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“Behemoth”

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The work below is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License and ©2013 Gregory Weaver.

About a month or so ago I was thinking about what kinds of tunes I hadn’t yet written that I should write for my demo. The most obvious of the missing genres was a film-like tune—an epic tune fit for cinema in the ilk of Lord of the Rings or even the soundtrack to Skyrim.


Granted, my tune sounds absolutely nothing like the Skyrim tune above, haha, but I was certainly thinking in terms of having that BIG sound… a big, epic sound with a lot of brass and space and all that good stuff.

I’m sure that you’ll get that impression from the beginning of my tune, “Behemoth,” but it kind of devolves from sounding like a film piece into sounding more like a piece of game music. I committed to this transformation right after I wrote in a part that sounded game-y, especially because it opened up new possibilities and allowed me to put in ideas that wouldn’t have made sense if I wanted to continue to think in terms of film. Very early on you’ll hear the entrance of some pointy-sounding flutes, for instance—those came from the removal of the film restriction that I had put on myself.

So because the music started to sound more like a game I decided to think of it in the context of a game. The original sound was intended to be “epic battle;” thinking about games, some of the most epic battles take place when you’re fighting bosses. Thus, I started to imagine a giant beast – specifically that which looks like a behemoth from the Final Fantasy series – bursting into a room ready to chomp you in half.

And with that…

 “Behemoth” on SoundCloud

While the brass is more representative of the “epic beast boss battle,” I wrote the woodwinds as if they were harbingers of insanity or twistedness. They’re meant to put the player on edge or even scare him or her a little. This idea was almost assuredly influenced by a couple of different Final Fantasy tunes.

“Kefka’s Theme” from Final Fantasy VI will always come to mind when thinking of a tune that is supposed to represent someone truly evil and insane. On its own, one may not hear those villainous attributes, yet when the player hears the theme played as Kefka, for example, poisons Doma, it really gets under his or her skin. In affecting the player in such a way, the true genius of Uematsu ‘s writing comes out. Start the below video at 6:01 to see what I mean. More

‘Suikoden II’ OST Review, Part 2

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(continued from Part I of the review)

After hearing the opening, I again found myself shaking my head at being so out of touch with such works.  Just listening to the Suikoden II OST places it extremely high on my preferred VGM list—I only wish that I could play the actual game without spending ridiculous amounts of money (one day…!).  Regardless, however, there is, as I’ve said before, something to be said about loving a game OST without having played the game itself.   Higashino’s work on Suikoden II is so involved and so perfect for a game that I am pretty content just imagining what would be happening on-screen during a particular tune and determining how that fits in the greater context of the musical body of work.

And what a body of work it is!  I listened to the OST via a YouTube channel by a user that just uploads full video game soundtracksSuikoden II has 105 tracks in its playlist; if one looks at the list of games the number of tracks each one has, s/he will find that there are few (out of this relatively small sample size) that even come close to 105.  Regardless of length of the tracks, that’s 105 different ideas for a single game.  Including length, if one roughly calculates that the average track is two minutes long, that’s about three and a half hours of music alone.  I don’t care if the second half of most of the tracks is a loop – because, let’s face it, making something that is enjoyable to listen to after five loops is worth giving the gimmie – this is a lot of music.

Thinking about the quantity of music leads me to think about Suikoden II versus modern OSTs.  Journey, for instance, has 18 tracks that total an hour.  The difference is, Journey is an hour of non-looping music and has an average track length of 3:25; therefore, one may say that Journey has more ideas within a particular track – meaning that composer Austin Wintory took an idea and developed it over a large span of time coinciding with other ideas – while Suikoden II has an impressively robust number of raw ideas.  That’s just interesting to consider, looking at classic versus modern soundtracks and thinking about approaching composing for games.

What’s even more impressive about the soundtrack having so many raw ideas is that Higashino’s approach to Suikoden II was clearly not a linear one.  There’s such a variety in the soundtrack that the listener will be surprised from one track to the next due simply to the fact that s/he won’t be able to anticipate what kind of sound the next tune will have.  Some soundtracks might be able to be categorized into an everyday genre (i.e., electronic, rock, ambient), but this one is one of those that fall strictly under the blanket of “VGM.”  The listener will find that she wrote everything from orchestral music to Mitsuda-like folk songs and jigs to more traditional “classical” pieces to ambient abstractions.  One of the best things about it is, though, that Higashino makes her own mark and creates an OST that is distinct among its peers.

Let’s take a look at some of the elements and themes that one will find within the OST:

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Battle Theme – “Mr. AC (Keep Your Cool)”

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Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License and ©2012 Gregory Weaver.

For the love of God please someone help me find better pictures.

After a weeklong vacation at the beginning of the month and a “catch-up” phase at work (not to mention a resurgence of urges associated with playing Civilization V), this weekend was a good chance for me to sit down and work on some stuff.  Naturally, my original plans for the days were laid to waste—I realized I had forgotten about a contest of sorts that I had set my sights on entering before vacation!

Someone who I follow on Twitter, Jack Menhorn, mentioned this contest the week before I took off—it’s called the TIGSource Musical Challenge IX.  TIGSource (TIG=The Independent Gaming) is “a community of independent game developers and players.”  On the website you’ll find a forum, and inside said forum there are all kinds of sections, one of which is Audio, and that’s where these challenges lie.  I haven’t had too much time to scour the entirety of the forum since I’ve been rushing to complete this project, but from what I’ve seen it looks to be pretty cool.

The rules of the contest were simple: The host (the winner of the previous challenge) comes up with a theme and the composers are given a certain amount of time to compose a tune with that theme (the compositions must be new and specifically made for this challenge).  The listeners will then critique others’ work and the host will choose a winner.  This challenge’s theme was: “Make a ‘battle’ theme for a turn-based RPG (any style: fantasy, sci-fi, realistic, Poke-ish). Loopable and 30-seconds or less.”  You may go to the thread here to read more and listen to others’ compositions.

I sat down to write my piece yesterday afternoon and just could not come up with any good ideas.  It turns out that, before I had left, I did a couple of bars of something.  I had totally forgotten about writing them; in fact, I went into Finale to work on Fanfare and Jubilee and was like, ‘What is this…?  Uh-oh!’  Anyhow, I decided to scrap that stuff, thinking that it wasn’t really a good path to take.  I then listened to what had already been submitted and then was influenced to do an electronic piece since I hadn’t for the blog yet.  It turned out to be a failure as well.

The challenge is really interesting because of the time limit that Jack tacked on.  A loopable thirty-second tune has to do many things; namely, it was to grab the listener from the beginning, say all that needs to be said, and then be accessible enough for the player to want to listen (or not to care about listening) to the piece over and over again.  You might have noticed, having listened to the tunes I’ve posted, that I’m a fan of building up my music—I always have been.  In fact, I often think about how I need to do less building up and start with more head-on action.  Needless to say, thirty seconds doesn’t beget a build-up; therefore, not only was I pressed for time, but I was also thrown out of my comfort zone.

There was one other thing that was on my mind while I was reeling in turmoil: I really wanted this piece to be a “random encounter” type of battle theme rather than a boss theme.  A thirty-second piece may not be typical for a boss theme, so already one might say, “well, duh, random encounter,” but for me the brevity wasn’t what I was focused on.  Random encounters and boss themes have completely different feels.  One just has to look to Final Fantasy VII for easy examples.  Here’s the random encounter theme and here are two boss themes from the game: the general one and JENOVA’s theme (two of my favorites from the game, and two of my top VGM pieces ever, probably).  The moods they create are completely different; the sense of urgency in the latter two is a lot more desperate, etc., etc.  So, my goal was to write something that wasn’t too heavy—something that didn’t scream danger, but rather would shake someone into a state of alertness while still getting him or her amped up.

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MAGFest X Recap, Part III: The Dessert

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In case you missed them:
Part I: The Appetizer
Part II: The Meat

Nobuo Uematsu and the Earthbound Papas were set to perform at 10:30pm on Saturday.  After a long number of hours at panels and gaming, a bunch of us stood in line at Elevation Burger for a long time only to be told that they no longer had milkshakes.  That was the worst.  However, we quickly devoured what we got and headed to meet our friends at the show.

When we got there, The Year 200X, one of the many bands named after something Mega Man-related, was playing.  I think we arrived 45 minutes early, and that was time enough for us to get optimally positioned for the Earthbound Papas.  We were slightly left of center-stage, 5-10 people back, I’d guess.  After some moshing and a rendition of “Dancing Mad” that was highly praised the next morning by Uematsu and his band themselves, the stage crew immediately started getting ready for the headliner amidst a sea of Colossus roars.

As you can see in the picture, the crowd for the Earthbound Papas was, as you’d expect, enormous.  That wasn’t even the whole crowd, either—I took that well before they came out, if I remember correctly.  Of course, everyone was going wild the whole time, and the crowd got especially pumped when Uematsu came out during soundcheck for a couple of minutes.
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[Score.] heads to MAGFest X!

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MAGFest, in its most basic form, is an annual fan-run video game convention that takes place at the beginning of the year in the Washington, D.C., area.  It’s not a showcase-type of convention; rather, it’s one that is all about playing and enjoying video games and the like to their fullest potential (read: party).  Some of the key features of the convention are its 24-hour game room that holds tons of arcade cabinets and console setups, its diverse set of panels hosted by veteran and up-and-coming gaming professionals and organizations alike, and its multitude of concerts by video game cover bands and chiptune artists.  This year – its tenth – MAGFest runs from January 5th through the 8th at the Gaylord National in National Harbor, MD..

My friends will be there, ready to rock out accordingly.  You will know us by our shirts, which contains the blog’s new logo:

Art ©Natalie Parisi

If you’re going and see one or more of us wearing the shirt, stop us and say “hi”!  I can’t guarantee that I’ll be the one that you stop, but anyone wearing one should have a good indication of where I am if you’d like to speak to me directly.  If you do stop one of us, I think I might have a couple extra shirts to give away… (we’ll work out how to find you later and get one to you).

This will be my second MAGFest, but some of my friends have been a part of the convention since its inception.  The sense of community between the longtime attenders is infectious, and its energy sucks in everyone that attends.  Needless to say, I highly recommend attending and staying for the weekend if you can get to the area.

Not only will I be getting my fill of all of the gaming that I can dream of, I will be attempting to get an array of material to post for the blog.  After all, VGM is a huge thing there, from the concerts to the panels.  Last year, goers were graced by the presence of none other than the great Hiroki Kikuta (Secret of Mana), and, just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, this year we will be standing before, and listening to, the man himself: Nobuo Uematsu.
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VGM Review #3: “Halo” OST, Part 1

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To be honest, the Halo obsession has always been one that is lost on me. I’ve played it multiplayer before and I’ve done a very tiny bit of the single player campaign in the both the first and second games (I was at a friend’s house), but I’ve never fallen victim to the hype. In fact, as far as FPS’s are concerned, I’m a fan of Unreal Tournament. Therefore, I’ve always seen Halo as just that: hype.

Saying that may enrage you—I understand. I’m not saying it’s bad or anything of the sort. In fact, I feel like I’m a little under-qualified to judge since FPS’s aren’t my thing. Lots of people kill for them and play Halo and Call of Duty as many hours as I spend at work each week. Those people have a great potential to be better judges than I. Though I may have a personal preference, I haven’t spent enough time ingesting these games to know what I really like about them and really don’t. All I know is that my time playing Halo did not seem special and did not leave me wanting to play more.

Regardless of my opinions on the game itself, I knew that I would have to visit its soundtrack. Fans of the game, whether large or small, covet what composers Martin O’Donnell and Michael Salvatori have done. I had never paid much attention to the soundtrack, though, and knew from the beginning that I should listen to and review it because of the high praise it’s received. At the very least I knew that I would have to review the main theme because people barely mention Halo without referring to that iconic track.

Before I get to the main theme, I’m going to start with the “Opening Suite.” I first listened to the OST in order, and that’s the first track I ran into.

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VGM Review 1: “Time’s Scar,” Part I

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I remember hearing about a sequel to my then-favorite game of all time when I was in middle school and not knowing how to handle myself.  Finally, after years of dreaming up my own stories about the characters in Chrono Trigger, Squaresoft would finally continue the epic tale themselves, setting in stone what would happen to the Chrono universe.   Sure, my tales would be rendered obsolete, but that didn’t matter—how could anything be better than the original creators’ minds?

Originally, I thought that I first learned about the game via demo.  I bought Vagrant Story for PSX, which included the demo disc, but according to Wikipedia, that game was released on May 15, 2000, and Chrono Cross was released on August 15, 2000.  I was dumbfounded by these dates because I remember waiting.  And waiting.  And waiting.  And waiting for this game to come out.  Three months didn’t make sense to me.

Then, I saw that the game was released in Japan on November 18, 1999, almost a year before the North American drop date.  That made more sense: I had likely read about it a year or more prior, got ultra psyched, and then suffered for so long that my memory wouldn’t allow me to remember such times.  It’s nice that the feeling of eternal wait can be explained practically instead of with the excuse that time seems to flow for children much slower than it does for adults (which was my back-up excuse).  Anyway, I had picked up Vagrant Story because it was a new Squaresoft game and not because I was expecting a demo.  But as soon as I read that such a thing was included, I squirmed all the way home and popped that disc in ready for action and…!
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