Blog Archives

Why it’s time for a video game music Renaissance

Hum a melody from a video game that came out in the past 10 years.

Go ahead, I’ll wait.

Chances are, you can’t, unless you cheat and use melodies from a Mario remake or the Halo anniversary edition. But why is that?

Well, let’s give a brief history of video game music (again [again {again}]). You had bleeps and blips with pacman, then someone came along and invented MIDI (woohoo!). Gameboy and Nintendo had 3 wavetable oscillators (pronounced “instruments”) and a noise machine for percussion. Then you get 16-bit stuff, samples, FM synths and some pretty rad stuff with Super Nintendo, Sega, etc. etc. Playstation comes around and supports digital audio! Woohoo again! Then from PS2/Xbox/Gamecube onward, you get mostly high-quality crystal-clear audio with amazing processing, either recorded by a live orchestra or painstakingly crafted from magnificent music libraries (like the main theme of Game of Thrones. You thought it was live, didn’t you? Nope, libraries). With the most modern consoles, adaptive music has come into play that defies the very idea of a soundtrack and offers a smooth blend of music from one place to another.

Whew, that was a crash course if I’ve ever seen one. Point being, the blinders have been removed, the constraints are nonexistent, and the audio processing capabilities of the newest consoles/PCs are so powerful that it’s the compositional equivalent of a kid in a candy store. It really is that good. And therein lies the problem.

Read the rest of this entry

Advertisements

The New Fairytale

I’m sorry for not writing before now! Two reasons: first, my computer is kaput. Not your problem, I know, but it did kind of put a damper on my blogging abilities. Second (related to first as well), I’m playing through the game FEZ, and I’m working on kind of a big post about it. However, I realized that I was not nearly deep enough into the game to do it justice, and my save file had just been erased. So, the past week has been comprised of relearning and redoing everything I already did, and finishing up that game. Look for the awesome post Monday! It’s going to be magnificent. Anyway!

With the recent release of GTA V I thought it’d be a good time to discuss the positive impact video games have on our children.

No, really.

Read the rest of this entry

Why Mario is the greatest video game character of all time.

I tire, frankly, of doing serious posts all the time. Yeah, J-RPGs are dead, mobile games are like digital dementors except that they’re better at sucking your soul out, and as I grumpily tell these young gamers to get off my lawn while I’m enjoying the nostalgia, I reflect on my younger days… I came home every day and enjoyed the hell out of some video games. I come home every day now and enjoy the hell out of completely different video games, and usually there’s beer involved now (another big plus!). So I’m going to stop bitching for a while, if it’s all the same to you!

Okay, maybe not about Zynga. Screw you, Zynga.

Okay, maybe not about Zynga. Screw you, Zynga.

Read the rest of this entry

The Birth and Death of the J-RPG

Sorry for not posting on Friday! This idea has been rolling around my head for a while, and it took me a lot longer than expected to get it down!

Kind of a dramatic title, but Japan has dominated the video game market for about as long as it has existed. That’s started to change in recent times, but certainly every big title in the early days came from Japan, from Tekken to Mario to Zelda to Final Fantasy to Bomberman to Street Fighter to Pacman to Poke’mon to… well, you get it! One in particular piques my interest more than the others: Final Fantasy. It is the epitome of the J-RPG (that is, the Japanese Role-Playing Game), and in a large sense has defined the genre of RPGs as a whole. Not much more I can say to make that clearer. You’ve probably heard of them even if you don’t play any video games at all. If you’ve played video games for a long time, you’ve probably worked your way through three or four of these games at some point, and even if you hate RPGs you probably at least had a soft spot for one of them.

They’re a big deal. One of the biggest deals in the whole industry, actually. Moving on.

This crappy montage courtesy of yours truly...

This crappy montage courtesy of yours truly…

Read the rest of this entry

Adaptive Music and Video Games: A Love Story <3

Hey folks! I’m starting this on Friday (a little late, to be honest), but it may not be done till tomorrow. Sorry in advance!

So. Adaptive music. It sounds like something you’d hear at a Borg nightclub. But seriously, what IS adaptive music??
It’s music that adapts.

Yep.

Well, that was a short blog post. See you next week!…

Read the rest of this entry

A rare find, perhaps?

So, yes. I’m a horrible person, so on and so forth. I haven’t been updating, even though I came and said I would. The main reason for this is because I am woefully without internet at my current place of residence! Unfortunate, to be sure. But that’s okay. I’m sitting here in the music university, surrounded by one love, writing about another. Who could ask for more?

Except, of course, internet in my house. That’d be good.

One of my professors (a Texan who speaks flawless Italian. They exist??) mentioned offhand that German internet sucks. Since he probably has more experience with it than I do, that doesn’t bode well for me! Hopefully I’m the exception to the rule… or else, how will I surf Facebook and make meaningful blog posts about the nature of video games??

Anyhow.  If I had previously turned you on to the idea of the Humble Bundle, you hopefully bought the most recent one that came out. It was a little bit geared towards mobile-gaming again, but it still had a couple gems in it that I’m playing, have played, or am looking forward to playing. But I won’t talk about that now, for the reason that it’s irrelevant (as you can no longer buy it). Sorry! I hope that you made your purchase in good time, and I’ll be sure to make another post when the next one comes out. Naturally, I want you, dear reader(s?), to take advantage of the artful awesomeness that is indie gaming.

But for now, today’s blog post is about a gem that I found recently. This game is certainly not NEW, by any sense of the word (except the astronomical sense. Everything created by man is extremely new in the grand scheme of time), but it is both extremely interesting and a little bit fun, too. The game I am speaking of, of course, is Zelda 2.

What… what is going on?

It’s… side-scrolling. It’s a side-scrolling Zelda game! WHEN DID THIS HAPPEN? Well, 1987, to be exact. A couple years before I was born, but then again, I am so saturated with old games that one would have thought I’d have played this to death. But, (obviously, due to the surprised tone of my earlier sentences) I hadn’t discovered it until only a couple weeks ago. Sure, it’s an old game, but in the grand scheme of the Zelda franchise (and video games in general), it illustrates a very important concept.

What concept, you inquire? Well… the concept of a franchise! The concept of putting a number 2 next to the title of that game you released a while back, and hoping people will buy it and enjoy it just like they did the first one. There is a reason the Zelda franchise was so successful! And… well, it wasn’t this game. Just from looking at one screencap, you can immediately tell that this game is entirely different from every single other Zelda game in existence (with the slight exception of one part of the first dungeon in Link’s Awakening, where you get knocked off by the boss into a pit-type thing that is in fact side-scroll-y). It’s got experience bars, it’s platforming, it’s a very great deal more action-y and less puzzle-y than most Zelda games we’re aware of.

So, why does it exist? Knowing what we know now about the Zelda franchise, why didn’t they make a game that improved upon the concepts of the first game, offered a different storyline, and more cool features for the player to take advantage of? That’s what EVERY SINGLE OTHER Zelda game is! Why make this one such an anomaly? (Okay, that’s one too many rhetorical questions.) The answer is, naturally, because there were no rules and strategies to this sort of “franchise” thing. The world of console gaming was just starting to come into being, and the idea of putting out multiple games and relying on the brand of a fictional character was somewhat… foreign! It’s not just the matter of sticking your quarters in a machine anymore; it’s the idea of playing a whole other game, from start to finish, just because you liked the first one.

Now, if that were your goal… how would you go about it? Would you, say, make a game that is in most respects quite similar to the first game, but fluffed up a little bit, with more bells and whistles? Of course not! In the eye of the game developer, it would be foolish to put out such a similar product, and kind of seems like selling out, too. That mindset is all well and good, (and this game we’re talking about is produced FROM that mindset,) but as we now know, that’s not what video gamers desire! I know that when I play a Zelda game, I know what I want, and I know that I’ll find it within. There’s going to be a gradually increasing level of difficulty, lots of puzzles, tons of special items, princesses, Gorons and Zoras, something about the Triforce and the Master Sword… and it’s all going to be in top-down goodness. That’s a Zelda game. That’s the Zelda franchise.

And so, we have this game, different in style, and certainly less famous and less successful, all because it wanted to offer a totally different experience with the characters you know and love. Everyone knows, however, that characters don’t make a game franchise, because we’ve all played Super Mario Bros. 2. Turnips? Magic potions? Hearts???  (By the way, in case you didn’t know, Super Mario Bros. 2 was not originally Mario at all. Check it out here.) It’s a good game, but it’s an anomaly.

So, finally, what I’m getting at with this whole thing. The idea of a video game franchise is more than simple characters and worlds. It’s also gameplay! We have these great worlds that are developed, with cool characters, and interesting plotlines. However, when we play these franchise games, we expect them to behave a certain way! Metroids are ALWAYS frozen with ice missiles! Latikus ALWAYS drop spike balls. You ALWAYS get the Master Sword somehow. It’s the way the game works. You can’t just go fooling around with them willy-nilly. (By the way, willy-nilly is a totally awesome word. Use it in conversation sometime. But not willy-nilly!)

Having said all that, aren’t there good examples of games that HAVE been changed drastically within franchises that have also been successful?

Absolutely. Games and their franchises change with the capabilities of their systems. The ones that are successful, however, move the concept of their games to a new system, utilizing the capabilities of said system fully while preserving the idea behind the older games. Zelda: Ocarina of Time is one of the best games Nintendo has ever released. Super Mario 64 is another. Argue with me if you like, but… maybe you should just trust me on this one.  These games are both in 3D, which is an entirely different feeling for both franchises: Zelda’s top-down was equally as iconic by this time as Mario’s side-scrolling excitement. And, certainly, the idea of playing a musical instrument (actually controlling it with your controller, I mean… not Oracle of Seasons/Ages style)… was a game-changer (pun absolutely intended). Same deal with Mario: you now had health, and the world was way more free-form, even quest-oriented. There were little races and challenges and strange things that none of the other games before 64 ever had. And yet… Ocarina of Time? It’s a flippin’ PUZZLE game. You spent hours in the Water Temple not FIGHTING crap (except for those Tekteks. Screw those guys), but solving puzzles! You pushed blocks, shot fire-arrows, used small keys, hookshotted the hell out of targets and vines alike, and made your way through dungeons not by brawn, but by brains. It was a Zelda game, through and through. That idea was preserved. And NO ONE can dare to say that Super Mario 64 is not a platformer. Perhaps it was a little more forgiving with lives than the earlier Mario games, but I’ll be damned if I didn’t spend hours timing jumps right and trying to run without falling off one edge or another. The feeling of Mario was there, even if it looked a little bit different. Super Mario Galaxy and Skyward Sword (or Twilight Princess, too), took the games in a different direction. But c’mon. They’re still Mario and Zelda. You’ll always know a little bit what to expect.

So we see these games, how they change, how they stay the same, and we ask ourselves: SHOULD it be that way? What if every Zelda game had a different gameplay style, a different goal, a different set of mechanics governing your experience? Would those games still be good? The answer is unequivocally yes. The only thing is, instead of making these games “Zelda” or “Mario,” why not call them by another name? That way, we don’t have the problems of brand name expectations, and we can work within a much freer framework for what we can do and what we want to do as game developers! Let’s have a look at the result: Chibi Knight!

 

Click to play CHIBI KNIGHT, The Zelda 2 Knockoff.

 

If you decide to play it (and you really should), you’ll find that it’s fun, cool, addictive, engaging, and altogether very well-made! It’s also exactly the same style of gameplay as Zelda 2. So, after all this, I’ve come to this conclusion: the failure (not really FAILURE, by the way. It was successful in its original run, but it failed to stand the test of time like some other Zelda games we know) of Zelda 2 wasn’t because of its actual gameplay… it’s no longer a popular Zelda game because it was just too different. I guess the moral of the story here is “Be careful what you call Zelda.”

Also, in case you were wondering HOW MUCH Chibi Knight is like Zelda 2 (and how obvious the relation is)… Here’s the opening screen from Zelda 2:

Hm. I don’t see the resemblance at all.

Happy gaming, see you next time!

 

~Another Gamer

 

HERO Week Continues (and ends, really) with music!

Now, if you’ll recall the last post’s heroic exploits and explanations, you’ll remember that we talked about how video game heroes, with a few notable exceptions, are just a little more hero-y than the protagonists of most other storytelling genres (I realize “heroic” is actually a REAL word, but “hero-y” just sounded better in my head. Critics, I swear). We have lots of strong, silent types. People who get the job done. People who, let’s face it, just DON’T die, no matter how much they really ought to. The world of video gaming is a bright and magical place, full of wonder and people with ridiculous amounts of survivability and tenacity. That’s the first time I’ve ever used “tenacity” or any of its conjugations in a way that didn’t refer to Jack Black. And, coincidentally, that makes the perfect transition into the suitably epic topic for today’s post: the music of heroes.

Read the rest of this entry

It’s HERO Week!

Hooray for Hero Week, where we delve deep and discover the  true awesomeness that is a video game hero (or heroine). “But, dear blogger,” you say, “your delightfully witty and well-written blog only updates twice a week!” To that, I say: you’re right! But I had an idea for two posts that were related, so why not make a week out of it? Pure blogging gold, right there. And that idea, of course, is to write about those fabulous doers of good, those just and fearless warriors, those people who horrifically skew the “Number of Princesses Rescued per Capita” rating of Hyrule and the Mushroom Kingdom.

Read the rest of this entry

It’s the zombie hall of fame!

Zombies are everywhere! No, I don’t mean that the apocalypse that we all dread (or secretly look forward to) has arrived. I mean that no matter where you look in video games, there are zombies. Of course, zombie games have their own delightfully gory and gratuitously violent genre, for which I’m very thankful. From the classic games like “Zombies Ate My Neighbors,” to the campy arcade “House of the Dead,” to the incredibly creepy “Resident Evil” games, there have been quite a few gems in the zombie game universe. But you can also find zombies in the strangest places, from Minecraft to Ninja Gaiden to Zelda to even Mass Effect! There is something alluring about the undead that game creators latch on to, and in any game where you have a means of killing the enemy (aka NOT games like Cooking Mama or Animal Crossing), you will find that a stereotypical zombie-like thing will be cleverly (or not-so-cleverly) inserted, for the simple, gleeful pleasure of massacring them. Hooray for zombies! Read the rest of this entry

When the games get tough…

When games get tough, the tough get gaming…? I’m not so sure. There are some games that pride themselves on having a ridiculous level of difficulty. As a matter of fact, for those games, generally speaking, the difficulty is the only thing that really draws people to them. The competitive person in us says, “I will beat you, no matter how many times I have to die before I do it.” And then the game usually says, after hours of frustration, “Are you suuuuure?” They exist for the same reason that Mount Everest exists. Not because India’s tectonic plate is smashing up against another one to create the Himalayas (which by the way are getting taller). Everest is there rising above everything else, silently shouting, “You want an EASIER challenge? Then go climb the garbage heap that is your will to succeed, sucker!” Only, it probably says it more regally, with old English, or something. Anyway. These games are maddeningly difficult, and the cred you get for beating them is worth more than gameplay, graphics, plot, or pretty much anything else that makes a game good. Now that’s good marketing right there. The near-perfect example of this is Ninja Gaiden.

It doesn't LOOK like the spawn of vide-game-Satan.

Read the rest of this entry