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Memories of Crunch: Musical Accompaniment

It’s not uncommon in our office to look around and see a sea of heads topped with headphones, each one gently bobbing independently to a variety of unheard songs. There’s our resident DJ who nods with a firm assertion of the beat, a tinny tone escaping from his cans. Down the row we have our office whistler, offering us a fleeting chance at guessing his melodic choice of the moment by inadvertently letting slip a few bars. And then there’s me, the mime artist. Play a song that I enjoy and chances are I’ll be belting it out at the top of my silent lungs. It’s a little embarrassing when someone comes to talk to you mid-chorus but sometimes you just need a power ballad to make it through the day.

I usually listen to podcasts when working. Ever since starting learning the drums I find myself too wrapped in listening to the rhythm of a song and my task at hand goes wanting. It’s not an intentional dereliction of duty but my mind goes searching for where in the pattern the bass drum falls and it’s hard to pull it back.

Quite strangely I have no problem working with talk radio or podcasts. I can float in and out of them depending just where on the build cycle I am, rewinding if I feel I’ve missed something meaty. It’s hard to do that and keep the flow when listening to music but more oft than not, as the crunch evenings draw on, I find myself needing the energy boost that a silent karaoke session brings.

With long hours comes tiredness and saving a good album back for just such a shot in the arm I find invaluable. I’ve extremely fond memories of some very late nights at work where I am the only one left in the office and all I have to amuse myself as I track down a particularly nasty bug is my music. When the last person leaves the headphones come off and the speakers go on.

With each game I’ve worked on the soundtrack has changed. Most vary with the time but all of them live firmly in my mind as being attached to a certain project. As is usually the way, I remember my first batch most fondly.

Back in 2003, as a young and eager engineer, not yet wise enough to be wary of the word “crunch”, we were finishing Grabbed by the Ghoulies. At the time I don’t think many of our PCs had CD drives, the thought being that we could just install the required applications from the network drive. With that I took in the tiny stereo system that had served me so well through university. The brand of which eludes me but I remember it taking pride of place on my shelf just waiting for 5pm to come (we weren’t allowed to listen to music during the day back then) so I could get a kick-start for the evening ahead.

The three albums that I believe on constant rotation back then were Red Hot Chilli Peppers’ By the Way, Idlewild’s The Remote Part, and Avril Lavigne’s Let Go. I should probably add that back then I was still trying to be a skater boi.

To this day whenever By the Way or American English crops up, be it on the radio or halfway round ASDA, my thoughts immediately dart back to then. To fine tuning the Grim Reaper’s AI as he bustles round a haunted house and trying to ensure that the font had the right amount of ghostly float to it.

Ghoulies is not alone in holding this connection for me but it is by far and away the strongest. Crunch was still a novelty for me back then: a challenge, a rights of passage. Now there’s a sage head on these shoulders that knows that it’s a grim inevitability but as long as there’s enough up-tempo rock nestling in my iTunes then I know I’ll get through.

What price freedom?

Gold, that’s what price. Viva Piñata: Trouble is Paradise has gone gold and after a couple of weeks of additional promo work I am now on holiday, lounging on my sofa and watching the Olypmics in HD.

As immensely satisified and proud as I am of our team’s efforts over the last couple of years, and especially the few months just gone, I have to say that when I walked out of the barn last night and switched the light out there was a big smile on my face. Knowing I had a fortnight off where no bug could reach me is a grin-worthy event.

This has been my hardest crunch by far and I’ve run the full gambit of emotions with it. With Ghoulies I was young and fresh and VP: Classic saw a lot of my features cut before we got to the business end of things. With Trouble in Paradise, however, I had a lot more responsibilities, more features and a lot more stress. Goodness knows how Ali managed to cope, this being her first first-hand crunch, and I thank her for her patience.

September 5th (2nd t’other side of the pond) is now the next date in the diary for me, being that of VP’s release, and I hope to see a few of you online. Beware, noobs, I’m going to pwn your gard3n.

Believe.

“All you other games might as well give up now.”

I’ve always liked Eurogamer:

“Microsoft has announced that Viva Piñata: Trouble in Paradise will be released for Xbox 360 on 5th September. All you other games might as well give up now.

Trouble in Paradise is the sequel to the Gears of War-smashing Viva Piñata, where you built up a pretty garden and tried to coax animals to come and live in it. Which sounds more sinister than it actually was.”

Just two months to go until I see our baby on the shelves.

In the words of David Pleat…

…evening all. Thought I’d check in whilst I’m waiting for a daisy to grow. It’s late at night in my garden, though, so it’s taking a while.

Apart from the hours, things are going well. My bug count is being beaten into submission and the end is most definitely in sight. I’ve even had a small amount of time to create some Viva Piñata lolcats to brighten up our build emails.

Outside of work I’ve been dabbling in some Stuntman: Ignition. Not my usual sort of game and not one I’d previously thought about playing, but after being lent it by MonkeyThumbz it turns out to be suprisingly enjoyable. You basically hare through a movie set in a stunt car, pulling off high risk manoeuvres and generally driving by the seat of your pants. It has caught me off guard and I’ll hopefully be able to share more with you at another time.

As for now, my daisy’s just budded so I must tend to it.

M.I.A.

I thought it was only fair I say good bye… for now.

Thanks to the events of last week, namely the announcement of the project I am currently working on and its imminent release date, crunch has now officially hit and it’s no use hiding any more. For the next couple of months I’m not going to have as much time on my hands to update this blog, I’m going to be bashing big bugs and putting polish on pinatas.

Hopefully I’ll still be popping up every now and again when I’ve got some thing to say but it’s likely to be infrequent at best. Which is a shame, to be honest, I really wanted to write a long article why GTA is definitely not a 10, more an 8.

And on that bombshell…