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The String Arcade - Dren McDonald Interview

Ms. H from Mom's Minute interviews Dren McDonald, composer of The String Arcade, a collection or video game music arranged for a string quartet. He gives insights on making full renditions of songs that began as electronic sounds, and what his motivations were in starting the project. All proceeds of The String Arcade go to the Alameda Music Project, an afterschool music program for kids in grades K-5. 

Listen to the Interview Below

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You can purchase the CD from:

Loudr.fm - http://www.loudr.fm/release/the-string-arcade/wvbUB

iTunes - https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/the-string-arcade/id805763356

Bandcamp - https://thestringarcade.bandcamp.com/

Take a look at the trailer
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The String Arcade [Music Review]

The String Arcade Artwork

For those of us 30+ gamers video game music is embedded deep inside us. Having played the same levels over and over and over … and over again has left a mark on our memory that will likely last longer than our memory of our own offspring. The music is tied to our failures, our victories and new discoveries. When I first saw the track list for The String Arcade I immediately looked for game names that I recognized; Sonic the Hedgehog 2, Galaga and The Legend of Zelda. What I was surprised to discover is several modern games including some mobile games. I would be lying if I didn’t scoff and get a bit snobby about it, “Why would they pick those games? Who wants to listen to Plants Vs Zombie?!” I put my prejudice aside, put on my headphones, ignored my children and listened intently to The String Arcade.

Produced by composer Dren McDonald, The String Arcade is arranged and performed by a string quartet. The String Arcade goes far beyond simply recreating video game music, the arrangements are lush with complexity and depth. While each track is unique, the  album is arranged as a cohesive unit. Thematically it sounds like a soundtrack complete with a beginning, middle, ending, and epilogue. Grasswalk kicks it off with a playful pace mixed with grade-school-Halloween spookiness complete with zombie moans. Engii evokes the sounds of a space opera complete with epic solitude. Echoes of Ecco, Sonic 2 Scherzo and Altered Beast Title Theme all have beautifully rich cello work that gives them a lot of edge that was indicative of those games back in the day. Also there are parts of Echoes of Ecco where it actually feels like you’re underwater complete with dolphin calls. Ferdinand Wanders Out for a Late Night Haircut and Medicated Cow Walks the Cobbled Streets with Disgruntled Goat were both big surprises to me because they were inspired by mobile games but are brilliantly done. Dance of the Space Bugs and The Legend of Zelda Title Theme both rely on the original songs’ melodies but are both more vibrant than any other recreations I’ve heard. Especially The Legend of Zelda Title Theme closes the album out that truly feels like the end of an epic adventure. 

Having now listened to the album several dozen times: every time I hear something new. It begs to be listened to from beginning to end over and over. I actually feel a little uncomfortable if I have to stop listening to the album before I get to the end. I feel guilty having had reservations intially from reading the track list. Track numbers may break up The String Arcade but it should be listened to as a whole. It is a true joy to listen too and I plan to keep it in my rotation for a long time. 

All proceeds of The String Arcade go to the Alameda Music Project, an afterschool music program for kids in grades K-5.

You can purchase the CD from:

Loudr.fm - http://www.loudr.fm/release/the-string-arcade/wvbUB

iTunes - https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/the-string-arcade/id805763356

Bandcamp - https://thestringarcade.bandcamp.com/

  • Published in PC

Beatbuddy Review (PC)

beatbuddyYou probably haven’t heard of THREAKS before. It’s more than likely because they’ve never released a game before, so here’s their first game ever, Beatbuddy: Tale of the Guardians. Just because it’s the first game for the developer doesn’t mean there aren’t some industry veterans behind it, including Austin Wintory, composer of Journey, who has contributed songs for the game and Rhianna Pratchett, who is the writer for such games as Tomb Raider and Mirror’s Edge. So despite THREAKS being relatively new, there’s plenty of experience behind the team of Beatbuddy. Beatbuddy is a puzzle adventure game where your character, who just so happens to be called Beatbuddy, has been awakened from a deep slumber and then finds out his musically driven world is being the threatened with ultimate destruction. It’s up to you to puzzle solve your way through the game and find out why.

Beatbuddy is a rather simple game, your character Beatbuddy is a floating ghost-like character who moves around with 8 directions of freedom. It plays like you were a spaceship in a 2D world. You go through from section to section where you run into different obstacles that stop you from advancing. For example, one the most common puzzles elements are bounce pads which send you flying backwards and you have to orientate various mirrors to send you in a different directions from where you bounced from. The point is to send yourself flinging at top speed at clearly marked destructible walls which you hit and destroy after successfully orientating the mirrors correctly. You then move on and advance to the next section of level from there. Honestly it’s usually rather obvious what direction you’re supposed to line the mirrors up and so you spend an excruciating amount of time trying to line up mirrors correctly rather than solving actual puzzles.beatbuddy

Another central mechanic found within the game is that it’s supposed to be all about the beat where the music drives the environments and the environments drive the music. Honestly on this score, the game doesn’t quite live up to it’s hype. While there are definitely reasons that the music matters, like when the music is affected by touching items in the environment and even some enemies that have to be killed to the rhythm of the music playing, however there is no compelling use of the beat mechanics for the most part. It’s really just a gimmick that never gets used to its full potential.

Rhianna Pratchett is flaunted as the star writer, however the story really isn’t all that central to the game. You do have a reason to go from point A to point B but you’ll never get all that involved in the plot. The game’s story is mostly told through boring text bubbles that can be kinda funny sometimes but usually aren’t.

I’ve spent plenty of time bagging on the game but I feel I should highlight its positives as it’s not a bad game. While not innovative, you do have on your hands a solid puzzle adventure game that is not very difficult but is still fun. The primary mechanics are compelling enough to make you want to play through the game despite the few annoyances I mentioned earlier. There are constant checkpoints making it easy to jump in and out of the game between sessions. The game has plenty of options for controls (Keyboard, Gamepad, Mouse) and all of them play well. The musical score for the game is great. There was much attention paid to making a great electronic orchestral for the levels so I’d definitely recommend picking up the soundtrack once it’s available. I did notice the volume options can’t mute the game and only goes from somewhat low to high volumes, so keep that in mind. The “hand-painted” characters and environments look awesome and much kudos goes to the art director for the unique and beautiful game that they crafted.

beatbuddy-1024x640

Beatbuddy is a fun little game that warrants it’s budget price. You’ll get a solid 5 hours out of playing it which could be seen as short to some but it was enough for me. You won’t have your socks blown off playing the game but it’s got a unique vibe and all in all it's worth a look.

  • Published in PC
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