Blogversation – Music in horror

With Christmas on the way, I thought now was the perfect time to talk about music in horror. However, I’ve been told it’s much more apt to talk about music in horror because Halloween is slowly approaching us. Go figure.

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Blogversation – Music in Gaming

In this weeks Blogversation, I am going to talk to you all about music in gaming! I will show off some good game music and some bad game music. Read on..!

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Have you ever just sat down to a game, expecting great game play but ended up just as in awe by the music? I have and my hat is tipped to the composer, Nobuo Uematsu. There will be game spoilers in this piece, which I will clearly mark in each section.

Nobuo Uematsu is the genius behind the Final Fantasy series music. He is a composer for video games and has helped to produce some of the most stunning music in gaming. I will draw from my love of Final Fantasy IX and explain where the use of music in scenes within the game is one of the most important.

 

You’re Not Alone (SPOILERS ALERT)

The protagonist, Zidane Tribal, is a man with a prehensile monkey-tail. That’s peculiar, he appears to be the only one of his kind on Earth. Zidane was raised by a man who he called his father but he didn’t realise this man wasn’t his real father. The man would beat Zidane every time Zidane did something he didn’t like. He would raise Zidane in a tough environment and Zidane recognised it was just the way his father was.

Zidane's the blonde guy at the front.
Zidane’s the blonde guy at the front. He’s the main protagonist of FFIX.

Unfortunately, that man wasn’t Zidane’s real father (or perhaps fortunately?) No, his real father was a man named Garland who had made a whole race like Zidane: Genomes. Zidane was no more than someone’s desire to create the perfect race. The premise of the Genomes was similar to the Nazi regimen – To create perfect beings and then to wipe out all other races. To do so, Garland needed his ultimate weapon – his Angel of Death. Zidane.

Things didn’t work out the way Garland had expected, as Zidane had his own emotions, the fuel of his power. Zidane grew to love the land he was supposed to hate and didn’t know his purpose. Knowing now why he was made, Zidane felt alone and scared for the first time in his life.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KKAoSY5bhSw


Zidane made plenty of friends on his journey to Terra, his home planet. When he got there with his friends, he was faced with the truth to his existence. He was a weapon, he was sent to kill the same people he befriended. Lost for the first time, Zidane went on a warpath to face all of the enemies that he had faced up ’til now. The powerful music you hear above is therefore played during this point. During the fights, Zidane’s friends join in to help him and pull him out of his depression.

It’s so powerful as it gives the impression of intensity, passion, a struggle and ultimately more and more happens, making it feel less void. I can’t describe this song any better unfortunately: It is just great. This isn’t to say Nobuo Uematsu’s other works from previous or future Final Fantasy games were not as good: That’s not right at all! One Winged Angel is possibly one of Video Games most recognised tunes, behind classics such as Mario and Tetris.

 

Crazy Bus

This is the sound of hell.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sC0cvwnG0Ik

Argh, it’s an infuriating mess of a “song”! What happened?! Did a Magikarp get ahold of the Magic Roundabout and use Splash so many times that the Magic Roundabouts theme song forgot how to function properly? No wait, it must be the work of a super genius! He must have been writing a piece on world peace and decided that it needed to be translated into audio form, so we could all hear how wonderful world peace is. There was an error in his calculations when translating into music, as he didn’t predict them dirty super hackers to swing by and translate the word peace into torment!

But in seriousness, this is how you don’t do a song in gaming. It might just be the opening theme to you and me, but honestly it’s a lot more than just a theme! It’s an audio indicator as to whether or not you will be able to enjoy the game as a whole. Imagine now that your favourite game of all time had this Crazy Bus theme playing throughout. You boot up Mario, as an example, expecting the wonderfully jolly jingle, but instead get the audio representation of a rampaging crazy bus instead. You know, I am now tempted to try this theory out, to see if it makes the gameplay of Mario less enjoyable. I will attempt to show this to you by a video at some point.

 

But TImlah, are you qualified to make these distinctions between good and bad game music?

This makes us qualified to judge music.

Good grief yes I am as I have ears. I know what I think sounds good and bad. I know that sharp, quick attacks of a violin can indicate danger. I know that a 40BPM song is slow and therefore could be used in a calm or non-hostile part of the game. I know that You’re Not Alone is well arranged and the Crazy Bus theme certainly isn’t!

But, am I qualified with a degree? No. If you were to develop a game and you got some music from a man with a masters degree who said that his song had been developed through an understanding of frequency manipulation and snorkel harmonics, don’t take his word for it being good. Listen to the music yourself and hey: Get to know your target audience. If you write music, be the next Nobou Uematsu, not the next Crazy Bus Theme Guy.

Please, for our ear drums sakes.

Often forgotten, rarely cared for: Music in games is important. So, I leave you with a familiar tune now…

Aah, nostalgia.

What do you think about music in games? How important is a good soundtrack to you? What did you think of the Crazy Bus theme tune or on a lighter note, how about You’re Not Alone? As per usual, leave your comments below and let’s continue the discussion.

Blogversation – Music in Games

Music is important. I’ll not launch into a long spiel here, I’m just going to offer you an example:

If I were to ask you to put together music for a faction of necromancers, what themes would you think of? Really think about it. Death, magic, the interred dead resurrected to fight, vampires, so forth, you get the gist. Think about it for a little while, while I set up my example.

One of the first games I ever played – and certainly the one that I always call “the first game I ever played” when I’m put on the spot – was Heroes of Might and Magic 3 by New World Computing and published by 3DO in 1999 (I was a bit of a late bloomer). It was an incredible game that kick-started my habit of designing games, worlds, creatures and stories, but above all of it’s other elements, I loved the music! I’d always loved classical, and the game tied classical music with stunning visuals in a way that had never engaged me before. To this day I will happily sit and play HoMM 3 over and above it’s sequels, and will even boot up the music files if ever I’m reaching for inspiration.

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Blogversation – The pros and cons of conventions

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Last week, Joel discussed conventions briefly with us all and so I thought I’d carry this conversation on but actually discuss the pros and cons of the conventions.

Now Joel did a nice job of summarising some of the negatives to going to a convention early on in his post on the subject, but this is my turn now and I’m going to give you a funky fresh approach to this. No, I will not be doing funky fresh rhymes.

 


 

Pros

Networking – The first and foremost reason why we all go to a convention in the first place is to meet similar minded people, who are partaking in similar activities. However in the case of a blog, a games studio, manga artist, etc, conventions are invaluable communication methods, which serve as a brilliant marketing strategy and drives engagement like there’s no tomorrow. I’d have not met Joel if he wasn’t trying to plug Quotes from the Tabletop at me.

Admiration – To receive admiration for the work that you’ve done; be it writing, art, cosplaying – in fact nearly any skill of any kind, so long as you’re willing to show off what makes you so damn great, then people want to see it. They don’t just want to see it, they want to talk to you, because you’re there being you and you’re like a physical manifestation of what people around you like.

Wow. Yes. You see pikachu's in the merch.
Wow. Yes. You see pikachu’s in the merch.

Gaming – Mhmm, believe me or not, gaming seems to be a massive part of the anime convention scene as well as video games convention scene. Be it tabletop role playing games, a good board game, that blasted Cards Against Humanity or video gaming: You’ll find it in these conventions by the bucket load. Good!

Yes, I realise the initials above so far are NAG. I am doing just that.

Partying – It’s time to party like there was never going to be another party. Whilst it isn’t everybody’s cup of tea, the partying in the anime convention scene is phenomenal. Be it a late night dance in the nightclub with all of your favourite characters, or be it a private party in the dorms – Conventions allow you to meet and socialise with people in ways you’d not normally be able to. Trust me: It’s not that common to step outside your house and meet with people who are into the same damn things as you. Geek culture, whilst on the rise, still isn’t mainstream acceptance.

Enjoy the parties at these events!
Enjoy the parties at these events!

Merchandise – The dealers halls are packed with geeky stalls, with pocky sticks everywhere, bags and clothing. You name it: it’s probably sold there. From miniature mecha’s and Pikachu’s, to pictures of your favourite anime and manga to buy. From cheap games to expensive games – Yes, you are likely able to buy it at a convention. Some conventions get exclusives, too.

Panels – Panels are one of the major reasons to go to conventions. If you’ve gone to a convention and never

This was before the MegaRan performance - which rocked.
Panels are taken very seriously and are looked after professionally by fans who help to run these events.


Cons

Fatigue – Even the most seasoned party-goer will slowly crawl to a stop at a convention. Seriously, you get so tired due to the lack of sleep. Be it the parties themselves or be it because there were three guys outside at 5am chasing foxes around a university campus, you will find that sleep at a convention usually is scarce. Make the most of your time, don’t drink coffee before you go to bed and stop drinking energy drinks.

Drunkenness – Hand in hand with partying is getting drunk. Please remember to drink responsibly, know your limits and don’t be horrible to other people. At the end of the day, your convention experience is yours and yours alone. You’re always welcome to get as drunk as you like/can handle, but do be aware of the consequences. Plus it can make the rest of your convention pretty crappy if you’re feeling under the weather all the time. Also, you could damage your costume or others costumes!

Take your hat off, sit outside with a nice pint at Natterjacks.
Please drink responsibly.

Spending – I won’t beat around the bush with you guys here: but conventions are expensive. If you’re a cosplayer, you have the expense of your costumes. You also have the expense of the event itself, which can vary from £20 to £500+! You’ve also got to remember your spending money. Taking £100 for a night is fine, but taking £100 for 3-4 nights? Certainly not fine! Depending how far away you go, you could be racking up a £1,000+ event for yourself!! Please do not blow your whole lives savings on these, start small and close to you.

Activities – There are so many activities to do and so many panels to see that I find it’s impossible to actually plan. Formulating a rough plan is good, but you’ll still find you keep missing activities and events! If you have a foolproof way of sticking to your plans at conventions, I salute you. I can’t and won’t do it, especially when I get to bump into so many cool people on the way to these activities!

Play some games, you know?
Play some games, you know?

Yes. The initials for the cons are FDSA. I am not insane, honestly.

 


 

Overall then I think the pros vastly outweigh the cons. The cons are draining, which I guess it somewhat counter-intuitive of a holiday – but the draining feeling you get from these conventions are wiped away quickly by the natural high you get from the environment and the fellow geeks you meet.

I’ve been a little bit biased in these circumstances, of course. I mean I go to conventions fairly frequently now and I look to be attending at least 5 events next year. However, I honestly couldn’t review this in any other way. The cons of going to a convention are vastly inferior to the reasons to go. Who knows: Perhaps soon we’ll be at the same convention and we can continue the discussion there?

What did you all think of my little post on the pros and cons of conventions? Now that Alcon is over, we must move forward towards our next one…
… Oh hey, I am attending a 1 day local Sci-Fi and Geek convention in the upcoming weeks! Stay tuned for more information on that!

Blogversation – Conventions

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We travel for miles across the country to wait in queues longer than the trip to stay in rooms with hard beds only to be kept awake by the party outside and rudely awoken by the fire alarm. We get lost, we get rinsed of all our cash, and we get bombarded with more smells than anyone should endure.

Conventions are great!

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Blogversation – Chatty protagonists

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A protagonist can go one of two ways really in terms of extremes. Last week, Joel spoke about the silent protagonist which is common place in Role Playing Game’s and First Person Shooters. Today I want to talk about the exact opposite to the silent protagonist: The chatty protagonist.

Done correctly, a chatty protagonist can make your game much more exciting. In video gaming, there’s a whole bunch of silent protagonists but we’ve completely ignored the chatty protagonist: Characters such as one of my all time favourite video game characters, Zidane Tribal. This is a character that chats when spoken to, giving him much more depth. I feel that the purpose of good dialogue is to make characters more likeable, relate-able and above all memorable.

Zidane Tribal – Main Character of Final Fantasy IX

He talks a lot, but not too much. Just right, if you ask me.

But then we go down the extremes and some characters talk for reasons you just can’t comprehend. Take, for example, the humble people of Oblivion.

They mean well but they won’t shut up. Really, I don’t need to know about your adventures, your home life, your missing children or anything. You’re impressing no one and you’re actually slightly breaking my feeling for the game.

Sometimes, it works really well, but like in the above video you can see that it doesn’t always work. In fact, in this case we see Foul Fagus go from being a beggar with a voice befitting his character, to a well spoken gentleman. Okay, that’s just broken, but there’s a reason why we don’t need so much complexity all the time. The human condition is complex, but probably nothing nearly as complex what they accidentally made.

But then sometimes, we get a character that talks so much and says the same things over and over again. I could once more go back to Oblivion even though I truly love the game. But instead, let’s find another source to point the finger at.

No, you blow it out yer…

Yes Duke Nukem is a character that spouts the same repetitive catchphrases constantly. It’s a constant reminder of the limitations of technology. You can’t have something too fluid, ultimately: Something is looping. Be it a loop of: if (alienx=null) then { say “eat bubblegum.” else Duke=”all outta gum” }. Okay, that’s a dreadful piece of pseudo-code, but you get the point.

There’s a point where the sound waves loop and you just think: Huh, okay. A bit weird you’d say that again. For the record except Duke Nukem Forever, I’ve not played a Duke Nukem game (merely seen videos) and I’m not trashing the games themselves. As far as I can see, they appear to be great fun! But with this being said, there’s still that constant reminder: You’re in a video game. There’s technology to be taken into account. Are you ready to have technology limit the creativity of the character?

This is why I prefer RPGs myself. A characters depth isn’t by its catchy battlephrases. Instead, it’s an invested interest in the character throughout. They tell you a story, they get involved in the story and you are that protagonist.

Aw thank you for making this real, ThinkGeek.

But don’t be fooled by the fact I’ve only spoken about video game characters: This can happen with protagonist of traditional games too.

It’s usually just some players in particular, when they want to take centre stage. When this happens, they come up with all sorts of elaborate plans and their characters are looked up to by the other players. Or, more likely: It breaks the flow of the game drastically. It can be brilliant when a player decides to step to the mark and become the hero he or she should be, but at the same time it can be to the behest of the rest of the group.

An instance I have of this is when I was playing as a sort of “knight” character. He was basically just a standard warrior, but he was honourable and as such he would say things like “To arms, my noble companions!” Simple, showed how he was a simple character and everything I did with him was for the point of: This is him. Take note then that one of my fellow companions was a rogue.

Yeah, you’re fooling no one, rogue. That dragon’s got more sharp edges than that little poky sword of yours.

Rogues are known to stand back and be stealthy. They’re supposed to deliver damage before anyone knows they’ve done it. Pray tell then: Why did this rogue decide to announce everything he was going to do in game to all of the other characters? “I’m going to go behind the enemy and flank him. You, Sir Elbert, keep him distracted from the front while I go around behind him to sink my blade deep into its skull.” Our DM found it equally as asinine as I did, so the DM decided that often: The enemy heard the conspiracy! Often, Sir Elbert and the mage were able to take out whatever they were fighting before the rogues plans had finished…

Perhaps this was an incredibly good bit of character development however? See, the best thing here was that our DM was able to teach this rogue how to be a rogue without telling him what he was doing wrong. The rogue slowly figured out: Not everything had to be explained. Not everything had to be told to the whole team. My character, Sir Elbert, announced his intentions because he was an in your face, sword and shield knight. He was the “tank”, as it were. He had to make enemies feel inferior and threatened yet his team mates safe and in control.

This rogue needed to make his enemies unaware of his presence. It couldn’t be done while he blathered on about his plans. Remember then: a chatty protagonist is the key in character and even story advancement. But sometimes, they really should just shut up.

What do you all think of chatty protagonists? Do they help to involve you in a game? Do you have any examples of chatty protagonists in either video games or traditional gaming? Until the next piece in our blogversation; take care all!

Blogversation – The Silent Protagonist

Is it better to put yourself in the place of the hero, or would you rather play through the adventure of another? A fully fledged person with a personality of their own vs. a place-holder in whose eyes you see through, and whose life you live.

The name “Mary Sue” applies to any character who serves only to fulfil the private wishes and fantasies of the author. They often have limitless or all too convenient powers and abilities that make them effectively unbeatable, and a bland personality. The problem with the voiceless protagonist is that they tend to fall firmly into that category, Gordon FreemanLink, Isaac Clarke for examples. There are notable examples of speaking “Mary Sues,” most famous perhaps being Master Chief, who loses points for talking but gains them for hiding his face, allowing the player to narcissistically apply his/her own face underneath the helmet (another common factor of the Mary Sue). Continue reading “Blogversation – The Silent Protagonist”

Bloversation – Atmosphere 3

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We thought we’d stick to the theme of atmosphere in gaming, as it’s such a broad subject.

What turns me off of a game the most is that feeling that I cannot be in that world; that I cannot sympathise with that world in any way, shape or form. For this, I have one game in particular that I will be picking on and I apologise in advance as this is a popular game and I’m sure many people won’t agree with me.

Before this though, let’s talk some more about good atmosphere in games that you might not necessarily think had any form of atmosphere. How about a game like The Sims? I’m talking about the original game of The Sims, the first in the franchise.

Oh yeah. Let’s… Be people… I guess!

The Sims in concept is pretty bland. You basically have these characters that you create who needs you to hold their hands lest they turn into little slobs and finds life to be pretty tough. The Sims is one of these games that splits the audience somewhat, due to some gamers believing that a game should have some form of action. The Sims does have action for the record, but it depends how you play it.

When you start, you’re looking down at your little Sims and you’re trying to make sense of who and what they are. These guys are near clueless as to what to do and you have to help improve their home, their social lives, their careers and yes, their finances. You can have the walls of the house up, or the walls down so you can look in the house easier. The standard view alone gives you the impression that you are in control of what you’re looking down at. In fact; Compare the view to children playing with their doll set. That is basically the premise of this game: You are playing with some dolls. They’re your dolls, made to your specification. You are in control, not them!

To add to this, you feel like you’re in the world of the Sims. You watch them while they watch TV. You listen to their conversations which is seemingly a language devoid of any true reasoning; Simlish. The scariest thing is: That language is “proper”, it has an actual meaning behind each weird word they say. Check out this blog that I found dedicated to Simlish and tell me that isn’t cool?!

So whilst in The Sims, the world tries to make you believe it’s a real world, there are other games that have atmosphere without trying to make you “believe in the world”. They want to give you that amount of disbelief to where you just happen to think it is indeed a “real world”.

Enter ToeJam & Earl

Toe Jam & Earl was a really simple game, where you literally go around and get pieces of your rocket ship together. The game the whole time is ridiculously silly and over the top. This is why this game has a perfect atmosphere. Your characters are aliens who have crash landed on this bizarre world called Earth.

The game was satirical and yet you could completely believe the world these aliens landed on. See, these aliens were really far fetched, I mean just look at them both in the above picture. It was silly, it was “radical” and all in all – It was fun. These were funky aliens who landed on this strange world that you and I see as normal. It was really well done and the whole point was for you to explore this weirdly different world.Whilst the aliens were different to you and I, they found our world alien and strange. It looked strange to them too – Which is why this game worked so well. It was just a simple, easy to relate to story of an outsider looking in at our (okay now outdated) culture.

So then, those are two games with great atmosphere for the world they built. So what is that popular game that I mentioned that didn’t have such a good atmosphere? I’m very sorry:

Hey there good lookin’, wha’cha got cookin’? Some plasma in the face?

Take this not as an insult to those who enjoy Doom 3 as it is a super game. It’s well done and it’s very, hmm, scary? I’m not really too big on jump scares in games as it never feels like it worked for me, however that was exactly my point.

Each moment the game felt like it was going to open up more and become a bigger, scarier game – Well that was all it did. it just got scarier and didn’t leave me “included” in the game. I couldn’t get behind the characters and it didn’t feel like it was going anywhere any time soon.

Instead all I had was random jump scares and incredibly bland, stale characters. I am afraid to say that the voices of the characters felt like they were done by one man only. It didn’t matter what the character looked like, they were just different octaves of one guy and on top of that: The characters didn’t really react to things or talk in “human ways”. To me, this killed the suspense through the dialogue alone.

For all of its accomplishments and how great fun the game itself is (I’d recommend playing it!), it’s not particularly “absorbing”. You don’t feel connected to Mars and you don’t want to really get involved with the world: Because you can’t.

So, what did you all think? Can you give us any more examples of popular games that aren’t particularly atmospheric? What about older games that are incredibly atmospheric? Alternatively, what games are atmospheric?

Blogversation – Atmosphere

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Atmosphere in gaming is one of these hard to understand concepts that you simply “Just get” rather than plausibly put your finger on.

I mean, atmosphere in a game like… Well, Atmosfear… Is all in the suspense, the drama and the excitement of what’s going to happen next. That sense of “When is it going to happen next?” “What is going to happen next?” and my favourite “Can we skip forward?”

"I am the gatekeeper!" - Gatekeeper
“I am the gatekeeper!” – Gatekeeper

I draw more upon the 2004 version of Atmosfear here, as that game added in the element of surprise. See, the original Atmosfear was brilliant: On your first playthrough. This was due to a limitation in technology. In 2004 however, Atmosfear was redone on DVD, meaning events could (and did) happen at random.

This is a major boost to the atmosphere of Atmosfear, as no more did you know when the next quotes would be said. It truly felt like each game was now different from the last.

So how did Atmosfear make the atmosphere? They had a narrator who set the scene, told the stories and yes: He told you what to do. He made you feel uneasy, as if you had to do exactly as he said to continue with the game. Perfection in atmospheric execution, right there.

In video games however, there are other means to set the atmosphere of a game.

In video games, you rely on the visuals, the audio and the rules of the game. Let’s take a step back in time to 1994 for a moment and all the way back to that lovely console, the SNES. A “psychedelic” hippy-like RPG video game was released, where you play as a kid who fights using a baseball bat. He goes on a journey with a girl who has the power of prayer, a boy who’s incredibly smart and a prince of a foreign land.

Yes, I'm talking about Earthbound!
Yes, I’m talking about Earthbound!

Earthbound throughout the game is quite fun and you get the sense of fun throughout… But the whole game, you feel something is a little bit off with the game. But you just can’t quite place your finger on what. Not until you fight the final boss.

You see, as you get to the final part of the game, you realise you and your friends are alone against what is basically the ultimate evil of the game. He makes his presence felt to you as he morphs around your screen, in full screen too!

WARNING: Watching the above video is riddled with spoilers about the end boss of the game (Because it’s basically a play-through of that event). If you’re okay with that, go ahead and proceed.

You feel as if you’re trapped in this horrible realm, where you and your friends are fighting not just for your life but for humanity, too. You get the idea instilled in you by the words of Porky Minch, then the music which follows. When you’re fighting Porky and Giygas, it’s not so bad – You’ve not seen the true form of Giygas and Porky is making the event amusing. He then turns off the devils machine and bang. You get hit with a slap of video game reality.

Atmosphere isn’t stuck to just one aspect of a game. It can be audible, it can be narrative or it can even be visual.

I’ve given you the narrative and the musical, so now let’s look at how the visuals can display something atmospheric!

For visuals, let's look quickly at Doom 3
For visuals, let’s look quickly at Doom 3

When Doom 3 came out, it was one of these games that you had no choice but to draw your jaw to. Hopefully, your jaw didn’t drop quite as much as our above zombie friend, but you get the point. Doom 3 looked amazing for its time and the whole scenario, the whole place, felt intimidating and threatening.

It felt cold and it felt like you truly were alone out there against the legions of hell itself. You were in charge of getting yourself to the next point and you were trying to help out by destroying the evils along the way. The lights turn off and hell breaks loose in the station. You see things raise in the dark, you physically see things go bump in the night. You know you’re in an imminent danger simply by the lighting alone.

From blood being splattered all over the walls to a broken crate that’s slightly out of place, you feel as if you’re in this damning hellish place on Mars. The metal grates makes Mars City feel cold and unforgiving, whereas the darkness gives the player a sense of hopelessness. The blood everywhere then instils dread into the player. Basically: You feel as if you’re doomed and you’ve got no choice but to fight for your life.

For this post, I’ve focused almost primarily on “scary” atmosphere, but atmosphere doesn’t lie with the scares in gaming. Join us again next week where Joel will be further discussing atmosphere in gaming.

What did you think of my scary sum-up of atmosphere in gaming? Can you list other scary games that really make you feel the atmosphere? As always, do drop us a comment as it means a lot to me and Joel.