My top 25 music albums of the last 25 years

Graphic by Derek Abella

Ever since Bhagpuss made me aware of Pitchfork’s 25th Anniversary People’s List I’ve been thinking about which albums of the last 25 years I would choose as my favourite ones. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy as a lot of my most beloved albums were released between 1985 and 1995. I gotta say though, being restricted to 1996 and onward actually made browsing through my stuff, filling out the list and mulling over the exact rankings all the more fun – and also quite surprising.

I mean, who would have thought that not even one of my list’s top four spots can be clearly categorized as Metal? I sure as hell wouldn’t have. Pick number four isn’t even Rock, for crying out loud.

Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself. Without further ado, here are my top 25 albums released since 1996:

      1. Hybrid Theory – Linkin Park
      2. Meteora – Linkin Park
      3. Billy Talent II – Billy Talent
      4. The Fat Of The Land – The Prodigy
      5. Ghost Reveries – Opeth
      6. 10,000 Days – Tool
      7. Scenes From A Memory – Dream Theater
      8. Bannkreis – Subway To Sally
      9. Herzblut – Subway To Sally
      10. Toxicity – System Of A Down
      11. Follow The Leader – Korn
      12. Human Nature – Alphastates
      13. Morningrise – Opeth
      14. Passage – Samael
      15. In Absentia – Porcupine Tree
      16. The Family Jewels – Marina & The Diamonds
      17. Where Shadows Forever Reign – Dark Funeral
      18. Issues – Korn
      19. And Thou Shalt Trust… The Seer – Haggard
      20. And This Glow… – Joy Of Colour
      21. Kasmodiah – Deine Lakaien
      22. Ten Thousand Fists – Disturbed
      23. Take To The Skies – Enter Shikari
      24. Wishmaster – Nightwish
      25. Heaven & Hell – Ava Max

Of course everything below the top three our four spots is more or less interchangeable. I don’t think it’s really possible to nail down such a subjective evaluation permanently, not least because it can vary even from one day to the next depending on mood, nostalgia or whathaveyou.

I’ll probably not talk about each and every one of these here because some of those posts would pretty much just amount to “Well…I really like it, is all”. It would be an easy way to get my Blaugust post count up, but that would be cheating, wouldn’t it?

So how about I just start off with the first two spots for now, what with those being performed by the same band and also, well, being my top picks?

I didn’t have Linkin Park on my radar until a colleague of mine brought along their Live In Texas DVD one day in early 2004. I’d heard one or two songs before (at least I immediately recognized One Step Closer when I watched the video) and liked them, but hadn’t looked into it any further at the time for one reason or another.

This show though, holy crap. The raw energy the band brought to the stage gripped me and didn’t let go anymore. I immediately bought the studio outputs too, and they’ve become two of my all-time favourite albums for several reasons.

First of all, said energy is there in full. Studio albums often tend to sound a bit too clean and thus lose some of their power, but not these. If anything they’re even more powerful, the production is just superb.

Of course the music itself is what matters, and this is where all that energy comes from. I’ve read that Chester Bennington (rest in peace), the band’s lead singer, used these albums to process his very troublesome childhood and youth, and I think you can clearly hear it. I’m lucky enough to not have experienced most of the things the songs are about, but they still always carry me away on a wave of passion and sometimes even anger – in a good way. I’ve always said that channeling one’s bad feelings through aggressive music is a much more healthy way to deal with them than most others. At least it works for me.

The alternation between Bennington’s clear vocals and primal screams, and Mike Shinoda’s backing vocals and rapped parts are another of the band’s standout features that I really love. I’ve always liked polyphonic singing, and these two really did a phenomenal job at it (listening recommendation: Papercut, from two minutes onward). The rapping and screams add another dimension and fit the overall sound and feel very well.

What’s also great about both albums is that there are no duds on it. How many long-players have you bought because you knew and liked one or two songs, only to then realize that those are really the only good songs on there? My answer: too many. These two albums are great from start to finish, and given that some of my all-time favourites are among those songs that’s a high bar to clear indeed.

Lastly, the wave of excitement Linkin Park made me ride on in 2004 even rekindled my love for making music myself, and I went looking for a new band to join after a three-year break, resulting in me regularly hanging out in rehearsal rooms and on stage again for the following four years.

A playlist that consists of nothing but those two albums plus the song What I’ve Done from their third studio output, Minutes To Midnight, still runs regularly in my car or on my earpods, which isn’t likely to change anytime soon, if ever.

And there you have it. What are your favourite albums of the past 25 years?

Blaugust 2021 post count: 5

Offline Adventures – A Plague Tale: Innocence

I really need to do this more often. Stop exclusively playing years- or even decades-old RPGs for a bit and give some contemporary games of other genres a chance, that is. It’s so worth it!

I’ve had Plague Tale (I’m not going to type out the whole damn title every time) on my radar pretty much since it launched two years ago, maybe even before that. However, I was always too busy playing other things, as usual. A couple of months ago it was heavily discounted on GOG, which at least made me pull the trigger on the purchase, and now I’ve finally played it through.

As always, click the pictures to enlarge

My very first impression of the game was “Hell yeah, I’m really going to like the music in this one!”, as the title theme that runs while you look at the starting-screen above instantly hit all the right notes for me (pun intended), not least because the Nyckelharpa is one of my favourite instruments.

Here’s the track, right at the start (the rest is worth a listen too though):

I’ve already bought the album so I can listen to it while I’m not playing. Well, and to support the artist. I really hope he’ll score the sequel too.

My second impression, which I got immediately upon entering the game proper, was “Wow, this looks freaking awesome!”, because it does.

As I alluded to in the beginning, and also already observed back when I was playing The Medium, a lot of technological advancement has obviously happened in recent years without me even noticing. That’s what I get for always playing the same old stuff.

Anyway, about the game itself. The story takes place in 14th century France, which is a pretty original setting for a video game, and also quite an interesting one, what with the Hundred Years’ War going on and the plague running rampant at the same time. It’s pretty bleak though, that’s for sure.

Definitely not for the faint of heart

The game’s main character is Amicia, a teenage girl of noble descent, who has to outgrow herself and take care of her little brother, Hugo, when everything goes to hell.

While the armies of plague-bearing rats that give the game its name and logo are not actually the main antagonist – that questionable honor goes, no surprise there, to other humans – they are often the biggest obstacle to survival during the game’s first half or so.

Having a light source available is usually the main concern, and much of the early gameplay revolves around that.

I’ll admit that I was initially quite nervous about having the little brother around all the time. I mean, let’s be real, in the history of video games escort mechanics have pretty much always sucked, and hard.

But lo and behold, it works surprisingly well here!

Amicia can tell Hugo to stay put or follow her around. The latter is almost always preferable as he gets nervous quickly when his big sister isn’t near him, but that’s ok because he isn’t a burden at all when he’s holding Amicia’s hand, and it happens only once or twice total that game mechanics force them to separate briefly.

Even more surprising: Hugo is actually of help! Due to his size he can slip through openings Amicia can’t, enabling him to open locked doors from the inside and stuff like that. At other times it’s just another pair of hands that’s needed, like when multiple levers have to be pulled simultaneously. Controlling him in these situations is as simple as looking in a specific direction and pressing the corresponding button.

I never thought I’d ever say this, but not only do the escort mechanics not suck in this game, they actually add to the experience by making me as a player feel the bond between these characters, struggle with them and root for them. It’s an astounding feat, but they did it!

In regards to combat the game finds a somewhat believable balance by Amicia neither being completely helpless nor mutating into a first class sword fighter overnight.

In the beginning her only defense is to throw rocks at something (or someone) or shoot those same rocks with her sling for a little more impact. Over the course of the game she adds various tricks to her arsenal though, conveniently right when she needs them to overcome the odds at hand.

Lighting fires or snuffing them out, temporarily luring rats to a specific location, using some sort of acid to make soldiers take their helmets off, making them vulnerable to headshots, and more such gadgets need to be used as the situations the little family finds itself in dictate it. Overall I thought this worked pretty well and prevented the gameplay from getting too samey.

However, I didn’t care much for the (fortunately rare) bossfights, as juggling, timing and aiming all those gadgets while staying on the move got too hectic for my taste. I’m not fond of bossfights in general though, so that’s probably not a huge surprise.

There’s also a rudimentary crafting system, because of course there is. It seems that no Action Adventure (I guess this is what it is, isn’t it?) can not have one of those these days.

To be honest, I could have done without it just fine, but to be fair, it obviously makes sense that Amicia doesn’t just have unlimited amounts of her gadgets on hand. So she collects rocks, sulfur, saltpeter, alcohol and other ingredients as she goes and crafts the various types of ammunition as needed. Upgrades to her sling, bigger pouches and stuff like that are made at crafting benches scattered across the game world. Which is strictly linear, by the way, there’s no open world to get lost in here.

Helloooo fellas!

Overall, I’m very satisfied. I played through the game in just shy of 14 hours, which felt neither too long nor too short. The story is good, characters are relatable. The gameplay isn’t exactly groundbreaking, but felt kinda new and fresh nonetheless. Graphics and sound are stellar, as are the controls (I used my XBox 360 controller again). Despite the graphic fidelity (and an install size of 41.5 GB to go with it) loading times off an NVMe-SSD are very short.

It’s a straight A in my book, highly recommended.

A quote about underrated music

Prompta2020

We’re just one third into this year’s special version of Blaugust, and the awesome blogging community has already outdone itself with lots of great posts about various topics.

The fourth blogging prompt, introduced to us by Roger Edwards on August 3rd, was this:

What type of content do you feel is severely underrated?

Well, that’s an easy one as far as I’m concerned. It’s Metal, of course!

Metal1

Err…wait, no, not this.

Metal2

Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about!

My cousin, ten years my senior, introduced me to Metal when I was about eight. Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Helloween, Ozzy Osbourne, stuff like that. I fell in love immediately.

At the time I didn’t really know what it was, exactly, that I liked so much about it. What I did learn incredibly quickly though was that, generally speaking, most people don’t share my passion. Which is severely downplaying the issue of course, as almost everyone I’ve ever met who doesn’t love it actively dislikes it at best, and regards it as “unbearable noise” at worst. According to the latter group anyone who’s into Metal surely must be some kind of psychopath.

Metal3

I really don’t know where they got that idea from…

Anyway, with kids being kids you can imagine that eight-year-old me, already wearing Metal band patches on the denim jacket, had to develop a thick skin rather quickly. It never grew quite as thick as I would have liked though, and I can still get pretty angry when someone badmouths something that I really like, especially when I feel that they have no idea what they’re even talking about.

Yet over time I’ve wisened up at least somewhat. A couple of years ago I would have, at this point, carried on to beat you round the head with at least half a dozen paragraphs “proving” that many flavors of Metal are, in fact, musically vastly superior to most forms of mainstream music, that geniuses like Bach and Beethoven would undoubtedly be metalheads if they lived today, and that channeling your inner rage through aggressive music does actually make you a less aggressive person, not more.

Instead though I’ll just leave you with one of my favourite quotes – which, incidentally, fits nicely into our Blaugust groove too, as Wilhelm gave us the prompt to do exactly that.

It’s taken from Helloween’s song Heavy Metal (is the Law), where Kai Hansen posits

If you don’t feel it you won’t understand.

Truer words have never been spoken about Metal – and I think it actually applies to pretty much anything human beings can be passionate about.

The Handy Guide to Instruments in ArcheAge Unchained

ArcheAgeU_Instruments1

So how does one acquire a variety of instruments to play those (hopefully) sublime songs with?

That’s a science in its own right, let me tell you. I don’t know whether this is a problem with Korean games in general due to the language barrier, or because ArcheAge is just too niche, but this is definitely one of the MMORPGs with by far the least amount of reliable information available in English, while being one of the more complex titles at the same time.

What’s worse, if you do find some info on a topic you’re interested in you can never be sure whether it’s still relevant or long outdated, nor if something that’s currently available in the legacy game is also present in Unchained. It’s quite frustrating at times, really.

So I thought, since I was going to talk about instruments today anyway, I’ll just try and put together a guide about what instruments there are and how to get them. Only to the best of my knowledge, of course, at the time of this writing (May 2020).

Ready, steady, go!

ArcheAgeU_Instruments2

The Basics

ArcheAge has many portable instruments that you can play anywhere and anytime, and also stationary ones which you need to place in your house before you can use them. Some of the latter only serve as props and cannot play sheet music though, so beware.

Read each item’s description carefully. When an instrument is able to play sheet music it always has a line of white/grey text that either says

“Sounds like xxx when playing sheet music.”

or

“Plays music when used with sheet music.”

If it doesn’t specifically mention sheet music at all chances are it can’t play any. Except for the three pianos (because of course there are exceptions), which don’t mention it but can play sheet music.

To actually perform a song just right click on a music sheet when you have an instrument equipped – or, if it’s a stationary one, it has equipped you, if you will. A Play- and a Stop-button will appear. Press Play, and you’ll start to perform the song.

Now, on to the different instruments and how to actually get them.

ArcheAgeU_Instruments3

Portable Instruments

In addition to main-hand, off-hand and bow each character can equip either a lute or a flute that can be used as a skill to restore health or mana, respectively. They play music when doing so, but it’s always the same tune and rather boring. All lutes and flutes can also play sheet music though, and these make up the bulk of ArcheAge’s selection of instruments.

There are many different sounds available, and different ways to acquire them. Always take note of the first phrase mentioned above (if it’s there), as it will give you an idea of what the instrument in question might sound like. A Hiram flute, for example, says “Sounds like a clarinet when playing sheet music.”

Without further ado, here’s an overview of all instruments I know of. The format is:

Where to get it (needed currency, if applicable) [tradeable or non-tradeable]

    • Name of the instrument (what it sounds like)

Starter gear [tradeable]

    • Civilian Lute (Guitar)
    • Civilian Flute (Flute)

Arena Shop (1k Kyrios Badges each) [non-tradeable]

    • Anthem of Battlerage (Powerful Guitar)
    • Aria of Archery (Impressive Guitar)
    • Ballad of Auramancy (Clear Guitar)
    • Croon of Shadowplay (Cheerful Guitar)
    • March of Defense (Soothing Guitar)
    • Dance of Songcraft (Whistles)
    • Dirge of Occultism (Trombone)
    • Echoes of Malediction (Trombone)
    • Fantasio of Sorcery (Clarinet)
    • Nocturne of Witchcraft (Bagpipes)
    • Ode of Vitalism (Ocarina)
    • Protective Fantasia Shield (Clarinet)

Gilda Shop [tradeable] / Credits Shop [non-tradeable] (80 Gilda Stars / 1k Credits each)

    • Cherry Blossom Shamisen (Shamisen)
    • Evensong Lute (‘a guitar that produces a heavy sound’)
    • Ironsong Lute (‘a guitar that produces sharp, metallic sounds’)
    • Meadowlark Banjo (Banjo)
    • Autumn Wind Horn (Horn)
    • Catspaw Recorder (Recorder – whatever the hell that is)
    • Reedwhisper Piccolo (Piccolo)
    • Stormwail Sax (Saxophone)

Crafted [tradeable]

    • Epherium Cloud Lute (Soothing Guitar)
    • Epherium Gale Lute (Soothing Guitar)
    • Epherium Life Lute (Powerful Guitar)
    • Epherium Meadow Lute (Soothing Guitar)
    • Epherium Mist Lute (Powerful Guitar)
    • Epherium Tidal Lute (Impressive Guitar)
    • Epherium Wave Lute (Impressive Guitar)
    • Epherium Desert Flute (Bassoon)
    • Epherium Earth Flute (Bassoon)
    • Epherium Flame Flute (Clarinet)
    • Epherium Lake Flute (Clarinet)
    • Epherium Quake Flute (Clarinet)
    • Epherium Sunset Flute (Oboe)
    • Epherium Wave Flute (Oboe)
    • Marianople Violin (Violin)
    • Wyrdwind Viola (Viola)

How to craft an Epherium instrument: Buy a Cloaked Illustrious Lute/Flute for 50 gold from a weapons merchant. Uncloak it. Craft a Magnificent Lute/Flute Scroll at a handicraft kiln (no skill requirement). Use that scroll to awaken the instrument to Magnificent (it doesn’t matter which of the four variants you choose at this point). Then craft an Epherium Lute/Flute Scroll at a regal handicraft desk (20k Handicrafts skill required) and repeat the process. Important: when awakening the instrument to Epherium choose which variant (and thus sound) you would like to have. Done.

The violin and viola are crafted at an artistry workbench. No further preparation is needed, but the materials are pretty expensive and a very high Artistry skill is required (150k).

Hiram [non-tradeable]

    • Hiram Guardian Lute (Soothing Guitar)
    • Hiram Guardian Flute (Clarinet)

Vocation Shop (50k Vocation Badges) [tradeable]

    • Wyrdwind Viola (Viola)

Events (currency usually only available during the corresponding event) [tradeable]

    • Fortune Pipe (Pipe) [Lantern Festival]

ArcheAgeU_Instruments4

Stationary Instruments

    • Sovereign’s Piano (‘piano music’)
    • Brown Upright Piano (‘piano music’)
    • Princess’s Piano (‘piano music’)
    • Liberty Drums (doesn’t specify, I assume it’s drums)
    • Triestes Cello (doesn’t specify, but it sounds vaguely like a cello)
    • Noryettes Contrabass (doesn’t specify, but it sounds more like a…well…cello)
    • Brahms’s Harmonious Melody (doesn’t specify, but it sounds like a string ensemble)

These are all crafted at an artistry workbench and tradeable. The pianos aren’t expensive and have no skill requirement, whereas cello and contrabass belong to a set of four (the other two being the aforementioned violin and viola) and are equally costly and difficult to craft.

ArcheAgeU_Instruments5

The Brahms’s is the mother of all instruments. It sounds really great but requires 180k Artistry skill and a full set of the four string instruments to craft, which are consumed in the process. Ouch! A long-term goal, no doubt.

Thankfully some of these stationary instruments are strewn across the game world, waiting to be tried out. The currently running Daru event, for example, has an area with a piano, the cello, contrabass and the Brahms’s (which is where I’m playing them on all screenshots, as I obviously don’t have my own yet).

If you’d like to know how most portable instruments actually sound before deciding which ones to get, there’s a really great video showcasing them (a big Thank You to the person who made it):

And this is all I know about instruments in ArcheAge Unchained at this point. Getting them all is obviously a huge undertaking, but I’ll keep chipping away at it as it’s a lot of fun and really rewarding. As long as I play the game the guide will be updated whenever I learn something new or stuff changes. Good luck and have fun!

Blapril 2020 post count: 14

Sublime songsmith, at your service

ArcheAgeU_Artistry1
I rarely use titles for my MMORPG characters, but this one? Hell yeah!

When ArcheAche Unchained’s launch prompted our return to the world of Erenor last year one of the features that I was looking forward to re-engage with the most was its music system. It was one of the reasons I held on to the RNG- and P2W-riddled legacy game for longer than I should have in 2015. I’d built quite an extensive selection of songs and instruments over time that I had a lot of fun with, and I really missed it all once I’d quit the game for good.

Naturally the first few weeks in Unchained were all about questing, leveling and gearing up, but once that was more or less sorted I started, ever so slowly, to also take care of my Artistry skill again. To become a good musician you need to level that up, as it determines how many notes you can write on a piece of music paper (resulting in longer and/or more complex songs), and enables you to play those longer songs without hitting any wrong notes.

ArcheAgeU_Artistry2

Professions in ArcheAge are leveled up by spending labor points on related activities. You don’t need to spend any just to play a song however – fortunately, of course, but it’s also kind of unfortunate in this context – so pretty much the only way to raise Artistry is to craft music paper and, most importantly, to write down pieces of music, which consumes the paper and creates song sheets that can henceforth no longer be modified.

To craft music paper you need, among other things, regular paper. To make that you need lumber. In the early stages of the game you need huge amounts of lumber for all kinds of stuff though, so to ‘waste’ any on my artistic hobby could have severely hurt my other endeavours.

ArcheAgeU_Artistry3
“Where the hell is he?” “What do you think? In the woods again…”

Fortunately I’d already had the experience of going through this process once, so I had a plan. Song sheets can’t be recycled or sold to NPCs (not for a ‘real’ amount of money anyway), but they are tradeable and can thus be sold to other players. I kept all songs I’d made back then in .mml and .txt formats both, so I chose the ones that I knew had always been the most popular, revised those I weren’t completely happy with yet and started to make and put them on the auction house for just over production costs.

They sold. So I made new ones, which sold too. And on and on it went. For the last four months or so I’ve always had a selection of ten to twelve songs on offer. It wasn’t fast and didn’t make me crazy rich either, but it still paid off nicely in that my skill kept going up consistently while I was free to spend the bulk of my resources on other projects.

ArcheAgeU_Artistry4

I’m even one rank higher now than I’d been back in the day, so I can also craft Master’s Music Paper which can hold even more notes. My current ‘masterpiece’ is a 1,160 notes-, 69 seconds-long recreation of a popular TV-show’s opening theme (that shall not be named due to potential legal issues, slim as the chances may be), and I’m very happy with it.

“Sounds great and all, but do I need to actually be a musician to do this?” I hear you ask. Well, no, but it sure helps.

The notation used is called Music Macro Language, MML for short. I initially thought that it was created for the game Mabinogi, but as the wiki explains it’s been around for much longer and wasn’t specifically made for use in video games either. It’s quite suitable for that purpose though, as it is, unlike MIDI, a purely text-based language.

ArcheAgeU_Artistry5
In-game instructions for using MML and my aforementioned masterpiece

It really isn’t as complicated as it looks. If you can’t read music I still wouldn’t recommend starting a song completely from scratch, but luckily there are other options.

The best tool I’ve found to use in conjunction with ArcheAge is a great little program called 3MLE (I won’t provide a link, but it’s easy to find). It can import either .mml files or text from your clipboard, so you can for example start with a song from the extensive ArcheAge MML Library and go from there. Of course you can also paste those songs directly into the game, but if you’re like me and want each song to be just perfect it’s much easier to modify them in 3MLE than ingame.

What’s even better, 3MLE can also import MIDI files. As MIDI is much more widespread it shouldn’t be difficult to find your favourite song in that format and then convert it to MML. I will say that not every such conversion works perfectly though, so it does help if you’re proficient enough to repair small hiccups that might happen.

As a last resort you can save yourself all that hassle and just buy song sheets from folks like me of course, heh.

ArcheAgeU_Artistry6

Having a terrific selection of song sheets at your disposal is great and all, but what good are those if you don’t have cool sounding intruments to play them on?

More on that tomorrow.

Blapril 2020 post count: 13

Pumping up the jam

Warframe_Octavia1

Meet Warframe’s Octavia, the most unique and fun class I’ve had the pleasure to play in any video game ever. This may sound like hyperbole, but I’m serious.

After finishing the great Octavia’s Anthem quest I set my mind on farming the three required blueprints to actually build this frame. With a bit of luck I’d already managed to do so by Tuesday, but since building frame components takes 12 hours and a frame proper three days it wasn’t until late Saturday that I could finally take her out for a spin.

As the quest strongly suggests she’s all about music. Her abilities’ descriptions confirm as much:

Warframe_Octavia2
Click to enlarge for better readability

To make it easier to tell them apart and also stay within established Warframe-lingo I’ll just call them by numbers, so 1 is Mallet, 2 is Resonator, 3 is Metronome and 4 is Amp.

So what does all this actually look and sound like? Let’s see.

Warframe_Octavia3

Your 1 drops a little ball to where you’re aiming. It’s indestructible and stays there until its duration expires or you recast it elsewhere. Enemies within its range (depicted by a pulsating sound wave as seen here behind me) attack it and have their damage reflected back to them. This is doubly great because not only does it draw enemy fire away from you, it kills even the strongest foes with ease as it’s their own damage that kills them, not yours. I assume this doesn’t work on bosses though.

In terms of music and visuals it emanates a drum beat, and those volume bars coming out of the ability’s center point pump rhythmically to it.

Warframe_Octavia4

The 2 by itself is nothing to write home about. This ball just rolls around seemingly at random and makes enemies run after it. It plays a bass line, other than that it’s not of much use like this. Combine it with 1 though…

Warframe_Octavia5

Cast 1 then 2, and the beat latches onto the ball. Disco ball for the win! Now it makes the baddies follow and shoot it, thus killing themselves, and covers a larger area since it’s moving. This might not always be desired as it sometimes leaves your immediate vicinity before all foes are dead, but it works great for clearing out a level in front of you while you’re still looting or scanning stuff. The drum beat and bass line play in unison when doing this.

The 3 plays the song’s melody. It isn’t screenshot-worthy because it just makes some lines appear on the ground moving towards you, one for each note. This is supposed to help you find your rhythm, because you indeed have to crouch, jump, fire or melee to the beat (to the melody, to be precise) in order to activate the various buffs. It’s very worth it to do so; who doesn’t like to have speed and damage buffs running while being invisible at the same time?

The 4 does exactly what it says in the discription. It gives your team and your 1 a damage buff, and the louder it is around you the stronger the buff. Shooting and slashing do count into it (I think), but to get the most out of it just activate all of Octavia’s abilities at once and enjoy the show.

Warframe_Octavia6
While listening to the complete song in all its glory

Let me tell you, if you have any love for music this is pure joy. When I play this frame my face starts to hurt quickly because I’m grinning the whole time.

It also changes the way the game is played quite a bit. I imagine that if you can make her abilities strong enough you actually don’t need to bring a gun to most missions anymore. Of the frames I have at my disposal right now she’s arguably the strongest by quite a margin.

But this ain’t everything yet. No, I’ve saved the best bit for last.

A couple of times now I’ve mentioned “the song”. It’s the music you hear during Octavia’s Anthem, and it’s quite nice. But this is only the default song the mandachord, Octavia’s instrument, can play. You can actually compose your own!

Warframe_Octavia7

Holy crap, so Digital Extremes release a new frame (in 2017 that is), and not only do they give her a really great set of abilities and unique way to play, they also give us this? For free? In my opinion this is above and beyond what a good F2P title can do for its players. Thank you DE, and take note everyone else!

Anyway, as you can see the notes you can scribe are divided into three categories for your abilities. Your 1 has three different notes (bass drum, snare or clap, hi-hat), while your 2 and 3 get five notes each. Unfortunately this means that you can’t use the full musical scale. For bass line and melody the notes you can use are D, F, G, A and C, from low to high, so just short of one octave in range (ironic, what with her name being Octavia and all). The game doesn’t tell you this, by the way, I had to figure it out myself. You also can’t change the tempo (about 115 BPM), the meter (4/4) and the song length (four bars) after which it repeats.

This means that you can’t compose or replicate just any song (like I had so much fun and success with in APB Reloaded), at least not perfectly. But as it turns out many known, catchy tunes are indeed so simple that you can make it work.

As a big football fan my first idea, for example, was of course Zombie Nation’s Kernkraft 400 (the part you’ll probably rercognize starts at 0:41).

Except for one note I was able to recreate this pretty well I think. I obviously chose a passage with beat and everything, namely the four bars starting at 1:29. Now I get to hear “my” football hymn whenever the Rolling Disco Ball of Death shreds everything. The mandachord-screenshot above shows the first bar and a bit of the second, but if you play the game and would like to have the whole thing just send a whisper to Mailvaltar.

For it to sound just right I bought a couple of additional instruments for platinum though, so I guess it’s technically not quite correct that they gave us everything related to Octavia for free. However 50 platinum for a set of instruments (one drums, one bass and one melody) isn’t all that much, and I was more than happy to give DE a bit of support for this truly awesome frame (and game).

Now, if you dislike looter shooters in general this probably isn’t enough to make you like Warframe – especially as it takes a good while to unlock her – but if you do like this kind of game and also love music you really owe it to yourself to experience this.

Wrapping up Blaugust 2019

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And just like that another month of August is almost over again. Time flies if you’re having fun, as the saying goes.

Counting this one I made it to 15 posts this time around. Quite a step backwards from last year’s 31, but since I wasn’t sure if I’d even manage to pen this many I’m pretty happy nonetheless.

From the second week onwards all I’ve been talking about is Warframe, and I expect that trend to continue for a while because I’m still having loads of fun. Since we’ve just returned from our vacation I didn’t have time to check out my new frames yet, which I’ll do right after finishing this post.

Or maybe not. Turns out I was wrong when I predicted it might take the folks at Digital Extremes a good while to introduce a playable version of the shawzin. In fact they’ve just released a meaty content update that already delivered it to us, alongside other goodies like a brand new frame, new weapons etc.

I’ve only tested it for like two minutes, but I dig it a lot. It sounds like a shamisen, which of course fits the game’s space-ninja theme perfectly. You can either strum about freely or try to record whole songs. There are also some pre-built songs you can play along to.

WarframeHero
It’s basically Guitar Hero in space, what’s not to like?

It’s activated via an emote, which I had at my disposal right away since I’d already bought the decoration before. Nice! They’ve also released some colour variations, according to its description one of them even sounds differently. I’ll wait for a video of it to pop up before buying though.

Apart from playing Warframe I also look forward to reading all those posts my fellow bloggers have undoubtedly written during the final stretch of Blaugust. I guess there are at least a hundred new pieces that I very much want to read, not counting the catching up I have to do over at Massively OP.

First I’d like to once more say thank you to all mentors and participants of Blaugust, and of course to our host Belghast. It’s been a blast just like last year, and I hope I’ll be reading all your blogs for a long time to come. Also a big welcome to everyone who’s started just now. I think you’ll find that this is a great community all year round. I know I’m happy to be a part of it. Cheers!

Stay awhile and listen: Forces of the Northern Night

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I’m not a huge fan of live albums in general. Being an extreme creature of habit, once I’m accustomed to a piece of music I like it just the way it is and don’t want it any different. Live music is by nature almost always different, and when it isn’t there’s no real point to it unless you’re there when it happens and it’s all about savouring the performance.

There are exceptions though, and this is one of them.

While Dimmu Borgir were always frowned upon by many ‘true’ black metal believers I instantly became a fan of theirs when I listened to their album Stormblåst in ’96. What really blew me away was their next release, Enthrone Darkness Triumphant, which remains one of my most beloved albums to this day. My favourite music genres have always been metal and classical (symphonic) music. To me Enthrone was, at the time, the best and most sophisticated symbiosis of those two. For that to work a great sound is needed, and it didn’t disappoint in this regard either.

Since then they’ve constantly refined their style, which I would call Symphonic Black Metal. For the recording of their album Death Cult Armageddon they used a real orchestra, the Prague Philharmonics, for the first time. This again elevated their compositions and sound to a whole new level.

In 2011 they collaborated with Kringkastingsorkestret, the Norwegian Radio Orchestra and Choir, for a live show in Oslo. With Forces of the Northern Night they released the recording of that concert as well as the same show with different orchestra and choir at Wacken Open Air 2012. I highly recommend the earbook, which consists of two Blu-rays, two DVDs, four Audio CDs and lots of large format pictures. At Nuclear Blast Germany it’s heavily discounted, I assume that the Blu-rays and DVDs aren’t region free though.

The CDs are fine, with great sound and a good song selection. The video discs are where it’s at though. Watching them is obviously not as great as it would have been to see it live in Oslo or at Wacken, but it’s pretty close. The picture quality is superb, as is the 5.1 audio mix. They didn’t make the mistake (as is sadly often the case with surround mixes of rock and metal music) to route bassdrum, snare drum and vocals to the center speaker. Everything that’s ‘metal’ comes from the much more powerful main stereo speakers here, orchestra and choir are spread out over all front speakers and the crowd ambiance comes from behind. Perfect!

The stage setting is well thought out and I’m very pleased that neither camera work nor editing are as hectic as many other metal releases I’ve seen.

I’ve not watched the Wacken gig yet, but the Oslo show is already enough for me to rate this release 10/10.

Song recommendations: Progenies of the Great Apocalypse (I’d buy it again for this song alone), Vredesbyrd, Gateways.

Stay awhile and listen: Dark Funeral – Where Shadows Forever Reign

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During the nineties some of my friends were super into old school black metal. They swore by Darkthrone, Immortal, Mayhem, Burzum and also ‘newer’ bands like Dark Funeral.

My stance on that kind of music was that I’d probably have liked it too if only the sound had been better. Much better, in most cases.

I often imagined the production process of those albums like this: the musicians were set up in the deep end of a giant cave, a single microphone was placed at the cave’s exit and a mono tape recorder was used to record it. Exaggerated, sure, but I find the mental image funny and some recordings were indeed that abysmal.

Seriously, listen to this, or this. Don’t get me wrong, it’s pretty great music (if you like the genre, that is), but it sounds horrible to my ears. Of course this wasn’t just a result of low budget and/or inability of the sound engineers. I don’t know why, but somehow it had become an essential part of being a ‘true’ black metal band to have a sound like this.

For that reason I never really followed the genre too closely, and also didn’t take notice when those bands released new albums.

Release new albums they did though, and thankfully the sound evolved along the way. A while ago a good friend strongly recommended Dark Funeral’s latest album to me, Where Shadows Forever Reign. Since I know that I can usually follow his recommendations blindly (thanks buddy!) I bought it.

And boy, is this a great album! It has a good mix of full speed blast-beat and mid-tempo songs, great melodies and the variation/combination of screams and grunts adds another layer of variety.

The sound is the cherry on the cake though. It’s clear, crisp and powerful. You can clearly discern every single note, every drum and cymbal, every hushed voice. And yet, the dark, cold and sinister atmosphere needed for this kind of music hasn’t suffered in the slightest.

I think wanting to achieve this atmosphere at all costs was the main reason for the (to me) bad black metal sounds of the past. Technical possibilities and engineering skills have finally risen up to the challenge, it seems.

Song recommendations: Unchain My Soul, Beast Above Man, The Eternal Eclipse.

Player-made music in MMOs

Music is very important to me. I love music since I was little. I became a musician myself relatively late though, I started playing the guitar when I was sixteen. A couple years later the drums became my main instrument.

Although I’m not the most creative person when it comes to composing music, expressing myself through music has been a part of my life for a very long time.

So you can imagine my excitement when Star Wars Galaxies came along in 2003 with a pretty sophisticated system for player-made music.

It didn’t actually allow players to compose music themselves though. Instead it had eight (I think) songs to choose from at launch, and five instruments to play them. Among those songs was the Mos Eisley cantina song of course, but also a couple of new compositions. Each instrument had up to eight musical variations, called Flourishes, for each song. For every bar of music one of those could be chosen while playing. Additionally some lightshow effects could be triggered every now and then.

This was already pretty nice when playing alone, but it was obvious that the system had the potential for greatness when played as a group.

Hence I didn’t hesitate for long to start looking for a band. I found two guys looking to start a new band on my server, Gorath, on one of the german SWG forums. We met ingame and talked about our ideas and visions and decided we were a good match.

We started meeting regularly to practice. We experimented with different combinations of instruments for the various songs, and which Flourishes sounded good together. We even practiced solos for single instruments, which meant all other musicians had to use one or more ‘Pause’-commands at the right time. Since this was before voice chat had become a common thing we had to coordinate our efforts via ingame-chat, which was trickier than it probably sounds.

Practicing a vocal composition in the sunshine of Corellia.

When we felt that we were good enough to play in front of an audience we started looking for opportunities. Since Gorath had a pretty large and lively roleplaying community that didn’t take long. Soon we were booked for our first gig, at a player wedding no less.

SWG Wedding 1
Playing the song ‘Ceremonial’ as a substitute for the Wedding March while Groom and guests wait for the Bride.

It was great. I have to admit that the roleplaying stuff was a bit over the top for me, I’m just not into these things. But being there and playing for an audience of real players, being cheered at and asked for encores was a gaming experience I’ll never forget.

SWG Wedding 2
Rocking the wedding party in a guild hall…
SWG Wedding 3
…and on the beach at night followed by fireworks.

We were joined by additional musicians and a couple of dancers over time, rehearsed even more sophisticated shows and wore more elaborate stage outfits. I wouldn’t say that we were the best or most famous band on Gorath, but we were definitely playing in the top league. It was a fantastic time.

SWG Enabran Tain
Entertaining the crowd at a local crimelord’s palace. We were very glad that he liked it…

After I quit SWG I had to wait for about six years until I played a game with player-made music again. This game was All Points Bulletin (the reboot, APB Reloaded, that went live some time after the original game tanked is still running and I play it from time to time). A MIDI-like editor can be used here to compose 5-second long themes or whole songs.

Recreating Marilyn Manson’s title theme from the first Resident Evil movie.

I never saw a reason to do whole songs because the game supports using one’s own music library to be played by car stereos ingame anyway. Also the available sound libraries aren’t really that great.

The themes are where it’s at though! Every character can equip such a theme, and whenever you kill someone it gets played to your victim. If the game bestows the MVP title upon you at the end of a match it’s even played once to all players on both sides.

Because people are people I don’t really have to point out that there are lots of folks who use a theme that’s basically just noise and as annoying as (in)humanly possible. Fortunately blocking a player is but a few klicks away, and then you don’t hear that player’s themes anymore.

However there are also many players who want to have a nice, high quality theme that suits their style or taste, so a talented theme-maker has not only lots of potential customers but can also earn quite a sum with his craft. I made millions of ingame Dollars selling the themes I made, I even did a couple on request.

It feels really great to receive a whisper after killing someone and not be called a cheater/dickhead/whatever for a change, instead getting: ‘WOW what an awesome theme, did you make it yourself?’.

The third and until now last game with player-made music I played was ArcheAge. Here a somewhat peculiar notation system is used to compose songs. It takes some time and effort getting used to. Apparently it’s taken from an earlier game, Mabinogi, which I never played.

Composed music is written down on special paper that has to be crafted first, and these song sheets are then used to play the song with an equipped instrument. They can also be traded or sold. The amount of notes that fit on one sheet are determined by your Artistry skill. Songs can have up to three voices, which is kinda cool because you can make even wind instruments play three notes at the same time this way.

Playing a pretty cool looking and sounding lute on my balcony.

The important thing that’s missing though, at least in the EU/NA version of the game, is band support. Playing all alone is quite nice when you have some good sheets and a couple of instruments on hand, but playing with a band would be a world of difference (see SWG above).

Lord of the Rings Online seems to have a very good system with bands and everything. There are even big festivals, like this one just a couple weeks ago. I’ve never played LotRO though, so I can’t speak from my own experience about it.

Now, I fully realize that there are without a doubt many players who couldn’t care less about player-made music in their MMOs. So every developer team has to weigh the cost-benefit ratio when deciding if their game needs something like that. There are also games where it just wouldn’t fit thematically of course.

Generally speaking though, if you want to make a game that’s more than just a treadmill of quests, gear and combat, instead offering a rich and varied virtual world to explore and experience, a good system for player-made music can be a massive enrichment and a real asset to your game.