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The First Fallout

August 17th, 2015 | Posted by Philip J Reed in personal | video games - (1 Comments)

Not the First FalloutTo date, only three games have ever sold me a console. The first was Metroid Prime, which convinced me the moment I played it on a store’s display that I absolutely needed a Game Cube. The most recent was the announcement of Persona 5 a couple of months ago, which resulted in me breaking down and buying a PS4.

In the middle there was Fallout 3, which sold me an XBox 360 based entirely on the strength of its trailer. A trailer that, as far as I’m concerned, represents a masterclass in games marketing:

Watch it if you haven’t already. It’s more than just a commercial…it’s an introduction to a universe, one hilarious and horrifying, foreign and recognizable, insane and mundane in equal measure. Was I foolish to buy a console based on a video whose centerpiece was a live action dark comedy sketch? Of course. I definitely was. But I gambled, because if the game was even a fraction as clever and interesting as I hoped it would be, it would have been worth it. (Spoiler: it was unquestionably worth it.) (Double spoiler: the animated sequences seem to presage the recent mobile game Fallout Shelter! Pretty neat!)

Now Fallout 4 is coming, and I’m thrilled. And it’s had me reflecting on my Fallout experiences past. I’ll write up some of them, maybe, at some point. And when Fallout 4 gets here I’ll probably never shut the fuck up about it.

But one of my strongest, deepest memories comes from the first Fallout game I’d ever experienced…one released long before Fallout 3.

And it wasn’t Fallout 2. Or Fallout Tactics. Or the Fallout game you see pictured above. No, this predates that as well.

Years ago, there was a game called Fallout, which was entirely text-based. You could only play it online. Indeed, that was the draw and not a limitation.

Back then (1995 or so) you were pretty limited in what you could do on the internet, and unless you wanted to wait for days on end (not an exaggeration, at least not with my connection) most of what you could do was text-based. Music and films and glorious pornography were still available for download (legally and otherwise), but you’d better hope your phone didn’t ring before Thursday if you actually wanted the file to download properly.

Fallout was a discovery I made, but I can’t remember how. I passed it on to a few of my friends, and for a while we played regularly. It was a post-apocalyptic RPG, similar to what the proper Fallout series would become in tone. In fact, the first time I saw the version of Fallout pictured above, I thought it was a cheap ripoff. I didn’t play it; I was just appalled that somebody would so directly plagiarize (right down to the title!) a game I knew so well.

Obviously it’s now clear that similarities were coincidental, even if there were more than a few of them. But at the time I felt somehow wronged, like I’d witnessed a crime I couldn’t report.

Anyway, when I introduced my friends to Fallout they’d play for a while, get bored of it, and move on. Which is what I did as well. But one of my friends, Dave, took to it more enthusiastically than the others.

I don’t know why. I couldn’t begin to explain what the appeal was for him. He was an amateur survivalist, so maybe he saw it as a chance to flex his muscles in that regard. He told me a story once of a time he ran away from home. He packed a survival guide that his parents were dumb enough to give him, took all their pots and pans, took the shower curtain, and hiked deep into the Pine Barrens. He walked for most of the night, having to shed bags and belongings as he grew more tired. Eventually he went home, but was unable to find any of the stuff he left behind on the way out. His parents needed to buy all new cookware.

He and I played Fallout a lot. There were many players online at a time, and you could communicate with each other either publicly or privately. He and I worked together to gather up good gear and get a lay of the land. It worked well. His character’s name was Superfrog, and mine was Banner. I can’t really explain either.

I seem to recall the game taking place in New York, but I could be wrong about that. I do remember that an early-game gathering point was Reagan Square, and whenever you died you’d respawn near that landmark. I saw it a lot, I think.

It was a safe area, and you could barter and talk without much worry. When you felt ready, you could venture out to other areas (including a difficult one based on Army of Darkness, which I never saw because I probably maxed out at around level 15, and one that housed an extraordinarily powerful enemy named after Clint Eastwood’s Pale Rider) and hope you came back alive. I remember my weapon of choice was the Translucent Blade, which, in my imagination, looked great. I found a few weapons that were stronger, but I kept going back to the Translucent Blade, because none of the others looked as cool in my own mind. Even in a game that was entirely text-based, looks mattered.

One night I logged off after having played, I’m sure, far too long in one day. The next day I logged back in, and Superfrog was already there. He was also joined by a second character Dave created, called Holyfrog. This one was a healer. There may have been a third. Dave had essentially built his own party in several windows. And they were all something like level 50.

He’d been playing, without a break, all night.

Somewhere around that time, I said some foolish, and probably rude, thing about one of the other players. His character was named Benj. I never knew if it should be pronounced Benge or Ben Jay. But because I impugned his manhood he teleported me to his location — a restroom in one of the game’s restaurants — and pounded the crap out of me. Every time I escaped (I typed “unlock door” “open door” and “w” an awful lot in the course of those few minutes) he’d zap me right back. It was hopeless. He killed me.

I respawned at Regan Square and tried to find my corpse to regain all my gear. He was waiting, and killed me again. I wasn’t getting any of it back. And I stopped playing Fallout not long after that. (Maybe…20 seconds after that.)

But it was fun while it lasted. For Dave, it lasted the better part of a year.

He became obsessed with the game. It was all he ever talked about. He found some other high-level players and took down Pale Rider. He was so proud he emailed me the log of that session, as though it were a photo of himself standing next to the bass he just caught.

He loved Fallout. And it got to be pretty scary.

He stopped going to high school. He stopped sleeping. His younger sister emailed me or IM’d me at some point to ask me to come over and get him out of the house; he didn’t do anything but play Fallout anymore and it was driving her insane. I was in love with that girl, and I’m sure I harbored plenty of fantasies about her contacting me and inviting me over, but the circumstances were not exactly what I was hoping for.

He’d eat, but he wouldn’t talk to his family. He just wanted to finish quickly and get back to Fallout. He ran out of sick days at school, and dropped out. You may think I’m exaggerating, but I’m not. Eventually he got his GED, which is good. But at the time he was exclusively studying Fallout, which was bad.

Christmas came and went. His family had to force him (physically force him) into the car to go with them to pick out a Christmas tree. He sat with his arms crossed, grumbling for the entire ride, and refused to get out of the car once they got there. He waited in the cold car with no heat, willing them to hurry up and pick a fucking tree so he could go home and play Fallout some more.

At some point, he stopped. I don’t know why. Maybe his parents had him lobotomized. I honestly don’t know, and we don’t keep in touch so there’s no way I can find out. But for such a stupid game, some text-based nonsense that was little more than an accumulation of pop-cultural debris and mindless grinding, it was the closest thing to outright obsession I’d ever witnessed.

His family hated Fallout. If they knew that I was the one who introduced him to it, they probably hated me for that, too. For them, like for me, that whole period must seem now like an odd waking nightmare. Nobody talks about Fallout — that Fallout — anymore. Hell, nobody talked about it then, either. It was some niche little curio stashed away on the fledgling internet, when word of mouth was still about the only way anyone found out about anything. Dave was singularly obsessed with something most people didn’t know — and will never know — even existed.

And it’s odd. Because every time I hear about Fallout now — the major, popular Fallout — my mind thinks back to that black text on a white screen. Reagan Square swarming with newbies. The imaginary heft of a Translucent Blade in my hands. Benj summoning me repeatedly to the bathroom for an asskicking. Being introduced to Holyfrog and Crazyfrog or whatever he was called as the earliest manifestations of Dave’s eventual madness.

I always need to recalibrate my thoughts. Someone mentions Fallout, and as much time as I’ve spent with the proper games, I don’t picture Ghouls and Super Mutants. I don’t picture Deathclaws and Radscorpions. I don’t think about Vaults or the Wasteland.

I think about a game that I’m reasonably convinced none of you knew existed before this post. I can barely find information about it online, and I couldn’t even find a screenshot to use with this article. What little space it occupied in the cultural memory has been almost completely overwritten by the far superior, true Fallout series.

But for me? That can never happen. I remember the original too much. I remember the way it affected someone I actually knew, in a world I actually occupied.

They say Fallout 4 will have around 400 hours of content.

That’s nothing. You could probably play through that game without even having to drop out of school. It’ll never be a patch on the original.

Splatoon
Just a few minutes ago (as I begin writing this) the first of three hour-long, free demos for Splatoon has ended. In a way, it’s odd to require everyone to participate in a demo at the same time (and god knows I’ve read enough grumbling about it elsewhere) but since Splatoon is a competitive shooter, it makes sense. It wouldn’t be much fun, or much of a sales pitch, if someone downloaded the demo just to sit around waiting around for other participants.

It’s also true, though, that Nintendo used this as a pre-release stress test. It was a good marketing move to turn a server test into an interactive commercial, and they might get a sale out of me now that they wouldn’t have gotten before.

But here’s what this Splatoon trial really accomplished: it reminded me that I miss Events.

That’s captial-E Events. In a world where everything is available at the push of a button, we start to lose a sense of importance. We can have so many things at the instant we want them…but at the cost of a reduced value. When it’s always there, and it’s always accessible to anyone who wants it, what is it really worth?

At a very young age (well, before I could drive) I fell in love with attending live concerts. Woodstock ’94 was actually my first concert, period, and it served, I’d say, as a pretty incredible introduction. It was several days long, there was some great music, there was camping, food, vendors…it was a great time. I remember much of it well. It wasn’t a patch on the original festival, I’m sure, but for some little kid discovering live music for the first time, especially in the early 90s, you can’t have asked for much more.

After that I’d see everything I could. Growing up in New Jersey sucked, for sure, but I was within easy commuting distance of Philadelphia, New York, and D.C. Between those cities — and New Jersey’s own venues — I was able to see almost anyone who was touring at all.

And it was great. When the artists — whomever they were, whether or not you even knew their names — put on a great show, it felt that much more special for the fact that it was temporary. Fleeting. You spent your time, money, and effort to get there, and so did everyone around you. You’re there for a purpose…a common experience. You share with a room or a field or a stadium full of people something that would only happen once. Right then, right there, and then never exactly the same way again.

It was yours, and it was theirs. You were in it together. At some concerts I’ve made friends. At others I didn’t talk to anyone I didn’t already know. But the experience was communal. A wave of applause, gasps, sighs…the artists creating — creating — something there for you.

You could have stayed home. Most people, obviously, do. There’s nothing wrong with that. But if you choose to make that journey, you get to witness something that will never happen again: that one particular Event.

Concerts still exist, and the reason I bring them up is the fact that they’re still popular. They’re still happening. They’re still one way to keep Event experiences alive, while film events and television events and video game events leak early, or immediately. While we can dial up almost anything we like on YouTube (or less-savory equivalents.) While we can torrent the complete works of almost anyone you’d care to name.

And that’s not, in itself, a problem. It’s magical, to be sure. But, again, it’s magic at a cost.

I remember reading a Bob Dylan biography years ago, in which the author struggled to describe to us the sound of some bootleg tapes he personally obtained. There was something lovely about that…an attempt on the part of the writer to reach the reader and convey the accomplishment of a musician. I was several degrees removed from whatever that song was that the biographer was describing, but I was rapt. I tried to layer it in my mind. I tried to hear it, impossibly, through text.

Today? I could type the name of whatever song it is into Google. I’ll be taken to a streaming version I can listen to right now, a dozen covers of it by amateur musicians, a legal opportunity to purchase it as an mp3 or a ringtone, and an illegal opportunity to download it along with another hundred Dylan bootlegs I never knew existed.

Today I’ll know what it sounds like, easily. Which is nice. I’d have died for that opportunity years ago. But it also robs the listening experience of being Eventful.

I remember when I was very young. Word got around that somebody on my block could beat the original Mega Man. I was skeptical. That game was tough as nails, and I was convinced no human being could finish it without cheating. I wasn’t alone in my suspicion.

So my friends and I got together, and we walked over to this kid’s house. We sat in his living room, eyes glued to the television set, watching him as he tried, over and over and over again, for hours, to beat Dr. Wily and save the world. When he succeeded, the thrill in that room was incredible. It was emotional. There was screaming and there was laughter. You’d have thought we’d liberated Ireland.

In retrospect, I’m sure his Mega Man skills were nothing impressive. He finished the game, which was more than we could have done, but today I can watch any number of people anywhere in the world playing the game perfectly. I could see somebody finish it in 20 minutes without dying. And I have. But it didn’t move me. I didn’t care as much. It was something to watch. It was cleaner, more structurally perfect, more accessible.

But it wasn’t an Event.

Splatoon turned gaming, for an hour, back into an event. “If you want to play,” it said, “we’d love to have you. Here’s when you can come over.”

I don’t know who I played with. I don’t know if I’ll ever meet them, and I’d be surprised if I ever did. (And if I did, it’s not as though I’d know it.) But like all the people I never interacted with at the concerts I attended, they shared an experience with me.

Splatoon was new. It was unique to everyone there. Nobody had prior experience with the weapons or the stages. Nobody had time to strategize. For everybody involved, it was a process of live, communal discovery. And that’s something that I haven’t felt in a long time, and probably ever in terms of online gaming.

Whatever happened, happened. If you were there, you know. If you weren’t, you don’t. And if you attended one of the other two demonstrations, then you know something I don’t. Every experience was valuable, simply because it was fleeting.

I know that this was a one-off (well, three-off) Event, but I would love it if this kind of thing became more common. Once a month, at a certain time, you could log in and play the game with some twist that isn’t announced beforehand. Maybe a new weapon or stage, but it doesn’t have to be anything that substantial. The twist could be that all of the paint is the same color, and you don’t know whose is whose. Or that everyone moves at half speed. Or that every thirty seconds, everyone dies and respawns somewhere else, turning the game into a challenge of orientation as much as it is one of survival.

Those are just ideas, and I wouldn’t say any of them are very good. But I do know that for one hour (which felt, but was not, far shorter) a game I didn’t care much about in a genre I’m still not interested in became a magical experience. What’s more, it was magical because I didn’t get to experience it on my own terms.

In a world of instant gratification, restrictiveness really does feel like a big step forward.

Magnus Palsson interview

A while back I reached out to Magnus Pålsson, better known as SoulEye, and best known for composing the stellar soundtrack of VVVVVV. He had just released a metal remix of that game’s soundtrack, MMMMMM and he quickly consented to an interview to help promote it.

Great! …except that when my computer crashed soon afterward, I thought I lost the draft. Only recently did I find it, and it might have been a stroke of good timing, since Pålsson had some technical difficulties with his web-host that prevented anyone from purchasing the album until now. So, while the delay wasn’t deliberate, I’m happy to be able to finally post the interview at a time when you can actually buy the album!

(Also, on a personal note, I can highly recommend Adventure. It’s absolutely incredible, and has been on permanent rotation for me.)

1) How did you originally get involved with Terry Cavanagh? How did your contribution to VVVVVV come about?

VVVVVVFirst of all, thank you for having me on here on this excellent site for an interview! It’s my pleasure to answer your questions.

I had put up some of my music for free download online, and one of Terry’s friends named Charlie asked me if he could use one of my songs for his game. I said sure, as long as I can have a copy of the game when it’s done.

He came back a month later and gave me a copy. The game turned out to be a shoot-em-up where you play a severed dog’s head, raining hot death on evil attacking space-penises that attack you with semen. That game is spunky. It’s called Space Phallus if you want to play it.

Anyway, Terry naturally played Charlie’s game, and liked the song I had provided. (The song is “Retro Tune” and can be found as track number four on my album “S” here.) He emailed me and asked if I wanted to make music for his (then-supposed-to-be) free game called VVVVVV.

I thought it was a great idea, since I’ve loved games all my life, so I was happy to make a songs for the game.

2) How much guidance were you given in terms of your work on the soundtrack? Any specific atmosphere or tempo to reach for?

I got a beta copy of the game. It was using an old c64 placeholder song, but I was largely given free reign. Instructions were limited to just a few adjectives. He would give me the beta, I would play it, and then think, “What does the ideal platformer song sound like in my head?” And then I produced “Pushing Onwards.”

Terry put “Pushing Onwards” into the updated beta, and got inspired by the song so much that he created a new level. And then he needed more music! So I made “Positive Force.”

And then he had that one on loop for days on end, and made another level. And so it went on. We inspired each other, like a symbiotic relationship designed to evolve the game.

At a certain point, I felt there was enough good stuff in there, but I wanted a masterpiece in there, that would stand out for a long time. And thus, “Potential for Anything” was dreamed up.

I cut out entire sections after writing these songs until I got everything “just right.” It took almost a month to complete because of all the structures, details and harmonic intricacies that went into it.

3) I’m not sure I’ve ever read a review of VVVVVV that doesn’t specifically praise the music. Why do you feel it’s stood out to players in a way that few soundtracks have?

I am entirely self-taught when it comes to music, for good and bad. Many people come to me and ask what programs I use, how I get inspired, how to be creative. Sometimes, those who have the hardest time being creative are those who have been taught in various educations that there is a right way and a wrong way to create music. That you should follow a certain structure, follow the rules, and if you don’t do it right, you shouldn’t be in the business of making music.

Of course, this isn’t always the case, and most educations are great. This is not about saying education is bad. And I have a point to make. It’s that if you believe someone when they say that kind of stuff to you, you might unconsciously put a lid on the very thing that made you want to go into music in the first place: your own soul’s unique voice.

For me, music is an expression of my inner life. It’s a way of sharing myself to the world, how I feel. The music I write is therefore “true,” in the felt sense of the word. There have been few places where I’ve forced myself to make music in a certain way. This intuitive way of writing music has also made me make music only when I feel like it. Typically, I like to write music when I’m feeling really good, happy and enthusiastic. If I’m not, the music reflects that.

Given the above, consider that the songs in VVVVVV were written from my heart. They were made without any thoughts on profits, career in music, fans, recognition, future travels, and so on. They were made for the sheer joy of it all. No agenda. All the things that happened later were really unexpected.

4) What was the first album you ever owned?

It was Hey Stoopid (released in 1991) by Alice Cooper. I remember buying it because I liked the music and a part of me thought I became cooler just by owning it.

I would listen to it a few times, but not obsessively. At that point I had no plans for making music. I was just enjoying it. I remember being fascinated how one track was produced so that it naturally flowed into the next at one point. I would hear the click sound when the CD player changed tracks, and keep the same synths playing.

It’s a good album even today, but Alice himself was never my biggest influence. The most enjoyable thing on there was, as I think back to it, was Slash and his masterful play on the guitars.

5) What was the first video game whose soundtrack really grabbed you?

Wizball on Commodore 64. The first minute of Martin Galway’s title track is a stroke of genius.

It made me feel like I was tapping into something magical. Like…welcome to the world of wonders, where anything is possible. I had my C64 hooked up to my parents’ old TV, and its crappy mono-speaker (by today’s standards) was, for once, producing something clear, beautiful, new, and real.

I felt exhilarated by it, and wanted the world to know this feeling, this music, and have the same experience I was having. And my teenage self didn’t give an F. I opened the door to the garden, turned up the music, and hoped the neighborhood would rejoice in this wonderful new discovery of mine, that surely would make all those grumpy grownups a reason to put a smile on their faces. But the only result was my mom telling me to shut it off.

I’m happy to report that by now, my now 67-year old mom likes chiptune music. Well, mine at least. There are a few tracks she plays over and over at her house.

6) What was the first film whose soundtrack really grabbed you? How did it make you feel?

The truth is that I was never aware of being really grabbed by a film soundtrack. The only thing that comes up when I think of early movies with good music is Star Wars (1977). I was still in daycare when I saw that movie, and I didn’t completely get what was going on. The appreciation for that music came later on.

I saw an orchestra playing Star Wars music in my home town of Helsingborg a while back. That was an amazing experience. They played it so true to the originals, but the fidelity and quality of the raw vibrations of the different instruments resonating in my body is something I won’t forget easily.

7) MMMMMM is a complete reimagining of the VVVVVV soundtrack with live instruments in a very different style. What sparked this project? How did you come to collaborate with FamilyJules7x?

FamilyJules7x has a long history of covering game music soundtracks. I remember seeing him do a Super Meat Boy medley, and thought, “that’s cool, I wonder what my music would sound like there,” and a seed was firmly planted in me. Given half a chance, I would make it happen.

But I went on my merry way, and didn’t think of it until way later, when, one day, this subconscious dream was realized, and he made a medley of the VVVVVV music, presumably after a number of requests from his listeners. Or, as he put it: “VVVVVV‘s soundtrack is a work of genius and it’s a crime that I haven’t had a go at these songs earlier.”

Anyway, after popping all my gaskets while listening to that, I wanted to make a full remix album a reality, if nothing else, then for my very own listening pleasure. So I just emailed him and we worked it out. It was one of those “this is right; this needs to be done,” kinds of moments, where my guts had a stronger say than my brains.

I love those moments.

8) Explain “Plenary.” This was a track composed for the game, but which wasn’t ultimately featured, to my knowledge. Where was it meant to have gone?

Allow me to enlighten you. The name “Plenary” means “an adjective related to the noun plenum carrying a general connotation of fullness.”

The track which sounds like this in its original form ) is actually in the game but perhaps not heard very often, since it only plays once, when you complete VVVVVV. Am I to take it you haven’t completed the game?

It was a blast creating this jingle. It has a whole slew of intermingling leads, creating a pompous (in the good sense) fanfare that is fitting of a game complete stinger.

[ed: Believe me, I completed the game! I actually meant “Phear,” not “Plenary.” Magnus was kind enough to explain that track, too, once I’d had my mistake pointed out to me.]

“Phear” was a “song” (it’s more of a sound effect) which appeared on PPPPPP, the game’s soundtrack album, but wasn’t used in VVVVVV. It was supposed to be an Easter egg where if you stood still in a certain room for a long time, the screen would darken, and the creepy sound would start playing over and over at ever-increasing volume. Sadly, it had to be scrapped due to lack of time on Terry’s part for implementation.

9) Name the six biggest influences on your music.

Chris Huelsbeck, Martin Galway, Rob Hubbard, Jeroen Tel, Ben Daglish, and Tim Follin.

You may notice they’re all previous C64 musicians. There are so many others though, and much of what inspires me is unconscious. It’s easy to name these people, as their creations were the music playing during a lot of my formative years. Some of these have gone on to become famous on other platforms as well. Curious fact: one day a few years ago I saw that Jeroen Tel started following me on Twitter. That was a fun moment for me.

10) Name the six biggest influences on your life.

VVVVVVI like how that question was worded. I get to choose any type of influence! I’m going to give them to you chronologically, with the oldest influence first.

1. Games.
I would never be where I am if it wasn’t for computer games. I would play for hours on end, and still do some days, and escape from reality, like so many others. I love it. And at the same time, I’m aware that playing games too much can be detrimental to social interactions, which is where real life is lived.

2. Music.
Obviously. An offshoot from playing games, and hanging around tech-savvy people who liked computers. Music was often a joint interest, and some knowledge on how to work a computer was required to get games working back in those days when it all started. And then it became easy to get music programs working. Suddenly, I found myself at home in making music on a computer, and then I was creating music for others. And now I’m making a living off of it. It’s like I just fell into it.

3. Eben Pagan.
He is a well-known self-development teacher and business coach. He got me started on the road to self-knowledge, which is, like, the best thing ever.

4. Terry Cavanagh.
Again, obviously. And also inadvertently. I never knew what was in store, and how my life would change, after making the songs for VVVVVV. He didn’t either. Terry is one of the most straight-up good guys I know.

5. Decker Cunov.
Decker is transformational coach. If Terry’s influence made external things possible for me, Decker’s influence reshaped my insides in a profound way. With him (and his peers) as a powerful catalyst, I had my mind reset completely after a workshop in personal development back in 2012. I now have a completely different view and approach on life, and those who know me before and after can vouch for me changing.

Because of the great things I experienced in this workshop, I am happy to be part of a worldwide network called “Authentic World.” It consists of people who like authenticity and telling the truth, along with developing ourselves and welcoming different sensations. I educated myself in the subtle arts of the practices that Decker uses in his 6-month course held in your home state of Colorado, and now me and my friends do workshops in Europe in the same fashion, to my great excitement and benefit for participants.

If this tickles your curious bone, more info can be found here. We recently did a workshop in Amsterdam, and if you want to be part of the next workshop in Europe, I strongly recommend signing up for the newsletter.

6. Stefan Molyneux.
Stefan is a philosopher and runs the largest philosophy show in the world. He’s got some 60 million downloads of his stuff, and has almost daily videos put up on his youtube channel. His site is www.freedomainradio.com. If Decker Cunov changed my way of connecting with my feelings, Stefan has changed my way of thinking. He’s radically different than most people, and some of what he says is causing some upsets, but the show contains, in my opinion, healthy and important discussions for any decent human being.

11) The success of VVVVVV must have opened a lot of doors for you, but you haven’t composed for many games since. Are you just being choosy about your next major scoring job?

I have enough material to release a new album tomorrow on my hard drive if I could. There are many reasons for not releasing some stuff. I’ve made music for some games that were shelved at the last moment and now need a new game to make sense, and some games have yet to be released.

To be honest I’ve been dividing my time with other things as well. I’ve been traveling the world and exploring different life stuff. (See my answer to question #5!) I also have a few ideas about making my own game, and am doing research.

The game that is brewing in my mind is a social game about telling the truth or lying, and catching other players doing the same thing. I am still looking for a team on this one (coding and graphics to begin with), and it’s preferable if anyone interested has a solid sense of, and can differentiate between, both objective and subjective truths.

That being said, I’m open for music business! If you’ve got that killer game needing some Souleye TLC, don’t hesitate sending me an email. I would love to make some chiptunes for another fun game. Perhaps they will be chiptunes with some metal infused next time…

12) They’re making a live action VVVVVV movie. Who plays Captain Viridian?

VVVVVVKeanu Reeves. Haha! He took the red pill and became green. Maybe Tom Cruise or Brad Pitt would work as well…let me talk to their agents.

Already confirmed supporting actors are: Christopher Lloyd as Chief Verdigris, Kirsten Dunst as Doctor Violet, Scarlett Johansson as Doctor Victoria, Jim Carrey as Officer Vermilion, and Jim Parsons as Professor Vitellary.

13) Which Mega Man boss has the stage music?

My experiences aren’t THAT in-depth with the series. I’ve played through Mega Man 2 from start to finish, but that was a long time ago.

14) What has your experience been like with fans of your music? I have to assume it’s been positive, as you’ve collected many of their remixes and given them official release on the PPPPPPowerup album.

Oh, the people have been great. Just great. The fans are really nice to me. It’s one of the great things about being in this line of work; you get paid not only in money, but also in little internet hearts! I love my fans. <3 One of the most touching letters came from a guy who had been suffering from depression for months and months, and then he started listening to PPPPPP, and, I don’t know, subconsciously caught on to the subliminal messages that I would never admit to putting in there, because they’re not in there, and anyone who says they are in there haven’t played some of the songs backwards yet because that’s how you really get to…

Wait…I’ve said too much about those subliminal messages. They aren’t there…

Okay, enough with the joking. He claimed that my music helped him out of his depression in a very real way, and was very nice and thankful. His message moved me to tears. When I get feedback like that I sometimes feel like the effect the music had on him alone would have made it worth making the music.

Music is powerful.

15) Name one song that makes you want to turn the radio off every time you hear it.

Oh… I know where this is going. If I bring a song up like that to a friend, they’ll instantly start singing it back to me…

Haha! Well okay, it doesn’t matter. I’ll look forward to getting Rick-rolled with the song in the future.

That which you resists, persists, so… I’m going with a Swedish song called “Hej Monika.”

16) Go back in time and give one piece of life advice to Magnus Pålsson, age 10.

Trust yourself. Find out what your values are, what feels good. Learn how people make meaning out of words. And if the world seems to be doing it wrong, and you don’t quite understand it even if you really try, most likely they’re all doing their best with what they know and the only thing you can do is learn the ways they were taught to do it so that you one day can untangle those webs from yourself and others.

17) Go forward in time and give one piece of life advice to Magnus Pålsson, age 100.

Hey dude, I didn’t think you’d make it this long! But it’s time to face the fact: it’s near the end.

After you’ve said your goodbyes to your, well, to be honest, rather obscenely large family, I want you to have a good time and not fear death. I hear that hard drugs are effective in achieving that.

They’re also addictive and ruin your life in the long run, but there’s no long run anymore, so it’s time to find out what you’ve been missing! Full speed ahead! Geronimo!

On a more serious note though, what I believe is one of the best ways to go is to be in deep connection with your loved ones. Ask them to spend a lot of time with you during those last moments. Knowing that you’ve already imparted what you’ve learned about life with them, and that they’ll be all right. All what we got left is to be with each other, and stay connected for as long as possible.

But then again, that’s true for every moment in life, so why save that piece of advice for later?

18) If you were physically transported into VVVVVV, taking Viridian’s place, how far would you make it before dying?

VVVVVVI would die to the first thing that could kill me, because I’d be in total disbelief and want to see how it feels to die and respawn. If I respawned, I’d be yelling at the fourth wall a lot about wanting to be let out of this Groundhog Day-like spiked-hell existence, or maybe hit on Victoria to create some mini-Vs.

19) Who was or is the handsomest world leader?

Bill Clinton. I’m not that big into checking out political leaders but Bill is definitely charismatic. I even listened to his biography audiobook, read by himself.

20) Your star has risen to the point that every major gaming company on Earth is offering you full creative control over the soundtrack to the next installment of any franchise you like. Which series of games do you give the SoulEye stamp to?

Good question. I went through a bunch of games in my mind before singling out a series, and the honor would go to…

Drumroll…

The Street Fighter series. I think I could really do it justice, legacy-wise, and bring something new and fresh to the series. A bit ironically perhaps, as some of PPPPPP (and therefore MMMMMM) has influences from Street Fighter II. But there you go!

BONUS: Say anything to our readers that you haven’t gotten to say above!

I’m going to go out on a limb and give you a poem on life I wrote two years ago.

As I lay my heart to bare
plain for all to see
the pain I carried deep within
is shared, to more than me

The walls containing my fragile heart
came tumbling down, they broke apart
the life I thought was not for me
revealed itself, and it was free

Connected, I would sense the pain
of life, love, death, my sadness
and for the first time in my life
I made sense of all the madness

The cross I now have to bear
is holding pain, for all who’s dear
I want to ease your heavy burden
shoulder all your fear
staying present, to my purpose
I am with you here.

With strength and courage to be weak
I will shelter all the meek
Let me shield you from your pain
I don’t mind, it’s my gain

I must die, it is my path
from this earth I’m torn
And in knowing but this simple fact
my true love is reborn

The Interactive Canvas

About a month ago I wrote about a project called The Interactive Canvas. At the time it was a Kickstarter hopeful, with author Matt Sainsbury (of Digitally Downloaded) hoping that people would pledge enough money for him to assemble the games industry interview collection of his dreams.

Typically Kickstarter success is measured in terms of funds: if you don’t meet your goal, you’ve failed. If you have met your goal, you’ve succeeded. If you’ve exceeded your goal, you turn cartwheels for several weeks straight.

In the case of The Interactive Canvas, however, success took quite a different form: Matt got the news that a traditional publisher was interested in his book, and he wouldn’t have to crowdfund it after all. The Kickstarter came down, and The Interactive Canvas was fast-tracked to becoming a reality. Hot on the heels of this good news, Matt Sainsbury sat down to graciously respond to my stream of nonsense.

1) In exactly 21 words, what is your intention with The Interactive Canvas?

To provide a definitive resource on the topic of art games, through interviews with some of the industry’s greatest creative minds.

(That was more restrictive than Twitter, you evil man!)

2) What’s the philosophy behind the book? What goes into selecting what you’ll cover, and how you’ll cover it?

The Interactive Canvas is taking my standard journalist process — interview, interview and interview some more — and building a book around it. It’s the people that make games that best know the creative process behind making games, so I do believe that letting them talk about themselves, their backgrounds and their approach to game design will be the best way to show the broader arts community that games are really no different to film or literature now.

As for how I select what to cover, I play dozens of games, sometimes in one week, so, while it would be impossible to cover every artistic game, I have played a very broad range of very artistic games. Securing interviews with the developers of those was my first priority.

3) If you could change one thing about the games industry, what would it be?

It needs greater input from women. The number of women who are game directors (ie: the top of the industry’s creativity) is small — certainly smaller than in any other creative industry. It would be truly great if this industry could move past the boy’s club, and the creative ideas of women could be given the same prominence as their male counterparts.

4) If you could change one thing about gaming community / fans, what would that be?

It would be really lovely of the gaming community could stop harassing game developers for their creative ideas. Mass Effect 3‘s ending and Dante’s “new look” in DMC are just two examples, but there are many more where, the moment a game developer does something that people don’t agree with or don’t understand, those same people take to Twitter, forums, Metacritic and more to harass and threaten harm to the developer. How can we have a creative industry for artists to work with when said artists have a good reason to be frightened to be creative?

5) You’ve referred to The Interactive Canvas as the first book in a series. In what ways would you like to see the series evolve as it progresses?

In my dreams this book will be an annual publication that will continue to track the development of the games industry as a creative medium through more interviews with more developers. I would be over the moon if, ten years down the track, people have access to ten editions of this book, and they can refer back to the first and second book to see the progress of the ideas and philosophy that drive game developers and the games they make.

6) You’ve traveled through time, and you’re handed a pre-release copy of Super Mario Bros. 3. It’s your job to change it in some way to make it better than the game we know today. What do you change? And don’t give me that “It’s already perfect” horsecrap.

I add Chocobos. Every game gets better with Chocobos.

7) What’s your favorite Bob Dylan song?

“One Headlight” by The Wallflowers. I’m the only person in the world that prefers Bob Dylan’s son’s music, but there you go.

8) You’ve got a lot of great interviewees lined up for The Interactive Canvas, but if you could rub a lamp and have any three people in the industry agree to an interview, who would you choose?

David Cage: I interviewed him once before and the guy thinks about games more deeply than anyone else I’ve ever met.

Shigeru Miyamoto: It’s impossible to discuss games on any meaningful level without considering the impact that this man has had on games.

Yuko Taro: People might not know this name, but this is the man that made Nier. Nier is pure art.

9) Discussions about video games seem to get heated rather more quickly than discussions about literature or even music. Why do you think that is?

Discussions about video games get heated quickly, but, more importantly, they get heated over the silliest of topics. “My console is better than your console,” or “I disagree with you so you’re stupid.” It’s quite childish really and I do think that the reason that literature and music have more interesting, civil conversations is because it’s possible to find places to have discussions on a mature level. With the games industry it’s impossible to avoid the immaturity.

10) What is the second best gaming system ever made?

The PlayStation 3. I like my consoles handheld so the fact that the PS3 isn’t portable is the only reason why the DS will always be the better console in my mind. Both consoles have a shedload of JRPGs on them, and this really is all I care about when determining the quality of a console.

11) Why Kickstarter? What sort of challenges did you face working with that platform?

Because Kickstarter was to be the only way I could raise the money to self-fund the publishing of the book. It’s a marketing nightmare to try and get people to support a Kickstarter campaign; I must have spent 15 hours a day working on that thing while it was live, but it worked — without the Kickstarter I would never have got the publisher.

12) Peach or Rosalina?

Peach is a hopeless character, so Rosalina.

13) While it’s debatable whether or not the Ouya failed, it’s obvious that it didn’t meet expectations. What do you think happened?

I think people had unrealistic expectations of Ouya. People saw that it raised a few million dollars via Kickstarter and overshot its target by a massive margin, but forgot to remember that a console like the Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo devices cost more than a few million dollars to make and support. Ouya was always going to be a “B-Grade” console. The fact people were disappointed by this just shows how little people understand about how the spreadsheet side of the industry works.

14) What classic novel deserves a video game adaptation?

The Big Sleep. But I worry that Activision would buy the rights and turn it into a linear FPS with a cover system and dog companion.

15) You describe The Interactive Canvas as a coffee table book. On a scale from 1 – 10, how offended would you be if somebody kept it on their kitchen table instead?

10. The Kitchen is where you put cook books. Does it look like I’m going to have a recipe for my world famous lemon tart in there? Actually, that’s not such a bad idea…

16) It’s a tired question. I don’t care. Are video games, today, as they currently stand, art?

Yes. But people don’t treat games like art. They say “oh, games are art because look at how pretty they are,” completely misunderstand that a game’s graphics are not what makes it a work of art, and then go back to their arguments about how Call of Duty is better than Battlefield.

If games are to be legitimised as works of art in culture, then people need to start having discussions about games as art. This means philosophy. This means sociology, and psychology. This means feminism — without the writer then being targeted by threats of rape. Games will only truly be “art” when the conversations around games grows the heck up.

17) Your tastes seem to gravitate toward games with a traditionally Japanese flair. Why do you think that resonates more strongly with you than what you see in Western games? Or does it?

Japanese games tend to have a stronger grasp on the idea of “fun.” I look at Western games and I see two things absolutely dominate: sports games, and extremely violent games. The former is fine if you’re a fan of the sport, the latter is visceral. But where’s the oddball humour? The variety of experiences? The silly sexuality? The surrealism? The abstraction?

I generalise, of course, but the western games industry tends to take itself very seriously, while the Japanese games industry has Hidetaka Suehiro and Goichi Suda. And, somewhat ironically, because the likes of Suda are so off-the-wall and weirdly creative, his work has far more artistic merit than the Western developers that seem to be more interested in competing with Michael Bay.

18) If you could have complete creative control over a new game in any franchise, which would you choose? What would the game be like?

Not so much a franchise, I’d say, but rather a license – the Warhammer franchise has been done dreadfully for 15 years, or however long it’s been since Warhammer: Dark Omen was released. I would take that license and build a slow-paced strategy RTS that focuses heavily on the strategy side of things. You know, like how the actual tabletop game is.

19) Most disappointing game purchase or rental ever. Go.

Any modern game that has the words “Star Trek” on the cover. Seriously, how can developers mess up that franchise when they literally have decades of lore and an entire universe to play with? Mass Effect proved galactic character-based narratives can work in games. Star Trek developers have no excuse.

20) You’re trapped forever in any video game. Which is it?

Atelier Meruru: The Alchemist of Arland. Because Meruru.

BONUS: Say anything to our readers that you would like to say that hasn’t been covered above.

The best way to enjoy a good game is with a six pack or ten of beer.

I’d like to thank Matt for taking the time to answer my moderately-relevant questions. I’m sure that as publication dates are set I’ll be talking about it again, so keep an eye out here and on Digitally Downloaded.

Flappy Bird

Some of you might have heard about Flappy Bird, a very simple iOS game that saw an unexpected spike in popularity over the course of the past week or so. If you’re not interested in that game, don’t worry; I’m not going to talk about it, beyond using it to provide some context.

What I am going to talk about is the importance of maintaining the distance between artist and audience, and that’s something that Flappy Bird unwittingly illustrated quite well.

The simple game wasn’t exactly a critical success, but it found a large and appreciative audience all at once. To play you’d tap the screen. That was really it, but the cumbersome nature of the titular bird meant that it was downright miraculous if you made it any further than a few seconds into the game before failing. One tap equals one flap, but the physics complicated things; avoiding obstacles meant maintaining steady flight, which was quite hard to do when your bird was front-loaded and tended toward a natural face-plant.

That was the game, but that’s not why I’m talking about it. Why I’m talking about it is the fact that its developer, Dong Nguyen, has removed it as of yesterday from the App Store. His reasoning was both vague and clear; the game turned his life into a nightmare. Or, rather, those who played the game turned his life into a nightmare.

The kinds of messages Nguyen was receiving through Twitter and other media were absolutely out of line, but they were nothing compared to what happened after he announced the unavailability of his game: his life was threatened, the lives of his family and loved ones were threatened, and many in addition to that threatened to kill themselves. Whatever you might think of Nguyen’s decision to remove it from the App Store, the subsequent behavior of those who ostensibly enjoyed his game retroactively justifies his move. Why should he worry about disappointing people who would threaten homicide upon a man they’d never met?

Presumably Nguyen had fun designing the game. Presumably he also made the decision to monetize it. (It was available as a free download, but ads were shown in game.) What happened was that the fun was over, and the threats to his life and those he cared about were not worth the money. His audience, in a very direct way, killed what they loved.

This is something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately, and the Flappy Bird debacle is just the most recent instance. While there has always been some amount of interplay between artist and audience, for the most part this flowed in entirely one direction: downhill. The artist composes upon the mountaintop, the audience waits below.

Of course there wasn’t a perfect break between them. Artists still have (and have always had) families and friends. Agents, managers, publishers. There is always somebody around who will have a chance to provide their opinions and guidance to those doing the creating. But they made up a very small portion of the audience. They were necessary exceptions.

Now with Twitter, Facebook, email, forums, Reddit and the like, artists engage with fans much more directly. Rather than a handful of close friends, artists field feedback — and demands, and threats — from hundreds, thousands, or hundreds of thousands of members of their audience constantly. It gets overwhelming, I’m positive, and when issues do arise, things are compounded by the fact that the audience member providing feedback has the option of remaining anonymous. The artist has no such luxury.

While that’s a topic worthy of discussion — it really is, though that discussion should probably be started by somebody other than myself — what really baffles me is why such a large number of people choose to employ this unprecedented level of communication for destructive purposes.

Why the threats? Why the insults? Why the demands? When artists came down from the mountaintop with their paintings, their sculptures, their novels, their poems, their double-albums in illustrated gatefolds, that’s all the audience got. They could enjoy it and appraise it at their own pace in their own way, and only in very rare exceptions would they have a one-on-one audience with the artist during which they could register their opinions.

That was a good thing, because their opinions didn’t matter. Artists unappreciated in their time have gone on to become legends, precisely because they did not take advice. They worked the way they must work; that is to say, they remained true to themselves, and to their vision. They weren’t wrong to shut out the world…they were absolutely right, because it’s very often the world that has some catching up to do.

Now very few artists could achieve any kind of following at all without some kind of public presence, and a public presence today carries with it availability. Artists shouldn’t be personal entertainers, and yet we insist that they are. We don’t want to wait, we don’t want to be teased, and we don’t want to be disappointed. We hold artists personally accountable, and when we disagree with something, we tear them to shreds. It’s still the world that has the catching up to do, but we’re quick to destroy, and by the time we do catch up, that entire universe of artistic potential has been crushed or derailed.

Even when we do like something we tend toward destruction. Quentin Tarantino recently shelved The Hateful Eight, which was to have been his next movie project, because somebody saw it fit to leak the script. Not because they hated it…but because they could. We seek, and we destroy. We take a level of direct openness and transparency with our favorite artists that fans generations ago would have killed for, and we use it to kill anyway.

I do think there’s a debate to be had upon the merits of engaging with an audience. Certainly in some cases it seems to have worked out well…the DMX / George Zimmerman fight cancellation being a recent example of public outcry seeming to have turned a despicable publicity stunt into a rare moment of humble apology. There’s also The Venture Bros., whose pair of writers not only monitor online discussion but have openly spoken about ditching plotlines and resolutions that fans saw coming. While this level of organic response frustrates me, the fact is that the show is great, and for all we know it never would have achieved the highs that it has had the writers stuck to their original (apparently easily guessable) plans. Then, of course, there’s Ezra Pound, whose edits could well be the only reason we know T.S. Eliot today.

But, overall, I find it hard to believe that it’s constructive, or conducive to creating great art. Fans don’t know what they want; fans are fickle and reactionary on the whole. For everyone who quietly appreciates, fifty loudly rage.

Why? There’s certainly an awful lot of art that I don’t enjoy, and a lot of artists I make a point of avoiding, but I wouldn’t see the benefit in attacking them, in obstructing their plans, or of vocally detracting. The world is large. The world is varied. If an artist makes a choice you don’t agree with, the odds are good that there’s another artist making the opposite choice that you do agree with. There’s enough out there. It is no artist’s responsibility to appease his or her audience, regardless of what the modern culture of constant interconnectivity seems to suggest; it’s the audience’s job to follow the artists that they enjoy.

In the past, if an artist read negative reviews of his or her work and got upset, the onus was at least partially upon the artists. After all, you don’t need to read those. You can, but you realize you’re making a choice to do so.

Now it’s different. An artist wakes up to more messages from strangers than he or she does to messages from friends. That’s a scary imbalance, and it’s something I wouldn’t know how to address. Online, accessible socialization is increasingly mandatory for up-and-comers. Without it, how could you amass a fanbase today? But with it, won’t it get pretty tiresome trying to do the art you love when thousands of people you’ve never met are insisting you’re doing it wrong?

We lost Flappy Bird. To many people, that will mean nothing, and that’s okay. But that’s only one example; there’s no telling how much else we’ve lost, are losing, and will continue to lose by insistently stifling creativity. The Hateful Eight. Fez II. Whatever phantom episodes of The Venture Bros. never made it to production. All those unmade seasons of Chappelle’s Show. All those concerts Ryan Adams walked out of rather than deal with hecklers. That inconceivably long initial draft of The Waste Land.

Art is the one thing that makes this world tolerable. Well, that and love. Some would argue — and I’d be one — that they’re very similar concepts, and they’re both easy to destroy in the same way.

Let them be. If you don’t like it, move along to something you do like. Killing it gets you nowhere, and it just leaves the quiet, contemplative fans that much poorer for the loss.

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