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Spotlight: StarCraft and K-pop porn with Blood Diamonds

4:00 PM on 07.25.2012 // Allistair Pinsof
  @DtoidAllistair

[Every now and then, Dtoid shines its Spotlight on a games-related artist, event, or place we'd like to share with you guys. Basically, we think this is awesome. Do you think it's awesome?]

I don’t often discuss music with fellow game enthusiasts because we rarely see eye to eye. The music scenes that have become associated with games, like nerdcore and chiptune, don’t speak to me at all. They fetishize an era I barely grew up in, making me wonder when an artist would come that would fetishize the stuff I love. Enter Blood Diamonds.

Mike Tucker started Blood Diamonds while studying game design at Vancouver Film School. It started as his life after World of Warcraft, but it has led to something equally fantastical, colorful, and surreal. His music comes from far away pixelated caverns and digital beaches. Though his music isn’t directly influenced by games, it wouldn’t exist without them. Tucker seeks to emulate his fond memories with games through music, while finding the funds to make a game of his own in the near future.

Still recovering from his tour with Skrillex and Grimes, I sat down with Tucker to discuss the days of his World of Warcraft addiction, K-pop porn, his Counter-Strike session with Skrillex that never happened, and how he plans to make good on his game design education.

That’s totally the sword from the US Final Fantasy II box cover on your latest single, isn’t it? And you have the Sega Genesis logo too, which is awesome!

Mike Tucker: Fuck yeah there is! That’s what it’s about! I can’t remember but the wings are from like some official Gundam art. There is so much nerdy shit going on. There is no such thing as too nerdy. We [Tucker and Elite Gymnastics’ Josh Clancy] bounced it back and forth. Every part of it. Sharing elements and all of that. Josh is such a good designer. I wanted it to look like some kind of weird K-pop porno that would come on a Sega Dreamcast.

K-pop porno? That doesn’t exist, right?

It does exist, actually! Someone sent me a picture and I thought it was Girl Generation. It’s very subtle but their skirts are just a bit higher and sexier and they aren’t Girl Generation. I guess that’s a thing. Girl bands and making pornos and ... anyway ... I wanted it to look like a late ‘90s weird Korean or Japanese sexual thing that would come on a game. There is something weird about the aesthetic of Square [SquareSoft/SquareEnix] art. That format is very non-associative with music, originally.

There is an aesthetic that you and Elite Gymnastics share that I can’t quite put my finger on but it seems really inspired by SquareSoft games and anime in the late ‘90s & early ‘00s. There’s this bright optimism to it that kind of disappeared from games ever since. Am I just crazy for making this connection?

Yeah, totally. It’s very geeky. But the initial games I was into were Final Fantasy X, Donkey Kong Country, and Rez.

Weird. Those were the exact games that come to my mind when I listen to your music. So, it’s fair to say that games inspire a lot of what you do with Blood Diamonds?

Yeah, the initial Blood Diamonds vibe was very tropical. I still have tropical elements and lot of that is from Donkey Kong Country. Not inspired by the soundtrack but just the time that it came out. The vectorized pixel art looked so good at the time and the environment was really rich and the palm trees had detail on them -- reflections or something -- it had highlights and that was something I never got fully from pixel art. I think that was the first game where I felt I was in a place.

Most of my music is visually inspired and -- fuck that is such a nice place to be! Those environments, those colors, jumping on alligator people!

You’re currently on tour with Skrillex and others on the Full Flex Express tour. I’ve seen a lot of tweets about you guys playing Counter-Strike and World of Warcraft together. Not exactly the way I imagine most artists unwinding between shows.

Those were jokes. We would of if we had internet. There was no internet on the train and we were joking about wanting to play. In rural Canada, we couldn’t.

I played WoW for like six years. That was a pretty important part of Blood Diamonds. The environments ... I feel like WoW came out when I was a freshman in high school and it felt like their sophomore expansion [The Burning Crusade] was my sophomore year, and it grew up with me. I learned a lot about color, art, and things just because the art is so good. It’s such an immersive environment that you can’t escape. Once I quit and started making music, I had all this energy and time to do things. I feel like playing WoW for 14 hours a day or whatever the fuck catapulted me into this work ethic. I hate when people lie about being deep into that shit. "I’ve never been into videogames, bleeeeghhh!" But once the gloves come off everyone wants to play Counter-Strike.


I can see Skrillex being a guy who gets into games. You ever talk to him about your game ideas or games in general?

Yeah. He actually told me that he recently got to play Counter-Strike: GO. We had a good chat about that. I was kind of jealous. He’s been there, man. We talked about Donkey Kong Country Returns the month it came out. He’s very knowledgeable as far as games and consoles go. Just like me he doesn’t have much more time to play anymore, unfortunately. I had a Counter-Strike disc image [on tour] but it was corrupt so we couldn’t even play ... even TOKiMONSTA on tour plays. Only person that doesn't play is Diplo.

Grimes watches me play StarCraft and she is so convinced that if Katy Perry were an alien, she’d be a Protoss. We’ve had deadly serious conversations about Katy Perry in regards to StarCraft.

Have you had time to play any games lately?

The only game I’ve made time for is StarCraft II. James in Elite Gymnastics and I, we play pretty regularly when I can. That's how I met James. I was tweeting about a StarCraft map and he tweeted back. "What’s your battle.net?" And 10 minutes later we played StarCraft II for 18 hours and got on Skype and became best of friends. A week later I flew him to Vancouver and had a K-pop party where we broadcasted StarCraft II matches on the walls. All these dudes came to watch StarCraft. It was this fancy nightclub and all these girls were just dancing by themselves. It was awesome!

I find it hard to believe you are a game designer. You seem too fashionable. Do you consider yourself a music artist first and foremost?

You should see pictures of me from a year ago. I like games. I like music. I like to party. I like people. As long as I am making something every day, whether it's music, art, or snide comments -- ok, not snide comments -- but if you are doing positive things ... I am what I am and I am doing what I’m supposed to be doing.

What’s your history with games?

When I was really young, my parents couldn’t afford a Super Nintendo or PlayStation. So, I played at my friends house all the time. A lot of the time I just ended up watching because my friend was kind of a dick. So, I ended up making so much fan art but I didn't know it was fan art at the time because I was seven. I obsessively drew Star Fox and Mega Man. I got better and better and better. That’s why I ended up being so into games and being a game artist. I do some scripting when I need to. I do some bare bones shit but I do art, mainly. Mega Man Legends had the sickest art style for PlayStation!

When Pokemon Blue came out, I spent my summer collecting leaves to buy that on a Game Boy Color. I was really psyched. In 2nd grade, my whole life was Pokemon. I was like aggro Pokemon kid: "Don’t fuck with me or I will destroy you!"

What made you want to design?

I tried music when I was 18 and just failed horribly. I was like, "Fuck. What am I going to do now?" I went to art school for a year and played too much Warcraft. I thought I should make Warcraft. I wanted to work at Blizzard or Valve. I got a student loan for game design. It was the coolest experience. I became friends for life with my whole class and instructors. But through that I made new music as Blood Diamonds and it ended up growing into a thing. I had a release come out during school and every other weekend I’d be flying out to do Blood Diamonds stuff and come back and do game work. By the time I graduated, I had some good job offers. I thought, "Fuck, I’m 21 and I shouldn't wait to sit at some place. I should do music while I still can!"

It's becoming more common to find electronic artists with a love for games these days. Even Burial samples gun sounds from Counter-Strike. Do you find this to be true?

The most successful people are the nerdiest. It’s really sick setting up these live visuals last night for Skrillex's visuals. He had a giant LED screen with this dude in Counter-Strike barreling through people with a shotgun set to the beat and he cut in Nyan Cat. Shit like that, you know? Especially with electronic producers, it's very internet- and game-centric.

Do you feel you still have interest in making a game?

My plan right now is, once my album is done and it does well enough, I want to save up for a big budget and make a game over six months with like four. Some are my friends and some I met professionally. I want to make an indie game that is like a one-hour experience that mimics the hour experience of a record.

I’ve heard something about a music-game based game jam in Vancouver where game designers pair up with musicians and make a game in a day. You ever participated?

No, but I've been to a 20-hour game jam with my friend. I don’t have the flash drive anymore, but I had this retarded game I made with my Swedish friend where you are just Batman hanging out of a Volkswagen and you had to smash this fucking iguana. He blends into the sidewalk so it made it difficult. We made a stupid theme song. There is no better feeling than making a game with a friend. Games have more breathing room to be collaborative and be a less personal thing because they are mostly about fun.

There is a history of musicians turned game designers with people like David Cage and designers that do their own soundtrack. Do you feel focusing on one discipline makes the other stronger, as well?

People are like, "How do you do this?" in regards to both. It’s the same shit. It’s just programming and using a huge array of software to make one product. The work ethic and everything is very parallel. You want to meet deadlines, you want to maintain this artistic aesthetic, and you have a clear goal. The work ethic, especially. A lot of that came from playing MMOs. When you are in a hardcore, top-rated server, guild, or whatever, it's hard work. It's like a second job.

Are you going to jump back into World of Warcraft when the new expansion comes out?

Maaaaaan, I don’t know. I have a beta key and I’ve been trying not to fuck with it. I love Blizzard and everything they’ve done. They’re why I went to game design school. Elite Gymnastics and me always talk about this: We just want to make money off our records, chill, and play StarCraft for the rest of our lives.

[Phone Sex can be purchased at the 4AD Store or on iTunes]



Allistair Pinsof,
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