Category Archives: MMO Soundtrack

Tunes of Magic VI: Jester Tunes

joker

Art by Anry

Those who are following the Battle Bards podcast will have heard me mentioning my love for “jester tunes” several times now – a term I use to describe an intriguing subset of melodic tracks within the more spooky, playful and magical box of videogame music. While it’s almost impossible to verbalize this theme accurately, and listening to a few tracks is clearly the best way to go, I’ll make an attempt anyway at describing jester tunes and why I am so fascinated by them in particular.

Depending on whether one studies the character of the jester from a more historical or fictional viewpoint, portrayals will range from what the Royal Shakespeare Company (see also on Wikipedia) calls the “natural fool” (abuse of physically or mentally disabled men for public sport) to the “licensed” fool who was invited by nobles and kept at royal courts where he was granted free speech by decree. I say “kept” because royal fools were basically property and while they served the function of a political and social critic, sometimes acting as the people’s voice, they lived in constant danger of giving too much offense and being physically abused. To romanticize the status of jesters in either contexts would be wrong and there are those who question whether they ever indeed held positions of much importance.

The fictional, much merrier jester we know best from stories on the other hand, is a creature of many colors: a sharp-tongued trickster, a singer and teller of tales, an acrobat and performer flamboyantly clad in the brightly colored uniform of his trade – the motley. An enigmatic, almost uncanny air surrounds jesters in many a tale, where one can never be quite sure of a character so shrill and free, so unpredictable and hence mysterious. Not surprisingly some developers (see Kefka for an example in videogames), authors and movie directors have expanded on this image and turned the fool (or clown, or joker) into the stuff of nightmares: a many-faced, fearsome and demonized character. Nothing is quite as spooky as a killer with a smiling face and make-up.

I love the duality and ambivalence of jester figures that stop being a real person and much rather become creatures of legend and myth. A daredevil persona with the potential to serve both very selfish or altruistic goals, to speak scandalous truth delivered with an innocent face, unmasking evil or acting as its messenger. Fools personify chaos which is why they remain forever unmeasurable and scary. That said, I like my jesters to remain on the more harmless, non-killer side of things!

Jester tunes convey all that foolish complexity: a playfulness and frivolity combined with spooky undertones, a characteristic use of disharmonious elements adding special flavor and chaos to the music. In short: I’m having a ton of fun with these tracks, I can never quite get enough of them! I hope you enjoy!

Art by Crazywulf

 

“The Jester enters the stage, in gold and purple motley, swinging a scepter…”

  1. Chrono Trigger – Kingdom Trial
  2. FF6 – Kefka’s Theme (remastered)
  3. FF7 – It’s difficult to stand on both feet, isn’t it?
  4. FFXI Online – Sometime, Somewhere
  5. Guild Wars 2 – Halloween
  6. Fable 2 – Old Town

 

Battle Bards – Episodes #2 & #3: FFXI and Spooky&Magical

It’s been six busy weeks since the Battle Bards debut in April, so if you’ve missed episode #2 on Final Fantasy XI Online or have yet to listen to our brand new episode #3 on all things “Spooky and Magical”, be sure to head over to the BB’s main page for the full shows!

In this latest episode we’re back to thematic picks and to my very personal delight, I got to challenge the other bards with what’s always been my favorite sub-genre: ethereal and magical tunes, somewhere between the playful and the spooky. Danny Elfman’s score for Edward Scissorhands was one of the reasons why I started collecting movie themes many years ago and when it comes to game soundtrack too, I am always on the lookout for the especially melodic and haunting pieces. This genre of music is hard to put into words as we soon find out in this third episode, musing on the wide spectrum of picks and the general difficulty to verbalize music.

Thanks for tuning in, tweeting us or sending us your feedback via mail (battlebards@mail.com) or on iTunes sometime! While I’m not allowed to reveal a thing, I can say that we have some hot shows ahead in June and July with surprises you definitely don’t want to miss – so keep your eyes open for episode #4, folks!

hallow

Battle Bards Podcast Episode #1 – Going live!

In July 2011 I started my ongoing soundtrack seriEpicLuteTall200x300es to have an outlet for my love of fantastic videogame tunes and also, to reach out to other gamers of similar inclination in the blogosphere (and few and far they are in between – or so it always seemed). If the world of RPGs and MMOs is a niche, collecting MMO soundtrack is probably a sub-niche.

Imagine my enthusiasm then when I heard about a fully dedicated MMO music podcast by Syp from Biobreak (and Massively)! When offered to co-host this show together with two more venerable MMO bloggers and soundtrack geeks, how could I possibly say no?
Even better: the podcast comes with the name Battle Bards! How awesome is that?

I’m so very excited about this project and proud to finally present its first episode which is dedicated to MMO main themes! At the same time, I am happy to be able to reveal the wonderful Battle Bards banner which was graciously created by our very talented and close blogging neighbour Tesh (who also regularly shares soundtrack goodies on his blog). Thanks again, Tesh!

The podcast will air on a fortnightly basis and we absolutely encourage everyone, not just declared OST lovers but hopefully soon-to-be-converts, to tune in and leave us your feedback (I am working on that mic!)! Each show will feature up to 8 different tunes from various MMOs (of which audio snippets are always included) and while we’re definitely geeking out together, we are including some interesting background information on the chosen tracks and composers. I have to admit, I’m in this for my own selfish reasons – it’s such a big opportunity to discover new pearls and learn new things!

Without further ado, all you need to know about the Battle Bards podcast below.

Introducing the Battle Bards team!

 

I would like to thank Syp, our very experienced podcast mod, for organizing this wonderful opportunity and also putting our first show together! Speaking of which – you can find our current and all future episodes on the Battle Bards homepage or on iTunes. To jump directly into “Episode #1: Main Themes”, use the embedded player below or direct download via this link. Happy listening!

Tunes of Magic V – My top 10 songs to play in LOTRO

It’s been way too long since my last soundtracks roundup! For this fifth episode, I’m doing something a little different, namely introducing my 10 favorite tunes to play in LOTRO, on the harp or lute. And yes, if you follow twitter you may already have seen this – so this is for all my non-avian readers.

I’m a big fan of LOTRO’s ingame music feature; alas, unfortunately I am no fan at all of 90% of the player created music I get to hear in Bree or during questing in Middle Earth. Many songs picked by players are either out of tune and/or rhythm, or then they are simply misplaced in a fantasy themed game. No, I do not want to hear Lady Gaga’s latest hit when stopping in the Prancing Pony! I’m frankly surprised that playing on an RP server is no protection from this type of acoustic abuse.

Naturally, original LOTRO tunes aside, it’s either videogame or film soundtrack that works best for your musical performance. As the required .abc/.txt files for LOTRO are midi based, that is limiting your song choices. It certainly helps being a retro VG music nut like myself when browsing available tunes online. I’ve also attempted my own conversions with the Midi Converter but it’s not nearly as simple as it looks to get good results (generally classic/piano version midis work better). There are only a handful of libraries online, such as the Songbook of Laurelin (great for band pieces and folklore), Lotro ABC and the resurrected but unfinished Fat Lute.

My current solo favorites can all be downloaded at Lotro ABC for your convenience. With the exception of Ultima, they are all from classic console JRPGs, mostly composed by the unsurpassed Yasunori Mitsuda and Nobuo Uematsu. All of my picks play extremely well in LOTRO and fall under the general category of “pensive and quiet tunes”. I regularly attract a crowd playing these in the Prancing Pony, so I happily share them with anyone desperate to find beautiful tunes that work well with barding in LOTRO. Enjoy my picks and spread the love! Let me know if you have similar recommendations and a merry weekend to all of you!

Off the Chest: Midlevel and Endgame Grinds no thanks, I rather have a Castle!

otc

My time is currently divided between different games, namely LOTRO, GW2 and Minecraft, which warrants this mixed topic today. While my MC enthusiasm went through a big time revival this past weekend, my LOTRO journey is somewhat stagnant as I fight (and struggle) my way through the early 40ies with the Loremaster – an interesting class I am still enjoying a great deal. As for Guild Wars 2…well, let’s say that relationship has somewhat cooled down of late.

Of midlevel grinds and music in LOTRO

I currently find myself stuck in the dilemma of preferring a musical performance in Bree over returning to my quest hub in the Misty Mountains. While progress was smooth on the Loremaster for the first 30 levels or so, things started getting sluggish in Trollshaws which is a beautiful map with wonderful music, but also features highly annoying ravines to navigate and badly paced quests. To add salt to the wound, you don’t get any swift travel to Rivendell before level 40 which pretty much cured me of caring about any of House Elrond’s or Bilbo’s riddle quests. There’s only so many times I can bear riding through the Bruinen and up those hills.

I’ve been told by LOTRO veterans that it’s the mid-levels that really get to you, so I guess that’s what’s happening at the moment. I really want to experience the Moria that Spinks is talking about though and reach the improved gameplay of Rohan which is supposedly a much better compromise between oldschool fedex grind and what we call adventuring in 2013. Still, the next 10 levels will be a drag and require numerous visits to the Prancing Pony (I have established quite a nice track list by now!) in an attempt to restore my sanity.

What needs to be pointed out again at this point: the music feature in LOTRO is the best thing ever! As the Ancient Gaming Noob justly asks, why do not all MMORPGs copy this already? Hellou? There are three great LOTRO features I expect all future games to have at release: player instruments, immersive sound effects and player housing!

My home, my castle

Coming down with the GW2 blues

I’ve mentioned being cranky about the pace at which ArenaNet are fixing some long overdue technicalities. While there is finally armor preview for the market place (and such a revolution it is), you still cannot search your own armor class there – and before you ask, NO you still can’t take screenshots in first person view! I get asked about this a lot when tweeting screenshots; what I do is make my character lie down and pick camera angles accordingly.

However, the small details aren’t really my biggest concern, annoying as they may be. Well-elaborated on by Bhagpuss, there’s a gradual change happening in GW2 that has announced itself some time ago and that’s slowly redirecting the game towards the textbook, endgame gear-grind we know by heart. For someone who was inspired by an open world, non-grind premise, someone who isn’t into farming dungeons, the crafting grind or alting, for someone like me basically, it gets increasingly difficult to find a purpose in Tyria. There is only so much exploration you can do and as I continuously fail to join lasting guilds, running dungeons or fractals with strangers isn’t something I choose to spend time on (as I would not be running them for gear primarily).

What this really shows us is that more open world games also need sandbox elements and tools in the long term – which are sadly missing completely. If ANet added only a few features that LOTRO has for example, that would make a world of difference to me personally. Alas, all I can do at this point is wait for the Living Story to continue, hoping it will evolve into the significant content Wooden Potatoes is referring to. Maybe I should consider guesting?

A Castle in Minecraft

Over a year ago, I burned myself out on Minecraft spending enormous amounts of time on learning everything there was to learn and building a huge fantasy castle up in the sky. Mostly, building that huge castle, really. And how could you not create your dream place in a game that offers that much freedom?

A ton of time and care for details went into that little project; ever since, I wanted to make a documentary of the finished thing but never got around to it. Well, now that all public voice-angst is off the table after Monday’s post, I finally put the full castle tour on youtube and here it is, including a big GEEK ALERT –

I love how much you can do with texture packs in Minecraft. As can probably be told from the video, I am a sucker for interior design; decorating and making places cosy has always been a bit of a thing for me. Back in school as a teen I wrote a paper on why I wanted to become an interior designer. I even went to interview an interior architect for it. Of course I didn’t become a designer after all but it’s still something I revel in when given the opportunity in real life or virtual. I also noticed from many other MC fanvids on youtube that the focus often lies more on the exterior – building whole towns and planning complex, large scale structures which are often somewhat empty inside. I’m exactly the other way around.

I’m happy to finally have this place immortalized for myself and those who helped me build it (mostly chopping away at the big mountain it once was). And maybe someone out there can get some creative ideas out of it after all. Minecraft really is a goldmine when it comes to tapping a player base’s creativity and the wish to spread and share ideas. If only more MMO designers adopted some of its virtues.

P.S. If you got all WoW and other game references in this video, you are just as geeky as I am!

Tunes of Magic IV – Indie Edition

This is the fourth chapter of an ongoing series on amazing video-game soundtrack and tunes. 
Previous posts featured on MMO Gypsy:

Delving deeper into the world of indie games over the past couple of months, it struck me how much love and creative spirit can go into games that may never reach a wider audience. Granted, many indie games are worth forgetting (just like games in general) – but those we like to remember are rare and precious gems sticking out of the grey mass of average shelf-huggers and annual top titles from big labels.

In many ways, playing indie games reminds me of my early console days; sessions were as immersive as they were short. What games lacked in technical polish or scope, they made up for with heart, care for detail and memorable stories and characters. And then, the tunes….who could ever forget the tunes?

The multi-platform era, with digital stores and community portals such as Steam, presents video-gamers with an unprecedented opportunity to discover smaller projects doomed to lurk in the shadows before. Several have left a notable mark in my recent memory, boldly reaching across genre frontiers or celebrating the past in brilliant colors. They’ve also made it into my personal soundtrack lists, adding elaborate and amazing tunes to a unique experience. I highly encourage anyone to give such titles a shot sometime and to not miss out on their music of which you can find my six personal picks for today below.

Dear Esther – Twenty One
Fans of Journey might enjoy Dear Esther for its similar narrative focus while wandering a map with no sense of direction. After playing it multiple times I’d call it a visualized ghost story, as aerial as its brilliant soundtrack and dream vistas, but also eerie and oppressive while the player tries puzzling together snippets of memories told by mysterious narrators. This title is “more book than game” and will attract fans of unorthodox design concepts.
Bastion – Faith of Jevel
The entire soundtrack of Bastion reflects the diversity of this highly artistic action RPG, with its unforgettable narrator’s voice. The tracks go from more pensive and epic tunes to electric guitars and western/country inspired pieces. A definite must-have for all collectors!
Braid – Downstream
Whether you call it colorful 2D-platform game or puzzle adventure similar to Limbo, Braid’s soundtrack adds much to an in places confusing journey. The tracks are mostly on the quiet and dreamy side, with a folk guitar or violin/cello tuning in ever so often.
Trine 2 – Forlorn Wilderness
Both Trine titles feature the genuine, oldschool RPG music experience – from light fairy flutes to dark caves and spooky forest tunes. Lovers of the classic fantasy genre cannot go wrong here. Having only recently stumbled on Trine 2, I was blown away by its beautiful 2D/3D graphics style and backgrounds. Whether you like jumpy action and puzzles or not, I highly recommend playing the demo!
Super Meat Boy – The Battle of ‘Lil Slugger
Although not personally into excruciatingly difficult platformers and dark humor  with chainsaws, Super Meat Boy features one of the most accomplished, up-tempo soundtracks out there. A thrilling firework of industrial music meets classic meets retro, there are tracks aplenty to shake or headbang along.
To the Moon – Main Theme
A game of limited gameplay and visual attraction, To the Moon is all about profound storytelling, the minds and hearts of its characters and the struggle of life. The entire soundtrack is a stunning, achieved work of beauty while merry and up-lifting tracks are few and far between. However, anyone with a soft spot for slow piano tunes should absolutely love this soundtrack!

I hope you enjoy these picks and it’s definitely worth browsing on from there! As usual, further recommendations are much appreciated!

Tunes of Magic III – Skyrim

While ZeniMax Media are eagerly blocking all Skyrim soundtrack clips on youtube, I got myself the official 4-CD OST collection of the game and I cannot recommend it enough. Skyrim’s music is STUNNING, kudos go to Jeremy Soule for creating such masterful tunes for a beautiful world!

Meanwhile, fans worldwide have been busy. Merely five weeks old, Skyrim music clips, movies, cartoons and comics are shooting from the ground like Mora Tapinella (c wut I did thar!). I always loved fan initiatives, the creativity and inspiration the best of games will unleash in their player base. WoW too, has certainly been a remarkable example of that.

In lieu of official tunes to present here, I’ve therefore decided to dedicate a small round-up of musical fan creations for Elder Scrolls V. As maybe more unofficial part of my Tunes of Magic series, this stands on its own as a testimony to player creativity and Skyrim’s most catchy themes – enjoy!

“The Dragonborn Comes” by Malukah

Directly inspired by the bard song ingame, this haunting fan interpretation is beautifully sung, capturing the mood of Skyrim’s cold lands with its clear vocals. It’s available for free download here – just a pity it’s only two minutes long!

“Skyrim Epic Rap” by Dan Bull

You don’t need to be particularly into rap to appreciate this cover for its funny lyrics. The majestic choir of Skyrim’s main theme fits oddly well with the performer’s rhythm. This too is available for free download. A real scream!

“Skyrim meets Metal” by Erock

This put a wide grin on my face – I would expect nothing less than a metal interpretation of Skyrim! The two are pretty much made for one another, a classy performance with a slight /headbang!

“Skyrim Remix” by Levi Doron

Uh-oh…dance techno, really? Of course, somebody had to do it – but then, for all its trashy Euromix flair, I couldn’t help but chuckle. Someone actually went through the trouble to adapt Skyrim for the dance floor – an acquired taste, yet somehow contagious?!

“Literal Skyrim Trailer” by Tobuscus

Literal trailers are almost always great fun and this is no exception. I always marvel at people’s breath on these, I could never keep up! Add to that, they’re actually attempting to sing it (well, kinda) – hilarious!

“Retro Skyrim Trailer” by RubberRoss

This collection of music genres would not be complete without an oldschool 8bit video game tune. I admit, it takes a lot of nostalgia to appreciate them, but both the clip and “song” made me chuckle – this is how all great games began!

Ah and in case you haven’t seen the Escapist’s Zero Punctuation take on Skyrim, I really suggest you do! A good weekend to all of you – be it called Christmas, Hanukkah or just a lazy day somewhere out in the snow (alternatively warm and fuzzy in a chair playing videogames)!

Tunes of Magic II – Fantastic Edition

When I started the “Tunes of Magic” series a while ago on this blog, I explained how hard it is for me to take soundtrack picks from my vast themes library. I have so many favorite game and movie tunes with such fond memories attached to them, that it’s hard to judge objectively how “good” or interesting a tune really is for others. Who would want to hear a track from the 32bit era today with no connection whatsoever? I know I wouldn’t.

Music is such a beautiful medium; it is not just a complex yet simple art form, a carrier of sound, melody and harmony that couldn’t be more accessible; the best of tunes convey a whole world of mental imagery, tell epic stories and, similar to smells and odors, carry memories with them that can hit you full force when you least expect them. It is music like this I try to hold on to.

In my introductory post I explained what “types” of tunes I adore most and I didn’t really make a selection in terms of genre or topic there. Since then, I have been attempting to order groups of tunes into their own sections though, so I can present some of them in more orderly fashion soon. For today though, indulge me with another pick of 6 random MMO/game- and movie-soundtracks that I’ve chosen over one common denominator: my “all-time top 3+”.

I present to you my three most beloved fantasy tunes and epic story-tellers, plus another three more random but no less beautiful songs to continue with a set of six. If I ever got asked the “deserted island question” for music, the first three pieces here presented would be my personal picks, no doubt. These are mostly quiet and pensive tunes that keep changing and truly come alive after a while (so you really want to listen to the whole thing). I hope you enjoy them as much as I do and that they bring some sparkle to your day!

Final Fantasy X – Ending Theme
What to say about this tune…while FFX was not my favorite installment of Square’s popular series (despite featuring Lulu), famous house-composer Nobuo Uematsu has utterly out-done himself with this piece, taking up the no-less stunning piano intro of FFX once more. I love this tune with all my heart. I think it sums up the spirit of the beloved JRPG franchise beautifully.

Wrath of the Lich King: Mountains of Thunder
Exploring my way across Northrend after WotLK’s launch, this tune came up as I passed the first mountain range for Stormpeaks. I was spellbound and spent an entire hour or more sitting next to the minefield there, listening to the music under the light of the pale moon. I still get goosebumps hearing this – and so very mushy over memories past in WoW. Those were the times.

Conan the Barbarian – Orphans of Doom
Not exactly a huge fan of the Conan films and their aesthetic in general, I consider the soundtrack composed by Basil Poledouris in 1982 the finest, most stunning and achieved score of any fantasy film up to date. The whole album of the first Conan movie is a revelation, epic and beautifully capturing the soul of “high adventure”. Highly recommended listening!

Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim – “From Past to Present”
Having extensively praised the game in last week’s posts, I cannot possibly deny you a piece of its beautiful music either. The soundtrack is the perfect match for Skyrim’s vast world of adventure and adds immensely to its immersive atmosphere. Apologies should this link be down again soon (I have had to replace these several times now).

Lineage II – Call of Destiny
While I’ve never played either of the Lineage games for various reasons, both MMOs sport a large variety of exquisite soundtracks that can easily compete with more popular titles. It’s well worth browsing youtube sometime for Lineage music to see what other gems you might discover for yourself.

Chocolat – Main Title
Chocolat is a special little movie gem with gentle magic and a very french esprit. I remember hearing the opening in cinema for the very first time: I was so delighted that I hurried home to buy the soundtrack right away. I love the Elfman-esque first half as much as the merrier, up-lifting ending of this piece.

To be continued. And as always, do let me know your personal favorites and recommendations, no matter how old or new!

Tunes of Magic – I

For months and months I’ve wanted to publish an article on MMO soundtrack, pretty much ever since opening this blog. Somehow, this has proven to be a most difficult endeavor: whenever chancing on another blogger dedicating time to this beloved subject, I was reminded of that painfully pending topic in my inbox that I just couldn’t seem to finish. The truth is, I am such a huge sucker for themes and game OSTs that making a final choice of the countless songs I have cherished in my life just proves too great a challenge. I fail.

So, I’ve given up trying. I will never be able to link all the goodies or even my “ultimate cream of the crop” to you – things would get out of hand and the heavy wall of links would ultimately wear you down, undermining my entire intention (you know, candy overkill). Instead, I will consider this the first post of more to come, allowing me to return to the topic whenever that particular mood strikes. Wahey.

How I came to love game soundtrack

A while ago, I explained how I consider video games works of art. Where some just see playable content and entertainment, I see fantastic, inspiring settings and compositions for the finer senses; the design and aesthetic, the artwork and music that breathe life into our virtual worlds. Almost 2 years before WoW launched, I was among those obsessing over every little snippet of new concept art and sneak peek, things just looked that fantastic. And had they not – had Blizzard not always been so outstanding when it came to design, trailers and the full package, I might never have played WoW in the first place. Art is not everything to an MMO’s success; but I’m not the kind of player that can overlook plain ugly. If it’s offending to the eye or if the soundtrack is a careless, loveless excuse for music (or worse: missing) a game is off to a very rocky start with me. I want everything that way.

I’ve collected concept and artbooks, along with game (and some movie) OSTs for many years. I think my first tracks were SNES midis from this place and if Chrono Trigger or Castlevania mean anything to you, you know the kind of music I was particularly interested in. Long ago, Squaresoft was on console what Blizzard in many ways became on PC for me: a benchmark. An incredible smithy of musical and visual goodness (besides delivering awesome stories and near spotless technical realisation). My private RPG sound library ranges up to around 1998. After that, I gradually left the scene and got hooked to PC RPGs and online games.

Taking a pick

In order to acquire new MMO soundtrack, I usually keep my eyes open for collector’s editions. Youtube has also become a great source for me to discover music I might otherwise never come to know, because I clearly can’t play or even try out every MMO in existence. I am still also collecting tunes from the odd console RPG (there ain’t that many these days) or classic PC game which is why I have included one in my list of picks for you, too.

I have thought about breaking things down into typological sub-sections, like “battle themes”, “ambiance”, “sad themes” and so forth, but then I decided to pick 6 random favorites for a start that I currently listen to and that might not been so well-known as others. Were you to ask me about my personal preferences in general, I’d have to say that my tastes are quite diverse, but there’s definitely a red thread for what delights me the most:

  • When I’m in the right mood, I enjoy very epic, bombastic tunes of grandeur and a bit of pathos. Not too much pathos mind, and certainly not all the time. If it sounds like another Hans Zimmer spin-off, it’s not for me.
  • I love pretty much any spooky, creepy or fairy tale-esque tune you can think of. Needles to say Danny Elfman is my hero here.
  • I love sad, melancholic and quiet tunes that usually blend into the background. The sort of song that fits your mood perfectly some days, but is too painful to listen to on others.
  • I love merry, bouncy tunes that make me want to grab a walking stick in Bilbo Baggins fashion. It’s a rare kind of music that makes you feel like sailing out to distant adventure.

For any type of music, I appreciate tracks that change often and are more like the arrangements you find in classic music or opera, rather than repetitive “verse and chorus”-patterns. I like songs to tell an evolving story (which is also why Bohemian Rhapsody will always remain the greatest “pop song” ever written!). Basil Poledouris was hands down the greatest (fantasy) film composer of all times for this reason.

If you ever come across a great tune fitting any of these descriptions, think of me and send me a note! I would LOVE to hear about it! And now finally, I will shut up and hope you enjoy my picks! =)

Allods Online – Main Theme
My first choice is brought to you by Allods Online which I still consider the most underrated MMO presently out there. So much potential, such bad timing. This track will greet you right at the menu screen and is what I consider a grand, yet interesting and evolving piece. After 0:50 secs latest, you will know what I mean. God, I love this song!

Age of Conan – Memories of Cimmeria
The reason why I spent most of my time in AoC in Cimmeria, that rough and snowy landscape of the north. Riding down Conall’s Valley for the very first time as the sun was just about to set over the mountains, this song crept up on me like a clear, fine rain. The Norwegian singer could not have been cast better with her voice of crystal bells.

World of Warcraft – the Shaping of the World
I could easily dedicate an entire article on the music of WoW, so taking just the one pick is hard. Yet, people always seem to know about “A Call to Arms” or “Legends of Azeroth” for the classic era, not necessarily about this track here which is my personal favorite of the first album. This is goosebump material and encompasses everything WoW ever was for me.

Granado Espada – Main Theme
Also known as “Sword of the New World”, GE is a remarkably unique MMO in many ways, with its Baroque European setting and unorthodox battle system. In terms of music, there is a very unhappy, grotesque mix of beautiful classic piano and horrid techno trance going on. Yet there are several gems to be found here for those who still look for them.

Final Fantasy XI – The Rebublic of Bastok
Tunes like this one are so much what Square games have been about for decades – merry, playful, adventurous and exotic. The uplifting theme of Bastok holds a special place in my heart, having finally arrived in that city with my companions after a long and tedious travel by foot, after countless corpseruns and great laughs on the way. Long live our noob days!

Fable II – Oakvale
As promised, my non-MMO pick. There is nothing I can possibly say about this song that would make it any better. Danny Elfman is not from this world.
I can see Winona Ryder dancing in the snow while listening to this – can you hear it too?

I did it! I chose 6 tracks only!!! *exhale*

And with this, a very happy, bombastic, spooky, ponderous and merry weekend to you all!

Videogames are beautiful

My old friend Cyrille is quite possibly the most dedicated, passionate retro-gamer I will ever know. Before he made his ultimate dream come true – moving to Japan, that mother of artsy videogames, manga and anime, and falling desperately in love with a girl there who is now mother of his son – we grew up together for a time. Cy was a PC Engine (aka Turbo Duo) worshipper down to the bone, with presently 688 out of a total of 735 games owned, and I don’t think he ever eyed any game past the 32bit era with anything but disdain, which made for both entertaining and infuriating discussions sometime. “Video games are works of art” he used to tell me, anything less was not worth his time. He wanted to see love and great care put into them by developers, love for a synthesis between story, graphics, soundtrack and theme, care for the little details that stick in our minds forever. We would watch game intros in solemn awe together or listen to wacky game midis as if they were Beethoven’s Fifth. Truth be told, my cellphone’s ringtone and sounds are still SNES midis – there’s a lot of nostalgia involved.

Why do people play video games? Plenty of reasons there: entertainment, challenge, competition, winding down, the social / cooperative factor, escapism, yadda yadda. Most of these things can also be found while having drinks in a bar or playing poker with friends though. Being into video games goes a bit deeper in my mind, although I am aware not everyone shares the same interest as me. But it’s always annoyed me how anyone into literature, painting or music is automatically a fine “art and culture” lover, while being a gamer gets little to no such credit. Video games are two steps away from movies and TV, with a big fat label saying “passive and unproductive” on the package. Being into teh arts however, is enough to make you seem distinguished and productive. You might not play any instrument yourself or ever have held a brush in your life, still: you = creative!

Well, I have some news: video games are works of art. Video games are beautiful. They’re not just moving pictures stirring behavioural principles to enslave people into passivity forever; they’re the joint product of a hundred art departments come together. Years of meticulous planning and execution, a delightful composition of graphic, music, story, coding and heart. The work of outstanding artists, visionaries and dreamers, appealing to several of our senses simultaneously. If you have a good look at some MMO and general game sites, forums and blog discussions these days, you get the impression that many gamers have forgotten what  they are dealing with. Debates on subscription models and numbers, launch dates, developer vs. publisher wars, playtime, class balances, server and credit card crashes, bargains on collector’s editions. Very little on the art that is games. Very little delight about the concept art, story or music involved.

Has the audience gone numb, deaf and blind or are today’s games simply such cheap creations off the same careless, fast-producing clay, that no appreciation for more artistic aspects is possible? Or is there an ongoing trend in the videogame industry to get closer and closer to movie making, as this author states in his lenghty but interesting article?

When games are works of art

On my recent search for more old-school adventure games, I’ve stumbled into a world that I had not visited for a long time. I’ve asked around for recommendations quite a bit, not just on my blog, but some game forums where I have been resident for many years and people know my tastes quite well. I knew Monkey Island and Siberia were a good starting point – point&click and puzzle adventures in general, as long as they emphasize story and setting over tedious, endless riddle guessing (which I hate) and jumpy acrobatics. I excluded MUDs because I am still looking for the video in game (still, thanks to Jaedia for this recommendation!).

What do you know, I got a lot more feedback than expected. And not just that: I got my finer senses back for what I truly appreciate in games – the scary, the hilarious, the atmosphere. It’s true, a lot of today’s videogames have dropped off the same bandwagon and they are not meant to last; but there are the daring and different still.

One such game that I need to highlight is Limbo (XBOX live arcade, 2010) which has been the biggest surprise to me of the suggested lot – being completely without music (there are sounds though) and text. It is the most unsettling, creepy yet beautiful game I have encountered in years. A boy lost in an deep forest where death is as imminent as the sky and yet as quiet as the wind whispering among the trees. If you hold any love for dark fairy tales and a fascination for the subtly macabre (hello Neil Gaiman readers), Limbo is an absolute delicacy on grounds of imagery and atmosphere alone. It is such a breath of fresh air to find such indie projects still being produced, but judge for yourself.

Videogames are an art form made up of visuals, sound, and a mysterious little something we call gameplay. Limbo is the perfect example of these three crafts working together in harmony to create something astounding. With no text, no dialogue, and no explanation, it manages to communicate circumstance and causality to the player more simply than most games. This 2D puzzle platformer in a film noir style is one of the best games you’ll play this year on any platform. (IGN.com)

Often compared to Braid, I’ve not found the second, very jumpy puzzle game nearly as compelling in terms of atmosphere or gameplay (also, I find the protagonist Tim annoying). Braid has won awards for beautiful artwork and innovative design though and is clearly another pearl in that corner of the genre.

Parallel to Limbo, I have engaged in Monkey Island, re-mastered. After only the first chapters (and some awkward sparring rounds at the weapon master), I noticed my saved gamedata at 40%. I had to smile at this: yes, games used to be this short. Of a great adventure like Monkey Island, you could expect a run of 5 hours max. Today, you can hear people complain if a videogame “only offers 30 hours of gameplay”. But on to some more pearls…

As I hadn’t specified platform, only excluding handhelds (mostly because I have played all the good ones on DS already), I was surprised to get some flash-/browser games on my list. They’re full of love for detail, featuring beautiful tunes and engaging gameplay:

If Samorost’s style rings any bells for you, the games are in fact by Amanita Design, the studio behind the delightful Machinarium for PC, PS3 and Wii. A demo for the game can be found here.

Realizing I am now completely leaving the world of adventures, I still like to mention an old, secret fandom of mine, the Orisinal mini-games by Ferry Halim. The page has been there forever and is not being updated very often, but each game is a little wonder of its own (I particularly like the star girl and dragon flies).

Further Reading

Shinies and oddballs aside, my list of more classic text adventures has grown too. To name a few that I intend to look into: Indiana Jones, Broken Sword (1-3), Discworld, the King’s Quest series, Lost Horizon, Zak McKracken and Gray Matter. For some reason I couldn’t help but feel reminded of the upcoming MMO, the Secret World, when checking out that last title.

I have also been informed that there’s a rather in-depth guide to classic adventure games available on Amazon; I’m sure that to sworn genre cracks such an encyclopaedia provides a great read. Also, unrelated to the topic of adventures, I found this article on artful videogames well worth reading. I can only second the sentiment on Ico and Shadow of the Colossus.

I shall be entertained by this list of adventure games for some time to come, methinks – enjoying their stories, music and world. I dare say, it’s quite the rest and relaxation compared to what’s going on in other corners of the world of games right now.