Indie Game Dev Themed Magic Cube Set!

October 23, 2013 at 8:04 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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Hi everyone! This post is for the Magic the Gathering players out there… and the indie game developers… and ESPECIALLY for the indie game developers who PLAY Magic the Gathering.

So earlier this year, my friend Andy Hull decided to spearhead an initiative to create an entire indie game dev themed Magic the Gathering cube set. We spent many many hours on this (coming up with the cards, talking over Skype, printing out and sleeving up test copies, etc.) and it ended up being really fun to play. The set came together around GDC, so all 7 of us (Andy Hull, George Fan, Ed McMillen, Kyle Pulver, Tommy Refenes, Derek Yu and I) got to hang out and draft during the conference.

If you’re interested in checking it out, the official site with a full visual spoiler (and some goofy pictures of the creators) is live and can be found here.

Derek can be pretty messed up if you don’t have removal!!

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^

Radical Dreamers and Cardboard Cutouts

August 12, 2013 at 3:05 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments
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So earlier today I was trying to explain something really weird that has happened to me at least twice in my life. I’ll tell you about the one incident I remember most clearly. I was in Home Depot, walking with some friends, and I noticed a man standing in front and slightly to the right of me. I wasn’t making eye contact with him, but I was aware of his presence. And for some reason, my brain decided that he was a cardboard cutout.

At this point, we continue walking towards him, and I’m now looking directly at him trying to figure out what this cardboard cutout is advertising. “Is this a paint advertisement?” “Is this for garden supplies?” Then suddenly he moves, and I get so startled that I scream right at him! Of course, this startles him and he looks very confused. So after I catch myself, I start profusely apologizing, and awkwardly trying to explain to him that I thought he was a cardboard cutout. Then I thought, “wait, is that offensive?” So then I dive into all these weird disclaimers like, “n-not that you look like cardboard… I mean, I just, from far away you were standing so still… and I… I don’t know, I’m sorry!!” He was nice about it.

Time for a weird weird segue!! I had the pleasure of collaborating with Meine Meinung on one of my favorite video game songs (Radical Dreamers 盗めない宝石 from Chrono Cross, composed by Yasunori Mitsuda). This cover has 2 guitars, double bass, and vocals… and if you are familiar with Chrono Trigger, you should be able to pick up the nice throwback they put in the arrangement ^_^ Originally they asked if I wanted to come to their studio, but I’m not in Japan right now, so they edited me in. And I think it looks pretty cool… sort of like I’m there, and sort of like a cardboard cutout (get it? Because of my story earlier? Ah… ehhh… sorry)

For real though, these guys are awesome. If you haven’t checked them out yet, you will not be disappointed. They have some of the best video game music covers on youtube, they’re fantastic musicians, and they have a really good sense of humor ^__^ I hope you enjoy our new video!

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 🙂

Lament of the Highborne

July 26, 2013 at 6:16 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments
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Hi everyone, long time no see ^_^/

I’ve been sitting on some big news for quite a while now… A friend and I have been working on a special little game-related side project (it’s not Melolune, however it is set in the same universe). I’m hoping to be able to talk about it soon, once all the major details are set in stone. Because I’ve been spending the majority of my free time devoted to this (in addition to tackling random things that have come up in life), I’ve been a bit less frequent with my youtube uploads (and by “a bit less” I mean I haven’t posted anything in 5 months ~_~)… So I must apologize for this and say thank-you for all of the kind messages you folks have sent me via youtube and twitter asking if I was okay ^__^

Happily, I was able to complete a new video this week! It is a vocal-only cover of “Lament of the Highborne,” a hauntingly beautiful song composed by Russell Brower for World of Warcraft. I was a bit hesitant to arrange this song because the original is already so perfect (and there are so many other lovely covers out there). I thought, “what could I possibly contribute to this?” But I had fun experimenting with harmonies, and revisiting a classical singing style that I haven’t done in years. I really hope you’ll enjoy^^

Album Projects and Skyward Sword Vocal Arrangement

January 21, 2013 at 2:07 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 9 Comments

At some point last year, I realized that I had racked up a whole lot of new original songs that either got uploaded to my Bandcamp as singles (Cube Land, From the Ground Up, Blood Elf Druids, etc.), or never really left my computer! Coupled with music I’ve done for other projects, that body of music could easily fill out a full album… so I think I’m gonna do it! My plan is to release 2 albums this year: one featuring my original songs, and one video game music cover album. The former is almost ready (I just need to arrange “Rewind” and finish 1 more song that I think would fit nicely with the others)

Concerning the latter, here is my 2nd video of the year: “Meet me above the clouds” (I’m trying my hardest to keep up with this video-a-week thing!! Wish me luck!!) It’s a new vocal arrangement of “Ballad of the Goddess” from The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. I really enjoyed the music from this game; some of the themes were so beautiful (Fi’s theme in particular is one that I could listen to for hours on end). I also love how the composers reversed Zelda’s Lullaby and constructed an entirely new piece of music… they are so creative and talented. Since there were only a few lyrics in Hylian, I wrote some additional lyrics and added a new vocal melody in order to extend the song. I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed working on it ^__^

Tea, Dailies, and Inspiration

January 14, 2013 at 2:44 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 10 Comments
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Happy New Year Everyone! Being that we’re now 2 weeks into 2013 I thought it’d be a good idea to honor one of my new year’s resolutions: updating my blog more frequently. But being that it’s been quite a while since I’ve done this whole writing thing, I wasn’t really sure what to write about. So I figured I’d write about something that has been affecting me a lot lately as a creative type: getting inspired. Sometimes I don’t like to work until inspiration strikes, but unfortunately this can be quite problematic because let’s face it — sometimes inspiration just doesn’t strike. And when your whole career revolves around being inspired, that pretty much sucks. So over the years, I’ve tried to come up with ways to work around this little problem, and I thought I’d share my most important one:

Baby steps help you reach a state of flow.

Being able to work is all about being in that state of flow where your ability to do a particular activity (and having the confidence to do so) is at the appropriate level for engaging in said activity. The reason we often feel overwhelmed by tasks (despite the fact that we’ve succesfully completed similar tasks in the past), is because we aren’t warmed up yet. So when I am not in the correct state of mind to delve into a creative project, I often take baby steps in order to warm up my brain. Each time you complete a task, you feel a burst of confidence in your ability to be productive. The more of these “bursts” you have, the bigger tasks you can take on.

One of my favorite things about World of Warcraft, is that it is the perfect forum for taking baby steps of productivity and accomplishment. I think this is why MMOs in general are so appealing — They are built to tap into that part of human nature that desires to be productive, in a very consistent and quantifiable way. And while there are a lot of people who get addicted to this type of virtual accomplishment (or the aspect of escapism that an MMO provides), when used in moderation, it’s been a very helpful start to a productive day. I have adopted the ritual of making tea, and doing my WoW dailies while drinking tea and having a light breakfast. Often, preparing the tea takes a bit of time (especially when I follow the Samovar Masala Chai recipe), which I enjoy because it helps me relax. When I finish this ritual, I feel more confident to move onto other tasks. But it’s still a gradual progression. I move from WoW dailies, to household chores (making the bed, washing dishes, etc.), to running errands, to actually getting work done. Sometimes I can skip straight to working, but when I’ve gone for a while without touching a project, the progression really helps a lot.

Especially when you’re in a rut, making a list and tackling even the tiniest of duties is so incredibly helpful when it comes to breaking out of an uninspired state of mind. If you are wandering around in your pajamas and you don’t feel motivated to do anything, just try to pick up one thing and put it back in its place. Then force yourself to go wash a dish. Keep forcing the mundane little tasks until your brain decides to release some endorphines once it realizes you’ve just accomplished something. I’m not even kidding. I’ve had days when I feel like there is no point to finishing projects that once brought me so much joy and inspiration; I’ve felt apathetic and unmotivated. It’s at those times that you have to remind yourself that your projects have not actually lost their merit, you’re just not in the right state of mind. It’s all very chemical — Give your brain that feeling of accomplishment little by little, and it can help tremendously with getting back on track.

——–

Oh, one of my other new year’s resolutions was to make a new video each week. I’m not sure how realistic this is, but I’m going to try my best! I kicked this off with “Kingyo Hanabi”… hope you enjoy ^___^

Hot Metal!

October 5, 2012 at 11:07 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments

I think if you’re reading my blog, then you probably know by now that I’m a huge Megaman fan. I’ve mentioned a number of times that I used to record the music from the originl NES Megaman games onto casette tape so that I could listen to them later, and I might have mentioned that I learned how to play all of the themes from Megaman 2-5 on the piano by ear when I was in grade school. But did you know that I also used to subscribe to the Capcom newsletter, and I’d re-draw all of their Megaman comics? I also dressed up as a (girl version) of Megaman for Halloween in 5th grade. And when no one was looking, I’d spin around and pose like Quick Man or Metal Man.

Okay now that I’ve sufficiently outed myself as the biggest nerd ever, please enjoy this metal Megaman 2 medley that I did with my friend Fernando. He rocks, and you should totally check out his channel for great metal covers of video game music. Our medley consists of the intro music, Metal Man’s theme, Heat Man’s theme, a plasma cannon, and wearing a box (and possibly a beanie with a CD taped to the front? I’m not sure, but I still can’t stop laughing whenever I watch the intro)… Hope you enjoy ^_^

Silly singing

July 26, 2012 at 11:44 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

I’ve been kind of stressed out lately, and I remembered that when I was younger my friends and I would sing “You’re Nobody till Somebody Loves You” (Dean Martin version) when we were going crazy over midterms or something like that. We didn’t harmonize or anything, we’d usually just sing really loudly and stand up on our chairs. I’m not even sure why it was this song in particular, perhaps because it was fun to sing. Anyways, I thought I’d share it with you all in case anyone needs a boost.

And like I said in the video description, I’m not sure why I’m dressed like a scientist. I just thought it would be a good idea at the time. For science!

Macross Plus: Voices

July 19, 2012 at 3:25 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments
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I heard “Voices” by Yoko Kanno for the first time about 14 or 15 years ago, and I still remember how mysterious and beautiful I thought it was. The chord progressions and melodies were so unusual to me, but yet so hauntingly lovely that I listened to it over and over again in order to try and understand it. It was unlike anything I’d ever heard before, as is the case with many of Yoko-san’s compositions.

I hope you’ll enjoy our rendition of “Voices.” This is my first collaboration with Kyle Landry, a very talented youtube pianist who covers everything from video game music to classical pieces and everything in between. The non-traditional chord progressions made recording all the vocal harmonies quite a challenge for me, but I learned a lot in the process and am really happy we were able to work on this song together. Anyways, here is the video:

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