TIME twitter

Twitter May Be Getting Rid of the Word ‘Retweet’

FRANCE-TECHNOLOGY-BLOGGING-TWITTER-FEATURE
AFP/Getty Images

The “retweet” may be going the way of the “fail whale.” Select users of Twitter’s mobile app are now seeing the phrase “share with others” instead of “retweet” when they post another person’s tweet in their own timelines.

The change is one of Twitter’s many ongoing experiments to try to make its social network more engaging. User growth on Twitter has slowed continuously over time, and new data shows that most people who sign up don’t keep tweeting over the long-term. Other tests, such as an overhaul of user profile pages to make them more visual, indicate that Twitter may be trying to imitate the interface of Facebook, a more popular website with higher levels of user engagement.

The retweet was first invented by Twitter’s users rather than the company. In the early days users had to manually type “RT” to indicate that they were posting someone else’s message. Though Twitter formally adopted the retweet feature in 2009, the word itself is one of the many bits of insider jargon that new users have to learn to use the service effectively. Other quirks of Twitter, like the use of the @ symbol to directly tweet to other users, are also being phased out in certain tests. CEO Dick Costolo has said these long-used terms are “confusing and opaque” to new members.

TIME Technologizer

Microsoft Office for the iPad Is (Finally) Here

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella speaks at a Microsoft event in San Francisco
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella speaks at a Microsoft event in San Francisco, March 27, 2014. Robert Galbraith—Reuters

The world's dominant productivity suite debuts on the world's dominant tablet. The new Office apps for the iPad, which are available starting at 2:00 p.m. ET today, include the suite’s best known programs: Word, Excel and PowerPoint

It’s been the subject of speculation and rumor for years. And now, at long last, Microsoft Office for the iPad is a product. Its arrival was among the news items at a press conference in San Francisco this morning about Microsoft’s cloud and mobile strategy, presided over by new CEO Satya Nadella, in his first public appearance since his appointment to replace Steve Ballmer.

The new Office apps for the iPad, which are available starting at 2PM ET today, include the suite’s core triumvirate: Word, Excel and PowerPoint. (Another Office mainstay, the OneNote note-taker, is already available in a free iPad edition.) As you’d guess, they’re not feature-complete replicas of the versions from Office’s flagship Windows version. But they do look like they’re considerably richer than the minimum viable versions would be. Word, for instance, lets you edit charts in place and do collaborative editing, complete with redlined changes and threaded comments. The interface is reminiscent of other versions of Office, with the Ribbon formatting bar up top, but Microsoft says it’s been rethought to be touch-friendly. And as with other versions of Office, everything is saved by default to OneDrive (formerly SkyDrive), Microsoft’s online storage service.

Like the existing versions of Office for the iPhone and Android, the iPad one isn’t available for stand-alone purchase. Instead, it’s free if all you want to do is view files and display PowerPoint presentations. If you want to create and edit documents, you’ll need to subscribe to Microsoft’s Office 365 service, which bundles Office’s Windows version with other variants for a yearly cost that starts at $70. That positions Office for the iPad as a complement to the Windows version rather than a potential replacement, and removes it from direct competition with existing iPad suites, such Apple’s iWork apps: Pages, Numbers and Keynote.

For a long time, the conventional wisdom about Office for the iPad — held by me, among others — was that Microsoft was unlikely to release it before it offered a version of Office designed for Windows 8′s newfangled, touch-centric “Metro” interface. That turned out not to be the case. Microsoft has already acknowledged that it’s working on a new-interface version of Office for Windows — and provided a glimpse at an early version — but it went unmentioned at today’s event.

Is there anything game-changing about Office finally arriving on the iPad? Doesn’t look like it. Folks who want to do word processing, spreadsheets and presentations on an iPad already have several good options. But judging from the demo, Microsoft’s apps do look ambitious and capable. And the single biggest benefit of a real version of Office being available might be file compatibility: Documents which were created in Office on a PC sometimes get their formatting mangled when they make the trip to and from an alternative iPad app.

More thoughts once I get a chance to try the new apps for myself. In the meantime, here are the links to each app in the App Store:

TIME Innovation

Raph Koster on Facebook-Oculus: You’re Just Another Avatar in Someone Else’s MMO

A gamer uses an Oculus virtual reality headset at the Eurogamer Expo 2013 in London.
A gamer uses an Oculus virtual reality headset at the Eurogamer Expo 2013 in London, September 26, 2013. Leon Neal—AFP/Getty Images

The Facebook-Oculus deal, for all the good it might do, requires that we all start paying much closer attention to ownership and control of virtual spaces.

Former Ultima Online and Star Wars Galaxies lead Raph Koster has the most insightful and incisive piece I’ve yet seen on the Facebook/Oculus VR deal. Instead of worrying about Mark Zuckerberg’s gaming cred or the integrity of Oculus’ Kickstarter or whether Google should have swooped in first or what $2 billion means relative to anyone else’s VR war chest, Koster zooms out to offer a perceptive overview of the underlying currents defining near and future computing trends, and the problematic artifacts that accompany those trends.

In Koster’s view, computing’s near-future is essentially “wearable” versus “annotated.” You’re either plugging stuff into your person to augment (or simulate) your reality, or carrying stuff around that places interpretive brackets around it. The difference between the two notions is academic, of course, and Koster says both camps — currently shaped by competing commercial visions that have as much to do with molding consumer interest as tapping it — can’t escape the black hole tug that’ll eventually draw them together.

About this, Koster says:

One is the mouth, the other the ears. One is the poke, the other the skin. And then we’re in a cyberpunk dream of ads that float next to us as we walk, getting between us and the other people, our every movement mined for Big Data.

What does it mean when companies as vast as Facebook or Google or Apple have this level of access to and control over the way we interface with anything, conventional notions of reality or otherwise? It means…well, trouble, because it’s already causing trouble via the pre-VR, pre-”presence” social network-driven personal desire assimilation engines that live in our cars, houses, workspaces and pockets.

I’m not a libertarian privacy-at-all-costs wingnut committed to a wildly idealistic impossibility. I see the philosophical cracks in some of these very old, culturally bound presumptions about what privacy ought to be, as if humans were self-sustaining islands in some mythic state of equilibrium capable of inhabiting this planet without imposition of any sort on another (ultimate privacy is, in fact, another way of describing a form of sociopathy). Mark Zuckerberg isn’t wrong when he’s said that privacy as we know it (or ideally expect it) has to change, and that that’s symptomatic of a technology-fueled (which is to say fundamentally us-driven) paradigm shift.

But the most important question in this barrier-cracking worldview, where we inject all that we are into someone’s calculating server farm, is this: Who has ultimate ownership of that technology?

In an ideal world, virtual reality would probably be open source, broadly distributed, and all this looming virtual turf would be owned (or data-mined, or suffused with overt or subliminal ads) by no one. But suggest as much and you’re basically ringing a bell for arguments about the so-called risk-takers and venture capitalists and entrepreneurial geniuses necessary to make all that looming virtu-topia possible, because true or no, that narrative’s drawn from as old and deeply embedded a cultural playbook as exists.

That question’s at the crux of the issue Koster’s getting at when he says the Facebook/Oculus deal isn’t about rendering (that is, geeky cool visual stuff) so much as it is about “placeness.” It’s about ownership, specifically ownership of cloud-space.

Virtual reality in that sense is going to be as boundless as a processor farm’s prowess and a design team’s imagination. It’s perhaps most poignantly the vision Tad Williams shares in his Otherland series, but it’s also there in Neal Stephenson and William Gibson and Bruce Sterling and all the countless others, in particular post-1980s-VR artists and thinkers, who’ve grappled with the question in one form or another. It’s a vision of the future in which extremely powerful, functionally opaque institutions compete for our attention in unfathomably vast virtual emporiums that, yes, may well start with something as innocuous-sounding as mountain climbing and concert-going (say in Facebook’s case). But how quickly does that move on to wish fulfillment (which is where it risks becoming narcotic), where it’s simultaneously mining our hopes, dreams, desires and eventually every measurable detail of our lives?

“It’s about who owns the servers,” says Koster. “The servers that store your metrics. The servers that shout the ads. The servers that transmit your chat. The servers that geofence your every movement.”

And then:

It’s time to wake up to the fact that you’re just another avatar in someone else’s MMO. Worse. From where they stand, all-powerful Big Data analysts that they are, you look an awful lot like a bot.

Paranoia about what companies are doing with your data today may be overstated, in that I’m pretty sure no one cares what I say on the phone or send through email in the here-and-now. But healthy paranoia, if such a thing exists, involves educated hypothesizing (that is, extrapolating based on historical precedent). There’s certainly precedent for virtual reality, since the latter’s still going to be constrained by our imaginations. In this 21st century pre-singularity moment, we’re still as human as we’ve ever been. The problems we’ll have to deal with when we strap things on our faces and start to reify what we’re already capable of doing when we close our eyes and dream are going to be the same problems we’ve been dealing with for millennia, however amplified or fetishized or distorted.

Grappling with something as far flung (and yet simultaneously present) as global warming isn’t about solving those problems today, it’s about considering a tomorrow many of us won’t see. It’s about understanding the scale involved with addressing those problems, about thinking longterm instead of excusing inaction based on human ephemeralness. The kinds of things Koster worries about won’t happen overnight, but gradually — so gradually that the shifts can be imperceptible. The dystopian futures that seem so reprehensible in the best speculative fiction don’t arrive like fleets of hostile aliens, galvanizing us to action, and Koster’s future in which we’re an avatar in someone else’s MMO is already partly here. In a 2007 interview about his book Spook Country, William Gibson said “it’s hard to write science fiction anymore when reality is so unbelievable.”

I’m excited about Oculus VR’s tech. I can’t wait for my devkit to arrive this summer. But as Koster puts it, “I’m a lot more worried about whose EULA is going to govern my life.”

Me too.

TIME Google

Google: Government Requests for User Data Up 120%

2008 Google Winter Marketing Forum In Xian
China Photos—Getty Images

They've increased by 120% since 2009

Google announced Thursday that government requests for user information has increased by 120% since 2009. Though the number of Google users has also increased over the same time period, the company says it is “seeing more and more governments start to exercise their authority to make requests.”

Google’s announcement comes by way of its bi-annual transparency report, which details government requests for user data where the company is legally able to do so. The report comes just one week after news that Google is working on enhancements to its Gmail service that would make it more difficult to conduct mass surveillance of users’ messages.

[Google: Official Blog]

TIME facebook

With Oculus, Facebook Can Reinvent Itself — and Its Reputation

An attendee wears an Oculus Rift HD virtual reality head-mounted display at the 2014 International CES, January 9, 2014 in Las Vegas, Nevada. ROBYN BECK—AFP/Getty Images

If there's ever been an opportunity for Facebook to earn some trust back, this is it.

Facebook’s reputation for untrustworthiness came back to haunt the company this week, when it announced plans to acquire Oculus VR for $2 billion.

The reaction from Oculus fans was swift and dramatic. Devoted followers became seething critics. At least one developer has cut ties with the company, and there’s an air of unease among many others.

Basically, Oculus fans have little faith in Facebook not to ruin everything and turn virtual reality into a soulless, activity-tracking ad platform. While it’s hard to pinpoint the exact reasons for this general level of distrust, several potential reasons come to mind:

  • Facebook converts people’s “Likes” from across the web into advertisements on Facebook, so you’re constantly reminded of how your friends have become shills. It’s not as invasive as Facebook Beacon, the ad service that tracked users across the web and turned their activity into ads, but it’s almost as creepy.
  • A few years ago, the company made a big push toward sharing with everyone — not just your immediate circle of friends — as the default. Many new users unwittingly exposed their private information to the world as a result.
  • With the arrival of “Open Graph,” third-party apps were allowed to share the details of your activities automatically. This led to instances of oversharing, some of it inadvertent.
  • Core gamers are wary of Facebook for poisoning the gaming well, as it had enabled games such as Farmville to thrive on social pressure rather than solid mechanics.
  • Facebook’s site has gone through numerous, sometimes drastic redesigns, usually to emphasize some new feature that users didn’t ask for. The redesigns rarely go over well, even if users eventually embrace the new features.

These may be the kinds of things Markus “Notch” Persson, the creator of Minecraft, was getting at when he said Facebook’s motives are “too unclear and shifting.” If you view Facebook simply as a place to share photos, links and text with friends, it’s easy to eye the company’s many policy shifts and design changes with hostility.

Yet those feelings haven’t hindered Facebook’s growth. The social network now has more than 1.2 billion active users worldwide, and 1 billion users on mobile. A 2012 survey found that 59 percent of users have little to no faith in the company to keep their information private, and that only 13 percent said they trust Facebook completely — yet they continue to use the service. The reality is that Facebook is the biggest, most centralized way to stay in touch with far-flung friends and family members. Quitting Facebook is akin to withdrawing from a part of your community. Most people don’t do it.

With Oculus, Facebook will not enjoy the same gravitational pull. Virtual reality is young, and there’s lots of competition. And right now, virtual reality’s most vocal supporters are angry at Oculus and Facebook. Granted, they represent a fraction of what is still just a niche community, but they’re the ones who will evangelize virtual reality over the next few years.

That’s a problem for Facebook, but it’s also an opportunity.

After announcing the acquisition, Oculus inventor Palmer Luckey made a lot of promises about the company’s future. He promised that users won’t have to sign into Facebook to develop or play Oculus games, and said Oculus will not spy on users or splash ads in their faces. He pledged to invest more in indie development and stay in close contact with the community. And he said that Oculus development will remain open, so games won’t have to live inside a walled garden.

The response from former fans, on pretty much every Reddit post and comment section, was the same: We don’t believe you.

It’s simply impossible for Oculus’ critics to consider that Facebook would do anything but violate their privacy, their freedom and their trust. They won’t be swayed by any amount of words from Luckey or Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Maybe what they need is action.

Let’s just consider the possibility that all of Luckey’s promises come to fruition — that five years from now, the Oculus gaming product will still support open development, will not require Facebook logins and will still abstain from Facebook’s advertising practices. That might help restore people’s trust in Facebook, but it would only be a start.

The bigger opportunity — and the hardest decisions — will come later, when Facebook looks beyond gaming and into broader applications. Zuckerberg sees virtual reality as the next communications platform — the next step in feeling closer and more connected to people who are geographically far away. In that sense, Facebook’s bet on virtual reality is an attempt to reinvent itself.

So here’s Facebook’s big chance: As the company invents new ways to communicate, it can continue its culture of sharing by default and turning friends into walking banner ads. Or, it can come up with new ways to make money that no one’s thought of yet, and that are altogether less creepy and intrusive than the Facebook of today. Virtual reality is as clean a slate as Facebook’s going to get.

The hate that Oculus and Facebook are getting today isn’t all that significant. What really matters is whether we can look back in five or 10 years at the dawn of virtual reality and say that Facebook didn’t screw it up.

TIME Music

Music Tweets Will Rock Their Own Billboard Chart

Twitter logo is displayed at the entranc
KIMIHIRO HOSHINO—AFP/Getty Images

The end of Twitter's #Music app ushers in a new beginning with Billboard

Music has been one of the Twitter’s most popular topics since the the social media website’s explosion. Seven of the top 10 most-followed accounts on Twitter are musicians, and all together they have more than 30 million followers. Now Billboard is getting in on the action, too.

In May, a collaboration between the Twitter and Billboard will create the Billboard-Twitter Real-Time Chart, which will track the most-talked about and shared music on Twitter, the New York Times reports.

The announcement comes in the wake of the Twitter #Music app’s demise, which was unveiled a year ago but failed to gain traction. It was removed from the Apple store last week.

An executive affiliated with Billboard told the Times the new chart will involve only positive mentions while filtering out negative ones.

[The New York Times]

TIME How-To

30-Second Tech Trick: Get Facebook Hack Notifications for Your Account

Here's how to sign up to receive an email or a text message if a stranger logs into your Facebook account.

+ READ ARTICLE
TIME technology

Apple Is Finally Working on Racially Diverse Emojis That Aren’t Complete Stereotypes

This has taken way too long

Apple’s emoji language has left a lot to be desired. Namely, racially diverse depictions of people who aren’t complete stereotypes:

emoji

 

There are 63 different animals but zero black emojis. Other than salsa dancing Latinas and turban wearing South East Asians, faces, families and even hand gestures have always, well, looked like this:

emoji

And that’s just a rough sampling.

Emojis have infiltrated our modern lexicon. Some advertisers have even exclusively used the language to reach a millennial audience in commercials. And now, finally, after years of people petitioning, tweeting, and begging for a racially diverse representation, Apple is making an “effort to update the standard.” An Apple VP emailed an MTV blogger who asked Tim Cook what the deal was:

“Tim forwarded your email to me. We agree with you. Our emoji characters are based on the Unicode standard, which is necessary for them to be displayed properly across many platforms. There needs to be more diversity in the emoji character set, and we have been working closely with the Unicode Consortium in an effort to update the standard.”

Finally!

Diverse emojis were indisputably the most egregious absence in the the pictorial language. But as long as Apple is updating selection, here are a few other things we’d like to see:

  • A menorah. Or really any religious symbol outside of Christianity. (No offense Santa.)
  • Men dancing. They like to salsa, too!
  • More food. Tacos, bacon, for the love of God some CHEESE.
  • Beyonce’s face with a crown on top
  • A mustache. Or if the hipsters petition effectively, a monocle .
  • A big middle finger, because come on Apple. It really shouldn’t have taken this long.
TIME FindTheBest

The 10 Best Small-Screen Smartphones Not Named ‘iPhone’

Here are 10 fun-sized smartphones with great reviews and happy customers, none of which were designed by Apple in California

You may not realize it, but one of your closest friends has a secret. Run down your list of buddies and see if you can spot him.

He’s probably a simple man with simple tastes. When the rest of the boys order pitchers of beer, he’ll order a lowball glass of cheap whiskey, neat. When you head to the shooting range, he prefers pistols to rifles. He’s always liked Steve Nash and Tyrion Lannister. His hands are a tad smaller, his fingers shorter, his preferred pocket style a little more snug.

His secret? He prefers smartphones with smaller screens.

Today, this sort of preference is technological sacrilege. The manufacturers have decreed that bigger is, in fact, better. Even Apple seems poised to follow the herd.

It didn’t have to be this way. Take a look at the top-rated phones from 2010, then compare them to today’s favorites.

Keep in mind: that low bar is the 3.5-inch iPhone, and it’s barely behind the pack. Even the big bad Motorola DROID X — the largest of the bunch — clocks in at a mere 4.3 inches: puny by today’s standards. The average of the 10? 3.96 inches.

Jump ahead to 2014. Except for the iPhone, not one popular device drops below 4.5 inches. Samsung’s flagship Galaxy line has crept from 4.8 inches (the S3) to 5 inches (the S4) to 5.1 inches (the S5). Even HTC has abandoned modesty with its HTC One (M8) announcement, leaving behind its familiar 4.7-inch waters (the 2013 HTC One) for the raging sea of 5-inch-plus seamonsters (the M8).

So is the iPhone the last, best choice for the whiskey-sippers and small-pocket-wearers? Are there no other options for those who believe that the best things come in the smallest packages?

There’s still hope. Here are 10 fun-sized smartphones with great reviews and happy customers, none of which were designed by Apple in California.

10. LG Optimus F3

Available through Sprint and MetroPCS, the LG Optimus is compact, affordable, and lightweight — the second lightest of this bunch. The camera’s nothing special, but the battery life is well above above average, particularly for a phone at this price.

9. Nokia Lumia 620

If you love the Windows Phone interface but don’t need* 41 megapixels, the Lumia 620 is your small, inexpensive solution. It also sports the smallest screen of the lot, ideal for users with particularly tiny hands.

*hint: you don’t

8. HTC First

Available through AT&T, the HTC First comes with Facebook functionality built right into the OS. You can post status updates, swipe your friends’ message baubles around the home screen, and cry silently as your social network reminds you how much more fun everyone else is having. Better yet, a buck or two of your $200 purchase might one day go to Facebook’s next fire-by-the-hip, multi-billion-dollar acquisition.

7. HTC 8XT

The HTC 8XT is a phone for the misfits. It’s got a small screen (4.3 inches), runs on the third-place OS (Windows), and is only available with the third-place carrier (Sprint). Still, with a new contract, you can swipe this bronze-medal-rebel for free. Here’s to the crazy ones.

6. HTC One Mini

If you like HTC, but lost us at “Windows,” the obvious choice is the HTC One Mini, an AT&T exclusive more modest (and less pricey) than its famous older brother.

5. LG Enact

While we’ve got our qualms with the name (note to LG: we’re sending texts, not enacting a declaration of war), the phone itself is solid. With a physical, slide-out keyboard and compact design, the LG Enact is an excellent choice for QWERTY loyalists.

4. Casio G’zOne Commando 4G LTE

The Casio G’zOne Commando is a bit of a paradox: rugged, heavy, and full of hard consonants, yet small, cheap, and modestly-featured. If you spend more time scaling actual rock faces than playing Minecraft – Pocket Edition, this is your phone.

3. Motorola DROID Mini

The once-proud DROID line still deserves a look, particularly if you like small screens. The DROID Mini is one of the more fully-featured fun-sized phones, with decent CPU performance and a 10-megapixel camera. And even if Motorola’s bleeding money while Apple slurps up profits, at least they have that one snarky ad. DROID does.

2. Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini

Perhaps the most obvious — and best — Android choice, the Galaxy S4 Mini is a can’t-go-wrong pick for shoppers who like Samsung products but worry the company’s best phones are turning into tablets. Just keep in mind that the specs, like the screen itself, will be scaled down from its more popular parent.

1. BlackBerry Z10

The best of the tiny bunch, the BlackBerry Z10 is the perfect undersized mobile device, with a focus on productivity over chart-bursting specs or millions of apps. Yes, your friend might tease you with a few BlackBerry-based barbs, but let him laugh as he taps away at his Galaxy Mega 6.3. Chances are that giant phablet is compensating for a secret of his own.

This article was written for TIME by Ben Taylor of FindTheBest.

TIME Video Games

Video Game Music: 2014 GANG Apprentice Award Winner Explains How He Did It

P.J. Tracy, who won GANG's Student/Apprentice audio award at GDC 2014. Tim Feeney

Two decades ago, P.J. Tracy and I crouched in a tiny Minnesota college dorm room -- a pair of music majors marveling at the tunes in SNES games like Super Mario World, Zelda: A Link to the Past, Contra III and, above all others, Super Castlevania IV.

I once aspired to write music for games. This was in 1995, and I’d submitted some sequenced tunes composed on a monstrously heavy 16-track Korg 01/W Pro X workstation to game developer Konami on a whim. The company responded with a letter asking for more, which I sent them, thinking this might be it — my big break. Instead, a few weeks later, I got a “thanks but no thanks” letter. I still have that rejection slip somewhere, typed on Konami letterhead with the company’s trademark orange and red logo.

Instead of swinging for the fences, I detoured to other pastures, but my closest friend then and now — a gifted Minneapolis-based pianist (and former college roommate) named P.J. Tracy who got me to buy that Korg and think about game audio in the first place — made music his vocation. He started off as a performing and session musician (he’s played with members of Prince’s band, Kid Jonny Lang & The Big Band and many others) and went on to do professional audio work for dozens of institutions. In 2008, he won an Emmy for a television spot with Minneapolis’ WCCO-TV (that’s him singing if you click the link). He’s been part of Sonic State’s pro-audio podcast scene for years and he’s had musical works performed at festivals and art centers around the world (including the Magma Arts Festival in Naples, Italy and the Boston Visual Music Marathon).

Last Thursday, March 20, having submitted a piece to a Game Audio Network Guild-judged contest for aspiring video game music composers, he won the guild’s 2014 Student/Apprentice award, hosted by GDC, for a clever little tune designed around a hypothetical 1970s-era sports game. You can listen to the piece below — it’s titled “Downhill! You Dig?” — as well as on his website.

I caught up with him this weekend on his way home from the show to ask him about winning the award.

You’ve been a working musician for almost as long as we’ve known each other. How did you get involved with GANG, and what led you to submit something this year?

Last April, I attended a conference sponsored by the American Composers Forum, of which I’m a member. It was titled “Game On” and covered the topic of composing for video games. On the first evening of the event, I had the privilege of hearing the Alpine Quartet perform some selections from the soundtrack to Red Orchestra 2: Rising Storm, composed by Lennie Moore. It was a very moving experience.

Two days later, I began studying adaptive composition with Lennie. Adaptive composing is the term the industry uses to signify the specialized techniques and methods that are required when writing for and implementing music in a video game.

I had been aware of GANG for some time, but Lennie Moore encouraged me to think about membership, and so I joined GANG last August as an Apprentice member. When Dren McDonald, head of GANG development, announced the Student/Apprentice competition, I jumped at the chance. I’ve been a working composer for many years, and I saw this as a chance to open a door (or at least a small window) into the video game community.

Tell us a little about the piece you wrote, what inspired it and how you went about creating it.

Those who chose to participate in the competition were given a brief for an imaginary game called “70′s Snow Sports!” This was supposed to be a game based on the Winter Olympics, but set in the 1970s. The game would be comprised of a set of mini-games, all of which would be one minute races: skiing, bobsled, speed skating, etc. The player would enter a bonus round that unfolded in 15 second increments if they scored well during the initial race. We were asked to write a one minute track, and a 15 second long looping track for the bonus round, as well as a stinger, which is a short piece that signifies the game has ended. The stinger has to work musically with both the main track and also with the 15 second bonus round piece.

Usually, I would have several conversations with a client to outline what they’re expecting musically. Music must convey the emotion that the developer wants a player to feel, and in a game, it has to dovetail with the gameplay aesthetic.

But GANG left the brief open to interpretation, and so I made the subjective assumption that a game called “70′s Snow Sports!” might be slightly campy, action packed and nostalgic. Given that, I drew upon musical references like Billy Preston, James Brown, game show themes and even the music for the PBS children’s program The Electric Company. I wanted to convey whimsy, humor and a sense of place while still driving the action inherent to this style of game, thus the track name “Downhill! You Dig?”

The GANG awards are probably the biggest audio-related event in gaming-dom. How do you feel about winning the Student/Apprentice award?

The amount of talent and level of professionalism in the game audio space is staggering. I am truly humbled and honored to be recognized by GANG.

What’s your strongest memory of music in a video game that opened your mind to the possibility of composing in this space?

The third level of Castlevania IV on the Super Nintendo! You and I played that game together, and I remember thinking “Wow, that’s some really funky and interesting jazz…and it’s happening in a horror adventure game!” The surreality of that moment stuck with me and made me intensely curious about the compositional possibilities of a medium that’s inherently about experimentation. I believe some of the best and most interesting music over the past 20 years has been video game music.

What are the challenges, in your experience, of composing music for games? Isn’t a central tenet the notion that your compositional grammar has to be almost endlessly broad?

Assuming that, as a composer, you have a strong musical vocabulary and a deep knowledge of current music production techniques, the real challenge is in the various and unique ways music is written for and integrated into a game. Music in many games responds dynamically to a player’s actions within a game.

For instance, if a player is exploring and chances on a handful of enemies, the music will transition to reflect the new danger. And if while fighting those enemies, a massive army appears, or a boss, the music should get bigger and more foreboding to reflect the new peril. The way in which the music reacts to the gameplay has to feel intentional and not pull the player out of the gaming experience. It must also reflect and reinforce what the game designer wants the player to feel — in this case, impending doom!

Game audio and music admiration tend to fall into more of a niche than recognition of graphical prowess, perhaps for the same reasons people identify a movie like Avatar with 3D but couldn’t name the film score’s composer. Do you think it’s this notion that visual technology continues to evolve more dramatically? Where do you see game audio going over the next decade?

I think it’s simple biology. Visual information has a higher priority in the brain. Gameplay is often strongly dependent on visual feedback. However, there are very good blind and visually impaired gamers. I am visually impaired, and consider myself to be a pretty good gamer. That said, most games would be hollow without the incredible audio design and music. Your brain winds up swimming as much in the aural as the visual.

There are many interesting concepts emerging in games. For instance, audio games like Papa Sangre II. These games have no visual component at all, and require the player to navigate vast environments through the use of audio cues. These games are both challenging and incredibly fun!

You’ve had to struggle with some interesting challenges over the course of your career: you can’t drive, and when we were music students, you had to learn classical pieces from recordings instead of reading sheet music.

As I mentioned, I’m visually impaired, but I’ve never let that concept define me or limit my aspirations. I love both composing and performing music, and I’m passionately driven to pushing my own creative and professional boundaries. I often compose for visual media, for instance, and one of the advertisements I wrote the music for wound up winning an Emmy award, so I’ve been very fortunate to be able to transcend what I or others might have expected I’d be capable of.

Are there any composers in this industry of whom you’re a particular fan or that inspired you? Any less well-known composers you feel deserve broader recognition?

Lennie Moore (Rising Storm, Star Wars: The Old Republic) for certain; Koji Kondo, of course (Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda); Peter McConnell (most of LucasArts’ catalog); Rod Abernethey (RAGE, Dead Space) and Austin Wintory (the first-ever video game Grammy-nominated Journey score) are all fantastic composers. As far as lesser known composers, Jon Hare (Cannon Fodder, Sensible Soccer), and definitely check out the work of Vancouver-based composer Marcus Zuhr — his work is really great.

What’s your next step after winning this award?

I have a bunch of upcoming shows with my instrumental band, Tortuga!, and I plan on connecting with the new friends I’ve made at GDC, and, hopefully, working with some of them to create amazing and inspiring new gaming experiences.

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