What I Dun Bin Up To

As sporadic, inconsistent and uneven as these blog updates are it feels good to be updating now cos I’ve got something to talk about : ).

I dun bin up to a lot lately and here’s a bullet point list (written more to myself than anyone else):

  • had great amounts of fun editing together four game trailers for talented and dedicated indie developer Grinding Gear Games for their Diablo-alike, Path of Exile (the first of which is embedded below)
  • worked on a number of challenged small business endeavours (<— this version sanitised from the original edit for the sake of avoiding controversy at this time xD)
  • directed NZ’s first all live 3D music video for J Williams featuring Scribe
  • got ripped off by a few friends (<— this version sanitised from the original edit for the sake of saving relationships xD)
  • watched a pretty cool movie
  • learnt – yet again – that it pays to be paid
  • made new friends
  • made new enemies

It’s been an interesting year and it’s still going. Significant birthday this year too – if only because it falls on the 10th of the 10th of twenty 10 : ). Looking forward to it!

Path of Exile Game Trailer
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DJCXL.com version 3.0

Well, we launched the newer, sparse version of CXL’s blog a while back but we’re gearing up now to get things rolling on a regular again (check out www.djcxl.com).

CXL has been busy – hence the slow-down on the blog front – as he’s released his first single, My Love, and, just recently, the remix featuring Scribe and Illegal Musik’s new rapper, K One. I directed the video for My Love and was hoping to get a chance to catch Scribe laying his verse but due to camera issues… >_< … I’ve been out of commission for a while on the video front!

Anyway, I’m looking forward to getting more action happening with CXL’s blog – more behind the scenes video content, etc. – and should have more to blog about in the near future!

The role of music in games

Some games understand the importance of dynamics, subtlety and just plain rightness when it comes to music.

My early experience of a deft touch of minimalism in game music occurred with the very first Tomb Raider game. My friend and I were caught up in a virtual world, staring at his projector screen in awe as Lara wandered through ancient ruins with nothing but the crunch crunch of gravel or clop clop of stone beneath her feet. The occasional brief musical stings as Lara entered a new area and a gorgeous vista opened up beneath her feet, were perfectly placed and brought a swell of anticipation whenever they appeared.

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Other games have a George Lucas approach to music: there is always a soundtrack playing. The japanese seem to love this style. Many’s the game where one finds oneself wandering through a picturesque village with jaunty music plunking away on endless repeat. The music becomes part of the background atmosphere after a while, then when you enter the next area – e.g. the vast, uncharted wilderness – a stirring anthem of adventure bursts forth and your expectation of new encounters, excitement and danger suddenly kicks in to gear.

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There’s obviously something appealing about the approach above (constant music) but I’m more of a fan of dynamics, personally.

A great example of soundtrack dynamics from film is in Peter Jackson’s “The Fellowship of the Ring”, during the sequence in Balin’s tomb, in the mines of Moria. When the orcs finally burst through the door and the battle is joined, the soundtrack that had been gradually building the tension of their approach drops out completely and all we hear is the thwack and whump of swords and arrows, interspersed with the occasional grunt and cry.

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Peter Jackson (or the editor ; ) uses the music to bring us into the mindspace of the heroes of the Fellowship: before the battle, when they can hear the howls of the orcs outside and the hacking of axes at the door, the music escalates along with the tension they are feeling; then, as the fray begins in earnest, the heroes’ focus turns from their imagination – from anticipation – to their immediate predicament; to the urgency of life and death and the simple act of keeping their enemy’s sword from entering their body. They hear no ‘mind music’ of escalating dread and anticipation – they are in the moment: a frantic and uncluttered zone of conflict (and, by extension and musical cue, so are we).

After a time, and at a significant moment in the narrative of the battle choreography, Jackson reintroduces Howard Shore’s score and we are figuratively ushered back in, as an audience, to witness the spectacle of our heroes in action.

~ * ~

Those sorts of dynamics, when applied to games, interest me the most. The music in a game is one part of a multi-faceted whole that includes the visuals and the gameplay experience – and just like an individual instrument in an orchestral score it should be employed at a specific time of the creator’s choosing. In musical scores an instrument is introduced at points where its particular contribution is most perfectly suited to the emotion or feeling the creator is trying to express at that time. At other times, it suits the score for that particular instrument to be silent.

As I said, I can’t understand the benefits or artistry involved in the decision to have a soundtrack constantly playing throughout a story experience (please enlighten me below!) – but it seems to me to be the difference between being enveloped in a holistic, engaging experience or simply playing a game where the music is a convention, like the health bar and the opening menu – something that, if missing, would be sorely noticed but when present, seems simply to fade into the background like so much wallpaper.

Some would say, “George Lucas had a constant soundtrack and we still experienced a great emotional journey from his films”, but I would point out that the music was often composed specifically for the images and action on-screen and was thus dynamic in its makeup – a dynamism that game music often can’t emulate (as the Player could take ten seconds to walk across the screen to the next area or they could take thirty minutes – by which point the music has had to loop a number of times).

What do you think? Is a dynamic, nuanced soundtrack more likely to engage the Player on a deeper emotional level than a soundtrack that plays constantly throughout the game?

(Reposted from my original PlayMaker personal blog)

NZ Indie Community Building

Our indie game developer community site – PlayMaker – is gradually coming together.

We still have some work to do around building the community but we’re confident that we’ll soon have a base of ¬†great content to build an engaged and interested network.

The latest thread of interest in our forums is the current Art Challenge: “Current Gen Characters Reimagined in 16-bit Pixel Art”. Be keen to hear what people think of some of the great art in NZ’s talent pool : ).

My favourites at the moment are this reimagining of a character from “Borderlands”, drawn by user Harbadakus:

… and this pic of Dragon Age character Morrigan by Paul Catling:

Making a music video

I’m working on the music video treatment for DJCXL’s debut single “My Love” featuring J Williams.

It’s an interesting juggling act: being a “new” artist launch coming from the genre of hip hop and featuring an established R&B label-mate means the video has to stay true to its overriding creative force (DJCXL – hip hop Producer) and yet maintain enough of the image and character of its major guest star (J Williams – R&B artist). J comes from a smooth, younger, female-demographic, R&B angle while CXL’s style is an older, rawer, rootsier hip hop aesthetic – in other words, the concept can’t be too polished, overly-commercial and “youthful” (like J) but it can’t be so raw, “real” and “mature” that J’s vibe doesn’t work with it.

As always, though, it’s about the music at the end of the day and fortunately the track is great and breezes by without any inkling of the aforementioned juggling act even raising its head – that “concern” is purely my own consideration to work through. Ultimately, my job is about finding the essence of both artists in the music and taking it from there.

Fingers crossed.

What’s bin going on…

I’m not even going to acknowledge the amount of time that’s passed since my last post lol. That seems to be a common theme on the various blogs I have to update these days… :P

But I spose it’s good because it means that I’m busy xD. At the beginning of last month we (Pixelati) entered our first game into the Independent Games Festival – Danger Balls.

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That was a great milestone to reach (for us) and we were stoked to find ourselves in DIYGamer’s Top 10 Break Out Indie Games of 2010 alongside awesome work like Shank and popular titles like Super Meatboy.

I’ve also kept up my work as a videographer for Illegal Musik and DJCXL – I shot and edited this video, recently, of DJCXL putting together a set for a Hip Hop versus Drum & Bass soundclash. It was a great performance to see and I think we made a pretty interesting little clip about it.

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I’m really looking forward to my next major video project which is the music video for CXL’s first single…

I’ve also been keeping up with the launch of the Independent Game Developers Association of New Zealand – IGDANZ, also known as PlayMaker. You can check out the site here – we’ve just upgraded it (we’re using Drupal now).

Anyway, I’ll be floating around and keeping this a little more up-to-date going forward.


All things being equal

At the moment, our core development team in Pixelati consists of an artist, a programmer and a writer/producer. We all contribute to the game design and we’re all cross-disciplinary to some degree – you have to be, these days.

Pixelati has a non-hierarchical structure. That doesn’t mean we’re all action and no direction. “Non-hierarchical” means we don’t have managers but we do have Leaders.

Leaders rise organically from the group. Because we cultivate a culture of respect without egos, everyone’s ideas are heard and when we hear a good one, we push it to the top.

“I am quite aware that for any organization to reach its goals, one man must do the thinking and directing and generally bear the responsibility. But the led must not be coerced, they must be able to choose their leader.” – The World As I See It by¬†Albert Einstein

I’m not gonna pretend it’s plain sailing, or that it’s not going to get a lot harder as we grow, but it works for us and so far it’s worked well. We put that down to the fact that our non-hierarchical structure has roots in values that preclude the problematic areas that often arise in organisations like ours – specifically, that our purported values manifest not only in our organisational structure but also in our financial.

And there’s plenty more to say on that : ).

What matters most

An excerpt from Principle Centered Leadership by Stephen R. Covey:

Dag Hammarskjold, past secretary-general of the United Nations, once made a profound, far-reaching statement: “It is more noble to give yourself completely to one individual than to labor diligently for the salvation of the masses.”

In other words, I could devote eight, ten, or twelve hours a day, five , six, or seven days a week, to the thousands of people and projects “out there” and still not have a deep, meaningful relationship with my own spouse, teenage son, or close working associate. And it would take more nobility of character – more humility, courage, and strength – to rebuild that one relationship than it would to continue putting in all those hours for all those people and causes.


The End of Musicalis Eclectica

To those who’ve followed Musicalis Eclectica I thank you! It’s always so much more fun blogging when you know someone’s actually reading it xD.

This is the end of Musicalis Eclectica as my creative endeavours with my new media startup are taking all my focus now – however, I’ll be blogging regularly and posting video content on a regular basis at the official Pixelati blog, currently situated at: http://pixelati.com (EDIT: and my own personal blog at damiencaine.pixelati.com).

Thanks again and I hope you had a fun time reading my rambling views on music : ) (there’ll be more mindless waffle at the Pixelati blog but I’ll be waffling about videos, film, animation and videogames as well xD).

- Damien

www.djcxl.com version 2.0 launched

Howdy y’all! I’ve been busy on version 2.0 of DJCXL’s dot com – and it’s finally gone live!

We’ve still got a bit to do but we’ll be rolling with regular video content and free mixes over the next short while. I guess this is as good a time as any to link to the new video by CXL’s boy – J Williams – who is signed to CXL’s label, Illegal Musik. Enjoy it yo!

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