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By Jessica Brown On 14 Nov, 2017 At 05:01 PM | Categorized As Featured, Interviews, PC Games, ROG News | With 0 Comments

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Penka Kouneva is an award-winning composer who recently scored the NASA exhibit “Heroes and Legends” at the Kennedy Space Center. She has also provided the soundtrack for The Mummy VR game, worked with composer Steve Jablonsky to score the Prince of Persia: Forgotten Sands soundtrack, and has been involved with various other game and film musical scores. Beyond that, she has put out her own albums such as The Woman Astronaut and the recent Rebirth of Id. Overall, Penka has worked on games, films, and other venues which have grossed over $15 Billion combined.

Penka was extremely courteous and was able to answer some of our questions we had for her.

Q: While critics often rave about visuals, graphic quality, and storytelling in video games, I often feel like they overlook another equally important pillar: audio (music and sound). Do you think music gets overlooked sometimes?

Penka Kouneva: Music works the best when it’s perceived subliminally. While engaged in gameplay or watching a film, music should not be too present or too distracting. There are moments where the music really needs to soar for us to experience an emotional payoff. I believe a great, impactful score that fits the aesthetics of the game will always get noticed – consider Bloodborne, Journey, Uncharted scores.

Q: Over the years I’ve come to realize that a game’s soundtrack (or lack thereof) can make or break a game. In fact, there are a few games I think the soundtrack saves from being mediocre. Is this something that you have observed too?

Penka Kouneva: Yes, the music is a very powerful branding tool for the game. Games use music to set themselves apart from the competition. Music makes gameplay emotional and memorable. In every game I’ve ever played, I vividly remember its music, visual style and how the game made me feel playing it.

Q: When coming up with a musical score for a video game, what helps you find your inspiration to come up with appropriate themes?

Penka Kouneva: Conceptual conversations with the developers about their ideas. The vision of the developers. The characters and environments. The past history of the franchise. Music that my collaborators love. Challenges they have experienced in game development. The storytelling, the visual style, the maps. My job is to create a sonic world which the story will inhabit.

Q: I’ve wondered in the past if it would be harder to create a soundtrack for a game or movie vs. coming up with something completely original (such as a personal album)?

Penka Kouneva: When I compose a soundtrack, I collaborate with another artist – with their vision, their ideas and expectations. My music breathes life into their story. I love it! When I write my passion CDs, I work with my own original stories. Rebirth of Id is my third artist album (after The Woman Astronaut and A Warrior’s Odyssey). I returned to my formative inspirations (classical orchestral music and Minimalism) and blended them with innovative electronic arrangements. The album has a unique structure – four mini-soundtracks, each telling its own story. These artist CDs are my own private laboratory where I experiment with new sounds. They make me a better composer! The result is fantastic – these albums lead to bigger and better scoring jobs. The Woman Astronaut lead to scoring the $30 million NASA exhibit Heroes and Legends at the Kennedy Space Center that will live on for decades…

Q: Do you ever find yourself stuck with “composer’s block?”, and if so, how do you cope with it and overcome it?

Penka Kouneva: Yes, it does happen. I deal with it in three steps: A./ I remove myself from the aggravation – usually the computer – and go for a walk to clear my head. B./ I listen to music to inspire me for this project. Sometimes I listen some of my most favorite music that brings me to tears. And C./ is the most personal approach and takes willpower to do – I do a visualization: I remember a moment in time when I felt elated to be a composer (a concert of my music, or praise, or getting an award). I remember how it felt to be a composer at that happy moment. Then, with renewed passion about composing I return to the project where I got stuck. I keep listening to other music and ideas until some idea feels right and I push forward. I’m always on a deadline so I can’t afford to waste too much time in “writer’s block”.

Q: Have you ever come up with a piece that you personally felt was really great, but just didn’t fit the overall mood or theme of what you needed it for? If so, what do you do with “discarded” pieces?

Penka Kouneva: Oh, yes, very much so. If the music is great but just not fitting with the visual media, I write a new piece for my client that they like and eventually release my own music on my passion CDs.

Q: What can you tell us about any upcoming projects you may be working on?

Penka Kouneva: I’m proud of The Mummy VR game available at the IMAX VR Theaters and some arcades. Check out also a terrific supernatural horror feature Devil’s Whisper which tells the story of the 16-year old Alejandro. It’s a beautifully produced and richly layered film about fighting demonic forces, coming of age, courage and perseverance. (Sony Pictures released it on DVD and VOD in November). Two other features are coming out soon – Paul Salamoff’s Sci-Fi thriller Encounter premiering at the Berlin Film Festival, and the drama feature, Blue. If you visit Orlando, FL don’t miss the Kennedy Space Center and their newest attraction Heroes and Legends which I scored.

Q: When you aren’t directly involved in the musical space, what else do you like to get involved with? Do you have any other passions?

Penka Kouneva: I have a family and 11-year-old daughter, and she keeps me busy. I love the outdoors and we hike a lot on the weekends. I am extremely passionate about mentoring the younger generation of composers, so I help a lot of young composers. I love reading (books and articles online), art, and visiting with friends.

Q: I have to ask: Do you play through all of the games that you come up with soundtracks for?

Penka Kouneva: Yes, absolutely. We are a family of big gamers. Right now I am playing COD: WWII and yes, I have played all the games I’ve scored. I wanted to feel how my music works in gameplay. My kid plays mobile games all the time. I pinch myself every day because I’m living my dream. I wish for my readers to follow their dreams!

 

Thank you again for doing this interview.

By Jessica Brown On 11 Nov, 2017 At 04:57 PM | Categorized As Company Spotlight, Featured, Interviews, PC Games, Previews, ROG Tech | With 0 Comments

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Haste is a software and infrastructure designed to improve gamers’ connections to the Internet by reducing jitter and packet loss while lowering ping to fantastic levels. In a nutshell, this is achieved through a proprietary software and a new infrastructure they have put in place with participating game servers, but this new service which is in its infancy has its sights set much higher.

Thankfully, Haste Founder and CEO Adam Toll was happy to answer some of our questions about this new service!

Q: “Haste” seems to be all about improving ping while reducing packet loss and jitter to overall improve a user’s connection to a game. Is there any information you can give us about how this is attained and what results you can expect on average?

Adam Toll: Haste was designed specifically to reduce latency in gaming by routing game traffic as directly and efficiently as possible. To do this, we engineered a cutting-edge network that employs fiber optic lines, switches and servers in key locations, including adjacent to the game servers.

Running on top of that, we have our proprietary network software which includes everything from proprietary route optimization algorithms to redundant pathing, so there’s no single point of failure. Finally, we have the software that gamers install on their game machines.

Because of the nature of the internet, results vary widely based on variables including location, hardware, ISP, etc., but we often see a reduction in ping and an elimination of packet loss and jitter.

The best thing is for gamers to just try Haste for themselves. We offer a free 14-day trial and diagnostic tools like Haste Check, so gamers can see exactly how Haste will impact their network performance.

Q: Currently it looks like Haste is focused on League of Legends, Overwatch, and CS:GO. What other titles do you expect to expand support for over the next year or so?

Adam Toll: Right, we spent most of this year building out our platform while in beta. We launched with Overwatch and League of Legends and just added CS:GO.

We’re now aggressively rolling out support for the top game titles and plan to add at least half a dozen games over the next two months, including such titles as PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, Fortnite, Dota 2, World of Tanks and Paladins.

Next year we’ll continue to add support for all the major titles.

Q: Are there any plans to expand Haste support in some way over to popular gaming consoles in order to improve the player’s connection in competitive titles?

Adam Toll: Absolutely, we are starting to work with both ISPs and hardware manufacturers towards solutions that will encompass any device connected to the internet. So not just console, but mobile as well.  With Haste embedded in an ISP’s infrastructure, and/or with a Haste-enabled Wi-Fi router at home, we can optimize traffic from any device.

Q: While Haste seems like it would really benefit the titles it currently focuses on, what about improving and stabilizing connections to platforms like Steam, to improve both network stability during Steam online gaming as well as perhaps improving overall download speeds? Would this be possible in the future?

Adam Toll: Apart from a few Valve titles, most of the games on Steam are hosted independently on the game companies’ servers versus a universal Steam server (Author’s note: I didn’t know that!).  As such, Haste will continue to roll out support for more titles with the end goal of supporting almost every game.  

While we’re currently focused on optimizing the internet for gaming, it is possible for Haste to improve download speed and might be something we focus on in the future.

Q: As a related question, what about connections to popular streaming sites or upload servers, namely to Twitch or YouTube/YT Gaming. Packet loss can have a terrible effect on online game streaming, so I wonder if Haste could one day help in that area too?

Adam Toll: Yes, in the future, we believe Haste might be able to optimize streaming video in the same way we’re optimizing gaming now. This would further benefit streamers and their fans by providing faster, smoother connections to streaming content.

Q: And finally, to sum up, a little, do you see Haste being used outside of a game-to-user connection? Perhaps with online streaming or other related activities?

Adam Toll: Absolutely.  While we’re 100% focused today on fighting lag in gaming, we see a future where Haste is optimizing the internet for any number of real-time applications. This could include streaming, VOIP communications, networked VR and many other applications.

 

It certainly sounds like Haste has some great plans for the future! Right now, they are running a free 14-day trial of their software, so if you’re curious to see how it may help you with its currently-supported games, be sure to give it a try!

By Jessica Brown On 1 Nov, 2017 At 06:14 PM | Categorized As Featured, Interviews, Videos | With 0 Comments

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Toby Turner (a.k.a. “TobyGames” and “Tobuscus”) is an all-around awesome and hilarious YouTube gamer with about 15 million subscribers and 3.7 billion views spread over his three channels.

Toby was kind to let us pick his brain on a few different topics and we are delighted to share the results with you!

Q: When it comes to doing YouTube videos (or streaming, for that matter), everyone has a different story about how they got into it. I think this would be a good place to start. What got you into the idea of becoming a “YouTube gamer?”

Toby: When I first moved to LA, I pretty much moved in immediately with a woman I met at the first party I went to.  We got along super well, but she was NOT a gamer – and playing video games was a thing I’d do by myself – instead of us spending quality time together – so it had that negative connotation.  When I was first able to monetize gaming videos, I realized if I really committed to making content, I could be like, “Hey, this is my job now. Gotta do it!”  It’s awesome.

Q: In the pioneering days of doing Let’s Plays and other similar content it was a bit easier to get a channel to take off. Now, with the number of people trying to “make it big” it’s considerably harder. What do you think has contributed to your channels being rather successful?

Toby: I think consistency is much more important than quality.  It’s literally a quantity over quality thing!  It’s important to keep the quality as high as you can – which is much easier now, with the editing programs sucking exponentially less than they did when I was starting out.  It blows my mind that I can make edits in Premiere and watch them without having to re-render the entire episode.  It worked like that in Final Cut Pro 7 sometimes, but only if you converted everything to a massive gigantor ProRes file (which would take forever). So I opted to just record a month’s worth of 10 minutes episodes in like 6 hours, and edit them all at once. I timed myself once and I actually edited, titled, and queued 30 episodes to export in 30 minutes.  Feels good.

Q: One of the things that strikes me the most about your channel is the level of humor and positive attitude that you bring to gaming. Have you ever played something that challenged this attitude and made it harder to keep up?

Toby: Hey, thanks!  My positive attitude quickly turns to rage at a certain threshold – like if a level seems impossible, or if the PC bluescreens, but I’d usually just end up posting those episodes, and people seem to really resonate with my frustration.  When I realized that, I started making rants.  Very cathartic.  Does that answer the question?  No?  SOONN OF A *throws headset*

Q: From a technical line of thinking, I know some up-and-coming YouTubers overthink a lot of things, spending perhaps too much time editing videos or producing them at way higher quality than they need to be (e.g. 4K60 for an indie game). Do you have any advice for these types of people, based on your experiences? What do you find that’s worth focusing on versus what ultimately won’t matter?

Toby: I’m a big fan of making my audio not suck.  I spent a lot of time figuring out how to make it sound good without increasing my workload a lot.  I think if you find the right compressor settings for your voice (forums help with that a lot), and you’re able to capture your full range of vocal audio without clipping, then you can just focus on having fun making the content.  I think that’s the most important aspect – if you’re having fun, people pick up on that.  As far as over-editing, on my Tobuscus content, I spend a lot more time on the small details that I don’t think many people necessarily pick up on.  I’m not sure if that helps me, but I like that I can go back and watch my older stuff and still love it because I polished the hell out of it.  All you gotta do is sacrifice your social life!

Q: I love how you’ve divided your “brand” so to speak into your gaming channel, your music channel, and your more personal VLOG channel. However, for those newer and less established in these areas, would you recommend them to follow a similar path or keep their content streamlined into one channel?

Toby: I’m not sure if I would recommend the multiple channel path these days.  It’s cool if the other channel takes like no time at all to maintain (one-take vlogs!).  Now that editing programs are improving, it’d be cool to just focus on one channel, and whether it’s a vlog or song or game episode, just make it awesome.  PewDiePie and Markiplier do a great job with that.

Q: Your IndieGoGo campaign was a pretty solid success. What inspired this upcoming game of yours and what do you see in the future in terms of similar projects?

Toby: The game we’re putting out, hilariously, is actually just the PC version of the game we made with the IndieGoGo.  It just took a lot, lot longer than I ever would’ve wanted.  We’re also going to release it next year on consoles (er.. that’s the plan anyway – fingers crossed!).

Q: If you had to pick one or two games that you think are underappreciated and you wish more people knew about, what would they be?

Toby: Good sweet lord Ultima Online of course.  That was the greatest game I’ve ever played.  Open world MMO, where you could kill anyone and take their stuff.  There were tons of bugs you could exploit, which I think made the game exponentially cooler.  I have so many stories from that game… but they broke it with an expansion I think, and they made it possible to bind items to your character so you’d hang onto them after dying.  Pffhshh!  You could buy these awesome houses and place them wherever you wanted, and people could actually steal your house key out of your backpack if you weren’t careful and rob your house. If you needed help in the game, these awesome looking Game Masters would teleport to you, and they had these amazing unique wizard robes, and they’d roleplay.  I want more of that.

Q: What’s your absolute favorite game (or games) of all time?

Toby: Ultima Online.  Subspace was awesome too, from the 90s.  Their motto was, “Meet people from all over the world, and then kill them.”  You can still play that one, but they got rid of the best zones.  Chaos East represent.

Q: You’re certainly a person of many talents with a lot going on. How do you keep it all together without going crazy or losing interest in any one thing?

Toby: I lose interest in what I’m working on if I don’t sprint through and make it all from start to finish.  As soon as I come up with a joke that I think is hilarious, if I’m not able to make something out of it right away, I usually just put it in a word document and forget about it for the rest of time.  All of my best everything has never been released.

Q: If you had to give advice for up-and-coming comedians, game designers, or YouTubers/streamers, what would you tell them?

Toby: Learn to do everything.  Learn to edit.  Learn Photoshop.  Watch After Effects tutorials at Videocopilot.net.  Stay consistent.  Don’t hire your friends – but do hire people that you think would make a good friend.

Q: Is there anything new and exciting that you see coming in the future for you that you’d love to share with us?

Toby: I’m really excited about making more original songs.  I made a song for a sponsorship this month, called SPONSORED SONG.  I forgot how much I love doing that stuff.  Definitely going to make more Literal Trailers as well – it’s a fun challenge to try to keep them fresh, especially after making what… 40 of them?  Good lord.  Oh, also – I wrote a book in my Tobuscus Adventures world, and I’ve never done that before.  Its sort of a Diary of a Wimpy Kid meets Zombie Apocalypse, for young adults.  I actually like it enough that I can read it all the way through and I don’t feel like I want to change any of it, which I didn’t expect.  Books are long.  Lotta words in books.  I’m looking for a publisher for that now who will allow me to retain my IP rights – hopefully, that’ll come together next year!  Woo.

Here is a TobyGames video for you to check out.

By Jessica Brown On 30 Oct, 2017 At 01:32 PM | Categorized As Featured, Interviews, PC Games, ROG News, ROG Tech | With 0 Comments

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Cloud-based gaming is an idea that has been tossed around for a little while now, but Parsec is hoping to make low-latency, high-quality gaming a reality on almost any device you own. Parsec’s customized software will allow you to connect to your own PC and stream your library of games to almost anything while also allowing you to share your own PC for this purpose with friends and family. Yet, beyond this, it also allows you to build your own “virtual computer” by buying usage hours on a supercomputer owned by either Amazon or Paperspace and thus have a high-end gaming experience without having to own a high-end PC.

Is it too good to be true? How does it all come together?

Parsec’s CEO Benjy Boxer was kind enough to answer some of my questions on this and more!

Q: Whenever I hear bold statements about how someone’s cloud-gaming platform will be able to rival an in-home gaming PC experience I admittedly become a bit skeptical. What is it that makes Parsec different in this space that would make this promise more able to be fulfilled?

Benjy Boxer: At Parsec, we don’t actually believe that our software can rival your in-home gaming experience. However, our goal is to provide casual gamers (those who spend less than 8 hours a week gaming) with the ability to experience PC gaming without having to invest in expensive hardware. You can save substantial money playing this way and depending on your games and perception to lag, not feel much of a difference versus a PC at home.

Some gamers may not notice a significant difference when using Parsec, but that depends on your game and distance from the cloud machine. We feel very strongly that we have made the right decisions to deliver the lowest latency possible for streaming games over the internet – we built our own networking protocol to reduce latency further. With that being said, Parsec is not like other cloud gaming companies. We offer a streaming software and platform that can be used on any gaming PC. So if you have your gaming PC at home, you can remotely access it. Perhaps more importantly, you can invite friends to co-play games or watch you play games for virtual hangouts and reliving the old days of couch gaming. Parsec is great for people who have gaming PCs because it gives them the power to do new things like co-play.

Q: NVIDIA has been doing something similar with GeForce now for a little bit, but their PC/Mac pricing scheme seems a bit aggressive. Also, they seem to have two distinct platforms, one being for computers and the other for their NVIDIA Shield. Did this inspire your vision with Parsec, making it more universal for users?

Benjy Boxer: We were inspired to build Parsec based on this blog post. It gave us the idea that it may actually be possible to stream games with low enough latency if you were to build software specifically for that purpose. We were not seeking to build a cloud gaming product, and we don’t think Parsec is a cloud gaming product like Geforce Now. We think of Parsec as a platform for accessing your games and playing games with your friends. Now, if you don’t have a gaming PC, you can rent one from one of our providers (AWS and Paperspace) and then connect to it via Parsec. But you can also connect to your home PC using Parsec or invite friends to connect and play games with you.

 

Q: When it comes to streaming games, even over a local network, input lag is a real concern. You already have whatever input lag exists between your controller/keyboard and your display, and this gets compounded by transmitting over a network. What would the average input lag be playing a game through Parsec and, if you can share this, what is it that keeps it as low as possible?

Benjy Boxer: Here’s some testing we’ve done:

From our testing, Parsec does not add more than one frame of lag on top of the lag the game engine already adds when it’s running on the computer. There will also be lag introduced by the ping between two machines. We’ve worked really hard to reduce our latency and have built custom networking code and our own capture, encode, decode, render pipeline.

Q: To follow up with the previous question, obviously a little input lag is just fine and most gamers won’t notice it. However, for those competitive gamers playing very fast-paced games, will Parsec be a viable option or will they need to stick to the more traditional, in-home route of gaming?

Benjy Boxer: We have lots of people winning games on PUBG, Overwatch, and other shooting games. That being said, I would assume that competitive gamers will never stream from a remote device – every millisecond matters. It’s like many professional musicians will never switch to Spotify because the minute sound differences matter, but for the casual gamer, it’s probably not going to be noticeable just like the casual listener to music is totally cool with streaming music.

Q: There’s no question that, despite what marketing and salespeople would like us to believe, 1080p is still the mainstream video format. However, with more people moving up to 1440p or 4K displays, does Parsec have a long-term plan to eventually supporting 1440p/4K gaming for those with the network to handle it?

Benjy Boxer: We already support 1440p at whatever refresh rate you want. We actually support up to 2k. It just takes a lot more bandwidth and can add latency to the encoder, which is why we mostly advertise 1080p. We’ll be able to push 4K when we add support for the h.265 codec.

Q: To follow up with Question 5, HDR is another thing that some pioneering gamers will care about (or at least games that support a 10-bit color space). Admittedly, only a few do this right now, but I imagine this will continue to change as time goes on. Will Parsec be able to handle rendering with higher color gamuts and HDR’s enhanced contrast? If not at 4K, perhaps at least HDR/wide-color at a scaled down 1080p?

Benjy Boxer: This isn’t something that we’re focused on right now. Generally speaking, more data means higher bandwidth requirements and higher strain on encoders and decoders. As the technology becomes viable and available to lots of people, we’ll work on making it possible. But it’s sort of a fight between codecs (h.264, h.265, v10) and bandwidth availability (up and down bandwidth).

Q: Personally, I’m someone that has a very high-end rig (i7 7700K, 32GB DDR4 3000, NVME SSD, GTX 1080 Ti), but the prospect of being able to game on any device is still alluring to me. Will there be any enthusiast options for gamers that don’t want to compromise on quality?

Benjy Boxer: Well, we really hope that you are able to use Parsec today from home and don’t feel like too much of the quality is lost when you access your gaming rig on another device or outside your home. We can’t claim it will be the same as sitting in front of that rig, but we’re working really hard to make it as close as possible if you have the right networking setup. Also, we hope you find value in inviting a friend watching you play or opting to co-op offline games, like Cuphead, with a friend online.

Q: Twitch, YouTube Gaming, and YouTube itself are very popular for Let’s Players and streamers. Obviously, streaming and recording footage at 1080p60 is a pretty demanding task for even a high-end computer, however people love sharing their gameplay online. Will Parsec have any features to allow this?

Benjy Boxer: Actually, a few streamers are doing this already. They get value in being able to play the game on the cloud machine, capture the Parsec window, and push that video directly up to Twitch from their local set up. This reduces tons of strain on the local gaming PC and lets the streamer use the local hardware for streaming and the cloud hardware for gaming. Here’s an example.

Q: As a follow-up to that, what about allowing these higher-end CPUs and GPUs to do some video encoding, for those wanting to put videos together for YouTube. Again, that’s a demanding and time-consuming task and one that people might like to offload onto a cloud system, even if they have a high end PC at home (as this would free it up to do other tasks, such as gaming!). Have you considered this?

Benjy Boxer: We will support that, and I think some streamers have figured out how to do that already. We’re going to release a video of streaming PUBG from a Raspberry Pi connected to a Parsec gaming rig in AWS. The only thing stopping us right now is that we don’t pass the computer’s camera and pass that data to the cloud machine. You need that to be a full streaming solution without requiring local hardware.

 

Thank you again for doing this interview.

No GravatarI recently got the chance to speak with composer Anthony Willis about his work in cinema as well as discuss his work on the Knack 2 soundtrack. Please take a look below.

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JB: How did you first get into composing? Was there any specific thing that inspired you?

AW: I actually grew up singing music as a chorister of St. George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle in England, which was a very inspiring time in my life. Windsor Castle is a popular residence for the British Royal Family, and so I was constantly surrounded by some of the world’s greatest choral music.

That experience at Windsor taught me to understand how music in built, and definitely instilled the desire to write my own music! That early training has been of immense value to my life as a composer.

 

JB:  Who are some of your influences as a composer?

AW: There are probably many more than I even realise..I suppose that potentially anything and everything that’s I’ve loved hearing has rubbed off in me in some way..and I have a pretty broad taste for what I like! Alongside my classical background, I’ve always been wowed by artists like Bjork, Sigur Ross, Radiohead, and then of course there’s Eminem.. In terms of film music, I grew up loving the scores of my childhood, Hans Zimmer’s The Lion King and Gladiator. James Horner’s American TaleBraveheart and Titanic. Patrick Doyle’s Henry V & Basil Poledouris’s Free Willy,  Harry Gregson Williams & John Powells Shrek- It seems obvious, but the biggest influencer of a given score is the story for which it’s created. No matter our desires as a composers, we must search to find the best way to bring that to life.

 

JB:  You have composed music for a wide variety of movies, including Despicable Me 2, Rio 2, How to Train Your Dragon 2, as well as The Martian, The Birth of a Nation, and Jason Bourne just to name a few. These are very different films requiring a very different style, so how do you find that different sound needed for each film? Where do you begin the process of composing?

AW: I think most composers really enjoy the variety that each project brings. It’s a chance to turn our hand to something that calls for different musical colours and devices, and the best composers are able to bind these together for each project with a consistent dramatic and musical instinct.

In the case of some of the films you’ve mentioned, because they are sequels, a lot of my involvement has been supporting the lead composer in creating variations and additional material, helping them to produce each cue in the score to the best standard possible. While the overall tone has been established, most sequels will introduce an exciting new element and or characters to the story. And so the challenge is to bring something fresh to the score to support those new elements musically, while making sure that it it feels part of the whole.

Finding the right tone for a new project is always a challenge, and that moment in the film’s creation is a very definitive one. In my experience the director has always had a critical role in that process, helping to steer the score towards it’s target. As a starting point, I’ve always been taught that a great tune, and an interesting set of chords to go with it, is the most impactful way to reach your audience.

 

JB:  What are some of your favourite films to compose for?

AW: I’ve really loved the experiences I’ve had in animation and adventure films. They allow you to really wear your heart on your sleeve in supporting the emotions of the film. The sky is very much the limit. I also love period dramas. They often have such important and timeless messages, and an intriguing sense of location. From a musical point of view, they have a wonderful way of focusing you stylistically, and the results can be very pure and honest.

 

JB:  What is a movie series you would love to work on?

AW: I absolutely love fantasy, adventure and magic, and so I’d love to compose on something like the Chronicles of Narnia. Those stories were so inspiring to me when I was growing up, and as a composer, the musical and dramatic opportunities are as good as they come.

I would also love to score more contemporary dramas. These can offer the opportunity to be quite musically minimal, but incredibly focused emotionally. I saw Taylor Sheridan’s Wind River at Sundance last year and was blown away by his command of that genre.

 

JB:  Moving to your work on Knack 2, I have to ask what interested you in this project?

AW: I was definitely looking for an opportunity to compose on a video game! Knack presented such a great wealth of musical possibilities that it seemed like the perfect project to enter the gaming world. There are adventures, heroics, great locations and environments, mystery.. the kitchen sink!

The developers were looking for a new sound for this second installment, something more akin to an animated movie experience, and so I was delighted to come on board.

 

JB:  How have you found working on composing for video games to be? Its obviously very different from movies, but what has stood out to you the most?

AW; In the case of Knack 2 specifically, the needs of the ‘in game’ music itself, were quite different to a typical film score. The music’s function is largely designed to energize the player, while adapting to their environment as they progress through the levels. The music is therefore very modular in design, there’s no definitive arrangement or sequence in which the music will unfold, and not really an opportunity for extended melodies. However, I really enjoyed this more minimal and percussive approach, which I think brought a more contemporary flare to the score.

That said, in many ways writing the music to Knack 2 was very similar to an animated movie, especially in the creation of themes and scoring of cinematic sequences.

Overall, you want to approach every varying project with your best work, which hopefully will resonate with an audience. In most games, there are upwards of 10 hours of game play experience, and so that offers an even greater opportunity for the audience, in this case player, to interact with the score. There’s a huge support for Video Game music by the gaming community, and perhaps even more pressure to live up to their expectations!

 

JB:  What goes into your process specifically for how you approached the video game music? Any specific influences that you wanted to pay tribute to?

AW: The music team and I started by trying to find some strong musical themes to support Knack and his world. I tend to write themes at the piano, in my head on a walk, or even at the sequencer itself, it depends very much on the situation. It’s so helpful to have these themes established as I approach the cinematic and game play cues. I’ll then try to find the best possible structure and appropriate arrangement for each moment in the game. It’s hard to pin down specific influences as it all gets put in the washing machine, but I grew up loving the music for Zelda, the use of themes, and the way the music supports the mystery and problem solving throughout the game. The Knack 2 score also has a definite nod in places to the classic adventure feel of John Barry.

 

JB:  What are some other video games you would like to work on in terms of composing?

AW: There is such a wealth of video games being developed at the moment we live in an amazing time of innovation. Being able to wake up every day and have a game to work on is a real privilege. I would love to lend my hand to a VR experience, with a lot of space to draw the player in and immerse them emotionally. I would love to work on something like Ori and the Blind Forest. The developers did such an amazing job, together with their composer Gareth Coker, at bringing that world to life. So it might have to be Ori’s distant cousin for me!

 

JB:  Did you enjoy the experience of working on Knack 2?

AW: Absolutely! Like any project it had it’s challenges, but I’m so proud to be attached to the game, and to have been able to make a musical contribution to support Knack. I’d like to make special mention of my producers at Sony Playstation, Peter Scaturro and Keith Leary, who brought me on to the project, expertly guided me through the process, and supported my vision for the score. The whole music team at Playstation and JStudio were wonderful collaborators.

 

JB:  Is there anything you would like to say to the readers of Real Otaku Gamer?

AW: Well first of all, thank you for reading and for taking an interest in the Knack 2 score!

If you’d like to hear the score, the full album is available on the PlayStation Network- and will soon be available on itunes!

 

There are some preview tracks available here

 

JB: Thank you again

 

 

By Jonathan Balofsky On 8 Sep, 2017 At 02:49 PM | Categorized As Editorials, Featured, Interviews, PC Games, ROG News | With 0 Comments

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I recently had a chance to speak with Kyle Rebel, the lead developer of the upcoming Skyrim mod, Skyblivion. SKyblivion is a mod that will remake Elder Scrolls Oblivion within the Skyrim engine.

Take a look below and enjoy.

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JB: How did this project come about? Obviously modding Elder Scrolls games has always been a big thing, but where did the idea of bringing Oblivion to Skyrim’s engine originate?

 

KR: It started out as a silly hobby project between Zilav and Monocleus (Ormin in the past) tha was never really supposed to turn into anything, After they posted their first results people like myself showed interest and later on I took the lead in making sure we got organized and recruited the people necessary to turn this idea into something concrete. Our team now consists out of some of the most talented modders found in the TES community. Because of this we are able to do things not seen in mods up until this point such as creatures with custom skeletons, animations and behaviors. Real spear combat mechanics (there exist some amateur mods for this but they dont add actual spear into the game).  On the graphics side for example we are able to create better looking trees and distant details than Bethesda ever could.

 

 

JB:  How has Bethesda’s reaction been to the project? Has there been any backlash? Any support?

 

KR: They have mentioned the TESR projects in the past but nothing major. We appreciate the worlds Bethesda build and for this reason we will require our users to own legitimate copies of the original games in order to install our projects.

 

JB: What has the fan reaction been to the project over the years?

 

KR: Reactions have been wonderful for the most part. There are complaints about how the project takes too long and how we are only releasing videos to make a name for ourselves and feed some nostalgia hype train but people need to understand we are not a professional game developer. Everyone on the project including myself works on this in their free time and doesn’t get a dime for the work they put into it.

For this reason we need to make those videos to let people know the project is still going strong and that as long as it is in development we can use all the help we can get to realize this dream as fast as possible.

 

JB:  Did the arrival of Skyrim Special Edition throw anything off? If so, how?

 

KR: Not at all, it did tear the modding community apart to some extent but other than that nothing has changed. We plan to release Skyblivion for both versions of Skyrim to make sure as many people as possible will be able to play it. Also SkyrimSE has some handy improvements we can utilize to further enhance the experience.

 

JB:  What are some of the big challenges with this project? Both in terms of programming, design, and resources as well other issues more external.

 

KR: Definitely the production and organization of any and all aspects of the mod.

Keeping track of all our developers and dealing with people going inactive is a big part of my job and I can tell you that its pretty exhausting and takes up a big chunk of my time on the project. We have several department leads who take care of 3D (devided in creatures, weapons, armors, misc props and enviormental assets) 2D, Level design, Music, Navmeshing, UI development, Textures, Mechanics etc. These department leads have to keep track of the people within their respected teams and help/guide them where needed. We are fortunate to have some very experienced/professional people on our team whoes main job it is to assure the content people creature are up to snuff.

Lastly we have the review stage which is time consuming. When someone finishes his/her assets or area in-game, a department lead or myself will have to go over what they did and see if there is room for improvement before we can call it ”finished” and get it ready to be merged.

 

JB:  Will there be any use of Skyrim assets or will the project be avoiding that?

 

KR:  Our aim is to recreate Cyrodiil and Most of Skyrims assets don’t fit into the province that well. We are re-using some simple assets like the rock and mountain meshes and some shrubs here and there but for the most part we are working with our own custom assets to ensure the world looks as vibrant as one would expect from the Imperial province.

 

JB: Bethesda recently revealed creation club. Will Skyblivion be part of that?

 

KR: No, this video will tell you everything you need to know: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f89d0fWCOsM

 

JB: Has the skyblivion team been working with the Skywind team at all? Shared resources/developers and such?

 

KR: Yes, we try to share as many assets and knowledge as we can. This goes for Beyond Skyrim too.

 

JB:  Has there been any temptation to change things in any way? I don’t mean bug fixes but rather serious changes.

 

KR: Most certainly, Cyrodiil’s landscape for instance will be seriously enhanced and overhauled. Weapons and armor sets are also getting a more realistic overhaul. Also we are adding back cut content from the game and repairing some areas that can be found in the lore but are left out in the game like the city of Sutch.

 

JB:  Do you foresee this mod getting a modding scene of its own in the future?

 

KR:  I hope so, unfortunately I myself (and many others) am so close to the development of the mod that I won’t be able to get that ”first time playing” experience that all ours users will be able to enjoy. I hope some modders will go nuts with our work and in turn will give me something new and exciting to check out 😉

 

JB:  How do you deal with the fan demands regarding the project?

 

KR: Generally we like to stick to our own plans, we are very well acquainted with the lore and backstory of Cyrodiil. At the end of the day everyone has an opinion and trying to make compromises based on fan demands would turn into an endless cycle or revisiting semi completed tasks.

That said we do listen to feedback given to us an n occasion make changes based off of it.

 

JB: Is there a current estimate for when the project will be done?

KR: Our personal goal is late 2018 but this is nothing more than an internal goal set in the prime of our development cycle. In order to make this goal come true we will need more help from new volunteers.

 

JB: Is there any concern about expectations for the project?

KR: Not at all, I think people will be blown away by the project when it is released.

 

JB: What will be next for the team after Skyblivion is complete? Perhaps remakes of the first two games?

KR: A loooooong break from modding. This project has been fun but it has been taking up too much of my time for the past 2 years. I am dedicated to bringing TES fans this remake ASAP but after it is released I think myself and many others from the team will take a well earned break and focus on our careers and our own futures for a change.

 

JB: Do you have anything you would like to say to the readers of Real Otaku Gamer?

KR: The same thing I say to all the other Skyblivion supporters, thank you all for the continuing support, kind words and feedback you have provided us with over the course of the development of Skyblivion. We wouldn’t be here without you.

 

We thank you for doing this interview.

 

 

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If you would like to know more about Skyblivion, you can visit their website here, or visit their twitter account @TESRSkyblivion      , Kyle can be found on twitter   @Rebelzize

No GravatarI recently had the chance to talk with one of the best comic creators working in the industry right now, Thom Zahler. We discussed his comics, his influences and his advice for new creators. have a read below.

 

 

 

 

 

JB: What were some of your favourite comics growing up?

TZ: I cut my teeth on Superman and the Justice League books. Especially when I was younger, the DC stories were 1-3 part stories that ended, which was kinder when you don’t have any control over when you buy your next book. Firestorm became my favorite because that was the first #1 I ever bought. In the world before reboots and constant renumbering, getting a #1 was special. Oddly, Firestorm was a very Marvel-style character.

 

JB: Who were your favourite artists and writers? Who had the most influence on you?

TZ: As a kid, Curt Swan and Kurt Schaffenberger. Curt drew Superman and he was everywhere. Kurt drew so slick and so perfect, his stuff was just gorgeous. Go back and find his stuff. Such a strong and smooth line, and he made simple look good. He wasn’t designed for everything, but his Shazam stuff was transcendent. And Perez took it to another level for me.

 

JB: You went to the Kubert school, what was that experience like?

TZ: I always describe it as boot camp for artists. We had two classes a day, five days a week. I did 100 assignments before I went home for Thanksgiving. Just the volume of work gets you better. I learned a bunch of new methods and materials, grew so much as an artist, and forged some of my closest friendships.

 

Ultimately, I appreciate that Joe was teaching us to be Will Eisner. I can create a book, top to bottom. It gives me a flexibility to produce books that are important to me. I don’t know how much I appreciated it when I was in school, but I’m so grateful for it now.

 

 

JB: Can you describe some of the major influences on Love and Capes?

 

TZ: Darwyn Cooke, Bruce Timm and the DC Animated art style were huge for the look of the book. A cartoony style was something I fought for a long time, but when I got on the right book and I started doing it, I realized it was my wheelhouse. All that time trying to draw like Curt Swan or George Perez and apparently my art brain doesn’t work that way. But cartoony animated stuff, that’s my jam.

 

Writing wise, Berke Brethed’s Bloom County was a giant influence. It may not seem like it, but Love and Capes had a four panel beat structure. Essentially, it was Bloom County comic strip style jokes stitched together. It was also a comedic metronome for me.

 

The banter comes from my love of TV and sitcoms. Aaron Sorkin, Friends, How I Met Your Mother all loomed large in my head. When writing. It’s hard, because words take room and you have to structure them so the cadence is right there, as opposed to delivered by an actor. But I thought I did well with it.

 

JB:  You mention in your books, some of your influences, and how you put one of your pre-professional creations into the comic. At what point did it hit you that you are a professional comic creator? That moment where you felt a sense of wow at the situation. Do you ever stop feeling like a fan, or do you just appreciate being a fan in new ways?

TZ: That’s a great question! I’m not sure. I felt like a professional artist for years, being a graphic designer for an ad agency. But feeling like I was a full-fledged cartoonist, whatever that means, probably not until IDW picked up Love and Capes. Self-publishing was awesome, but when someone else is putting their money into publishing your work, that’s a different level. And it’s been iterative. IDW made the trades, then started publishing new issues, and then hired me on My Little Pony which was my first non-creator owned writing gig. Ultimate Spider-Man was my first animated TV gig. There’s always another rung on the ladder.

 

I don’t think I’ll ever feel comfortable. But I think that keeps me hungry and growing.

 

JB:  Have you ever considered going back to Love and Capes? Maybe a spinoff featuring Charlotte?

 

TZ: I think about it all the time. Love and Capes is very special to me, but that’s also why it’s so hard to return to. The birth of their child was the planned ending for the series, and I really felt like I stuck that landing. I don’t want to overstay my welcome or go out on a false note. I think stories need to end.

 

That said, if I ever have the RIGHT story, I’ll come back in a heartbeat. It’s interesting you mention Charlotte, because she might be my favorite character. She never found a boyfriend in the series because I couldn’t manage to write anyone worthy of her. I’ve toyed around with shifting the focus to Darkblade and Amazonia, different love, different capes. But I haven’t felt that inner voice telling me “This story, right now.”

 

JB: Your comic Time and Vine is one of the most intriguing ideas I have ever seen. How did you come up with that idea? How long were you working on it before you made it a comic?

 

TZ: I blame Kurt Busiek. I seem to recall him tweeting something about a wine comic and the idea just came to me. It wasn’t the next story idea I had, but it quickly took over my writer’s brain. I was on a walk one day and the structure of the story just came to me and it was so right. Once that happened, I was committed.

 

The time travel aspect locked down pretty quickly. I knew what the story required and the rules worked pretty well. I don’t think there are any cheats or paradoxes. Magic helps a lot.

 

I hope it’s a powerful story. If I do it right, it’ll be my Up. And if you’ve heard me talk about how much I love that movie, you know what that means to me.

 

 

JB: What was it like working on the My Little Pony comic? That franchise has a very dedicated fanbase, so did that make working on the project any different?

 

TZ: I try to respect the fans for sure. I’m a huge Star Trek fan, so I know about loyal fanbases. But the best Trek movie was written by Nick Meyer, who wasn’t a huge fan. I hoped to bring that outside perspective to it when I started. Now, I am a fan of the show, and I am a fan of the fans. But, if I’m doing it right, I also have the distance from the property to write interesting stories. Using Trek as an example again, I’m not sure I would have been bold enough to write Kirk feeling old, having a child, or killing Spock. But those were all great choices… bold choices… by someone who knew what a good story was and not just what they wanted to see.

 

 

JB: What advice do you have to new writers and artists trying to break into the industry?

 

TZ: Keep learning and be persistent are the big ones. And make something. There are less middle range publishers who would pay you to do sample pages like when I broke in, so you’ve got to publish on the web, or Comixology, or self-publish.

 

But that’s the big thing to me. It’s never a static game board. The rules keep changing. I came out of Kubert with the skill of hand-lettering. But computer lettering was on the horizon. Which meant that I was riding a wave. I could get hand lettering work, but I had to decide if I wanted to adapt to keep getting more work. I’ve learned how to color on the computer, how to draw on the computer and so on. I never wanted to self-publish, but it became the solution to the problem in front of me.

 

Basically, your job isn’t being a cartoonist. Your job is being employed.

 

 

JB: What are some projects you would like to work on, licensed properties or otherwise?

 

TZ: Star Trek, Star Trek, Star Trek! I love Trek so much, and co-wrote a short story for Pocket Books. I’d love to do more.

 

And I’d love to do a traditional superhero book. I think my sensibilities are just enough off-center to do something quirky while still writing a standard superhero book. Superman, Iron Man, Firestorm… I’d love to take a shot at those.

 

 

JB:  Do you have anything you would like to say to the readers of Real Otaku Gamer?

 

TZ: I’ve got a new project that just dropped from Webtoons, too! It’s called Warning Label and it’s about a girl named Danielle who’s been cursed by her ex-boyfriend that anytime she gets asked out, they get a warning label of all the things they need to watch out for. You can check it out at:

http://www.webtoons.com/en/romance/warning-label/list?title_no=1051

 

Time and Vine is in Previews now. And I’ll have a couple more My Little Pony issues coming out this summer, too!

JB: Thank you again for doing this.

 

TZ: My pleasure!

 

 

You can follow Thom on Twitter @thomzahler

 

 

Love and Capes and Long Distance are both available at Amazon.

 

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I recently had the chance to speak with composer Samuel Laflamme. The composer for such games as Outlast, offered insight into game music composition and game design. Have a read and enjoy.

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JB:  What are your biggest influences in music?

 

 

SL:  I’ve grow up listening so many soundtrack scores tha choosing one is a real challenge. But Danny Elfman’s Batman was the first score I really touched me. I’ve always been in love with all the John Williams Star Wars series and also the Steven Spielberg/John Williams collaborations. As a teenager, I discovered Hans Zimmer’s action scores from the 90s, and it was my king of “rock” period, while my friends at the time were listening to Nirvana and Guns & Roses…Nine Inch Nails, Bjork and Radiohead were, for me, my electro-rock-pop-industrial influences. I really liked other bands like Board of Canada. Or electronic musician like Amon Tobin.

More recently I love what Johann Johannsson brings to Hollywood movies. I’m also a profound lover of old Bernard Hermann scores. To me Vertigo is one of the best masterpieces in Hollywood history.

 

 

JB:  Who inspired you to go into music?

 

 

SL:  Again, Danny Elfman’s Batman score was really important. I listened in loop so many times Descent into mystery. While I’m writing those words, I’m listening to it on a youtube video, and it gives me the chills.

Also John Williams with all his 80s scores, from E.T. to Star Wars, by Indiana Jones… Some tracks at the end of Empire Strikes Back were in my top revealing music experience of all time! (including Darth Vader’s march and Escape from Cloud city).

 

 

JB:  What have been some of the challenges for composing music for video games?

 

 

SL: I’m not a hardcore gamer, nor an intense horror fan… So Outlast was my first video game score, and the reason why I was on this project is that Philippe Morin (co-founder of Red Barreld Games) and I shared the same vision on the role of a score in a movie or a video game. It adds something to the story, or the gaming experience, that you don’t see at the screen. I love to create a score that tells something else beyond the information given to us by images. For example, if you’re only walking in a quiet corridor, I would love to add a strange, uncomfortable score that make you imagine that anything could happen at any moments… Phil named it “free gameplay development” because they didn’t have to invent events to create fear. Another good example, is creating a quiet, soft score in middle of a gory scene. It makes you feel so weird that this amplifies the strangeness of the moment. The Cliché of it is childish music box score used to create something really scary from a music that is supposed to be a lullaby.

 

 

JB:  What styles do you like to experiment with in your work?

 

 

SL: I don’t have any preference on the style, but what’s important for me is to be creative. If I’m forced to compose music from temp tracks, or strongly loved references, I really don’t like it because I will struggle to be inventive with something so restrictive. The most important key is working with creative collaborators who aren’t afraid to let me try new things. I can always step back, but I prefer to try new things and push the limits than just stay within the references.

 

 

JB:  Related to the above, what styles would you like to bring in to your work?

 

 

SL:  Again, it’s all about how creative a score can be to tell the story of a movie, video game, etc. I’ve done so many styles in TV shows during the 10 years before doing Outlast. I had chance to explore all those styles but the greatest music I’ve done was when I was allowed to create something surprising and new. In music for image, you can use whatever kind of music for almost whatever image you’re scoring for. And that’s the beauty of it. The only important thing to consider is what story we want to tell. Do you remember “A Knight’s Tale” using rock music in a medieval movie? It worked well! Or whatever Tarantino movies using surf guitars… Or Hans Zimmer Joker’s theme… Or Bernard Hermann using only strings for Psycho (because of the monochrome aspect of the image) and at the time, strings made reference to love scenes… Now using high pitch staccati strings in cluster is a cliché. All of it is about being creative. How can I use music to tell the story.

Bernard Hermann used Brass in his Vertigo Ouverture to imitate the fog horns of San Francisco. How could I be creative in Outlast 2 compared to Outlast 1, by inspiring myself by the new locations, caracters, etc and then being conscient of all the elements that stay from Outlast 1 to Outlast 2 in the game.

 

 

JB:  What are some of your favourite video games soundtracks?

 

 

SL:  I’m a guy from the 80s. I still REALLY love the Zelda theme. It’s one of the classics I know, but still so, so, so good!! I really liked the Mortal Kombat music during the 90s. It’s might be funny but I do remember some good themes from Echo The dolphin on Sega Genesis.I really liked Joel McNeely’s Shadows of the Empire. To me, he’s the one who should be hired for the next Star Wars when John Williams won’t be able to continue. I do remember the excellent music of the first Warcraft and Starcraft.

 

 

JB:  What would you like to see done with video game music going forward?

 

 

SL:  I think we are in the golden age of video games right now. Movies aren’t as interesting as in the past, We have all those super hero movies, or all those really indie movies that employ more radio tunes then scores. Arrival was a revelation for me, but it is in a rare zone for film industry right now. I think tv shows are more originals than movies, and also some really good games. Because I’m a movie fan, I love great storytelling. I love so much the Paolo Sorrentino’s movies (La Grande Bellezza, Youth). But I know it’s marginal in this whole Hollywood world. I think more cinematic video games are fresh air in the freedom of writing and Outlast is right there. You wouldn’t see this kind of edginess in movies now… I don’t think so. I’m not talking about the goriness, but more about the freedom of the form. The freedom of creating something that good, without asking to the rest of the world their opinion like all those screen test and focus groups. I feel like games and TV shows take risks right now that are really interesting in new avenue of story telling and experiences.

 

 

JB:  Do you feel video game music is held back still by anything?

 

 

SL:  It always depends on the creative people who work on a project. I’ve been really lucky with Red Barrels, they let me try things, and I really appreciate this!

It’s fundamental for me to push out limits and find new way to express myself musically.

The only thing that could stop my ideas would be the small amount of music scoring knowledge a creative director, a game developper or a movie director could have. Then I have to educate what I try to do and it’s really daunting.

 

 

JB:  What are some of the challenges in composing for a horror game?

 

 

SL:  The first main challenge is to be new and original. There are so many clichés it’s so difficult to create something new especially in that genre. I have chance to work with collaborators who invite me to explore and push boundaries. This is the only way I can find something new. It so rare you wake up in the morning with the eureka idea! You have to struggle, explore pitch ideas, and see what’s still strong and stand out at the end.

The second is to be “musical”. It’s easy to just make chaotic music to create fear. The real challenge is to create something scary but hooky and memorable. I think you have to have a tune at the end. What makes the Joker’s theme in The Dark Knight so memorable? It’s a clear, bold and original idea. And it’s repeated a lot in the movie so you can associate it easily to the awesome character. I try to make a brilliant use of the most strong and memorable sounds I could find during the creative process, then I try to make you associate it to whatever I need to. For example, my cymbal sound from Outlast 1 was the icon for me, and I tried to push it at some important moment in Outlast 2.

 

 

 

JB:  What is the mindset that goes into composing for a horror game? How do you get the right ideas to put into your work?

 

 

SL:  I don’t know how the other composers work, but for me it’s a very personal and intimate journey into my deeper feelings. I have to refer and connect to my own fears and emotions. Like an actor probably. If I cannot connect to this, you won’t believe or be touched by what I try to tell. I don’t know why actually, but every time I composed too much using only my intellectual knowledge (analyzing my music), I didn’t keep those ideas at the end. Another good tester for me to see what works, or not, is the time. Because the creation of a game like Outlast 2 can take 2 years, it gives me the chance to see what’s still good after having listening it all this time.

 

 

JB:  Do you feel that horror game music is more intrinsically a part of the games?

 

 

SL:  Yes of course, but not because it’s horror, but because it’s a huge part of the gameplay. It’s part of the core, the DNA of the game. Any romantic movie without excellent score would look like cheesy. When the emotion is a key element of the story or gameplay, the presence of an excellent score or music is fundamental to complete the experience!

 

 

 

JB:  What are some of the ways you innovated with the soundtracks for your games?

 

 

SL: By choosing different instruments for Outlast 2, I based my choice on the locations in this new game. I wanted to try something else. I’m a strong believer that I could tell whatever emotion with whatever instrument. It’s always depend on a good interpretation of the instrument. A good musician can tell the whole range of emotion with his instrument, or at least can try to be creative enough to interpret it. In the case of Outlast 2, I tried to get out of my comfort zone by using guitars and basses, and banjo. I know it can sound ridiculous, but for my, as a non guitar player, it’s a challenge to experiment those instruments and trying to find new original tones and sounds that are iconic and scary. I did use some iconic sounds from Outlast 1 at some key moments where I felt it was important to brand something associated to Outlast sound palette. Also, at one point, I thought I told everything I could with those instruments, my assistants and I had to think about how creating new sounds still familiar to the guitars, basses sound palette but adding something new. After a year and half using the guitars and basses samples, I got rid of them and wanted something new for the next levels… So we invented a simple instrument that we called “the Redneck bass”. A simple piece of wood, with metal string attached on it. And it was captured by a contact microphone. It allowed us to explore a new large variety of scary sounds using a bow. “11 bring back our messiah!” in the album is a good example of the use of this instrument.

 

JB:  What would you like to be able to do with your composing that you cannot do yet?

 

 

SL:  Good question!! There are so many things to do. I don’t think it leads to one specific idea. I hope I will continue to have original ideas though out my career. I only wish to work with tremendous talented people who have confidence in me and let me explore and discover new way to approach my music in storytelling . Again I’ve been lucky with Red Barrels so far, they are real genius and the most important thing is they let me explore ideas. One thing I would love is to explore more Sci-Fi projects or more dramatic stories projects. I’m a fan of great script, original ones like the movie “Arrival” and would love to work with people like the ones on the story driven projects from Naughty Dog or Quantic Dream.

 

 

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Thank you again to Samuel Laflamme for doing this interview. You can follow him on twitter at @Samuel_Laflamme    

By Jonathan Balofsky On 26 Apr, 2017 At 09:23 PM | Categorized As Featured, Interviews, ROG News | With 0 Comments

No GravatarI had the chance to speak with Jason Lepine of Enthusiast Gaming and Indie Corner, and we discussed a number of topics. Please enjoy our conversation about Enthusiast gaming, Nintendo and the indie scene, and Indie Corner.

 

 

 

 

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JB:  How did you get involved with Nintendo Enthusiast?

 

 

JL: A few years ago I was looking to connect with other gaming enthusiasts. A friend of mine suggested I join a meet-up group called Nintendo Enthusiast in Toronto and that’s where I met the founder of the site.  He was looking at putting on a Nintendo themed convention together and I volunteered to help him out. One thing led to another and now 3 years later I’m fully employed by the company that now runs and operates Nintendo Enthusiast, Enthusiast Gaming.

 

 

JB:  What were some of your early responsibilities for Nintendo Enthusiast?

 

 

JL: My start at Nintendo Enthusiast was a little unconventional.  I first made a few episodes of Indie Corner as a pilot and tried to sell it to Nintendo Enthusiast, they turned down my offer stating they couldn’t afford it so instead I offered to run the series on their channel as long as I could keep all the ad revenue.  I thought I was making a smart move but those early episodes only made about $5-$10 so I guess they won that deal haha.

 

JB:  What led to the creation of Indie corner?

 

 

JL: The idea came from an article on Nintendo Enthusiast called “120+ Upcoming Wii U Indie Titles”. At the time the Wii U was in a major drought and indies weren’t really considered so the article made a big impact in showcasing just how much development was underway for Wii U games.  While the article was interesting, it was massive to get through. I didn’t want to read it and wished there was a video series that could go through all that info quickly, and so that’s where my inspiration came from to make the show.

 

JB:  What are some of your favourite indie games?

 

 

JL: My first indie game is still one of my favorites which is Electronic Super Joy.  I love the challenge, the platforming and of course its humor even though its a bit crassy.  Other than that, the metroidvania’s seem to leave a good impression on me such as Guacamelee, Xeodrifter, Axiom Verge.

JB: What are some indie games you feel are underrated or have fallen under the radar?

 

 

JL: I’m almost annoyed at myself for how much I tout this game but Has-Been Heroes.  It’s a very recent game but I’m just shocked at how poorly it was received by critics.  The game has an amazing amount of depth to it and has a very satisfying amount of challenge.  It’s a game you have to sit with and really take the time to dive into it, so that may be why it’s being looked over by so many. Another game which is a bit older now so may have fallen off the radar for some is Mark of the Ninja. It holds a 91 on metacritic and is just an amazing 2D stealth platformer with a solid story line.

 

JB:  What are some indie games that are coming up that you feel deserve attention?

 

 

JL: These days I don’t look too much to the future for indie games since so many projects will just vanish from existence before seeing the light of day. For example there were only about 1/3 of the titles on my original Indie Corner show that actually did come out.  That said I’m still very much looking forward to playing Cup Head, I hope we see that one come out sometime this year.

 

JB:  Nintendo Enthusiast expanded recently into Enthusiast Gaming. How did that come about?

 

 

JL:Nintendo Enthusiast started off as a simple blog for the founder, in fact it was called “The Nintendo Enthusiast” originally.  As the site nintendoenthusiast.com grew as well as our ambitions to bring gamers together, it was obvious we’d need a proper company name and so Enthusiast Gaming was founded.  Within Enthusiast Gaming we now have many brands including publications such as Nintendo Enthusiast, Xbox Enthusiast, PlayStation Enthusiast, PC Gaming Enthusiast, our live event known as EGLX (Enthusiast Gaming Live Expo) and we’ve even started acquiring new properties this year such as onlysp.com. To share the whole story of how all that happened would easily require a small novel.

 

JB:  Indie Corner also expanded into indie gaming enthusiast. How does it feel to see a project you started grow to that extent?

 

 

JL: It’s a little bittersweet.  I’ve always felt that Indie Corner and myself were one and the same and that you needed the host to go along with the brand.  I tried early on to branch out Indie Corner to other platforms with alternate hosts but that never got off the ground. When we started building communities on our new community site enthusiast.gg, it just felt like a natural fit to convert the Indie Corner socials into indie gaming enthusiast.  I felt it gave the brand more room for growth and let anyone contribute to covering the indie scene.  I still have the Indie Corner brand for myself which I play around with on the Hey Jay! and the Nintendo Enthusiast channel from time to time, so it’s not like it’s gone forever either.

 

JB:  What can indie games do to get more attention in your opinion?

 

 

JL: Support each other. The biggest challenges I see for an indie studio are their budgets and their size.  Saying “get more money!” is easier said than done but supporting each other to get more reach, more support, more opportunities, that’s within reach.  From what I’ve seen the indie community is already very supportive already so we just need more of that.  More people being vocal about the good indie games etc. I’m one guy who decided to put on a show which introduced maybe a few hundred viewers to some indie games, if each of those viewers share those games with 5 friends and so on eventually you can reach a large enough scale that moves enough units so a studio can hopefully make another game.

 

JB: Do you think the Switch will affect the perception of indie games and Nintendo systems?

 

 

JL: Absolutely.  I think we’ve crossed the point where mainstream gamers started taking indie games seriously a few years ago.  Major hits like Shovel Knight, Undertale, Ori and the Blind forest have shown the potential of what a small studio, or even a single individual can do.  I believe we have a lot more gamers now dabbling in the indie scene trying to uncover the next big hit before everyone else figures it out.  I find that really fun to do.

 

As for the Switch I like how it changes the conversation about modern games.  It’s no longer about having the next level of HD visuals or FPS, it’s about having good, fun games. When you stop being focused on a game’s visual power and start appreciating it for its gameplay, that’s when an indie game can thrive and can even go toe to toe with the high budget AAA experiences.  Of course that’s not the case for every indie game, just like anything you’ll find a wide range of games in terms of quality.  One thing I think the Wii U indie scene suffered from was that just about anyone could put out a game on the system and that really diluted the perceived quality of indie titles.  Nintendo seems to be getting a bit more strict in which indie games are allowed to publish on the Switch which I think will be great for both indie studios and gamers alike.

 

JB: What future do you see for Indie games and Nintendo?

 

 

JL: Nintendo and Indie studios share a lot in common.  For example they’re both obsessed with being innovative and creating fun games.  With so much in common, it only makes sense for them to have a strong future together.  We’re already seeing a very strong start to the Nintendo Switch’s software release with a first party Nintendo title nearly every month padded with high quality indie games in between.  Within 1 month of having the Switch I already have half a dozen games on my system all offering really fun gaming experiences.

 

JB:  Do you have anything you would like to say to the readers of Real Otaku Gamer?

 

 

JL: Just wanted to say thanks everyone for taking the time to read this interview and if there’s an indie game you’ve discovered that you really enjoy, be vocal about it. Share it on your social media and with your friends, it can really go a long way to helping those developers out.

By Jonathan Balofsky On 25 Apr, 2017 At 10:03 PM | Categorized As Featured, Interviews, Otaku Music, ROG News, ROG Tech | With 0 Comments

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I recently had the chance to interview video game composer Stephen Cox.  His most recent work is the upcoming VR game Farpoint .We discussed his influences, and how composing for a VR game changes things. Please enjoy.

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JB: What are your biggest influences in music?

SC: They are all over the place. In the early years it was definitely all things classical including film music – Bach, Beethoven, Mozart especially John Williams. But Stevie Wonder was also in the background growing up, so I love groove oriented anything. Then Steve Vai, Mr. Bungle and most 90’s rock/metal/grunge pushed me through the high school years.

 

Once I was in college, my influences became totally schizophrenic… Coltrane, Mike Patton, Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, Erik Korngold, Aphex Twin, Stravinski… One of my new film scoring favorites is Jóhann Jóhannsson. His score for Arrival was outstanding. Can’t wait to hear what he does in the new Blade Runner! I love anything John Powell does and there are so many modern pop, rock, hip hop and R&B artists I’ve left out. I honestly listen to everything (even Country music) and sometimes study the hell out of it, depending on the gig.

 

JB: Who inspired you to go into music?

SC: It’s hard to say when that seed was planted and who planted it. Music was always part of my life growing up. However, there is one instance that stands out back in the early 90s… I was in the middle school concert band (playing trumpet at the time) and heavily into rock music, especially Steve Vai and his genius guitar playing. So this guest speaker comes in to do a talk about his music career and maybe selling Berklee College of Music, where he studied. I’m not sure who this guy was and I wasn’t really paying attention to anything he was saying… until he mentioned Steve Vai. He started talking about life at Berklee and the famous alumni who were there in his day. I don’t remember this speaker’s name, but I think what he said stuck with me in a big way. Years later I ended up at Berklee totally focused on doing music from then on out.

 

JB: What have been some of the challenges for composing music for video games?

SC: The fact that you aren’t scoring to a locked picture, like a film or show, can be tough initially, yet so much more freeing! I found myself really loving the nonlinear process. Also writing chunks of music or overlays that can be triggered at any time while fitting into an underlying loop was a fun challenge. But again, I love that part of it as well.

 

Deliverables are more complex in a game compared to TV or Film. Handing off organized sessions and countless files to give the engineers as much flexibility as possible (while still retaining your sonic vision) requires a certain degree of technical skill and planning. You always have to think about the guy down the production pipeline, making sure you are not making more work for the implementers and engineers. If they’re happy, we’re all happy.

 

JB: What styles do you like to experiment with for your work?

 

SC: I love having the chance to pick up a guitar and rock out. My ongoing work with CBS Sports usually fills that need, but there is not a lot of room for experimentation. If I ever get the opportunity to experiment, like we did in Farpoint, it would be the process of crafting new sounds from organic sources, textures… stuff no one has heard before. Being a part of that ‘world building’ process sonically was such a thrill.

 

JB: Related to the above, what styles would you like to bring into your work?
SC: Being able to mix up styles in new and interesting ways is something I always try to do when given the chance. It seems like our work with trailer music usually gives us opportunities for mashing up orchestral writing with sound design, synthesis and even rock. Music for trailers is usually bombastic, shock and awe, but they are a lot of fun. I look forward to any opportunity to do some modern composition, experimentation with rhythms and microtonality. Film and games are usually the best fit for this style. I can’t wait for the next one!

 

JB: What are some of your favourite video games soundtracks?

SC: My all time favorite is Grim Fandango composed by Pete McConnell. I know it’s old, but the music was the primary reason I was hooked on that game for years. I still play it with my kid on PS4. The score to The Last of Us composed by Gustavo Santaolalla was a big inspiration for Farpoint. Aside from his amazing theme music, some of the in-game music was so lush and rich with organic sound design… he is a true craftsman. The most recent game I can think of is Sarah Schachner’s work on Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, which was killer! Her work with modular synthesis is super impressive… and it makes me want to go out and buy a bunch of toys. I know I’m leaving someone out…

 

JB: What would you like to see done with video game music going forward?

SC: I would love to see a “choose you own ensemble” scenario. Complete user control over the music engine itself. With VR, you might have the flexibility to place your chosen instruments in the world, add effects, who knows! The act of listening to music can be so much more with this technology. I know for a fact record labels are working on similar ideas for albums and artists currently. These next few years will be very exciting in the world of music and game music within VR.

 

JB: Do you feel video game music is held back still by anything?

SC: Only our imaginations. At this point I see no difference between the production quality of the biggest games compared to the biggest films. My kid and I just finished Uncharted 4 last night and Henry Jackman’s score totally knocked me out, Niagara Falls. I forgot to mention Uncharted 4 in the previous question. The emotional content and gameplay was supported perfectly by the music, just like his best film scores. If anything, film music is held back because of the static medium. Game music can be ever changing, evolving with the action taking place and there’s no longer a limit on how ‘big’ the music can be for a game. Kudos to Sony and Naughty Dog for the most amazing implementation of game music I’ve ever seen or heard.

 

JB: What are the challenges of composing for a game that is in VR?

SC: The biggest challenge is immersion, or keeping the player immersed in the VR world. There seems to be two schools of thought in terms of sound and music within VR: The first is Full Immersion, where the space and reality is represented as accurately as possible using sound effects only. And if there is music, it is source music, meaning it is coming from within the world itself. The other approach treats audio and music closer to a cinematic experience or even hyper-cinematic, almost like a theme park ride. We were always walking that fine line. When my writing partner, Danny McIntyre, and I realized that VR experiences (including Farpoint) are closer to a theme park attraction than a standard game, we found our stride and the music cues started clicking into place.

 

JB: Does the game being in VR change the way you go about composing?

 

SC: In terms of writing themes and cues, not so much. In terms of the sound palette and instrumentation, very much so. The way the instruments interacted with the space is very important. We tried to keep the score very wide and reverberant as if it was a part of the background ambience, which it almost is at times. We found that less could be more in terms of ensemble size even though some of the cues are very thick.

 

JB: Do you feel that VR offers new ways to experience the music?

 

SC: Absolutely. Mainly because of the space. The use of reverb and panning is so much more important in VR than it is in any other medium. Things can be focused or spread in a way that wouldn’t make sense if it were played back on speakers. Because the VR experience is inextricably tied to headphones, we ended up doing a lot of testing using them. I worked closely with Sony Interactive’s music team under Senior Music Manager Jonathan Mayer (along with music engineer/implementer Anthony Caruso and Rob Goodson) to figure out the right balance of instrumentation, reverb and placement. Those guys did amazing work.

 

JB: What are some of the innovations VR brings to game music?

SC: Because the experience is so immersive, I think it may change the way we approach sound design and scoring music entirely. Using music in a way that increases that feeling of immersion is an innovation in and of itself. I think we did very well with that in Farpoint, but we are all trying to reinvent the wheel together.

 

JB: What would you like to be able to do differently with music that cannot be done yet?

 

SC: I hear music, intervals, rhythms and pitches everywhere when I walk outside, wash the dishes or just sitting in my studio writing this. It’s kind of a sickness for most composers and audio pros. I want to create an experience for the listener that takes that to a new level. Where the pitches and rhythms of normal, everyday ambience can be compiled and processed in a way to make true music… in real time. Maybe I’ll get cracking on that right now, unless someone has already beaten me to it 😉

 

Also being able to craft and compose music in a VR space as if you were using the interface from Minority Report. VR could be the bridge to creating and composing music in entirely new ways and Farpoint is a very important first step in the world of VR innovation. I can’t wait for you all to experience it!

 

Thank you again Stephen for taking the time to talk to ROG!