Aaron Febre

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Death of a musician: How do you react?

  1. Death. It’s a painful thing to feel, whether you lost a family member or a friend. It’s an unfortunate part of life that you have to live with. But does it work the same with an actor? An athlete? A musician? Do you mourn for their death as if they were a friend or family member? Do you have more of a sense of gratitude towards the work and achievements they made?

This week, Mark Hollis passed away at the age of 64 caused by a short, unknown illness. Hollis was best known as the lead singer for the English band Talk Talk, a group that initially started out as a Synthpop band and received commercial success in the early to mid ‘80s. But in the late ‘80s and the early ‘90s, Talk Talk moved towards an ambient and experimental direction that saw them become pioneers in the genre of Post-rock. Following their disbandment, Hollis would release a self-titled solo album in 1998 before retiring from the music industry.

Some of my favorite records come from Talk Talk’s catalog. Records such as “The Colour of Spring,” “Spirit of Eden” and “Laughing Stock” took my music taste to new horizons. But upon hearing about Hollis’ death, I wasn’t sure how to feel about his passing. It didn’t leave me bawling on the floor. It didn’t leave me in a state of numbness and lacking of emotions. The only thing that I felt was a sense of gratitude.

Now I have my reasons for why I feel this way. I obviously don’t know Hollis personally, but he seemed to be a generous man based on interviews I’ve seen. Secondly, he was a very private man who hadn’t released new music since the late ‘90s and preferred to remain out of the spotlight. Hence, why he hadn’t been in the public eye for many years and rarely gave interviews. So there’s personal respect for Hollis in keeping his life private and releasing music at his own pace and leisure.

I’m not one for mourning for a person that I personally don’t know, even if I really like their music. It’s a bit of an extreme measure for me. But it is very understandable why some mourn for their loss. Their music has taken on a huge meaning to the listener’s everyday life and was there for them during hardships.

Granted, I have only listened to Talk Talk’s music for the last two to three years compared to those who were listening since the ‘80s. I’ve yet to experience the death of a current musician who I really love. So I wonder how I will react when I learn about Alex Turner, MC Ride or Kendrick Lamar’s passing, especially since they share similar qualities to Hollis.

When it comes to the death of an artist, take this is as an opportunity to look back on the music that they made and find meaning out of it. If you never got a chance to listen to it for the first time, then this is a way to pay respects to the musicians. As a fan of Talk Talk, it was a personal reminder of how these records were able to take me to mythical places.

Whoever you are a fan of, take their death as a way to celebrate their work and give them thanks for providing you with an experience that you will never forget.

For Mark Hollis, I’d like to give my most sincere thanks for providing some of the most fascinating records ever made and here’s hopes that someone will discover and appreciate your music. Rest in Peace.

Listen to Talk Talk’s music on Spotify:

Green Day – “Dookie” 25 Years Later

“Do you have the time? To listen to me whine? About nothing and everything all at once?” Billy Joe Armstrong says on the track “Basket Case.” This is a question that has been burning for generations of teenagers. Hearing those words as a 14-year-old kid was a bit of a revelation; growing up confused and a bit angsty about the things that surrounded me, there was a sense of feeling like an outsider. But hearing those words gave a life-affirming sense that I wasn’t alone and was not the only one who was feeling this way.

While most of my generation first remember Green Day for their 2004 album, “American Idiot,” it wasn’t the first time that they made their mark on the world. It was in 1994 when the band released their third album, “Dookie,” that they received commercial success. Among the Grunge acts that were prevalent in America during the early ‘90s, “Dookie” provided a brighter sound but retained some of the angst found in the Grunge acts. It was a welcome break from the gloom and anger that Grunge provided. While there’s nothing wrong with Grunge music, it was starting to become tiresome to hear it over and over again.

Hit singles such as “Basket Case” and “Longview” came with audacious and funny music videos that felt like a diary of a teenager’s life. They were filled with bright colors and three misfits. That was the beauty of it, it felt relatable for teens to see these three guys who were thinking and doing the same things as they were. Even Armstrong noted how people reacted towards the band’s appearance, particularly towards the music video of “Longview” where the members looked notably different from the typical clean-looking pop star. “We wanted to show it all, zits, acne, you know, blemishes,” Armstrong said.

Take a song like “Welcome to Paradise.” It’s a song about being on your own and having fun with your freedom but also dealing with the consequences of living independently. Or the song “She,” a song about the problems a teenage girl face in a sexist society. These are some serious topics but it’s balanced by how incredibly catchy the songs are. The choruses soar, the guitars roar and the bass is melodic. They get stuck inside your head for countless hours. Matter of fact, I’m already hearing “She” inside of my head.

The best part of this album is that it doesn’t let up on its energy. This album plays like a train that will never stop. Track by track you are injected by high-pace songs that will leave your heart pounding. The opening track “Burnout” makes it clear that this is a train ride that will rattle you for the next 40 minutes.

“Dookie” still feels as youthful as it was 25 years ago and has been an album that remained constant in many teenagers no matter the time period. Even if you no longer a teenager, you can still listen to these tracks and get taken back to a time period where it seemed like the world was against you. However, a band like Green Day was able to provide the music that helped get you through the times.

Listen to “Dookie” on Spotify:

Diving into K-Pop

In the past two to three years, Korean Pop music (K-Pop) has become a very popular genre in the United States. You can find it almost everywhere, and you can run across a fan wearing merchandise from one of their favorite groups anywhere as well. How is it that a genre from the other side of the world has gotten so popular here in the U.S.? This has been a burning question for many people; many of whom do not understand the genre’s appeal.

Well for one, K-Pop music is catchy. It does the job of what a pop song does with thumping beats, pulsing synths and great vocals. There’s also the music videos which contain very bright and pastel colors. On top of that, when you watch the music videos, the dances are well-synchronized, very technical and well-produced.

According to Emily Figueroa, a sophomore majoring in Kinesiology, “If you watch [the music videos], you can tell there is a lot of effort put into it,” she said. This is noticeable among groups who have a large number of members. These aspects provide a stark contrast to American Pop music, which usually has smaller groups and resorts to including instruments rather than just dancing.

The fact there were once very few Asian pop stars that were known in the United States made the genre even more appealing. While there was an awareness for the genre, with artists like PSY and BIGBANG, it never reached major success until the rise of BTS’ popularity in 2016. Whether you are a student of Asian descent or not, the style and culture that is presented in K-Pop brought in something new to music in mainstream America.

While BTS is the group that spearheaded the popularity, there are other groups that extend beyond them: Seventeen, GOT7, NCT, EXO, BLACKPINK and Red Velvet. There’s also the underground Korean music scene that features the likes of Jay Park and DEAN. What’s notable about the underground is that they have started to gain attention as well and have been receiving praise from fans.

However, it doesn’t stop there. K-Pop also has the ability to connect with audiences who are non-Korean. BTS is the biggest example: They were able to collaborate with notable American artists such as Nicki Minaj, Chainsmokers and Fall Out Boy. There is also the fact that there are groups who can speak more than just one language. BTS, BLACKPINK, BIGBANG and GOT7 contain members who can speak English, Japanese, Thai or Chinese. This is further emphasized as some of the members of these groups aren’t even Koreans.

Many of our students, such as Tyler Ho, a junior in Computer Science, were introduced to the genre at least a couple of years before BTS’ popularity exploded. Many were at least in middle school or high school when they first heard about K-Pop music. Ho recalled how a few of his friends were playing it around him before he finally got into the genre himself. “I had one of those friends and all they listened to was K-Pop,” Ho said. “But I really got into K-Pop when I found BLACKPINK and explored from there on.” Some of Ho’s favorite groups are BLACKPINK, LOONA and EXID.

Photo courtesy of SM Entertainment Co.

Darlene Ual, a sophomore also majoring in Computer Science, recalls her first encounter with K-Pop music through a friend from middle school. While she loved it, she didn’t get into the genre until later in life. “Once I got into high school, that’s when I started to get into Korean culture and music.” Some of her favorite groups are 2NE1, NCT and EXO.

Figueroa recalls her first memory after watching a Korean drama with her mother. The group SHINee were the ones who provided the soundtrack to the drama. Like Ual, Figueroa wouldn’t get into the genre until high school with her favorites being Seventeen, GOT7 and Twice.

You might be surprised how easy it is to find people who like K-Pop music on campus. Ual has often found classmates who are interested in the genre. “I’m like, ‘okay, this is one thing we can talk about for the rest of class,’ so I find it pretty easy [to find people who are into K-Pop],” she said.

However, the popularity of K-Pop has brought in the bandwagoners or people who only follow the genre by only listening to one extremely popular group. In this case: BTS. For a longtime fan like Figueroa, it was a strange turning point as more and more people got into the genre she once thought was niche. “Once it started getting popular, they started to jump on,” she said.

The fandom has even had cases of extreme fandom. Ho recalled one moment at the restaurant Let’s Meat, “There were these girls with their BTS shirts on and had like a blanket with [the members] faces on it,” Ho said. “It’s kind of weird if you bring a blanket of a dude’s face in a restaurant.”

Figueroa has noted how some fans glorify these groups as religious-like figures. “I can see why ’cause they look good and can sing well and dance, but it’s not for me,” she said.

Now more than ever, K-Pop is making their presence known in U.S. BTS has even shown up at the Grammys and BLACKPINK is currently on their American tour. This leads to the question: Will K-Pop become even more popular still? Or has the genre reached its peak? Many students believe it will get bigger over time, but some believe it will get bigger as long as there are newer groups to carry it on. “I think it’s not at its height yet, but like all good things it’s gonna end up mainstream,” Ual said.

On campus, there is a student organization called the Korean Dance and Culture Club. Led by Diamond Lawrence, the club meets biweekly on Tuesdays and/or Thursdays. “The sole purpose of this club is to explore and get to know about Korean culture, especially K-Pop dancing as it has become a big thing in media lately,” Lawerence said. “By getting into the dances, we hope to get people into the culture itself.” The club picks out the tracks they’ll dance along to through a group vote, with the difficulty of the song also considered for newcomers.

If you are going to start listening to K-Pop music, fans say that you should take into the account of what the listener is personally in to. Students would personally base their recommendations on that. While it is easy to simply go to BTS, BLACKPINK or BIGBANG, it’s best to search up the music at your own pace and pick out the ones you personally like.

But whatever you think about K-Pop music, you can’t deny that the success it has received here in the U.S. has brought in something for the American audience. Who knows whether this genre will blossom even more or fade away, but at least we’ll remember a time when it was the most popular of the genres to not come from American shores.

48 Hours: An Inside Look at the Global Game Jam

The only sounds in the room are soft conversations and the clicks of fingers on keyboards. Someone is curled up in a sleeping bag by the window, another has their head bent over their desk. At this point, some of the people in the room have been present for almost 36 hours, putting every ounce of effort into designing and creating a unique video game. This is the Global Game Jam at UNC Charlotte, an event created with the goal of allowing developers to learn and work collaboratively to build new games. The catch? They have to build the game in 48 hours. The Global Game Jam, hosted by the student organization Game Developers at UNC Charlotte, took place in Woodward Hall from Jan. 25 – 27.

How does a group design a video game in just two days? Those of us in the Arts and Entertainment section were curious about the answer. To find out, a roving team of five reporters covered the entire Game Jam, hour-by-hour. Read below to learn what the experience was like.

Friday

6 p.m. Noah

Kicking off the event, an intro video on the theme of the Game Jam is shown. This year’s theme: “What home means to you.” A few people from around the globe display their own thoughts on the theme inside the video, and then the event is kicked off. The officers at the front make sure no new people are without a group, and from there everyone splits off into their teams to begin brainstorming ideas for their games.

7 p.m. Noah

The first team I sit down with is Upside Down Bird, a team well-acquainted with the Game Jams already. Benjamin Hamrick and David Dempsey are UNC Charlotte alumni and founded Upside Down Bird. The two have been participating in Game Jams from as early as 2013. The two are programmers along with Matthew Schwiebert. Also on the team is Mike Murray doing level design, Aaron Schwiebert, Nick DeJohn and Cyrus Homesley as musicians and finally Nick Eldridge who is going to help with brainstorming ideas, food runs, and a number of other needed tasks.

As the team gets into ideas, some of them range from a procrastinating simulator to a smart home escape room, as well as a sibling war game/pillow fort builder. Signature to “Resident Evil” is the safe rooms, the few areas where you are truly safe in the hostile environment and save the game. The team springs off this thought and its relation to home by adding the idea of running one of these rooms where multiple adventurers from different game genres come in to save (The player runs and manages this room).

8 p.m. Noah

Jumping to a new group, Guardian Frontier, the team is well into brainstorming their idea. The entire whiteboard is covered in ideas and extrapolation on them. The plan combines two of their initial ideas of a kid talking to several NPCs and finding out what home means to them. Then each NPC will take you into the gameplay in the form of a flashback, bringing out the story from there. Dillon Zhong works as programmer, designer and project manager. With him is programmer Justin Carrasquillo, 3D-modeler/programmer Michael Helwig, programmer/writer Jacob Miller, programmer Hashim Qureshi, designer Don Albert Collins, artist/programmer Irvin Naylor and artist/designer Christina Andre.

9 p.m. Elissa

In the corner of room 140 is the team Pixelsprite, comprised of four members: Jahdiel Couchman, Charlotte Barrett, Vishal Naik and Stephanie Lam. The first three are taking charge of the coding, while Lam is the artist of the four. Pixelsprite met in the fall semester during their Intro to Game Design and Development class, and have created approximately two games together (though Couchman was not a full member for those games). Their project’s concept is that the player will take on the role of an ant which will seek to find safety and a new “home” after being chased by obstacles, such as a vacuum cleaner.  While coding begins, Lam works on creating the aforementioned ant and vacuum cleaner which are red and pixelated in a classic video-game style.

10 p.m. Elissa

Gaming duo Worst Case Scenario works on their project “Mistep.” Photo by Niyathi Sulkunte.

Nearby is the duo Mike Dorn and Jonothan Sigman, otherwise known as the team Worst Case Scenario. Dorn is in a state of controlled panic, as his Cdrive was accidentally wiped directly before the event. This means all of his pre-made designs have been completely deleted or corrupted, though the team is confident everything will still turn out fine. The two worked together previously when they were randomly placed in the same group during the Fall 2018 UNC Charlotte Game Jam. This time around though, it is clear the team began to plan out their idea before the event. The current concept is a two-player game that takes place in a single, temple-themed room with pressured tiles. At the start of each round, the players will be allowed to link a trap with a specific tile (though this will be invisible to both players once the round begins). When the round begins, both players will set off in hot pursuit of a treasure, both trying to avoid the traps and reach the treasure in the short time allowed. Whichever player survives, wins. It doesn’t really fit the theme of “home,” but Worst Case Scenario is largely unconcerned. Dorn hastily creates graphics, including the tile floor’s layout and animation for when the tiles are activated.

11 p.m. Elissa

As the Game Jam edges into the later hours of Friday evening, first-time team Game PJammers works diligently on graphic design. Half of the team has left the room to go home and grab some sleep, but Shaquiel Smith and Kristian “Axel” Melendez plan to rest later. They hope the team will operate on a shifting schedule in which at least one team member at a time will be working on the game. Focused on the guiding concept of “What home means to you,” their game will be centered around the idea that “friends and stories are what makes a place home.” One will play as a character who has just moved to a new city and will have the option to travel to a number of different locations, such as work, the gym and the library. They will meet new characters at these locations and attempt to befriend them. If they achieve a certain level of closeness, they will receive a reward from their new friend (i.e. a dumbbell or a book) to fill their new-but-empty apartment. At the moment, the main goal is to have as many friends and rewards as possible before the game ends after seven days. At this point in the evening, a few of the original characters and text bubbles have already been created by team member Naima Karzouz. The fourth member, Martin Gutierrez, worked on making an animated typewriter effect for the game’s text before heading to bed. Melendez will spend the evening creating the various scenes and locations while Smith examines various camera angles and different options for how objects can interact with each other.

Saturday

12 a.m. Elissa

One of the less-conventional team dynamics comes from JEM++, a group that consists of current Vice President Jonathan Keku and alumni Matt Ballard and Eric King. They have worked as a team for the past two Game Jams, typically as a cohesive group. This time though, the personal theme of “home” presents a challenge, and each member is working on a different game prototype. They plan to meet within a couple hours to decide which is the most fun and work as a coordinated team from there. Keku and King are both working on varying versions of a “Snake”-inspired gameplay. Keku’s main character is a person, while King’s is a house. Both versions will have the player travel to try and collect houses and from a “tail.” Running into the tail (as well as off the edge of the map in Keku’s case) will result in a Game Over screen. Keku’s idea extends a bit beyond that, as the end of the game in his version will display the way the main character died, as well as list the significant life moments (such as childhood, entering college or getting a job) represented by each house the player added to their tail. Ballard’s strategy is to try various gameplay mechanics until he finds one he likes, though he is currently running with something inspired by “Excitebike.” Midway through the hour, he changes strategy to try and create a sort-of Shuffleboard but with houses.

1 a.m. Noah

Probably the most passionate team I have come across tonight, team Space Shark is making good progress on their bombastic fighting game. Chris Sanchez and Timothy Walker take on programming, whereas Hamilton Rice works on the art and Tyler Johnson handles the concept design and music. The group likens their game to a retro-style “Smash Bros.,” in which the focus is knocking characters off the stage rather than your traditional health bar. The roster consists of four characters, including Heinrich, a hellspawn focused on fire-centered attacks, AieserBeard, deadly captain of the S.S. Grimeback, and Douglas, a muscular dwarf who spends a majority of his time mining in caves. All of these characters feature elaborate backstories on the team’s design document, except their star character Cleetus, whose background simply reads as “Just Cleetus.” I got a peek at Cleetus’ character design, a mountain man who wields a banjo as his weapon of choice. As I sit here writing this, the team debates over whether they should make one of Cleetus’ special moves involve throwing a bottle of moonshine or ramming his enemies with a truck.

Members of Upside Down Bird work on creating their game. Photo by Niyathi Sulkunte.

2 a.m. Noah

Back with Upside Down Bird, the group has settled on the game idea of driving to “the ultimate destination,” home. The challenge presented in the game is that navigation has to be done by pulling up your map, which completely covers your view of the road. With three musically-inclined individuals on the team, the speed of the car will be dictated by changing the radio to faster and slower tempo songs that will control the speed of the car. The team has a driveable car at the moment, as well as a partly designed map for the car to actually drive on.

3 a.m. Noah 

As the night hours draw on, five of Upside Down Bird remain working on their game for the night. At this point, the team has the car driving on a map featuring roads, trees, mountains and other obstacles. The team works on getting the wheel to actually turn, adding hands for the players to see on the wheel, ironing out the kinks in the car’s physics and adding other details on the map, such as a waterfall. It is incredible to see them start off brainstorming their title, and then to come back about 8 hours later and see them have a somewhat playable game already. As the hour draws to a close, the remainder of the team heads home to get some semblance of sleep to be ready to work tomorrow (or today).

4 a.m. Noah

Most of those who remain in these wee hours of the night are either continuing work or getting what sleep they can in sleeping bags on the floor.

5 a.m. Noah

For a majority of this hour, everyone was asleep (or at least trying to).

6 a.m. Noah

The sleep continues…

7 a.m.  Noah

As everyone continues to sleep, the sun finally begins to rise. A pair of students (not associated with the Jam) come into the room attempting to print something. The two are completely unaware that there are multiple people trying to sleep, and after some loud arguing, the two eventually give up on trying to print in the room. A few of the jammers begin to awake because of the disturbance.

8 a.m. Melissa

Hansel Wei is the Site Coordinator of the Game Jam. He is a senior computer science major and Secretary of the Game Developers at UNC Charlotte, the student organization hosting UNCC’s Game Jam. This Game Jam came together quickly: the majority of its organizing occurred two days ago, with some of the work beginning last week. This was partly the result of delays with reservation services. YoYo Games was one of the companies to donate free software which the developers could choose to use during the week of the Game Jam. Their software, GameMaker, enables pieces to be dragged and dropped into the game.

A spotlight on Wei: While he has done some game developing in the past, he now focuses his energy on developing curriculum to teach people about coding. He is currently working on developing a curriculum for UNCC’s satellite location of the North Carolina Science Festival.

9 a.m. Melissa

The Global Game Jam is an annual, international event with sites operating around the world. At the beginning of this year’s Jam, each site played the same keynote speaker video to announce the theme: “What does home mean to you?” There was a social network — similar to Reddit — for the jammers to share their ideas and communicate with other participants. Jammers needed to be careful of the things they posted on their social media (and on the aforementioned network) so as not to spoil the theme for the jammers in the last time zone, Hawaii. The theme could be openly discussed at 11:10 p.m. on Jan. 25, EST.

In addition to the theme, there were specific challenges jammers could choose to attempt that were sponsored by outside companies. Prizes were offered for challenge winners. One such challenge involved creating a game that used iPhones as controllers. As stated by Hansel Wei, “The idea of the game jam is that you band together.” Like an instrumental band with a drummer, singer, guitarist etc., in this game-developing event individuals come together with their specific skill sets to create one cohesive piece.

10 a.m. Melissa

Where are they now? A review of three teams’ progress:

The Game PJammers at work. Photo by Niyathi Sulkunte.

When I first arrived at 8 a.m., The Game PJammers was the only group awake and working. Furthering their theme that friends and stories make a place home, the team concisely states that “home is where you make it.” Having moved on from graphic design for the moment, the team is developing dialogue responses to progress the story.

Jonathon Sigman continues coding solo for Worst Case Scenario as his partner gets some rest. Sigman has just completed writing the code to link multiple traps to a single tile, a game feature that means an unlucky player may set off multiple traps at once. This task was the hardest yet, according to Sigman. Some of the traps proposed for the game include a saw blade swiping across the screen, blow darts and crumbling platforms. A trap that has already been coded is a pit the character can fall into. When a character is killed by a trap, they will respawn so long as it is within the round’s time limit. A round is completed either when a player successfully procures a gem from one side of a room and returns it to a starting place, or when the timer runs out. Currently, the team plans on the game consisting of four rounds. The team’s new response to the query: “Does your game relate to the theme?” is “Yes and no.” The game relates to the theme in the idea that the player is an adventurer, and an adventurer’s home is the places they discover.

Guardian Frontier has begun to develop their cast of characters, that is, the characters the player comes to know during flashback sequences. One such character is Calendella, a soldier who desperately misses her family. A more complex character is Mark. Mark’s parents both died, his mother from natural causes and his father murdered (a fact Mark learns by watching the evening news). With no one to care for him, Mark was sent to an academy for soldiers and put into a class with five others his age. The purpose of the academy is to try and find ways to reduce PTSD. Mark’s backstory focuses on the six characters making up his class.

11 a.m. Melissa

The Game Jam is back in full swing with five teams actively present. The room has grown gradually louder throughout the morning and is currently a hub of activity. In one corner of the room, alumni team, House on Fire works on their game and their fourth member has just arrived. Members of the team have attended Game Jams for the past several years although they have not always worked together. This team is one to watch according to Wei. Wei recalls that last year, they created a game in which players moved physical pieces on a projector (such as pieces of paper) to manipulate virtual items in the game. This year, House on Fire is making a two-player virtual reality game that requires a single headset. The objective of the game is to escape a burning house. However, each player faces a physical limitation. One player, the one that wears the virtual reality headset, is a paraplegic in a wheelchair. This player is to sit in a rolling chair in the physical world outside of the game to simulate the wheelchair. The second player, not wearing the headset, cannot see the virtual world and its obstacles. This character is blind. It is the job of the player in the chair to direct the blind player in moving the chair around virtual objects to escape the burning house in the game.

12 p.m. Maya

At noon, there are still people who are sleeping after a long night. Other participants are currently walking in to begin work, while some are leaving room 140 to grab a bite to eat. There is only a little bit of dialogue between participants. Beyond that, the room is quiet. The only thing you can hear is tapping from the keyboards and clicking from mouses.

1 p.m. Maya

The room is still quiet. Everyone is focused on getting their game finished. Richard Camara from the independent team Game Dev Pro is hard at work. The rest of his team is not there now; they are out taking care of other responsibilities. Even though this is the case, the team keeps in contact by communicating on a message board. In the meantime, Camara is working on a projectile for one of the bosses in the game, which proves to be difficult to create. However, Camara relies on a game engine called Unity for help. It provides tutorials for game developers. Eventually, Camara finds a function that works. It’s not perfect but it’s a start. The artwork seems to be completed already since one team member sent in the artwork. They have made some progress since Friday evening. Game Dev Pro will meet back up 3 p.m.

Tyler Johnson of the team Space Shark. Photo by Niyathi Sulkunte.

2 p.m. Melissa

In contrast to the general buzz of collaboration I left, the silence I return to after my lunch break is deafening. Heads bow over individual keyboards almost reverently. And then the silence is broken by the tinkling of music: many of the groups, having by this time finished the development of their stories, are focusing on the special features of the games. One jammer with the team Space Shark works on designing the menu for the game. Another jammer, Tyler Johnson, works on music, playing a guitar and keyboard. To record the music, he plugs each instrument into a red box and plays. The box is plugged into a laptop, which is then plugged into a monitor. On the computers, the sounds recorded from the instruments can be manipulated. The team plans on creating four songs, one to go with each of the four worlds and four characters (remember: demon, pirate, dwarf and mountain man) in the game. The group is calmly working.

An update on JEM++: Their “Snake”-like game now has a game mechanic differentiating it from the original game, that is, part of the game now includes returning houses to their appropriate plots.

An update on The Game PJammers: Most of the tasks on their to-do list, art withstanding, have been completed. This is far ahead of the schedule they expected. They are now working on the end-game mechanics throwing around ideas such as, angry neighbors smashing the windows of the apartment if the player does not create enough positive relationships by the end of the game.

Global update: Break time approaches. This break time is a feature of the Global Game Jam, with sites responsible for scheduling their own activities for the breaks. Several sites around the world engage in yoga. Others located in the southern hemisphere go swimming in outdoor pools.   

3 p.m. Melissa

The break time was announced and met with little enthusiasm. Some jammers, clearly in the zone, reject the interruption. Others have just returned from staggered break times with their group members and do not feel the need to break so soon. An organizer started writing out team names on the board but gives up on that endeavor as the jammers talk over her in their planning.

4 p.m. Aaron

The teams that are present during my arrival are Team Guardian Frontier and Space Shark. Then, two boys appear.

The duo consists of Riley Jones and Luke Sloop. They are working on a game that features a crab with a colony of shrimp. You control the shrimp and perform certain tasks with them. Jones thinks of the mutually beneficial relationships in marine biology when he hears the theme of this game jam. He thinks of how one big animal needs small animals to clean it while the small animals find the big animal a nice place to stay. This duo has been part of previous game jams. Riley does the art aspects of the game while Luke does the programming and mechanics. The duo met each other through other friends and began to work together during the spring semester of their freshman year.

Continuing on with Tyler Johnson of Space Shark, so far the team has created three out of four of the tracks they were making. He is currently working on the track for the wild character named Cleetus. Johnson has referred to old country music to help give him inspiration for theme track of the son. He uses an unconventional guitar tuning that is D flat tuning (the most common guitar tuning is Standard E). This tuning could be inspired by stoner rock/metal bands such as Sleep, Kyuss and Queens of the Stone Age.

5 p.m. Aaron

Work continues on as usual for the teams. Everyone is focused on their work but retains casual conversations with laughter and banter.

The boys of JEM++ so far have most of the basic mechanics of their game. They will be using sample pieces of music as the team does not have a musician in the group.

I begin talking to team Pixelsprite. This team typically does Adventure/RPG games but decided to make a side-scrolling game this time for the convenience. According to Jahdiel Couchman, the previous Game Jam taught them a lot from the sheer scope of what they were trying to do last time.

6 p.m. Aaron

The members of Anticipate (formerly Pixelsprite) present their game, “Bug Out” on Jan 27. Photo by Niyathi Sulkunte.

Continuing on with Pixelsprite, Jahdiel Couchman states that if they were given more than just 48 hours, they would have converted the side scrolling game into an adventure game.

As I write my observational notes, the team is very quiet and focuses on the programming aspect of the game. Couchman uses a calculator on his phone to help calculate the place of the pixels and the animations. This will help him know if the items are way too close or too far.

Couchman demonstrates how he is programming the game. At the time of this writing, he is working on placing the items during the game. He hopes to make the items randomly generate after each level, as well as making the vacuum move faster. The items featured in the game are spiders, webs, ledges, walls, etc. Couchman also uses a blank sheet of paper to draw out the level layout to help plan out on what is doing. This is where he would measure out the ledges.

7 p.m.  Elissa

When I walk into the main room 140, there are a number of groups at work. Sometimes, the lines between them are blurred, as the computer-filled room’s setup requires the teams to format themselves in rows.

The duo Worst Case Scenario’s tile/trap game now has a name: “Mistep.” They’ve made significant progress and feel confident about their ability to finish before 3 p.m. tomorrow, the suggested time to submit games before the server begins too slow. Coder Jonothon Sigman believes he’s conquered his hardest challenge: linking the traps to specific tiles. While he had worked on trying to link multiple traps to one tile this morning, that plot has now been abandoned. Now, each tile can only have one trap. He is now embarking on making the game transfer from one round to the next. Mike Dorn’s animations are complete for at least four traps, as well as the movement of characters walking side-to-side. Each small animation takes him between 2 – 2.5 hours. President Alexus Smith travels to each team in the room giving them advice and supporting their endeavors.

I take a trip down the hall to room 154, where I find a group of six people including some members of the team House on Fire. They sit around a table with a hand-made game board consisting of squares and three different kinds of dice. The group is all alumni, mostly ex-officers of the club. According to Taylor White, the unique board game is called “Mundane Heroes” and was created at a Game Jam a couple of years ago. It is now a tradition. It functions a bit like “Dungeons and Dragons,” with a game master leading a group of heroes on an adventure. The trick is that they all have lackluster superpowers, such as the ability to summon a toddler. The adventure they are currently on features one of the players, who has the ability to talk to demons but not to understand them. Unfortunately, this means the group is now under attack by a demon. Actions made to try and avoid the demon include throwing food out of a window and hiding in a barrel.

8 p.m. Elissa

Three members of the PJammers spend a decent part of this hour trying to plan how the conversation feature of their friendship-building game will operate. The team has set up positive and negative responses to prompts made by the various characters. The debate is whether they should create and program the conversation to have multiple threads and tracks based on how the player responds. Instead, they decide that choosing a negative response will simply send the player back to the last stage of the conversation. Beyond this, they have completed designing the apartment and are working on perfecting how the gym conversation will operate. Once that conversation is completed, they will be able to easily copy the coding format for the other characters and places. The list of planned settings the main character can travel to is currently: the park, a general store, the bar, work, the gym and a bookstore. Rewards one can win for friendship include coupons, alcohol and a lucky pen. The team wants to finish the game before 3 p.m. but seems nervous about their ability to do so. They split up to write the conversation scripts and draw the backgrounds for the other places/characters in the game. Their fourth member, Naima Karzouz, is working on some of the backgrounds from home. She is also in charge of music for the game.

I check back in with the musician Tyler Johnson from Space Shark. He has moved on from Cleetus and is now almost complete with the music for the character Douglas. Since Douglas is a dwarf, Johnson would like him to have a Celtic-inspired sound. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have an electronic bagpipes (though he does have a number of electronic instruments, from cellos and drums to sitars and synths). He rejects the idea of sampling something, and thus decides to use his guitar instead. After he is done with this track, he will move on to creating the theme for AesirBeard.

Matthew Ballard of JEM++. Photo by Niyathi Sulkunte.

9 p.m. Elissa

An update on JEM++: Jonathan Keku suspects that the team will have no trouble finishing their game in time. At the moment, he believes that the only things they have left to do are create a game over screen, create a better feedback system for players and work on improving the graphics. He is in charge of the latter part and is thinking of creating some animations for when the houses “come to life,” primarily a sparkle effect. He has also created a simple animation of a bouncing/jumping house for when the houses join the chain and travel around the map.

An update on Guardian Frontier: Two members of the team, Dillon Zhong and Irvin Naylor, work on creating the dialogue system and finalizing the art for the game. They have just recovered from a three-hour set back in which the code for the dialogue stopped functioning when they were trying to give it the ability to change for different characters. After strenuous troubleshooting, they finally found the one word that was throwing off the code. While they’ve since fixed the issue, this unfortunately means the two are back to solving the problem of switching characters. The team plans on working overnight to finish the code by tomorrow morning. As of right now, they plan for the game to consist of an introduction, three chapters and a conclusion. It will have four characters. First is Alan, a magic character the player will assume the role of. There is also Mage, a magical hunter, Mark, an engineered soldier from the year 2050, and Calendella, a “regular” soldier from an alternate-universe Earth.

10 p.m. Elissa

Catching up with Pixelsprite, Jahdiel Couchman is working on trying to solve a problem in the code. As the ant moves through the level, it comes into contact with a number of objects. While all of these objects are not squares, invisible squares called “collision boxes” appear around them. These squares are what the ant collides with, and unfortunately, they aren’t lined up exactly with the non-square-shaped objects (meaning it sometimes looks like the ant is floating in space). Couchman would like to simply code for the objects at the same time as the boxes. Organizer Hansel Wei walks over to the group to provide suggestions, though it eventually seems to be unavoidable. Couchman will have to code for the collision boxes and actual game objects separately. Meanwhile, Stephanie Lam works on creating the title page for the game. This presents a challenge as the game still does not have a working title.

Wei explains to me that there are actually three Game Jams a year at UNC Charlotte. Two are local 49er Game Jams. These occur in the fall and late spring. The Game Developers club that hosts them typically tries to find sponsors for the events to provide things like food and caffeinated drinks. The Global Game Jam is consistently in January. Sponsors for Global Jams provide things like code and access to their platforms.

When I walk past room 154, the group of six alumni is still playing tabletop games.

11 p.m. Elissa

Team Space Shark works on their character, AesierBeard. Photo by Niyathi Sulkunte.

Team Space Shark is at the point in which they have a working prototype of their game, “Home Field.” They seem surprised by the fact they actually feel like they might have a shot at finishing the game before 3 p.m. Still, there is a lot of work to do. Things still on the to-do list include: a “win” screen, a flashy death animation, adding in the music and the hardest task: trying to make the game use Xbox controllers instead of keyboard commands. They are also considering adding voice lines. Chris Sanchez and Timothy Walker are currently debating over a piece of code that has abruptly stopped working. While they know the code is either A) the one allowing players to select a character or B) the one that carries that character selection on to the next screen; they are unsure which of the two it is.

The biggest area of uncertainty for the fighting-style game is trying to tie it to the theme of “what home means to you.” Currently, the team is running with adding backstories to the four characters that will allow each one to represent a different type of home. For example, the pirate AesierBeard’s ship is always moving and rapidly changing while the dwarf Douglas never leaves his enclosed cave. The team seems unsure of how to make this tie to the theme clear and are toying with the idea of having the backstories appear during the character selection screen.

Midway through the hour, Jonathan Keku plugs his Nintendo Switch into the projector and turns on the game “One Strike” for attendees to play. The room seems torn between watching and trying to ignore it to focus on their work. By the end of a couple rounds though, the room is mostly invested and cheers and laughs at the game.

Sunday

12 a.m. Elissa

As the night (or early morning, depending on how one decides to view it) wears on, discussion about the lack of a “dark room” begins. In the past, the group would book a room specifically for attendees to sleep in without having to leave the Jam. There is not one for this Jam, though people have still brought blankets, pillows, etc. While the dark room was nice for convenience, Marketing Officer Dylan Zhong points out that it wasn’t without issues. People would often walk in and out at varying times, meaning people would be forced awake without planning to be. Without a dark room, attendees have previously slept under tables and in spaces by windows. This seems to be the plan for tonight. Considering the fact that it is absolutely frigid outside, I understand the urge not to leave.

The game playing on the main screen has switched to “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.” The members of Space Shark have been in full control of the Switch since it started. Team Worst Case Scenario leaves, agreeing to meet back in the morning.

The Game PJammers have made a lot of progress in the past four hours. Their debate about how the conversation feature will work is settled. They now have functioning animations for four out of their six characters; scripts have been written for three. At the moment, Axel Melendez is working on completing those last scripts and characters. Meanwhile, Shaquiel Smith is creating the gifts/rewards. Naima Karzouz works on designing the backgrounds at home which she then sends in remotely via Discord. She completes the bookstore scene.

1 a.m. Noah

Preparing for a run to Cookout, the jammers continue to play “Smash Bros. Ultimate” and work on their code as they wait for the groups heading out to be ready. Usually, this event is done as a walk to the actual fast-food hotspot, but due to the near 30 degree temperature outside, travel by car is the preferred method. I ride along with Hansel Wei, Dylan Zhong and Jacob Miller. We talk about our classes in computer science.

2 a.m. Noah

After the recharge from Cookout, some jammers head home, some prepare to sleep and the rest continue what work they can with the energy they still have.

Guardian Frontier presents their game “Where the heart is” on Jan 27. Photo by Niaythi Sulkunte.

3 a.m. Noah

I talk with Dylan Zhong, the sole remaining jammer from Guardian Frontier at this point, a little about what the game itself will turn out as. There is the visual novel aspect as a front for the main protagonist, and the different flashbacks split off into different gameplay variants. The main three discussed include a platformer, a top-down isometric shooter (similar to “Hotline Miami” or “Enter the Gungeon”) and a run ’n gun style game inspired by “Mega Man.” The team has done these different kinds of gameplay as individual games at previous game jams, so the idea is to take this experience into one package. This is the team’s fourth game jam, and when asked about whether he thought they would finish in time, Dylan Zhong said that with cutting certain corners and some retooling, it is always a for sure thing. Essentially, what you can consider “finished” is always subjective.

4 a.m. Noah

Part of the remaining jammers still here are either sleeping or hard at work continuing their games. Dylan Zhong from Guardian Frontier continues programming on his game, as do Vishal Naik and Jahdiel Couchman of Pixelsprite and Shaquiel Smith and Axel Melendez of The Game PJammers. Some time is spent watching short skit videos with Couchman, Naik, Smith and Melendez in an attempt to unwind. Upon asking about their team name, both Couchman and Naik made it clear that they wanted a name change from Pixelsprite. The group opens it up as a discussion for other suggestions, as well as ideas for a name for their ant-themed game. Some ideas included “A Bug’s Life Sucks” and “Bug Out.” Deep theological questions on whether Dr. Pepper actually has his Ph.D. are also discussed, and it is becoming increasingly apparent that the late-night hours are having an effect on all of us.

5 a.m. Noah

Members of “House on Fire” at work. Photo by Niyathi Sulkunte.

I check in on the alumni group House on Fire, though the team has already retired for the evening. Two are asleep on desks, one is on a bed of rolling chairs and the other is in a sleeping bag on the floor. This is a wise decision, as they’ll need as much energy as they can as the deadline approaches. I shadow in on Pixelsprite, and after a bit of explaining in how the designing of levels and the use of XY coordinates work, I get to try out the game for myself. The main objective for Jahdiel Couchman right now is still to make different designs for half of the level so that they can be randomly matched to create a new level on each play. The artwork done by Stephanie Lam is really good, even without considering the amount of time that has been given thus far. Eventually getting into a discussion about game design courses offered in the computer science department, they soon become focused on debating “The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim” versus its predecessor, “Oblivion.”

6 a.m. Noah

Heading into the morning hours, I sit down with Vishal Naik of Pixelsprite, who gives me a look into adding a smoke effect for the vacuum in his game, which at first glance would seem like a simple task. Essentially an image is used that has multiple sub-images of smoke that gives the effect that it is real, like a gif. There are then a number of values associated with getting it into the level in the correct spot, size, transparency and much more. It’s clear that Naik has a good understanding of how this process works, and he even is able to explain it in a way that makes sense to myself as well. It is a great example of how little things in games can be taken for granted when in reality there is a whole process and amount of time needed to even implement something as simple as a trail of smoke. It makes me much more appreciative of those kinds of things in games, and for the endless number of names in the credits that appear in your typical triple-a game. Satisfied with the progress made, both the jammers left from Pixelsprite and The Game PJammers make a trip to McDonalds for breakfast/dinner.

7 a.m.  Noah

Dylan Zhong remains the only person left coding for the time being and has just finished the dialogue boxes for his game, the visual novel aspect specifically. This gets his team over a tremendous hurdle where a good portion of the work now is to get some art assets created and added in. He now would like to get some sleep. As the sun rises, the McDonalds crew also makes their return with newfound energy. The PJammers present now, Shaquiel Smith and Axel Melendez, both have been working on multiple aspects of the game. Now those pieces are coming together at once so the pair is obviously very excited.

8 a.m. Elissa

When I arrive, only one PJammer remains. The room is mostly empty, and a couple of attendees are asleep at their desks (plus one in a sleeping bag on the floor). Hansel Wei attempts to get some sleep while sitting in his supervising chair. The sound of light snoring fills the room, only interrupted by Pixelsprite’s Jahdiel Couchman as the lone attendee coding. Talking feels like disturbing the peace. Eventually, two other coders awake and work silently on their projects.

9 a.m. Elissa

Finally, there is some semblance of conversation and life. A couple of the coders break into “Tell Me Why,” by the Backstreet Boys, blaming it on the long hours and delirium.

Worst Case Scenario returns; they’ve come a long way since I last spoke to them. “Mistep” is now a (mostly) working game with spike, pit and dart traps functioning. The duo is in the process of playtesting the game for bugs and creating a final to-do list. The main goal is refining the already created traps, and adding in springs and rocks. They tried to create the rock trap last night but decided to come back to it later after it caused persistent issues. Other things on the list include walking and death animations, finding public domain music and fixing some lighting problems with the game.

10 a.m. Elissa

Everyone works diligently at their games. The room is largely silent except for when bugs appear in someone’s work.

An update on Space Shark: This group largely didn’t work overnight and remains about where I left them on Saturday evening. Only one of their team members, Hamilton Rice, is currently on site. He is working on completing some of the final animations; other tasks that need to be finished are adding in Tyler Johnson’s music and playtesting for bugs.

An update on Guardian Frontier: This team still has a fair amount of work to do, probably because their game seems to be one of the more elaborate ones. Irvin Naylor is adding color to the hand-drawn character designs; he will then scan them in Atkins Library to digitize them. Dillon Zhong is working on coding the platforming round of the game. Other rounds still need to be coded for, and the dialogue also has a couple of holes left. Four members of their team will be arriving soon to help finish the process.

The goal of their game is to allow their main character to learn what home means from their three other OCs, each of which has their own definition. What are those definitions? For Mark, it is the idea of not being alone and creating a family of friends that will support you. For Calendella, home is whenever and wherever she can be in contact with her family and know that they are okay (even if that is just via letter form since they are separated by distance). Alan defines his home as being located within himself, sort of like a self-assuredness that he will be okay.

Members of independent team “Game Dev Pro” rush to meet the 3 p.m. deadline. Photo by Niyathi Sulkunte.

11 a.m. Elissa

I travel down the hall to rooms 144 and 145, where most of the alumni and independent teams are working. There I find the team Game Dev Pro, which is composed of a group of adults that attend Meetup game design events at Central Piedmont Community College. Outside of game design, they range from a college student to an eighth-grade teacher to a programmer at Duke Energy. Since UNC Charlotte’s Game Jam is the official Charlotte location, they’ve been using the space during the day but returning home to work at night. Their game’s concept focuses on a young artist living with his overbearing, controlling parents. His “home” is art which he must use to escape his physical house. There is still a significant amount of work to be done; models, the combat system and a boss are only partially completed. Team member Alec Ziskund tells me the goal for today is simply to complete one level and one boss. As a whole, Game Dev Pro wishes they had been able to spend more time working on the game.

An update on Upside Down Bird: This team did not visit campus yesterday, but has returned with an almost-completed driving game titled “Cruise Ctrl.” The aforementioned map still blocks one’s view, but now it also causes changes to the viewer’s perception via filters. When I play, the map causes the game to look blurry and turn into a green notepad. I am absolutely awful at the game, though I am consoled by the fact no one else has made it home yet either. The team is especially proud of the comedic commercials that play on the vehicle’s radio which were crowdsourced from friends using Facebook and Google Voice. The only things left to complete are simple logistics, such as finishing the credits, completing the main menu and inserting a “real” house instead of a simple placeholder one.

An update on House on Fire: Progress is going slowly. Team member Ryan Carpenter is worried about the team’s ability to finish in time but reminds himself that a majority of the coding typically occurs in the last couple of hours at the Game Jam. For now, they have the basic set of the room. However, they still need to add in the puzzles and interactive aspects.

12 p.m. Elissa

Team member Eric King of JEM++ tells me the group is at “rush point.” They’ve rejected the concept of adding any new ideas and are simply sticking with polishing what they currently have. This means adding some simple missing animations for the houses and as well as background music and sounds.

The Game PJammers are also hard at work putting all the pieces of their game together. Currently, three of them are working to code in all of the characters’ dialogues. There are still two locations and two characters left to be animated as well. The exhaustion in this group is palpable (Shaquiel Smith is taking a nap on the desk when I arrive), but they are confident and driven to finish in time.

1 p.m. Elissa

All four members of Pixelsprite collaborate, determined to complete the game by 3 p.m. Charlotte Barrett is searching for music/sound effects for public use. Vishal Naik is still working on the vacuum’s smoke and adding powerups while Stephanie Lam attempts to create 10 different color variations of the game’s background. Jahdiel Couchman has headphones on and talks to no one as he concentrates on coding the game to have new levels generate one right after the other.

The teams are quite aware of the time crunch.

2 p.m. Elissa

While the teams rush to complete their tasks, I interview Game Developers at UNC Charlotte’s President, Alexus Smith.

Smith was elected President almost three years ago, after attending only one Game Jam and maybe two meetings. She had a history of leadership experience and a strong background in computer science. In all, her election took less than 15 minutes. While the Game Developers have been around long enough that only alumni remember when and how the group started, Smith’s goal has always been to maintain and grow the club. She says, “My main focus was to make sure that it existed, no matter what, outside of just the people who always want to do Game Jams, so that there is something for other people that are going to come along and will eventually be just as passionate as them.”

In the past three years, a number of things have changed in the structure of the organization. The days and structure of meetings, the roles of eboard members and the addition of a Discord channel are also components of that list. The club has also shifted to trying heavily to recruit from outside CCI. “When people are like ‘I’m a musician,’ we’re like ‘Yes!’” states Smith. She continues, “Because we are always trying to bring artists and musicians more than programmers. Everybody will eventually program on the team. So we feel like we should supply teams that need that type of specific…you know, someone that can hear and write specific music, or artists, assets. That’s the type of person you need.”

Since I’ve talked to only three women participants during the entirety of the Game Jam, I ask her about her experience as a woman in computer science. She notes that my experience of representation at Game Jam is pretty comparable to her classes where she has typically only seen five or six (always less than 10) women. When asked what that experience is like, she remembers a time recently where a student in her ethics class asked the professor why equality of the sexes in computer science is important. Why is it important? Smith references a study that was published in the American Journal of Public Health that demonstrated that women were more likely to die in car crashes because all the safety features (seatbelts, airbags) were designed with crash test dummies that were men. If more women had been involved, she argues, that would change. She also discusses the fact that Dr. Fatma Mili became the Dean of the College of Computing and Informatics last year. Smith tells me that as an employee of the department, “She’s [the Dean] taken the good staff that we already have and worked with them to say: ‘How do we do this?’ And they haven’t just been like ‘Okay, we’ll quietly implement changes and see if we like them.’ They’ve actually taken the time to be like ‘We’re going to host a forum, we’re going to have one-on-ones.’ The personal assistant of the Dean wants to meet with us next week to talk about what is going on with the college. So I do see the change…it is happening.”

3 p.m. Aaron

One of the members of Chip Boat, the team responsible for “25-Piece Shrimp Meal Organic Fresh-Caught.” Photo by Niyathi Sulkunte.

I go to catch up with the duo of Riley Jones and Luke Sloop (later known as the team Chip Boat). They are currently test running their shrimp-themed game and adding any else to refine the game. Jones stated that this is a game he is really proud of due to the amount of work they’ve put into the game. He cited the fact that the Game Jam was very early on the semester and that he did not have anything major in his classes to prioritize as reasons the team was able to be very creative and put so much effort into their work.

Jones has noted that the teams in this Game Jam are more ambitious than the previous ones. The title of their game is called, “Fresh Cut Organic 25 Piece Shrimp Meal.” According to Jones, having long titles for their games has been a running gag for a very long time.

I notice that the atmosphere in the room is very vibrant. People are either still working or are talking to each other and laughing. I can only assume that this is due to it being the final hours of the Game Jam. They can at least relax a bit before presenting their games.

4 p.m. Aaron

Checking in on Space Shark, all of the animations that Hamilton Rice made are finished while Tyler Johnson is importing all of the music into the game. They are also testing the game out so they can deal with bugs. One of the bugs in particular features characters being stuck on the floor after performing a particular jump. At the moment Rice does not have a solution to the problem. Regarding his final thoughts on this year’s Game Jam, Rice feels proud. He says that he is much more prepared this time and that this Game Jam was able to fit into his schedule better than last year’s.

I check in with the boys of Worst Case Scenario. Apparently, a game bug has been very persistent and caused a delay in turning in the game. They now expect to be finished by 5 p.m.

5 p.m. Aaron

Mike Dorn from Worst Case Scenario talks to me about the bug in their game. The rock trap that they were working on was described as a “sentient being.” When this trap was activated, one of three things would happen. One, every trap in the field would activate. Two, a random trap in the field would activate the rock. Three, the trap would shoot diagonally across the field like a meteor. The solution for this rock trap? They had to delete everything involving the rock trap and replace it with a GIF that features an animation of the rock falling down. That GIF solved a lot of problems. According to Dorn, this bug took over three hours to settle. The other bugs that they were handling were effectively dealt with. It has already been announced to that they made the upload deadline.

Some of the people involved in the Game Jam had begun to pack up and leave. The link to the server to submit the game is shown on the projector. There are still some teams left working on the finishing touches and uploading their games. It leaves me wondering if 48 hours is enough for people.

6 p.m. Aaron & Noah

Overhearing the conversations of various teams, they are quite relieved about having the whole thing come to an end. The overall atmosphere is in good spirits. Some team members said cheers before drinking their soda.

—-

Final Teams and Games

Anticipate (formerly Pixelsprite)

Anticipate displayed their platformer “Bug Out,” which has players take control of an ant escaping a vacuum trying to make its way to its hole/home. The final game features random level generation, matching two of six different level designs together to make each playthrough different. Jahdiel Couchman handled programming and the mixup system of the level design, Charlotte Barrett worked on the different levels themselves, Vishal Naik worked on the background, powerups and smoke effect of the vacuum and Stephanie Lam created the game’s terrific retro art style.

Chip Boat

Chip Boat created a sea-exploration action game entitled “25-Piece Shrimp Meal Organic Fresh-Caught.” A game that allows one to take control of a crab rounding up shrimp, the game’s underwater art style works well with the given backdrop. While there were only two enemies by the end of the jam, they were unique enough in design and play that they kept things interesting. The angler-like fish had a cute animation and could eat the shrimp that you shoot at them, while the starfish became a pest by knocking away your shrimp and stunning them. Riley Jones handled the art for the game and Luke Sloop did the majority of the programming.

Guardian Frontier

An ambitious project at first, “Where the heart is” is a visual novel that leads to different forms of gameplay at certain story beats. The game follows the protagonist to multiple characters that will each teach the player what home means to them. The game was originally set to include a different form of gameplay for each character’s flashback. However, due to time constraints, this was limited to one platforming level in which the player takes on the persona of a soldier named Calendula, whose flashback involves a game of hide-and-seek with her siblings. Dillon Zhong worked as programmer, designer and project manager. With him was programmer Justin Carrasquillo, 3D-modeler/programmer Michael Helwig, programmer/writer Jacob Miller, programmer Hashim Qureshi, designer Don Albert Collins, artist/programmer Irvin Naylor and artist/designer Christina Andre.

The Game PJammers

The game that probably meshes the best with the Jam’s central theme, “Jem’s Adventure,” finds players in control of Jem, a character who just moved to a new city and is looking to make friends. The main theme behind the game is “home is where your friends are,” which was inspired by one of the game’s own developers, Shaquiel Smith. Smith moved to the U.S. from Jamaica and was faced with the challenge of making new friends himself. The game’s other two programmers were Kristian “Axel” Melendez and Martin Gutierrez. Melendez also authored the game’s story, as well as contributed to the art with the team’s artist, Naima Karzouz. Karzouz also created the game’s soundtrack. The game had an overall wholesome vibe which can really be attributed to its great character animation.

Space Shark

With inspiration taken from “Super Smash Bros.,” “Home Field” is a retro fighting game with four main characters with vastly different backgrounds. There is Heinrich, a hellspawn focused on fire-centered attacks, AieserBeard, deadly captain of the S.S. Grimeback, Cleetus,  a powerful mountain man, and Douglas, a muscular dwarf who spends a majority of his time mining in caves. Just from the well-designed main menu and heavy metal soundtrack, “Home Field” immediately leaves a positive impression. The game was also a huge hit with the crowd during its presentation and garnered a lot of laughter during matches. Chris Sanchez and Timothy Walker took on programming, whereas Hamilton Rice worked on the art and Tyler Johnson handled the concept design and music.

Upside Down Bird

A well-oiled machine with experience making games, Upside Down Bird created the game “Cruise Ctrl.” For the team’s roles, Benjamin Hamrick, David Dempsey and Matthew Schwiebert handled programming. Working on music was Aaron Schwiebert, Nick DeJohn and Cyrus Homesley. Mike Murray worked on level design and Nick Eldridge handled design ideas, crowdsourcing and food runs. In line with the Jam’s theme, the objective of the game is to drive a car to “the daily final destination” — aka home. The actual driving mechanics are intentionally difficult, which can lead to some funny moments. As discussed in their presentation, another challenge in the game is that to see your long-term destination, you have to block your short-term sight by using your map. Not only does it cover up the entire screen, but once it is put away, a distortion to the screen is added as well. This was the team’s first year without an artist, though they did have the three musicians, so music played a large role via the form of the car’s radio which dictated the speed of the car.

JEM++

A sort of combination of “Snake” and “Pac-Man,” “Home Run” has you play as a house chasing other runaway homes, slowly building a chain of houses. The game features a nice upbeat theme song and meshes well with the 3-D, isometric-like art style. You have the option of picking either a small map or a big map, the latter of which definitely fits its adjective of choice. Eric King and Matthew Ballard worked as the game’s programmers, and Jonathan Keku oversaw the game’s art.

Worst Case Scenario

This duo created the two-player game, “Mistep,” in which your goal is to beat your opponent to a prize hidden in a tile-based grid. To sabotage your opponent, you can utilize a number of different traps. The game’s setting is an ancient temple, and the traps are similarly-themed. They include pits, spikes and darts. There were multiple maps planned, though only the temple was ready for the demo. At one point in the jam, the team had the choice of paying for their licensed music or buying a pizza. They chose the music. There is also a funny victory animation for the victor. Jonothon Sigman handled the programming side while Mike Dorn helped with the design and created the art.

No Name

“Boxing” is about moving, and in regards to the theme, runs on the notion home is always on the move. Played in a 3-D space, the game simply has you boxing up items from your house as you move to your new home. Items include rotary phones, slim vases and even your own baby. Once the boxes are packed up, you are immediately taken to your new home, where only the rotary phones will follow you due to a bug in the game. With no team name, the game was created by James Kingdon and Vuong Le. They created the game outside of the space used by Game Developers at UNCC but came in to present their final work.

House on Fire

An ambitious project created for the HTC Vive, “Fire Buddies” is a cooperative game for virtual reality. The main premise is that the player with the headset is in a wheelchair and must guide his blind brother (the player without the headset) to escape their house fire. The team was composed of alumni such as Ryan Carpenter, William Karnavas, Michael Pedersen, Ryan Cook and Bijan Razavi. Vuong Le contributed voice acting. 

Game Dev Pro

This team, composed of Richard Camara, Lynden Hill, Alec Ziskund, Manaka Green and Keith Isham, created the game “Tasukete.” The premise is that the player takes on the role of a young artist trapped in his house by his overbearing parents. He then realizes that art is his true “home.” Gameplay is centered around escaping his overbearing parents and the family home he is enclosed in.

You can play the games and read more about the teams here: https://globalgamejam.org/2019/jam-sites/university-north-carolina-charlotte/games

Correction: The article originally stated that Hansel Wei was the organization’s Treasurer. Wei is actually the Secretary.

“Technique” by New Order 30 years later

Album Art Courtesy of Factory Records

Imagine being part of a highly important band that combines post-punk and dance music. You’re the one behind club hits such as “Blue Monday,” “Bizzare Love Triangle,” “The Perfect Kiss” and “True Faith,” but can you keep this up forever? Can you repeat this after doing it in the past three albums?

This was a question for New Order. By the late 1980s, they had outgrown their days as Joy Division and created a unique sound in records such as “Power, Corruption & Lies” and “Low-Life.” But it wasn’t going to remain like this forever. Already, they were suffering from financial troubles for co-owning the infamous Hacienda nightclub with their record label, Factory, and there was a bit of division over how the band was going to take their music.

According to lead singer Bernard Sumner, “We were in this position of being known for this dance-electronic sound and it would have been daft to have just stopped doing it.” However, bass player Peter Hook wanted New Order to retain their rock sound and jokingly described the process of making “Technique” as “an epic power struggle between the sequencers and me.”

It wasn’t hard to understand this struggle, especially as the times were changing in the late 1980s. In Britain, there was the rise of acid house music, particularly in their hometown of Manchester. Younger bands such as Happy Mondays and The Stone Roses emerged. Their contemporaries were heading in different directions. The Smiths split up in 1987, Echo & the Bunnymen would see the departure of lead singer, Ian McCulloch, and Depeche Mode would move towards a more darker sound before achieving worldwide success in the 1990s.

So for New Order, a change was in the air. They decided to make the album in the island of Ibiza under Hook’s insistence. At Ibiza, the band was immersed in the local Balearic club music. This fascination saw the band slowly worked on the album and returned to Britain where the album was finished. But their experiences had greatly influenced the making of “Technique.”

The opening track “Fine Time” made it clear New Order has brought in a fresh sound to them. “Fine Time” retained the danceability of their old sound but with a big dose of ecstasy. The bopping synths and low-pitched sample voice gave new life to the band. This is continued in tracks such as “Mr. Disco” and “Vanishing Point.”

Even with those upbeat dance tracks, the simple rock tracks are here as well in tracks such as “Dream Attack” and “Run.” While they are more introspective in comparison, they provide a good balance that shows the diversity that New Order brought this time around.

You can argue that this was probably the band’s best album to date. They created a cohesive album experience that provided diversity that never got boring. The production was very unique in that it retained some of the quirks of its time period but also tried to bring something new, and they managed to do this while facing creative stagnation.

It’s these kinds of stories where a person (or in this case, a group of people) are entering at a crossroads of whether they will suffer creative burnout or bring something new that can add a layer of creativity and versatility to their art. “Technique” 30 years later remains an important moment that allowed a highly influential band to make their legacy even better.

Label: Factory

Listen to “Technique” on Spotify.

Best Songs of 2018 as Selected by A&E Writers

Album art courtesy of Tessa Violet.

Elissa Miller

4. “Trip a Little Light Fantastic” by the “Mary Poppins Returns” Cast: If there was a machine that you could throw your interests in to create a new product, the entirety of the movie “Mary Poppins Returns” would be my result. A sequel to one of my favorite movies? Check. Lin-Manuel Miranda as a character reminiscent of Bert the Chimney Sweep, my first childhood crush? Check. London as a backdrop for musical theater? You got it. While the movie is not a perfect film, “Trip a Little Light Fantastic” is a practically-perfect song and dance number. Clearly mirroring “Step In Time” from the first film, this is Lin-Manuel Miranda’s (and the movie’s) biggest number. It absolutely screams classic musical theater in both sound and design. Honestly, this felt extremely cathartic, because while I’ve loved the recent resurgence of musical films, they’ve generally failed to truly recapture that signature style. The dancing is absolutely breathtaking. The song is catchy and upbeat. Lin-Manuel Miranda looks like he is literally made of sunshine. I cried.

3. “Burn the House Down” by AJR: AJR crafted a perfect album with “The Click” in 2017. It was hard to imagine that adding anything could improve it, yet “The Click (Delux Edition)” somehow managed to do so when it included four new songs. While I’m a fan of generally every new addition, this the absolute best of them. It is a loud, angry anthem that reflects on Twitter and modern-day protest culture, while still being able to function as a dance track. The band allowed it to be used in conjunction with the March for Our Lives movement earlier this year. Everything about it, from the musical style (the horns in this are GREAT) to the lyrics, is compelling. More songs like this in 2019, please.

2. “Bad Ideas” by Tessa Violet: While Tessa Violet made waves with her other release, “Crush,” this year, I’m quite partial to this second song. One of many musicians to first find their audience on YouTube, Violet has continuously grown as an artist to create a signature style. This is incredibly clear with “Bad Ideas,” which stands out among indie-pop releases for its unique sound. Lyrically, it explores the concept of falling for someone you really don’t want to, while sounding upbeat and light as a musical piece. The music video for this is also a great time and uses color in one of the best ways I’ve ever seen. Violet will continue releasing her new album as singles in 2019; I’m incredibly excited to see how it evolves.

1. “Everybody’s Lonely” by Jukebox the Ghost: I definitely link songs to specific times and places in my life. “Everybody’s Lonely,” off Jukebox the Ghost’s fifth album, “Off To The Races,” was the distinct soundtrack of my study abroad trip in the spring. I listened to it during bus commutes, while stuck in airports and when typing papers at the very last minute. It is extremely fun to listen and sing along to, yet it is also complex musically. It uses a number of instruments and vocal layering; soundwise it is largely reminiscent of the band Queen. I cannot recommend it enough.

Photo courtesy of Sony Classical Records.

Noah Howell

4. “Spidey-Bells (A Hero’s Lament) by Chris Pine: “Into the Spider-Verse” was one of my favorite films of the year, and is easily the best animated feature of 2018. The whole ride is a spidey-bonanza, and waiting into the credits was worth the wait for this song alone. Chris Pine is hilarious here and he gives me the Spider-Man Christmas song I never knew I actually needed. This song, along with the album I discovered on Spotify after the movie, will be a staple in my Christmas playlist for years to come.

3. “Shockwave” by Elena Siegman: Easter egg songs are a staple within every zombies map in the “Call of Duty: Black Ops” series, and many of these, like “Shockwave,” are written by Kevin Sherwood and performed by Elena Siegman. There is a reason for this: simply because the duo is fantastic. Siegman’s vocal performance is always stellar, and while the lyrics take a bit to wrap your head around, her job on the song here is no different. I don’t usually find myself listening to much heavy rock/metal like this song, but perhaps it’s just a great backdrop to the actual gameplay of killing zombies that makes it work so well.

2. “That’s The Way it is” by Daniel Lanois: The score within “Red Dead Redemption 2” is already phenomenal, but the best moments of the game are the long, reflective horse rides which come after key story beats and feature songs from a variety of different artists. This song comes towards the game’s climax and is the perfect beat to go alongside the penultimate moment of the player’s journey. I can’t give away too much without risk of spoiling the game, but the song is right at home at this particular moment and is one that will stick with me for a while. 

1. “Kitster’s Song” by Trevor Moore: When a friend first suggested this song to me, I was on board right from hearing the title. A song about Anakin Skywalker’s somewhat obscure friend in “The Phantom Menace” who had only a handful of lines? Count me in. The song straddles the line of being outright hilarious and emotional all at once, with Moore singing from the point of view of Kitster years after his appearance on-screen, reminiscing on what his childhood friend — now Darth Vader — is doing these years later. I had never listened to Moore before this, but one thing is for certain, he knows his “Star Wars.” Parodies of “Star Wars” songs usually rely on simply changing up the lyrics of an already popular song, but Moore creates an entirely new song on his own for Kitster and it is a great one.

Album art for “EVERYTHING IS LOVE” courtesy of Parkwood Entertainment.

Breanna Herring

4. “Sauce All On Me” by CoCa Vango: Another song to contribute to my high self-esteem! This song raps about containing the sauce. “Sauce” is used to describe someone who has a style, confidence and attraction about them.

3. “Nice” by The Carters: Let’s be honest, The Carters are black royalty. This song serves as a confidence boost for me and motivates me to be successful. Some of the lyrics highlight how African Americans are told that they can do anything in America, but racism and inequality challenge the belief.

2. “Wasted Love Freestyle” by Jhené AikoThis song hit close to home for me. The song describes how sometimes our energy and love are not reciprocated back to us in a relationship. We find ourselves realizing that we wasted our time and energy on someone who was incapable of loving us the way we wanted to be loved.

1. “CPR” by Summer Walker: I adore Summer Walker and can completely relate to her and her music. The song “CPR” is a metaphor describing the artist’s lover. She characterizes his love as air bringing her back to life because she’s been misunderstood and alone for so long.

Album art for “Let’s Go Sunshine” courtesy of Lonely Cat Records.

Tyler Trudeau

4. “All the Stars” by Kendrick Lamar, SZA: As Marvel’s ‘Black Panther’ erupted onto the screen as one of 2018’s biggest movies, the soundtrack, curated by hip-hop icon Kendrick Lamar, also made waves as it brought some of the top names in hip-hop together to showcase the massive influence of the superhero hit. Featuring the likes of The Weeknd, Travis Scott, 2 Chainz and Future, the song that comes to my mind first lies in the Lamar and SZA team-up “All the Stars.” With it kicking off the end credits for the blockbuster film, the rhythmic ballad of SZA mixed with Lamar’s rap inklings remains one of the top tracks from the soundtrack.

3. ”Holy” by King Princess: One of the most enigmatic new artists I uncovered this year was Brooklyn native Mikaela Strauss, or as her fans know her, King Princess. A multi-instrumentalist with soulful vocals to match the atmospheric synth melodies that run behind her, Strauss has already made a name for herself as the next bold revolutionary in the queer-pop genre. As a proud member of the LGBTQ community, the artist has expertly carved her way to the top as one of the most promising new artists out there. While her early hit “1950” might have won the hearts of fellow artists Harry Styles, Halsey and Mark Ronson, her somewhat haunting track “Holy” off her debut EP echoes with sonic nuance and cinematic flair.

2. “No Pressure” by The Kooks: After grappling onto other alternative rock groups like Arctic Monkeys and The Strokes, the unique sound of English band The Kooks quickly drew me into a similar fascination into their more recent releases. While their hit 2006 track “Naive” made for a worthy song to lodge itself eternally within my brain, I didn’t initially pick up their later records until this year’s “Let’s Go Sunshine.” With the rest of the record offering a foot-tapping catalog of drunken nights and unrequited affections, the closing number of “No Pressure” perfectly captures the ease and joys of a new relationship.

1. “Superposition” by Young the Giant: Easily one of my most anticipated albums of the year, the latest record from indie rock outfit Young the Giant kicked off with a trio of sensational, cinematic and undeniably catchy tracks. Escorting us effortlessly into their newest collection of soul-searching tunes of lost love, adrift ambitions and super-sonic melodies, the best of the trio in ‘Superposition’ shows off the band’s talented and atmospheric instrumentals, as well as the dreamy vocal nuances of frontman Sameer Gadhia.   

Album art for “Joy As An Act Of Resistance” courtesy of Partisan Records.

Aaron Febre

4. “One Point Perspective” by Arctic Monkeys: It was pretty difficult to pick one track off the new Arctic Monkeys album as I was thoroughly impressed with the overall product. This song takes the cake due to the wonderful layering of instrumentation, Alex Turner’s witty and observable lyricism as well as one of his best vocal performances. Plus, this reminds me of the 1970s for inexplicable reasons.

3. “Baby I’m Bleeding” by JPEGMAFIA: Released in January, JPEGMAFIA’s “Veteran” is one of the most exciting and intense albums of the year. “Baby I’m Bleeding” shows JPEGMAFIA’s fierce flow that is backed-up with an abrasive production that will leave your jaws dropped. Go ahead and play this, you won’t find another hip-hop track (or album) of this year that as fierce as this one.

2. “Dilemma” by Death Grips: As if all of their music wasn’t crazy enough, Death Grips returned with an even crazier album that made their previous work look more accessible. Out of my favorites from “Year of the Snitch,” “Dilemma” is my favorite for various reasons. Spoken word by Andrew Adamson (the director of “Shrek”), MC Ride screaming “DILEMMA!”, the video-game synthesizer and too many things that are incomprehensible to digest even for a fan of Death Grips.

1. “I’m Scum” by Idles: English Punk band Idles returned with a new album (“Joy As An Act of Resistance”) that is catchier and angrier than their 2017 album, “Brutalism.” This track encompasses the overall sound of the new album: Joe Talbot’s gruff voice, the steady and danceable rhythm, dirty guitars, a chorus that drunk soccer (or football) fans can sing along to, and the theme of “say what you want, I don’t care” in the lyrics make this song a favorite.

Artwork for “TINTS” courtesy of Aftermath/12 Tone Music LLC.

Cecilia Whalen

4. “Bring Me Love” by John Legend: Yeah, it’s a Christmas song. I get it; Christmas is over. But I love John Legend, so I take what I can get. He definitely has one of the most beautiful voices of this generation, and this song is upbeat, well-arranged, and of course, well-sung.

3.“TINTS (feat. Kendrick Lamar)” by Anderson .Paak: I don’t think there’s anything smart I can say about this song, but it’s just fun to sing along and dance to, OK? Plus Kendrick Lamar is featured on it, so you know it’s gotta be a win.

2. “1985” by J. Cole: I love J. Cole’s voice and basically every song he’s done. This song is kind of a diss track to all those who have come out dissing him, but Cole doesn’t just cuss them out and be done with it. Cole warns them about the harm their attitudes and their lifestyles are causing themselves and others — and he doesn’t sound like a bully or a punk defending his own pride. Really, he sounds like a big brother looking out for the hip-hop community, while peppered with the occasional big brother boast.

1. “Brackets” by J. Cole: J. Cole knows how to use rhythm. While a lot of rappers tend to repeat a similar rhythmic pattern, triplet and sixteenth after triplet and sixteenth, Cole masters syncopation. This matched with his poetry creates a whole album of reflection and creativity, and “Brackets” is the climax of both of these musical attributes.

Album art for “Love” courtesy of Reprise Records.

Mayra Trujilo-Camacho

4. “Taki Taki” by Selena Gomez, Ozuna, Cardi B and DJ Snake: It’s a song I can dance to that has a mix of Spanish and English.

3. “Money” by Cardi B: I just think it’s a very catchy song and even a good workout song. It’s very hype.

2. “Scripted” by ZAYN: This song comes from his second album “Icarus Falls,” after leaving One Direction in 2015.  It is a love song with a creative melody and nice chill R&B background.

1. “Love You Anymore” by Michael Bublé: From his new album “Love,” which was released two years after his son was diagnosed with liver cancer. “Love You Anymore” is a very beautiful song. It’s more of a song to forget your ex, but it just has a very nice melody and aesthetic.

Album art for “CARE FOR ME” courtesy of Saba Pivot, LLC.

Arik Miguel

4. Shoota (feat. Lil Uzi Vert)” by Playboi Carti: When I listen to this song, I know that half of what I’m singing is my incorrect decipherings of Uzi and Carti’s mumble rapping. The other half of the lyrics have about as much depth as the line “money on the floor just like some shoes,” but maybe that’s not a bad thing. “Shoota” is fun just for the sake of being fun, and that’s really all we could have asked of these two besties in 2018.

3. “Hunnybee” by Unknown Mortal Orchestra: This is one the most gleefully infectious songs I have heard in a long time. “Hunnybeehas the power to evoke the childhood joy that comes from somersaulting down a grassy hill.

2. “PROM / KING” by Saba: “CARE FOR ME” is Saba’s greatest album yet, and “PROM / KING” is its emotional peak. The seven and a half minute song builds up slowly until Saba is rapping at breakneck speed, describing his cousin’s untimely death. Saba has always had an incredible gift for storytelling, but he’s never told his story as breathtakingly as this.

1. “Noid” by Yves Tumor: Yves Tumor intertwines beauty and violence in an incredibly jarring and exciting way. “Noid” is unlike any song I have heard in my life. Almost as if you asked an alien to compose a song about police brutality.

 

Listen to the music featured in this article via the Spotify playlist below!

Save Point Video Games: A Gaming Time Capsule

When it comes to video game stores, people tend to think of GameStop, the Wal-Mart of video game stores; the type of store that shows all of the latest games to have come out. But what about the older games, such as “Super Mario World?” Well, there’s a store here in Charlotte that sells these types of games. It’s called Save Point Video Games and it’s located on University Boulevard, which is right next to the Harris Teeter.

Save Point opened in 2012 and was started by Wilder Hamm, an avid gamer who often bought games from a store called Buy-Rite in Raleigh growing up. He was always interested in the store, and when he moved to Charlotte, he collected more games through the Internet and built his collection. “I was able to work from home by buying and selling lots of games which eventually led me to opening my own store in 2012.” he said. This was a break from what Hamm was doing prior to Save Point where he was working at dead-end jobs and jumping in-and-out of school.

One of the biggest reasons people buy video games at Save Point is nostalgia. “Many customers had these items growing up and either traded them away, sold them, lost them and so on,” Hamm said. “When they walk into my store, they immediately remember all their old games and miss them.”

Jeff Gerding, an employee and a friend of Hamm, adds that gamers on the Internet also play a role in people buying these games. “Streamers make the older games popular too by speedrunning them,” he said. ”I didn’t know anyone who can beat ‘Mario 3,’ but now I can pull up Twitch and see someone beat ‘Mario 3.’” Hamm also believes that parents who are gamers can play a role. “If their parents are interested in retro games, I think the kids will be at least turned on to it.”

The feeling of nostalgia hits right when one walks into the store as the soundtrack of games such as “Final Fantasy” blast in the background. The first notable thing is the various arcade and pinball machines. They invite visitors to sit down and play for a while, their colorful screens and flashing lights tempting a person’s eye. Above the pinball machines, there’s a large cardboard bust of Zelda (from “The Legend of Zelda”) looming over the store like a guardian angel. A large library of games from various time periods, such as the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) and the original PlayStation, are neatly organized in alphabetical order. Some specific titles range from popular fighting games such as “Super Smash Bros.” and “Street Fighter” to the cult classic fantasy game “Fire Emblem.”

The fact that Save Point is near UNC Charlotte puts it at an advantage. Students regularly visit Save Point and Hamm finds them to be a renewable source. Noah Holman, a senior in computer science, often visits Save Point. “I was definitely impressed,” he said, recalling his first time visiting the store. “It definitely gave me that mom-and-pop-esque-used-game-store feel, which I always liked.” Gerding always interacts with customers, regardless of their level of knowledge of video games. “Most customers do ask me about what games they should get,” Gerding said. “I try to get them the game that they should want based on their description.” Customers love talking to the staff about these games, it is similar to the feeling of when you finally see someone of your own kin in a foreign country. “I love to go there whenever I get to do so,” said Holman.

Photograph taken by Patrick Magoon

With the number of games in stock, it could be very tempting for an employee to buy these games for themselves. But in this case, it isn’t. Hamm no longer collects video games and focuses more on recommending games to customers, as well as keeping up with the latest news in the gaming industry. “I get more satisfaction out of helping gamers find the stuff that they are looking for.” he says.

The most noticeable part of the store is the massive glass display that contains the most expensive and rarest games the store can offer. The cheapest cost $20 and the most expensive can go up to nearly $100. These prices seduce gamers but frighten wallets and credit cards. “Prices are determined by market value,” Hamm said. “There are a couple of useful sources for finding out what people are actually paying for a game. The sites find nice averages that give you a good starting point for each game. Condition comes into play after that and can affect price.”

One video game that Hamm almost had in possession would have covered tuition for a year, “Stadium Events” was released for the NES in 1986. According to Kotaku Magazine, a woman bought this game at a local Goodwill for $7.99 and when she attempted to sell it to Save Point, it turned out it was worth much, much more. The game was worth between $7,000 to $15,000 and was in excellent condition with both the instructions and box. Unfortunately, at the time, Hamm did not have enough money to buy it from her. Eventually, Hamm would encounter another copy of “Stadium Events” and sell it for $7,500, making it the most expensive item Save Point has ever sold.

For a local retro video game store, some would think that they may struggle, as chain stores are omnipresent across the United States, as well as the appearance of remastered and digital games. But that’s not the case, and Save Point doesn’t view those stores as competitors. They are doing fine on their own. “As far as digital [games], I think there’s always a group of people who want a physical copy,” Hamm said. “The crowd is divided on that; there are people who are okay with that and those who are not okay with that.”

Save Point Video Games is a store that manages to stand out in the sea of GameStops. It’s a local store that has its own unique way of selling video games, while also giving people a place to hang out in. This is an example of a local business that stands on their own. Hamm has no immediate plans of making a second store, which gives an extra reason for gamers to visit. “The nature of my store makes Save Point a destination location,” he said. “People will come out of their way to visit us because we are one of the few places you can locally buy our ware.”

Sonic Youth – ‘Daydream Nation’ 30 Years Later

It’s been 30 years since the experimental rock band Sonic Youth launched “Daydream Nation.” This is the band’s fifth album, which is considered to be both their best album and one of the most influential of the 1980s. This would be their final studio album for an independent record before switching to a major label. The band is also hosting a series of events titled “30 Years of Daydream Nation” to celebrate the anniversary, which will contain archive films of the band during that time period. However, the event is limited to certain cities around the U.S. and nowhere near North Carolina.

What made Sonic Youth appealing for their time was the combination of their musical influences. There are elements of avant-garde music such as Glenn Branca as well as punk rock groups like the Ramones. Listening to earlier albums such as “Sister” or “EVOL” show that combination well, and by the time you get to “Daydream Nation,” they manage to perfect that sound.

Opening track “Teen Age Riot” shows this confidence with an extremely catchy guitar riff and brash drumming. It is a seven-minute track that is the first of many to feature lengthy instrumentation.

Then there is “Silver Rocket,” where it starts as a standard punk rock song but then melts down into a barrage of high-pitched noises before slowly progressing back at the end. For first-time listeners, this is unsettling because of how hard it is to comprehend the chaos created.

I actually had a hard time understanding this concept when I first listened to the album. At the time, I was really new to Sonic Youth and wasn’t knowledgeable about their experimental style, so I can understand where some of you may be coming from when approaching this album.

What made me finally click with this album was the fact that the music is balanced by having catchy riffs and drum beats along with reckless jamming. Take “Total Trash” for example, it has a great riff and chorus but also has a meltdown where the band literally goes on a rampage in a well-synchronized manner before slowly going back to the chorus. It is a weird listening experience, but in it, you can see what they are trying to do.

From that point on, I began to understand how experimental music worked. You don’t have to be restricted to standard pop song structure, instead, you can take that structure and add things that you never thought could work. In Sonic Youth’s case, it worked.

You can trace Sonic Youth’s influence to bands such as Nirvana and My Bloody Valentine, both of whom took massive inspiration from Sonic Youth’s odd guitar tunings. Nirvana particularly took inspiration from their primal and fast-paced tempo whereas My Bloody Valentine took guidance from their wall of distorted guitars.

This influence even stretches as far as the guitars they used. Because of Sonic Youth, the music world began to see bands using Fender Jaguars and Jazzmasters, two guitar models that were not popular when they were first introduced until, of course, the 20 years afterward that saw a rise in their popularity thanks to Sonic Youth. In fact, I want to buy a Jazzmaster because of Thurston Moore.

Overall, “Daydream Nation” was a noisy yet beautiful masterpiece that was instrumental to the evolution of alternative rock into the 1990s. It’s really hard to imagine what would have happened if this album never existed. Would alternative rock be what it eventually became? Would there ever be an influx of guitarists buying Jazzmasters and Jaguars? There are plenty of questions to ask about what would have happened if this album or the band had never existed.

If you’re new to Sonic Youth or experimental music in general, pick this album up because it’s not totally experimental which in turn can be accessible for new listeners. Do take some time to at least understand the goal the band was making with their album.

Track Picks: “Teen Age Riot,” “Silver Rocket,” “Cross the Breeze,” “Total Trash,” “Hey Joni,” “Candle,” “Rain King,” and “Trilogy”

Label: SST Records

Listen to “Daydream Nation” on Spotify:

An Evening with the Woodwind and Brass Ensemble

The Woodwind and Brass Ensemble performed in the Rowe Arts building on Oct. 26. Each instrument group had their own setlist and were lead by different people. The atmosphere of the night was quiet as the crowd patiently waited for the first performance. Much like them, I was sitting there waiting and wondering how my imagination would play out when listening to the music. It is the most fun part whenever I see these types of concerts. My imagination runs wild, with the music providing the soundtrack to my mind.

The horn choir was under Christopher Griffin’s direction. They played “Allegro Moderato” and “Panis Angelicus.” Both are slow pieces of music that prepared you for the rest of the night. “Panis Angelicus” gave me the imagery of walking inside a castle with curiosity. As they reached the higher notes I imagined myself running down the halls with no sense of direction or care.

The Clarinet choir came next. Under the direction of Dr. Jessica Lindsey, they performed Jonathan Russel’s “Eleven.” Things picked up here, the music was faster and more technical which provided a sense of adventure of wherever you’re going.

The trombone section came next and they played David Wilborn’s “Excursions.” The first part, “Vistas” reminded me of World War II planes battling it out in the skies. The building tension in every note kept me on the edge of my seat and wondering what was the fate of some of the pilots. That tension was soon brought down with “Prayers and Rituals” before it was brought back with “Carnival.” The trombone section was my favorite part of the show. There was a level of excitement and pride in the way they have played that made it easy for me to immerse myself in.

Another favorite piece of mine was when the flute choir played Mozart’s “Marriage of Figaro.” The minute I heard first note, I immediately grinned. I couldn’t believe that they played it because it’s the song that I was most familiar with in the setlist. On top of that, they played with such precision that it sounded like it was straight from a playback of the recording.

To wrap up the night, the tuba quartet played “Die Bankeldangerlieder” (translated in German “The Song of the Bench Singers”) and “Jupiter from The Planets.” In a way, the tone and pace of the show came to a full circle. We went back to slower pieces that eased the audience after everything they had been through.

It was another solid performance by the woodwind and brass ensemble. It’s always a pleasure to see them come out and play. This was the first time I have seen a campus concert this semester and it was great to watch them again. It’s a great reminder of how our school has very talented musicians who deserve all the praise and support they can get.

If there was one thing I would like to have seen, it would have been all of them playing together. It was a bit strange to see each section come in and out after each set. It would be fantastic to see each section play their part to create something special when they are together.

I do implore people to come and watch them. They are not here just to entertain people; they have the potential to do something great in the future and it is beautiful to watch their talent being nurtured in front of your you very own eyes. Plus, it’s a great way to get familiar with classical music. While popular music of today can be fun and all, having these events can help open your mind to other genres of music.

Featured photo courtesy of Pixabay.

Brockhampton – “iridescence” Album Review

Artwork courtesy of RCA Records

Texas hip-hop/boy band Brockhampton returns with a new album. Brockhampton was the group who lit up 2017 with three incredible albums (“Saturation,” “Saturation II” and “Saturation III”) that were fun and refreshing to hear.  But amidst their success, member Ameer Vaan left due to allegations of sexual misconduct in May of this year.

Vaan is considered one of the core members of the group and his departure left fans wondering how the group would move forward. The “Saturation Trilogy” showed his importance in the group. This new album, iridescence, shows signs of how Brockhampton is able to move forward without Vaan.

The listening experience of “iridescence” is one that will leave you in your thoughts and feelings, which is a contrast to the “Saturation Trilogy.” In a sense, “iridescence” was the state of the group in the past six months. With the topics that are presented here, I imagine myself playing the album alone at night.

Lesser known members, such as Joba and Bearface, step up and show their importance on the album. “J’overt” is a notable example. Joba pulls one of the rawest and untamed verses in the album. This verse gives listeners a feeling of finally releasing all of your pent-up emotions at once. If you ever feel extremely stressed over things that are going on with your life, this is the track to help deal with your emotions.

Bearface brings excellent hooks on tracks such as “Berlin” and “District.” Not only are they catchy, but they provide an excellent description for the verses of other members. “Berlin,” for example, shows him wondering how his mother would react if she spotted him wearing gang-affiliated clothes.

“Tape” is my personal favorite in the album. I love the sampling of the Radiohead song, “Videotape.” The sample contains a polyrhythmic drum pattern that provides a sense of anxiety for Kevin Abstract and Joba’s verses that deal with apathy and insecurity. Once more, Joba stands out with his lyrics. It’s a contrast to the anger inside “J’overt.” It gives sympathy towards Joba as he talks about how he doesn’t feel good enough and is constantly dealing with tragedy in his life.

“San Marcos” is a reflective track that sees the boys look back on the days before their fame; the early days of being in San Marcos, Texas, where they didn’t have to deal with a lot of things. The choir singing the chorus “I want more out of life than this” drives home their memories and gives the nostalgic aspect to the lyrics.

This continues with “Tonya.” It starts with a melancholic piano with a chorus reminiscent to boy bands in the 1990’s. The lyrics go into more detail about the struggles of dealing with fame. Abstract states that he would “trade fame any day for a quiet Texas place and a barbecue plate.”

Then there’s Merlyn Wood’s verse, in which we see him reminiscing on what his parents said to him regarding his music career. While he may become successful, he reminds himself that not everything will be resolved now that he has money. With fame, there are still trials that he must overcome no matter what and he must rise to the occasion.

“iridescence” is a fantastic album and one that has increased my respect for the group. Despite the circumstances surrounding them, they pulled off another fantastic album. While it’s not as fun the “Saturation Trilogy” was, they didn’t set out to do so. For them, this is a new chapter in the band’s history and a test they’ve succeeded in.

 

Track Picks: “Berlin,” “District,” “Tape,” “J’overt,” “Honey,” “San Marcos,” and “Tonya”

Label: RCA Records

 

Listen to “iridescence” on Spotify:

Friday Night with T. Murph

Photo courtesy of IMDb

For the record, this was my first time seeing T. Murph. I’ve never gone out and seen a live stand-up comedy show. It’s something I usually don’t do on a Friday night, but for once, I decided to get out of my comfort zone and check him out. I must say, it was worth it in the end.

If you don’t know who Murph is, he’s a Chicago comedian who has been on the rise for the past few years. You may have seen him on “The Next Level,” “Key & Peele,” “Comic View,” “Chicago Fire” and “Wild N’ Out.” He’s also set to appear on a new season of “Get Shorty.”

Murph ’s performance on Friday was one to remember; not only was he funny, but he is also relatable. Murph told stories about the time when he was bullied by a guy who has two black belts and how he mainly went to college to follow his girlfriend at the time. There are many of us who have similar stories like that, and to see them presented in a ridiculous fashion is life-affirming. Honestly, someone could make a cartoon based on his comedy on Adult Swim.

Another thing that I like from Murph is his little rants. Personally, I love how comedians will rant about certain topics that go on in society. They make fun of them without actually offending someone. For example, his rant on people wearing skinny jeans. The way that he presents his views on them is lovely to watch.

Then there’s his rant on the state of hip-hop. He’s not really a fan of today’s trends such as face tattoos and how rappers are often copying each other. For that, I agree with him; I feel that people are trying too hard to be like someone else and not embracing individuality. In fact, Murph advocates for individuality throughout his performance.  I love the part where he imagines one guy going to a tattoo parlor to ask for a face tattoo. It’s brilliant because the tattoo artist has a calm and compliant face instead of looking at his client with a weird look.

One more aspect Murph contains is his interaction with the crowd. During his performance, he would also ask students about their major, what they want to do with life and various other questions. It is wonderful to watch because it creates a sort intimacy between him and the audience. It’s like listening to that really cool neighbor/friend who has great stories and advice.

For the most part, a Friday night with T. Murph was a fun one. There’s a wonderful combination of funny and real things that are set up beautifully. It’s a bit of a shame that there weren’t more people that came out to see him. It’s even better how he noted it out and pulled up a really funny story about how he attended a school that he thought was Notre Dame but really wasn’t. After seeing his show, my curiosity about his work has heightened and I’m certainly looking forward to seeing him do more skits and stand-up in the future.

Nirvana – “In Utero” 25 Years Later

Artwork Courtesy of DGC Records

This week was the celebration of the third and final Nirvana studio album, In Utero. The success of the band has been well-documented and many music fans know the story of Kurt Cobain. Their popularity seems to be bigger than it was when they emerged in the 1990s. Everywhere you see students wearing a Nirvana shirt and proclaiming their love for them.

It’s hard not to see why; whenever you listen to Nevermind you can hear how significant it was. Tracks like “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” “Come As You Are” and “Lithium” are staple hits that showed a new direction for rock music. There are also lesser known tracks such as “Lounge Act” and “On a Plain” that show the depth of Cobain’s songwriting.

However, with In Utero, there are things inside of it that Nevermind doesn’t have. Firstly, and most obviously, is the level of aggression in the production and instrumentation. It is filthy; the distorted guitars are buzzing like hell, Dave Grohl’s drumming is stronger than before and Cobain’s vocals sound more volatile than usual. This is thanks to producer Steve Albini who was known for his raw and primal sound with bands such as Big Black and the Pixies.

“Scentless Apprentice” is one of the most disturbing tracks that showcases the aggression in the album. The drums explode with every beat, the guitar buzzes and it is all topped with Cobain delivering a scream that is so loud, listeners with headphones are put under the illusion that they’re becoming deaf. It’s here that In Utero is a whole new animal compared to Nevermind.

The second notable thing about In Utero is the lyrical content. Cobain’s personal life has been well-documented, and it was not a pretty one. His depression, marriage to Courtney Love, a heroin addiction and struggles with fame all culminated until his suicide in 1994. In Utero shows his anger, frustration and sadness in the last two to three years.

The hit single “Heart-Shaped Box” describes his relationship with Love using metaphors of their astrology signs and the unstable nature they had. Cobain sings the verse with a soft and sullen tone. But in the chorus, he snarls and rasps sarcastically about how he is “forever indebted to your priceless advice.”

Then we have tracks like “Dumb” and “All Apologies” where Cobain is drowning in self-deprecation. The former shows how he questions if he really is happy or if he’s just being an idiot in denial. The latter shows a side of him being apologetic (no pun intended) for his behavior and envious of how other people are enjoying themselves.

When you’re analyzing the lyrics, it’s really disturbing to see how unstable Cobain was in his final years. It’s written all over the album and foreshadows his impending death. Honestly, it’s difficult to listen to this album, which is sad and ironic, because I really enjoy the songs, the production and the lyrics. The passion and integrity is there which helped make Nirvana special in their time.

But when you take into account Cobain’s personal troubles, the whole listening experience is an eerie one. On top of that, there are some fans who have a strange fascination with him and his death, almost glorifying how depressed and tortured he was.

While I agree that his emotions help give his music life, I don’t know if celebrating his personal troubles is the right way to remember him, and I don’t think any of the remaining members would want that. During an interview with bassist Krist Novoselic, he never saw Cobain as a depressed person. Novoselic remembers him as a funny person and has fond memories of him.

But aside from all of that, this is a classic for many reasons and a testament to the lasting legacy that Nirvana left. If you haven’t, definitely check out this album and the rest of Nirvana’s discography. If you’re a fan or already know their music pretty well, I’m interested in your thoughts.

Do you prefer this album over Nevermind? Why? What experiences did you have with this album? What do you think made this album significant? Are fans too obsessed with Kurt Cobain and his personal life? Feel free to comment below.

Track Picks: “Serve the Servants,” “Scentless Apprentice,” “Heart-Shaped Box,” “Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge Over Seattle,” “Radio Friendly Unit Shifter” and “All Apologies”

Label: DGC Records

Listen to “In Utero” on Spotify:

 

Aphex Twin – “Collapse” EP Review

Artwork courtesy of Warp Records

Richard D. James returns with a new Aphex Twin project, “Collapse EP.” Hints of the EP’s release were noted when the Aphex Twin logo was spotted around underground stations in London. This new EP continues a series of music projects James has made since he brought back the Aphex Twin moniker.

For a man who is now considered one of the greatest electronic musicians, you would think he would slow down making music because he is past his prime, but there are no signs of him stopping. The last four years have seen him release new music that is very enjoyable. 2014’s “Syro” and 2015’s “MARCHROMT30a Edit 2b 96” showcase great late-career projects.

“Collapse” is no different, in fact, this could be one of best projects James has made. The entire 28-minutes the EP runs kept me on edge. “T69 Collapse” starts with thumping synthesizers that collide with a high-pace drum pattern. As the song progresses, it breaks down into a barrage of spastic and chaotic instrumentation that is reminiscent to the Sonic Youth song, “Silver Rocket.”

“1st 44” contains incoherent vocals that bring a sound akin to what Death Grips is doing. It brings a sort of intense moment before you are relaxed with the rumbling bass and the little melodies sprinkled throughout the track. The more I listen to it, I can imagine this track fitting into a YouTube video where you see a quick time lapse of something being built.

“MT1 t29 r2” is my personal favorite from the EP. The high static bells and the high pace drums remind me of the days I would spend hours leveling up on a video game. As I listen to the song, I think back to the long hours that I’ve spent on Final Fantasy or Kingdom Hearts. In fact, I can imagine a short video summarizing those hours while the entire track plays. The last two tracks “abundance10edit[2 R8’s, FZ20m & a 909]” and “pthex” bring the fun into the EP, but I find myself wanting to go back to the first three tracks more.

Whether you’re studying, working out, or editing a video, Aphex Twin’s music is the kind of electronic music that is perfect for these situations. Yes, it’s not one you can play at a party, but it never sets out to be and it shows how far a person’s imagination can stretch. Honestly, this helps you focus on the task at hand.

As much as I love the classics such as “Selected Ambient Works 85-92” and the “Richard D. James Album,” I can tell their age from not only the year they came out, but the instrumentation themselves. “Collapse” brings the eccentric characteristic of before but with a nice update that is fitting for the times.

To conclude, “Collapse” continues James’ streak of albums that show his legacy for a new generation. For anyone who is new to Aphex Twin and loves this EP, you should definitely check out his older work and see the evolution. For long time fans, we’re glad to see him still making music we love.

 

Track Picks: “T69 Collapse,” “1st 44,” and “MT1 t29 r2”

Label: Warp Records

Throwback Comics – ‘Superman: Secret Origin’

Artwork cover courtesy of DC Comics. Artwork created by Gary Frank.

WARNING: This article contains spoilers. Read at your own risk!

When it comes superhero origin stories, they’re always updating the mythos surrounding them; Superman is no different. His origin has been updated numerous times; John Byrne’s “Man of Steel” (not the 2013 Zack Snyder film) and Mark Waid’s “Birthright” have managed to do this successfully.

This rendition was written by Geoff Johns and was published as six-issue series from August 2009 until September 2010. Johns was also known for his run on Green Lantern, The Flash and Aquaman. Choosing him was logical he managed to rewrite Green Lantern’s origin in 2008’s “Green Lantern: Secret Origin” as well as being the main writer for Superman’s “Action Comics.”

Johns made it clear in an interview that he wanted this story to be mostly told from Clark Kent’s point of view. No issues on Krypton, just focusing on Kent’s early years and onwards. At the start of the first issue, you immediately see his personal alienation due to his inability to control his powers and the fact most of his peers look at him weirdly.

It gives readers sympathy for the young Kent. All of his life he was raised and lived like any other human being but not understanding and controlling his extraordinary powers hinders his self-esteem. He often contemplates and shares his feelings towards his parents and close friend Lana Lang. Of course, we get to see how Kent finds a way to use his power and finds his place.

Unfortunately, it’s a bit too straight-forward as to why Kent becomes Superman. He saves a few people around Smallville and decides to don the costume. It’s a bit too simplistic for the times and I would like to the comic to add more to give more meaning.

An interesting aspect I’ve found reading this comic was how you’re introduced to Lex Luthor early on. Johns adds to Luthor’s character to further emphasize how much of a foil he is to Superman. Growing up poor with an abusive father, Luthor is shown traits of megalomania at a young age. It’s really emphasized with the limited interactions he has with Kent.

A big point that can be taken from “Secret Origins” is not only how Kent becomes Superman, but seeing how the environment surrounding him is effected when he becomes the Man of Steel. You see the birth of villains such as Metallo and Parasite, you see how the Daily Planet rebuilds itself and you see how Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen and Perry White begin to work together. The set up of what will happen in the future is great and it gives readers an idea of what will happen.

The artwork by Gary Frank is fantastic. It provides an almost human-like quality towards the characters and the action scenes bring a cinematic atmosphere. You almost wish you can see this take form into an animated film. I really love how Superman looks in this comic, it really emphasizes his boyish looks that somehow remained with him as he grew up.

“Superman: Secret Origins” is a rather straightforward reading into the start of Superman. I would recommend this to those who aren’t too familiar with Superman’s background but I would also recommend reading “Birthright” and “Man of Steel” so you can compare and contrast.

For longtime fans and those who have read the past renditions, this doesn’t add anything new towards what is known about the Man of Steel. Some have described it as a “greatest hits,” calling back to older accounts. Granted, Superman fans would have already read this. It is a fun read that reminds us where Superman comes from.