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Next-generation systems – it all sounded like such a fantastic idea…

Despite that initial rush of complete inertia, I find myself void of reason for owning any of these new consoles.

It was fun blowing lots of money sure, but, these near sentient machines have become nothing more than exorbitantly expensive infomercial-type space heaters: Turn them on!, Lose those blankets!  Be free!

Why have I done this again?  I have signed up much too early for a new generation of hardware and software that won’t truly begin to take shape until later this year, or sometime after 20XX.  I am the sucker born every minute, and seemingly I have forgotten everything that has come before.  All it takes is me blinking, and I am a very damaged fish.

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Good thing is, I have options.  More importantly, YOU have options.  See that PS2? That Wii?  That Xbox?  Those old things sitting on your shelf are still incredibly viable.  Folks, now is the time, ‘cause it’s raining dollar store, 8-track deals all over your room.  Those games you never played, but paid full price for?  Those ancient glistening things finally have your full attention.  This won’t last forever, but for now you can be thrifty, blue-light, and completely budget-minded.

Here’s four titles from past generations you should play now:

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4. Capcom Classics Collection Volume 1 (Multi-platform)

Arcade collections are a bit of a stretch, as it’s a jumble of both great and largely passable titles, but just look at this set: A generous portion of Street Fighter and some dark perfectionist arcade fodder like Final Fight and Ghosts ‘N Goblins.  Straight from the source, straight to the vein, use caution: long-term exposure renders real life completely void of feeling.  Volume 2 is available, and is equally fantastic.

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3. Indigo Prophecy (Multi-platform)

If you’ve loved any of the myriad of titles from developer Quantic Dream like 2013’s Beyond: Two Souls, Heavy Rain or 2000’s Omikron: The Nomad Soul, then there’s a very slight chance you missed 2005’s Indigo Prophecy.  Watch closely as their mild-mannered studio head David Cage transforms into auteur savant.  Where else can you play guitar, clean urinals, and watch lovers bicker dramatically over toasters?  Nowhere.  The only thing left out?  Shopping for a bridal gown, though it may be in here, I may have simply chosen the wrong option.  Interested?  I thought so.

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2. Cursed Mountain (Wii) 

In my estimation, very few played developer Deep Silver’s slow-smoldering monster crawl.  Real shame, because for every second that something big happens, there’s several hundred where NOTHING happens at all.  Sound like some insulting back-handed compliment?  It is.  Silence goes unabated for hours at a time, creaking around abandoned villages, voodoo hexes merely hinted at… but the end result is one of the truest to form horror games on a console in years.  If you missed out, you can get it for less than a movie in 3D.  Those theaters are so loud, and this assures that, at the very least, quiet can be had for all.

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1. Odin Sphere (PS2)

Years ago, a manager asked me to do an “employee picks” wall of favorite records.  He stressed the importance of commentary, to convince customers unequivocally that this WAS what they were looking for.  The next morning he came into a line of 15 records all with the same tagline: “BOOM!”  There was no other way to describe any of them – direct, self-assured, and in bold lettering.  While I wasn’t asked to do the wall ever again, he did laugh.  If you’re not sold, I can’t help you.  Odin Sphere = Boom.

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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.

Hands down, my favorite unconventional OST of 2013 goes to Power Glove for Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon.

Blood Dragon is stand-alone DLC for Far Cry 3.  FC3 was a great game.  Meaning no disrespect to Brian Tyler, however, I had to turn that music off (more on the reason why in a moment).

Blood Dragon pulls together the best of 80s sci-fi – lots of fluorescent lights, a brilliantly written satire of the decade in which I grew up.  However, the visuals and story would go nowhere without Power Glove’s music.

Let’s start with the menu music.  You’re instantly transported far away from 2013 as the layers of music and reverb unfold.  The synths are amazing, and if I’ve learned anything from my conversations with Jesper Kyd, it’s that I know nothing about synths.  I’m not even gonna try.  I’ll stick to talking about the music itself.  Take a listen:

Blood Dragon menu

Listen: Blood Dragon Theme (Reprise)

The moment I heard that menu music, I fell in love with Power Glove’s soundtrack.  And it keeps getting better.  Their tracks are mixed perfectly.  I wanted to turn it up.  OMG SO BAD.  But Ubisoft isn’t in the habit of giving players control over the audio, other than turning it on or off.  No options to futz with the volume.

So uncool, Ubisoft.  It’s one thing if an audio team mixes the music with the game exactly how I like it.  However, no one does.  I reckon this is why developers tend to give us the choice to adjust the volume, because we all have different tastes.

In FC3, the music became so overbearing at times I had to turn it off within the first 20 minutes of game-play.  All I truly wanted was to turn it down a little.

In Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, another Brian Tyler score, I’d prefer to have a bit more volume for the majority of the game.  In addition to Tyler’s score, there are dozens of shanties the crew sings.  The audio mix is too low, especially for the crew songs.*

Shanties aside, it does a disservice to Tyler in both cases.  In FC3, I felt I was missing out on a big piece of the puzzle with the music muted.  In Black Flag, there are times I find myself straining to hear nuances of the score.

It can’t possibly be that complicated if many games come with the option.  When I encountered the issue in FC3, I thought, they must’ve run out of time.  True story.

I wanted to turn Power Glove’s Blood Dragon music up, and that thought flashed through my mind once every 10 minutes or so of game-play.  Power Glove – you are serious musicians.  Not that you need to hear it from me.

Power Glove manipulates lots of themes in different ways.

Listen to the transformation of Rex’s theme between its original form:

blood dragon 1

Listen: Rex Colt’s Theme

And the piano version:

blood dragon 3

Listen: Cyber Commando

Finally, listen to Warcry.

Sleeping Dragon” is another favorite, complete with synth flute.  Love the synth flute. It makes me want to watch Blade Runner or play with my Speak and Math or something.

Power Glove’s soundtrack immersed me into the Blood Dragon universe, so much that I wanted more.  I hope Ubisoft takes that into consideration in the future.  I mean, not that I personally would like to have volume control, but that several of us might?  Have you encountered this frustration before (in current gen games)?

*Correction: In a fit of frustration last night, I went to the audio options in ACIV because I was having trouble hearing the dialog.  Turns out I can adjust the volume of the music, sfx, etc.  My sincerest apologies for the error.  I immediately turned up the tunes.

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

I just realized the other day… I am tired of talking about things.  Wait, give me a minute here: talking about things and not doing them.  Take just about anything I have ever promised to do, and you will find that my once sought after objective has been lost to my own inactivity and laziness.  If you’ve read my articles before, then you may have seen the bottom of the page where I talk about putting together an all Street Fighter 3: Third Strike cover band.  I am… in theory.  Thing about it is, I’m tired of the proposition.  I can do it.  Why not now?  So on New Year’s Eve, I actually got other people involved, and laid out a plan. The next day I dragged out my dented Saxophone, restrung an old acoustic guitar, and got to work.  If everything falls into place, I should have something by the end of this year.  I will keep you posted, but it still bothers me, why did I take this long to act?  The idea was a good one.

Geno New Year 1

Listen: Alex and Ken Stage – Jazzy NYC ’99

My sloth doesn’t end there though.  Talking is a hypnotic practice, and mostly everything sounds great when you’re at the sketching phase.  The color, the direction, the focus: it’s all there when sitting somewhere comfortable and refereed by air conditioning or temperature controlled heat.  I tell my friends, and acquaintances that I barely play video games.  That’s 100% true.  I actively engage in software adventures MAYBE twice a week.  I also tell them that my plan is always to play more.  This never happens, but I desperately want it to.  My backlog is frightening, and as it grows, so does the temptation to stop investing in the hobby that has wrought both debt and unparalleled pleasure to the microbes of my tiny world.  Playing these games is hard to do when you’re working three jobs, and have changed majors a few dozen times.  Thing is, my prolonged commitment to video games dictates that my free time should be more about exploiting my readily available library of game titles and less about how I wish I could make the time to do so.  Seriously…who’s the idiot here?  So I pledge to play exponentially more, and promise to devote fewer hours to my lecture circuit of friends’ houses where I often find myself the biggest culprit of impassioned, hollow speeches.  While I could apply this “do more” rationale to just about everything in my life, let’s start small.  To productivity!

Geno New Year 2

Listen: The Office/Main Theme

I remember spending New Years 1999 at a party covered in bottles of champagne.  Thinking that 20 degrees was indeed not cold enough, I decided to douse myself with its contents instead of drinking them.  I was just about to move to Austin; my band had just finished recording our first record, and we were just about to land a recording deal (we did… almost).  Things were moving forward, and at its precipice, its jumping off point, I remember feeling accomplished and literally covered in alcohol, not drunken with it.  When I had arrived, there was only a small group of midwives discussing their exploits around a bowl of chips.  That is, until I turned on the music, until I begged her friends to get up and move, until I made some calls, and so the champagne poured.  By 4AM the party had gotten so wild that my sister (the host) was now in dire need of a new house.

My point being this: I realize I have achieved nothing through talk, and I admit freely that I fall comatose far too often, and am an easily led, easily distracted pawn.  The good thing is, I have come to find that all I need to do to effect change is to shut up.  In the comments below: keep me focused and please, above all else cover my mouth.

Geno New Year 3

Listen: Catherine – YO

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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 quickly approaches — the end of 2013. This has been an undeniably amazing year for gaming, one in which we’ve seen the rise of amazing games, the next generation of consoles, a number of controversies, and a lot of fun.  I decided to look into what I’ve accomplished this year in terms of gaming, and the results are that I’ve played 47 unique games and DLC packs, which I’d say it not too shabby.  Of those 47, I’ve completed 39 of them.  Considering one of them was the life-consuming Persona 4 Golden, I don’t think that number is too bad either.  Also, we have a few more days left to stuff some short games into.  In light of all the games I’ve finished, I’d like to share with you my completion ritual.

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The majority of games I’ve played have been on the PC this year.  I can thank great sales for that.  No matter how long or tough a game is, whenever I finish one, and the credits begin to roll, I recline my chair all the way.  Then, I just sit and watch the screen.  It’s something simple, I know, but I look forward to that moment when I have nothing left to do but recline and watch the list of people who made the game that took over my life for the past few days.  Even if you don’t really care (or if the list is freakishly long because it was made by Ubisoft), that moment of reflection is pretty significant.  Besides, you never know if there’s going to be a cutscene at the end of your wait.

I’d like to suggest that you all do the same when you finish a game.  Aside from admiring the developers, that kind of time can be cathartic.  We don’t often have these moments where it’s acceptable to just do nothing.  This is a busy, multitasking world that often reminds people they’ll be left behind if they’re not constantly doing something.  When you use Steam, you can easily flip over to the web browser, chat with friends, or look up anything and everything on your smart phone.  Maybe you didn’t totally understand the ending you just witnessed, and you want to look up what Wikipedia has to say about it.

Don’t.  Recline.

recliner

Do this for all accomplishments, actually.  That would be my larger point.  Every year is a big one in your life, and it’s important to think back on it before approaching a new one.  I’m not saying you should come up with New Year’s resolutions or anything, but like a good game, you’ve just spent a long time taking in a lot of knowledge — some of it is useless, and some of it is impactful — and you should acknowledge it.

Life can wait a moment.  Watch the credits.  Absorb what you just witnessed.  Make your experience truly complete and not just because your cheevo says it is.  Then, after your moment of (digital) zen, keep on gaming.

My 2013 has been made impossibly better due to games.  This is a fact I cannot deny.  My credits include a lot of awesome people from the industry, notably the folks at Sumthing, who offered my stupid diatribes another platform.

I wish all the Sumthing fans, especially including Emily and Geno, my Sumthing Siblings, a happy holiday and a joyous New Year!  Thanks for reading.  Recline, and game on!

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

 

Video game music consistently offers wonderful opportunities to learn about unique musical practices from around the world.  From erhu in Borderlands to duduk in DotA, you can hear a lot of regionally specific sounds from our blue planet.

Like “kulning”.  On one hand, I am a Minnesotan who works at a classical music station.  Choral music is HUGE here in Minnesota, and we’re all Scandinavian (truth).  We know what “kulning” is.

On the other hand, I never imagined I’d hear kulning in a video game soundtrack.

Now we can, thanks to Gustaf Grefberg’s stunning score for Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons.

In Scandinavia, back in the day, women tended the livestock herds.  They sang to call the herds home.  It is a unique way to sing, called kulning.  Just listen to the main theme for Brothers, and you’ll hear the gorgeous calls, right away.

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Kulning demonstrates strength, clarity and precision in a human voice.  Grefberg used more live instruments than just voice in the Brothers soundtrack, like viola and guitar.

Naia” is a great example of kulning.  The voice doesn’t always sound precise to our ears, since kulning often incorporates quarter-tones, like a lot of Eastern music.  It makes the voice sound slightly out of tune at times, yet I assure you, singer Emma Sunbring is right on pitch.

Kulning isn’t intended to be delicate; you gotta belt it out if you want the cows to come home.  Not delicate at all.  It is, however, hauntingly personal and intimate while bordering on grandiose.  I find it fascinating.

Viola gets a bad rap.  It always has, and it always will.  Viola is the black sheep of the string section.  Unfortunate, since there is quite a bit of lovely viola music out there (Berlioz’s Harold in Italy, Beethoven’s late string quartets are magnificent, and Hindemith wrote a bunch of viola music, to name a few).

Viola, though, is a great instrument.  The range extends from the upper reaches of a cello to the lower reaches of a violin.  In “Winged Hope” you can hear how it bridges the gap between the two, sounding slightly colder than a cello, but far warmer than a violin.

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Grefberg creates terrifying sounds as well.  Like a bad situation getting worse, the texture of “Mountains” breaks down over the course of the piece.  Initially, waves of ominous cries weave through the texture together.  As the cries become shorter, individual voices break out on their own, almost sounding like animals bleating in the distance.  By the end of the track, most of the voices (instrumental and human) have given up altogether, and “Mountains” fades into silence.

Frozen World” is full of metallic sounds, like singing bowls.  The piano surfaces on occasion, dropping one note at a time, like icicles falling from a roof.  How do you write music that sounds cold?  Just ask Grefberg.  Or Björk.

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With his soundtrack Brothers, Grefberg did what many composers of media hope to do – he created a sonic world that doesn’t rely on visuals for support.  The instant the voice starts in the “Main Theme” you go somewhere.  It’s amazing.

After the holidays, I’ll share one more totally fricking incredible “unconventional soundtrack” with you.  Until that time, what’s on your “best” list 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 cats Atticus, June Bug and Lee, and loves gaming, with or without friends.

Today I am counting down my favorite records of 2013, and if there is one absolute in my daily routine, it is listening to videogame scores…repeatedly.  There is absolutely NOTHING I would rather be listening to.  If you knew me personally, you would also know that there is nothing I enjoy talking about more.  Congratulations to all these artists.

Top 5 A

Listen: Lilith’s Club

5. DmC (Devil May Cry) Original Game Soundtrack – Noisia

 

Devil May Cry as a series is largely stubborn and quick to brush aside criticism.  It is also one of the many reasons why each successive title in the franchise seems to have lost more and more of that youthful edge it once flaunted so obnoxiously in public.  2013’s DmC finally makes use of the adage of art dictating technology, tossing the grind of system specs and polygon counts at confused investors as a means to turn their attention towards understanding the indecipherable and allowing the developers to work in peace.  Dutch trio Noisia was commissioned to remap the entire exercise of inhabiting the body of protagonist Dante.  Their signature melding is unquenchable.  Noisia seems no stranger to these circles of damnation, always finding new ways to curate and expand on that inherent ambient darkness, appropriating each vicious stomp with a different shade of glass.  Noisia’s assessment of threats misses nothing, finding harm in even the poorly tailored loose buttons of its foe’s sports coat.  Noisia’s extreme attention to detail beforehand enables them to enter into a musical clash of the unexpected that’s both vibrant, and hemorrhagingly electric . With Noisia at the boards, Dante can finally come free of his adlibbing, drive-in B-movie persona and reinstate himself as THE premiere, THE original demonic threat.  And unless I am missing something, isn’t that the point?

Top 5 B

Listen: Delusions of Anchors

4. Dead Island Riptide – Pawel Blaszczak

 

Strict, purist survival horror really has had a rough go throughout this generation of consoles.  The creaking of mansion stairs replaced with laughable, exploding bombast, an endless stock of bullets and the total absence of anything resembling the living dead.  While there may be any number of zombie or paranormal games, they have all forgotten about the root from which they sprung: fear.  While Dead Island: Riptide may play by these very same set of rules, composer Pawel Blaszczak was having none of it.  He was shown storyboards of the island, its saturation of sunlight, and he operated contrary to that direction: and the end result is absolutely punishing.

In my original review of the soundtrack, I mentioned something about piles of seeping azoic bodies, because Blaszczak actually makes you listen to them.  He accents that slow, thick trickling of blood right down to the collective pooling of fluids at your feet.  In doing so, he also creates the scene of what brought each and every corpse to this spot – none of it pleasant, none of it armed, and none of it shown respite.  Blaszczak makes the despair and wretchedness so palpable that the fear itself becomes a living state.  Afraid not only of what you can’t see and what you can’t explain, but of everything, everywhere, all the time.

Top 5 C

Listen: Smugglers

3. The Last Of Us – Gustavo Santaolalla

Rightfully, you have to question the lengths one composer can go with a single theme.  How many times can you possibly reassemble the notion of loss, which is most prominent here.  The point and counterpoint seem to lie in the same direction, and to simply skirt corners and borrow of the others implies that you had but one idea.  This score could have been a road of shapeless, drudging monotony, where silence begat ambiance, begat walking, but Last Of Us composer Gustavo Santaolalla deftly transcends this cautionary tale, as here he breaks apart, analyzes, and draws blood from the fascinating, multiple degrees associated with constant mourning.  To attempt this is not recommended to amateurs, and it goes without question that Santaolalla is neither new to this arena, nor too timid to drown in its waters.  This is quality over quantity as Santaolalla gives away only sparing, though tantalizing, glimpses into what each chapter of the game holds.  He’s cut away everything that might distract, might cloud, and anything that would serve to diminish and disconnect the player from the grip of these distraught travelers.  Santaolalla’s poured so much of his singular touch into the few and precious compositions that make up this game world, that the impact of each piece carries and builds three-fold on the one that preceded it.  Gustavo Santaolalla’s gorgeous contributions to The Last Of Us are likely to be looked upon as the emotional apex of the year.

Top 5 D

Listen: Nilin The Memory Hunter

2. Remember Me – Olivier Deriviere

I have to hand it to Remember Me composer Olivier Deriviere – there’s things in here I have NEVER heard before, and certainly I’ve not heard everything, but after 14 years in music retail, I’ve heard quite a lot.  This is a composer willing, and more importantly, able to untwist and untangle his own knotted designs, however confounding they may have seemed in his head, and brought them to life.  To do only this would have sufficed: there is enough brilliance in his raw ideas that the unscripted playback of these recordings could have easily brought him accolades from every corner of the musical community.  Deriviere however, I believe, wouldn’t have felt complete knowing that there was more to that memory strand, more to add.  If his concepts were truly to come to complete coherence, he would have to try to tame them, and Remember Me is his fastidious attempt to cage a beast.  He’s not here to add a bit of gloss, nor is he attempting to make pretty things vapidly glisten.  To hear his score is to be given unparalleled contingency with protagonist Nilin, and finite instruction as to how to interact within the walls of developer DONTNOD’s Neo-Paris.  It’s Deriviere’s rumbling choreography, a mixture of both wailing wall philharmonic and thick gristle electronic pulsing, that makes Remember Me’s score so mind-blowingly hedonistic.  As it turns out, nothing can be restrained, nor can it be held at bay.  Its stream of consciousness is both poignant in its confusion and exhilarating, as its pressure rises upon descent.

Top 5 E

Listen: Rules of Nature

1. Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance – Jamie Christopherson

As a rule, we‘re taught to doubt those who make outlandish claims, respond jadedly to acts of their greatness, and tear apart any proof that might show otherwise.  It’s the quickest way to destroy the idea of a prophet or charlatan, and it ensures that most of his or her miracles will remain unseen.  It won’t however quiet that low conversation, the whispers, and undoubtedly it will spread.  At first, it might result in a few stragglers bending to the knee, or even a small entourage of outspoken believers, but given time, full devotion is inevitable.  However, the true test lies in the ability to survive the numerous trials placed on the accused – the idea being that the terrain, either its variable temperature or its unforgiving course of obstacles, will break the false idol.  Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance composer Jamie Christopherson has made that arid and blistering pilgrimage, void of complacency, and in complete defiance of the expectations and wagers placed upon and against him.  Arriving home neither beaten nor weary, Christopherson waves his hands, a new paradigm written all over his wrists.

This is the entirety of Metal Gear’s mythos re-pasteurized, re-translated and rebuilt entirely from scratch, where its constant and adhered to limits are finally stripped clean from the drawing table and replaced by the combustible and unpredictable flash of fire.  This is the most dangerous and volatile soundtrack in all of gaming: bolstered by a steeled confidence, an instinctive knack to distill everything that is vital to this newly minted Metal Gear ecosystem, and able to go vastly beyond adding to a template.  These are definite, defining musical takes on the world Metal Gear creator Hideo Kojima first dreamt about, and they are given life here and only here by Jamie Christopherson.  This music is so powerful, that I can envision people making it their lives, choosing to play music, deciding to pick up guitars, battering drums, following Christopherson’s lead.  From those first few, to the minions, to the multitudes, Christopherson embodies the impossible and thirty years from now, I imagine those touched by it will have a very interesting story to tell.  Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance stands alone at number one.

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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.

You’re going to see a lot of listicles dedicated to looking back on this year, the two thousand and thirteenth year of the Common Era.  Many of them will count down towards the heavily anticipated GOTY or Game of the Year.  Others may count down towards the current-gen music of the year (tastes may vary).  And although I played a great many games and listened to a great many soundtracks this year, I’d rather pitch my FOTY or Feeling of the Year: the satisfaction of beating Demon’s Souls.  It isn’t my game of the year (developed, played, or otherwise), but I think few games have made me feel as good upon completion.

My first knowledge of Demon’s Souls was that it was particularly hard.  Instantly, I wrote it off – I generally play games on the easiest mode available because I’m all about the narrative.  I wasn’t interested in a game that would do everything in its power to prevent me from reaching the end.  Also, I couldn’t help but think “Boletaria” has to be the least appealing fantasy world name I’ve ever heard.  I probably don’t have a reasonable explanation for why, but it makes me think of vomiting.

Regardless, it entered my home in early 2010 when my then-boyfriend (now-husband) picked it up.  Generally, he’s an easier mode gamer than I am, but somehow a friend of ours managed to convince him to give it a try.  Over the next week or so, he was having plenty of problems getting past the tutorial, and the first stage wasn’t too friendly either.  So he gave up, basically.  I decided to give it a whirl and created a character, a temple knight, for its mix of magic and weaponry.  I did find it rather tough, much tougher than other games usually are upon beginning them, but I persisted until I managed to defeat Phalanx, which took all of half an hour.

demons souls 1

Defeating the first boss, necessary to begin leveling and doing anything else worthwhile in Demon’s Souls, felt pretty awesome, so I was riding a decent high moving on past Phalanx.  After much drudgery, I managed to get through the second stage of the first world (lovingly, “1-2”) and gaze upon the Tower Knight for the first time.  I was impressed with his size and presence from trailers and reviews and was excited to see him in all his glory.  As soon as his shield slammed down near me, my excitement dwindled as I ran like a crazy person to get away from him.  Thinking I was safe for the moment, all his supporting archers managed to sink their arrows into me and kill me.

And that was it for me in that year, 2010.  It took so much effort to get to that point, and I died thinking I have no chance against a giant monster knight and his team of archers.  The experience also caused me to woefully overestimate how many there were.  It felt rather hopeless to persist, especially when I had more “beatable” games to play.

Fast forward to this year, and I got this weird itch to pick up Demon’s Souls again.  I don’t recall perfectly how this itch came to be, but I think there was a point where a lot of people on Twitter were talking up Dark Souls.  I figured that maybe if I learned a modicum of patience, something instilled in me to a lesser degree by The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings, then maybe I could get through this game.  Doing a tad of research revealed that it’s not advisable, though it is possible, to go to 1-2 after finishing 1-1.  Oh. Stupid me.  Super Mario Bros. apparently taught me the wrong way to play a game.

So I went to 2-1, and my adventure, though fraught with frustration and cursing, went significantly better than it had almost three years prior.  Compared to how I typically play RPGs, there was a lot of guide consultation, namely the amazing Demon’s Souls Wiki.  That website became the air I breathed for a number of weeks.  Since the underlying story is not particularly interesting (or present), and Demon’s Souls does practically nothing to explain its underlying systems, I thought I’d rather fill myself with knowledge and finish the game than stumble around again.

I was definitely more patient.  I really went around each map to learn my way around and took time with particularly troublesome enemies.  Those who did not eliminate all my stamina in one fell swoop just required more strafing and less tomfoolery.  There are no guns, but if there were, you still should not go into this game with them blazing.  Slowly ticking off health is key to getting through this craziness.  Although the Wiki certainly helped me in my adventures, the fact is that the player has to actually beat the game.  There’s no simple button to push that makes a boss or challenging enemy just disappear.  You still need to cramp your hands holding block and moving around to beat these bosses.

demons souls 3

After working tirelessly past sassy grim reapers, poisoned waters, a gargoyle with a twin, a handful of red invading souls, and the jerk who handed me my own ass at the end of the tutorial, I managed to make it to the archdemons in each land.  One thing I did not realize was that the third stage in each land was just the archdemon, so dying didn’t mean getting sent back to some ridiculous point way back like it did for other bosses.  Although these characters were certainly challenging, they felt like more of a reprieve than the challenges that preceded them.  They were often more about puzzle solving and paying attention to the clues the environment handed you.  In one archdemon’s case, she elects to die on her own.

Finally, once these menaces are slain, I was able to finish the first world.  Taking down the Tower Knight felt glorious as I nipped at his heel for the last time.  Although I still died foolishly, I found myself slaughtering foes and navigating past traps much more easily than when I first played 1-1.  Even more gleefully, I was suddenly able (with a ton of patience) to take down the optional bosses in the game, who all seemed damn near impossible in the beginning.  Telling that blue dragon to piss off was just glorious.

Then, I got to the end.  I defeated the False King Allant, who wasn’t so easy, and the game was basically over.  Admittedly, I did something rather stupid, which cost me the trophy for beating the game (people who have played will know exactly what that was).  But it didn’t matter.  I finished.  Like the reprieve of the archdemon battles, the ending to Demon’s Souls is actually a cakewalk.  The brilliance of this game lies in the moments like the archdemon battles and the ending — it knows it’s been really hard on you and wants to reward you for being a good sport.  Almost self-aware, Demon’s Souls demonstrates to those who persist and tough it out that it has a conscience.

demons souls 2

Beating Demon’s Souls felt like a major comeuppance – over something trivial as a video game, sure, but my soul bared its middle finger at the game one last time before I quit out of good.  That was easily the hardest game I have ever played and beaten, with or without outside help.  And I did it.  I didn’t gain a particularly engaging narrative experience, but I felt quite a warmth in my heart.  Trophy or not, knowing my accomplishments on that night was a high better than any experience I gathered from another game in 2013.

Feeling of the Year 2013: Returning to a challenge and completing it.  I will, of course, try to replicate the feeling with Dark Souls in 2014.

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

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to highlight my favorite “unconventional” video game soundtracks of 2013.  “Unconventional” in that it’d be unusual for me to cover these scores for my day job at Classical Minnesota Public Radio (I’ll be covering my favorite orchestral scores there).  The scores I’ll cover here are an amalgam of electronic music, perhaps from this era or the bygone 80s.  There’ll be some chiptune music, too.

Today belongs to Ibb & Obb, and an artist called Kettel.

ibb and obb 1

Kettel is Reimer Eising, from Holland.  Once I heard his music for Ibb & Obb, an Indie co-op game for PSN and PC, I had a desire to own everything he touched.  I even wanted to hear the commercials he’s scored and the remixes he’s done.

What amazes me about Eising’s music is how complete it is.  The layers of sound interact with each other, depend on each other, and never seem arbitrary, or out of place.  Simply listen to how the track named “Post Hero” unfolds, from the opening chimes, to the bass, to the multitude of layers that come after.

Eising’s music is like 21st century polyphony.  “Polyphony” describes a texture.  There’s monody, homophony and polyphony.  Monody is one line (like one, single, unison line). Homophony is a lot like a hymn in church, where a bunch of voices are singing the same rhythm and such, but harmonizing.  Polyphony describes a texture in which two or more lines interact together, quite independently.  Here’s a good example of just two lines interacting, one played by the right hand while the other is played by the left hand.

I envision Eising’s music to be a somewhat grander version of that type of polyphony (which was prevalent in the Baroque era), if only due to the addition of several more layers.

Another shining example of his 21st century polyphony is called “Secret BB”.  It begins sporadically, making it difficult to discern a pulse.  That sensation lasts only for six seconds though, when other sounds pop into the texture to solidify a steady beat.  It’s a playful track, mirroring the gaiety of the game.

There really is only one word that can describe Eising in general: “groovetastic”.  Maybe “groovetacular”.

ibb-and-obb-logo

Case in point – hear “Fincity”.  It’s like someone put the 90s in the Cool Blender and now, all of a sudden, that decade of music is relevant.

The smoky, background trumpet in “Post” is fantastic.  It floats above the current of sixteenth notes running through the subtexture.  Here’s some more great, floaty trumpet for you.  (Or here.)

Secret Dewuko” is creepy as hell.  Eising would write a delicious horror score.  The track demonstrates his control over not only the sounds, but his tremendous control of the silence.  It takes an incredible amount of focus and discipline to write with such respect to silence.  He lets each statement hang in the balance, almost as if the music itself is breathing.

As is the case with almost everything recorded ever in the world, it’s best to listen with headphones.  Panning abounds.

A word about the game itself – I love co-op games.  There is indeed a single player mode, but I haven’t checked it out yet.  I’m not always the best judge of a puzzle game, as I tend to get frustrated quickly; however, the co-op aspect helps dilute my fiery puzzle-game temper, and it’s been a fun play-through so far.

As for Kettel, you will not be disappointed.  Check out Eising’s Bandcamp page here.  And come back next week to discover more, great “unconventional” video game soundtracks of 2013!

Kettel - ibb & obb - original soundtrack - cover

Pick up your copy of the soundtrack right here!

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

Wind Waker 1

Listen: Ocean Theme

They’re a bunch of liars.  I am of course speaking about people who claim to loathe all form and manner of video games.  You want to know HOW I know this?  How can I brush that statement into the garbage as soon as someone throws it out of their mouth?  Very simple: I’ve been around, lived with people.  I also happened to live with two of the staunchest, most anti-videogame haters in all of Christendom, and guess what?  They’re a bunch of liars.

Wind Waker 2

Listen: Menu Selection

So my friend Gil, whom I lived with for a while in 2002-2003, barely made it through daily interactions with me because at some point, he knew, we’d talk about Street Fighter…or Metal Gear or Ninja Gaiden.  He wouldn’t look forward to it, no, but he swallowed that rancid pill day, after day, after day.  He was a champ about it, never letting on that he was bored out of his mind, and in his efforts to humor me, we played some multiplayer stuff together, but that usually would end with us not speaking, blaming each other for losing entire matches.  Doors would be slammed and nights would be called.  You see though, Gil is an awesome guy.  So we would try to play again the next day… and again we hated each other. Maybe he was really upset because he was also producing my band’s record (to which I can attest fully, making that record was one of the most hilarious and AWFUL experiences of my life.)  Maybe it was because he wanted to be back in New York.  Either way, anytime he asked to play, what could I do but melt?  Gil was usually quick to point out however, that games were a complete waste of time, and would shake his head in heavy disapproval when he passed by the tiny closet I lived in.  I could never really ignore it: it made me feel absolutely filthy playing games.  Gil however would relent, not like my sister.

Wind Waker 3

Me (left) and gil (right) New Order (far right) Feb. 2003 Just before the Wind Waker disease decimated him

 My sister Jen also lived with us at the exact same time… even being away from home, I couldn’t escape her.  It seems you can’t outrun a twin sister.  This twin of mine, I don’t know how we shared the same womb.  We’re empires different.  To give you an example: I once went with my sister an entire day to do nothing more than pick out perfume.  Hours of perfumes!  You know after smelling so many perfume samples, they hand you coffee beans in a Dixie cup?  Why?  It CLEARS the nasal passage so you can… continue.  Thank God right?  Anyway let me put it this way: every time my sister sees me playing games she launches into shrill-banshee tirades.  This is far beyond the near mute disapproval of Gil.  She hasn’t played a video game since Pick Axe Pete! on our Odyssey 2 in 1983.  Funny thing is, if I die, that’s about all she could hope to inherit from me.  Kind of like one last middle finger before I expire: “Here, I know how much you always loved Bubble Bobble!”  I’d show you a picture of us two together, but she wouldn’t allow it, so instead here’s Link unimpressed and unconvinced by either Gil or my sister.

Wind Waker 4

Listen: Wind Waker Title Theme

Anyway.  You have gathered from the pictures that this article is about The Legend Of Zelda: The Wind Waker.

It’s 8:30 am on March 26th, 2003 and my copy of Wind Waker has just arrived in the mail.  I am sooo sick today, so much so, that my teeth ache.  Aside from wanting to physically die, I am so excited because this will be the first Zelda I don’t share with anybody.  Every time I get a new Zelda game, inevitably people want to play it, and it’s usually before I have even had the chance to view the intro movie.  My other sister Noelle ( I have four of them you know) finished Ocarina Of Time long before me in 1998, and ruined much of the game, because I saw way too much of the game world, despite cautiously averting my eyes when passing through our living room.  I got too familiar with composer Koji Kondo’s themes, most egregious of all… I saw Link’s horse Epona.  It completely diminished the newness, the flavor.  It was awful, because that title was supposed to be mind-blowing! (It WAS, when I finally played it almost 3 years later.) So this time, no one was going to get at it first.  I muttered under my breath about that as I opened the package, and carefully showered it with holy water, placing it on my bed and heading to work.  At work, I did all the things a sick person does to survive the trickling hours: I price things that don’t need to be priced, sort things that are already alphabetical, crawl underneath the receiving desk because it’s nice and warm, and avoid contact with anyone.  Later that night, upon entering my room, my new Zelda is GONE.

Wind Waker 5

Listen: Windfall Island

It doesn’t take long for me to find out who’s guilty.  Grinning and barely containing his laugh, Gil, seeing the dismay on my face, comes clean: “We just couldn’t wait for you!”  Sitting there, just as culpable, my sister: engaged in a graceless, gawky 360-degree body contortion as she attempts miserably to steer Link’s boat.  Jen has no idea how to use a controller, nor does she have that innate coordination you and I have come to take for granted after decades of playing games.  For every button she presses, she has to look down at the controller.  Every second of her time at the mast and on foot required her to pause, her brain unsure, panicked: was that the jump trigger she just pressed?  Up and down her face would go from joystick to television for each and every moment of play.  This sight alone warranted Gil’s defiling of that factory sealed plastic. So, I react kind of slowly; I can’t be mad, cause it’s Gil.  He’s laughing too, so I start laughing with him, and Jen… well Jen’s in the corner looking like she’s being taken through the VR simulator in LawnMower Man.  It’s a great moment, but what are these two vehement haters doing playing games?  Had this been yesterday, and Gil maybe looking to hock loogies, I imagine his first instinct would have been to do so in the general direction of my GameCube discs.  Yet today, there they were, with take-out and some crude map drawing on the floor?  How long have I been out?

 Wind Waker 11

Listen: Battle Theme

It didn’t stop with that night though: it continued for weeks, and took over their lives.

At first, it was actually really great to watch them throw themselves into the game.  They spent whole days, strings of days, together, finding pieces of the Triforce, going through dungeons and solving every single puzzle.  As time wore on, and as the occupation began to wear and trap them, they started fighting each other, and it always seemed to come down to sailing.  Jen constantly argued that Gil made her do all the ocean navigating, while Gil made his crown glisten from boss victories and deciphering the games many archaic riddles.  Gil, in turn made the same accusation.  It went back and forth, and eventually it boiled down to whoever could get up earlier.  I’d be up at 7:00 a.m. and I could see that blue sea through the peephole in the hall door.  Who had outgunned the other this morning?  So for a while they played independently of each other.  This must have gotten old, or they must have simply arrived at the final hours of the game, because they called a truce and finished.  I still couldn’t believe any of this was happening, so I tried to stand back and take it all in as often as I could.  Then came the day they actually completed the game.

Wind Waker 8

Listen: Departure

When it was all over, Gil stood up.  He said “That was a BEAUTIFUL game.”  While that statement may be complimentary enough, it was the way he said it: straightening himself, and using a deeper part of his voice.  It was almost as if he had prepared a short symposium and would now dictate his stringent observations and formulas to both Jen and me.  I imagine Jen felt very much the same, though after weeks of noxiously sloshing her head back and forth while playing, she lay punctured and defeated on the couch, saying only that it was fun.  It was clear to me though, that they both had loved the time they had spent with Wind Waker.  What was also obvious was that they had a little bit of trouble re-adjusting to their days without Link.  You could feel it coming off of them.  These are people who really, really dislike video games, and they’re walking around like they’ve just come blubbering from a wake.  It turns out that they didn’t actually hate the stuff, they just hadn’t found an experience that was right for them.  They can argue with me, but that’s what it comes down to.  All it takes is one great title.

Wind Waker 9

Listen: Staff Credits

It’s been 10 years, and I can FINALLY, ABSOLUTELY have Wind Waker all to myself.  Albeit a bit late, with the arrival of The Legend Of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD.  While I did get to play a sizable portion of the game in 2003, I had to stop playing since we were recording that hellish album with Gil that I spoke of earlier.  There was just no time to finish.  What I did play was nothing short of AMAZING.  It goes beyond that though; it has become the Zelda closest to my heart, my absolute favorite in the series.  It’s quite possibly one of the most joyous pieces of software you could ever hope to buy. Mostly though, it reminds me of my friend Gil, and if for however brief, watching him fall in love with a video game.

Liars, all of them!

——————–
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.

In anticipation of the December holiday, here is a list of (improbable) stuff I need want no later than the 25th.

Mass Effect: Krogan Rebellion or even Mass Effect: The Rachni Wars

Either works.  I realize that Mass Effect 3 just came out this year, and that BioWare says it’s working on another anyway, but I’d prefer to get it by December 25th.  Since the Krogan Rebellion was, in essence, a reaction to the exploitation of their race during the Rachni Wars, either is fine with me.

Rachni

There’s something special about Mass Effect, in case you’ve yet to encounter the series.  The lore is so rich, and you can choose to read about it by picking up data in side quests, or you can simply play the game and witness the unfolding of each character, learning about their personality, and how their race, culture and life-events helped to shape them.

The chattiness of the salarians, the brilliance of the asari, the bullheadedness of the krogan, the singing of the rachni, the relentless speech clarifications of the elcor…

Bring it.  Give me more Mass Effect.  In the meantime, perhaps I should just replay the first three and all the DLC?

More on DLC in a second… but on to my second request!

I would like Skyrim to work on my PlayStation 3

Initially, I thought I’d ask for Skyrim on my PS4, until I remembered I already have Skyrim for PS3, and that it’d be rad if it just worked on that.  I own another copy for Xbox.  I played Skyrim on my 360 and it was fine.  I hardly had a single problem with it.

I prefer gaming on my PlayStation, though.  Sometimes, it really is as simple as liking the controller better, and in the case of Skyrim, that’s it.  It feels better for me to play Skyrim on PS3.  Until it crashes or freezes, of course.  So, yeah, Bethesda, I know you’re so beyond the point of giving a crap, but that’d be awesome by Christmas.

skyrim ps3

“Baaaaaahh – HUM – BUG!”

Ubisoft is busy with other assassins, but…

Please make more Ezio stories.  There are millions of reasons why this won’t happen, but oh how I long for Assassin’s Creed II or AC: Brotherhood to get a facelift and a re-launch in the next gen.  Maybe that’s all I want – is to play those games again on a PS4?

Nope.  I want new Ezio stories.  Ezio Auditore is everyone’s favorite assassin, and most of these people are wrong.

Kingdoms of Amalur 2: Another Reckoning

I know.  I know.  Studio is closed.  I know.  But you can buy it!  And make a new game in a couple weeks!  And I’d have an awesome Christmas!

It’s fairly well-documented how much I love this game.  Yes, it has several issues, including the liquidation of the studio – the camera is unwieldy at times, lots of clipping graphics, a couple of glitched side quests.

However, it’s a fun game with a decent story (not that I could necessarily tell you all of it), absolutely resplendent graphics, plenty of side quests, faction quests, and a lengthy main story.  Maybe don’t name it KoA2: Another Reckoning, but I’m happy to work with you on choosing a good title after you buy the rights.

amalur 2

Dead Nation 2

I make this request for several reasons.  One, they’ve teased it already.  Two, the DLC for Dead Nation was disappointing and kind of weird.  I go through the campaign a couple times a year, but rarely touch the uninviting DLC.  This is one of my most favorite couch co-op experiences, along with Diablo 3 and Dungeon Hunter Alliance.

Zombie Driver HD 2

If you’ve never experienced the guts and glory of Zombie Driver HD, I highly recommend that one, since the 2nd one doesn’t exist yet.  It’d be a great Christmas gift if they’d whip up a new game.  It’s one of those games you can play on mute while you’re on the phone, and aren’t we all looking for those from time to time?

And I’ll keep this sudden zombie theme going with my final (for now) request…

Half-Life 3

Do I need to say anything else about that?

What’s on your list?

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

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