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It’s been an amazing year! Almost 10 million accumulated views over the internet (most of those on The Escapist and YouTube) and finally after over a decade of trying, my beloved music is my job.

I’ve had people on another continent who I have never met get married to one of my songs (“Redemption Blues”), I have had messages from brave soldiers and marines who told me that the joy and fun in my music helped to get them through the hardest of tours. I’ve had countless messages from wonderful, interesting everyday people who the songs touched in some way. I’ve met some of my heroes. And it’s all thanks to you guys – the Escapist community. So thank you from the bottom of my heart. You have made me a very happy little nerd.

The criticisms and input from all of you has, I believe, improved my songs in a big way. I don’t know how many noticed but most of my recent songs have taken the most common criticisms into account (“too repetitive” being the biggest offender) and I feel the songs are mostly much better for it. The songs I’ve made in late 2011 / early 2012 are, largely because of you guys, the best I’ve ever written. Listening to (the right) feedback makes art stronger and hearing the difference in songwriting craft between “Gordon Freeman Saved My Life” and, say, “Sovngarde Song” or “Joker’s Song” solidifies this point in my mind.

To celebrate my first year on The Escapist, we bookended the event with the song that started it all and something a little bit different, an instrumental.

Questions

Let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way first; don’t worry I’ll keep it spoiler-free.

What did you think of the ME3 ending? Will you make a song for the “Retake Mass Effect” movement?

I’m torn on this one. Let me try and explain.

The ending broke my heart and I can understand the upset about it. My other half walked into the room just as I finished it and she described the look on my face as “a little boy who just got told Santa doesn’t exist”.

I couldn’t even play any other games or watch any movies for a whole week. I felt like I had been sadistically punished for emotionally investing so much into the story. It seems to be the case that it’s the biggest, most dedicated Mass Effect fans who’ve been the most upset by this whole thing – something I can relate to.

I also understand the venom being spat about multiplayer. I was pretty annoyed when it was confirmed that you must play multiplayer to unlock the “best” ending (and yes, this is confirmed now). I hate multiplayer gaming in general (despite an on/off miserable COD addiction) and never could have imagined my favorite series would be the first to have multiplayer shenanigans rudely infringe upon my beloved campaign.

But no – I won’t be making a song about it. BioWare, the developers, are a wonderful group of people who I have had the pleasure of meeting and working with. I’m not about to stab them in the back or burn bridges. Besides, Mass Effect gave me hundreds of hours of joy – I’d rather focus on that.

When I met BioWare in Germany last year I didn’t meet a bunch of money hungry drones – I met fun, passionate people who adore their fans and loved meeting and interacting with them. They put more effort into fan service than any other developer I can think of (the Tali incident being the exception). I trust them and I have faith that they’ll do right by their fans on this one.

While I totally relate to the upset over the ending (and it makes me spit rage when “journalists” like Colin Moriarty release blockheaded, grossly offensive tirades about “entitlement” at the very public who keep him in a job), it makes me very sad when I see threads saying “F*** BioWare” or “Goodbye BioWare” or people review-bombing the game.

BioWare doesn’t deserve that. Give them another chance guys, the public statements may have been bizarre and obtuse but you can bet your quad the actual coders, writers and developers care about what you think and are doing their damndest to keep us happy.

On a positive note, some of the conspiracy theories give me a great laugh. The people suggesting I had been paid off by EA to stick up for BioWare on Twitter were particularly amusing.

Why aren’t you responding to me? / Why haven’t you been uploading any YouTube videos?

I only just got my internet back after a month without it due to moving house. Apologies if I missed a few messages!

When are you going to play live?

In September at the Escapist Expo! Details are here.

Would you change one of your songs just because fans didn’t like it?

I have done. Twice.

Why are you making so many Skyrim songs? I hate Skyrim.

Because Skyrim gives me the most ideas for songs, because I like Skyrim and because money is a finite resource.

“Gordon Freeman Saved My Life”

The song that started it all. For those unfamiliar with the story, it goes like this: I was feeling a little dejected and down after my band fell apart just after recording our album with a record label. Due to some bad decisions both by myself and by others, my musical career had all but fallen apart just as it was about to explode. The legalities involved with songs meant I couldn’t re-record them even though they were just sitting on a hard drive (in fact it is still another year before I can use them – very sore point) so I was pretty pissed off and disillusioned with the music industry, to say the least.

Gaming was my escape as usual, my way of just getting away from it all for a while. I had been replaying Half Life 2 for the 6 millionth time and the phrase literally just popped into my head – melody, words – it was just there. That simple as hell bluesy hook – “Gordon Freeman Saved My Liiiife!” Don’t ask where it came from, I don’t know, it was just there all of a sudden! I believe many of the best songs happen that way.

So after a few weeks of thinking about it, I said why not make it a song? It could be fun, it might cheer me up a bit and my buddies on The Escapist forum might enjoy it. I was confident in my songwriting and producing ability due to years of practice, so I figured it would be refreshing for people to hear a song about a game that was, well a proper, well crafted song as opposed to the more popular trend of middle class white men badly gangsta rapping about their COD headshotting skills.

So I put it up on the Gaming Discussion forum and the rest is history. The Escapist liked it and did a news feature on it (and “The Ballad Of Clay Carmine”) and the community, you guys, reacted really positively. To go from struggling to get a thousand views in a year to getting 20,000 in 2 days was amazing for me. I still can’t really wrap my head around it when I think of the number of people who hear these songs now.

The song itself, in hindsight, is certainly catchy and fun but maybe a little clumsily crafted. If I could go back in time I would make it far less repetitive, I think the main hook is overused far too many times and so did a lot of you. Point taken, haha! But it sure is a great riff. I love it and it reminds me of upbeat, kick ass 90s rock.

My favorite lines in the song are the ones about “Valve Time” and “They vanish into thin air like Episode 3” – someone recently pointed out that it’s a bit sad how a year later they’re still relevant (C’mon Valve! Give us something! A screenshot! Anything!).

Criticisms:

Ugh. Chuck Norris meme.

Yeah, probably not my most original idea. It came across to many as trying to hard to appeal to geek culture.

Way too repetitive. I was sick of the chorus by the end.

I definitely could have done a lot more with the ending and middle part, aside from just repeating the hook over and over.

This makes no sense. Gordon doesn’t talk so he certainly doesn’t sing.

Nor does he think in third person narrative.

I miss this stuff. You never make the more straight rock songs anymore!

I promise I’ll do some soon 🙂 In fact I have one written and you’ll be hearing it in a month or so.

Gordon Freeman Raped My Wife!

I’m going to presume you mean he beat her by a large margin in an online videogame.

“Crucible”

“Crucible” happened very organically. I originally planned to have it with lyrics but the melody was so strong that it just seemed to grow into itself as just music. I felt the music (unlike a certain ending) could express the intented emotions and feelings all by itself without the need for clarification.

It is basically very simple – “this is how Mass Effect makes me feel”. It’s big, bombastic, emotional and epic all the way to the end until it fades into ambiguous white noise and ends abruptly just when you think there’s going to be another huge climax. I took a risk with that audio gag – some say it makes the musical piece suffer but most understand what it means. It’s not meant to be an insult to the game; if anything it is my way of trying to express what I think Casey and Mac were actually going for with the “speculation from everyone” stuff.

“Blah blah blah ending ending shut up Gav!”

Ok, ok – I’ll shut up about the ending, sorry! Anyway, to create this song I wanted to make something that was like a tribute to the three soundtracks for the three games:

Mass Effect 1 – The programmed synths and Vangelis/Blade Runner -style arpeggiators.

Mass Effect 2 – The classical strings playing a big sweeping melody and the pounding, thumping percussion that was meant to invoke the Suicide Mission soundtrack (my favorite scene and accompanying music in any piece of entertainment, ever).

Mass Effect 3 – The subtle twinkling soundscapes and the melancholy piano interrupted and oppressed by the low, growling, Reaper-esque synth drone.

So I mixed it all up into one. It was a very hard track to arrange because there’s so much going on in it, so many layers and counter melodies happening at once. Due to the lack of lyrics, a verse or a chorus, it was a challenge to pick what went where and for how long. It was actually 40-50 seconds longer and I ended mercilessly cutting off all the fat at a late stage. The quiet section at 2.28 with the distant singing was a last minute change to make the piece more dynamic. (Poor Justin gets a lot of last minute changes from me while he makes the videos, haha.)

Anyway, it was something a little different and you guys absolutely loved it which made me happy. A good way to start year two!

Criticisms:

Gavin this is only a game. Nothing more.

Except it isn’t. The Mass Effect universe is so much more than a “game” to its fans. It’s a collection of stories and characters they are hugely passionate about and emotionally invested in. Statements like yours devalue gaming as an art form and even as a hobby. In fact, why are you even posting on a gaming forum if that’s how you feel about the medium?

This kind of “epic” 2 Steps To Hell Stuff is way over-used.

Thanks for you feedback, I am listening.

The ending was a bit … abrupt.

Artistic integrity.

This was wonderful but I’d love to hear it with lyrics. Would you ever consider a version with lyrics?

Entitled whining.

It was amazing but it was too short! I want more!

Starchild was putting pressure on me to have it done by the release date.

This made me do calibrations in my pants.

Garrus would be proud!

This was absolutely spectacular. Heroic. Goosebumps all the way through. Your best work.

Looks like “New Black Gold” has a competitor!

How are you not rich and famous?

EA forgot to send me my big check for defending the game on Twitter.

I want to leave you with a hilarious little conversation that happened on the Facebook feed for this song. Sometimes you guys make me laugh so hard …

Mars Morand ? Cause no matter what scars you bear …

Simeon Ivanov ? Whatever uniform you wear …

Fredrik Nyrell ? … you’ll still be attractive to krogan women.

Christopher Grant ? @Fredrik Nyrell AAAAAAHHHHHH HAHAHAHAHAHAHA

I love you guys. Thanks for an amazing year and here’s to many more!

Public Playtest Opens for D&D Next … Next Month

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