Irrational Games, the developer behind the BioShock series, made a colossal change three years ago when it laid off most of its employees and became a small studio. Since then, Ken Levine and his team have been quietly working on... something. No one is quite sure what they've been up to in their Westwood, Massachusetts offices, but they've been hinting at a quieter, more thoughtful story-oriented game.
Their mission, that quest for a more personal game, didn't quite seem to fit with a studio name like Irrational Games. To bring their name more in line with their goals, the studio's new name is Ghost Story Games.
The studio describes their new studio in a way that acknowledges their past pedigree, but looks forward to something new and exciting:
The Irrational Games Twitter has become the Ghost Story Twitter and while the Irrational Games website remains up, the team has moved their focus to a new website under their Ghost Story Games moniker.
Best of luck to Levine and his team as they officially bring to a close one of the most successful periods in game development history and move into a clear future yet to be written.
Ubisoft's free open beta for Ghost Recon: Wildlands has only recently begun and it will run until 6am PT on February 27. Players can download the beta on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC to jump into two of the game's sweeping opening areas. Solo and multiplayer co-op are supported throughout the beta, so players can go it alone or grab a couple of friends to explore the Bolivian provinces of Itacua and Montuyoc. Itacua will be the opening area of the full Ghost Recon game, while Montuyoc serves as the training area for the Santa Blanca cartel's recruits.
"But," I can hear you saying, "what about the rewards for playing the open beta mentioned in the headline?" Anyone who participates in the open beta and then buys and plays the core Ghost Recon: Wildlands game before the end of March will unlock the Unidad Conspiracy. The conspiracy is a set of three missions that take place in the heart of Unidad territory, Media Luna.
On top of that, Twitch Prime subscribers will be receiving some Wildlands gear in the War Within the Cartel item pack. This includes some in-game patches for equipment, a gun skin, and some nifty Santa Blanca threads for your Ghost.
Ghost Recon: Wild Lands launches on March 7 for PS4, Xbox One, and PC.
[Updated with confirmed titles available at launch and beyond - 2/23/17]
Nintendo revealed a number of details on their upcoming console, the Nintendo Switch, late last night. The company revealed the price, release date, and a number of games over the course of their livestreamed event, which you can watch online.
The night's information dump began with the reveal of the Nintendo Switch release date: March 3. That means the next generation of Nintendo's console line is less than two months away from hitting brick and mortar stores and that's certainly hard not to get at least a little excited about. Moreover, the Switch will retail for $300 making it roughly competitive with the consoles from Microsoft and Sony.
Nintendo also revealed some scant details on how Nintendo will alter its approach to online with the Switch. Their plan is for players to be able to link a smart device, presumably a smart phone or tablet, to the Switch via an app. This app will allow players to invite friends to games and interact in various ways with the digital environment of the Switch. The online services will be free when the console initially launches, but sometime during Fall 2017 online services will change over to a paid subscription.
In order to more fully embrace the new digital age, Nintendo will be doing away with region locked hardware with the Switch. The company stated that this would be a general approach, so that still leaves open the possibility that some select things could still be region locked.
Nintendo began to get more into how the console will actually function. Players can enjoy it in TV Mode, which functions like a traditional console. Tabletop Mode transforms the console into a portable screen that can be placed on a table while gaming outside the home in a party or travel situation. Handheld Mode slips the left and right Joy-Con controllers onto their respective sides of the Switch console and turn it into a portable gaming device.
One of the most talked about aspects of the Switch prior to Nintendo's reveal event was how long the battery would last when gaming on the go with the Switch. Nintendo estimates that the Switch contains 2.5-6.5 hours of battery life depending on what game is being played. While it can be played while it is being charged, the short battery life almost certainly limits the amount of usable time the console can be in use away from a power outlet.
Nintendo dedicated a significant portion of time to explaining the rather strange Joy-Con controllers. Each console will come packaged with two Joy-Con controllers, left and right, that can be clicked together inside the Joy-Con grip to form the basic Switch controller. Each of these functions separately, enabling the console to support a two-player co-op experience right out of the box. Both controllers house a light sensor that is capable of distinguishing shapes and movement; the example used highlighted its ability to recognize the symbols for Rock, Paper, Scissors. The two controllers also make use of Nintendo has dubbed "HD rumble" - a high-precision internal rumble pack that can deliver very specific rumble sensations. On top of all that, the controllers include gyroscopes and motion sensing technology that allow them to incorporate movement into some games. The Joy-Con controllers will be available in different colors at launch: grey, neon red, and neon blue. It will also come with a wrist strap accessory called the Joy-Con Grip that seems to make the individual Joy-Con controllers more ergonomic and hand-friendly.
The right Joy-Con includes an NFC reader, and the left Joy-Con houses a button that can take screenshots and capture in-game video. The video capture function doesn't seem like it will be functional when the console launches in March, but that function will come eventually, according to Nintendo. Screenshots and recorded video can be shared on social media, which raises a question about how Nintendo will be handling YouTube and Twitch monetization with the Switch, given their past policies regarding Nintendo IPs and Let's Players/streamers.
All of these features come with a price, though. The base cost of the system, $300, seems pretty reasonable for a console launch, but Nintendo aims to make a killing on the cost of standalone accessories. If you are thinking of perhaps getting a second dock for another location in your home for the Switch, the $90 price for a single docking unit might put you off. Want to pick up two extra Joy-Con controllers to have four individual/two traditional controllers on launch day? That will cost you another $80 - more if you buy the Joy-Con controllers separately for $50 each. If you opt for the Pro controller, which is only sold separately, it isn't that much cheaper at $70. Anything beyond the base system will significantly increase the cost of buying into Nintendo's next generation. Just one extra controller nudges the cost of the system close to $400, a number the console will easily break as games are being sold separately at launch.
Nintendo envisions the Switch as a party-friendly device. Up to eight Switch consoles can wirelessly connect for local multiplayer games. Titled 1-2 Switch and slated to be available at launch, the first game shown during the conference highlighted the company's focus. 1-2 Switch consists of a number of minigames that involve person-to-person interaction with friends and family. The one highlighted most, a Western-style quick draw game, pits two players face-to-face and determines who can draw their Joy-Con the fastest. Other games briefly shown included sword duels, boxing, yoga, and more. As far as we know right now, there are no plans to bundle 1-2 Switch with the console, making it a separate purchase on launch day.
The second game shown for Nintendo's impending console packs a punch. Arms looks to be a combination of Overwatch and Punch-Out!! pitting players against one another or the computer in the boxing arena. The major distinction between Arms and a typical boxing title seems to be that every character has extendable arms and a number of unique abilities to get the better of their opponent. The game's producer described it as a mixture of shooting and boxing. Arms makes use of the motion control elements of the Joy-Con to simulate boxing in a way that feels very reminiscent of Wii Sports' boxing, albeit highly refined. With a roster of colorful characters and a truly endearing aesthetic, Arms definitely catches the eye and should be one to watch as we inch closer to its release date. Unfortunately it will not be available when the Switch launches on March 3, but it will be coming sometime this spring.
Splatoon 2 made a splash with a new trailer showing new, inky gameplay. New special weapons can be activated when enough ink has covered the stage and players can use the Joy-Con motion controls to aim their tools of colorful destruction. Splatoon 2 turned out to be another game we will have to wait a while to see, launching sometime this summer. Much like the first Splatoon, Nintendo will support it post-launch with new stages, weapons, and ongoing, in-game events.
Hand it to Nintendo, they paced the reveals during their Switch presentation just right. Just as it began to seem odd that no major franchise names had yet made an appearance, they blew open the lid on a brand new Mario title. Super Mario Odyssey might just be one of the weirdest Mario games ever made, and that is saying a lot of a franchise that includes some of the most fever-dream worlds in gaming. Nintendo wanted to convey the idea that Mario was journeying to unknown lands and the trailer certainly establishes that, showing obscure and never-before seen enemies and locations - including what looks to be New York City, complete with realistically proportioned humans. I cannot stress enough how jarring the juxtaposition between a realistic human and a cartoon Mario appears. Oh, and Mario's hat seems to be alive now? Outside of the real-world areas, the game looks incredibly gorgeous and inviting. Bowser makes an appearance in a dapper white suit having kidnapped Princess Peach yet again. I don't know how any of this fits together, but the sheer oddity of it all has me on board, even if the ride could end up being a bumpy one. Super Mario Odyssey won't release until the 2017 holidays, so more details will almost certainly be shared during E3.
Monolithsoft is back with a sequel to their Xenoblade JRPG titled... Xenoblade 2. It might have been the stream, but some of the in-game footage seemed to be stuttering. Details on the game were practically nonexistent and Nintendo did not provide a release date.
Koei Tecmo appears to be continuing their relationship with Nintendo by creating another hack-and-slash fighting game. However, instead of adapting The Legend of Zelda, this time the developers of Dynasty Warriors will be tackling the venerable Fire Emblem series. The teaser was pretty short and didn't display any gameplay, but color Fire Emblem fans intrigued by such a strange marriage of genres in Fire Emblem Warriors.
From this point on, Nintendo adopted a more rapid-fire approach toward unveiling upcoming titles. Nintendo claims that, between their studios and third-parties, over 80 games are in development for the Switch at this point in time.
Dragon Quest X and XI are slated for a Switch release in Japan, while Dragon Quest Heroes I and II will also be coming to the Switch. A new Shin Megami Tensei has just gone into development for the fledgling console, though nothing beyond that and a short teaser were shared. Square Enix unveiled a new IP called Project Octopath Traveler, a game that appears to update the old-school 16-bit aesthetic with a few modern twists. Todd Howard from Bethesda to confirm that Skyrim will be coming to the Nintendo Switch, laying to rest the rumors that Skyrim's appearance might have simply been for the promotional trailer. Suda 51 from Grasshopper Manufacture, the studio behind the recent free-to-play game Let It Die, took the stage to let everyone know that he would be resurrecting Travis Touchdown for an as yet unnamed title for the Switch. People might remember the name Travis Touchdown from his protagonist role in the game No More Heroes. EA confirmed that FIFA would be coming to the Switch, too. Presumably we could also expect to see other EA Sports titles like Madden on the console, but so far only FIFA has been confirmed.
A montage of games revealed and hinted at a number of other titles that Nintendo will be bringing to the Switch. Glimpses could be seen of Minecraft, a few Telltale titles, Farming Simulator, Rime, a Sonic title, Bomberman, and a flash of a futuristic racing game that might just be the first F-Zero game since the GameCube.
The Switch will come in two different packages when it hits shelves on March 3. Both will be the same price of $300 with the only difference being the color of the Joy-Con controllers. One system will be packaged with grey controllers and the other will have Joy-Con in red and blue. The system will come with the left and right Joy-Con, a Joy-Con Grip, the system dock, console, an HDMI cable, and an AC adapter.
The final announcement was one that many were hoping for: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild will be a launch title for the Nintendo Switch and available on March 3. This was accompanied by what might just be one of the biggest hype-inducing trailers in gaming history. The game includes voiced dialogue! It has weird sci-fi elements! Epic scope in both landscape and story! Some nods to timeline continuity for the fans! A very impressive trailer that might have single-handedly ensured that the Switch sells out of stores on day one.
Now, that was a lot of information to digest. Overall, this conference succeeded in fostering significant excitement for the Nintendo Switch, which had previously been a mystery. While there were certainly some tantalizing looks at future Switch titles, only two were confirmed to be launch titles, though one of those being a Zelda game pretty much guarantees a large number of people buying into the hardware. And that buy in could make Nintendo a tidy profit. I'd wager that they are selling the Switch at a loss to make that attractive $300 price point, but they will more than make up for that in software and accessory sales. That probably contributes to the seemingly inflated costs of the Switch's accessories.
Below you can find the full release list of games that have been confirmed for the Nintendo Switch so far. Nintendo has announced a special indie game stream on February 28 at 9am PT that will likely finalize the day one launch line-up of the Switch with a handful of additional indie titles, but these games are what have been confirmed so far. We've had some hands-on time with several of the upcoming games, so be sure to check those pieces out for some more information!
Additional games have been added from the Nindie showcase.
Available Day One (March 3):
Fast RMX - eShop only
Human Resource Machine - eShop only
I Am Setsuna - eShop only
Just Dance 2017
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Little Inferno - eShop only
Shovel Knight - eShop only
Super Bomberman R
World of Goo - eShop only
Arms (Spring 2017)
Blaster Master Zero (March 9) - Exclusive to Switch and 3DS
Graceful Explosion Machine (April) - Timed exclusive
Has-Been Heroes (March)
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe (April 28)
Mr. Shifty (April) - Timed exclusive
Pocket Rumble (March) - Exclusive
Puyo Puyo Tetris (Spring 2017) - eShop only
Shakedown: Hawaii (April) - Timed exclusive
Snipperclips, Cut It Out Together (March) - eShop only
TumbleSeed (Spring 2017)
Stardew Valley - Timed exclusive features
SteamWorld Dig 2
The Binding of Isaac: Afterbirth+ (TBD) - eShop only
Disgaea 5 Complete (TBD)
Dragon Ball Xenoverse 2 (2017)
The Escapists 2 (2017)
Fire Emblem Warriors (TBD)
Flipping Death (2017)
GoNNER (2017) - Timed exclusive
Kingdom: Two Crowns (2017)
Minecraft: Story Mode (TBD)
NBA 2K (2017)
New Shin Megami Tensei (TBD)
Overcooked! Special Edition (2017)
Rayman Legends (TBD)
Runner3 - (Fall 2017)
Skyrim (Fall 2017)
Sonic Mania (2017)
Super Mario Odyssey (Holiday 2017)
Syberia 3 (TBD)
Ultra Street Fighter II (2017)
Xenoblade Chronicles 2 (2017)
While most know Disney as a company that creates colorful animated films and holds sway over a vast merchandising empire, few know that they run a huge network of companies that support their main goals. One of those support companies, Disney Research, is tasked with creating new technologies to further the overarching media and entertainment goals of Disney proper. Turns out that they've just found a scalable way to transmit electricity within given rooms - without wires.
The chief scientist at Disney Research, Alanson Sample, hailed the discovery as an "innovative method [that] will make it possible for electrical power to become as ubiquitous as WiFi. Sample went on to describe how this could be a game changer "for robots and other small mobile devices by eliminating the need to replace batteries and wires for charging."
This breakthrough has been dubbed Quasistatic Cavity Resonance (QSCR). It relies on inducing an electrical current in metalized walls, floor, and ceiling of a room to generate near-field standing magnetic waves. These waves are able to fill a space and power numerous devices at the same time. The demonstration of this new method allowed researchers to power several phones, lights, and fans at the same time within a specially constructed room. "In this work," explained Sample, "we've demonstrated room-scale wireless power, but there's no reason we couldn't scale this down to the size of a toy chest or up to the size of a warehouse."
Some of you reading this probably got a bit skeptical at the thought of an electric current running through the floors, walls, and ceiling of a given room. However, QSCR currents in the structure are channeled through capacitors tasked with isolating potentially harmful electrical fields. Sample points to the data from the demonstrations of this method to prove that they can transmit up to 1.9 kilowatts of electricity (enough to charge 320 smart phones at the same time) while remaining within a safe zone of conduction for the structure. The magnetic waves, on the other hand, don't interact strongly enough with everyday objects to effect them. The researchers stated that rooms like this would be safe for human occupation for any length of time.
Disney Research published their findings in the online journal PLOS ONE earlier this month. The demonstration they used to show their method works involved a specially constructed 16-by-16-foot room with aluminum walls, ceiling and floor bolted to an aluminum frame. A copper pole placed in the center of the room and cut with a gap for discrete capacitors allows for the transmission of electricity without wires. Their demonstration of the technology is incredibly impressive for something so early in development.
The team had to construct a special room for this first proof of concept, but Alanson Sample believes that refining the technology could reduce the needs of their crude setup. Fewer metalized wall, ceiling, and floor panels might be necessary or older spaces might be retrofitted with special conductive paint instead. Currently, charging ranged anywhere from 40%-95% efficiency, but that range could be brought up higher through testing and experimentation.
So, yeah. We might be getting rooms set up to broadcast electricity in the same way they now broadcast WiFi. Imagine wireless controllers that never need to be plugged in. Imagine the lack of cord clutter for PCs and consoles. Imagine not having to worry about whether you have the right charging cable for your phone. We're close to a future like that; technology is so freaking cool!
A King's Tale: Final Fantasy XV was initially offered as a pre-order exclusive for those who chose to pre-purchase Final Fantasy XV from Gamestop. Since then, players have been unable to obtain and play the retro brawler based on the Final Fantasy XV universe. Square Enix announced that they would be releasing A King's Tale to all players for free on March 1.
Like much of the extended universe around Final Fantasy XV, A King's Tale offers an opportunity to deepen the backstory of Square Enix's main title. Players take on the role of Regis, the father of Final Fantasy XV's protagonist Noctis, as he tells his young son a bedtime story about events that took place 30 years before Final Fantasy XV begins. Players must defend the kingdom of Insomnia from attacking monsters alongside long-time allies like Cid, Weskham, and Clarus.
Rather than being another RPG, A King's Tale plays more like a brawling Streets of Rage than a typical Final Fantasy game. Players must make good use of combos, blocking, magic, and summons to make progress.
It's not a terribly long experience, clocking in at an average of two to three hours, but it's certainly not too shabby for a free game with a charming aesthetic.
Players will be able to download A King's Tale: Final Fantasy XV on March 1.
Released in 2004, Half-Life 2 ushered PC games into a new generation. It brought with it the highly flexible Source Engine (a game engine so versatile that highly modified versions of it are still used for modern AAA games like Titanfall), and necessitated PC users to install Steam (at the time a highly controversial move that helped launch the platform into ubiquity). The shooter focused on the adventures of scientist-turned-hero Gordan Freeman and his attempts to stay alive in a strange future in which humanity has been conquered by an alien race known as the Combine.
Rise and shine, listeners. Rise and... shine... and let us know if you think Half-Life 2 remains one of the best games period well over a decade after release! Also, what is more fitting than an episode on the Half-Life series coming out a little later than intended?
Each week we will be tackling a video game, old or new, that at least one of us believes deserves to stand as one of the greatest games of all time. We'll dive into its history, development, and gameplay, while trying to argue for or against the game of the week. Sometimes we will be in harmonious agreement, other times we might be fighting a bitter battle to the very end. However each episode shakes out, we hope that everyone who listens will find the show entertaining and informative.
Outro music: Half-Life 2 'I Tried' by Redg (https://ocremix.org/remix/OCR02931)
You can download or listen to the podcast over on Soundcloud, our hosting site, and iTunes. A YouTube version is (sometimes) available as well, so you can watch what we are talking about while we talk about it! A Patreon has been created for those looking to support the show. You can also follow the show on Twitter: @BestGamesPeriod
New episodes of The Best Games Period will be released every Monday
Rime has been a long time coming. Developer Tequila Works began work on the project nearly four years ago. Originally slated as a PlayStation 4 exclusive, the game is now coming to multiple platforms. Rime centers around a young boy who, after getting shipwrecked during a storm, awakens on a mysterious, uninhabited island. A giant tower at the center of the island beckons the boy. With the help and guidance of a small fox and equipped with a strange, magical voice, the boy must reach the tower and uncover the island’s secrets.
At this year’s PAX South, I sat down with Tequila Works Creative Director Raul Rubio and picked his brain about Rime’s development. During our talk, I uncovered several intriguing, lesser known facts about the highly-anticipated puzzle-platformer.
Zelda and Ico Were Not Direct Influences
“Ico meets Wind Waker” has been one of Rime’s go-to descriptors since the game debuted. Though an understandable comparison, Link’s seafaring adventure had zero impact on Rime’s conception. “I'm disappointed to say no, we didn't look into the Wind Waker.” Rubio confirmed. Tequila Works drew inspiration elsewhere, including films such as the animated works of Studio Ghibli. Raul stated one of the team’s main starting points was Journey. “Not the gameplay of Journey–the experience of Journey. In the sense that in Journey, the important thing was the journey.”
Another, more surprising, influence has been the Jak & Daxter series. “In Jak & Daxter 2, you have this combination of platforming, open-world exploration, and, more importantly, you have this relationship between Jak and Daxter.” Rubio explained. “So in this game you have a relationship with the fox and he's your companion, your guide.”
The Witness Connection
While discussing Rime’s influences, I remarked about how Rime’s color palette and island setting reminded me more of The Witness than of Wind Waker. To my surprise, Raul revealed a relationship between the development of Rime and The Witness dating back to the 2013 Game Developer’s Conference. Both games had presentations at the event centered on their respective art styles:
“And the thing is we both attended the other's talks because we were curious, and they found the same challenges we found, sometimes [similar] solutions, but other times we took totally different paths because we have different goals.” Rubio recalled. “And I remember that Jonathan Blow, they asked him literally this: ‘Oh have you seen Rime? Did they take inspirations from The Witness?’ I believe he said ‘Well, you should ask them.’ So now we can say, no, we didn't take inspiration [from] The Witness.”
Raul said that until just a couple of months ago, he and his team hadn’t played The Witness. The reason? An employee rule to not play any other puzzle games during Rime’s development. Raul stated this was done to prevent Rime’s puzzle design from becoming “contaminated” by existing ideas and trends. Tequila Works could follow their unique vision rather than fall into the creative trap of only catering to player expectations.
Legit Animation Chops
One of Rime’s smaller but impressive elements is the boy’s animations. Subtle mannerisms and a satisfying sense of weight when jumping and climbing made me assume motion-capture was responsible. Raul revealed the boy was entirely hand-animated by a three-person team led by veteran animator Sandra Christensen. Prior to Rime, Christensen’s animation credits include LucasArts titles including the Star Wars: Force Unleashed games and Monkey Island, as well as other titles such as Psychonauts. She also had a tenure at Pixar, having worked on A Bug’s Life.
A Blend of Cultural and Artistic Influences
Creating a game that meshes aspects of different cultures is important to Tequila Works. The small team consists of a melting pot of nationalities, religious backgrounds, and artistic tastes. Rime’s aesthetic blends the individual artistic tastes and influences of the team members into a cohesive package. Raul explained, “Our art director was obsessed with The Master of Light, who is a 20th century Spanish painter. For other people it was Giorgio de Chirico who is the Italian architectural surrealist artist who inspired Team Ico. For other people, it was more like the surrealism of Dali and the negative space that he created. So in the end everything is mixed together.”
The architecture and color palette of the Mediterranean coast heavily influenced Rime’s presentation. “It's like going on holiday to Spain or Greece” said Rubio. While such sights are relatively common for the Madrid-based studio, Raul revealed that he hopes Rime will make what seems relatively ordinary to him and the team extraordinary to the rest of the world.
Childhood Experiences Drive Everything
Rime stars an adolescent boy, and Tequila Works is committed to capturing the whimsy that comes from experiencing life from the perspective of a child. Raul stated that one thing every person has in common is that we were all kids at one point. “So the key to understand Rime is trying to see the world with the eyes of a kid.” Rubio explained. “And you are a child again, you can do things that you did very naturally when you were a child that you forgot when you became an adult.” Raul said he believes that one of those forgotten traits is the ability to be amazed by your surroundings without overanalyzing them the way an adult likely would. Capturing that same sense of wonder when players explore the remnants of the island’s ancient civilization has been one of the team’s key goals.
To help realize that vision, Tequila Works studied videos of children playing in parks as a reference for how kids boldly attempt new challenges (especially when adults aren’t watching). Raul elaborated “You try to climb a tree now [you think], ‘Well if I try, I'm going to fall and [I’m] probably going to harm my hip, etc.’ But when you're a kid, you were not aware of the dangers of the world, right? Climbing a tree was something fun, not dangerous. That's the kind of inspiration for us.” Nearly every visible area in Rime can be reached by platforming, so Raul said he hopes that players channel that same child-like boldness when romping around the island.
Rime’s controls and animation has been influenced by the protagonist’s young age as well. Raul explained that the balance of making the boy feel “fragile, but not literally helpless” was a balance the animation team was challenged to pull off. Every action needed to feel the way an 8-year old would, which Raul described as being “simple and complicated at the same time."
I took Rime for a spin in a hands-on session and came away itching to play more. The puzzles I encountered, which involved using the boy’s voice to activate statues, were enjoyable and fairly inventive. Tequila Works promised increasingly diverse and complex conundrums throughout the experience. Platforming felt great and offers an enjoyable physical challenge on top of the mental aspect. Most of all, Rime’s ambient soundtrack and calm atmosphere make it a genuinely relaxing journey. By the time I finished, I wanted nothing more than to melt away and continue knocking out puzzles at my leisure. If the full experience continues to evolve in exciting ways, Rime has the potential to be one of the year’s premier titles.
Rime launches this May for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC.
A mariachi band that plays video game music? That’s not something you hear every day. A plethora of bands cover game soundtracks, but Mariachi Entertainment System stands out as the only traditional mariachi troupe that transforms 8/16-bit tunes into colorful Spanish melodies. After achieving renown on YouTube, the group steadily made a name for itself among gamers and video game music enthusiasts.
The band was founded by trumpet player David Ortiz (AKA "Dr. Ortiz"). A life-long gamer, his affinity for video games – and specifically video game music – began with the Nintendo Entertainment System and Mario. From there, the soundtracks of other iconic titles would influence his appreciation for the sounds of play.
“I was a gamer and music affected me very, very early,” Ortiz remembered, “I think Mega Man was probably the one game that I just loved those beats and I loved those melodies. Eventually once the consoles, the technology, progressed, games like Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy really, really sparked that like ‘What is this? It's making me feel weird!’ So those were parts of my influences growing up in gaming and music.”
At around 11 years old, David took his first foray into music by joining a band – much to his chagrin at the time. “My mom forced me. She absolutely forced me, and I didn't want to do it. So I said, ‘Well, I'll just play the free instrument because my mom can't afford it.’ I thought we were poor,” Ortiz explained, “I went upstairs with the teacher to learn the trombone - he scared me to death. And I said that I can't do it. So she bought me a trumpet, and she was like ‘Well go downstairs with the other teacher, he's nice.’ And that's how I started playing trumpet.”
The trumpet has since become David’s primary instrument, but over time he picked up the piano and guitar as well. He continued to hone his skills in the following years until the call to mariachi arrived out of necessity. As a 23-year-old college student, David needed an avenue to make money, and an opportunity to use his musical talents to earn a living presented itself. Ortiz described how his friend recruited him into the mariachi life:
“This buddy of mine was like, ‘You should play mariachi with my group.’ He told me, ‘because I saw you play the piano and I need Mexicans.’ So he gave me a harp, and I had no idea what the hell that was. And he paid me to learn how to play the harp. I suck at it. But I had to learn the language too; I wasn't Spanish speaking. And so I just kind of started learning the repertoire, started learning the instrument, and it's like a fever man, it just catches you. And I learned a lot of repertoire and then eventually I was like I need to play on my instrument. Started playing trumpet, started taking gigs, started making money, and then it became a way of life. And now I can't think of anything else. It's just mariachi to me – it’s what's in me now.”
But what exactly defines mariachi music? The genre has a long history, but here’s the briefest of summaries. Mariachi was born hundreds of years ago, formed from a blend of indigenous Mexican sounds and European instruments (such as the violin and harp) introduced by the Spanish arrival in the 16th century. Modern mariachi as we know it is generally believed to have been taken shape in the Mexican state of Jalisco in the 19th century. Bands originally consisted of roughly four members and a small ensemble of string instruments before growing in size and scope. “And eventually instruments were added and augmented into the ensemble that you see today. Traditionally a stage mariachi is six violins, three trumpets, four rhythm, a harp, and that kind of thing. So it has gone through a really long evolution,” Ortiz clarified. The style’s rural roots soon expanded into urban areas before migrating into the southwestern US in the 1950’s and 60’s. Since then, mariachi has maintained a foothold in the region.
Mariachi Entertainment System is based in San Antonio, Texas. Mariachi forms a significant part of the city’s cultural DNA, dating back to when the city hosted the first International Mariachi Conference in 1979. Numerous bands call the city home, and thus the area hosts an extremely competitive musical landscape. “It’s a brutal scene” said Ortiz. “There are a lot of players. There's a lot of great players.” To stand out amid the crowded genre, David needed to do something unique.
GETTING THE BAND TOGETHER
The idea of Mariachi Entertainment System spawned from the genre’s inherent tendency to cover other styles of music. “If there's one thing that I can say about mariachi is that it is the epitome of covering because all mariachi music is just a cover of some other style,” Ortiz explained. “Every mariachi in the world has a dream of playing some other genre of music with a mariachi [style]. That's all you do. You sit around, you know when you're off, and you're listening to Kool & the Gang and you go ‘This would sound really good with a mariachi [band].’ Every mariachi does this with every kind of music. So I was no different.”
David decided that video game music would mesh great with the style. Not only that, but in doing so may cause listeners unfamiliar with the style to become aware and, hopefully, appreciate mariachi as a musical genre on its own. Associating mariachi with video games, which lies at forefront of modern “coolness,” means that it becomes elevated in the public eye as a result. It’s a necessary mission, as the genre, in David’s eyes, has long stagnated in terms of musical advancement and social relevancy. “When you look at mariachi on television or in movies when they come [on screen], it's always a joke,” David asserted. “It's always, like, five guys in the back all out of tune, fat, drunk. There's this big joke and I hate that.” David believes mariachi has suffered from a public stigma solidified by decades of largely disreputable depictions in spaghetti westerns and similar films.
To help improve that reputation, David stated that bringing class to the style is part of mariachi Entertainment System’s goal. “Yeah, we're going to play video game music and yes, we're trying to make it cool, but we want to execute well.” Ortiz explained, “We want to play our music well. We want to execute at a high level and show you - show people - that we're classy at the same time.”
The fact that both mariachi and video game music suffer the same lack of widespread recognition among the general public offered another satisfying incentive for an enthusiast of both. “There's a whole other group of people who don't take video game music seriously,” Ortiz claimed, “so we do them both with class, with execution.”
YouTube offered a prime platform for David’s musical venture. Initially, though, a lack of confidence deterred him until his wife encouraged David to give it a shot. “She pushed me,” David said. “[She] was like, ‘You're very good. People respect you. Just do it.’ And so I did it with the idea that she would watch the video and I would watch and my mother-in-law would watch and that would kind of be it. I never imagined anything would come of it at all.” To make that video experiment a reality, David needed to assemble a band of his own.
By reaching out to friends and colleagues, David connected with players in the area. Not only did he need musicians that could perform at a high level, but they also needed to be into games and on board with the idea of covering video game music. “There's a very small group of people: mariachis who can read music, play their instruments, and who like games. I think I have them all in my group right [now]. That's all of them.” The current lineup consists of Jesus "Chuy" Guerra (trumpet), D00MSDAY (vihuela, flute), Adrian The Mexican Viking (guitarrón), Gilberto Martinez (vihuela, guitar), Ms. Wednesday Urbano (flute), Lotus Blossom (violin), Roberto "Sabor" (violin), Eric "El Chicles" Cervera (violin), and Carlton Galvez (violin). Mariachi Entertainment System formed from this gathering of talent.
With the band behind him, choosing which songs to cover became the next step–a decision process David claimed to have a stranglehold over due to his limits as an arranger. “I'm not a very good arranger, despite what people might think.” Ortiz admitted. “If I can do it well where I feel confident, then we'll do it. And if it's a great song [and] I'm just that ambitious, we'll put it on the table for a while and kind of wait. But basically it's just like a matter of like what can work well right now. If I hear it and it sounds like we could, then we'll do it. But otherwise, I'm always really scared. I'm always terrified.”
Tackling beloved video game tracks like Ocarina of Time’s Gerudo Valley or Castlevania II’s Bloody Tears can be a nerve-wracking undertaking. If an arranger deviates too much, people may be turned off completely, but take it too safe and some will complain that it was too straight a rendition. David made this clear saying, “there's a very fine line there. God only knows where it is. I don't.”
Mariachi Entertainment System primarily covers 8/16-bit tunes due to the artistic challenge of working with limited yet melodic sounds. “We're not going to end up going too modern just because the more modern soundtracks have gotten a little ambient” Ortiz explained. “They can have a whole 100-piece orchestra in their soundtracks in video games these days. And that kind of freedom I think is counter-productive to the creative process.” While that may sound like a criticism, David very much enjoys the sounds of contemporary games. “I love the modern video game soundtracks.” Ortiz clarified. “I love The Last of Us. Great music. Gustavo Santoalalla - beautiful composer. I couldn't hum to you most of that soundtrack. I can't remember it off [my head], but that's not to say it isn't good. It's just… it's ambient. It's just different.”
SUCCESS AND THE FUTURE
Mariachi Entertainment System has achieved success and recognition from not only gamers, but a few developers as well. David remembered how Konami once praised the group’s rendition of Castlevania’s classic Bloody Tears on their official Facebook page. Now that MES has begun to attract the attention of developers, David hopes to expand the band’s reach by working with the very creators of the games he loves. “I'm a case manager by day, and I'm now I'm thinking like, well wait a minute, why don't I talk to some of the indie developers here in San Antonio? Let me see if they'll let me do a soundtrack! You know? We could work together. So now I'm thinking hey, this is something cool I'd like to work on.”
In terms of future soundtracks to cover, David singled out one game he’d like to tackle. “I'd love to cover Undertale. I'm pretty sure Toby Fox- I could reach out to him and it would be cool.”
When MES first began, David paid his players out of pocket. He later turned to crowdfunding platform Patreon to secure additional funding from his audience. David said he believes crowdfunding helped give the band the financial jumpstart needed to get the wheels turning. “Now that we have kind of a little enterprise, we're putting that money into making records and buying and selling merch and getting better equipment and things like that. So it has helped us to evolve.”
Currently, MES is recording their second album, funded by a Kickstarter campaign. David remains grateful for the support that crowdfunding has given the band and tries to do right by his audience. “We try to treat our fans very well and give them all the resources that we can and give them free stuff. It’s cool.”
Mariachi Entertainment System has several projects on the horizon. Ranking high among those goals is one particular song David said he hopes to cover one day, but only once he possesses the skills necessary to do the track justice. The reason for his apprehension? It’s David’s favorite piece of video game music of all time.
“Chrono Trigger, Secret of the Forest. The most glorious, beautiful video game tune ever written” Ortiz gushed. “That's my white whale. One day when I'm old and grey and other old and grey people are watching YouTube like "Oh, what are the Mariachis up to?" We're going to do it when I'm a master finally.”
To hear music from Mariachi Entertainment System, check out the band's YouTube channel.
Teased at E3 last year, Crash Bandicoot returns to consoles this year with a remaster that includes his first three games. Fans of the series can look forward to games that have been completely overhauled. New lighting, animations, and fully animated cinematics are all planned to be compatible with 4K and the PS4 Pro. The soundtrack has also been completely redone with new audio recordings and performances.
The remastered collection will be titled The Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy. It includes Crash Bandicoot, Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back and Crash Bandicoot: Warped. The games support analog stick movement and feature a new save and checkpoint system that remains consistent throughout the three titles.
Studio Vicarious Visions handled the work of updating the classic games has stated that they have overhauled the time trials and bonus levels, too.
The trilogy will retail for $39.99 and release for PlayStation 4 on June 30.
Nintendo isn't well known for supporting downloadable content, but it seems that things might be different with their upcoming console release. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild will be sold alongside a season pass that gives access to several expansions planned for the title. This marks the first time Nintendo has ever offered DLC for a Legend of Zelda game.
The first DLC will release with Breath of the Wild alongside the Switch's launch on March 3 with a second batch following sometime during the summer and a final pack at the end of the year. The pass for the full crop of DLC will cost $19.99. The first piece will add three new treasure chests that contain "useful items" and unique clothing options for Link. The second part of the DLC will add a hard mode to the game, introduce a Cave of Trials challenge, and a "new map feature." The final DLC pack seems to be the most interesting of the three as it expands the base game with new story content, a new dungeon, and more challenges.
This move is so unprecedented that Nintendo actually released a short explanatory video for those who don't know about downloadable content.
This move has been a long time coming. After dipping their toes into paid DLC for the first time in 2011 with Fire Emblem: Awakening, Nintendo has very, very slowly been seeing how it can successfully incorporate downloadable content into its premier franchises. The move toward mobile gaming over the past year has been a part of their cautious experimentation. Given how pretty much all of these moves have reaped massive rewards for Nintendo, is it really that surprising that Nintendo's largest franchise would be releasing with DLC plans in place?
For more Breath of the Wild goodness, be sure to check out our hands-on preview!
Most people know Dream Theater as a progressive metal band from the mid 80s that has released albums on and off for the past thirty years. While that would generally lead to a band fading into obscurity, Dream Theater does not go quietly into that good night. The band has partnered with Norwegian indie developer Turbo Tape Games to create a game based on their 2016 album The Astonishing.
The game, titled The Astonishing Game, allows players to take part in the album's rock opera storyline, which delves into a conflict between artists and a totalitarian government. It features digital likenesses of the band members and various other musicians as they do battle with the machines of an empire to win over the general population.
The turn-based strategy game allows players to choose to side with the musicians or the authoritarians. The game comes with a single-player campaign and a multiplayer mode to challenge other Dream Theater fans (or those curious about what a Dream Theater game would be like).
On top of that, players can be eligible to win prizes by playing The Astonishing Game. Those who play can win tickets to upcoming shows, backstage passes, signed merch, and more. The rules for winning prizes can be found on Turbo Tape Games' website.
You can grab The Astonishing Game on PC, Mac, iOS, and Android devices.
Extra Life United is right around the corner and with 12 games to choose from and a prize pool of over $150,000 to unlock for your hospital, you won't want to miss this epic event! If you're having doubts, we've come up with the top 3 reasons why you should bite the bullet and join us in Orlando, Florida on March 23-25 for this life-changing experience. Hurry - registration closes on March 1, 2017!
Meet Other Extra Lifers
ELU is THE opportunity to meet other Extra Lifers from across the world. You'll make a ton of new friends that love to play games and help sick and injured kids - just like you do.
You can even meet people prior to the event by checking out the Extra Life United thread in the Community Hub! You'll also find packing lists, ride/room shares and other insider trips and tricks in the Extra Life United area of the forums.
Win Money for Your CMN Hospital
From gaming in the main tournament to mini-challenge stations, you'll get two full days of game play and a huge chance to win a portion of a $150,000 prize pool for the kids in your local area!
The winner of Extra Life United 2014 brought home $90,000 and now has a room at his local children's hospital named after him - how cool is that?!
Meet Your Champion Ambassador
The best part of Extra Life United is the opportunity to meet and play games with the kids you directly support through Extra Life. Each state and province in North America will be represented by a Champion Ambassador, a child that has been treated at a CMN Hospital.
You can also meet all of our Champion Ambassadors and read their stories on our website before you get the chance to play them in their favorite games during Open Game Night on Thursday, March 23rd.
To view the full game list and rules, an updated event schedule and all other details, visit the Extra Life United website.