Saturday, August 20, 2011

Musica Musica Musica: Spotify and Vice City

Last year at PAX, I found myself debating with a pair of Melodico writers past and present on the topic of the worst song ever recorded. The rules of our little game involved each of us choosing one regrettable cut and arguing its case for the No. 1 spot. I’ll spare you the full list of nominees, suffice it to say that they were all truly terrible songs, and by the end it was clear that we had all lost.

The Worst Song Ever Recorded
My “worst ever” pick was REO Speedwagon’s “Keep On Loving You.” It's a really, really bad song. Let’s look at that chorus for a moment:
I’m gonna keep on loving you
Cuz it’s the only thing I wanna do
I don’t wanna sleep
I just wanna keep
(On loving you)
Ugh. The parentheses are mine, but I think their inclusion here helps to explain what it is that I find so objectionable about this particular track. Double ugh. At what time in history could this travesty of rhyme and repetition have been not just accepted but actually popular?

I Just Wanna Keep On Sharing Tunes
Last month, I wrestled my way into a Spotify invite, and I’ve been playing with a free account ever since. For the first time in my life, I actually feel like subscribing to a pay-for-access music service might just be a possibility—I’m still feeling it out, and I definitely feel a bit of a twinge when I think about the many thousands of dollars I’ve spent over the years in the pursuit of owning music (or whatever the courts have decided I purchased with that money), so we’ll see. The ability to make playlists from songs one doesn’t own is pretty central to the service, as is the ease of sharing playlists with other people.

To try it out, I thought it would be fun to make a playlist for readers of this very blog—a collection of music from one of the most evocative and fulfilling videogame soundtracks of all time: Grand Theft Auto: Vice City.

Exactly four songs into my playlist, it dawned on me that this would mean inflicting “Keep On Loving You” on some of the people I love most in this world. And for that I am sorry.

The GTA: Vice City Playlist
The playlist is solid but incomplete—without the DJs that helped make Vice City seem so vital and self-aware, it’s just a collection of good songs. And while it would certainly be fun to drive around your city while streaming via mobile (for those with Premium accounts), there’s something about launching a Corvette off of a highway overpass that really makes “I Ran (So Far Away)” and “Working For the Weekend” come to life. The list is also missing a few tracks that simply weren’t on Spotify, including Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s “Two Tribes,” a handful of obscure Latin and R&B tracks, and tragically, the works of fictional GTA band Love Fist.

After some weird experiences with Spotify’s playlists (including some dropped tracks, ugh) I spent a work week listening to the sweet sounds of Vice City, during which I endured more than one mocking playthrough of “Keep On Loving You.” In the context of the other ’80s classics—not to mention caviar memories with Tommy Vercetti—I found that after a while, I stopped clicking past it.

If you’re on Spotify and looking to scratch that GTA- and/or ’80s-nostalgia itch, here’s a link to subscribe or follow yours truly.

Friday, August 12, 2011


Good day, Melodicans. It’s been a while. I’m sorry for the long absence, although some of you may already know the reason for it. Allow me to rewind a bit:

Back in March of this year, when many of us were just beginning to recover from GDC in San Francisco, a lively comment thread erupted here at Gamer Melodico in response to J.P. Grant’s astute observations of this year’s PAX East keynote speech. Much of the reaction in the thread was focused on the breaking Chain World fiasco. By definition, games are entertaining (at least, that is the initial intent), and well-designed game makes us want to keep playing. The concept of using such a mechanism to educate and affect social change for good is alluring.

However, as demonstrated by the controversy surrounding maneuvers to use Chain World for this purpose, it can be difficult to execute this concept. As one of the other people in the aforementioned comment thread happened to be my friend and neighbor, Willow Brugh, we decided to sit down for an hour or two at our local hackerspace and continue our discussion so as not to completely hijack the article’s feedback. Sorry, about that, J.P.!

After nearly 7 hours of whiteboard scrawling, drawing input from friends, and mass consumption of coffee, Willow and I came to some conclusions. The first and most obvious one was that in order for a “social change game” to be successful, it appeared necessary to find a way that would build upon antecedent gameplay mechanics, but would do so without altering them in such a way that they are no longer fun.

Ideally, such a game would also incorporate some aspect of education or training, so as to be sustainable in a way that a one-time fundraiser would not. We knew that this would depend heavily upon the specific problem being addressed, which drove us towards the field of disaster relief, particularly in light of the earthquakes in Japan and New Zealand that had just occurred.

Finally, it was decided that the most effective way of engaging participants in the project would be to gamify the participation process by making it a competition. Thus, GameSave was born.