Category: Reviews

Ludo2017 Conference Review by Ivan Mouraviev

Ludo17 Conference Report: Highlights and Themes

Ivan Mouraviev [1] reviews Ludo2017 for us, offering his thoughts on the experience.

Ivan is a student at the University of Auckland, New Zealand, where he specializes in game music. Ludo2017 was his first Ludo conference, where he presented a very well-received paper ‘Textual Play: Music as Performance in the Ludomusicological Discourse’.

Independent scholar Mark Benis, writing in his report for the 2017 North American Conference on Video Game Music, recently remarked that “video games have a way of bringing people together.” Indeed they do. This is how I felt at the sixth annual Ludomusicology conference held over 20-22 April at Bath Spa University. The event was hosted by Professor James Newman and organised by Ludomusicology Research Group members Michiel Kamp, Tim Summers, Mark Sweeney, and Melanie Fritsch. [2] As a student and newcomer to the world of academic conferences, I did not entirely know what to expect at Ludo17. However, delegates and organisers alike were superbly welcoming. Being at the conference was a fun and intellectually stimulating experience from start to finish. With 40+ attendees across three days, 30 diverse papers were presented that ranged from musicological and music-theoretical investigations of music in video games to studies of game music history, composition, technology, and performance. Indeed, diversity of approach and subject matter was a hallmark of the event. In what follows I report on the conference via a series of personal highlights, summarising what I found to be among the most significant research presentations; I also tease out emerging trends, questions, and possible points of departure for future research. The report is organised loosely around four themes rather than by presentations chronologically. Please forgive my inevitably many omissions.

 

  1. Constraints and affordances: game music technology and composition

Blake Troise opened the conference by presenting his research on the technological and creatives affordance of 1-bit music: a sub-category of chiptune based on a single square wave. [3] As the name of 1-bit suggests, the synthetic process of 1-bit music imposes binary limitations—a square wave can only be produced at either a high or low amplitude (that is, and on or off signal). However, through a live demonstration, Troise showed how sophisticated polyphony, timbral variation, and even supra-binary amplitudes can be achieved with 1-bit chiptune—for example by exploiting the limits of perception (since discrete transients less than 100 milliseconds apart are perceived by the human brain as a single sound), and using techniques like pin-pulse modulation (which can help avoid the mutual cancellation of two overlapping signals).

Composer Ricardo Climent offered a different flavour of research on a similar theme, also on the first day. Climent presented his fascinating use of the freely available game-design software Unreal Engine to unfold musical narratives ludically. [4] Specifically, this took the form of an interactive work titled s.laag, which serves as a game-level replica of the World’s Fair held in Brussels in 1958; primarily the player-character takes on the role of a bass clarinet to navigate through various mini-games and around architectural icons. Kevin Burke’s presentation was also retrospective but took a different, more analytical approach, examining how composer Hitoshi Sakimoto—of Final Fantasy and Valkyria Chronicles fame—utilised a custom Terpsichorean sound driver in the 1990s to produce musical results that significantly surpassed late-twentieth-century expectations for 16 bit sound synthesis. Come day three, Richard Stevens and Niklos Stavropoulos dealt with video game music from a more explicitly design- and implementation-focussed perspective, presenting some valuable techniques for manipulating and performing pre-composed sound in games (also using, like Climent, Unreal Engine). [5]

Ultimately it was Kenneth ‘Kenny’ McAlpine, though, the first of Ludo17’s three keynote speakers, who most compellingly synthesised the many diverse strands making up this broad theme of game music technology, composition, and affordances/constraints. [6] McAlpine showcased some of the research behind his forthcoming Bits and Pieces: A History of Chiptunes (Oxford University Press). He discussed the various affordances of technologies like the ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64, and more, presenting a broad range of historical and conceptual themes in a captivatingly personal way. Especially memorable was McAlpine’s emphasis on the idea that the near-total freedom of musical production available to us today, not least through digital audio workstations such as Apple’s Logic Pro, can be “crippling”. The goal of contemporary artistic practice—both within and beyond the realm of video game music—may not so much be a matter of “freedom of choice” as “freedom from choice”.

 

  1. Rule-bound musical play

What defines the “game” in “video game”? This was a question addressed by James Saunders, who highlighted Jesper Juul’s work on the topic (2003) as well as Huizinga’s important theorisation of play (1955), to pinpoint some insightful correspondences between rules in games and indeterminate music. [7] Saunders also noted how the structuring, constraining, and sometimes not immediately perceptible effects of video game rules can (re)present models of social interaction, and facilitate players’ agency by offering both choices and goals for game and music play. Two-way engagement between Twitch streamers and their often expansive audiences was raised as an example of such interaction in the discussion following Saunders’ presentation. Indeed, web audiences can significantly influence—and at times even determine—the structure and content of a streamer’s gameplay. Many streamers also publicly perform their musical taste by playing popular music as a kind of trans-diegetic underscore, that can be structured by audience interaction and be experienced as both external (non-diegetic) and integral (diegetic) to the streamer’s ludic performance. The 2015 article “From Mixtapes to Multiplayers” by Michael Austin (who also presented a fascinating paper on the participatory musical culture of “Automatic Mario Music Videos” on Day 2) certainly comes to mind, for Austin’s examination of how different kinds of social video gaming can serve as gamified “transmutation[s] of the mixtape” and displays of curatorial control. [8] As the professional players of massive online battle-arena (MOBA) games like Dota 2 continue to attract large streaming audiences, and video games become increasingly formidable icons in popular culture more generally, the realm of game-like musical interactions in virtual spaces seems ripe for further scholarly investigation. How, for example, are streamer-audience musical interactions shaped by the (in)formal rules that moderators enforce on platforms such as Twitch, perhaps contributing in turn to a broader fostering of online community?

On the broader theme of music and rule-bounded play it is hard not to mention the work of Roger Moseley. [9] On Day 3 Moseley presented a superb keynote that resonated with the approach and several themes within his recently-published and open-access monograph Keys to Play (University of California Press, 2016). [10] The keynote was titled “Recursive Representations of Musical Recreation”, placing “recursion”—signalling basic repetition and looping, the successive executions that occur in computation, and more specifically a kind of historical ludomusical praxis—in the critical spotlight. One particular argument was for “recreation” as a potentially more critically rewarding notion than “reproduction” when dealing with the recursive nature of ludomusicality, since “reproduction” has been historically more closely associated with a decidedly “serious” “phonograph ideology” rather than intrinsically creative and performative action (an association no doubt spurred by, or at least reflected in, Adorno’s and Walter Benjamin’s famous twentieth-century critiques of commercial culture). The first known use of the term “ludomusicology” can be traced to digital-game researcher and music theorist Guillaume Laroche in 2007; nevertheless, Moseley’s contributions to our understanding of the implications of the term “ludomusicology”—broadly construed as the study of music and play—have been seminal. [11] This is eminent not only in Keys to Play, but also in the 2013 chapter “Playing Games with Music” which elaborates play theory by Huizinga and Roger Caillois in the context of Guitar Hero after a much-needed historicization of work and play. [12] Indeed, central to Moseley’s work has been the goal of putting “play on display” in historical terms within a “media archaeology” framework, illuminating the possibility that “notions and terminology associated with digital games are capable of enlightening historical ludomusical praxis, just as the latter informs the former.” [13]

 

  1. Video game music as performance and/or culture

Several papers dealt with video game music and broader notions of culture, performance, or both. Presenting on the first day, Donal Fullam discussed how video game music can be understood as an expression of “algorithmic culture”. [14] For Fullam this cultural expression is a relatively recent incarnation of a more long-standing impulse, one that “treats music as an algorithmically determined system” and can be traced to the twentieth century avant garde and even further, to the foundations of functional harmony (which in turn represents a more basic tendency to systematise musical sound as a “cultural articulation”). A similar theoretical view of music as performing cultural and aesthetic functions was explored on Day 2 by Edward Spencer. His study investigated the bass-music signification and broader sociopolitical implications of Major League Gaming Montage Parodies, or MLGMPs. These represent a specific music video genre that employs audiovisual memes and “canonic” dubstep tracks by the likes of Skrillex to parody montages of skillful first-person shooter gameplay. [15] As Spencer convincingly showed through a critique of recent postmodern theory around notions of meaningless in contemporary culture, MLGMPs should not be automatically dismissed simply because they may, at first glance, seem to represent “ultimate” instances of “media convergence and ludic semiotic excess”.

Melanie Fritsch presented and applied also on Day 2 a theoretical platform for the analysis of music in video games.  principally argue that music in video games may be, but so far largely has not been, studies through the lens of interdisciplinary performance studies—which generally favours an ontology of music that is necessarily behavioural and social. [16] Fritsch did note, however, that scholars such as Tim Summers, Kiri Miller, and Karen Collins (and, I would add, William Cheng) have started to investigate music in video games beyond the basic paradigm of musicological close reading; both Miller and Cheng have favoured ethnographic paradigms while Summers is broadly interdisciplinary and Collins has tended towards embodied cognition and performance analysis. [17] Fritsch also introduced the German terms aufführung and leistung for understanding performance in a novel and more multi-dimensional way, with the former referring to presentation, aesthetics, and artistry and the latter encapsulating notions of skillful display, effort, and efficiency. Fritsch’s transnational perspective resonates with Moseley’s valuable historicisation of work and play in that both serve as a reminder that fundamental terms in music scholarship like “performance” and “play” are historically and socially contingent. Indeed, what one group of gamers or scholars regards as “play”, whether ludically or musically or both, may take on dramatically differently meaning across different times, spaces, or sociocultural settings. Or, put differently, the somewhat taken-for-granted idea that both games and music are inherently playful may be more thoroughly examined in a more empirically grounded, historically and socially (and perhaps even politically) specific way.

This last question may apply equally to video game music—that which is produced, performed, and listened to beyond conventional gameplay, such as in the concert hall. Video game music in this sense was explored in a concentrated and lively manner across four back-to-back presentations in Session 7, titled “In Concert”. In the first half of the session, Joana Freitas and Elizabeth Hunt drew attention to how notable organisations like Video Games Live have sought to “gamify” the concert hall in order to achieve “collaborative immersion and experience”. [18] James S. Tate and Ben Hopgood then dealt more specifically with music associated with Japanese Role-Playing Games (JRPGs) and Final Fantasy respectively; Tate presented convincing evidence for, and hypotheses to explain, the widespread popularity of JRPG soundtracks in concert performance, while Hopgood’s study was more analytical in discussing the easy-to-forget but nevertheless prominent “classical music identifiers” that video game music often carries as part of its dense semiotic baggage. [19] Though it was only mentioned in passing, an exciting and potentially highly rewarding direction for future research in this area is the ongoing global concert tour of thatgamecompany’s broadly well-received PS3/4 title Journey; the tour features Chicago’s Fifth House ensemble performing the game’s soundtrack in real time in response to the actions of four-to-six players on stage. [20]

 

  1. Learning music through games and vice versa: video game pedagogy

Talks on the role of video games—and principles of play more generally—in education only made up a small portion of Ludo17, however, the quality of research presented and potential for growth on this theme certainly warrants its own sub-heading. On day three Meghan Naxer brought to light the value of video game game principles and practices to be fruitfully manifested in the classroom. [21] A personal anecdote in this regard was especially revealing: after responding student email queries with indirect suggestions to literature and other resources, Naxer’s students interpreted the interaction as a game-like “side quest” and subsequently became all the more excited to engage in independent study. Jan Torge Claussen next presented his ongoing research with 18 students learning to play guitar through Rocksmith, the decidedly more education-oriented competitor of Guitar Hero and Rock Band. [22] Claussen’s students have been video recorded and completed journals detailing their experiences with the game; early findings tentatively suggest that Rocksmith may be a useful means to learn how to play guitar through Rocksmith rather than to gain guitar proficiency in general.

 

Concluding remarks

In closing, I would like to draw attention to three talks that were especially intellectually stimulating, but do not fall neatly under any of the thematic categories I use above. Firstly, Stephen Tatlow and George Marshall expertly examined complex questions of music and diegesis, through voice communication in the fantasy role-playing game EVE Online and popular music in the racing title Forza respectively. [23] Implicit in Tatlow’s discussion was the possibility for in-game diegetic voices to function musically, or rather for music to function as a player’s in-game diegetic voice—as music arguably already does in Journey, where the only means of direct communication involves performing short musical pulses in the absence of conventional text- and voice-based chat. Secondly, James Tate discussed the problematic potential of developing a video game music studies canon, an especially important issue that we need not inherit from popular music studies and the Western ‘art’ music realm. [24] As Tate’s research showed, though, nostalgia is already something of a potent structuring force in steering which titles are most prominent in the game studies discourse. How, going forward, will we negotiate our personal tastes with academic integrity and maintain a field driven by egalitarian values that emphasise the embracing of diversity? Thirdly, Michiel Kamp’s “Ludo-musical Kuleshov?” drew much-needed attention to the importance of understanding the psychology of video game music perception and affect, including how strongly our interpretations of music can be guided by on-screen and vice versa. [25] Kamp also presented the exciting potential of his ludo-musical (practice-led) research paradigm whereby a relatively simple game design allowed flexible and iterative reformulation of research questions as uncertainties were clarified or new questions arose. In turn this brought to light how empirically-grounded musicological study tends to exist at the broader intersection of the ‘hard’ sciences and the humanities, drawing on the principles and techniques of both.

Finally, it is worth highlighting the concert curated by Professor James Saunders (with thanks to Alex Glyde-Bates) held at the end of day two. Performed works included the playful and aesthetically engaging, as was the case with Troise’s chiptune piece “FAMIFOOD” and Clement’s live play-through of s.laag. More overtly unconventional and thought-provoking compositions by Louis d’Heudieres and Ben Jameson explored, by ludic means, the ontological boundaries of “authentic” live performance—through a rule-based approach and Guitar Hero respectively. [26] Jameson’s piece in particular stood out, as a novel, compositional and performative elaboration of the seminal Guitar Hero research carried out by Kiri Miller. I believe our broad and fast-growing field of video game music studies should continue to feature and therefore encourage more work in this vein of artistic practice as research, which includes the studies by Clement and Kamp mentioned above; it is an emerging paradigm that has long been accepted in the visual and dramatic arts as a valid means of producing knowledge but remains relatively under-theorised and under-developed in music. [27]

In summary, Ludo17 was diverse, fun, and intellectually stimulating; it featured student and early-career researchers alongside established scholars; and it did what arguably most ‘good’ scholarship should do: open up, rather than close off, new and exciting lines of inquiry. To the curious reader I highly recommend visiting the #Ludo2017 twitter feed as well as the booklet of abstracts, for a more comprehensive look into the diversity of research that was presented beyond what I have been able to discuss here. I very much look forward to next year’s conference and wish to thank the organisers for organising a fantastic event.

 

Notes

  1. Ivan Mouraviev, BMus/BSc in musicology and biological sciences; currently undertaking a BMus (hons) in musicology at the University of Auckland, New Zealand.
  2. For the organisers’ biographies please see http://www.ludomusicology.org/about/.
  3. Blake Troise, University of Southampton.
  4. laag was composed especially for Dutch bass clarinettist Marij Van Gorkom, as part of the http://dutch-UK.network project started in 2015. For more information see www.game-audio.org.
  5. Richard Stevens, Leeds Beckett University; Nikos Stavropoulos, Leeds Beckett University. Stevens has co-authored with David Raybould the monograph Game Audio Implementation: A Practical Guide Using the Unreal Engine (Waltham, MA: Focal Press, 2015).
  6. Kenneth McAlpine, University of Abertay, Dundee.
  7. James Saunders, Professor of Music, Bath Spa University.
  8. Austin, “From mixtapes to multiplayers: sharing musical taste through video games,” The Soundtrack 8/1–2 (2015), 77–88.
  9. Roger Moseley, Assistant Professor in Musicology, Cornell University.
  10. Keys to Play is freely accessible at http://www.luminosoa.org/site/books/10.1525/luminos.16/.
  11. See Tasneem Karbani, “Summer research project was music to student’s ears,” folio, University of Alberta, published 7 September 2007, accessed 23 May 2017, https://sites.ualberta.ca/~publicas/folio/45/01/04.html.
  12. In Nicholas Cook and Richard Pettengill (eds), Taking it to the Bridge: Music as Performance (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2013), 279–318.
  13. Keys to Play, 7.
  14. Donal Fullam, PhD Candidate, University College Dublin.
  15. Edward Spencer, DPhil Music student, University of Oxford.
  16. Melanie Fritsch M.A., PhD Candidate, University of Bayreuth.
  17. See, for example: Miller, Playing Along (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012; chapter four of Cheng, Sound Play (Oxford: Oxford University Press 2014); and Tim Summers, “Communication for Play,” in Understanding Video Game Music (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016), 116–142.
  18. Joana Freitas, MMus, Universidade NOVA de Lisboa; Elizabeth Hunt, University of Liverpool.
  19. James S. Tate, PhD Candidate in Musicology at Durham University; Ben Hopgood, Musicology at University of Goldsmiths.
  20. A recent review with Fifth House performers by CBC news is particularly illustrative of the unique challenges and interactive components of Journey: Live. See http://www.cbc.ca/beta/news/canada/calgary/journey-game-soundtrack-live-1.4100542.
  21. Meghan Naxer, Assistant Professor of Music Theory at Kent State University.
  22. Jan Torge Claussen, PhD Candidate, University of Hildesheim.
  23. Stephen Tatlow, MMus Royal Holloway; George Marshall musicology University of Hull.
  24. James Tate, BMus University of Surrey.
  25. Michiel Kamp, Junior Assistant Professor in Musicology, University of Utrecht.
  26. Louis d’Heudieres, Bath Spa University; Ben Jameson, composition PhD Candidate, University of Southampton.
  27. For an up-to-date account of artistic practice as research in music in both theoretical and practical terms, see: Mine Dogantan-Dack (ed.), “Introduction,” in Artistic Practice as Research in Music: Theory, Criticism, Practice (Farnham and Burlington: Ashgate, 2015).

 

A Tale of Ludomusicology 2015

Contributor: James S. Tate

James Tate has very kindly approached us with this personal and fun account of his first experience of a Ludomusicology Conference. We’re proud to share it here, unedited!

 

Day 1: Wednesday 8th April 2015

I curse my alarm as it shrill tones cut through my pleasant slumber like a scream from the witch in Left for Dead. I’m instantly alert; you don’t hear that sound and not be!

Rushing, I dump all of my stuff in the car and set off for Newcastle airport from Durham where I’m based. It’s a gloriously sunny day and I actually get to wear sunglasses. It makes me look like Adam Jensen from Deus Ex: Human Revolution except without the stylish beard.

St. Martin's Cathedral, Utrecht

St. Martin’s Cathedral, Utrecht

Once through security, I aim for the currency exchange. Nothing like leaving things until the last minute! The flight itself barely takes any time at all and soon we’re touching down in Amsterdam. As per usual, baggage collection takes the longest and I feel like I do when I’m looking at the loading screen in Dark Souls II after I’ve died for the millionth time. Exiting the airport, I emerge into the central transport hub that is Amsterdam station and easily find a train to take me to Utrecht.

Once out of the station, I head to the university to see it ready for the next day and arrive at the Academiegebouw or Academy building. It’s spectacular. Donated by the city of Utrecht in 1896, it now serves as the university’s ceremonial centre where major academic functions are still held. Neo-Renaissance in its architecture, it’s quite foreboding, reminding me somewhat of one of the Castlevania castles, but in the bright sunshine I’m not expecting Dracula to appear just yet. From here, it was only a ten minute walk to where my hostel was so arriving, I met a very nice receptionist who showed me where all the facilities were before leaving me to it. Collapsing on my bed, I relax and email family/post on Facebook to say I’ve arrived.

Tate 1Once my body aches slightly less from the carrying of a laptop and a bag, I set out in search of food. Dodging cyclists galore, I meandered my way down various streets that looked suspiciously like ‘Delfino Square’ from Mario Kart Wii. Eventually I stumble upon Café Hofman and nervously ask the waitress if she speaks English. She does and happily translates the menu for me. I ask her what the most Dutch thing is on the menu and she points to a cheese fondue. Eagerly, I order for a) I like cheese, b) it is actually a Dutch meal and c) most importantly I’m hungry. It doesn’t take long for it to arrive and instead of being in a bowl, it is a bread bun (or cob, balm, roll, bap, balm-cake or any other version of that word) that has been hollowed out and then the molten cheese poured inside. On the side is a selection of fresh vegetables to dip into it.

Once I’ve eaten, I’m fully satisfied and with the sun fading, I make my way back to the hostel and begin this diary, writing as Alan Wake does in the game by the same name. Fortunately, nothing that I write comes alive and after a decent session, I turn in.

Day 2: Thursday 9th April 2015

A continental buffet starts my day and all for four euros! Cereal, bread, salami, cheese, a boiled egg and Nutella is consumed quickly before I return to my room, clean my teeth and head out into the bright outdoors. Feeling as if ‘The Traveller’ should be playing as I walk, (a crime that Soon Serenade was cancelled and Robby Mulvany’s music will never reach a wider audience) I arrive outside the Sweelinckzaal Room where Ludo 2015 will begin!

Meeting a variety of people, we have a brief chat about where we’ve come from and soon, collect our name badges and have a seat. The room’s magnificent. Georgian in style; the decor is very elaborate but there’s some noticeable hi-tech gadgetry on the tables that are shaped in a horseshoe. In one corner is where the speaker will stand and in the other is a 75 inch television on a stand that is acting as our display. Mark Sweeney, Michiel Kamp and Tim Summers introduce themselves – these are the three that have organised the conference and each one of them is as friendly, knowledgeable and approachable as the other.

The morning is split into two sessions: the first, “Game Music Audiences and Interpretations” and the second “Technological Intersections” separated by a coffee break in the middle. I won’t go into any of the individual speakers because I’ll never do justice to what they had to say, except that absolutely everybody did themselves and their respective institutions proud. The coffee break I must mention though, because as this is my first conference, it was really great to chat with people. As I got to find out, many of us are in a similar situation – we’re either the only one, or one of only a handful studying videogame music wherever we are in the world. I devour some Celebrations that have been put out – did you know that the Dutch name for a Galaxy chocolate is Dove!? I mean, I’ve heard the expression “Wash your mouth out with soap, but eating it!?” – Apologies for those who don’t get that pun.

At lunch, a group of us congregate to ask where any of us would like to eat standing around like not particularly useful NPCs from Oblivion. Nobody seems to be able to make a decision so I suggest Café Hofman as it’s only about a two minute walk away. Ordering a ham, cheese and tomato panini and a beer, we eat surrounded by what is most definitely the European Café culture. It’s relaxed, people are enjoying themselves and life seems good.

The afternoon session is as good, if not better than the morning for people are more relaxed now that they know the format. During the coffee break I have a chat with one of my academic heroes – Karen Collins. Yes, I realise I’m a sycophant and if she reads this, I can imagine raised eyebrows, but suffice to say we have a laugh and talk about a number of things. She markedly points out when I say to her that she’s the foremost expert in ludomusicology that although that may be the case, it’s depressing that it’s such a small field. But I have hope having seen so many presentations today. We are her disciples; all of us have referenced her books in one form or another and although she is the pioneer of videogame academia that is still small, new works are coming out all the time. It is up to us, the next generation of videogame academics to push the field in as many different directions as possible. After listening to the presentations today, I am positive that this area of study will grow. Composers, audio engineers and academics alike can use our work to make sure that videogame audio gets the recognition it deserves both today and in the future.

Pancakes at De Oude Muntkelder

Pancakes at De Oude Muntkelder

After the break, we have the day’s keynote delivered by David Roesner who talks on the topic: “’Beyond the Score’ – A Performative Approach to Music-Based Gaming”. His fantastic presentation is sadly the last of the day and so with a round of applause, the hard work for the day is done. We have two hours before the evening meal and so we each part ways to drop back bags/laptops at our various places of residence looking forwards to a conference dinner at De Oude Muntkelder.

I don’t know what to expect, but I’m delighted to learn as I take my place that it serves sweet and savoury pancakes! It was a difficult decision, but in the end, I opted for a goat’s cheese, pine nuts, apple and honey pancake which was delicious! Lively conversation ensued but eventually, like with all good things – for example Half Life 2: Episode 2– they come to an end (or not!!! Where is Episode 3 Valve!?). And so it was that Thursday became Friday.

 

 

Day 3: Friday 10th April 2015

Again, I’ll resist the temptation to describe everyone’s excellent talks and I’ll skip to Richard Steven’s ‘A Practical Demonstration of Game Music Implementation Methods’. This, as the title suggests was a practical demonstration of how to integrate audio into games either via middleware such as wwise or directly into a game engine itself such as Unreal 4. Taking us through various real world examples, he shows us the good, the bad and the ugly. Highly informative, I have wanted a talk like this for a long time and here, finally, I have the chance to learn – even if it is a whistle stop tour through various capabilities of the programs.

And then it was the talk we’d all been waiting for: Karen Collins’ keynote and it more than met the occasion. How do I begin? Well, perhaps with a comment. As if she doesn’t have enough on her plate with just her university commitments, she is the director of a new videogame-audio documentary coming out in 2016 called Beep.

Citing the fact that 80% of the audio and knowledge about it in silent films have been lost, you can see her passion and determination when she says that she will NOT let this happen with games. We see various pieces of raw footage of various interviews she’s given. It is awe-inspiring stuff – composers, audio directors, vocal artists – they all want to tell their tale. And Karen is providing them with the means to do that. I hope you will forgive me within this account of citing a website, but I felt this is too important to just brush over, so therefore please – reader of this journal – please check out http://gamessound.com/index.html

After lunch, we return to the conference room for the final afternoon of talks and I await my turn to speak. Finally, it’s here: my analysis of Nobuo Uematsu’s One Winged Angel. Half an hour is nowhere near long enough to talk about this piece – I could have happily spoken for twice or maybe even three times that amount! But the reaction I got at the end was brilliant; I truly felt part of a community and that I had presented something that could be useful to people in the future.

On a high, I spent the entirety of the break that followed my presentation talking to other people about it and trying to answer any questions that they had. A Skype talk with Stephen Baysted – the composer of Project Cars along with his collaborator Tim Summers followed and then after two more presentations we were at the end. Two days, eighteen talks and several million new ideas discussed. Sadly, as is often the case, some people had to dash off straight afterwards due to flights, but for those of us that were staying around, the organisers – Mark, Michiel and Tim had organised one final treat – a pub quiz at an Irish Pub, all about videogames!

Getting there just before eight o’clock I half expected to hear ‘A Watering Hole in the Harbor’ from The Witcher 2 as I enter O’Leary’s Irish Pub and Restaurant. A warning to all future Ludomusicology attendees: Tim takes no prisoners with his questions. I mean seriously – name that tune… answer, Super Tennis for the Sega Mega Drive!!! Swine Tim, swine…

So sadly, upon finding out the winners, losers and everyone in between like a particularly manic game of Team Fortress 2, we began to say our goodbyes. But as we began to part ways, I know that it’s not the end; these people around me are no longer strangers. They’re colleagues, fellow academics but perhaps above all, friends. At the end of Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, you hear the piece ‘Cloud Smiles’. This is the piece that needs to be played at this moment. Touching and heartfelt.

Day 4: Saturday 11th April 2015

My flight is at 12:15 and I need to get to: a) Utrecht Station, b) Amsterdam Schipol, c) Newcastle Airport and finally d) home (Durham). Easy!

It starts off well. I leave the hostel like you leave Candlekeep in Baldur’s Gate although in fairness, not under quite as mysterious circumstances. Although having said that, two guys at the hostel were drinking port and 7:30 in the morning. Strange things happen in Holland…

I make my way to Utrecht station – all is going according to plan. I buy a ticket to the only Amsterdam option available (thinking nothing of it) and get on board the train. Arriving in Amsterdam Central, I think to myself that I just need to go one further stop to Amsterdam Schipol. So I stay on board until a female ticket conductor comes into the carriage and orders me off! I learn at this point that there’s engineering works between here and the airport and this is as far as the trains are running.

I leap off the train with ‘Bombing Mission’ from Final Fantasy VII thudding through my mind and head down the stairs to the ticket desk to find out what’s happening. Fortunately there is a replacement bus service and I just need to go one step on another train and I’ll find it there. I buy a ticket and discover I have 20 minutes before the train leaves, so seeing a piano in the entrance hall of the station I began to play ‘Fear of the Heavens’ from The Secret of Mana. I recently discovered this track and it’s nice and easy to play but it’s a beautiful melody and the Dutch public seemed to love it. I moved onto some jazz soon after and got cheered on. But then, like Batman in Arkham Asylum, I quickly evade their detection and got the replacement bus.

The flight was without incident and soon I was back in England after a fantastic four days.

  • Cue ‘Faith’ from Dreamfall: The Longest Journey.

 

Author’s note:

I wrote this account as a memory for those people I met at Ludo 2015 and the fantastic time I had there. To Mark, Michiel and Tim – these three guys truly deserve a massive round of applause for organising such a tightly run conference and even though I was a newby at the conference, I felt very welcome and appreciated.

But I also wrote this journal for those people who might be contemplating about whether to come to Ludo 2016. Please do. The above account is from someone who had never been to a conference before, let alone spoke at one. But I am truly glad I did. I got such a lot out of it and to meet people like Karen, Steven and David – three truly knowledgeable people in this field was an honour. Please join us next year and help push the academia of videogame music and add to the knowledge of ludomusicology.

James S. Tate
April 2015

2013 Conference Announcement Forthcoming

We will be holding a conference at Easter and are in the process of finalising details, which will be officially announced here next week. To mark the occasion, and to whet the appetite of any newcomers, we include a copy of the RMA Newsletter Report of our 2012 Study Day below.

Time-Shift Crystals in Skyward Sword



I know I’m always goddess-harping on about Zelda but here is a really good example of dynamic musical layering.

[Spoiler Alert]

In The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword the level design for the third temple centers around a timeshift mechanic where link can hit crystals that shift the immediate vicinity to a time where the Lanayru Mining Facility flourished. In the present time the land is a desert inhabited by crustaceans and the remains of the old mining robots. In the past it was a working industrial facility.

When in the present the music has a much blander texture and is as arid and desolate as the desert for which this music is representing. When link moves into the area that is timeshifted the music takes on a much richer texture gaining new instruments and more details.

Although this is not a new feature it is really done to the highest standard I have yet seen in a videogame.

You can check out the musical differences ingame on any one of the links on this page:
http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=lanayru+mine

www.quixatocs.com
@Quixatocs

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