Spooky-Silly Poetry Contest: Week 3!

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The wild rumpus of October continues! The fantastic folks at United We Game have been running a Spooky Silly Poetry Contest, featuring all sorts of eerie prose inspired by horror games. There’s writing on Doom, Slender: The Arrival, Vampire The Masquerade, and even this piece I wrote about Zombie Revenge and its glorious voice-overs. So be sure to hop over to United We Game and check out all of the wonderfully wicked wordsmithing!

Originally posted on United We Game:

Image captured by Hatmonster

Our little contest is now firmly underway with three weeks to its name thus far! Just two more to go and then it will finally be time for us all to cast our votes and decide who shall be crowned the Spooky Champion of Silly Poetry! This week’s entry comes from Chip of Games I Made My Girlfriend Play and is titled: Vendetta . But first, a little intro from the poet themselves:

View original 517 more words

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Reviving the Living Dead: I MAED A GAM3 W1TH Z0MBIES 1N IT!!!1

Lately, it seems like all of the proper scares have been popping up from independent studios.  Horror games like Amnesia: The Dark Descent and Slender: The Arrival make players quiver in fear more often than the triple-A offerings sitting on store shelves.  Without having major focus groups to please or sequel expectations to fulfill, smaller studios can more clearly represent the frightening concept or story they are trying to convey.

Similarly, if an independent studio wanted to make a relatively simple and fun game about friends eliminating hordes of zombies to a goofy theme song, then keeping other cooks out of the kitchen might be the best way to go.

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Officially titled as I MAED A GAM3 W1TH Z0MBIES 1N IT!!!1, this delightful game debuted on the Xbox 360 in August 2009.  Sold for only a dollar through Xbox Live’s Indie Marketplace, this game let up to four players mow down legions of increasingly difficult and absurd zombies in a top-down, twin-stick shooter fashion.  The simple controls and gradual difficulty curve emulates the arcade games of old, where a player’s only goal is to survive and set a high score.  What sets this fun little gem apart is the glorious music that serves as a single-song soundtrack to the carnage.

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Instead of a chiptune background beat or a symphonic movie-style score, I Made a Game With Zombies In It features a roughly 14-minute hard rock journey from the developer himself.  The tempo of the song flows with the gameplay, featuring slower beats when the action cools and shreddin’ guitars when things get frantic.  Even the lyrics fit the on-screen onslaught, as they center around the game itself.  Right from the start, developer James Silva melodically welcomes you to his game and gives you basic instructions on how to play (zombies come shambling out from all si-aye-ides/you’d better shoot them, or you’re gonna die-aye-aye).  Since the game lasts as long as the song, the whole experience feels like some sort of awesome concert you have to fight your way through.

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Unlike the other two games in our zombie round-up, I Made a Game with Zombies In It is available for download on Xbox 360 and Windows phones, so there is no excuse to miss out.  The ease of play and frantic multiplayer fun make this game a welcome addition to any ghoulish gaming gathering.  So be sure to check this one out.  Besides, it only costs a dollar for you to play-aye-aye.

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Reviving the Living Dead: Stubbs the Zombie in Rebel Without a Pulse

It’s a rare video game that will let you take control of a zombie.  Most of the time, players are limited to competitive shooters where it’s humans versus the undead (Go Team Zombie!) or in action games via a sort of temporary “extra life” as a shambling corpse(read: SO SLOW).  There have been a few games with undead protagonists like the mummy Chuck D. Head in DecapAttack or the ghoulish Polterguy in Haunting, but these examples are not really “zombie” games, strictly speaking.  You don’t exactly lead Polterguy to devour brains or guide Chuck to create a legion of creeping creatures.  That’s the sort of thing you leave to Stubbs the Zombie.

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Rebel Without a Pulse hit store shelves in 2005, during the appropriate month of October.  The titular Stubbs the Zombie was once Edward Stubblefield, a traveling salesman who met his untimely demise from a gunshot, courtesy of his gal Maggie’s father.  After collapsing in the woods in 1933, Stubbs is reanimated in 1959, at the grand opening of Punchbowl, Pennsylvania.  Angered at the venture capitalist who disturbed his eternal rest, Stubbs decides to hunt the wealthy playboy and cause quite a bit of carnage along the way.  What follows is a comedic and creepy quest through a sort of retro-future metropolis; the “city of tomorrow” that might have been seen in 1950s science fiction.

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Most of the game is spent trailing industrialist Andrew Monday through the city of Punchbowl.  As Stubbs, players can attack the citizens of Punchbowl, eating their brains and creating a group of zombie comrades that devour right alongside you.  Stubbs has some additional actions, most of which involve tearing off his own arm to beat enemies, activate switches, and take control of better-armed adversaries for some shooter options.  There were also plenty of vehicles to commandeer and drive recklessly through the perfectly polished pathways of Punchbowl.

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For my college self, the gameplay and visuals in Stubbs the Zombie felt like second nature, since the game was developed using the Halo engine.  As an avid Halo 2 junkie, the co-op campaign and Xbox controls made the transition from space marine to dopey zombie salesman rather seamless.  My friends and I would switch off between stages, playing as a pair of zombies on a mission of revenge (and eating tasty, tasty brains).  As we shambled through Punchbowl, a fantastic soundtrack of 50s and 60s era hits covered by modern alternative rock artists kept us bouncing in our seats.  The whole game was a delightful tribute to the goofy-spooky horror movies of the past.

Just like the previous title in our zombie game round-up, Stubbs the Zombie is a tough title to track down.  Our zombie friend was briefly ported to the Xbox 360 as an “Xbox Original” download, but the game was removed from the Marketplace in 2012.  There are still original Xbox, PC, and Mac hard copies floating around the internet, but an appropriately retro system is required to play any of these versions.  Since the developer, Wideload Games, was purchased and closed by Disney Interactive, it is unlikely that Stubbs will rise again on any modern offerings.

Even for the heady price that most of the original Xbox copies are calling for, Stubbs the Zombie is worth checking out.  It is a hilarious and gory co-op romp through a quirky science fiction setting.  There is a lot of fun to be had and brains to be eaten, so shamble forth with a friend and help Stubbs find his fate!

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Reviving the Living Dead: Zombie Revenge

Let’s play a little guessing game: I’ll rattle off a short plot description of a horror video game, and you the reader will try to come up with the title.  If you have a friend around, see who can name it first.  If you’re alone, just yell your guess at the computer screen and assume someone was around to hear it.  Here we go!

“A cataclysmic world event caused the dead to rise again.  In spite of the massive body count, a handful of survivors managed to keep themselves alive.  The player takes control of a grizzled and world-weary soul, who’s only motivation is to keep breathing and try to regain some bits of his/her life before the apocalypse.  While the undead could attack at any time, players will find that the real monsters are other humans.”

So, did you figure out the game I am talking about?  Me neither!  This brief plot intro could be one of a dozen video games on the market today.  Whether it’s the living dead, humans driven insane with rage, or some sort of parasitic creature, most zombie games have fallen into a rut.  Gameplay boils down to some sort of shooter with a brooding plot about managing to survive in a ruined world.  This type of game isn’t necessarily bad, but it takes a little digging to find a zombie game that stands out from the crowd.

This week, I want to highlight some video games featuring the world’s favorite shambling terrors that are unique and fun to play.  So let’s kick things off with Zombie Revenge.

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Originally released in 1999 in arcades and for the Sega Dreamcast, Zombie Revenge was a spin-off game from the beloved House of the Dead series.  Instead of the usual on-rails shooter gameplay, Zombie Revenge was a 3D beat ‘em up in the vein of Final Fight or Streets of Rage.  Players could select from three AMS agents (one of whom is a half-zombie martial artist) to eliminate a horde of zombies and take down the bioterrorist known as Zed.  These intrepid heroes would use the brawler trifecta of punches, kicks, and expendable weapons to take down enemies and bosses in an infested city.

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At the time of Zombie Revenge’s debut, my brother and I were already devoted players of House of the Dead 2.  We loved the campy horror movie stylings and the interesting boss designs.  To see this aesthetic brought over as a beat em’ up was pretty much our digital chocolate and peanut butter.  It was so much fun using spin kicks and bare-knuckle brawling to take down zombies, and the weapons ranged from practical to just plain absurd.  There was a variety of firearms (from pistols to flamethrowers), a handful of melee weapons (axes and lead pipes), and some silly bonus items.  There is ghoulish fun to be had by taking a comically large power drill and boring through hordes of colorful zombies.

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Fortunately, Sega made sure to port this arcade cult classic to the Dreamcast with some extra modes and options (including a VMU game of zombie fishing).  Unfortunately, this game has yet to be ported to any other system.  It seems like an obvious choice for a Sega Dreamcast bundle pack, but time and time again this schlocky horror game is overlooked for Sonic and his ilk.  Outside of a handful of cameos in tennis and racing games, Zombie Revenge has yet to claw its way back from 1999.  But if you are willing to seek out a Dreamcast (which you should), I would recommend Zombie Revenge as a must-have game for some zombie co-op fun.  Just be sure to share the power drill and guitar weapons with your friend; don’t be a greedy turtle.

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Spirit Camera

A common theme in Asian horror films is the use of technology as a conduit for malevolent forces.  This strikes me as an interesting means to instill fear, since so many of the modern items we have come to rely on have a secondary function of dispelling superstitions and myths from previous ages.  Devices like cell phones and televisions provide us with instant access to vital information and emergency updates, support networks and uplifting videos of cute animals.  But in the realm of Asian horror films, these useful bits of technology are gateways from which a vengeful spirit can attack us at anytime.

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When the 3DS first released, a major focus of the system was the no-glasses 3D technology that would provide players with a different view of the games they enjoyed.  Behind the fanfare of stereoscopic visuals and flashy images that pop out from the screen, Nintendo bundled a set of cards with every system that utilized another interesting function of the handheld: augmented reality technology.  Using the camera built into the system, players could interact with the world around them to make games in their own homes.  They could take pictures of their friends to import into virtual battles; little alien ships with friendly faces, floating around their homes to be struck down with virtual foam balls.  Little did the world know that Tecmo Koei, the company behind the terrifying Fatal Frame series, had plans for this AR technology that involved using the 3DS as a means to bring dark phantoms into players’ homes.

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Released in April 2012, Spirit Camera: The Cursed Memoir follows in the footsteps of the Fatal Frame series, where protagonists must ward off vengeful specters using the Camera Obscura.  Unlike previous entries in the series, The Cursed Memoir utilizes the built-in camera on the 3DS to further engage the player as their handheld becomes the Camera Obscura and their home turns into a haunted battleground.

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Using an AR notebook called the “Diary of Faces,” players open a gateway between their reality and an old house where many spirits have been trapped.  Driven mad by a particularly evil resident of this house, these hostile spirits cross-over into the player’s world.  Only a single apparition, the amnesiac Maya, provides the player with any aid to defeat these insane ghosts and resolve the curse behind the diary.

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Much of the gameplay involves using the 3DS camera to battle spirits that invade the player’s home.  Some of these enemies are rather straightforward in their attacks, appearing around the player and trying to attack head-on.  But others will hide and use items from the cursed notebook to aid them in battle.  One particularly haunting moment in Spirit Camera involves a game of hide-and-seek with a masked boy, turning through the pages of the diary and looking around the player’s house to find this devious child.

Even with this unique use of the 3DS technology, Spirit Camera falters in some areas.  The story mode is rather short and requires the notebook packaged with the game to play (be sure to check for the diary when buying used).  The gameplay experience is also limited by the 3DS camera, as a good amount of light is needed for the lens to properly read the diary pages.  For those players who prefer to play horror games in the dark, this may weaken their immersion in the game.

Outside of these minor issues, Spirit Camera is an interesting and absolutely creepy game to enjoy on the 3DS.  The visuals and character designs are genuinely frightening.  Watching virtual spirits coming towards you from inside the comfort your own home provides a level of engagement lacking in other games.  After seeing the developer’s ingenuity with the 3DS technology, I am eager to see what Tecmo Koei will do with the Wii-U for Fatal Frame V: The Black Haired Shrine Maiden.

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Chip’s Spooky Demo Round-Up

During the CD-rom boom of the late 90s, most gaming magazines came bundled with demo discs to show off upcoming titles.  Instead of the previous media wars fought with optimal screenshots and early preview coverage, the new weapons were discs loaded with exclusive demos and videos.  I can recall so many issues of Official Playstation Magazine and PC Gamer that were bought solely for the shiny bit of plastic attached to their covers.

Even though most print media has fallen from the shelves, video game demos still persist as a means to sell product.  Nearly all of the games featured on the Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network feature trial versions as a tempting gateway to a full purchase.  As a result, my friends and I have made a metagame out of downloading piles of demos and binging on these trial versions for an evening of fun.

For this fantastically frightening month of October, I have gathered a handful of spooky game demos to play on my Xbox 360. Please join me as we take ghoulish glimpses into these terror-filled titles!

Anna: Extended Edition

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At first glance, Anna seems like a unique horror title amongst a sea of zombie massacres and gory shooting sprees.  The game takes place at an pleasant sawmill set in the gorgeous Italian mountains.  Vivid colors, impressive graphics, and generally bright visuals serve as a contrast to the seemingly dark story that the player must uncover.  But beneath this lovely exterior lies a horror beyond any player’s expectations: classic adventure game point-and-click logic.

That’s right folks- Anna is a game all about rubbing every single object you happen to accumulate upon every single interactive surface in the game.  Most of the demo is spent trying to figure out how to get into the sawmill, which is where the really interesting bits of the game (supposedly) happen.  In order to glean even the slightest inkling of the main character’s motivation to enter this rustic building, the player has to slog through a dozen pages of a rather bland journal.  In an older game from the 90s, this sort of gameplay would have been acceptable and heralded as engaging storytelling.  But in our modern world, where games like Bastion manage to enrapture players with a narrative woven into the core gameplay, forcing your player to read a digital journal just to get interested is a cardinal sin.

Anna: Extended Edition is a gorgeous game that should keep players engaged for an interesting story, but instead it sets up roadblocks and stumbling stones right from the start.

Abyss Odyssey

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Whenever I am asked what sort of game I would design, my default answer is always the same: multiplayer Symphony of the Night.  But since Harmony of Dissonance fell short of my hopes and dreams (no story, what gives?!), I have continued to plan for the inevitable day my ideal game would come along.  Fortunately, an absolutely beautiful game by the name of Abyss Odyssey has come along to distract me once more.

From an indie studio based out of Chile, Abyss Odyssey tells the story of a warlock who slumbers at the bottom of a deep chasm.  As this magician sleeps, the dreams that fill his mind become reality, and clamber to the surface to attack the populace of the human world.  Fortunately, the warlock has also dreamt of three heroes who are willing to make their way below to wake their maker.

Much of the game plays like a side-scrolling beat em’ up with some fighting game flair.  Players can upgrade their weapons and armor, unlock magic attacks, and work as a team to uncover new content.  Abyss Odyssey also features roguelike elements, such as randomized dungeons and a mechanic where the moment a hero falls, a human soldier takes their place in a survive-or-permadie circumstance.  What really makes this game stand out is the unique Art Nouveau visuals that suit the play-style so much, it’s a wonder we haven’t seen something like this before.

If you are looking for a lovely and challenging co-op experience, I would recommend Abyss Odyssey.  If nothing else, just hop on their website and admire the beautiful character art.

Slender: The Arrival

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At the start of Slender: The Arrival, there is a opening screen that encourages players to, “approach this game with an open mind.  Make use of your own personal relatable experiences and memories of desolation in the wild.  You’re on your own and your survival is up to you.”  Right from the start, Slender imparts an atmosphere of dread to the foolish player who dared to play this game alone in a darkened room.

Fortunately, this game doesn’t have to rely on an unsettling title screen to maintain a general unease throughout the experience.  Excellent lighting and environment visuals immerse the player into a series of not-so-abandoned locales, the first of which being the house of a longtime friend, deep in the mountains.  As you investigate the artifacts left behind by your virtual pal, little glimpses of a literally faceless monster creep in from the periphery.  The suited antagonist known as Slender Man pops up in scripted moments that may or may not be encountered by the player.  Since these quick shots of the specter are not always seen, the seemingly random experiences keep the scares fresh.

The demo stops just short of a venture into the woods where the Slender Man directly hunts the protagonist, so it’s up to the player to overcome this fear and go forth… or you could be a sissy like me and give up immediately.  Slender: The Arrival is a fantastic and creepy game to play this Halloween, so give it a glare if you’re in for a scare!

 

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Go and Play: Among the Sleep

For many modern video games, the fears that plagued us as children serve as the basis for the suspenseful moments that frighten us as adults.  A fear of darkness, the vulnerability of being alone, uncontrollable forces that threaten to wrench control from our tiny hands; these childhood emotions can be used to torment even the most grizzled of video game players.

Sure, the protagonists of these games may have sophisticated weaponry and stone-cut chins with which to battle the denizens of hell.  But even with these awesome tools, the terror of malevolent forces never seems to loosen its icy grasp.  So what happens when players are tasked to play as a two-year old kid?

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Among the Sleep is a first-person horror adventure game in which players take control of a small child on eve of his second birthday.  The game begins normally enough for a child of this age: his mother presents him with a cake, there is merrymaking and gifts, bright colors and a festive nature abounds.  After all of the day’s excitement, the little boy is laid to bed with his favorite toy, a well-worn teddy bear, and bid off to the comfortable realm of sleep.

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But something goes terribly wrong.  There is a noise, a commotion breaks the safety of his home.  A familiar voice cries out and is quickly silenced by some unknown threat.  The two-year old (and the player, by proxy) wakes up as he spills out of his overturned crib.  With only the guiding voice of his loyal teddy, the little boy searches his darkened house to find out what happened to his mother.

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Among the Sleep features a unique perspective from most horror games, as the player can only crawl or barely toddle through sinister environments to search for his mom.  Every object seems larger than normal, since the player is looking from such a diminutive vantage.  As a result, a plain coat or boots hanging in a closet could be a giant predator, lying in wait to snatch up young children.

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Much of the game takes place in the protagonist’s home, along with a dramatic dreamscape that lurks behind the scenes of suburban bliss.  Ominous forests, foreboding swamps, and abandoned cottages all spring up around the little boy.  Each of these seemingly sinister areas feature little artifacts of a child’s playing, such as toy blocks or crayon drawings, which makes the realms of reality and fantasy blur along the way.  All of these environments are well rendered, with dramatic lighting effects and heavy shadows as a sharp contrast to a colorful world.

For horror game fans who are looking for something a bit different for this spooky season, I would definitely recommend Among the Sleep.  This game provides an engaging narrative that is strengthened by a perspective and gameplay that is unlike other modern titles.  Just remember, like those fears from our childhood, Among the Sleep can leave a lingering effect on anyone who plays.

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They Came to Earth For One Thing…

GIMMGP NEEDS HORROR GAMES!

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NOTE: Dramatization May Not Resemble Us

October is upon us once more, faithful readers!  Time for spooky sights, sounds, and sweets to fill the stores, shelves, and streets.  Laura and I have already stocked our headquarters with seasonal candies and beverages, consuming both while we play our way through ghoulishly great games.  We have some special tricks and treats for all of you this year, including themed weeks and special guest contributions from our fiendish friends.  So grab your candy bag, load up your squirt gun, and get ready for another month filled with hordes of horror games and scads of spooky recommendations!

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Playing to the Crowd

We live in an age where millions of people tune in on a daily basis to watch other folks play video games.  New releases showcased by YouTube personalities, retro games chronicled by historians, marathons of oddball titles for charity; there is pretty much every sort of game being played across the internet.

Generally speaking, I would much rather play a video game myself than watch a stranger make his/her way through one.  The lack of control tends to take me out of the experience.  But I certainly understand the appeal of watching these videos, particularly when the game being played is not accessible to the general public.  There are so many games that are simply unavailable to buy, borrow, or even download in less-than-legal ways, so it makes sense to record and display videos of this near-forgotten gems.

Outside of the hard-to-find titles, there is another type of video game that works well in the realm of let’s plays and livestreams: bombastic and absurd games that seem tailored to a crowd of viewers.  Now that I have been on the other side of the screen, I have come to find that certain games are much more fun with an audience cheering you on.

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Just looking at the list of games from the U-Pick Video Game Marathon for Charity, there were some clear choices made for games that would be delightful to watch.  Weird titles like Incredible Crisis and Cubivore are the sort of games that are both rare and super odd, making for a worthwhile experience akin to seeing a goofy animal in the wild.  Watching a Japanese family battle giant robots and flashy covert ops agents or witnessing a bestial cube devour other more passive cube-animals for better limbs is a great way to pass the time.

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Other games like Steel Battalion are a sort of extension from the arcade days of old, where increasingly complex controls beckoned players and gawkers to spend their quarters.  The gigantic mech-pilot controller (complete with floor pedals!) is such a cumbersome device that anyone who sits behind it feels like part of a silly performance piece.  Most of the fun watching this sort of game is seeing the player react to the myriad of buttons and flashing panels on the instrument in front of them, while the action on the screen becomes background noise.

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The most obvious kind of game to play with a group are mediocre titles that are laughably lackluster.  For U-Pick, games like Ninjabread Man and Hannah Montana were the cream of the rotten crop.  This sort of experience is familiar to anyone who has sat down to riff on bad horror/sci-fi films (a la Mystery Science Theater).  Watching someone struggle through frustrating controls, bad voice acting, and a terrible premise becomes a sort of shared suffering; where telling jokes and laughing at glitches is a soothing balm for their weary brows.  The entire act becomes even sweeter when everyone involved wants to see the player succeed against poor design, so it becomes a gauntlet of gaming with a cheering and jeering crowd.  That final moment of play and the resulting credits screen means victory for all, and never playing that crap again.

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I am starting to realize that the practice of viewing let’s plays and livestreams on YouTube is kind of like sitting around the television, watching your friends play video games.  As Laura makes her way through Hatoful Boyfriend and I struggle with the controls of Octodad: Dadliest Catch, it has become clear that certain games practically require an audience to complete the experience of fun.  So maybe I will start to make exceptions to my hard rule of “playing over watching,” and make a better attempt to understand the culture of YouTubers.

In reality, I will just watch the occasional broadcast from my friends at U-Pick.  Baby steps, Chip.  Baby steps.

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You Should Watch: Diggin’ In The Carts

On a recent journey to the homeland of my ancestors (read: my parents’ house), I was able to share in a nostalgia-made-modern moment with my father.  We were sitting at his netbook (which looks adorably small in front of two giant men), watching the wonderful videos from acapella master Smooth McGroove.  As someone who grew up in a house full of doo-wop music and video games, hearing the classic gaming tunes of my youth turned into vocal tracks was such a treat to share with my dad.  He clicked through the themes that we both recognized (Tetris, Super Mario Brothers, Legend of Zelda), reminiscing on the sounds that resonated from our living room television for much of my childhood.

It occurred to me that the soundtracks of arcade games and home consoles of the late 80s and early 90s were a touchstone for my family.  Even now, we all recognize the call to adventure from the Legend of Zelda’s main theme or the dark urgency of the ballads from Castlevania.  This sentiment was certainly not unique to my family; so many of my friends and relatives lived in a similar state of chiptune bliss during that time period.  In spite of this pervasive influence from video game music in our homes, most of us have little knowledge of the origin behind these beloved songs.  Fortunately, Red Bull Music Academy has produced a great documentary series that sheds some light on the talent behind the tunes.

DigginInTheCarts1Debuting earlier this month, Diggin’ In The Carts delves into the history of video game music by focusing on the men and women who pioneered the field.  Each episode is about a certain set of music and games, zeroing in on a specific time period in the industry’s growth.  The series is well-produced and highlights the composers who created the classic sounds in a very digestible and interesting manner.

The episodes clock in at just over 15 minutes each, with plenty of stories and anecdotes provided through slick interviews with the composers.  Some of my favorite moments have been the influence of reggae music on the NES/Game Boy work of Hirokazu “Hip” Tanaka, and the fun origin of Blanka’s Theme from Street Fighter 2, courtesy of Yoko Shimomura.  It’s these delightful tales that make Diggin’ In The Carts so accessible to any viewer.  Instead of being a cut-and-dry analysis on the technical aspects of sound, we get a very personable look at the people who devoted themselves to making beloved music.

I urge all who read this (or anyone, really) to watch Diggin’ In The Carts.  Video game enthusiasts will geek out at the historical content, music nerds will love to see the variety of influences that made their way onto carts, and the general public will finally see a face behind the music that filled their homes in the gaming days of old.  With four fantastic episodes released thus far, it’s an ideal way to spend an hour.

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