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Archive for November, 2012

I like music.  I like games.  Intersections of the two make me happy.

A good chunk of my musical library is game music.  I’m a fan of AudioSurf, a slick little “sound rider” game that can be played as a relaxing cruise through my favorite music or a skill-testing scramble.  Lately, though, maybe because I’ve had a lack of vitamin BSU in my gaming diet (Blow Stuff Up), I’ve really been enjoying Symphony.

Symphony takes your music library (or the one they provide) and asks you to clean out corruption in it, imposed by a malevolent digital entity of some sort.  You fly a ship with four cannons (you wind up with a variety of weapons that you can slot in), reacting to the algorithms that the game uses to make bad guys based on your music.  It’s a delightfully flexible system, with no two songs really playing quite the same way (and each song plays differently for each difficulty level).  The story and character are just kinda… there.  Not bad, just not all that compelling.  I’m not convinced you really need a reason to play a game that’s this simple at its core; just go blow stuff up and have a blast doing it.

The TRON-flavored visuals are excellent, if a bit overwhelming before you get used to filtering the visual chaff.  It’s really satisfying to upgrade your guns a few times, maybe angling them or using a spread cannon or shotgun, and throwing up a huge swath of happy, glowing death, blasting a swarm of bad guys into note-shaped shrapnel.

Most importantly, though, blowing stuff up is glorious fun.  For me, the visuals and story can make or break a game, but only at the margins.  The gameplay is what really matters, and Symphony is simply fun to play.  Set your cannons to autofire (holding down the mouse button for constant fire is a good recipe for carpal tunnel, so autofire is the way to go), and you can just concentrate on flying.  Or maybe try out a Subwoofer weapon that only fires according to the music (where a subwoofer would be used, of course, nicely demonstrated in the game’s trailer).  Or how about a Crescendo weapon, a “charge and release” sort of weapon, or a Missile Rack that functions much the same way, offering devastating firepower in a narrow arc.  Perhaps it’s best to put in that Shotgun or Spread Cannon and just dominate the play field.  Maybe even use that Dual Cannon that fires behind you for those sneaky bad guys that push you out of the “bottom of the screen pocket” that lower difficulty levels allow.

Speaking of difficulty, it’s also a forgiving game.  It presumes that you want to actually play through your whole song, so while your ship may be destroyed, you just respawn after a few seconds.  Your ship can also be partially destroyed, and picking up the “Inspiration” that bad guys drop repairs your ship.  So you can wind up with just one cannon as your wings get clipped, but you can get back in the game after you destroy some bad guys and pick up their offerings.  Of course, your score suffers if you do completely crash, both with a straight score penalty and with missed opportunities to score while you’re regenerating, but there doesn’t seem  to be a penalty just for ship damage that subsequently gets repaired.

Here’s a quick video that I found online that goes over some of the basics.  I kind wish I could make a video, but that’s way down the priority list.

There are some fun “progression/collection” mechanics that unlock the variety of weapons and let you upgrade them, and player-selected difficulty levels which unlock as you play through your library.  This incentivizes playing through different songs, as there is the occasional rare variant of a weapon that packs more punch.  I do wish there were more weapons that did different things, and more that interacted with the music itself, but the dozen or so weapons in the game do provide a good mix of attack options without becoming overwhelming, and simplicity in game design isn’t really a bad thing.

…there’s room for a sequel, that’s all I’m saying.

In the meantime, though, Symphony is a sweet game that even stole some time I might have been playing Torchlight 2, the other game I was really happy to pick up in the Black Friday sales.  I got Symphony at GoG.com’s “five for $10″ sale, along with the Blackwell Bundle, Botanicula, Resonance and Unmechanical.  …as if my game backlog wasn’t full already.  Still, for $20 I picked up 9 games that I’m really looking forward to playing.  I’ve dabbled with all of them except for the Blackwell games, and so far, I’m happy with them all… though Symphony is the one I keep coming back to.  Yes, yes, Torchlight 2 is a gem, packed with vitamin KSALI (Kill Stuff And Loot It), but it’s more involved.  With my rather constrained game play time of late, the quick play of Symphony really fits the bill.  I’d love to just settle into some marathon sessions of Torchlight 2 or Guild Wars 2, or even Tactics Ogre for the PSP that I got for my birthday, but my schedule is… squirrely.

At least there’s plenty of good gaming in the wings, when I can get to it.

Oh, and just because I wanted to get these out there while I’m thinking about them, I ran into some pretty crazy photographs lately.  Some very cool stuff can be done with very high speed photography and water, as Tim Tadder illustrates with these shots:

Water Wigs

Fish Heads

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More Music

I have been acquiring music at a faster rate lately.  I’ve collected game soundtracks for almost two decades now (the power trinity of Nobuo Uematsu, Yasunori Mitsuda and Yoko Shimomura are still the backbone of that collection, some of which is noted in my last music article thisaway), but it has sort of been a trickle.  Part of that is the expense of getting CDs often only released in Japan.  Part of it is just that I have other things to spend money on.

So what changed?  The Humble Bundle guys started including soundtracks with the games they sell.  The Indie Royale people followed suit.  GoG.com always offered soundtracks when possible, but I’ve been getting more of their games lately, too.  OCRemix.org has always been great at cranking out good music (free!), but I’ve been perusing their projects more lately, and they recently stepped up with a big Final Fantasy VI orchestral project.

I’ve also been more aware of articles like this one from Syp.  The game music industry is growing up.  (I still wish I could get to a Play! concert.)

Edited to add: I also just stumbled across this little gem of a site… I’ll be keeping an eye on their bundles. GameMusicBundle.com

Anyway, I just wanted to share a few of my more recent favorites, and a few oddball pieces that just seemed worth sharing for one reason or another.

Thoroughly Blue, Crystal Chronicles… I love the light, almost Celtic feel to a lot of the music for Crystal Chronicles, and this one covers a lot of the themes in the game.

Captain Jean-Luc Picard’s “Inner Light” Ressikan Flute music, performed by a full orchestra.  I love that episode.  I’m not the only one.  (And is that a Starfleet uniform on the conductor?  Awesome.  Nerdy, I’ll grant, but I love that nerdiness isn’t a kiss of death any more.)

Secret of Mana has some great tracks, and this is but one collection/overview.  I really would like to find that soundtrack on CD someday.  For less than $30.  Pesky imports.

Tangled soundtrack’s town music… sorry, I’m not sure on the title for this.  It’s just one of my favorite parts of a movie I’m very fond of.  I wish this piece had been longer.

Magic Taboria, Van Canto… this one is really odd.  It’s an a capella metal rock group, weird enough to start with, but they also appear to be… nerds.  They based this song on the MMO Runes of Magic.  There’s just enough absurdity involved that it makes me smile, even though metal rock is far from my favorite.  Really far.

The Bard’s Song, Van Canto… this was my first exposure to Van Canto.  A coworker submitted this to our weekly “Bad Music Tuesday” event, and, well, I kinda like it.  It doesn’t scream “metal” to me, it’s more of the sort of thing I’d expect from a modern “Gregorian Chant”-ish group, infused with gaming and storytelling sentiment.  Weird, I know.

The Final Fantasy Piano collections all sound great to me.  I’m a fan of pure, simple music (like the FFX piano version of To Zanarkand), and I grew up around pianos.  My mother teaches piano, my wife plays sometimes, my sister plays as well, and my daughter is learning.  This is one of my other favorite piano pieces, Eyes on Me from Final Fantasy VIII

And last, but far from least, there’s Austin Wintory, my newest addition to the “favorite composers” group.  He has a lot of great stuff at his site, but this one is one of my favorites, with touches of Howard Shore’s Lord of the Rings movie soundtrack, shades of Mannheim Steamroller (one of my biggest musical influences growing up) and hints of Celtic and Viking spice:

Horn Soundtrack

I like all of it, but Bound in Stone (track 12) is especially fun.  Oddly, perhaps, it reminds me of some of the fun music in the recent Sherlock Holmes movies, but with a more epic feel.

There’s a LOT of good music out there.

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Yes, it’s my birthday.  BioWare must care, since they released Star Wars the Old Republic‘s free to play iteration today.

…but I probably won’t play it for a while.  I still want to give Guild Wars 2 a fair shakedown, but my computer is… not up to the task.  Maybe after I get it repaired.

…right after I sell some more of my older games on eBay so I can afford the parts.  (Turns out I need a new case, hard drive, DVD drive and Windows in addition to the new video card I got, which needed a new power supply, and the random crashes my computer still performed required that new motherboard, CPU and RAM that I got that don’t fit in my old case.  I thought I’d wind up with a Frankenstein mishmash of old and new components, but no, I’m just going to have a new computer built from pieces.  Stupid technology.  Don’t buy HP.)

…right after I finish painting the basement.

…right after I finish mudding and sanding it.

…right after I finish helping my friend with the sheet rock.

…oh, and if I had time, I’d write the first novel in the series I have had planned for years now.  It has something to do with this.  (Which I slipped into my Zazzle store a little while ago.)  Yes, I know it’s that NaNoWriMo or whatever, but, well, I’m short on time.

Project Khopesh

So yes, thanks, BioWare, for the birthday gift!  I might get to it next year.

…right after I finish playing all the games I got from Steam, Humble Bundle, Indie Gala, Indie Royale, GoG.com, OnLive and even Amazon Download.

…right after I finish Final Fantasy Tactics on the PSP.

…better make that 2015.

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