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1:43 PM on 06.03.2013

GAME Expo 2013 - Game Music and Art - feat. OCremix

The Reno Video Game Symphony just threw a convention in Reno, NV.  It was called GAME Expo(Games, Art, Music, and Entertainment).  The event featured panelists by game designers, The Gamer Access, and a really wonderful panel by Nutritious and Flexstyle from Overclocked Remix.  We ended the day with a ton of musical performances by 7 different groups playing video game music.  Tears were shed and many hugs were exchanged by people dressed in incredible costumes.

Here's a highlight reel of the event:

This event was incredibly fun to organize, and I think this project could really expand next year to bring out the West Coast video game music community.  If you're on the West Coast, what would you want from an event like this?   read

11:39 PM on 03.13.2013

Ryu Umemoto's Sexy Zen

(This is a blog reposted from my page "The Tao of Video Games", a blog focused on the interaction between video games and the mind)

A wonderful article appeared on Gamasutra detailing the life and unfortunate death of Ryu Umemoto. He is held in high regard among Japanese video game composers, and I was very intrigued by some of the connections between Umemoto's work and his practice of Zen Buddhism. Umemoto was using the rhythms of Buddhist breathing techniques and the visual composition of Zen temples in his music, which is a fantastic example of the fundamental connections between the art of programming and Zen practice.

Composing music for video games in the late 80's and early 90's was the work of programmers. The workloads were enormous, but the music was being used in video games, so the composers were able to reach a potentially huge audience. Like Yuzo Koshiro's Streets of Rage, Umemoto's sound is from a time when game music was composed by people that needed a subtlety of control earned from a deep understanding of the digital processes generating every sound in their music. This also meant that music programming was slow and tedious, but it was taking part in a worldwide explosion of new inventions in electronic music. Video game companies are notorious for insanely long hours and pressured deadlines, but the industry was exploding at this time, and the audience was growing rapidly. Umemoto was said to have adapted Zen into his life as a response to the extraordinary stress of his production schedule, and it seems his expression was deeply tied to his Buddhist practice. I thank him deeply for his sacrifices, and I feel empowered by the quality of his work under these circumstances. It is easy to see why Zen would be so appealing to Umemoto in these grueling years.

It was also moving for me to learn that Umemoto played a substantial role in improving the artistic standard for erotic games. While "ero-ge" had no obvious need for well-layered narrative and carefully produced art, the teams which employed Umemoto sought to make games that had great stories paired with some steamy bonin', Umemoto and his collaborators lent their talents towards nuanced and heartfelt storytelling in their erotic work. Umemoto's particular school of Zen Buddhism has a very complex relationship with issues of sexuality, and many Japanese Buddhists have appealed to me through their openness to sexuality and eroticism. Umemoto's eroge soundtracks possess a sensuality that goes far deeper than the skin, and I am more interested than ever before to play some of the games he worked on.   read

6:50 PM on 10.20.2012

The Reno Video Game Symphony Jazz Band!

Yesterday, the Reno Video Game Symphony performed a concert. As director, I have overseen the members of this group spontaneously create new ensembles before, but it is always magical to see how quickly and efficiently veteran and noob musicians can whip things together when given an opportunity.

Without further ado, our latest cabal...the Jazz Ensemble! A little rough around the edges, but tons of heart.

I enjoyed the opportunity of being in the audience, and it got me thinking about what is special about video game music performances. My favorite shows are intimate, and very few performers int he world today are capable of creating real intimacy with a large crowd. It is special when you get to be in a small room with musicians that have put a lot of themselves into music, no matter how technically excellent the music is performed. I think concerts are all about human connection, and I am always ecstatic when I get to see all the rehearsal required to make a concert turn into real feelings for a group of people in a room together. When it's all created by a bunch of people that I personally mentor and motivate, it just gets me all puppy-eyed.   read

7:45 PM on 08.10.2012

Game Audio - Marble Madness

Why have I been thinking about Marble Madness so much lately, you ask?

Maybe it's the recent video from the Game Developers Conference by Mark Cerny, the creator of Marble Madness. Maybe it's my desire to find new music to arrange for the Reno Video Game Symphony. It may be that I only had the opportunity to play this game on the NES, and I have never had the pleasure of using the Atari arcade cabinet.

Whatever it is, I think it's time we all took a moment with Marble Madness.

I liked this game to such a maddening state that I stole it from my elementary school. Our teacher was so amazing that she put an NES in the room as a reward for students that finished their work, and one day I swiped it. I would like to apologize to the future children that went through that classroom, deprived of this gem as they felt an unplaceable emptiness int heir hearts. It is a fantastically fun game.

But the most lasting effect of this game on me is the music. In 1984, the Yamaha FM synthesis chip was finally in the hands of Atari's music designers, and the sonic palette had become much broader. The game had three different people in charge of the music, which is likely due to the fact that they had no clue of how to use the FM synthesis chip yet, and it apparently took six months just to learn how to make the thing work right.

Oh, wait...let's take a step back.

For those out there who are unfamiliar with FM synthesis, let me briefly describe what it was. The Yamaha FM synthesis chip was first implemented by Sega in the Mark III Master System in Japan. The sound generated by this chip would shape an entire new wave of synthesizers and video game music for the next decade, by being able to more accurately simulate drums, guitars, basses, and many other sounds. And in the case that it couldn't accurately recreate sounds, it could create totally new sounds like the Sega Genesis' distinctive bass tone and the soundtrack to the Streets of Rage series.

For Atari, it meant that they could grab people in the arcade with far better music that went beyond the basic sound synthesis used in earlier titles. Marble Madness hit the arcade scene in 1984, with music composed by Brad Fuller, Hal Canon and with some involvement by David Wise, who would later go on to compose the music for the Donkey Kong Country series.

The Game's Soundtrack

The soundtrack to Marble Madness is truly atmospheric, though the tracks are generally fast paced. The songs are fluid and harmonically complex, with subtle pitch bending that reminds me of the Eb Clarinet parts in Stravinsky's music. As the game goes on, the music gets increasingly threatening, invoking a slew of composers like Edgard Varese and Angelo Badalamenti.

By the time one reaches the Silly Race (6:30 in the above video), the player has already overcome some pretty challenging courses, and the music takes on a lighter feel, with the inclusion of accelerando(gradually increasing tempo), a reminder of Space Invaders and its' charmingly simple method of increasing the game's tension. The sounds used in this game are just awesome, although they are a bit scratchy and fuzzy by today's standards. This game has one of the very first true stereo audio soundtracks, and the music is full and lush, with very clear bass tone and bizarre synth sounds.

The Final Stage(8:18 above), incorporates all the strengths of the game's soundtrack at once: otherwordly noises, high-tension composition, and beautifully warped melodies. The bass pounds and moves deviously through the track, and each instrument has an unmatched urgency that really drives the player head-first through the game.

And then it's over. The game can be beaten in less than 4 minutes, and once you've mastered it, there's really not much more to do except run the motions.

And listen to the soundtrack.   read

2:28 AM on 08.04.2012

6 Things You Don't Know About This Guy

I have been a big fan of Destructoid for a while, and I've posted a few cod-brained blogs here and there, but it's about time you (you) and I (me) were introduced. Because I've enjoyed these types of introductions so much, I figure it's time you learned a few salty secrets about myself as well. So without further ado...

1. I am the director of an orchestra that plays video game music

It is called the Reno Video Game Symphony. Reno, Nevada, USA is my hometown and I've played music here for years, more on that later. The group has more than 25 members and I arrange a lot of Mega Man music because we have a great sax section, but I have a particular fondness for our small ensemble that is composed of 10 members periodically auditioned from the constantly changing orchestra. Here's a link to a video of us playing some music from Secret of Mana. I'm the guy with the guitar.

2. I love Mr. Bungle

I just really love that band. They released 3 albums and some early EPs. They play music that is like a bipolar chimpanzee reciting the entire contents of the library of congress. It's nuts. The last song on their album Disco Volante is similar to "Pokey Means Business" from Earthbound.

3. Earthbound is Great, so is Mother 3

This has nothing to do with me, and it's true. It's just there, like a beetle in your mind-tub. It's probably something you already know, but it is a nice reprieve from this list.

4. I have been on Destructoid for more than 3 years. In fact...

I joined this site back when Anthony Burch was making Rev Rants. My favorite moments from this site have been: Jim Sterling's "Peaches", Burch's proposal to Davis, Ekans, and when I won a PS3.

5. I won a PS3

It's not gloating because it broke. It was stuck in an update loop. I am sad again now.

I won it with this video

6. I live with a murderous, adorable, spoiled little cat

Revel in his glory, REVEL!   read

10:04 PM on 09.24.2010

Spooky Death Ship 3000

Man, just finished playing this game and is it ever great. It's probably one of the best looking games ever and the graphics are great too. The thing with the health thingy is cool. Then there were violins and I was scared. I was sarcastic but that wasn't even the start of it. More violins! Then there was a thing with a huge spiked cock coming out of its shoulder and violins and I was scared. Then there were bright flashing lights and I got scared. Then I got scared by some big thing that looked like the other Necrophiles but bigger and violins and I was like, "the sound design is amazing (Kotaku, 2009)." But I wasn't too worried because I knew that I could goozex the game whenever I wanted because I posted it for trade after playing it for another hour and some other dingbat was gonna be playing it soon.


11:35 AM on 05.10.2010

Silent Hill: Shatttered Memories and Compromises

This is an evil horrible thing. Sony of America will pay for this with every ounce of human liquid I can eviscerate from the toothy sacks that they call a QA department.

Destructoid gave me this machine, and Sony took it away. Because I was just a middleman in the affair, I expect there to be an official agreement that Hamza can punch someone in the throat.

But, because THIS happened, I have gotten a chance to play Silent Hill: Shattered Memories on my magically functioning PS2. Upon popping the game in, I have been greeted with some awesome sound design which is only brought down by the questionable decisions by the developers.

Gameplay and atmosphere aside, Shattered Memories sounds fantastic! This time, the music plays more of a cinematic role, with very unnerving ambient music floating in whenever the player moves into a new environment. The environments in the game are pretty mundane, and the music does a great job of opening up the player's imagination to unseen dangers. But the issue of danger is actually a serious problem in the game, because although haunting music and the jarring sounds of cackling infants are intensely effective in arousing my feelings of weakness, the game very explicitly separates the monsters into one distinct world that you spend about 1/8th of the game in. The rest of the time, the game has gone out of the way to let me know that nothing can hurt me. That is stupid, and arrogant.

The developers really thought they were so good at psychological horror that they could get by on the "OMG that's creepy!" moments that come from the little messages and mildly weird junk that the world is populated with. But because I know EXACTLY what the conditions are for my character to be in danger, my doubt fades, my boredom rises, and my frustration and ability to enjoy the awesome sound design is greatly dampened. It's a shame, because if the same music and sound design were applied to a less contrived and well-designed game world, this game would be fucking fantastic.

Yamaoka 1. Climax 0.   read

2:20 AM on 03.21.2010

Audio in Games - Brutal Legend

Can music be more persuasive to a player than gameplay? Hell yes it can.

It took me a couple months after getting my PS3 to grab Brutal Legend, but before I had the ability to play the game, it was the game for me, and I had to have it. And it's not because I love Jack Black, and Tim Shafer's involvement only assured me that this game was going to get released no matter what. The reason I wanted to play Brutal Legend is because it was the first time I saw a video game that was openly stating that the music would be the central theme of the game design. This promo made me come:


Now, plenty and plenty of games have an extreme focus on sound and music to guide and reinforce gameplay, but only two or three come to my mind that used music as the central component of the game, and Vib Ribbon is just too crazy to compare with anything. So that leaves Brutal Legend in a subtly amazing position, and its effect is seen on thousands of youtube comments like this:

I'm a huge fan of many different varieties of metal, and Brutal Legend exposed me to at least three new bands whom I am now obsessed with, including one which I had previously dismissed. By selecting such a huge compendium of Metal masterpieces, Brutal Legend has become the most ass-kicking metal anthology of all time, and it will live on forever as a Rosetta Stone of how all the different bands represented on its soundtrack all connect to a cohesive lore and artistry that is Metal.

Even GTA: Vice City or San Andreas don't achieve this level of musical glory, since the games' music was more of an ambient recreation of the eras, while every single frame of Brutal Legend feels perfectly married to the music, and even the most trudgingly awful moments of tedious strategy gameplay are redeemed by the continuous symphony of Metal imagery and music. For that reason, I'm going to hold on to Brutal Legend forever, to ensure that when my children are born, I can put the controller from my decrepit old PS3 in their hands, and show them how important music can be to the world.   read

12:18 AM on 11.03.2009

AudioGaming- Oddworld:Abe's Odysee

Oddworld came into existence at a fantastic time for gaming. The shift from 2D to 3D was still stumbling about, and the industry had just come out of the incredible streak of games released on the Genesis and Super Nintendo. The makers of Oddworld: Abe's Odysee called themselves Oddworld Inhabitants, and they created a game which was beautiful, bizarre, odd, and highly innovative. The game shines in every single aspect of production, but for now; I'm concerned with the game's sound and its sound alone, and there's plenty to get in to.

The most innovative feature of Abe's Odysee is the voice of Abe and the other stumpy Mudokons which you encounter. You are able to make Abe say a few different prompts by holding down an L button and a face button including: two different whistles, a hello, a giggle, an angry hiss, "come here", "wait", and a glorious fart. Each sound is used in a game you play with other Mudokons, which is virtually just a game of Simon Says which joyfully ends with a fart every time. The most endearing sound in Abe's voice is the boyish giggle he makes after he lets one loose.

Back in 1997 this kind of sound interactivity was almost unheard of, although PaRappa the Rapper was released in the previous year. The game's Simon Says tasks fall into an audio category which Karen Collins, a game sound author, calls "adaptive audio". Adaptive audio is any sound in a game which reacts to a players input; like gunshots or in our case, a cute little fart. The difference between Oddworld's approach and previous examples of adaptive audio is that the skill of memorizing the sequence of sounds creates a slower and more methodical feeling, and the ultimate effect is that you truly feel like you are talking to the other Mudokons with a special language which you and them share. This conversation illusion is evident at the beginning of every encounter, where you must reciprocate the other Mudokon's "hello" before they start to speak with you. While PaRappa the Rapper used adaptive audio to create a purely technical challenge for the player, Oddworld uses the input of the player to immerse them in a foreign world, while also maintaining a technical challenge to keep it fun and realistic.

An interesting thing to note before I get into the other voices is that ALL the voices in ALL the Oddworld games were voiced by one person. Lorne Lanning is his name, and he's a badass. But Abe's Odysee only includes one other fully voiced character within the gameplay, and it's the Sligs.

Sligs are vile, nasty creatures with snouts that look like an ill fitting glove. The sligs are mean as bees, and their voices portray this with a mixture of croaky mumbles and grumbly exclamations. The points in the game where you can control the sligs allows you to talk as one, but it's much more satisfying to make them shoot eachother. The sligs have a ton of attitude, and they're at their most crude when one kills Abe and lets out oa few victory croaks.

The last character voice I wanted to note isn't really a character at all, but a horse-camel-kangaroo dinosaur thing called an Elum. The Elums are very obedient and sweet, and it makes my heart flutter every time I hear one make a mournful moo-howl whenever you ask it to stay behind, they're just adorable.

ATMOSPHERE! This game has loads of it, and it is conveyed through a few different ways. If you're inside the slimy metallic factory setting of Rupture Farms, there's grinding noises and a general soundscape of what I can only describe as mechanical tedium. If you're in the desert setting of Scrabania, there's a lot of animal noise in the background, with an abundance of half cricket-owl noises throughout. These sounds were nothing revolutionary in video game sound design, but they were presented with such detail and care that still today they outperform other titles in the depth and imagery contained within them. The real experiment going on in Abe's Odysee was it's adaptive score.

In video games, an adaptive score is a musical arrangement which changes based on the player's actions. A recent masterpiece of an adaptive score was Shadow of the Collosus, wherein the music would begin as suspenseful and minimal, then slowly build in intensity and OMG-ness once the player had mounted the colossus. In Oddworld, the score will add in exciting drum fills whenever Abe was jumping a particularly treacherous cliff or if he had unwitingly alerted a nearby Scrab of his presence. The drums can get a bit annoying at times, but when they are implemented right, they add a dramatic tension to several segments of the game that make the tedious trial and error gameplay into a much more tolerable, and downright exciting gameplay experience. Adaptive scores have been around since the speeding up of the music at the end of a timer in Super Mario World, but Abe's Odysee really stepped up the whole concept by making it into a more spontaneous effect.

That's it, with science.   read

1:03 PM on 10.15.2009

LOVE dose #2

So I've played about 9 more hours of love since the last post I made, and I have now pretty well wrapped my head around the gameplay. This game is a bit unclear in communicating to the player what you're supposed to do, but fortunately, it's kind of fun figuring out how the different elements work together.

In order to play LOVE to its fullest, you have to deal with routing power from around the world into your settlement, which requires two people to really get it done. Someone has to go and collect a token for the power generator, and another has to build walls and reinforce the settlement so that the AI won't attack your precious home. The design of settlements involves a lot of interesting elements, because you have to be able to defend from incoming AI that will steal your tokens, making you less capable of developing your settlement. This usually involves having simple entry points and large walls, but my settlement uses a slightly more elegant method.

Our monolith is on an island, with one steep bridge leading up to it. I built one extra large tower on a corner of the island which allows me to leap across to the cliff that's nearest us. That's pretty much the only way out, and the bridge is the only way in. While we were building up our settlement, we obscured any work we were doing from passersby by building extra large walls so they couldn't see us. The AI is very intelligent, and it doesn't cheat, so if it can't see you, it won't know you're there. This allowed us to build up to a relatively defensible and advanced state without any attacks, though we always keep one person on guard, watching the bridge.

Once you get power and possibly some better building tokens, you become more visible because enemies can see power beams heading into your settlement. This forces you to develop at a careful pace, and it also forces you to be careful about stealing tokens from enemy settlements, because they will try to find you, and if you're not equipped to defend against them, your settlement is over. It's a very well-paced experience and it's a lot of fun sneaking into other settlements and stealing their tokens, then rushing back to your own home, deftly hopping around the unpredictable world.

That's enough for today, but I would like to add one more thing.

<rant>Online gaming veterans stand out like a sore thumb in LOVE, because they're jaw-clenchingly obnoxious. I was part of a ridiculously over built settlement, which had about 12 people in it and about five entrances. The AI started attacking on a regular basis, and during a firefight, I accidentally shot of a little friendly fire. I looked in the chat screen and saw "WHO'S THE GRIEFER!" "I DUNNO, FUCKING GRIEFER!" "I THINK IT'S MINTAKON GRIEF GRIEF GRIEF". Then some pompous turd said "well, I'm chatting with the dev right now, so I'll tell him."</rant>

Now I can't access LOVE for the time being. These kind of things are why I don't normally play online games, because people play for 8 hours straight and their primate brain takes over. Hopefully I can resolve this without wasting too much of Eskil's time, because this is not the kind of thing he should have to deal with. Seriously, next time, instead of throwing a hissy fit over a griefer or someone who is supposedly ruining your gaming experience, just pull your doughy little face away from the monitor and take a moment to reflect on why your parents always make that sighing sound whenever they look at you.   read

10:13 PM on 10.12.2009

LOVE alpha test diary.

If you aren't familiar with LOVE, it's an online game not quite massive enough to be considered a Massively Multiplayer Game like World of Warcraft. It's a novel new online game where you build settlements with other people, and occasionally there's baddies that will kill you. I've been participating in the alpha test of the game, and I felt like sharing some of the stuff going on in the LOVE servers during this phase of the game's development.

When I started playing LOVE, I was instantly awed by how beautiful the game looks. The game runs fantastically on a cheap graphics card, and the whole visual style of the game is incredibly satisfying to watch. Your basic actions involve moving and jumping, which also involves a double jump you can perform off of solid objects, giving the game a very subtle platforming element. You can also shoot a little energy ball, but it's mostly useless. The first task given to a player is to find a settlement in the game, which you are directed to by a compass at the bottom of the screen.

When I started, I began to run towards where the symbol was pointing, and I immediately found myself hindered by an incredibly diverse landscape. Huge canyons rip through the world, and all manners of outcroppings and geological formations make navigating a very thoughtful task. The world is spherical, and I quickly found that I could chase the sun or run into night time with a few minutes travel. Every single vista looks like a painting, a visual style lilting between Monet-like splotches and indistinct forms, but the world also has a feeling of familiarity in many of it's features. Ice is blue-white, grass is green, water is dark and undulating, and the sky is in what feels like a perpetual sunset.

Now, the real test of a game is its gameplay, and if you thought LOVE was just a cheap randomized world created to showcase some pretty mountains, you might just piss yourself when you get into the actual stuff you can do in the world. When I found a settlement, the first thing I noticed was another person who was building a wall. When I say "building a wall", I don't mean he was placing some brick templates onto a 3d block. That's what all those other games do. This guy was pulling earth up out of the ground and strategically morphing it into a shape and size which not only seemed to make a sturdy defense against the baddies, but it also seemed to express his personal aesthetic preference for how the settlement should look and feel. I can't really elaborate more on that other than to say it is revolutionary for videogames.

I have since explored the world more, and I 've built my own personal cliffside walk around that showcases the gorgeous views which our settlement has. Another thing which is slowly dawning on me whenever I boot up the game is that the world is morphing by itself. Rock slides seems to happen, and the AI enemies are changing and building new structures in their attempt to secure more power.

Soon our settlement should find a weapons token, and once we learn how to build a gun, I'll do a write-up on the battle mechanics in the game.   read

11:54 AM on 09.15.2009

This is my sweet poster.

I made this poster out of sweat and blood, and a little urine. It is the sweetest thing in my apartment, if not only because I haven't bought a wii yet. It cost me $12 to make this, and as far as Ihas been reported, you don't have one. I would suggest you make one, but then my coolness quotient would be slightly changed, and I simply won't stand for that.

On the other hand, I suggest anybody who has a cheap color printing source go to Rasterbator and make a giant Samus or even better, a giant Mr. Destructoid.

We should make a contest for these, Colette's probably got some junk hanging around.   read

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