Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Perfect Note (Part 2): Cam's Music Notables

Alright. Yesterday I encouraged you all to appreciate your video games for their musical value. Today, I will give some examples of video game music that affected me in the ways I referred to yesterday, and tell you about why they are so memorable to this day. Heck maybe you'll actually use that BGM test option that they put in the game the next time you play... Get your headphones out and plugged in! Let's get started, shall we?

Super Mario Bros. (NES)
Notable Music: ALL OF IT

If you're playing Luigi you might want to go start cooking your food now... it's going to be a while before your turn...

This one is simply a no brainer. Quite possibly the most notable music of a few generations. Chances are, you've played this game. And chances are even greater that you know at least two or three of the musical themes in it. Even those who have never played a video game in their lives will recognize the Overworld Theme if someone else were to hum it. BUT, only a few of you probably know the ending theme that you get to hear after you beat the game. Go ahead and think about it for a second... I won't hold it against you if you've never heard it. It took me till I was nearly in college before I got around to beating the game and hearing it myself. If you've never gotten a chance I've posted a link to the Ending Theme below. Spoilers for those too prideful to hear it without beating the game...

Star Fox Assault (GCN)
Notable Music: Star Wolf Theme

It's no Star Fox 64... but it's better than Star Fox Adventures...

The Star Fox franchise has always been an interesting one for many reasons. Lots of people are fans of the Space Animals (pretty accurate fan nickname) from their inclusion in the Super Smash Bros. series of games. The original Star Fox is notable for being one of just a handful of games released with the Super FX chip for the Super Nintendo (it allowed the console to render 3D graphics which, back then, was really, REALLY awesome). But most people who are familiar with the games know them for being one of the last mainstream rail shooters out there (except, of course, Star Fox Adventures which was a Zelda clone... but that's a whole nother debacle...).

Star Fox Assault was somewhat a return to the series' railshooting roots, but it added in some third person action sequences that many fans of the series could have done without. What makes this instalment stand out among the others is the fact that the entire soundtrack was performed by The Tokyo New City Orchestra. To sum that up in geek speak: You are playing an actual space opera backed by an orchestra. Not only that, but much of the music is reimagined from the previous games. That's right, no more music board made chiptunes, baby. Real instruments. How. Dope. Is. That!? If you don't think that dogfighting planes in space to fanfares and cymbal crashes would be awesome just check out my favorite song from the soundtrack - The rival Star Wolf's team theme played as backdrop while you and your crew have to shoot them out of the sky. It's so cool that I had the trumpet solo as my ringtone for a while.

Marvel vs. Capcom 2: New Age of Heroes (DC/ARC/PS2/PS3/360)
Notable Music: the character selection theme
Fight M. Bison with Wolverine... WITH LOUNGE JAZZ!
Capcom has owned the fighting crossover genre ever since the Street Fighter series has been in existence. No fighting game can boast the prowess of MvC2, however. With its massive roster of playable characters, its over the top, screen filling, 3-on-3 flamboyant fighting style, and its flat out awkward and nonsensical music, MvC2 may be the most distinct of the entire Capcom Vs. series. The game itself is still played competitively to this day, 14 years after its release. But the music it's so take-it-or-leave-it weird that... well... beating people up to lounge jazz and big band music is just... just imagine that you've chosen your team of Ryu, Magneto, and Wolverine and your next opponent team consists of Thanos, Akuma, and a Sentinel, and you're fighting in what looks to be Hell, and this music comes on... Yeah... I don't know if the musical directors were trolling or just trying something new. Either way, it's got our attention...
Monster Hunter 3/Ultimate (Wii/3DS/WiiU)
Notable Music: various battle themes
Dude, you're going to need some better weapons and armor...
Sometimes in a game the music can be notable because there is a lack of it. In games where a certain realistic or scary subtlety is desired the music composer may choose to play music very lightly or not at all. Horror movies commonly use this effect to build tension for jump scares (absolute silence is pretty creepy, after all). Monster Hunter is one of those games that uses music to denote that something eventful is actually happening. For much of the time that the player is not going toe to toe with some giant beasty, the game simply doesn't play any music. Instead it opts for ambient sound effects of whatever environment you happen to be jogging around in.
Once one of the monsters actually spots you however, a scare chord strikes alerting you that the fight is imminent. Your character may flinch as the monster sizes you up. The roar comes and announces that the situation is now dire for both human and monster parties involved and the music kicks up to high gear. The battle is on. I can rave about al of the things that make this series awesome but I will bite my tongue for now and instead, simply show you this early epic fight against the Lagiacrus where the music distinctly adds tension.
 You only need to watch from 55s to 2m to get the gist - *Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate - Lagiacrus Battle*
Kirby Air Ride (GCN)
Notable Music: all the Kirby music
TWO Kirbys with bombs!?! This won't end well for anyone here...
First things first: Kirby is NOT a Pokémon. Yes, I know he looks like Jigglypuff, but Kirby came first. Hard to believe, I know, just take my word for it.
Now that that's out of the way...
I'm a huge Kirby fan. Three or four of my most played games of all time would probably be Kirby games, which is amazing because they are traditionally short games with small replay value. HAL Laboratory (the makers of Kirby games, and Smash Bros.) have a way of fashioning music that is perfect for setting the mood that they want regardless of what is happening on screen. And Kirby games are the perfect medium.
Simply put, the music composers do a great job of changing Kirby and his environments from cute and cuddly to bonified badass just by changing the music. And they tend to do it by rearranging the same musical compositions and motifs over and over to fit the setting. The Kirby Air Ride soundtrack is fantastic evidence, as it is composed of original compositions, remixes of old music, and music from the older games themselves (namely the Kirby's Superstar [SNES] era) and they all still work together in the same game in different settings and moods. Linked below are the original first stage songs and its updated versions for Superstar and Air Ride. Same musical motif, completely different context.
Kirby's Dream Land (GB) original, for reference - *Green Greens (GB)*
Kirby Superstar (SNES) first stage music, featured in Air Ride - *Spring Breeze*
Air Ride version -  *Green Greens (GCN)*
Feel free to take a listen to anything else on the Air Ride OST it's all good and fairly different. And awesome. Etc.
Anywho, that's a decent sized sample of some of the most influential music in my video gaming life so far. What kind of game music do you have for me to sample? Should I have included Zelda in there somewhere (I excluded Zelda for a reason)? Hopefully you will think they are pretty good even outside the context of their games. Share some music with me and I'll be ready to chat you up next week with more video game goodness!
~Cameron Moore

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Perfect Note (Part 1): Musical Balance In Video Games

Hiya folks! It's Cam here back after a month long of neglect, sitting on a few articles that are now no longer relevant. But I digress! I am back to discuss (and snark on) more on the world of video games!

What I was doing instead of finishing articles...

One of the most amusing things to talk about with video game fanboys, for me, is video game music.
Any lover of Eastern RPGs (JRPGs, turn based RPGs, Pokémon, etc.) will almost certainly talk about how great and amazing the music is in the games that they love (...and most of it certainly is pretty good). However, they usually follow it up by referencing some obscure song that, for you, was just some background noise that was happening while you were making a sandwich during that ten minute cutscene.

Don't look at me like that Final Fantasy! You know I was talking about you!

For the most part, the majority of gamers - the casual gamers, if you will - care about two things: gameplay and graphics. Sound effects are often overlooked and cast aside as unnecessary. Background musical elements, even moreso. But if you let them they can be as integral a part of your game as any other element. This article will discuss and celebrate the work of those who compose the background music in games.

Hatty gets it!

First things first: How do you know how integral is music in your current game? This one is pretty easy. While there are many things that can push your focus toward video game music, all of them are fairly easy to notice.
*Does the game mention its music in its advertising or box art?
*Is the music balanced to be fairly loud in comparison to sound effects by default?
*Does the game have music that stands out and sounds NOT generic?
*Does the game use the same stand out music for lots of situations?
*Does the game have remixes for the same stand out music for different situations?
*Is the music recognizable from an earlier instalment from the series?

Anamanaguchi, huh? Must be good!

If you answered 'yes' to any of those things then the musical composers are high fiving each other right now. Their job is to make you thing about music in a medium that could be entirely visual and touch interactive. They made you listen and they deserve a raise.

And Robin as the annoying guy from level design always looking over your shoulder... No high fives for him!

But in all reality, think about how hard that job is. Think about the last game you played and the soundtrack that was with it. Do you think you'll remember that music once you start your next gaming endeavor? If it's generic enough you probably don't even remember what it sounds like right now.

Licensed music doesn't count... Although it is awesome.

"But Cameron," you might rebut, "There are lots of video game songs that should inherently recognizable by any self proclaimed video game practitioner. Yes, this is true. And the reasons I am talking about here are EXACTLY what make those particular songs and arrangements classic. Think about all the games you've ever thought were amazing. How many of them do you know the music to like you know the music of Super Mario Bros.? It's okay. I'll wait.

Everyone sing along! Do-do-doo  do-do-doo    do...

The answer is probably not very many. Because many video games can be played and enjoyed without a soundtrack the musical aspect tends to get overlooked. I hope that the next time you pick up your sticks (that's slang for joysticks, which is slang for controller...) this article compels you to appreciate the people out there who are attempting to enhance your experience through melodies. APPRECIATE!

Make sure you come back tomorrow for Part 2 and find out about some of the most notable songs and soundtracks in my gaming life!


Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Top 5: Comedy

By S. R. Ellis

In celebration of the latest episode of the FilmGeeks podcast being released, I've decided to do a lovely post about my personal Top 5 Comedy Movies of all time!

So, let's dive right in. Some of these will be franchises, as narrowing down to one in a continuation can be difficult. 

5. Happy Gilmore

This is a classic for me. My father and I would always watch this movie together and it was a staple in our VCR. Adam Sandler is also one of my favorite comedians of all time. He still can't make a movie I won't giggle at. Yes, even his recent endeavors. I know, it is a unpopular opinion, most think he lost his "mojo" a long time ago. To me, Happy Gilmore is a representation of the golden age of comedy. American Pie spiced things up in 1999 with risque antics we hadn't seen in a major motion picture before, and Superbad revolutionized this genre, and I don't believe we've turned back since. The more raunchy it is, the better it seems to do in the box office. I'm not knocking those movies, I truly love them, but I think Adam Sandler's style of comedy got left behind in this new world of comedy. To me, he'll never die. Happy Gilmore, Billy Madison, and even Grown Ups will always hold a special place in my heart. This is why Happy Gilmore is in my top 5. It hasn't ceased to stop making me laugh in all the years I've been watching it, and that makes a good comedy movie. 

4. 21/22 Jump Street (Reboots)

These two caught me off guard. I had no desire to see the 21 Jump Street reboot, and it wasn't until months after it was released on DVD that my friend and I sat down to watch it, having heard it wasn't terrible. Apparently this is how most of the fans of the reboot discovered it. The DVD sales far surpassed what it did at the box office, and ultimately led to the sequel being made. I have never laughed so unexpectedly hard at a film in my life. What an instant classic. They took the fact that it was a typical Hollywood reboot and used that to their advantage by calling themselves out as the plot unfolded. (Spoilers ahead) The cherry on top for me was the cameo by Johnny Depp in the ending scene, it was truly magical and brought the whole thing together. Channing Tatum also really showed his acting abilities and range in this role. He is one of the most versatile actors of this generation. He can do almost any role thrown his way, and I think it was a smart move to do this film because he gained a whole new fan base that probably couldn't care less about him before this. Plus, the ending credit scenes in 22 Jump Street are pee-your-pants worthy. 

3. Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgandy

Will Ferrell is a classic character actor, and Ron Burgandy is one of my favorites of his. I haven't watched the sequel, simply because I don't want the magic of the original ruined. But, I have heard from many a people that it was a decent follow up. The ensemble cast of this film is a great compilation of some talented comedians. Each character has such an abrasive personality, they all come together quite perfectly for some side splitting scenes. I haven't been able to get the epic battle of newscasters out of my brain since watching this so many years ago. Literally as I'm typing this I'm chuckling thinking about all the news teams nearly, and sometimes actually, killing each other. Also, this movie had a plot. Some comedies with big stars I feel try too hard to do more jokes than to keep the plot progressing, but in this movie we see a true evolution of a man from top to bottom, then climb back to top. It's a hilarious tale I will always keep on my video shelf. 

2. The Cornetto Trilogy

One name: Edgar Wright. No, scratch that, TWO names: Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg. No, scratch that again, THREE names: Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, and Nick Frost. Honestly, this series is a true masterpiece, and you may not even know the three films are connected. The Cornetto Trilogy is comprised of three films: Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and The World's End. Each of which were directed by Wright, a true visionary of comedy. Each were written by Wright and Pegg. And each starred Pegg and Frost. The duo of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost is one that I don't think can be beat by any other comedy duo today. The only one that I think comes close would be the pairing of Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, but even some of their sketches or movies together weren't as promising as everything Frost and Pegg have put out together. Shaun of the Dead is a classic parody style movie that completely stands on it's own. You don't even think about Dawn of the Dead while watching it. It is just a gory, hilarious depiction of a zombie apocalypse. Hot Fuzz is brilliant, a classic cop film Wright-afied. The World's End is also a perfect tale of brotherhood and drinking, and maybe the end of the world. I don't want to go into too much detail, as unfortunately this series is not as well known outside the cult following as it should be. If you are reading this and haven't watched any of these films I suggest you get yourself a copy to enjoy. All will become instant favorites. 

1. Zoolander

Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson as male models. I mean, what more could you want? I doubt there is a person reading this who hasn't seen this film. It's one of Stiller's most recognizable performances. On it's surface it's a comedy making fun of the ditzy nature of models; at its core it is an action packed conspiracy movie. There honestly isn't a whole lot I can say about this movie. It is one of the best films of the early 2000's, one I know many people have re-watched over and over. Like many of Stiller's comedy films it was made in a layered way so each time you watch it you catch a joke you haven't heard before. I still quote it in almost every day conversation. Which may, or may not be annoying. But I don't care, because I love Zoolander and I don't care who knows it!

Well, those are my five, this list is obviously highly debatable, as comedy is so subjective depending on the personality of the viewer. What's your top 5 comedies of all time? Let us know in the comments!