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.
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.
Once 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.
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.
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