut? Despite that, from time to time, you could still glimpse that original manifesto, the pen and paper drawings, the pitch, the frequency: VISION. Working to establish a top-tier brand, something with its very own distinguishing mark and signature are bound to encounter some form of jetlag or layovers, and the first Assassin’s Creed has a pouch full of meal vouchers and has been downgraded to coach more times than even it can accurately account for. That being said, there is absolute euphoria in its purgatory, and it is to be had in large and regular doses spread evenly throughout that debut title. Those blinding glimmers, the flesh of those ideal, proud tenets that were promised to me, MADE me stick around. It didn’t take Ubisoft long to correct the mistakes of its first child as the second seed heralded the deliverance of the goods: Suddenly, Assassin’s Creed had become one of my most beloved, and unbeknownst to me, easily sustained fixations.

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Listen: Assassin’s Creed 2 Soundtrack – Venice Rooftops

The thing is, when I initially committed to take part in the Assassin’s Creed consumerism, I had no idea that the games would become an annualized event, where every November I would be placed into a darker shade of coat belonging to yet another similarly dressed assassin. While I have some disdain for this practice (every sequel should have a few years between entries.), I found Assassin’s Creed’s successive slew of sequels via tired slogans like Brotherhood, Revelations, and now Unity, surprisingly served over the counter and without prescription. Because… things happen when you’re given too much of a good thing, and suddenly I found myself comatose in the intervening months leading up to the next chapter. I had become a willing, violent addict growing increasingly dependent on this drip feed of expensive collectors’ editions, and preposterous bizarro-world exposition. Where else would you find the deranged what-if madness of King George Washington colliding with the imperturbable pfft of a dead Tutankhamen’s sarcophagus? You have yet to play Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed: Cartel Imhotep, but you will. You won’t be alone either, I will be right there with you, struggling to find more room for which to place my new limited edition 1/6th scale Pharaoh Assassin statue. This really is just the beginning I hope, as I can’t wait till they start in with the acronyms.

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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.

This fall. This fall was gorgeous in Minneapolis/St. Paul. We had amazing weather – lots of sunshine, and we’ve experienced a slow, steady decline in temperatures (which will continue for weeks).

I’ve missed most of that nice weather, and I’m okay with that. I’m an agoraphobic introvert who’s really great at passing off as an extrovert. I feel this is more complicated than just existing as a straight-up introvert. Regardless, I stay inside a lot, and I play a lot of games.

This fall, I’ve had the opportunity to play several games I’ve been waiting for, like Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor, Sunset Overdrive, Fantasia: Music Evolved, Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel and Sherlock Holmes: Crimes and Punishments.

Am I playing any of these wonderful games? I played them all for short periods and truly enjoyed each of them. But am I playing them? Of course not, because two other titles came out in the late summer/early fall: Destiny, and Diablo III: Reaper of Souls.

Those damn games are ruining my life. They’re ruining it for quite different reasons, and one could learn from the other, but seriously.

Let’s take D3 for instance. I’ve written about this game enough times in the past – it’s fair to say there are hundreds and hundreds of challenges and goals to work toward in D3. This keeps me interested amidst all the repetition that comes with the game. I always have something to try and achieve, and I’m constantly rewarded with better and better loot, which allows me to battle tougher and tougher monsters.

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Legendaries everywhere…

I can trade with my friends. This keeps my friends interested. I can battle their enemies and win them prizes. We can play together without ever playing together.

The D3 crew knows how to keep me in front of their game. That game is a perfect case study in the “carrot in front of the nose” idea. They wave that carrot loud and proud.

Destiny, like Diablo III, comes with a lot of repetition and far, far less incentive. At most, Bungie gives me binoculars with which I can barely make out the carrot at the end of the infinitely long stick, waving in front of my nose, off in the distance, like a tiny fairy queen on a mini parade float.

Those who play Destiny are after loot. In that game, loot comes inside ‘engrams’, which unlock and become your prize. The best color engrams to find, of course, are purple or gold. Purple is called legendary loot in Destiny, and gold loot is called exotic. Every exotic item I have, I either bought or earned through a special mission (these special missions are granted at random). I’ve never received exotic loot as a random drop, nor have I ever received exotic loot from a raid (arguably, the most interesting gameplay in Destiny occurs in the raid – (the raid being one of the more innovative types of multiplayer I’ve personally encountered on a console).

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…nary a drop.

I’ve had more luck with legendary weapon drops, but the legendary armor drops tend to be for a different class than I’ve chosen to play. So, for every few hundred green or blue drops, I’ll get one purple one, that might not even be of use to me, and I can’t trade it with a friend.

The other night, I realized I’d amassed an entire legendary set of armor for a Titan (class). So I made a Titan character. And this is the rub – once I have the Titan leveled up, I’ll have three characters to run through the raid each week, to run the daily mission each day, to run the weekly and nightfall strikes each week.

Three times. Everything three times. Repetition with the quite rare reward. It’s a lot to ask. It’s pretentious, in a way, to expect the consumer to grind so much for so little. Or is it? Sometimes, I just want a damn reward. There aren’t enough hours in the day or in a week to be properly rewarded from Destiny. What game takes up all of your time, and why? What keeps you playing? How do you personally feel about loot rewards in games? What are your experiences with repetition vs. rewards in games?

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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.

SUMTHING ELSE MUSIC WORKS CELEBRATES 10-YEAR ANNIVERSARY OF “HALO 2″ WITH BLOWOUT SALE ON ALL “HALO” ORIGINAL SOUNDTRACKS

Iconic “Halo” video game OSTs 50% off on Sumthing.com through January 2015!

Halo 2: 10th Anniversary Sale

Sumthing Else Music Works, the premier record label dedicated to video game soundtracks, celebrates the 10th anniversary of Halo 2 and upcoming Halo: The Master Chief Collection with a special sale on all the Halo original soundtracks. Commencing today and running through the end of January 2015, Sumthing’s entire catalog of the Halo original soundtracks, including both volumes of the classic Halo 2 soundtrack, are on sale for 50% off exclusively at http://www.sumthing.com.

Widely considered to be among the greatest video game scores of all time, the best-selling Halo 2 Original Soundtrack was released in two volumes and features the iconic music of Martin O’Donnell and his writing partner Michael Salvatori, the composers behind the award-winning Halo: Combat Evolved Original Soundtrack (winner of Rolling Stone‘s Best Original Video Game Soundtrack Award). Halo 2 Original Soundtrack Volume One also includes the original compositions by Breaking Benjamin and Incubus as well as the signature guitar sounds of revered rock guitarist Steve Vai. The album was produced by Grammy® award-winning artist, musician, producer and Sumthing Else Music Works founder Nile Rodgers.

The following Halo soundtracks are on sale from Sumthing.com:

Halo: Combat Evolved Original Soundtrack
Halo 2 Original Soundtrack Volume One
Halo 2 Original Soundtrack Volume Two
Halo 3 Original Soundtrack
Halo 3: ODST Original Soundtrack
Halo Reach Original Soundtrack
Halo Legends Original Soundtrack
Halo Wars Original Soundtrack
Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary Soundtrack

To start shopping visit: http://www.sumthing.com/halo-sale/.

A little over a month ago, I began counting down my favorite games across the last generation of consoles. If you missed the last couple entries please click here.

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Watch: Bayonetta’s 2008 announcement trailer

#5 Platinum Games and Bayonetta – 

In the lead up to this week’s writing, I was busy scouring my shelves trying desperately to pick some lesser alternate candidate to crown in 5th place, my reasoning due to my reticence to place yet another Platinum games title onto this list. I fought it, but ultimately nothing stood above it without me hoisting said understudy onto my shoulders and coaching it with a nickel’s worth of borrowed, cheap athletic wear slogans. The number 5 slot on this list is goes to Bayonetta, and not some hastily assembled upstart puppet regime, which exists solely by the aid of my collarbone.

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Listen: Bayonetta soundtrack – The Gates of Hell

What it comes down to, for me, these days, concerning video games at least, is the level of absurdity, and Bayonetta wastes no time in dialing up the unfathomable, all the while willfully inebriated on the most magnificent of homebrew hooch. Why do stand-up in some dingy club, when you can tour those punch lines outside of its regulated confines, megaphone-main-street-parade style? This is one touring company not to miss, and Kamiya’s cast is a line of color so bizarre, slanted and captivating it’s no matter that his fuchsia rejects his mustard yellow; it’s all about that final shade… the mixture together, and I would wager a guess that Bayonetta is one of the only set of players to talk as loudly as its dressed, the only troupe with real personality for a thousand miles in every direction on any map. Without the characters, you’ve already doomed yourself to drown, but Kamiya’s all-hours house party attracts a very particular, and strikingly peculiar crowd to a room, and all of them are well beyond the dog paddle.

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Listen: Bayonetta soundtrack – Mysterious Destiny

Kamiya’s actors, however, make up but one single facet on his already-heavy key ring. Platinum redefined the pace and expectation of the action genre, adding an emphasis to established MPH on the highway. Everyone knows that when you’re out on a long road trip, it’s unlikely you’ll stick to the recommended postings: you’ll speed, and Platinum treats Bayonetta as it would a tire to the asphalt. Bayonetta discards the pace that the beat-em-up genre set for action games some 25 years earlier: NO MORE WALKING! Now you will get where you’re going in half the time. You won’t feel even a bump, and you’ll be in the best shape of your life.

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Watch: Bayonetta’s Wicked Weaves

Again, I could go on and on and ON about all the things this game does right, but I won’t because Platinum nails it where it matters most, and that is in the hand. Exactly 10 years ago, Tecmo’s Team Ninja completely overhauled the genre with Ninja Gaiden, a game I have played and beaten numerous times and on all its available difficulties. It’s still something I play every year without fail, and it feels tremendous even now when you wrap your fingers around it. BUT… Kamiya has exceeded even that title, usurping the throne while its complacent king sat idly by, staring at his trophies of old. When it comes down to it, the most important position is the one of power, the one that rules. This is Bayonetta’s coronation. Here’s to the centennial, the legacy to come… Long live the queen!

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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.

There are a handful of things I excel at in video games that I struggle with in real life. Here is my story.

Looking for Things

I can spend hours looking for things in games. I’ll search every corner, nook, cranny, drawer, wardrobe, desk, chest, closet, basement, car, crate, vending machine, computer and body for any item, regardless of how important its acquisition is to my character’s advancement. In real life, if I have to look for a specific shirt, I wear a different shirt. If I can’t find where I stored the new tube of toothpaste, I buy another tube of toothpaste. When I leave behind my water bottle for the twelfth time, I buy my thirteenth water bottle.

Running

All players should have the ability to run in games. Commander Shepard in Mass Effect couldn’t run. That was annoying and has, no doubt, prevented more replays of that game than just my own. In real life, I would be the first to die. Not only am I unable to run very far, I hate every second of it. In grad school, I ran for several months before I realized how angry it made me. There was no release of aggression, just a massive surge of it. I love the freedom of running and jumping in games. That does not translate to real life.

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Saving Money

I will save every last scrap of gold to buy that one item I want, whether it’s a weapon, a property, a piece of armor, crafting equipment, upgrades, a car, or whatever. I save currency, resources, potions, upgrades, almost to a fault. Not true in real life. I save some cash, yes, because if I’m lucky enough to retire, it’d be cool to not be broke then too. Games and electronics take vast amounts of my cash reserves. And I’m okay with that, mostly.

Making Passionate Impromptu Speeches

So fabulous at this in games. I’ve pumped up so many armies and forces before battle, leading them to glory. I’ve saved people with my words. I’ve prevented crimes, encouraged happiness, soothed nerves, calmed the grieving and cut down the arrogant. I’ve inspired good and defeated evil, all with my words in games. I’m not as great at this when it comes to real life. I tend to say things wrong, and my words get all twisted when I’m on the spot. I’m fine if I have the time to plan, but that’s not very impromptu now, is it?

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Organizing

I can keep a handle on my inventory. Perhaps this is one reason I disklike playing survival horror, where resource management is often the only way to beat the game… to say I struggle with organization is like saying the Pope is a bit religious. My desk is a disaster (although far, far, far from the worst, I’m happy to say), my house is more or less a mess (I haven’t unpacked from a trip I took two weeks ago), and the only way I can manage to pay bills on time is by doing auto-pay. In many ways, I’m horrible at being an adult.

Relationships

Let’s just leave this one alone.

Dying/Death

There are times I’ve died in horrible situations; for instance, you and that boss are both one hit away from ending a 20-minute battle and the boss strikes first. Or, deaths in games like X-COM are brutal, where dead means dead. I came dangerously close to losing my hardcore wizard in Diablo 3 at level 69 ½ (the goal is 70). But, you know, I can just play again. It might not be quite the same experience, and you might not get all the same gear on the second play-through, but you get to try again. In real life, I’ve lost friends, family, colleagues and pets. It always sucks, as I imagine you know.

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Following Directions

Let’s face it: I’m horrible at following directions in and out of games.

And you?

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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.

A little over a month ago, I began counting down my favorite games across the last generation of consoles. If you missed the last couple entries please click here. This week, we have number ten and another tie.

#10 Electronic Arts Mirror’s Edge and Dead Space

I was skeptical when in 2008, video game publisher Electronic Arts announced a duo of high-end titles that were promised to be made and delivered both clean and sober. At the time it seemed too far fetched an idea, and I erroneously dismissed the news entirely. I have nothing against Electronic Arts, but a troubling portion of their previous finished products seemed to end up litter on a very unfinished highway. I won’t delve into all that though, because I am not here to dwell on anybody’s past transgressions. The past is the past, and when someone or something makes a public appeal to make things right, or boldly strives to change ways and habits… you have to at the very least give them a chance to succeed.

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Listen: Mirror’s Edge Soundtrack – Still Alive

Dead Space and Mirror’s Edge both had to fight for my attention, challenge other games more prominently placed for my dollars, and destroy the preconceived notions and prejudices I had placed upon them with no formal sense of reason. While downloading the demo for Mirror’s Edge (downloading, not playing) I sat mildly mesmerized by a PS3 system theme that features the title’s protagonist Faith. That color wash of hot red, the skeleton etching of buildings in the whitest primary dashes, it’s a moment that lasted long enough for me to figure out the allocation of funds to pre-order it, and short enough for me to act immediately on the impulse. The scales rose instantaneously from unregistered pulse to live, blistering fever. I NEVER played that demo, and I didn’t have to. It was all a feeling: there was just something about it.

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Watch: Dead Space’s Announcement Trailer

Dead Space had an even easier time in its rounds of discussion. The game was quick to remind me that there was a complete dearth of REAL survival horror games, and it quickly ran down the litany of failures the current damaged crops had to offer. Dead Space provided an accomplished, fairly decadent spread of airlocks, zero suits, and dismemberments, but what made it stand out was the emphasis it placed on its total isolation. It understood fear is most prevalent without a partner, without another face, and without assurances made solid with another body in close proximity. Mostly, you hear the Dead Space cadet Issac Clarke breathe and gasp for hours on end, and that sound is one of the most UNNERVING things I have ever had to endure. I never considered physical fatigue to be in and of itself an element of terror, but ask yourself, how long can you run? Issac Clarke can run about 30 feet, and then what happens? He’s tired. And then what happens? Well he’s not running anymore, and he considers the cramp in his abdomen to be a much more pressing concern than the legions of cobble-headed Belial giving chase at his back. Dead Space brilliantly simulates the prepping of an assault with trembling hands as they fumble for triggers and safety locks. No one is ever REALLY prepared, and Issac Clarke is the terrifying embodiment of a chicken loose in space with its head cut off. I haven’t been more petrified playing anything in the six years since its release.

Both Mirror’s Edge and Dead Space are beautiful games where design and imagination dictated and trumped all concerns for market viability, and the greatest compliment that I can give to any piece of software is to say I will commit to return to it annually, knowing instinctively that when I do, it will have lost none of its luster.

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

The video game industry has an ongoing identity crisis. Mostly, I’m able to watch this from afar, keeping industry drama firmly at arm’s length. Unfortunately, one of the symptoms of this crisis is manifesting itself in video game soundtracks.

In recent years, as the industry has blossomed, some AAA games seem set on hiring famous film composers to write music. I feel this is a loss that compromises the identity of the enterprise.

For several reasons, the game industry struts around like the red-headed stepsister of entertainment. I often liken this film breaking away from theater in the early 1900s; over time, ideally, these feelings of inadequacy will fade. Yet, since video games make absurd amounts of money, above and far beyond the music and film worlds, I’ve struggled to understand the inferiority complex.

Hiring film composers hardly brings more respect or recognition to games. Consumers certainly buy soundtracks as a result of the composer, but how often will someone actually buy a game as a result? Who purchased Mass Effect 3 because of Clint Mansell? Who bought Halo 4 because of Neil Davidge? Who bought Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 because of Hans Zimmer?

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Did developers make back the exorbitant fees wrapped up in hiring these men (calling a spade a spade), purely from consumers buying soundtracks because of their music? That is so incredibly unlikely. Did they get bragging rights for hiring Zimmer? Yep. Good for them.

The most profound music in games was written by game composers. Or, quite simply, composers who aren’t famous for their films. They’re composers who are famous for their game music. They excel at writing game music. Film composers don’t.

A film composer can write a beautiful theme, but how often will they be the ones to innovate or improve game music? And let’s face it, when Mansell or Zimmer or Reznor get hired, they aren’t writing the bulk of the music. They might write a theme or two, and that’s it. The real game composers fill in the gaps, which is equally as tragic, scoring minutes upon minutes more than the film dude did. The game composers still write the bulk of the music, and get far less credit than they deserve.

Outside of bragging rights, there is no rhyme or reason for hiring outside the industry. There is plenty of talent within it. It’s not like I need to list names like Soule, Kyd, O’Donnell, Schyman… but there you go. Some of those insanely talented composers have been replaced by film composers.

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The message sent? We want real entertainment composers. Video game composers don’t have enough talent, or skill, or name recognition. I think that last part is key: the name recognition. Hiring someone like Zimmer sends conflicting messages. To the rest of the entertainment industry, it’s a “Look at us – we hired Trent Reznor because video games are a big deal.”

To the fans, however, the message is, “Hey, we’re gonna go ahead and hire someone from outside the industry so we can get attention from the film folks”.

Again, how often do consumers buy a game because of the famous dude (spade a spade) hired to do the music? Perhaps they buy the soundtrack, but it seems outrageous to assume that this will make a pub/dev enough additional money to warrant the decision.

Game music makes games special. It always has. Hiring huge names for millions of dollars means the industry loses one of its unique attributes: composers who’ve spent their lives playing and studying games and game music; composers who strive for the best interactive experience musically. Let’s keep those folks in the game, so to speak.

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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, last night I beat Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor WITHOUT DYING – my first perfect playthrough of a game ever! And boy was it dramatic. So many close calls: locking swords with enemy captains, leaping up castle walls to avoid charging caragors, like three or four of those “last chance” counter-attacks (phew). Man! I’m amped up folks!

To celebrate, I’ve put together a brand new Sumthing MIXTAPE. MIXTAPES are when we take gameplay from one game, and mash it up with one of our soundtracks from another. Today’s MIXTAPE pairs ten minutes from my perfect playthrough of Shadow of Mordor *brushes shoulders off* with a few songs from Michael McCann‘s delightfully atmospheric Deus Ex: Human Revolution soundtrack. And because a little Jesper Kyd never hurt anybody, we kick things off with a track from Hitman: Blood Money.

0:03 – “47 Attacks” by Jesper Kyd (Hitman: Blood Money)
1:20 – “Icarus – Main Theme” by Michael McCann (Deus Ex: Human Revolution)
6:40 – “Barrett Boss Fight” by Michael McCann (Deus Ex: Human Revolution)
9:18 – “Penthouse” by Michael McCann (Deus Ex: Human Revolution)
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MIXTAPE is a mash-up of one game’s soundtrack and another’s gameplay. Contact us if you’d like to submit your own MIXTAPES and be sure to suggest some mixes for future entries in the comments below. Turn it up!!

I’ve spent a fair amount of time playing Destiny over the past few weeks. My Hunter is level 26+, and if you’ve played it, you know it takes a tiny bit of devotion to level up your character.

I enjoy the soundtrack, and it nearly always hits the mark. My praise overshadows my criticism.

Additionally, I’m only addressing the soundtrack to the game, not the song Paul McCartney wrote for the credits.

Speaking generally, the audio team did an amazing job implementing the music. Never does the music stop or start suddenly. The loops always wrap up perfectly, and the transitions are flawless. I’m such a stickler for this, because there are some terrific soundtracks that are more or less ruined by how the music was put into the game, and that’s a crime.

Totally not the case with Destiny. It’s really, really well done.

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Destiny’s soundtrack runs the gamut of symphonic to electronic music, with the occasional choir used to great effect. That gamut will be evident in my favorite tracks, listed below. However, this is one of my complaints with these massive soundtracks: it’s clearly impossible for one human being to undertake the arduous task of writing so many hours of music for a giant game. The only solution is to bring in more composers. In Destiny’s case, and so very many other blockbuster games, the musical narrative gets lost.

Thing is, even when Destiny’s score wanders, I tend to enjoy where it goes.

Truth be told, and this is huge for me, Destiny’s combat music is outstanding. Some of the battle music is foreground music, not at all intended to serve as a backdrop. Instead, the music is present and obvious in the best possible way.

My favorite track, however, might be the simplest in its sound. It’s called “Deconstruction”, and I’m so incredibly happy that the person who made this exists.

Next favorite is called “The Great Unknown”. Tonality is a bit ambiguous here, which is the best part, but it sounds a lot like a mode called lydian-mixolydian to me, which is one of my favorites. You get that raised fourth scale degree with a flat seven and it sounds super neat. A band called Elbow does a great song in that mode, I think it’s called “Ribcage”. But regarding “The Great Unknown”, the choir is great and the atmosphere is awesome. Here’s a nice long loop for you.

DestinyX

I pretty much love all the music you hear when you’re wandering around the tower.

Regarding combat tunes, there are some great ones. I love love love “The Temple of Crota”. I also enjoy “Dust Giants” and “End of the Line”. The dudes I play with online love “End of the Line” too. The best part of “End of the Line” is how it builds during the first big battle in the Sepiks Prime mission. It’s done SO well as the battle builds in intensity – it’s quite remarkable. Ooooh, and I love the “Sepiks Prime” tune too (it’s definitely one of my favorite missions).

On occasion, I feel like the score sounds too terrestrial. I recall the first time I heard guitar and drums, I was momentarily pulled away from the magic of Destiny’s universe. I liked the music though, even if it felt slightly anachronistic. In some ways, the overt acoustic sounds like brass, strings, electric guitars and drums serve as a tether to the human elements left in Destiny’s time. If all we heard were synthesizers, we’d lose that touch. When I consider it like that, I’m content.

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

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