Archive for February, 2012
Think of any triple-A blockbuster title – say, Call of Duty: Black Ops, Halo: Reach, Starcraft II, for example – and chances are, music played a huge role in your perception of the game. From the bold opening fanfare in Starcraft II to the subtle, ominous, and nostalgic undertones of the Halo: Reach score, video game music has its way of being a significant part of our experience in major titles today. And this has really been the case with most major blockbuster titles in the past decade, from Michael Giacchino’s brass anthems in the Medal of Honor series and Garry Schyman’s Stravinsky-esque manipulation of strings in Bioshock to Martin O’Donnell’s iconic Gregorian chants in the Halo franchise and Harry Gregson-Williams’s bold mix of electronic and orchestral elements in Metal Gear Solid.
As Jack Wall, the composer for titles such as Myst III, Jade Empire, and Mass Effect and one of the co-founders of Video Games Live, says, “Music is an unseen character in video games… You don’t see it, but there is definitely an effect.” It sets a mood and feeling for the story to be told in a game, and “depending on the way the music for a game is written, what is felt by the audience can be dramatically different. They aren’t quite sure why they’re feeling what they’re feeling, but in actuality, it’s because of the music.” (Wall 2010) Music in video games can create anticipation and strike fear into a player; it can foretell upcoming events and recall past ones; it can create emotion where there would otherwise be none; and it can accentuate emotions portrayed onscreen or play against them and in general give a whole new dimension to what a player is experiencing at a given moment. (more…)
by Danny Kim
“This family of ours is a secret.”
Sometimes, the life of organized crime looks quite enticing, not gonna lie. Doing badass shit and wearing a badass suit with a badass gun in my hands sounds… well, badass. I mean, c’mon, a sharp suit and a submachine gun – classy and deadly in a single package.
Thankfully, there are games out there that let kids like me live out our fantasies of being a badass mobster in a suit mowing people down with a Tommy gun without actually doing the being-a-badass-mobster-in-a-suit-mowing-people-down part. Such games, like other genres, range from the poor and mediocre – such as EA’s licensed Godfather abominations – to the spectacular.
The original Mafia was thankfully one of the spectacular. It came out 2002 to critical and popular acclaim, and reviewers hailed it as a more serious counterpart to Grand Theft Auto while praising the expansive game world and darker tone. When its sequel was announced in 2007, the internet buzzed with excitement as everyone wondered if 2K would be able to capture the magic that made Mafia such a hit.
I’m happy to say that it definitely does. (more…)
by Danny Kim
One Tuesday in the fall of 2011, I was sitting in CTPR242 (Fundamentals of Cinematic Sound). The date was November 15th, merely four days after 11-11-11, a momentous day when many a gamer’s social lives went kaput with the release of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. I’d been playing quite a while over the weekend, and EVERYONE was talking about it – even CNN was raving about it! I saw ads for Skyrim quite often on TV and online as well. Suffice it to say it was a very well marketed game, and I assumed people would at least be familiar with it as a pop culture style, “Oh, I saw an ad about that on TV!” thing if nothing else when I brought it up, in the same way I’m familiar with the Geico Gecko even though I never actually use any of their services.
So that Tuesday in 242 when Preston began lecture like he did every time by asking us what we’d seen over the weekend, I asked, “Oh, can I talk about a video game I played?” and he was like, “Yeah, go for it!” So I mentioned that I’d been playing a ton of Skyrim and loved the atmosphere and music in it. But then when I looked around to see if anyone else knew what it was or had been doing the same, and all I saw were blank faces – the same kids who would be aghast if I told them I wasn’t familiar with Pulp Fiction or the Godfather series had never heard of Skyrim, let alone the Elder Scrolls franchise as a whole.
Right now, Interactive majors are required to take CTCS190 and CTPR241/290 like most SCA majors, and I presume the reason for this is to give all students in SCA a common fundamental curriculum in the cinematic arts to draw from. But then I have to ask, how is this fundamental curriculum complete in any way without an introduction to video games, the most recent development in cinematic arts? I believe that all SCA students be required to take an intro level CTIN course that teaches them the history, culture, and language of video games. But why? you might ask. Why should I care about video games? I’ll tell you why: (more…)
(Originally published on CelebritySC on 2/16/2012)
“My name is Alan Wake. I’m a writer.”
With its impending PC re-release and the closely following release of its downloadable followup, I figured now is as good a time as any to talk about one of my most favorite games of all time, one that I think is overlooked beyond belief: Alan Wake.
“A Psychological Action Thriller,” the caption on the front cover reads. Just from this text, it’s clear that Remedy is aiming for so much more than just a generic third person shooter with a barely functional narrative. No, Alan Wake is a game where the narrative elements play a huge role in making the overall package as great as it is. And would we expect any less from the developers behind Max Payne (for the less interactively educated, I promise you, the games are infinitely better than the piece of shit movie starring Mark Wahlberg), a series known for its strong story, atmosphere, and style?
And yes, the main character is a writer. Not some action hero or soldier. That plus the whole “Psychological Action Thriller” thing should make you think about Alan Wake a little bit differently to start with. (more…)
by Danny Kim
(Originally posted on CelebritySC on 2/10/12)
Destroying blocks and making words always feels good.
It’s a near-undeniable fact that millions of people who’ve played games like Tetris and Scrabble over decades of time can attest to. Developed by USC Interactive Media Division student Asher Vollmer (’12), Puzzlejuice aims to take what we love from some of our favorite word games and puzzle games and combine them into one package, into what I guess you could consider the video game pseudo-counterpart of a bacon-wrapped hot dog. Both puzzle games and word games are a dime a dozen iOS App Store, many of them garbage but some of them quite good; so does Puzzlejuice’s approach of combining elements from both help make it fun and stand out from the crowd? Let’s find out. (more…)
by Danny Kim
(Originally posted on CelebritySC on 2/8/2012)
It’s a concept that most survival-action and survival-horror games and films boil down to, “You don’t wanna die, so here, take this shotgun and shoot shit,” or, “Oh my god, you’re helpless, you better run.” (Amnesia, anyone?) No game has really chosen to explore the human side to survival, the wear it inflicts on a person over time and the stress it puts on those trying to stay alive. But it seems like that’s finally about to change. (more…)
by Danny Kim
(Originally posted on CelebritySC on 2/2/2012)
Bioshock was released in the summer of 2007 to much critical acclaim. Reviewers praised the narrative and the world that Irrational Games had created, with the striking art-deco visual style and the intricately designed narrative coming together with brilliant writing and design to form a believable underwater dystopia. Its 2010 sequel, Bioshock 2, while not as revolutionary as its predecessor, preserved and built upon what made the original Bioshock so great and also received accolades from critics.
On both occasions, the descent into the world of madness that is Rapture would not have been as memorable without the music of Garry Schyman (USC Thornton ’78). The first descent into Rapture as Andrew Ryan speaks over the radio and Schyman’s “Welcome to Rapture” plays in the background is a moment that will stick with gamers for a long time. In many ways, Schyman’s music is as iconic a part of the Bioshock identity as the Big Daddy or the Little Sister. In this interview, we sit down with him to discuss the trials and tribulations of being a video game composer. (more…)
by Danny Kim
(Originally posted on CelebritySC on 1/25/12)
With over 14 years of experience in the games industry, Chris Avellone is an industry veteran in every sense. Currently Creative Director and Chief Creative Officer at Obsidian Entertainment, he has played a role in shaping some of the most memorable experiences in gaming history, from the vast wastelands of Fallout 2 and Fallout: New Vegas to the countless lightsaber battles of Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II. In this interview, we sat down with him to pick his brains on game design and the gaming industry.
Danny Kim: Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your specific title(s) and position(s) at Obsidian Entertainment.
Chris Avellone: I’m Creative Director/Chief Creative Officer at Obsidian Entertainment. I’m involved with brainstorming and reviewing existing design content at the company, playing the builds, critiquing design documents, and assisting with the designer hiring and testing.
How did you first start working in the games industry?
I ended up working in the game industry by writing pen-and-paper game adventures in my spare time, and I was persistent enough to get them published. Once published, my boss then recommended me for a position at a game company based on his work experience with me (a positive one). (more…)