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Hi Again Mom

24 Jun

Hey, look at that! I went on Anthony Carboni’s show “New Challenger” again, this time to talk about the super-broken and weird Kinect game Steel Battalion. We also talk about the Kinect in general, what it does well, what it does poorly, what it could do in the future.

I wore a nicer shirt this time than I did last time. I’m pretty happy about it. Moral of the story: If you’re going on-camera, wear a nice shirt.

Thanks for having me, Mr. Carboni.

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Three Es Are Better Than Two

3 Jun

This week, I’ll be in Los Angeles for the Electronic Entertainment Expo, a.k.a. E3, a.k.a. Videogameapalooza 2012.

E3 is the massive annual consumer trade show where all the big video game companies and publishers (Microsoft, Nintendo, Sony, Ubisoft, EA, Activision, etc.) announce their big games and more or less set the publishing schedule for the next year.

I’ll be on the ground covering the event for Kotaku, which is going to be wild. Even though we bring all 9 of our North American writers to the show, we’re still a much smaller force than the other big sites (IGN, Gamespot and the like), so we make up for it by being scrappy, personable, and (hopefully) interesting.

I’ll be cranking out a ton of writing over there, so you can either follow the sidebar here with my posts, or follow Kotaku’s E3 Tagpage for all E3 news. I’ll certainly be tweeting a lot from the event, as well.

I have a plane to catch. See you in L.A.!

A Week in the Life of a Kotaku Writer

20 May

Hello, friends. Long time no see! I’ve been busy in my Kotaku-cave (Kotakave?) for the last couple of months, and have been doing so much writing that I haven’t had much time to do any blogging here. Today, that changes, and with what else but… a post about Kotaku!

Despite the fact that I’m writing and publishing more work than ever, I sometimes get the sense that my friends and readers maybe don’t have a firm grasp on what it is… that I do. I can’t blame them—fur flies all over the place at Kotaku, and unless you’re obsessively following the site or working there, I can’t imagine how a single human could keep up. In particular, some people seem to be under the impression that I “get paid to play video games all day,” which is a misconception so hilariously “mis” that I really do want to dispel it altogether.

I thought it might be fun to take you guys on a walkthrough of one week in the life of a Kotaku writer, focusing on last week. Get ready for thrills, chills, and behind-the-scenes excitement! Continue reading

Viva Melodic!

22 Mar

I’ve been having a great time running my “Kotaku Melodic” series every Thursday from 7-9PM. We’re sharing all sorts of music-related stuff, from goofy videos to funny hidden audio easter-eggs to composer interviews to classic-game mixtapes. That image is from a post I did about the baller music of Persona 3. At my most professional, I described myself as “in full-on, hearts-on-fire love with this game.” That about sums it up.

Anyhow, I wanted to point everyone here over to it, since if you head to the Tag Page, you can just read Kotaku Melodic as if it were its own little music/games blog. You can do the same for our other channels, including Sportaku, PC Gaming Lives, the Off-Kilter comedy block, and the comics-oriented Panel Discussion.

So, go read some Kotaku Melodic! We had another fun set of posts tonight, and will be back next week with more.

Read Kotaku Melodic

Music, Lyrics and Song Design

18 Feb

This week over at Kotaku, I wrote a piece called “Gameplay and Story are Exactly Like Music and Lyrics”. It’s my take on the whole “gameplay vs. story” debate, and I believe it’s a useful one.

I’ve been chewing on the idea for a good long time now, and I was happy to finally get it down. It kind of works in tandem with my first Kotaku column from 2011 about “The Rhythm of Play”.  Two entries in my ongoing quest to demonstrate that video games are really just music.

(I’m kidding. Sort of.)

I’ve been happy with the response the piece has gotten–the analogy sure put the entire situation into perspective for me, and I’m glad to hear that it has felt useful for others as well.

I’ve been on the sidelines of the debate for a while now, reading recent pieces like Raph Koster’s “Narrative is not a Game Mechanic” and Mattie Brice’s response, “Narrative is a Game Mechanic”, watching Clint Hocking’s killer 2011 GDC talk on dynamics and “how games mean”, and earlier last year, brokering an enlightening letters debate between Tom Bissell and Simon Ferrari over at Paste.

But I’ve never felt like I had that much to add to the discussion. I understand the finer points of the definitions and analyses that are being thrown around, but most of those distinctions haven’t felt that vital to me. (That’s to me, I should stress. They’re entirely relevant to the discussion itself.) Anyway, this parallel did feel vital, and like something that was easy to understand and articulate.

After the article ran, friendly rabble-rouser Mattie Brice took issue with what she took to be my conflation of (or at least, lack of distinction between) “story” and “narrative.” I’ll point out that in my piece, I really only referred to story, though I did call these types of games “narrative games.” Perhaps I should have just gone with “story-based games.”

While I actually do find the distinction between story and narrative interesting (to think about more than to write about), I don’t believe that distinction was all that useful for the broader analogy I was making. Just as I wasn’t going to spend a paragraph making distinctions about atonal music, and how to find melody and rhythm in the work of, say, Merzbow, I wasn’t going to dedicate space to making distinctions between narrative and story.

I don’t meant to wholly disregard the importance of that distinction, however. As boring as semantics can feel at times, language is important. I just don’t think it’s all that important for the point I was making. But if you do want to make the distinction, I think that the musical analogy has a place for narrative as well as story.

The question is where we want to place narrative on the spectrum. If narrative and story are in fact interchangeable, then it’s a moot point. But I like Brice’s illustration of what narrative is, how while Tetris may not have a story, it certainly has a narrative:

Games are constantly communicating experiences to the player, as when the height of all your pieces in Tetris is juxtaposed against the increasing speed of the falling blocks to create tension and provoke anxiety.

So let’s say narrative is like musical form. The way that a piece is arranged and built; not the music specifically, but its structure. “Gameplay and Story and Narrative are like Music and Lyrics and Song-Form” is a bit of a mouthful, but it feels like an accurate headline.

At any rate. In my years as a composer and songwriter, I’ve come to understand my creative process as a kind of design. The term “song designer” sounds ridiculous, but that’s very much what writing a song is like.

Most of the songs I write start with a melody. I’m strumming guitar, or sitting at the piano, and I sing the melody to myself. It sticks, so I sing it over and over. I play through a chord progression, I figure out a bit of the form, I conceptualize the tune, but it’s all built around this one wordless melody. That melody is the core of my creative idea, the peg upon which I’ll hang the rest of the song.

Sometimes the lyrics I attach to my melodies don’t make sense right away, and I’ll wind up with a completed song with no lyrics. But other times, I know exactly what a song’s lyrics will be–I have a specific story I want to tell, and I build the song’s structure around that story.

No two songs come into existence the same way. It’s an endless puzzle, and an endless design challenge. It’ll never get boring.

I’m excited that I’ll have an opportunity to write more about music and games at Kotaku–I’ve got a regular weekly posting-block every Thursday evening called “Kotaku Melodic”, where I’ll get to write about whatever I want, from terrible menu music to Avishai Cohen. It’s gonna be a blast.

And hey, while I’m at it, maybe I’ll finally find some time to finish designing some of these songs I’ve been working on.

The Year in Review(s)

17 Dec

2011 was a hell of a year. Twelve months ago, I was a fresh-faced blogger who had just taken the reins at Paste magazine, eager to do something new but not quite sure what that would be. Now it’s December again and here I am at Kotaku, looking back at an insane year of writing, debating, critiquing, traveling, and goofing around. I’ve made more friends this year than I made in the ten before it, and have had more fun than any one person ought to have. It’s all a bit difficult to write about, actually.

I wanted to take some time over the next week or so to look back at the year that was. I figured I’d start with game reviews.

It felt like I wrote a lot of reviews this year, but looking back, I see that I wrote fourteen. That’s not as many as most hardcore reviewers, but I hope that by keeping myself to around one review per month, I managed to engineer a quality-over-quantity situation.

Here, in chronological order, are all of the game reviews I wrote in 2011. Continue reading

Play It Again, Samus

3 Dec

I’m thrilled to once again have contributed a feature to the lovely Kill Screen Magazine. This issue’s theme was “The Sound Issue,” so as you can probably imagine, I was excited to come up with something good to write for it. I think I did!

My article is a look at how both games and improvisational music (jazz) devise strict rule-sets to allow for improvisation. I talk about the rules on the bandstand, discuss some of the games I use to help young students learn to improvise, and take a look at composer John Zorn’s free-jazz “game pieces.”

It’s a collection of ideas that I’ve been chewing over for a very long while, and I’m happy with how I articulated them.

As I progressed from high school to undergraduate jazz studies and beyond, I began to see that both forms [videogames and jazz] have a great deal in common. Both play with the boundaries between designer/composer intent and player interpretation, both allow for improvisation and the reimagination of the original goals of the creator. And most of all, both use strict rules to spark endless creativity.

Thanks to my editors Chris Dahlen and Ryan Kuo for working with me so tirelessly on it; now more than ever, I am aware of the benifits of a rigorous editorial process, and working with those two gents was a luxury that few writers are afforded. Special recognition to Chris for coming up with the article’s excellent title.

Props, too, to the issue’s designer Jeremy Borthwick and art directors Keenan Cummings and Jon Troutman–this is the most eye-catching issue of the magazine yet, and Keenan’s illustrations on my article are brilliant! It’s so cool to send off a huge chunk of text and then, a couple months later, see it rendered into a sexy, art-laden thing.

The issue also features work by some of my favorite writers including Matthew Burns, Patrick Klepeck, Dan Bruno, J.P. Grant, Jon Irwin and Gus Mastrapa, as well as a terrific debut article by Sarah Elmaleh.

It can (and should) be ordered from Kill Screen‘s webpage.

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