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Waferballs's blog

4:43 PM on 07.01.2009

Video Game Music

I went to Play! a few months ago and realized that what was an extremely geeky interest of mine 10 years ago (when even video games were geeky enough), has turned into a huge and accepted industry. This is exciting and hopefully a sign that VGM is being taken even more seriously as part of the industry. Though, I must say that although it was fun being around 2000 geeks in the audience and listening to some of my favorite tunes in orchestral clothing, the impression I left with was not very good.

I'm a professional musician myself, and I can be fairly critical when it comes to music. I don't try to argue the quality of music from an objective eye, since that rarely leads to any fruitful discussions. If you like a song and I don't, fair enough. Good for you. But I do feel strongly about music-making. If you go on stage and play a crappy song, you should at least deliver the goods like you believe it's the best shit you ever did. And the Play! Symphony Orchestra was about the blandest, most uninspiring orchestra I've ever heard. The musicians were fairly young I noticed, but that's no excuse. They looked like they were bored to death sitting there. Conductor Arnie Roth was basically just keeping time and did nothing to enhance the music. The guy has my respect for what he's done to make a thing like a video game symphonic concert go on tour, but I'm afraid this orchestra and this music didn't show him from a good side.

Everyone will have different opinions on how the set list was composed of course. I felt it was OK, I didn't care much for Oblivion, Guild Wars, Battlefield and a few other "new" games. I'm a retro person and enjoyed the C64 Medley, some Sonic and of course the Mario/Zelda stuff. And we got some FF7 at the end. Fine. The arrangements were decent enough, about the same as the Orchestral Game Concert series with Tokyo Symphony in the 90s. The problem with orchestrated arrangements of video game music, is that very often the music is not orchestral by nature. Take the Mario theme. It's simple, catchy and fun, in its various sound chip versions. Dressing it up in orchestral flavor is a bit too rich. The arranger tries to downplay this by adding lots of annoying percussion, but it fails to impress me. I'm not saying it can't be done, it's just not the ideal material. Anyway, it would work a hell of a lot better if the musicians would breathe a little more life into their notes. Zelda works a bit better since especially from A Link to the Past and onwards, the music is very orchestral within it's sound chip limitations.

I'm sad to be rather negative about this, since VGM has been a big interest for me, even alongside my classical education. A big charm of VGM is the memories attached to it, and the gameplay experiences you had while listening to the music. This is part of the reasons why so many people go to a concert to enjoy a VGM concert. But this charm can also be deceiving. Like retro goggles, we have fond memories of music even though the music itself can be mediocre. Giving it the orchestral treatment can reveal a lot of the shortcomings of the original composition (especially if the arranger has no real connection to the music in the first place. Something I think happens a lot).

Not to put too many angry fingers at the music that I actually love, I must say that the whole experience of Play! would have been much enjoyable if the orchestra had been better. Spotify has a Play! album up, with a different orchestra playing (a Czech orchestra I believe), and it sounds 10 times better in my ears.

Finishing up with a video of someone who puts love in what he does, great arrangment, great musician, great music to begin with - this is how it's done:

[embed]138211:20328[/embed]   read

2:21 PM on 06.19.2009

Top 5 toilets in gaming history

Those crazy guys at Weebl's Stuff just released a new toon, and it's not featuring Hitler in a robot suit on the moon, or Chris the ninja pirate - actually it's gaming related. Sort of.

If you're into toilets (and the humor that goes along with them) and gaming, you might want to check it out. Interesting list though. Anyone got any additions?   read

7:01 PM on 04.08.2009

Time Paradox

Oh hi.

Yeah, this is a first entry and I should probably introduce myself... but I'll save the bio for another day. I wrote some stuff in the right column there, you could check it out. I've been lurking around Destructoid since around Christmas, and I think it might be the most awesome place on the net. Seriously. So instead of continuing to lurk I decided to participate in some way.

When I wrote down those highlights of my gaming history I found it strange to look back on my childhood and trying to get it all in perspective. I was born in 1982 and I am pretty sure I was still playing the Atari 2600 when I started school in 89. The NES had been around in Europe for a couple of years at least, but none of my close friends had one until about that time. When it was time to exchange the Atari out for a new console I was of course at the mercy of my parents (I wasn't the kind of kid who could manipulate them) and they decided to buy me and my brother a Sega Master System, and a few years later we got a Mega Drive. Now, in 1997 I was old enough to start earning some money and I bought myself an N64.

Now this hit me: In the 10-year span of 1987 to 1997 I went from the Atari 2600 through an 8-bit, 16-bit and 64-bit system. That's quite an advance in technology, not to mention the advances in game design and creativity. On top of this, my family always had an up-to-date computer in the house (my father was in the business, sort of) so I got to follow all that happened on that platform as well.

What happened in the next 10 years? I got a GameCube and a Wii, and followed the Playstation/XBOX games through friends. There has been some great games, definitely. The games have gotten prettier. Once in a while they've managed to come up with something pretty clever as well. Still, I can't help to think that games haven't evolved radically since Mario 64, not in the same scope as the previous generations. It seems like the most of, say the GameCube lineup, were polished versions of games you could play on N64. Now, I'll say in modern games' defence that there has been some innovation. The most important design element in modern games, I think is the improved physics engines. The ability to manipulate gravity and time has shown intriguing new gameplay elements in the last 10 years.

Maybe I'm harsh and got a bit sentimental thinking about the past. I'm just a bit sick of seeing the same old games dressed up in the latest fashion. I'd like to see some new ideas and experiences. And when I can't find them I find myself more often than not revisiting old memories. I guess I am an incurable retrogamer.

So there. I ranted a bit and made some poor reflections and probably butchered some English while I was at it. I might do this again sometime :)

PS: I don't hate modern games. Really.   read

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