Sunday, November 21, 2010

Videogame Music

        I’ll start the blog off by reminding everyone that I am in high school and that I am in the symphonic orchestra for it. This is my director’s last year here, and he’s decided to end it with a twist. Recently he went to some music program, and discovered a little thing called Videogames Live. He decided that he liked what he heard and that it was good music and so now the orchestra is going to perform videogames live on stage tomorrow, and when I first heard  what we were doing the nerd side of me had a spasm. It’s been interesting practicing, the parts for videogame music is actually not as simple as I thought it would be. I have more respect for composers and the people who play the music for the game because I realize that it's not that easy anymore. The best part is that most of the music is from older games such as Kingdom Hearts or Advent Rising (which I didn’t like) so it let me reminisce on games that I used to play.

                                Oh Nerds
        The thing I like most about videogame music that sets it apart from most other music is that the music is always setting the tone, no matter how simplistic it is. In Halo, you’re fighting a grand space epic and thus the music in it is sweeping, full of action and build up, and when you’re playing the game it really immerses you in what you’re doing. In Civilization you’re playing different empires throughout different ages, and so the music is very varied and shows that you are the lord, king, president, whatever you choose to be over the game. Mass Effect, which is one of my favorite games, went for a somewhat Star Trek style, clean and futuristic, so the soundtrack has lots of synth and electronic, while the sequel Mass Effect 2 went for a more grand style, with lots of orchestration and big symphonies for the music. In the documentary for Gears of War 2 the composer stated that in some songs he wanted there to be frenzy, chaos, so he had the players do ridiculous things with their instruments. Videogame music is so very well done, even in trailers, and I love the way most games give a grand scale or intense music feel to the atmosphere.

         Not in the game itself, but still an epic trailer
           Conceived by Tommy Tallarico and Jack Wall, Videogames Live was created to perform videogame music to the public. They were attempting to raise awareness on the fact that videogame music was good and how culturally significant videogames are. In this regard it has been successful, as my director though that videogame music was lots of electronic and “bad” music but this has converted him into liking the music. During concerts they have the music live with special light effects as well as videos playing in the background. Sometimes the music will be very retro, featuring music from games like Tetris or Asteroids, and it's a joy for nerds like us to hear it.

                        Tommy Tallarico and Jack Wall
            For our orchestra we are playing the Halo theme, the one with the chanting/humming, Coronation and Baba Yetu from Civilization IV, Bounty Hunter Theme from Advent Rising, and Kingdom Hearts theme from Kingdom Hearts. These are all great songs, my favorites being Baba Yetu, the Halo theme, and the Kingdom Hearts one and the Bounty Hunter theme is somewhat lame while the Coronation is just boring to play. Baba Yetu is very relaxing and a nice thing to listen to, while the Halo theme is very grand and sweeping. The Kingdom Hearts theme is a very fantasy style song, very soaring and full of adventure. We have had multiple people work on this project outside of orchestra, such as the tech crew for the special light effects (which are pretty damn well done) as well as the video people (not sure what class/club they’re in) who did a good job putting the video for music together. Only complaint that I have with their videos is that most of the time it didn’t show what was fun about the games, such as in Civilization they only showed buildings not the leaders or gameplay, or in Halo they used mostly Reach where the song did not even show up in. This is mostly coming from my point of view, which I have to admit might be a little skewed because I hold most of these games very dearly to me and I’ve actually played them which I’m not sure the video crew has. Along with videogames live we’ll be playing a wide variety of music, from American Patrol (a medley of patriotic songs such as Yankee Doodle), Egmont Overture, Merry Wives, and La Traviata. Overall the music is pretty good, and the videogame music made it very fun for me to play this semester. If you go to my school hope I see you there.

                                          I love this song

Glak Out

                          Great Song, Lots of Fantasy Vibe

                      A Classic Song (But no guitar for us sadly)
          (Really simple song, but also really fun to play)
And to end this video portion I'm going to post a bunch of links, because if I embedded all the videos it would be too much. Also I couldn't find Merry Wives because apparently it's in a musical or something so I couldn't find a good recording of it. La Traviata Egmont Overture, the ending is the most fun *Sigh, Advent Rising............ Not bad, but not fun either, although it could be because we have noone singing in the background

Sunday, November 7, 2010


So much has happened in the past 2 weeks, and since I haven’t done any reviews yet, why not just do a blowout review session. I will do one for videogames, tv/comics, and music in that order. First up to face my wrath is the iPhone/iPod Touch game, GameDev Story. This game has in the past couple of weeks captivated the imagination and the focus of many gamers out in the world, including actual developers and reviewers. GameDev Story is basically a sim game in which you are the president of a game company and throughout a period of 20 years develop games or take contracts.
 Even the damn title font is cute!

In GameDev Story you start out as a fresh developer, ready to enter the harsh world of videogames. The first step is hiring your staff, and from helpful tips from a game magazine being your journey. Leveling your staff and training them is essential, because through doing those you can unlock new genres, such as RPG’s. You start off with the ability to develop on the PC, as well as some fairly early consoles. The PC is free to develop on, however its userbase is small therefore it’s only useful for the beginning of the game when you’re starting out. As the game progresses new companies and consoles come out that you can develop for, however you must pay a licensing fee to develop on them, which can be kind of hefty. The best part of the game for me was how the consoles closely mimicked that of their real life counterparts. The Game Kid developed by “Intendro” is pretty successful like its actual counterpart, the Gameboy, so it’s worth developing for. However when Intendro’s other console, the Virtual Kid, you know it’s going to fall flat on its face, because it was a miserable failure in real life. Small things like these add to the game’s charm and depth.
iPhone Screenshot 1

The thing about this game is that there’s a lot of numbers. You never actually control any of these characters, you’re going to be staring at a lot of numbers when you make decisions. Whether it’s to decide who makes the music or how much you’re going to be spending on advertising there’s lots of numbers involved. The game also sometimes ruins your hard work, such as with a blackout or someone releasing a game similar to you, which can really make you RAGE! The graphics in this game fit the style and serve its purpose. The whole twenty years took me about 5 hours to complete on and off, and it has the addictive just one more turn (in this case game) attitude to it, which is great for an iPhone game. After the twenty years is up you can keep on playing but it won’t keep track of your stats, or you can start New Game + which transfers some stats over, such as the level of your genres. Although it was fun and I played through it twice, after about 12 years in the first playthrough it lost a little steam. However for the price of 3.99 you’ll definitely get your money’s worth for sure (If you play lots of videogames).
iPhone Screenshot 2


                GameDev story survived my wrath because of its charm. Fine. Time to totally rip on the new original series by AMC, The Walking Dead. The Walking Dead is based off an ongoing comic series by Image Comics, The Walking Dead (duh). The basic premise of both is that main character Rick Grimes is a cop who get injured in a gunfight, and goes in a coma. When he wakes up in the hospital a few months later he finds the hospital empty and zombies everywhere. He then sets off for Atlanta to find his wife and son. Right off I want to say, that the comics are amazing and is one of my favorites out of everything I’ve read so far, so the show had a lot of expectations to live up to. To my surprise, it not only met them, but exceeded them. The show has a lot going for it. The cast is great, looks like their comic counterparts and they were amazing. It also has amazing producers, Gale Anne Herd (Terminator, Aliens) and Frank Darabont (THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION) directing it. The pilot episode closely follows that of the first few issues of the comics, with a little deviations here and there. The thing I love most about The Walking Dead is that instead of focusing on the zombies and surviving, it’s more about the characters and it shines a light on humanity, about how we would react and in the face of apocalypse, who can we trust. All the scenes were spot on, and the use of sounds and music was phenomenal, the music was there only when needed. For those looking for some good zombie killing, there’s lots of gore to go around in this episode. The only thing that dampens my excitement for the show is that there are only six episodes this season, so there better be another one coming. Darabont did a perfect job capturing the personalities of each character, as well as show the “aloneness” of Rick Grimes, as well as him slowly adapting to this new world. This was a great pilot episode, and all of you better be watching the new episode tonight, this is zombies done right. 5/5
                                            The Trailer to The Walking Dead
                To close this way too long blog I will end with a mini review of Sufjan Stefan’s “The Age of Adz”. I like to keep these shorts because I’m not very good at articulating what makes these albums good and I feel that music is a very subjective thing, probably the most subjective thing in media. Age of Adz is somewhat electronic focused, with lots of noise as well. Apparently Sufjan Stefan had been on a 5 year hiatus, and his previous albums were pretty awesome too, but this is before I started listening to music, so I think that I might pick up his older albums too. This album is very electronic, and seems very experimental. Sometimes it gets to be a little too much; I can’t hear Sufjan’s vocals over all the noise in the songs, such as in “Too Much”. On the whole this album is pretty darn good, although in the middle it falters a little, it loses focus and has a lot of those weird too much going on tracks. The beginning songs and the ending though are pretty strong, and make up for a lot of the other weaknesses in the album. My three favorite tracks in this album were, in no particular order, “Vesuvius”, “Age of Adz”, and “I Walked.” All of his songs are on youtube so go listen…… now! Overall I’d give this album a 4/5, lots of strengths but the middle falters a bit, but I really enjoyed the album. If you don’t like the three that I listed or the 20 something minute epic finale, then this album is not for you, otherwise pick it up.
                                               One of my favorite tracks

  That was a LOT of writing, thanks for reading some of it at least.
                Glak Out.

 Song that played in The Walking Dead Trailer, it's been stuck in my head

Saturday, November 6, 2010

On Captain America and Music Appreciation

    Today I'm going to start off with something that hasn't been talked about much which I said I would, comic books. I recently started, and it's still somewhat embarrassing to admit that I read comics. Nonetheless, I'm a nerd and I get some enjoyment from reading it. I'm going to talk about one comic book that's somewhat stuck with me for a while now, Captain America 611, The Trial of Captain America. This comic is very interesting in its premise as well as in the context of when it's being put out. As most people know, there is a new Marvel movie coming out July 22, 2011 which is Captain America: The First Avenger. It will focus on the origins of Cap, when he was a sick man receiving the Super Soldier Serum, the antagonist being the Red Skull.

                                                      Hi Human Torch....... I mean Cap

      The premise of Captain America 611, is what the title is, The Trial of Captain America. It would take me forever to list the different Captain Americas and their histories. For our purposes there are two current Captain Americas in operation at the moment, those two being Bucky Barnes and Steve Rogers. Steve Rogers is the original Captain America, the one who will be starring in the new film. He currently runs a secret operations team. Bucky Barnes was his sidekick in WWII, and is the current Captain America, he has the iconic costume and shield. They both fought together in WWII, but ended up being separated, Steve being frozen in ice and Bucky being killed. The Russians brought Bucky back to life and turned him into the Winter Soldier, he had no memories and was an assassin for them. He was eventually freed by other superheroes. The Trial of Captain America results from this. A villain of Cap, Baron Zemo, had recently revealed to the public Bucky's dark past and he is now facing a trial for his past actions. 

Who Will Wield the Shield...... something that came out when I didn't read comics
        The thing that has people wondering though, is will Bucky give up the mantle, and Steve Rogers take it back? It seems like a convenient thing for Marvel to do. The new Captain America movie is coming out soon, and everyone knows that when you have a movie that's successful sales for that comic boost, such as when Deadpool appeared in the Wolverine movie. The paragraph above took me almost a month to figure out, it was that complicated for a new reader like me to jump in. By simply putting Steve Rogers, a character you will be familiar with if you watch the movie, into the mantle, then it becomes easier for people to know the character. Therefore many, including myself are thinking that maybe Bucky will die a hero's death and be redeemed, and allow Steve Rogers to become Captain America once again. I also liked the few panels with Steve Rogers talking to Barack Obama, and the art is pretty good.

        I also went to a concert pretty recently for orchestra, where I had to watch the Freshman orchestra play. The concert pretty much solidified some of my theories and brought out nostalgia. It made me realize that I enjoy classical music, but only if I've played it or known it before. Most of the time when I'm forced to go to concerts like these, I'm pretty bored because I don't know the music. However as I've grown older I've grown a little more tolerant of classical music. Knowing the music also helps tremendously. I know the different parts to it and what my orchestra would play it as. So as I listen I compare what different styles or techniques they used, such as maybe they added a forte here or they bring out more of the violins rather than the cellos. It's pretty interesting. The freshman were playing Deerpath, a song that was pretty notorious among my fellow grade members, as we spent laborious amounts of time playing that with our student conductor. It was a real treat listening to it and comparing how  our grade performed next to them. So how many of you like to listen to classical music? Because I still can't say that for sure yet. Also pick up Age of Adz by Sufjan Stevens, it's a pretty good album, although the middle is kind of weak. I'll probably put that along with my GameDev Story review later this week.

(Skip to about 5:11 for the most infamous section, The Hunt)