Video game music: The Soundtrack Driving Me Forward

In recent years, my most listened to genre of music is video game soundtracks. There’s a ton of links here to youtube examples of songs. I made a playlist here, or click the links as you read along.

Game music is the perfect soundtrack to write to for a few reasons. First of all, it’s usually devoid of lyrics. Unless the score is a J-Pop album that accompanies whatever ultimate anime battle fighting game that the kids are into these days, you won’t find game music with lyrics. That’s important for me, because if I’m listening to an album that has lyrics, I have a tendency to lose concentration and begin typing the lyrics to the song i wish i was homeward bound. Dammit

Secondly, as they’ve pointed out on the video game music podcast, VGMpire, the point of game music is to take a backstage while constantly pushing the player forward. Good game music blends into the scenery. Great game music, can blend in while somehow knowing when to amp up the rhythm, or crescendo and push the player forward. The absolute best game soundtracks, can do both of these things and stand on it’s own as a quality album.

If you’re from my generation or younger, chances are you can whistle the tune to Super Mario. Even if you know nothing about the game, its an iconic tie in to many different pop culture icons. Right now, you’re doing the thing with your tongue. Dun dun dun du du du doo doo doo doo doo do do doo. Did I spell that right? The song is just as much Super Mario as mushrooms, goombas, bad movies, mustaches, Italian stereotypes, and disappointment at rescuing the princess.  In the relatively short amount of time (32-ish years since Super Mario released on Nintendo), the genre has produced many classics, but continues to push the boundaries.

Mario started it all with it’s classic soundtrack, varying from above ground overtures, to the underground romp. Further classics emerged on the NES including Legend of Zelda and Metroid. Zelda also has that iconic theme, which many of the sequels center around. But if you take a look at each soundtrack from game to game, you’ll find some very interesting variations that tie in to each soundtrack. Ocarina of Time introduced the gameplay mechanic of playing a tiny wind instrument, like you’re some 5th grader in band class with your recorder. But it also had some of the strongest songs, like Gerudo Valley. Contrast the upbeat, fantasy hero songs of Zelda to Metroid, a sci-fi space thriller that resembles Ridley Scott’s Alien soundtrack in tone. If you want further examples of some amazing retro soundtracks give a listen to Castlevania, Sonic the Hedgehog, Contra, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time. I could go on and on with this list. But really there’s only so much chiptunes you can listen to before you have a mental breakdown. That’s where Overclock Remix came in and saved the day.

One of the best things to happen to this music came with the early 2000’s website, Overclock Remix. OCR is a community of music makers that makes covers, breakdowns, and remixes of classic video game songs. This paved the way not only for a string of amazing cover bands including The Mini-bosses, Powerglove, and Metroid Metal, but also the future of video game music. Composers like Danny Baronowsky got their beginnings on OCR, and went on to make some of the best modern day soundtracks. Baronowsky did the soundtracks for Binding of Isaac and Super Meat Boy. In my opinion, the soundtracks are strong, but I think you have to consider them within the context of the games to fully appreciate them; Super Meat Boy is a punishing platformer like Mario amped up on meaty steroids. Binding of Isaac, is the familiar old story of a kid locked in his basement by his overzealous catholic mother. Within the basement, the player battles zombies, flies, poops, and poop monsters, while finding power ups like “mom’s pills” and Isaac’s dead cat. It hits pretty close to home for me.

There are tons of mediocre, movie-like scores that accompany games like Call of Duty and Battlefield. However, not all of the big-budget blockbusters fall into this category. Skyrim has a great opening theme that propels the player forward like a badass dragon slayer. Much of the Blizzard compendium has memorable tracks, specifically the Diablo Tristram theme, and Starcraft’s Terran themesFarcry: Blood Dragon and Trials of the Blood Dragon break out from the mold with the retrowave sounds of PowerGlove (no relation to the PowerGlove mentioned earlier).

In some games the music is such an integral part of the gameplay that it can be the game’s strongest point. Doom did an absolutely amazing job with it’s sound design, matching so much of the shredding guitar riffs to the timing of shredding demons. It’s something that interacts with the player so damn well while you’re playing it, but doesn’t translate straight to video captured here. My favorite moment of any of the two dozen Assassin’s Creed games comes in Black Flag, when you get to hear pirate shanties as you captain your ship on the open sea. It’s an atmospheric experience that capitalizes not only on the music, but the sound of the ocean. It gives the control of the ship an actual immersive feeling.

With the exception of the Farcry games, these blockbuster soundtracks still play it safe in comparison to what contemporary indie developers are doing. On the side of great video game accompaniment, there’s Hyper Light Drifter and Fez. Both soundtracks that play well with the game, but can be a little silent on their own. Hotline Miami 1 and 2 each have an all-star super conglomerate of retro-wave bands combining to create a unique, bizarre, and chilling set of albums. The game is set in 1980s Miami, and is stylized to resemble a slasher film. The soundtrack elevates it to a whole new level. If you want some contemporary chip tunes style music with a newer twist, check out the Shovel Knight soundtrack. The score for Undertale might be the best soundtrack to a game I haven’t been bothered to play. Just watching some of the gameplay has made me want to laugh and cry.

Chris Christodoulou created my two favorite video game scores in Risk of Rain and Deadbolt. Each fits with the theme of the games, while totally being able to stand on their own. Without the context of the game, you can get a feeling for what Chris was making. The part earlier where I talked about that perfect rhythm of pushing you forward without being invasive is evident in these soundtracks. Risk of Rain is a game where the player is forced to keep moving forward constantly, because the game gets harder as time goes by. But it’s also a space opera, where you play as a prisoner that has crashed on a derelict planet. To me, I can hear this translated in the music. The result is a composition that tells it’s own story, independent of the game.

This genre is so incredibly versatile. The music on this page is the exact soundtrack to what I write. I’ve stolen a little bit of their mojo and run with it through fiction.

The Best Gluten Free Pizza in Phoenix

It’s 9:30 PM on a Tuesday night, I’ve had a few brews and I’m jamming out in my office to NewRetroWave, and craving pizza. There’s plenty of options for a gluten-freek like myself to get a pizza pie that won’t kill me. Streets of New York, Sauce, Cibo, Woodfired Pies, Rosatis, Humble Pie, and even if I want to feel trashy I can order Pizza Hut featuring Udi’s brand crust.

Rosati’s has a classically delicious GF pizza in terms of toppings. The sauce isn’t overbearing, and if you get pepperoni, they form into those delicious little greaseball cups. But Rosati’s, like most places, uses this pre-made GF thin crust. And you have to put out around 16 bucks to get a 10” pizza with two toppings delivered. Kind of pricey for a personal pizza on mediocre crust.

Domino’s, Pizza Hut, and Papa John’s all have GF pizza now. Again, you can spend 15-20 bucks creating your pizza masterpiece, only for it to arrive on that same craptacular thin crust that everyplace gets away with using.

Cibo is probably the most delicious GF pizza in Phoenix. They use a real, in house made thick as thieves delicious crust. They’ve got fresh toppings and gourmet menu choices. I could eat only their mixed veggie platter and leave mildly happy. The ambiance of the restaurant’s patio and quaintness of the interior makes for an enjoyable dining experience… If you’re on a date. Cibo in all it’s glory stacks up with a relatively high price tag, one that should be experienced with a significant other.

But if you’re like me, you’re craving classic Vennezia’s. Long thick slices that you fold in half to stuff it down your gullet, all while washing it down with a cheap beer and using the back of your sleeve for a napkin. Sometimes I want all the gourmet frills that Cibo can offer me, I can usually con my wife into taking me for my birthday every year. But sometimes, I want to pick up the pizza box and feel it sweat with grease.

So, here it is. The best pizza you can find in Phoenix:

That’s right, you’re going to have to make it in your own kitchen. As someone that finds myself on multiple pizza whims a week, I always keep a dozen or so bags of the Redmill GF pizza mix. Partially because if there is some horrible social collapse, the luxury and entitlement I have toward my food allergy will no longer be shared by the service industry. Secondly, I just love staring into ol’ Bob Moore’s dreamy serial killer glasses. Seriously, the guy makes a ton of GF baking products, but looks like someone you’d find doing coke on a Santa Fe golf course, making thinly-veiled passes at your teenage daughter.

Here’s a list of the other things you’ll need:

Eggs X2

Olive oil 2 Tbsp

Corn starch

Can of diced tomatoes

Shredded cheese

Deli ham




Apple cider or white vinegar



You can find the mix at Fry’s for about three bucks.If you get the bare minimum on all of these ingredients, you can usually get out of the store for under 20 bucks. The package from Bob’s Red Mill has some basic instructions for cooking a pizza. Bob doesn’t really mince words though, he lets his pizza do the talking instead. Here’s an updated set of instructions that uses a couple tips and tricks.

  1. In a large bowl, combine 1.5 cups of warm water and the Bob’s yeast package. Let the yeast do it’s thing for about five minutes. In the meantime, watch “Holy Diver” by Dio on Youtube.
  2. Throw in the two eggs and 2 Tbsp of olive oil and beat it up.
  3. Pour in the pizza crust mix and use a rubber spoon to mix it up. This is where the love comes in. Take some cornstarch in hand and use it to form the crust into a ball. It’s important to use your hands in this step so that the love comes off (always wash your hands before and after cooking, you don’t want too much love in the mix).
  4. Dump a little extra cornstarch on top of the ball and pour a dollop of olive oil on top also. Then cover your bowl with some plastic wrap and command it to rise for at least thirty minutes. If you need inspiration for some dough rising music I recommend “Awaken” by Dethklok.
  5. While the pizza is rising, and in between air guitar solos, this is when you want to make your sauce. Dump the can of tomatoes into a saucepan on low heat, throw in a tspn of vinegar, Basil, pepper, and enough salt to keep Laurie Notaro happy. Let that puppy simmer until the crust is ready. (If you want, you can use an immersion blender to blend up the tomatoes, but try it with the extra chunky tomatoes and you’ll be pleasantly surprised)
  6. Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. Open up the bowl containing your pizza ball and split it down the middle. Put each half of the ball onto two different baking sheets. Use more cornstarch to keep the dough from sticking to your hands or a rolling pin. Proceed to roll out the dough into a pizza shape.
  7. (Optional) You can cover each of the baking sheets with plastic wrap and let them rise again. I’ve done this in the past and the crust comes out a little less dense. But that also means headbanging to Dethklok for another 20-30 minutes.
  8. Remove any and all plastic wrap and bake both of the nude pizza crusts in the oven for 7 minutes.
  9. Take out the crusts and throw your homemade sauce down. Next, is the first layer of cheese. If you’ve ever worked in a pizza joint, you know that the best pizza is made with at least two layers of cheese.
  10. Now throw on your toppings. For example sake, I made one pizza Hawaiian style, which is ham and pineapple. There is apparently some great debate over the ethics of Hawaiian pizza. If you have time to argue about that, then you’ve got time to come up with your own pizza recipe.
  11. For the second pizza, I recommend a classic pepperoni and sliced jalapeno.
  12. (Optional) Open your refrigerator and look for anything else you could throw on these pizzas. Jar of olives, yep. Deli turkey, throw it on. Your roommate’s fancy cheese that he was saving for date night, boom, pizza topping.
  13. Top cheese those sweet pizza animals and throw them in the oven. Bake for 15 minutes.
  14. Here’s a little known secret from the pizza industry. When you take the pizza out of the oven, let it sit for 5-10 minutes. If you cut right away, you’re going to split the cheese apart and you’ll have sad looking sauce bread, while your pizza cutter basks in cheesy glory.
  15. Enjoy.

On the subject of gluten free, I count myself hashtag blessed that I get to live in a world where I can eat GF in some way from almost any restaurant, I can have a beer or cider most places, and all without having to feel like a run-over dead bird on the freeway. So, thank you, to the restaurants, industry workers, bartenders, and servers that have made this possible. It isn’t said enough.

The Edge Group Art Show

Next weekend, April 21st through the 23rd, I’ll be hosting a group art show here in downtown Phoenix. The show is called The Edge, and is based around a short story I wrote a couple of years ago. The story is about a boat captain sailing around trying to find the edge of the world. I got some really awesome artists, both local and not, that made some amazing artwork. The artists list is John Chakravarty (that’s me), Mike Butzine, Jamison Schlotte, Vincent Gonzalez, Jason Chakravarty, Toby Gerhlich, Brett Atherton, Daniel Tower, and Steve Ciezki. Also, I made a book that’s got the story and accompanying art, that will be available at the show.

On Friday the 21st, I’ll be doing live readings of the story at 6:30 and 7:30. And the exhibit will be open 6-8ish.

On Saturday, I’ll be doing a reading at 8:30.

And Sunday, we will do an early showing from Noon to 2PM.

The show is at Eleventh Monk3y, 1022 Grand Ave. Phoenix, AZ 85007.

Short drawings for short people

Today, the 100 day project starts, which is a social media community art project. Basically, participants are encouraged to make art, writing, illustrations, interpretive dance, etc. every day for 100 days and post on instagram with #100dayproject. The point is just to challenge yourself to do something creative for the 100 days. Here’s their website, or search the hashtag instagram.

I like doing these projects with a theme in mind. When I hopped on board with this project last year I started by doing all of the major arcana from a Tarot card deck. Here’s some highlights from that project.

This year, I’ve decided to build my theme off the old punk compilation Short Music for Short People. The album has 101 bands playing 30 second songs. The perfect amount to do a new drawing every day for each song. It’s also a small trip down memory lane, and I can possibly write some little stories about the handful of punk bands I’ve seen on this list. Below is day one, based on Short Attention Span by Fizzy Bangers. Follow me on instagram @jpchakra for more of my 100 day project.

Biker gang

I never wanted to call myself a cyclist. I felt like it would put me in some group of elite nobodies with self-important goals and aspirations. But a few years ago, I started cycling. It came about innocently enough. My friend Jimmy showed up at my place on his bike (a vintage pink Diamondback) and told me to saddle up. At the time, I was riding a crappy old steel Nishiki single speed. We cruised around neighborhoods looking for shortcuts to our favorite bars, peeping in people’s front yards and windows along the way. The city is vastly different from a bike, and you start to find pockets of weirdness beyond the already collected pockets of weirdness. For example, a lot of people like to sit in their cars, late at night, in neighborhoods.

After that, two or three times a week we hit the streets, the later the better. We cruised up and down 3rd avenue, East and West along both Phoenix canals, and eventually tore through Papago Park behind the zoo. At first, ten miles was enough to kill my legs. But the rides went on and on, longer and more frequent, until we were pulling thirty to forty miles on a school night. We just picked a direction and tried to find the most bike friendly way to navigate to it. In addition to the weirdness of late night in a medium sized city, Phoenix has a ton of paths that are only available to bikes. It’s the closest I’ll ever get to saying “it made me feel like a kid again” when we would rip down a street, cut the corner of someone’s front yard, and bomb through an alley just to avoid crossing a major street.

Those are heat lines AND speed lines.

But even with all of the late night excursions into the middle of nowhere, I still didn’t call myself a cyclist. Last July or so we signed up for El Tour de Tucson in November. Which is a 106 mile ride up and around all of the classiest areas of Tucson (which are mostly outside of the city). At this point, we had to start really training, through the harshest months of the summer in Phoenix. Most training days, I would go to sleep at 6PM and wake up at 9PM to ride while the sun was down until about 1 or 2 in the morning. Things become even weirder when you’re riding in pure darkness and its still almost 100 degrees.

Before El Tour de Tucson, we did the Tour de Bosa as a warmup, which involves riding about 50 miles to each of the Bosa Donuts in the Phoenix area. You get a donut at each one, and the pace is capped at about 16 mph. This is where we met real cyclists for the first time. Most of them were really awesome people that just wanted to cruise. The riders at the front of the line, pushing the 16 mph envelope whenever they could, were those elitist cyclist douchebags that I didn’t want to be associated with. They were straight out of an 80’s coming-of-age sports movie. They had the best gear, most expensive bikes, probably the hottest chicks, and they couldn’t wait to tell you how fast they went up South Mountain this morning. If I can get my montage workout together, someday maybe I’ll beat them.

El Tour de Tucson was brutal. It was warm that day in Tucson, in the high 80’s. Luckily, I’d trained through the brutal hell of Phoenix summer. The real tough part was the wind, which kicked me down a few times and I had to walk my bike up a couple of hills. One of my favorite parts of riding is the solitude of it. Cycling is an individual sport, one where you just crank along and sit there thinking to yourself. I get most of my best idea generation for writing either on the bike, in the shower, or sitting on the toilet. Around hour seven, I started running out of things to think about though.

But I finished, at around 9 hours 16 minutes, crossing the finish line as most other riders were chugging beers at the vendor tents. I felt victorious, and at the same time ready to crumble into myself. The two other riders I’d gone with, Jimmy and Paul, smoked me by 15 and 30 minutes respectively. So I had to wander around on these sober baby giraffe legs, screaming their names until I could find them, like some lost kid at the mall.

Back on Super Bowl Sunday, I was talking at my friend Larue about cycling while his eyes were rolling back into his head with boredom. Although this moment still didn’t make me feel like a cyclist, it made me realize the exact moment that I was.

A week before El Tour de Tucson, one of my new neighbors came by to introduce herself. A little bit of an older, thicker lady from down the road.

“People drive down our street too fast,” she said, “I’ll flag ’em down and yell at ’em. I don’t care.”

“Yeah, people haul ass because there’s no speed bumps on this street,” I replied. “I’m glad you yell at them. Because I’m a biker.”

“Oh? So are my husband and I.”

I took another look at her, and without being judgmental, thought that she didn’t look like the cycling type. Later that week, I was out on my bike in full gear; jersey, tight little biker shorts, high heels, dumb helmet, the works. I start down the road, and see this neighbor out in front of her house, so I decide I should stop and say hello before I go out on my ride. So I stop, she gives me a sideways glance and a half-hearted hello. I take off.

Weeks later, talking to Larue, it hit me. Biker… I’m an idiot. I’ve since looked closer into that neighbor’s driveway and seen a couple of giant Harley Davidsons. Okay, I’ll admit it, I’m a cyclist.

The Mantle at Made

I am very pleased to announce that this month, I am the featured artist for the Mantle at Made. The show features my new series, Postcards From Space. The paintings are 4×6″ watercolors of space explorers running around science fiction settings. My idea was to put modern, everyday people and problems in fantastic extraterrestrial settings.

The show runs from February 17th to March 13th. Made Boutique is located at 922 N. 5th st. 85004.

The Muxplorer

I started painting these watercolor pieces about these space explorers on trippy planets. You can view some of them over here. The idea came from a combination of a few different things. This game came out called No Man’s Sky, and was reviewed with a resounding sigh of disappointment.

The premise was cool. You play as a lone space explorer, making your way through a procedurally generated galaxy in your spaceship. Every planet was infinitely different, with different trees, animals and environment. And the style of the game used all these hyper-matte colors, like neon pink and chartreuse. But after you put in about ten hours, the game can no longer stand on being kind of pretty. It became a game of going to a planet, walking around the surface long enough to find fuel for your spaceship, then moving on to the next planet, finding fuel, and repeating the process.

I found that people’s reactions to the game were more entertaining than the game itself. The subreddit was a hub for people’s growing resentment of the game. The posts changed from “What a beautiful game, too bad there’s no sand worms” to “I can’t believe I wasted my money on this garbage.” The contempt for the game went so far as to warrant filing a lawsuit in the UK for false advertising. Meanwhile, the company developing the game went silent. They literally went without any form of update for over 90 days while the internet crapped all over them.

That feeling of deep disappointment in the face of some beautiful (albeit flawed) creation was one of the things that made me want to create this series. The idea of being so oversaturated with something awe-inspiring that you just don’t care. An explorer that’s been force-fed sensory overloads until everything is just mundane.

In the future, conversation is a distraction from Candy Crush

For everyone, there was this feeling of something lacking from No Man’s Sky. I think the game would have done fine at a $20 price point, and some promises of future content. But there is also this unintentionally deep meaning in creating this giant, random and beautiful world only for people to go “meh.”


Creative isolation

The last time my dad was in town, we were at my sister’s house about to have dinner. We sat in the living room, my dad in the recliner absently staring around with his gray eyes, me on the couch scribbling in a sketchbook. He can’t see very well anymore, so he stared at me for a while, trying to figure out which one of his sons he was looking at. After a while he announced, “John would be perfectly happy alone on a beach with his sketchbook and journal.” I couldn’t help but laugh. After 30 years, he had figured it out. I mean, I’ve put myself here on a figurative island with my little sketchbook and journal, now I’m just trying to find the happiness part.

Creating something is isolating. Its not like building or fixing something. That’s where you take a set of pieces that are supposed to be arranged in one particular way and you make it that way. Instead, creating is taking an idea in your head (probably made up of borrowed ideas) and fabricating it out of thin air. This is my favorite part of any creative process: Brainstorming, idea-farming, and discussion.

But going from idea to execution is always the real work. “Okay, I’ve got this great idea for a comic book where a robot has survived the rapture and is looking for mankind.” My next step, make the comic.

“No one will ever be as passionate about your idea as you are.” Tony Parker said that in one of my classes. He used it to describe why many comic book artists also have to write their own script and vice-versa. There’s ways you can motivate people to be passionate about your project, money, published work, etc. But simply being the creator of something automatically makes you the most passionate person on that project. On one hand, if you are a very energetic and exciting person, you can use your passion to inspire people to be excited about the thing you are creating. But, if you’re a less excitable person like myself, you end up just deciding that you don’t need anyone else and that people will be stoked about that rapture robot comic when you’re done with it. The idea of being passionate about a project ends up being a burden of responsibility. If people don’t see how hard I am working on this robot comic, I’ll become irrelevant or stagnant. Simply put, if I don’t do it who will?

Version 2

This leads to all kinds of isolation. I want this robot rapture comic to happen so bad, I’m going to stay in all weekend and work on it. If I do go out, it might be the only thing on my mind. I’m going to the bar to watch football on Sunday morning, and I’m bringing half of my desk and office with me. That’s not to say that I get any more work done if I do stay in. There’s more distractions in my home than anywhere else. But at least I feel like I’m working.

Creating something requires you to compare yourself to the highest standard. And the internet makes it easy to see very highest standard out there. I’m not following people on Instagram that are my same skill level. I’m following industry professionals and people that have been doing this for years. Now, I’m the only person working on this robot rapture comic AND I’m not as good as the guys at Marvel.

It’s because of passion that makes me check out of writer’s conferences, or comic-cons, or even public readings. I look around and think, what is everyone doing here talking about writing, when they could just be at home, writing? You’re there because you want people to care about what you are writing, but you already know the person that’s the most passionate about your project: Yourself. And the cycle goes on and on, until I’ve wasted more time wondering where I should be, and not enough time being where I am.

The best trick I’ve found is to pretend like I’m not thinking about it. This thing that I’m creating is the very best work I can make right now. The next thing I make will be even better. And instead of trying to make the best comic book ever, I just have to make the best comic book I can make in this moment.

The classic American war novel.

The main thing that I’m working on is a novel. Its a braided narrative epic set in 1932 in an alternate universe where World War I never ended. It follows a group of characters as they try to start peace talks between the warring nations, but a conspiracy unfolds to stop them. Not only is it set in this crazy world where America stays out of the war, but it also has fantasy elements. One of the main characters, Gren, is a soldier for the Ottoman army. Every time he dies he wakes up a few hours later, totally reincarnated. He’s pretty traumatized after being in a 15 year long industrial war. At the beginning of the story, he learns of a plot to kill the Ottoman emperor, which would halt any peace negotiations and send the world back into war.

I want to create something that’s Game of Thrones scale of world and complexity. Turns out that’s really hard, but also a lot of fun. Before this, I didn’t do much in the way of outlining a story. And it’s led to a lot of novels that dead end around the 8th chapter. I folded on my pride and am writing a character outline for every story in this book. So far it kind of looks like this.

Each row across the top is a country involved in the war and their own little fantasy history that I concocted. For example, in this story, the Ottomans plowed through the French line in 1922 and marched on Paris. They sacked the city and executed their royalty. It lead to a worldwide ceasefire that lasts for 10 years, up to the point where the novel begins.

Each column under the countries are the characters. The far left is about Kayla and her dog Misha. Just to the right of that is Gren, the resurrecting guy that I mentioned above. The creepy dude in the middle is a Navajo Skin Walker (google it, they are awesome). And below that is a picture of some Sikh warriors in World War I.

I like WWI as a topic and time period because it was this really strange clash of old and new. Armies like the French Army started the war still wearing Napoleon era uniforms. The Prussians had those cool pointy helmets until later in the war when they switched to the stereotypical stahlhelme. There were horses and dogs that charged against artillery fire. It was a sad, brutal and insane world.

And it kind of marks the end of exploration. After that, the borders are drawn and that’s the world. I miss stories about exploration and world building.