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Borderlands, Music, and Songs about Stories

Borderlands, Music, and Songs about Stories published on 4 Comments on Borderlands, Music, and Songs about Stories

If you’re not a borderlands fan — well, first, I’m baffled. I dislike first person shooters, and even I can’t get over how fantastic this I.P. is — but also, you probably missed this video, and you need to see it for my gushing to make sense.

It’s a perfect song for, really, any of the Borderlands games because that is a world of Byronic Heroes, Antiheroes, and, uh, Byronic Antiheroes. But what really had me excited was that, when I first heard this song, Zach told me that it had been written specifically for the game. That made visceral sense to me, and I didn’t question it. It fits Borderlands so perfectly that I just nodded and said, “that makes a lot of sense.” After all, a piece composed for Civilization IV won a Grammy, way back in the day.

A quick fact checking round before I started writing this revealed that the song was actually written in 2009. I was disappointed. Deeply. It’s still a great match for Borderlands, but there is always something magical to me about songs that are about stories, and the song was a lot more special to me when I thought it was in some tangential way about the rag-tag band of four fighting psychos to stop Handsome Jack.

I don’t think stories have enough song in then. And I don’t think songs have enough story in them. My favorite moments from both are when they combine. Say anything else you want about the Hobbit movies, this scene was brilliant and enchanting:

 

Songs about stories in stories are powerful world building devices, but they’re also a welcome break from songs about love, partying, fighting, how tough someone is, or songs that are written with a sort of beautiful and poetic vagueness that lets them be about anything at all. (I cut a music video a long time ago that made Owl City’s Fireflies about 9/11.) One of the reasons I adore Celtic and folk music is that they very often tell stories, and even if those stories are about love, partying, how tough someone is, or they’re odes to poetic vagueness, the presence of a narrative deepens the song and, frankly, the whole genre in a way that I don’t see anyone really talking about.

It’s surprising, too. Narratives are the structures within which we build society, politics, culture–everything. Without narrative, we’re automatons. I suspect that what prevents a rich culture of songs about stories, or songs that tell stories–I like both about equally–is a combination of copyright law (tributes aren’t parody and will likely never make money) and a fairly myopic opinion from the oligarchy that controls hypermainstream music publishing about the role of music (read: to make oligarchs wealthier) and what music actually is.

This touches into why I was excited when I thought that This Ain’t No Place for a Hero was written for Borderlands 2 specifically, and why I was disappointed to learn it wasn’t. I want more songs about stories, and more songs in stories that tell stories. I love them. Every media I bump into that has this always burns itself into my mind and carts away a little bit of my love. Remember the end of Portal?

My hope is that the power of story songs as world building and character building elements will cement into the minds of video game designers that song writers and musicians should be on the list of contractors they need to finish their game.

Fallen Enchantress: Legendary Heroes Review

Fallen Enchantress: Legendary Heroes Review published on No Comments on Fallen Enchantress: Legendary Heroes Review
Troll
A toll in blood! En Garde!

Fallen Enchantress: Legendary Heroes was this week’s pleasant surprise. In the fashion of Age of Wonders: Shadow Magic, this stands alone as its own product, so if you’re all about random maps with a more procedural sense of story, thirty bucks has you set in the 4X category for a good, long while. To be clear; now is the time to purchase this game. It’s fantastic.

As in Civ V, Fallen Enchantress has a wide / tall dichotomy, but the execution of it is much smoother, maintaining complexity of decision making without forcing the player to have a deep understanding of his tile count. There are three tile yields: essence, material, and grain. Essence powers and allows enchantments, materials improve construction time, and grain helps level the city up. You can add more grains and materials to a single city (building tall) by using outposts to claim more resources, or you can build more cities to claim the resources.

The decision to play wide or tall is fun, and dynamic from map to map. I’m really excited to see what sort of metagaming comes out of it.

Fire Staff + Meet
Fire Staff + Meat Shields = Dead Goblin-things.

If you’re coming into Fallen Enchantress: Legendary Heroes from the Civilization series, know that the micromanagement is completely gone; you do not have to assign citizens to tiles, nor must you march workers endlessly across your terrain. The game’s focus is exclusively on your Sovereign (your main character), your heroes, and your armies.

Tactical combat feels about right, and has options for speeding up the animations if things start to drag. It pulls most of its inspiration from Master of Magic here, rather than Shadow Magic, with a few notable exceptions: spellcasters must be present in combat (and there are no wizard-tower gimmicks to let your Sovereign cast from afar, at least that I’ve found.) I miss the strategic elements from Age of Wonders, though; it always felt awesome to have six full stacks of units under as many allegiances in a single combat. I understand why that’s not in this game, but hopefully, Stardock isn’t done adding features.

Multiplayer is sorely absent. The in-depth unit customization that’s encouraged mid and late game begs to have human intellects pitted against one another. Alas.

Also, Fallen Enchantress does not have the strong aesthetic appeal that I want from a fantasy title. The 3D models, especially the close-ups of humans in the leader and unit designer are abysmal, though they look acceptable on the strategic and tactical map, and I get a kick watching my units’ looks change as their gear gets upgraded. The color palate for the main strategy map feels off to me. Kudos, though, to the very talented painter who made the 2D backgrounds that go behind units. Those are gorgeous, and in general, a better direction for this kind of game’s art.

And the “post to Facebook” button under every model in the design screen? It kills the mood, Stardock, if you’re reading.

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The Sexy, Sexy Cloth Map

Zooming out far enough flips the game into an incredibly sexy cloth-map mode, though. And since the zoom distance that kicks off this mode is controllable, someone looking for a change of visual pace can just play in that mode.

I’m also a little disappointed in the writing. The world of Elemental feels flat—a mixture of clichéd story elements and originality that just veered the wrong way. The dichotomy between the two political has no power in it, unlike, say, the orc / human conflict from the earlier WarCraft games, or the superb and multifaceted racial tensions from Age of Wonders. The races all feel like subclasses of human, rather than fantasy races, and this, I think, diminishes the earliest decision a player makes: “Who should I be?” Rather than becoming draconian, or frostling, or klakon, and getting an immersive experience from the uniqueness of those identities, the player is just picking the humans with the stats they think will work better.Also, questing is hit or miss. Some of the quests are engaging and feel positively epic. Others are distracting, and bizarre—who asks the leader of a nation to go kill rats for them? This aspect of the game suffers a bit from World of Warcraft syndrome: skip the quest text, go kill the mobs, enjoy statistical reward.

The negatives are slight, and the positives are overwhelming. If you liked Master of Magic or Age of Wonders, buy this title immediately.

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