Games for the Halloween season.

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Tis that wonderful time of year again when the leaves change color and the air turns as crisp as a newly opened video game. Halloween is around the corner, and it's only fitting that we as game enthusiasts snuggle ourselves in games appropriate for this grand of holidays (we really should get the day off)

Without further banter, I give you, groovy games to play for the Halloween Holiday:

1. Silent Hill 2: A letter from Silent Heaven (PS2)

If you have never experienced the psychological horror that a Silent Hill game has to offer, then this is a good place and time to start. No need to play the first, as this one is a stand alone, but if it peaks your interest enough to try the others, PLAY THEM IN ORDER! Grab the greatest hits version, as it has extra content not found in the standard version. Emotionally taxing and genuinely disturbing, Silent Hill 2 is a must for the season.

2. Splatterhouse 2 (Genesis/Megadrive)

Still the goriest and most violent game to grace a console, Jack Thompson would jump on this like a randy teenage boy on prom-night. I mean, name another game where you cut up aborted fetuses hanging from their umbilical chords? And to think, this game was originally released in 92!!!! Challenging game play, tons and tons of blood, guts, brains, decapitation, ghosts, and everything to give you a good time for M-rated candy muncing!

3. Shadowgate (NES, GameBoy Color)

This old point and click adventure game still gives me some chills down the spine. Creepy music, and some rather gruesome death descriptions still make this a perfect horror game in my book.

4. Castlevania 4 (SNES)

Still my favorite Castlevania, the perfect blend of dark ambiance and an incredible music score make this stand above the rest. The game just drips Halloween atmosphere. Perfect when played at Midnight. Grab the Japanese version if possible: It's un-edited.

5. Medieval (PSone, PSP)

Throw in a sprinkle of Tim Burton, Ghosts and Goblins, Maximo, some good British humor, and you have a rather silly but fun game for the season. Not the best game in the world, but appropriate.

6. The Splatter Action (PS2, Japan only)

Part of the simple series on Japan (Vol 64), this beat-em-up has you play as a rather adorable little boy with a pumpkin for a head. Armed with your fists and chainsaws, you go level by level turning equally adorable baddies onto a bloody mess! Ahh, I love the irony!

7. Zombie Vs. The Ambulance (PS2, Japan only)

Also a Simple series game (Vol 95), and made by the same folks who brought you the Splatter action. You drive around in a (guess this) ambulance saving infected victims and bringing them back to the hospital before they go all brain-hungry on you! However, on the way, you get to power up and improve you vehicle by....running over zombies over, and over again! Body parts fly, blood splatters, and your newly acquired front-bumper-blade slices bodies like a knife through a sternum! Good times!

8. Fatal Frame (AKA Zero, PS2, XBOX)

Based off of actual events, the Fatal Frame series does a wonderful job of introducing an audience to the Japanese view of the paranormal. This is one of the few series of Horror games other than Silent Hill to actually make you uncomfortable, creep-ed out, and give you reason to sleep with the light on.

9. Ghouls and Ghosts (Genesis, Megadrive, Arcade)

Punishing game-play, pissed-off bosses, and an undeniable Halloween charm put this one on the list. Nearly any game in the series is worth checking out (including Maximo), but this one happens to be a personal favorite.

10. The Onechan Bara 2: Puru (PS2, Japan only)

Yep, another in the Simple series line (Vol 101). Girls in bikinis cutting up Zombies with swords. Do I really need to say more?

11. Otogi 2 (XBOX)

A horribly under appreciated game, a blend of hack-n-slash meets Japanese mythological horror with perfect control, interesting characters, and a rather dark edge make this game worth trying. Not too many games have a portion of the main characters kill themselves at the onset. Impressive graphics, wonderful Gagaku score, and a genuinely beautiful view of Japanese action horror make this a perfect game for October.

So, there you have 11 of my favorites. What, no Resident Evil Baroque? For me, I like horror to remain in the supernatural element. Once you begin to explain through science as to why you have zombies roving the town, it loses it's fright-factor for me. It becomes more sci-fi than horror. Not that sci-fi can't be horror (Alien) but I just like the genre more....ethereal.

How about you fine folks? Got any fave horror games to share with us?

Happy Hallows-eve!

-Baroque-Legacy

I feel so young: Being carded for games.

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So, I walk into my local Best Buy store today to pick up some CD's and Bioshock. I grab my reissues of Journey's ESC4P3 (perhaps a prelude to the internet 1337 speak of today?) and King Diamond's Abigail. Let's get one thing straight: there is only one "KING" of Rock 'n' Roll, and it isn't Elvis. Anyway, I also grab my copy of Bioshock, which will make my 360 happy since it has been played about as much as I cut myself for fun.

So, I bring my products to the clerk, she greets me with a rather cheerful "hello" and proceeds to ring up the transaction. "Sir, I'm sorry, but I'll have to see your ID for this rated M game." I was stunned, and not in a bad way mind you. In fact, I was rather flattered: I'm not exactly a teenager anymore, and while I'm sure she did this purely out of obligation, it nonetheless made me feel a bit younger than I am (I'm 30 people, and loving it).

This also took me aback simply because I hardly ever see this happen. Insert sarcasm: Are we finally getting to the point where parents can finally abandon all responsibility and rely on our friendly store clerks to watch the content our children purchase (end sarcasm). Still, can we just use common sense to decide if a person is of age enough to purchase an M rated game? I would like to think I look younger than I am, but I certainly hope I don't look young enough to be carded. Then again, it seems that "common sense" is far too much of a subjective concept to leave to an individual employee.

Should we always card based on enforced policy, and if so, does it bother you? Why or why not? Personally, I'm happy to see retail taking some step in enforcing a rating system that parents have screamed for since 1992, but I certainly wouldn't hold them 100% accountable if an under-aged youth should end up with said game: parenting starts, you know, at home. Till then, I'll be happy to feel as though my age affords me the privilage of something "mature."

Kids.

What makes a game Classic?

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This is something my friends and I have debated for years: what are the criteria for a game to be considered classic? Is it a matter of age? A matter of quality? Something revolutionary? Perhaps a juxtaposition of said qualities? While there are a variety of opinions on the matter, many of which are rather well thought out, I thought it might be interesting to compile 4 of the best I have run into here.

So, without further ramble and all that:

Four rather decent criteria on the subject of awarding a game the title of Classic

1. A game that stands the test of time.

A good game, is a good game, is a good game. Just because you've had grandma's immaculate blue-berry pie since your where a wee lad doesn't change the fact that it's still damn good now does it? Or how about Journey's album Escape? OK, so that's up to personal opinion, but the point is this: a game that stands the test of time is a game that is just as fun now, as it was back in "X" amount of time. This often times speaks of the quality of the game as well: usually a poorly made game won't last long.

2. A game that revolutionizes a genre or gaming in some significant way.

Street Fight 2 revolutionized the fighting genre. Pit Fall revolutionized the idea of a game that progresses over multiple screens. Super Mario Brothers perfected that idea, and saved video-gaming after the 80s crash. Dragon's Lair showed us that a game could have a full Orchestra and movie-quality production. You get the idea. Any game that has brought a significant change to the face of our beloved hobbies for the good, gets this award.

3. A game that changes the over-all outlook/politics/ethics of the industry.

Two words: MORTAL KOMBAT. While games like Splatterhouse 2, (probably the most violent and graphic game yet. I mean come-on: can you think of any other game where you hack up aborted fetus's hanging from their umbilical chords?) slipped under the radar, it took a game like Mortal Kombat to bring gaming into popular politics, thanks to guys like Joseph Lieberman. Doom, Grand Theft Auto 3, Custer's Revenge, you name it: games like these have made a significant mark on gaming history.

4. Personal Nostalgia

We can talk all we want about what objectively makes a game classic, but often times when we get right down to it, it's all about a personal feeling of nostalgia. I'm sure we all have games we just love from our childhood that we still love today......that suck. Pit-Fighter man. I love Pit-Fighter. It's one of the worst games to ever grace the arcade, but I have fond memories of it, and events during that time. So, it becomes part of my personal nostalgia, and thus, I consider it classic...for myself. I hope not for you. God I hope not.

 

So, what do you think? What would you add for criteria, and what do you have for personal nostalgia?

Some thoughts from the Studio.

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I am often times asked about the music I listen to while getting ready to produce an album. Sometimes people ask if I choose a particular work for inspiration during the composition/recording process. While I can't honestly say that I specifically look to be inspired, it does indeed happen of it's own nature. For this CD, I find myself listening to a great deal electronica, which is about as far removed from the music we are working on for this release.

So, without further banter, here is some of the music that has been filling my head during the whole process:


VNV Nation: Empires




While I am often quoted as calling this the most profoundly depressing album I have ever heard, it tends to have the opposite effect on me. Almost a healing experience really, this is indeed the CD to listen to if you have any notions of loneliness, fear, conflict, or anger. To put it in a word: Therapeutic.



The Chemical Brothers: Exit Planet Dust




Simply because it grooves, and ya' need to goove!



Joe Satriani: Super Colossal



.
What, like you are surprised or something? Never since Crystal Planet have I played a Satch album so much! Great album while you are waking up in the morning!



Meshugga: Nothing



Math Metal. You can't beat it, and if you aren't listening to this album, you really, really need to. I actually use this CD for a meditative purpose. It helps center my thoughts before I enter a long stint in the studio, and keeps me focused when I feel stressed.



Juno Reactor: Labyrinth




My fave electronica composer along with VNV Nation, this CD simply hits all the marks when it comes to it's eclectic world-music combinations. Great when you are writing Flamenco one day, and Funk the other.



VNV Nation: Matter+Form




Another CD I find great meaning in. Songs like "Endless Sky" really hit me hard, and remind me of how important the "now" really is.



Massive Attack: Protection




There is something rather sweet and lonely about the title track. It always puts me a in a mood for contemplating the importance of being there for those important in ones life.



Dragonforce: Sonic Firestorm




It's just some good, honest fun!!!!



Van Morrison: Magic Time




The opening tenor sax solo to "Stranded" is what gets to me every time. A strong haunting and alone feeling are so wonderfully expressed that each time I hear it, it's as though it was for the first time.



Carcass: Heatwork




Still one of my top 10 Metal records to date, I always go to this for what I like to call "Intellectual Aggression." Great melodic writing like this always puts me in the mood to compose intricate melody lines without loosing any emotional content.



Enigma: Le Roi Est Mort, Vive Le Roi




If there was ever a work of music to span nearly every emotional state in an almost transcendental manner, it's this one. This is also a great CD to study musical layering, especially that of regional juxtaposition in language and world music.



Billy McLaughlin: Fingerdance




One of my favorite guitar players (from Saint Paul even!), this album never ceases to entertain me. Thought provoking, and some of the best playing you will ever hear!



Manitas De Plata




The Flamenco Legend. Need I say more?



Journey: ESC4P3




Yeah, I know.


So there you have it. A few selections from alongside the CD player.

Till next time.....

-Paul
March 21st, 2007

I thought we where done with this?

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For the majority of my gaming life, I have been an avid importer. If you where to graze through my collection, you would notice that about 98% of my games and systems are Japanese imports. The reason for this is one of purity: As many of you know, the localization process that a game goes through can be brutal on the original product, especially games of the 16-bit era. Without being long winded, let us just say that I have always preferred my games uncensored, and in the original light that they where indented.

With the gaming global market growing, we are seeing less and less editing in games that come to us from Japan. In fact, some of these games are coming to America first, unabated from their original vision, and in some cases with extra content. I’m sure this is the direct result of American gamers demanding more-serious content, and a greater awareness of the global industry in general.

It is with this continuing development that I decided to buy a few US versions of some games through the last few months. It was nice to see that the games where indeed 100% intact and un-edited. Games like Okami and God Hand where untouched save for cover art and English Language. A surprise, since Capcom used to be known for some of the vilest editing in history. Take a look at the Original Biohazard on the PSone, and compare it to the US version. Ouch!!!

So, with this development, I decided to buy the US version of Genji for the PS3 (I know, I’m probably the only person in the Gamspot community that digs the game. Deal with it). Not only was the US version of the original on the PS2 untouched, but since this game came out in a seven day difference between the Japanese and US release, I figured they would be 100% identical.

So I bought it, and started to play through. I’m about halfway though the game, when a package arrives from my friend in Japan. She bought me some great Devil May Cry stuff for my Birthday, and the Japanese version of Genji on the PS3. I thought to myself, “Cool! I’ll give this a try.” So I put the game in, and began playing what seemed to be the exact same game……at first.

I begin hacking some baddies up as usual, and something seemed different. “I don’t remember blood seething from the Heshi, splattering on the ground and walls rather realistically?” It continues: “Wait, there wasn’t this many enemies her,e and those weren’t there before!” I also noticed that the Japanese version supports uncompressed linear PCM audio with true 7.1 surround.

To make sure I wasn’t crazy, I popped in the US version again. Indeed, there is no linear PCM support, and indeed the blood is missing in the US version. I look again at the ESRB rating. Teen? Did they remove the blood to get a "Teen" rating? Suddenly I get flashbacks of the whole Sega/Nintendo/Mortal Kombat fiasco, and at that instant, I had a “Ralphie moment” from XMAS Story: “Son of a B!^$H!!!!”

I thought we where passed this crap? In a country where Gears of War and Grand Theft Auto reign supreme, we still need to remove the occasion splat of blood? All this for a game on a system that no “kid” could possibly mow enough laws to afford? What, pray tell is the reason for this? Did they really have to have another “teen” game so bad that removing the blood was an OK deal? And why, why was the linear PCM audio option removed?

I know, I know: The blood has no effect on game play, but what of the principle of giving us the product as originally intended? Good or bad game aside, I hate spending $60 on something that is edited, and incomplete. If you are going to remove something, let me know, and charge me less. You might say: “Who cares about 7.1 uncompressed audio? Who cares if it’s missing?”

I, the consumer do.

I’m sure no one wants to buy a book with pages ripped out, for the same reasons why I don’t want to buy a game with missing content. This may only be an isolated incident in a trend of keeping games “as they are” from Japan, but until I no longer have to question that, I’ll keep importing.

The Making of my second Album, Part 2

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HOWDY!!!!!



Here are some shots from the last two sessions. The next week will be crazy, but we'll come back with some more groovy photos and such. Enjoy these for now!!!!

The great thinker (yeah, right).



Sound master Tim.



The "Job".



Ahoy!!!!



Sound check.



Heh!


Good times.



Joel at the Bass.




Jon during set-up.



Metal!!!!




Yeah, we do this A LOT!




Aleksander sweating bullets during recording (but kicking much ass)!




Laters!!!!

The Making of my second Album, Part 1

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As some of you might know, I released a rather locally successful CD called, "What Do You Play?"



It is a collection of guitar solos and duets in the styles of Blues, Flamenco, and other stuffs. You can hear some of it here:

http://www.mp3.com/paulwallaceesch

Anyway, I am currently working on my second CD, half being like my previous, the other a wee bit different. Also, some of my most talented students will befeatured on the is release. We are documenting the making of the CD via live blog for fans and friends, and thought I would share it with the Gamespot community. You can always go the my MP3.com page,
but I'll also post here.

So, here is the first entry! Hope you enjoy it, and let me know what you think!

4 am after recording session 1!!!!!!



Hey everyone!

First day of recording was fantastic! It felt great to get back into the groove again with Tim, and Joel did a fantastic job, even though it seems that I write hard songs (ask him)! This is only day one, with much, much more to come, but I have a good feeling everything will progress beautifully.

A few thoughts on success (from my point of view):

1. It is not defined by the type or size of the structure you live in.

2. It is not dependant on your marital status.

3. Success is not always something that appears on an award, or a piece of paper.

4. Success is the product of ones personal goals being met via said persons own actions.

5. Happiness with ones individual life is perhaps the finest success of all.

And last but not least:

6. Success is when a friend’s Parent deems you date-able!



Enjoy some pictures from the studio!

I give you, recording engineer, TIM!!!!!!!!



Mmmmmmm......Guitars!!!



Joel rehearsing.





Fuel for the night.



My new baby!





More later folks!!!!!!




The music of Samurai Shodown from an Ethnomusicologist's perspective. Part 2

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Some time ago during the beginning of my Ph.D work, I did a small article on traditional Japanese Gagaku music, and it's relation to the music of the Samurai Spirits (Shodown) games from SNK. A personal favorite series of course. Anyway, here is part two of that article:

The Spirit of the Samurai, Part 2

Haunting Music With a RichPast:
Japanese Jo-Ha-Kyu Meets SNK’s Samurai Spirits


Paul “Wallace Esch”
Ethnomusicologist.

Rhythm


Most music we are used to hearing is “Rhythmic”. Each beat or pulse is even and steady, usually in groups of 3, or 4. Traditional Japanese music is both rhythmic, and “arrhythmic”, where the beat has a free pulse that seems to have no structure. This is also called “Rubato”. The beat will fluctuate from steady and even, to free and sometimes disorienting, and back again. The technique called “Ritardando”, a gradual slowing of the beat, and “Accelerando”, a gradual quickening of the beat, is often implemented. The music is often in groups of 7 or 10, and sometimes no grouping is used at all. There are also times of complete rest and silence, extenuating each movement. These rhythmic ideals are one of the strongest characteristics of Jo-Ha-Kyu.

Two forms that are most common of the rhythmic structures are:

Free rhythm
Steady rhythm
Free rhythm
Ritardando


or:

Steady rhythm
Accelerando
Ritardando
Steady rhythm
Accelerando
Free Rhythm


These Forms are heard throughout the Samurai Spirits series, especially in 1, 2, 3, and the RPG. Amakusa Kourin uses this as well, but to a much less extent. The Hyper and pocket series of the Samurai Spirits games stay rather rhythmic, besides being more of a meld between western and Asian music. Although less traditional, it still has some old roots left intact. The Hyper series of the Samurai Spirits games also include Arabic and “Sanskrit” influences. A rare combination of western, Japanese, and Arabic music styles lends to a rich and exotic score that, while difficult to compose at times, leaves us with a feeling of worlds coming together in a unique way.





Instrumentation

While the music form of Jo-Ha-Kyu spans a wide range of Japanese instruments, the ones we are most concerned with are those we experience in the Samurai Spirits series. While perhaps the best way to enjoy the music of the series may be through the CD versions that have recorded performances of the real thing, the PCM sound of the cartridge versions do a wonderful job at synthesizing these instruments, especially for the systems age. The Instruments used in the series we will now look at are: The Shakuhachi, Koto, Shamisen, and Percussion instruments.

The Shakuhachi

With its wide range of tones that span from the most elegant and soft, to the most harsh and violent, the Shakuhachi is a fundamental instrument in Japanese traditional music. A woodwind instrument made of bamboo; the Shakuhachi has its roots in Chinese flutes and other woodwinds. The name, Shakuhachi, derives from its length. “Shaku” is a unit of measure equivalent to about 30 cm, and “Hachi” stands for 8, thus a 1.8 Shaku, or if you will, 54 cm. This is the typical length of the instrument, although longer ones are available.

The Shakuhachi was often played by Samurai turned monk, as a means of reaching enlightenment through Zen and the practice of Buddhism. A costume called a “Komuso” was often worn; witch included a basket worn over the head to hide the players’ identity. Later, more people began to practice the shakuhachi, along with its induction into ensembles, as well as being a solo instrument.

Solo shakuhachi music adapts the idea called “Ma”. It is connected with the rhythm of the piece, and ideals in Zen. The music is usually without a steady rhythmic structure, and thus the player must “Feel” (like Zen) the movements of the music. This is the essence of “MA”. A fine example of this can be found in the theme of “Genjuro” from Shin Samurai Spirits, especially on the CD version of the game. Also notice the soft, and then radically hard blowing technique used by the performer. This too, is a technique that signifies the individuality of the shakuhachi.

The Koto

Also having roots in Chinese instruments, the Koto is a long (about 1.8 meters) wooden zither with 13 strings, traditionally made of silk or nylon. Movable bridges called “Ji” hold the stings above the surface. Originally only played by the elite, the Koto became a common instrument in the early-mid Tokugawa period.

The strings are plucked with small finger picks (plectra) either square or triangular in shape, and sometimes with just the tips of the fingers. Other sounds can be produced by sliding the pick down the strings (the sound that is heard when a character in Amakusa Kourin sacrifices his/her rage meter, and kills the opponent with one slash), and bending of the strings. This instrument is also used in Japanese ensembles. The Koto is heard more sparingly in the Samurai Spirits series than the others, as is used as an accompaniment instrument, rather than a solo instrument. Traditionally, the Koto is used both as a solo and accompaniment instrument.

Percussion

The percussion of Japanese music has a large range, but the most common in the Samurai Spirits series are the “O-daiko”, “Taiko”, and the “Kakko”. All are made of wood with a skin stretched over the tubular resonation chamber. The sizes vary from very small and hand-held, to giant and resting on a large stand, making the drum several feet over the performers head. Some have stings stretching from the top to bottom, which can be squeezed to change the tone or Nuance of the drum. Easily one of Japan’s oldest instruments, percussion is still an important part of the Japanese tradition today.


The Shamisen

The most featured instrument in the Samurai Sprits series besides the Shakuhachi, the Shamisen, sometimes called “Samisen”, is a truly wonderful sound in the world of Japan’s music history. Related to its older sister, the “San hsien” of China, the Shamisen is most commonly a solo and accompaniment instrument in music called “Kouta”. Often used in the “Bunraku” puppet theater, and the “Kabuki” dance theater (notice Kyoshiro’s Stage in Shin Samurai Spirits), the Shamisen is a highly dramatic and emotional instrument.

One of the earliest “Lute” or “Guitar” instruments, the Shamisen features a long unfretted neck, varying in length, with three strings. The larger sizes are used in Kabuki, while the smaller are used in Kouta. The body is a wooden box covered with plastic or snakeskin, but traditionally is covered with dog or cat skin. The player typically uses a large “Y” shaped plectra held against the thumb, and usually picks in a downward motion.

Unlike stringed instruments in western music, the Shamisen’s lowest string is designed to have a slight rattle or buzz as it is played. The strings are flexible for bending and sliding, although sliding is rarely used. Because the instrument is not fretted like a guitar, the performer must have precise and accurate fingering to place the notes correctly. The Shamisen is used throughout the entire Samurai Spirits series, and along with the Shakuhachi, carry most of the melody and heart of each piece.


In Conclusion

I hope that in reading this, you where able to gain further awareness in the music your ears are blessed with while indulging in these fine works of art. The music in the Samurai Spirits series is deep and full of wondrous sounds we rarely get the chance to hear. We can be exposed to music in so many ways, and I hope that this makes everyone realize the hard work and profound passion that goes into composing music, whether it’s for a movie, a video game, or for ones personal need to share ones inner creation with the world.

The music of the Samurai Spirits series has given us all the chance to experience the music of a people’s nation, through an unlikely outlet: video games. Because of this, composers like M. Samuragoch, a deaf Jo-Ha-Kyu composer who gave us the 205-piece orchestra that is the music of “Onimusha”, have been exposed to the world. Composers like these are giving us their creations for all to hear, as long as we have the heart to listen. So please, listen, and relish in their art!

-Paul “Wallace” Esch (AKA: Baroque-Legacy)

The music of Samurai Shodown from an Ethnomusicologist's perspective. Part 1

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Some time ago during the beginning of my Ph.D work, I did a small article on traditional Japanese Gagaku music, and it's relation to the music of the Samurai Spirits (Shodown) games from SNK. A personal favorite series of course. Anyway, here is part one of that article:

The Spirit of the Samurai,

Haunting Music With a RichPast:
Japanese Jo-Ha-Kyu Meets SNK’s Samurai Spirits


Paul “Wallace Esch”
Ethnomusicologist.





The early parts of the 1990’s hold as a catalyst in the age of video game music composition. The role of music in video games simply served as a functional additive to software that was meant to entertain the player in the mid to late 80’s. Little freedom was given to the composer, and even less recognition. The music was to simply function, with restraint to artistic expression, not just due to hardware limitations. The music was not meant to stand on its own as a higher form of art, and thus the little recognition of the composers work, regardless of its meaning and intent.

With the rise of video game popularity in Japan, so came a greater awareness of the artistic values, work, and talent put into this craft. Not only where more people playing games, but the interest in who created each of the artistic elements, and a valuing of that individuals work, became an important aspect. Video games, where being recognized as art in the early 90’s. Art books, and finally, soundtracks were being produced so that people could further enjoy the art in a more tangible form. Not only did this open a world of freedom for those responsible for the visual art in games, but also that of the music composers.

With sound technology improving, and the use of Red-Book audio in the early CD based games, composers had a large palette with which to make music that not only functioned for the game in question, but the freedom and ability to make that music stand on its own as a great work of art! Games on the Super Famicom and Neo-Geo had powerful PCM sound chips for supplying the composer with a wide range of realistic sounding instrumentation, and the PC Engine’s CD, and later Neo-Geo CD’s Red-Book audio lifted all limitation but space. The world was hearing a new age of music in video games, lead by people like Satoshi **** (Winds of Thunder), Yuzo Koshiro (Y’s), and the Konami Sound team (Dracula 4). Their soundtracks added a deep and rich score that complimented the games well, but also stood on their own account as great pieces of musical art. But soon, another fresh idea would be introduced to the world of video games, from the company of SNK, which has made a huge impact on the world of game scores.


The Introduction of a Cultures Rich Tradition

On July 7th, 1993, SNK released “Samurai Spirits” to the arcade public. The fighting game scene was huge, and Samurai Spirits was no doubt, a unique entry in the genre. Not only did it introduce the first fighting game that is weapon-based, but it was also the first fighting game to reach deep into Japanese history. Characters where based from real living persons, most of which where taken from Miyamoto Musashi’s “Go Rin No Sho” (A Book Of Five Rings). For this, SNK needed a special Music score.

At the time, most fighting games where scored with rock/pop melodies that, with no question, aided in the establishment of the games ambiance. SNK improved on this with a choice of rock that resembled heavy Metal more than Japanese Pop-Rock, and even Baroque Classical, much like the score of “Dracula 4”, but still something else was needed. It was then that the form of Japanese traditional music called “Jo-Ha-Kyu” was chosen for the main score.

This was a bold move by a game company, not just because it was atypical of fighting game soundtracks, but also because it was introducing a rich traditional score, with a deep and compelling history. Not only was this functional by its contrast, and its appropriateness to the setting, but its ability to be acknowledged as traditional compositions, make these scores stand out from the rest.



The Music form of Jo-Ha-Kyu

The most common form of traditional music in Japan, it is respected for its discipline and musicianship. It is found during the Tokugawa or Edo period (1600-1867), a time where Japan’s isolation from the rest of the world reached its height. Used as music for both the wealthy and poor, the music form of Jo-Ha-Kyu is applied to many instruments as well as the Japanese ensemble called “Gagaku”, which has strong roots in ancient Chinese music.

The translation of Jo-Ha-Kyu is based mainly on its rhythmic structure, as apposed to its melodic structure. Many, including myself, will argue that this form of music is melodic enough that it is absurd to ignore its importance of defining its musical structures. A direct translation of the term is this:

Jo= “Introduction”

Ha= “Breaking Apart”

Kyu= “Rushing”


This translation does indeed explain the music well. Most compositions, particularly the ones in the Samurai Spirits series, follow this form verbatim. The introduction sets the mood and feeling, only to break away from the initial setting, and rush into a fury of rhythmic interlude that brings the piece to a dramatic and emotional close, often with degradation in rhythmic speed at the final. A perfect example in the Samurai Spirits series is the “Sabare” or “theme” of “Haohmaru” from “Shin Samurai Spirits”. Listen to its structure, and hear the changes illustrated here.

Derived from Chinese and other eastern cultures, traditional Japanese music is a passionate art form that conveys deep emotional, and personal emotions, as well as epic stories told trough the sound of the music itself. Many pieces of Japanese music begin with the “Akuma”, or “Demon” chord. It is made of the most dissonant (a sound that needs to resolve) sound in music called a “Tri-tone”. It is used to ward off evil before a performance. Since the music in the Samurai Spirits series is not actually being performed in a concert setting, we do not hear the Akuma chord in any piece, except for Haohmaru’s theme in the CD version of Shin Samurai Spirits.


Pitches and Scales

As with western music, Japanese music divides the octave (from A to A if you will) into 12 tones. However, unlike most western scales (Major and Minor being the most common) which contain 7 notes, and the octave; Japanese scales are usually “Pentatonic”, a five-note scale, and the octave.

The most common of these scales are called the “Yo”, “In”, and the “Minyo”. These are also called “Hirajoshi”, “Kohjoshi”, and “Shinjoshi”. There is also the "Ryo" (male) and "Ritsu" (female) scales.They have a particularly haunting sound, and are used throughout the time line of the era. The Hirajoshi, and Kohjoshi, can be compared to 2 minor scales in the western music system: Natural, and Melodic, while the Shinjoshi is truly in a category all its own. They are heard most primarily in Samurai Spirits 1, 2, 3 and “Bushidoretsundan” (the RPG). “Amakusa Kourin”(Samurai Spirits 4) uses these three scales, free-form versions of these, and western scales within the traditional pieces, giving it a unique and unusual feel.

At many times during a piece, notes that are not part of the scale will often times be used. These notes out of the scale are called “Non-diatonic” notes, as opposed to “Diatonic” (In the scale) notes. This is part of its distinction from other forms of music. This is not the only form of music in the world that does this, but it was one of the first in recorded history to do this regularly. The introduction to the CD version of Amakusa Kourin is a perfect example of this. The flute seems to dance freely, forming a chaotic and disturbing melody with later resolves at the end of the piece.


OK, that's part one. Part two to follow soon!

Guitar Lesson: R2-D2/Dr. Who FX with some shred.

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This is the first from a series of video lessons designed for both my college and private students. Some are graded, some are extra credit, some are just for fun! In this one I show my students how to copy the old Dr. Who/Flash Gordon computer sounds, as well as my R2-D2 effect I came up with one day. Plus, my students always ask for a bit of shred. Thanks to Shifty for the camera work.

For a bit of fun, I begin and end with a groove. Bonus points if you know the origin of the song I start playing at the beginning!

Jon?

Joel?

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