Bandcamp Video Game Music Special

November 5, 2013 at 11:30 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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Bandcamp (the incredibly artist-friendly digital music store) just posted their weekly show, and this episode happens to be all about video game music! They interviewed a bunch of video game composers (Danny Baronowsky, Austin Wintory, Jimmy Hinson, me, etc.) while playing select tracks in the background. It’s a fun show, I’d suggest checking it out if you enjoy game music and the composers behind it ^_^/

Much thanks to Andrew Jervis for organizing it, it was a pleasure participating in this.

My new game, Rakuen

October 16, 2013 at 12:27 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 11 Comments
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Hi everyone!! I thought it was about time I filled you guys in on what I’ve been doing lately. I think some of you know that while spent most of my career as an indie video game composer/sound engineer, I was actually at EA for about 2 years as an Audio Director. I met a lot of wonderful new folks there (like the Pixelberry team for example). But after most of the original Plants vs. Zombies team was laid off, I ended up leaving the company, too.

Now that I was indie again, my goal was to finally finish up Melolune. However, after 2 years of not working on a 20 hour rpg (yes, I actually had 20 hours of playable content at that point), it was quite overwhelming picking up where I left off! I had promised myself that I wasn’t going to start anything new until Melolune was finished, but I realized that working on a smaller scale project (that I was very inspired to do) would be a great way to get back into game development. So I’m really excited to announce that for the past year, I’ve been working on a new game called Rakuen. I’m doing the programming, design, audio, and in-game pixel character art. My friend Emmy Toyonaga (an incredibly talented artist, and also a former EA employee turned indie) is creating the concept art.

Rakuen is a story-based adventure game about a little Boy who becomes bored with living in a hospital, and eventually asks his mother if she’ll escort him to the fantasy world from his favorite storybook. Throughout the game, the Boy begins to learn more about the patients who live around him. They each have their own secrets and struggles that are mysteriously tied to the strange hospital. In helping those around him, the Boy deals with questions about empathy, hope, and what it means to leave behind a legacy by coming to terms with his own story.

In terms of gameplay, Rakuen functions like a mix between Maniac Mansion, To the Moon, and The Legend of Zelda: Link to the Past (though without battles or fighting). The story and character design is influenced by Japanese mythology and children’s culture, as well as films like Miyazaki’s Spirited Away.

We’re hoping to release the game early 2014 for PC initially (with possible ports afterwards). But for now, you can learn more about the game and follow its progress at the official website. The soundtrack is also available for Pre-Order at Bandcamp (you can also just listen to the tracks there for free if you’d like). I really hope you enjoy the music and art we have to share so far! And if you’d like to help us spread the news, please feel free to tell folks about Rakuen, we really appreciate your support ^_^/

p.s. There will be Leebles ^o^

The Bad Producer Rant

July 28, 2013 at 9:08 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 29 Comments
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Allow me to rant a little bit about bad producers.

“Producer” is kind of a weird term, because it seems to take on so many different meanings. There are good producers, and bad producers. And they can often fulfill vastly different roles on creative projects. I should also preface this by saying a lot of producer-related memories were dredged up after watching Tommy and Edmund troll an LA producer who wanted to make a Super Meat Boy movie.

The Recording Industry
During my involvement with the recording industry in Japan, I noticed that the producer was often the person who created the bulk of what made a song a song: composing all of the background music, arranging the different tracks, planning the vocal layers, etc. Often I met people who called themselves “singer-songwriters,” a term that makes it seem like they were the creative force behind their albums. In reality all they did was come up with a generic set of chords, and some passable lyrics. It was the producer who came in and turned that into a real song that people would actually want to listen to. They composed the entire arrangement, they came up with the hook, the bassline, the percussion, the vocal plans, etc. These “singer-songwriters” were not the kinds of performers who could draw crowds at a cafe with what they had created on their own; their songs were nothing special without the producers to help them.

On the flipside, I also met people who called themselves “producers” who didn’t seem to do anything at all. They had no skills, they couldn’t create anything, they were painfully ambiguous about their actual role in any project. In fact, it seemed like their entire platform rested upon their ability to convince you that they were absolutely critical to your success. Even though they wanted you to pay them, even though they had nothing to contribute to the project whatsoever, for whatever unfathomable reason they were somehow doing you a favor. These people prey upon a young artist’s desire to make a living off of their craft, by desperately trying to position themselves as being well-connected within the industry. Somehow, they were the key to your “big break.” You can also spot one of these types through the following:

*Using lots of “industry” lingo and catch phrases to compensate for their lack of an actual concrete explanation as to why you need them, and what they’re doing to help.
*Acting as though the industry has a special language that only they can translate for you.
*Upon noticing that you are losing interest, trying to somehow make you feel insecure about your abilities through subtle jabs in an attempt to get you to think you need them.
*Using terms like “win-win situations” and asking you if you are “really serious” about what you’re doing.
*Basically, a whole lot of this:

bull going to the bathroom

The Video Game Industry
When I started working in the video game industry, I noticed a huge variation in the “producer” role here as well. With small dev-team games (1-4 people for example), there are producers who actually play a major role in the development of the game. They are jack-of-all-trades types who in addition to coming up with the initial design for the game, also know how to program enough to create a prototype, understand art enough to be able to create placeholder art and effectively communicate with their artists, and maintain all of the schedules and deadlines without the need for a manager. Sometimes small teams will have a “producer” who handles a mix of legal work, schedules, and PR.

With games that have large development teams (50-100 people for example), I’ve seen producers who take on more of a managerial role. They are extremely organized, and excel at coordinating deadlines, bridging the gap between the various development departments, and handling a lot of the paperwork and red tape that often come along with large scale games. Just as with the earlier examples, they are essential to the completion of the game.

However, just as with the music industry, I’ve also seen several cases of producers who don’t really do anything. They can’t program, they don’t know how to create any sort of art, their “design sense” is more akin to throwing out random ideas at the expense of those who actually have to spend time and energy implementing those ideas… Sometimes they take on the superfluous role of managing an already self-sufficient and self-motivated team. At worst, I’ve seen some producers who actually inhibit productivity by forcing certain things on their development teams. Things like arbitrary paperwork, unnecessary meetings, and worst of all: having the team try out random ideas without any concept of how much time and resources are required to put those ideas into practice (and the subsequent effect of significantly derailing the team’s progress). The major problem with the “try my idea” producers, is the fact that they have no understanding of art or programming, so they’ll easily throw away weeks or months of time without even realizing it.

MTG indie cube_The Producer

The worst part of all of this, is that the game industry seems to be crawling with people like this. And I can understand why:

1.) They are excellent communicators, so they can easy impress people at an interview.
2.) Considering that a lot of companies see producing as being synonymous with design (when in reality, design is a skillset all on its own), producers are often hired based on their “design sense.” However, it is unfortunately very difficult to measure a person’s design sense, especially when the person’s only game industry experience was playing the role of a tiny cog in a giant project.
3.) Once they’re in, it’s very difficult to measure their competency. If the development team they’re overseeing would have created a good game regardless of a producer’s involvement, it still reflects well on the producer. But if the team’s game doesn’t turn out well, the verbally gifted producer can shift blame away from themselves and onto members of the development team.

This is why I’ve seen terrible producers that somehow manage to maintain incredible longevity in the industry. This is also why I love the indie game community. In this space, it’s much easier to have development teams that are streamlined, where everyone’s role is clearly defined and measurable. This is also why I love places like Steam and Bandcamp. They allow creative and motivated people the chance to make a living off of their craft, thus making it harder for bad producers to deceive people into allowing their parasitic kind to feed off of other’s hard work.

There are good producers, and bad producers.

But rest assured that everytime I get a message saying, “Hey, I saw your videos on youtube… I don’t know how serious you are about music, but I’m a producer and I can help you get to the next level,” that it’s going straight to the trash :)

Thank-you!

March 30, 2011 at 11:05 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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I am happy to report that through sales of the Plants vs. Zombies Soundtrack as well as direct donations, we were able to raise $2,937 to help the relief efforts in Japan! Thank-you so much for your kindness and generosity ^_^

Plants vs. Zombies Soundtrack Sale for Japan

March 23, 2011 at 3:51 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 10 Comments
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Hi everyone! I just wanted to let you know that from now until March 27th, the Plants vs. Zombies Soundtrack is on sale for $3.99 at my Bandcamp page, and 100% of the proceeds will go towards the relief efforts in Japan via MercyCorps.

I would really appreciate any help in getting the word out about the soundtrack sale… I’m hoping to raise as much as I can to donate to the cause. Right now there are almost half a million people in Japan who have been left homeless in the frigid weather as a result of the earthquake and tsunami. MercyCorps is working with Peace Winds Japan to deliver balloon shelters to accommodate up to 600 people; large emergency tents; clean water, food and blankets for survivors in Japan.

Thank-you guys so much… take care and stay safe!

The best it can be: Innovative and Ghetto

September 5, 2010 at 11:25 pm | Posted in Music Album | 73 Comments
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After doing some research and getting advice from Alec, I decided to try setting up a music store using bandcamp. I’m so happy that I finally have a functional store! So far I like it… the interface is really user-friendly, and it takes very little time to get everything up and running. The only thing I don’t like about it is that you don’t have the option to upload mp3s. Bandcamp’s deal is that you upload .wav or .aif files, and then bandcamp gives customers the option of downloading music in virtually any format (including FLAC).

While the flexibility is great, the problem is that I no longer have the original .wav files of some of my really old songs. Of course I could convert the mp3s to .wav… but given that most people will be downloading the mp3s, the .wav would get converted back to mp3 again anyway, and lose even more quality (and since these really old songs are already very low-fi, the extra step is pretty devastating… I’ve already tested it and I can tell the difference pretty easily).

I guess on the upside, I’m not going to have this issue in the future since I’ll always have the original .wav files… it just sucks because I wanted to give away all of my earliest songs as a bonus for buying the old “My Blue Dream” album (even going back to my very first embarassingly cheesy and lo-fi song “Find Me” which I can’t listen to without cringing, hehe). Thankfully I was able to find the .wav files of a handful of older songs… which brings me to the topic of this entry:

The is one of the very first songs I ever wrote. As a sound engineer, going back and listening to the recording is painful for me… but at the same time, the song has a special place in my heart because I remember all the hopes and dreams I had when I wrote it. I had so much fun experimenting with music software, recording and mixing vocal harmonies, making homeade samples, trying to emulate the sound techniques I heard in songs on the radio (lol @ younger-me thinking the telephone effect was hella cool), etc. To give you an idea how innovative I was about my ghettoness as a novice sound engineer:

  • I recorded these vocals with a computer mic that I got from a college career faire… I attached it to a water bottle using tape so that the microphone would be at my mouth-level, and I purposely sang very softly so that I wouldn’t clip.
  • All of the melodic instruments are actually from Cakewalk’s original 128-instrument MIDI soundbank :P
  • To make the beats, I recorded all the samples in Soundforge and then uploaded them to Fruityloops in order to build the percussion (I never used loops, everything was always manual with me). However, I preferred sequencing using digital sheet music (Cakewalk) so I mixed the beats and melodic parts together using AcidPro. Yup, I used 4 separate free programs in order to do what could have been done using one piece of full-featured producer software like Pro-Tools… but I didn’t have the money for that, so I did what I could with what I had.

This song is about making the best of every interaction, whether it’s with a person, a place, a situation, etc. It’s based off of a Japanese tea ceremony term 一期一会 (Ichi-go Ichi-e) which literally means “one time, one meeting.” The deeper meaning, is that this could be both the first and the last time you ever have this chance to interact with someone or experience something, so you should make it the very best it can be. I think it’s how I felt about life at the time, and I strive to view life like that now (even though I often fall short of this).

Anyways… I hope you enjoy listening to one of my old songs, and if you get a chance, please check out my new store! A lot of people were asking where they could purchase the older album, so I made sure to make that one available. I’m also putting the Melolune soundtrack there (it’s a work-in-progress, but I thought it would be nice to check out the music as it gets made), as well as the Plants vs. Zombies soundtrack as soon as the legal stuff gets squared away.

And if you’re having one of those bum days, just remember…

一期一会 (Ichi-go Ichi-e)
Today is the first and last chance you’ll ever have today.

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