Friday, February 15, 2013

The Soudtracks of Our Gaming Lives

Music is one of the most powerful forms of media in the world.  It can brighten your day, make you get up and dance, make you depressed, make you hate men, hell, even make you cry.  In movies, music can, in most cases, convey the emotion behind a certain scene.  Nowadays, music, if good or in some cases terrible, can become viral.  Everybody wants to listen to it or watch the video just because of word of mouth.  But what about in video games?  For gamers, music can have about as much impact as the story or actual gameplay in a game.

For the current generation many gamers have a lot of go-to's when it comes to their favorite songs or OST's. From Never Forget from Halo, the opening music to Skyrim, the Mass Effect 3 them, to more old school like Green Hill Zone from Sonic, the theme from any Zelda game, the Duke Nukem theme, to good ole' Mario; good video game music can have a lifelong impact and span generations. 

I was chatting with a few friends over Xbox live (shoutout to Ash and Joe; thanks for your faves) about some of our favorite music from video games (both song and favorite OST).  Some I've never even heard of or played, some were favorites that everyone can agree with. So for this post I've decided to give a small list of video game music (recommended to me, some all time faves of everyone and my own personal favorites. 

Halo Reborn - Halo 3, Marty O'Donnel

If there is one thing any gamer can agree on, Halo fan or not, its that Marty O'Donnel is a musical genius.  Pick any game from the Halo trilogy, then pick any song from said game and you know that you are getting greatness.  While the Halo 4 soundtrack was great in itself, fans always go to back to the original trilogy for Marty's flawless score.  So from Halo 3 we get Halo Reborn courtesy of Ash.

Simple Sight - Castle Crashers, RealFaction

I personally have never played Castle Crashers, but from what I read and see online its a great multiplayer game that's worth a look.  But I was made aware of this track by my friend Joe. And for a boss fight track, and for me not ever playing the game, I was definitely intrigued by the solid guitar work.

Encounter - Metal Gear Solid, KCE Sound Team Japan

Snake? SNAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAKE!!!!  Fans of the Metal Gear Solid franchise who weren't that good at sneaking know this track all to well.  When that exclamation mark pops up from an enemy soldiers head, the alarms sound off, and this track came on you knew it was time to get in a corner and hide in a box.  Classic.

Leaving Earth - Mass Effect 3, Clint Mansell
When you saw the little boy get on a ship only to have said ship get shot down less than 30 seconds later, you wanted to shed a tear then go off and rip the reapers a new one.  Clint Mansell does a great job of giving one of the most epic moments in the franchise a sound.  Damn reapers.

Evil Destroyer - Thunder Force IV, Toshiharu Yamanishi, Takeshi  Yoshida, Tomomi Ootani

The Sega Genesis had its limits.  You had to impress consumers (and the Nintendo fanboys) with a good gameplay, graphics (for its time), and good music all on a 16-bit cartridge.  Thunder Force IV was one of the first sidescrolling shooters I had ever played and I fell in love with it.  Was ridiculously difficult, stages visually outsanding, but what made me rent this game SEVERAL times was this track, and its only boss numero uno.  Believe me it gets better.  If you get the chance look up the track Metal Squad from this very same game.  Friggin awesome.

Ageha - Shinobi(PS2), Wave Master

I was always in love with Shinobi.  From early Sega Genesis and Game Gear Entries to its brief stint on the PS2, the Shinobi franchise has always had a cult following.  But the one thing that all games had in common was that they all had some damn good tracks.  This one is no exception, and my favorite from the franchise.  Having to do battle with one of your childhood ninja friends, Ageha's track was a good one to fight to, even though it left me sorta sad when it ended (the song and the fight, for obvious reasons).

Intro (SOR Super Mix) - Streets of Rage 2, Yuzo Koshiro

Beat em' ups where everywhere in the early 90's.  Final Fight was indeed my, and most other gamers, favorite in the genre.  But the Streets of Rage franchise was indeed a very close 2nd.  You and a friend getting together on a weekend sleepover and beating up everyone who came your way on the road to Mr. X.  Yuzo Koshiro was known for some of the greatest music from Sega's lineup but this was one of the alltime greats.  And this is just an intro! (and final stage!)

Shenmue Main Theme - Shenmue, Jia Peng Feng, Toshiyuki Watanabe, Yuzo Koshiro

Sega is coming up a lot in this list huh?  Well that comes to show how seriously good the music from the Sega era was.  Shenmue was my pick as the Dreamcast's best game.  The story of a young man losing his father and undertaking a journey to find his killer, this game had everything; rpg elements, fighting, kung fu, mini games!  Once I played through the game I implored my dad to get me this soundtrack.  You know a game's music is damn good when you want the soundtrack.  And for this one I'm also including the orchestral version but its just as good.  Job well done.

Oda's Army Attacks~ Opening - Onimusha 2: Samurai's Destiny, Taro Iwasho
Samurai are awesome.  Ever since watching the Seven Samurai, reading the Tale of Genji, Taiko, and other Japanese historical novels my interest was piqued to say the least.  So Onimusha comes out, and I loved it.  Onimusha 2 is released a few years later and I pop in the disc only to be treated to this gem.  A combination of orchestra and Japanese feel this track made me ready to go fight a war.  Now that I hear this track again, I wanna play Total War Shogun.  Hmm.....

Mr. Adam - Armored Core 4, Kota Hoshino

Daddy loves the giant robots.  The Armored Core franchise was indeed one of my favorites, and the soundtracks were great (I've bought 3 of them so far so that should tell you something.)  But when I got Armored Core 4 and this was playing during a mission my hype level went over 9000.  I was blowing up everything; I was that damn hype.  Silent Line, Monkey Likes Daddy, and In My Heart were some of the franchises best tracks, but after hearing this I was hooked.  Damn you Kota Hoshino.

For this last one I need to give you a bit of imagery because this is my all time fave.  I would tell you to close your eyes but you wouldn't be able to read.  Picture this: you're on a Hawaiian beach at dusk; the horizon is pinkish orange and the only noise in the background you hear are the waves crashing against the sand.  2nd picture:you're playing this awesome driving game and you're against the clock.  You get to the end only to have the clock run out as you're inches away from the finish line.  Immediately you are greeted by this.....

 Last Wave - Outrun,  Hiroshi Kawaguchi

Losing doesn't sound so bad after hearing this does it?  The Outrun franchise soundtracks are indeed my favorite of all time, not because there are so many, but because of the quality.  Magical Sound Shower, Splash Wave, and Passing Breeze are daily plays on my mp3 player.  But hearing the soft sounds of Last Wave just relaxes me in any situation.  I can just imagine myself on a beach with a beer listening to this song every twilight of my life until I die.  Its that damn good. In 1990 when SST had a live concert they did another version of this song which is just as amazing, so I included it as the final song as well.  And its a good one to sign off to (if I ever start podcasting, this is gonna be the sign off song!).  Until next time gamers.

Friday, February 8, 2013

I Ain't Scared of You Mutha F#@$as!!!!

Off the heels of the Dead Space 3 release, I decided to dedicate this post to survival horror and its evolution, or de-evolution.  As a gamer growing up, survival horror games interested me greatly.  The jolt of fear knowing something was coming after you, you had low ammo (Or none! Hell, sometimes you didn't even have a weapon or could fight back!) was exhilarating.  I actually loved getting the shit scared out of me!  But with survival horror games today, you just don't get that same emotion, that same fear that gave you nightmares growing up.  Games and developers have gone the way of the Hollywood action movies; taking away the fear and replacing it with action, quick time sequences, and other elements that don't make these games, well.....scary

My first experience with survival horror was a game called Clock Tower: The First Fear for the SNES.  From the gate I didn't know what the hell I was in for from the cover, but curious as I was I dove head first.  You play as an orphaned teenage girl who, along with 3 other girls, were adopted by a woman named Mary.  When you get to Mary's mansion these girls think they're gonna have it made, which is so far from the truth.  You start to explore alone when, all of a sudden, you hear a scream.  You backtrack to the main hall to see that everyone has disappeared.  So begins the fear; you're all alone in a big mansion, don't know where to go, don't even know the layout of the mansion, and who or what is in it, besides Mary.  Upon a little exploration you stumble upon a bathroom with water running thinking someone is in there.  You pull back the shower curtains to find a gruesome site: one of your friends, has been killed (eviscerated to be exact).  And right in that moment a small, deadly figure jumps out of the water with a giant pair of scissors (sounds foolish, but as a youngin this scared the living daylights out of me).  You must run.  By trial and error you realize that you cannot fight back at all (no weapons, no punches, nothing); you are forced to run and hide from this killer.  What gets worse is that you have no clue when he will pop up.  This was my first foray into survival horror and I was terrified but excited at the same time.  There was a feeling of helplessness that I never got from any video game.  I won't ruin how the game ends or the story, but I implore you to give this one a try (by emulator or watching on youtube).  After playing this I wanted more.  More scares, more fear, I was hooked.

Fast forward years later and I'm introduced to the Resident Evil franchise.  Resident Evil one didn't invoke that same helplessness; you had guns and weapons, so  you're kind of a badass right?  Wrong.  There's shit in the mansion that you couldn't even fathom.  Zombies, zombified animals, giant snakes,!   With ammo and health supplies scarce you were forced to rely on your fight or flight instincts (flight being the most used in my case). RE2 was released a few years later and had the same gameplay and jump scares I saw in RE1;  I was already sensitized to it.  But a few years later I get my hands on RE3: Nemesis, and boy, I was brought back to my Clock Tower days.  Nemesis chased followed you nearly the whole damn game.  Gone was the safety of doors.  You go in one room,  walk or run a certain distance only to hear the door open with words "STAAAAARRRRRSS!!!" following.  This made me close doors at night; I was shaken, to say the least.  But this wouldn't be the last time I had a game impact me that much.

In the early 2000's I had gotten my hands on a game called Silent Hill 2.  I did not play the first, but I heard great things about it through forums online; and man were they right.  From the environments (the endless fog, the decrepit buildings), to the sounds (a radio signaling that enemies are close), to the enemies themselves (mutilated nurses, animals, PYRAMID HEAD!); this game did what Resident Evil and Clock Tower could not do, scare me psychologically.  I was playing the majority of this game on a weekday during summer.  It was cloudy outside with hints of fog (picturesque Silent Hill).  I hadn't seen or heard a car since my dad left early that morning.  Time goes by and evening comes.  All of a sudden the power goes out in my house and I'm not able to find a flashlight anywhere in my house.  After playing Silent Hill 2 for a whole day, I took my happy ass out on the porch and remained there, where it was dark outside as well, until the lights came back on.  Needless to say, this game had left an imprint on me like never before.  So naturally when Silent Hill 3 came out I was on it immediately.  Only this time, it was far worse.  I was so scared of Silent Hill 3 that when I had gotten to a certain scary part (footprints of blood coming from a random mirror) I immediately yanked the controller out of my PS2, ejected the game, took it to a local Gamestop and said "I can't do it" and traded it for something else.  Never in my life has a game made me its bitch like that.  The worst part of it, I was minutes from the end of the came (which I found out a few years later).  These are the games that shaped my view of how survival horror games should be.

As of recent, there haven't been any games to invoke that fear in me.  RE4 came close, but no cigar; and don't even get me started on RE5!  How can you feel any fear when you have a partner (cpu or human) right there with you in the thick of it.  I played the demo of RE6 and was deeply disappointed.  "This isn't a game!" I thought, "this is a fuckin movie!"  I was not amused, or scared in the slightest.  I played F.E.A.R. a few years back and felt nothing.  As Ashly Burch from Hey Ash Whatcha Playing said, "you can't be terrified when you're a fucking, walking death machine."

As I said before Dead Space 3 is out right now.  And from reviews I've seen its managed to keep its core survival horror gameplay along with a co-op experience, but that is TBD (by me).  But the take home point in this post, ladies and gentlemen, is that survival horror games once were something amazing.  Being able to invoke fear (physically and psychologically) was something that was never done in this form of media.  Nowadays, developers are looking to cash in on a quick buck by going the way of Hollywood action movie, thinking that gamers would accept that as a replacement of fear; which has been so far from the case.  A core group of games have kept the true spirit of survival horror, and most of them have been indie games (Amnesia, Penumbra, and a lot of Half Life mods).  My message to developers: ditch the action and bring back the fear, PLEASE.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

The Choice is Yours

Life is littered with billions of choices; millions that we make on a daily basis.  Should I get McDonald's or Bojangles for breakfast?  Should I take the highway or go downtown to get to work?  Do I go out tonight or stay at home?  Should I get gas or wait a little while.  Some of these decisions are minimal in nature, but lets take it to another level.  Two missiles are heading for two completely different locations.  One is a military base, with people and assets that could give you an edge in the war.  The other is a residential compound filled with thousands of people just living their lives.  The issue: you only have one kill switch meaning you can only stop one missile.  Either way, people are going to die.  Choose which missile you want to stop.  Oh, and by the by, you now only have 30 seconds to make this decision. Go.

Shit just got real o'clock didn't it?  Well that's what games are doing in this day and age, giving you actual moral dilemmas. Gone are the days where you just play to get to the end and save the princess.  Now there are decision thrown into the mix, and in some cases a time limit along with those decisions.  And I think games are better for it. 

In my last post I discussed how non-linear player guided quests in games have become better for games.  Well this sort of branches off this point.  In games today, not only are we given the quest to go fight this, or save that, or obtain this, but we now have real life decisions to make along the way to the greatness (or failure in some cases).  In the 90's, we as gamers were first introduced to the "bad ending."  If you didn't get a certain item, didn't save a certain person (in a limited time in some cases), or complete a certain task in the game you would get to the final boss, beat him or her, and feel great about yourself only to be greeted by bad news that things did not turn out as well as you thought.  Yes, you did all that work to have things still go to hell.  The first time I experienced this was Streets of Rage 3 for Sega Genesis.  The classic beat em' up had a midpoint where you had to save the mayor and fight through hordes of enemies just to get to him.  And all in this stage you had a minute to do so (entering rooms would stop time briefly, but once you got back out to the main stage the countdown resumed).  Needless to say, I got to the mayor two seconds too late and he died.  The game must go on right?  Well, yes and no.  I get to "final stage" to stop someone impersonating the mayor and beat him, only to get an ending with the words "The End?"  Question mark.  Meaning there was a possibility of a better endgame.  I felt like shit knowing that I worked so hard to still get a fucked up ending. 

Today, games are a little more unforgiving.  Heavy Rain, for example (yep, I'm about to go there, so if you haven't played it and wanna avoid spoilers just skip to the end).  Your son is kidnapped by the Origami Killer and you are put through hell and a half just to get him back.  One event asks if you are prepared to suffer to save your son and then gives you 5 minutes to cut off one of your fingers.  At this point I immediately pause the game and drop the controller only to say ""  Now I have to think how I would do this, hell, IF I'm gonna do it!  So I have to bring it to the real world now.  If I did have a son, would I do anything to save him?  Hells yeah (he just better not ask for anything this Christmas because he's getting a finger to wear around his neck. KIDDING!)  So I commence to preparing this guy to do the unthinkable, and when its done turn away while hearing this guy writhe in agony.  After that I was in shock for awhile (didn't touch the game for a week), then came back and beat the game, only to find out something just as disturbing but I'll save that for you, the reader, to find out (or just look up on youtube, wikipedia, or whatever.)

Another example of this is a game called Catherine, a puzzler/dating sim.  You are Vincent, a computer programmer who is in a serious relationship with a woman named Katherine.  Things are semi-okay until he meets another woman, with the titular name Catherine.  Once this happens, Vincent is then thrust into the world of Nightmares where he has to escape or he'll die in real life.  I won't get into the meat of it because it is an absolutely extraordinary game and I would implore you to play it.  But an interesting little detail of this game was that it asked you, the player, some to really think about things, in the form of a confessional before you entered your nightmares.  It asked you questions that measured you as a person; some understandable, some just weird.  The catch, its and either/or choice.  There is no middle ground, and some of the questions don't give you a point of reference.  For example: do you consider yourself a cheater?  That was the question, but it doesn't tell you what kind of cheater.  It could be you cheat at tests, or relationships, or life.  The questions don't give you any type of navigation to determining your answer.  I asked these questions to a couple of my friends on Xbox (shoutout to Joe, Tony, and O'Connell) and it was interesting to hear the responses they gave.  As I said I implore you to play this game, but if you are interested in seeing what type of questions are asked click here

One last example of this type of game is the Mass Effect series.  Good ole' Shepard has a galactic invasion to stop and as a commander you are given many choices on your road to stopping it (or not, in some cases).  In the beginning of this post I gave you, the reader, a dilemma, and you only had 30 seconds to choose.  Well this was one of Shep's decisions he had to make on his way to preventing (or allowing) the reaper invasion.  The series is decision heavy and each decision you make has an impact that spans 3 games.  So anything you did in ME1 will affect ME2, and anything you did in ME1 & 2 will carry over to 3.  So it was interesting to see what decisions you made in comparison to your friends.  Meaning (and this goes for most decision based games) no two gameplays will be exactly the same.  Which is an interesting and awesome way of game development, in my opinion.

The point that I am getting at is that games like these take dilemmas (moral or not) and gives them to you, while putting a gun to your head (figuratively, and sometimes, in the game, literally) and forcing you to choose.  Which is not a bad thing.  I'm all for non-linear gameplay.  I'm all for making the decisions instead of having them made for me.  I want to choose where to go, what to do, and in some awesome cases, who to bang. We're spending $60 (more if its a collector's edition) on games so why can't I do what the hell I want to do?  This evolution of gaming has brought gamers into a new world, their own individual worlds; and none of them are the exact same because of it.  So kudos to developers who make these games all about what you want to do.  Just, please, don't ask me to cut off a finger, or limb for that matter.  Its just......disturbing. UGH!