Cover Zen: Super Conte Theme

Well, it’s yet more music on this blog but as it also includes a game angle I’ll use it as a segue…

Jack Conte is back with more Cover Zen madness – a version of the Super Mario Bros theme that I like a lot! He’s obviously a talented musician but I also have a lot of respect for his editing skills and sense of manic visual energy; this video jumps and blits about like the video game junkie the song speaks to.

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KeepAnEyeOut: Crescendo Mafia

I love NZ music.

With tinges of Kings of Leon and sweet harmony smatterings a la Crowded House, Crescendo Mafia are a power trio that sound as good acoustic as they do in full rock mode (check them out live on Balcony TV). There’s something vaguely Del Amitri about them too – I think it’s the sweetly interwoven harmonies and the sophisticated pop sensibilities that leak through in the bass lines and chord choices.

Big things are surely coming for them and I had an interesting chat with a friend tonight that has me optimistic about possibilities in the future!

Oi! Speaking of “NZ music”… two of the band members – vocalist/guitarist Matt Vankan and drummer Luke Vankan – are brothers hailing from Sydney, Australia; bassist/keyboardist/vocalist Eddie Gaiger is an NZ Idol Top 10er from Coromandel, NZ. It’s about time we stole some Aussie talent after all the artists they keep stealing from us! ;)

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Retro Reminiscence: Digable Planets Old Skool Kool

Digable Planets are a class act old school hip hop group whose Rebirth of Slick burnt up the airwaves on the charts and music TV back in the early 90s.

Here’s a performance of the funky syncopated groove track 9th Wonder (Blackitolism) live on some show starring Jon Stewart in 1994. Something about Ladybug’s live delivery of her memorable phrase-turns “ninety three million miles above these devils… A alike, B alike…” makes them snap for me and really brings home the street poetics in a way the recorded version doesn’t… but that’s just me… And doesn’t Jon Stewart look like a spry young lad?

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Cover Zen: Tyler Ward sings Katy Perry

Tyler Ward’s garnered a bit of a following by this stage (this video alone has over 2 million hits). I really like Katy Perry’s original version and I like Tyler’s take on this song too. As with all effective covers I think he wins a few more fans who wouldn’t normally give the original a second listen.

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I don’t know if this interview with Katy Perry about the meaning of the song (from her Official Youtube Channel) is real or not but if it’s a joke (maybe hubby Russell had something to do with it?) then it’s hilarious lol… If you thought the song was a metaphor for otherworldly love and being transported to another place and time by transcendent union then let Katy explain what it’s really about.

Grunta’s Pick: The Galvatrons play the chord progression U2 made famous

So much great stuff comes out of Melbourne that I’ve been dying to go there for a long time now. Just tonight on Master Chef NZ they were talking about Melbourne being the food capital of Australia. The games scene over there seems to be thriving (once again – let’s not forget old favourites Melbourne House and The Way of the Exploding Fist – classic!) and the music scene’s been off the chain for a long time!

Melbourne band the Galvatrons prove that you can’t keep a good chord progression down. U2′s “With or Without You” brought this progression to the fore thanks to the bass line taking front and center in the song, but many others have used the familiar chord structure in one way or another.


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Crack Conductor

To be honest, I’ve never really considered myself to be much of a casual games fan.

It’s not that I don’t enjoy casual games or appreciate the skill and effort that goes into making them. I really applaud the work of those who’ve made the App Store what it is today – and those who’ve learnt how to create casual magic in their bedrooms and garages. It’s no easy task distilling fun down to its purest essence in a simple mechanic that scales in complexity without losing its easy accessibility. But whilst I have enjoyed the many casual games I own, I’ve never really been as hooked on them as some of the other genres that have captured me in the past – RPGs, RTS, Adventure Games.

Enter The Voxel Agents, an Australian developer based in Melbourne, who have the art of creating pure casual fun down pat.

I downloaded Train Conductor when it was available for free on April 20th and promptly bought Train Conductor 2. In the first game you move through cities in Australia – in the second, you move through the U.S. Finally I understand what all those people are talking about when they say they can’t put Angry Birds or Doodle Jump down. I thought both those games were awesome – but I never found it hard to put them down. Very different story with Train Conductor…

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Like all good casual games, the core mechanic is simple, but engaging: you have a number of train tracks on the screen (you start with three) and trains enter the screen from the left and right with numbers above their engine that tell you which track they need to be directed to. A swipe will create a temporary track to send the train on its way – but you have to make sure the trains don’t run into each other. Tapping a train will switch between stop and start. Of course, things scale up from there.

The first game has only five levels but you can also switch to night mode and play with ghost trains that don’t crash into each other, effectively giving ten levels. I felt its size was perfect – you get the satisfying sense of completion and the gameplay is such that you can dive back in and play it some more without feeling like you’re rehashing old ground. If I’d purchased the game for $1.29(NZD) I’da been more than happy with the experience I received – but for free, it’s almost a crime.

I’ll be keeping a close eye on The Voxel Agents in future!

You can download Train Conductor from iTunes (free over Easter!)

Voice Acting in Games

We’ve begun the process of casting a voice actor for the next game trailer we’re working on.

It always strikes me that there’s often an overly theatrical approach to voice acting in games, in general. I think we accept it only because we’re used to it. Many an article on voice acting makes a point of the fact that voice acting is a different beast entirely from screen acting. I think that’s obviously true in the process taken – but I find it hard to accept that the end result should be as different as it often is.

Theater acting is different from film in that there is a distance between the audience and the actor requiring projection and exaggeration. Voice acting for a radio show is a different discipline from either as there is no accompanying visual to assist in telling the story. With games, however, there is an accompanying visual and I feel the performance could go either way – if there are no close-ups and / or other filmic devices then perhaps a more theatrical approach is warranted (e.g. if the game maintains a top down view, not allowing the camera to go in close to see the characters – or if the characters are limited to reduced animations). The other situation is one in which you do have filmic syntax (close-ups, characters animated in sync with the story e.g. mocap) and that is the kind where I feel the standard approach to voice acting (being enclosed in a tiny booth without any of the environment or other characters to react to) is perhaps a less effective one.

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Games like Uncharted are getting closer to the best tactic, in my opinion, where the actors are being mocapped and delivering the dialogue at the same time. They are acting out the moves of the character while talking and responding to the other characters in the space.

I’ve often wondered whether a better approach might be similar to that taken when “looping”. One could get the actors into some kind of space and film a sequence using a standard video camera. Then, in the studio at a later time, essentially carry out a standard looping session – having the actor read back their lines as they watch themselves perform the scene on video. The purpose of this is to allow the actor to holistically embrace the emotion of the scene and to have them feed off the other players (if there are any) in the space. Budget-wise it wouldn’t have to cost too much extra – unless you wanted to dress the actors and the set, of course. I’ll be trying this on a future project and will do a write-up on its effectiveness!

Speaking of overly theatrical, the embedded video shows a behind the scenes look at the Dawn of War 2 voice actors. I mean in no way to cast aspersions on the approach taken for Dawn of War – if anything, they support my assertion that the theatrical approach may be warranted in places where cinematic devices are limited. The voice acting in DoW2 usually accompanies talking heads and topdown viewed characters so it makes sense that emotion and inflection is left for the voice to convey. There’s a lot of talent and ability on display here!

Oi! Besides providing the deep tones of Captain Davian Thule, Fred Tatasciore has been in almost everything else – from games to cartoons – including the voice of The Hulk in Ultimate Avengers and Hulk Vs, Damon Baird in Gears of War 3 and Saren from Mass Effect!

Cover Zen: Look at this cover now

I can’t resist a great cover. A few years back I sustained a(n almost) daily music blog for a brief time that consisted largely of well-realised cover songs. One of the most popular posts from that blog that still gets a regular chunk of hits can be found here: The 5 Best Covers of Britney Spears’ Toxic

@juilaroy tweeted this great cover the other day (my imperative post title overstates things a tad… the name of the song is “Look At Me Now” ok?) Amy, of acoustic-pop duo Karmin, has an engaging, sassy presence that oozes confidence and entices – not least because it really looks like she’s having fun with this performance. Here’s the original for comparison… Somma dese white chicks can RAP yo!

For more great covers click the “Cover Zen” tag below!

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The Hunt for Trailer Art

I’ve been scouring the web trying to find any “best of” movie trailer sites – but I’m kinda after sites that show trailers that have been crafted with love and skill, treating the discipline like the artform it is. Haven’t had any luck so I might have to put together a list myself… If anybody reads this and has any idea of a trailer that showed a real craftsmanship in its construction please let me know (movies or games). As an example, I think Snyder’s 300 trailer put Trent Reznor’s “Just Like You Imagined” to perfect use.

Here’s a great looking game coming soon from Ubisoft – they’ve put the classic trailer soundfx to good use and I found the zooms (which were surely done in post…) to be an interesting touch!

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