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Insider Blog

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!

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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.

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.

A little over a month ago… I began counting down the best music tracks from games across this generation of consoles.  Today we have reached number one.

In case you missed last weeks entries click HERE

If you are just joining me in the countdown then click HERE

1. Deus Ex: Human Revolution – Icarus

There is no way to accurately measure the action of emotional collapse.  If it could be viewed across multiple angles, through flittered lenses, and magnified by percentages, its reasoning would remain fragmented.  Only two of its veering, impetuous acts can be seen in complete detail: the startling momentum of the initial change, and the final moments of fumbling towards complete darkness.

Through all this, there is but one constant, one sure and vivid memory: who was there the moment everything began to disintegrate?  Their words become loose, become muddled, foreign.  Their attempts to comfort are painful, contrived and forced.  There is no room now to live outside of oneself.

This is the sound of Deus Ex: Human Revolution – beyond its themes of global transhumanisim, its desires to evolve vastly ahead of genetic timetables, and its ideas that fitness through metallurgy might very well lead to a lifetime of physical omnipotence.  This is about the struggle of facing oneself.

 

Icarus

Listen: Icarus

Deus Ex: Human Revolution is composer Michael McCann at his most exposed and wholly unwilling to soften the edges of his material.  This is a powerful moment of confession.  Where one might kneel in ordinary time, McCann finds the ritual all too reserved, and so instead lies flat, exclaiming in a passionate, sobering wail his log of betrayal and trespass.  Never once do his dealings grow obtuse, never odd the placing of his stories, never devolving into diatribe… you cling to every word.  This is the most necessary and affecting of McCann’s components in Deus Ex: Human Revolution’s score: To be human.  Furthermore…to be hated, to be partially accepted, to find pockets of comfort, and to ward off the gnawing weight of guilt.  McCann creates one of the most brilliant composites of sadness and the conflict in finally equating self-worth with something much greater… something beyond one’s own self-loathing.  “Icarus” and by extension, the entirety of Deus Ex: Human Revolution is without a doubt in my estimation the greatest soundtrack of this generation.  Not only does McCann deliver one of the most introspective and stunningly personal musical statements ever written for ANY game, he’s created an album, that given the chance, could find itself among those that save your life – something that was present when your madness began, and a force that you will seek repeatedly in repelling all that wish to do you harm.

Document1

Purchase the Deus Ex: Human Revolution soundtrack right here!

 

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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 might not know this, but the Myst game series is one of my all-time favorites.  Actually, for a lot of you, the most immediate question brought to mind is probably “Wait, series?”  So many people seem completely unaware that there were five games after Myst: Riven, Myst III: Exile, Myst IV: Revelation, Uru: Ages Beyond Myst, and Myst V: End of Ages.  Actually, before it was notably common, Uru had expansion packs, To D’ni and Path of the Shell.  I’d even go so far as to say Myst itself is the least interesting game in the whole series, although it does a great job of setting up what is an ultimately fascinating storyline.

If you’ve never played or heard of Myst, which before The Sims held the record for best-selling CD-ROM game of all time, I’ll quickly explain.  You, who are never named (or gendered), land on Myst Island, which is covered in weird machines and curios.  The way you land there is a little mysterious: you press your hand against an animated image of Myst in a book at the bottom of a fissure.  It turns out this world is full of books that transport you to other places by placing your hand on them.  When you arrive, there’s only a note from some dude, Atrus, asking his wife, Catherine, to find some message he left for her.  What follows is a strange journey that involves Atrus’ two sons, Sirrus and Achenar, trapped in strange books in a library, trips to four other worlds, called Ages, and a tale of betrayal and abuse of power.

Myst 1

Unfortunately, for many people, clicking around the island and trying to figure out the honestly challenging puzzles wasn’t as exciting as stomping enemies in Mario, so many people never finished it and never looked past it.  Books didn’t just transport people to other worlds.  They were also there to be, well, read.  Some of the clues you need are in the few surviving books in a mostly burned up library, journals written by Atrus about his adventures in the other Ages — Mechanical, Channelwood, Selenitic, and Stoneship — all of which he also wrote himself.  Accessing those Ages requires solving puzzles around Myst to reveal their linking books, and once you get to each Age, it’s easy to just not have a clue what to do.

Admittedly, I only managed to complete the game by constantly traveling to Electronics Boutique at the nearby mall and flipping through the guide.  (There’s a reason they’re wrapped in plastic nowadays.)  But I was invested in this world enough to want to explore more.  I haven’t seen lore of this kind in any other game, and I was mesmerized at the thought of people literally writing new worlds.  Whereas Myst is a rather lonesome experience, what with the majority of people you interact with talking through books, the sequel, Riven, was a vast departure.

Compared to its predecessor, Riven was literally about the one eponymous age.  At the good ending of Myst, Atrus informs you that his father, Ghen, has kidnapped Catherine, the very woman who was supposed to find your message.  Riven is made up of multiple islands that you access by taking mysterious trams that connect them. Already, by taking one tram, more curiosities are revealed as it delves into the depths of the surrounding water.  You see, the tram isn’t covered, and it looks like tunnels were dug through the water since no nonporous substance, such as glass, was used to shield these tunnels.  On top of trying to find Ghen, you encounter the people of Riven, who you learn have been subjugated by him somehow.  You also learn that Riven used to be just one island but is constantly being ripped apart by various instabilities in the Age.

Riven

What I loved so much about Riven was how organic all the puzzles were to the environment.  Instead of shuttling off to new ages with strange objects and puzzles, Riven itself was unified.  It had wildlife all its own, a unique race of people, and a culture that binds it all.  It was also in Riven that you learn more about the D’ni culture, to whom Atrus, Ghen, and his sons belong.  They have a numbering system unlike ours that is actually base twenty-five and has unique symbols.  (Ours is base ten.)  Oh, and they can write books that transport you to other worlds.

My favorite part was the big puzzle, which none of the other games even tried to match in scope or awesomeness.  In order to finish the game, it’s necessary to activate a Riven-wide power system.  However, when you do find and approach it, it is literally a 25×25 grid with six colored beads to place in it that has 58,752,420,690,993,751 possible solutions, so it’s actually impossible to guess.  The actual solution requires players to pay attention to almost every aspect of the island in order to figure it out, an incredible challenge that has yet to be sufficiently matched, in my humble opinion. Riven also features other puzzles, whose solutions are randomly generated on each new game.

Although I enjoyed every game, I had no plan on gushing about each one here.  However, I’d like to end it off with talking about Uru: Ages Beyond Myst.  This game was actually not really about Atrus and his family like the others, although it did feature his daughter, Yeesha.  Instead, Uru was actually about the D’ni, the driving force behind all the games.  It is also in Uru that players customize avatars, which are controlled from a third-person perspective.  The game was planned as an online experience, where players would meet each other to try and solve puzzles together, something later done in Journey.  However, for a number of reasons, the servers were shut down (and kind of restored).  Insert sad face here.

uru

:(

It is disappointing to hear that, but I didn’t end up playing the game until Uru: Complete Chronicles, which includes the game and expansion packs, came out.  During the course of Uru, you explore the vast city where the D’ni used to live and learn more about their culture and linking books.  If you were a fan of the actual Myst backstory, this was kind of huge.  There is a lot of reading, but you can learn about all the kings, the guilds, and cultural quirks of the people that once inhabited this world.  Moreover, it is revealed that the D’ni argued about their own abilities, known as The Art.  Do the Ages they write begin life when the last word is penned, or have they always existed, where each revision represents an alternate reality?  This argument creates quite the moral conundrum when you realize that the first game focused on a number of burned books.

If any of this garnered most interest in the Myst games, I implore you to seek them out and play them.  I’ve linked to where you can buy all of them, my favorites all being on the amazing GOG.com.  I also encourage you to download Jack Wall’s scores for Myst III: Exile and Myst IV: Revelation, which are amazing.  The world as imagined by Cyan is just so vast and interesting that any good adventure gamer should check them out.  If you’re a fan, I’d love to hear your stories, too!

Oh, and Cyan is finally making a completely new adventure, Obduction.  You should be aware.

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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).

Sunday afternoon, I put football on the television, cranked the volume, and started scraping paint off of my stairs.  Occasionally, I took a break to watch the absolute shitshow that unfolded between the Packers and the Vikings, and at one point, I saw this PlayStation commercial.

Aside from the glaring portrayal of a bromance that manages to alienate the majority of the planet, I realized there’s not much that’s perfect about my PlayStation 4.  I haven’t had a “perfect day” since I got that machine.

I realize this is a “so far” situation.  There’s not much perfect about my PS4 so far.

Launch day itself was rough, which I expected, because (insert every launch of anything ever) happened.  It took several hours before the system allowed me to do much of anything.  I was patient through the process.  Whatever.  Gold star for me, bronze one for Sony.

To be fair, my lackluster relationship with my PS4 isn’t entirely Sony’s fault.  EA has major problems with Battlefield 4, affecting users of PS4 and PC.  I lost my entire Battlefield 4 save progress last night, in the middle of a mission on campaign mode.  My Battlefield 4 trophies are there, but the game is inclined to believe I’ve never started the campaign.

Ask me how I feel about starting Battlefield 4 again, and hearing “Total Eclipse of the Heart” cheekily inserted into media for the billionth time.

No Eclipse

Nope.

When I preordered my PS4 over the summer, I ordered the Watch Dogs bundle.  When I found out that was delayed, I didn’t do anything about it, thinking I’d pick up a game on launch.  But I didn’t, so I played some Warframe, which is great but mildly overwhelming, some Resogun (also great and perhaps more overwhelming), and some Blacklight: Retribution against bots.

Even BLR gave me problems, initially; I couldn’t get that game to install or launch for the first few days I had the system.

I felt so “meh” about it all that I went straight back to my PS3 and continued to play the hell out of Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning.

I realize I’ve been had.  Really.  Marketing won me over, and I felt the need to have a PlayStation 4 on launch day.  Such.  A.  Sucker.

WTF WAS I THINKING?  Perhaps I should’ve bought Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag right away.  But I showed restraint with that purchase, knowing I’d get to it eventually.  Same with Killzone: Shadow Fall.  I prevented myself from buying those games immediately, and I could’ve demonstrated some self-control and waited on the PS4.

I’m thankful Watch Dogs was delayed.  It (hopefully) demonstrates Ubisoft’s desire to release a game that works.  I wish there had been more launch titles.

To some degree, it’s been embarrassing (in a “first world” sense).  Plenty of people ask, “How’s the PlayStation4?” and the best I can say is, “Well, I’ve hardly played it, but the graphics are amazing.”

There is the possibility for a “perfect day” of PlayStation 4-ing.  It’s not possible right now, but it’ll happen.  Why?  Because Media Molecule, Naughty Dog, The Chinese Room, thatgamecompany, Blizzard, Bungie, Quantic Dream and studios we’ve never even heard of yet will make it so.

——————–

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.

A little over a month ago… I began counting down the best music tracks from games across this generation of consoles.  Today we have one more to add to that list.

In case you missed last week’s entry click HERE

If you are just joining me in the countdown then click HERE

2. Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance – Rules Of Nature

Composer Jamie Christopherson could have gone a million different ways in applying his own sense of aesthetics to Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance.  Consider though, the weight of expectations placed upon him, when suddenly his name becomes attached to the hallowed gaming pantheon of Metal Gear.  Enviable?  Not in the least.  He is now beyond the threshold of anonymity (well… Christopherson, he’s a seasoned veteran of the music industry), but even further elevation of this kind ensures any corner of any room is one in which his critics will happily amass to nitpick every pliable line of chord he strums.  What’s more, the Metal Gear series has a history of gorgeous musical templates, difficult to add to, and even harder to escape.  On some subconscious level, this must have crossed Christopherson’s mind, but that’s where he left it.  Fleeting images of the series past were not enough to dissuade or steer him, as Christopherson flawlessly rewrote every rule in the sonorous Metal Gear bible.

MGRR boss

Listen: Rules of Nature

Christopherson’s methodology on the score itself is absolutely fearless.  Gone are the grey, the pontification, the symphonies – this is fury, this is youth… we are young!  It’s instinctively, expertly matched to the world of Revengeance, to Raiden, our protagonist and to Christopherson himself.  His gamble of white heat metal acrobatics amidst the nuclear springtime of discontent packs a staggering haymaker.  Rules Of Natureopens with such contempt and brash overall disregard for all that has come before it, you question if the piece can even stay on the rails.  Is it trying to climb too high too fast?  No.  This isn’t a show, this isn’t rehearsed, no one was given any lines and there are no cue cards.  This is in the moment, and any re-take would have produced something completely different.  This is natural, perfect.  Rules Of Natureis Christopherson’s raw, unfettered vision.  It’s fluid, combative and stubborn. It is also perfection, genius, quite unlike anything else in this generation.  Jamie Christopherson is a forerunner of the genuine, the masterful surprise, and his work on Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance is one of the greatest moments in video gaming scores ever created.

MGS Front COVER 6

Purchase the Metal Gear Rising soundtrack on Sumthing.com!

And Christopherson’s “The War Still Rages Within” (also from the Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance soundtrack) just won Best Song for a Video Game at the Hollywood Music & Media Awards – so it ain’t just me!

Stay tuned now through December 3rd for the remaining two entries in my list of the best musical tracks from this generation of consoles.

——————–
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.

If you had all the time (and money) in the world, what games would you replay?  Here’s my list:

Black (2006)

This was the first FPS I ever played.  Weird, right??  But true.  I loved this game.  My cousin and I played the hell out of this game. At the time, I lived in Nebraska and he lived here in the Twin Cities, but whenever we’d get the chance to hang out, we’d trade missions on this game all. night. long.  This game was particularly challenging because there weren’t checkpoints in the missions, and they were long missions.  Black forced me to be a careful player, although I don’t always heed that lesson.

black-1-screenshot-big

Grand Theft Auto Vice City

Armed with the knowledge that I didn’t game until 6th generation, this is probably my favorite game ever.  The first game I ever bought with my own money was Grand Theft Auto III.  Vice City was even better.  I loved stealing the FBI Washington (it was always parked in that one spot, by the place Love Fist plays).  I’d use the fed car for my police missions.  Oh, and the ambulance missions!!  LOVED those.  Or sometimes, I’d just run over all the parking meters for cash.  So much fun, that game.

Grand Theft Auto V

I slammed through the story so fast I barely remember it.  I had a blast with this game, but as soon as I finished the game, I stopped playing it.  I got some weird glitch with my cell phone where I couldn’t use the Internet, so I couldn’t use the stock market, so I couldn’t make money, etc.  I finished the story a day or so after I got that glitch, and I’ve never played it since.  But I’d like to replay it, as long as the phone works.

Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood

I loved the first three games in this series.  In fact, I need to get back into these games in general and try out Black Flag.  But Brotherhood – oh man, that game.  The EVERYTHING.  Some of the races were impossible to win, but I came so close to platinum in that game (if it weren’t for the multiplayer).

Horse_to_horse_assassination

Horse assassinations!

Dragon Age

Because Leliana.

Tomb Raider (2013)

Again, I burned through this game. I liked Jason Graves’s score, and I thought the game was polished and fun. It’s hard for me to believe this game just came out this year.

Mass Effect trilogy

All of them.  Every single game.  I played all three a few times each on my Xbox, but never on the PlayStation.  I’d like to go through each as pure paragon, but I always end up shooting Ambassador Udina because he’s such a prick.  It’s not that I’d like to relive my relationship with Liara, or maybe it’s only that, but I was sucked into that universe like no other.  And I loved playing FemShep.  What an amazing character.  High five, BioWare.  High five.

high-five-in-space

BioShock trilogy

There are lots of moments in my gaming life that stand out, but none as brightly as my first descent into Rapture.  Garry Schyman’s music, combined with the stunning art, took my breath away.  I’ve started the game several times just so I can watch the first five minutes.  Or, you can watch it here.  Speaking of Schyman’s score, the scores for the first two are brilliant.  The score for the third is genius.

Oblivion

If it weren’t for the damn Grey Cowl of Nocturnal, I probably would always be playing this game.  But that quest – the quest to actually get the cowl… oh, man.  It takes forever.  FOREVER.  I do remember coming out of the dungeon for the very first time.  Black was my first FPS, and Oblivion was my first RPG.  Shocking, yes, since Oblivion was 7th gen, but again, it’s the truth.  Imagine yourself as me, never having played an RPG before, coming out of that stupid jail dungeon with Jeremy Soule’s music all angelic in the background – yeah, it ruled.  Too bad the Grey Cowl is so useful yet so annoying to get.

——————–
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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