Life in the Slow(er) Lane

General, Keyboard, People 4 Comments

(Re-)Connected up with a bunch of folks from the past over the preceding week – possibly going all the way back to third grade. Still waiting to hear if Fred Foote is THE Fred Foote with whom Michelle Becker and I went to school at Volta in the early 60s (she and I both moved to Skokie the same summer – unbeknownst to each other until we found ourselves standing side-by-side on the first day of 5th grade).  Had a couple of long phone conversations with Fred Crivlare (drummer from the H.S. band days). What a joy. He’s still playing, which was good to hear.

It’s been a bit of an exercise for memory cells that have been sleeping for years, if not decades. Fun, nonetheless. Scanned/posted a bunch of pix and, in the process, was made tangibly aware of how life has slowed down and sped up at the same time… I swear the last three years went by in about 6 mos. but it takes me twice as long to get upstairs these days as it did 40 years ago.

Speaking of sleeping brain cells, I’m slowly nudging some keyboard cells into action. We did end up getting the Yamaha portable grand (see previous post) and I’ve probably already racked up about 100 hours on the thing.

 

DGX-650

It’s quite fun, sounds great, and hooks up just the way I need it to for PianoMarvel and recording my Berklee stuff (Blues and Rock Keyboard Techniques, which started last week) for submission. After less than three months with PM, I’m now able to rip through the “student” (i.e., shorter, simplified left hand) version of The Entertainer, which is going to sound infinitely lame to the keyboard guys out there, but I’m pretty stoked about it nonetheless. As folks like Bob Bruning and my brother Tony know, I’ve had a weird mental block regarding written music for a long time, so reading and playing this stuff – especially on a new instrument – is an achievement. I’ll take it. (Click here if the player widget doesn’t appear below). The accompaniment you hear is the stuff one plays along with when doing the PianoMarvel lessons. Nice system.

Meanwhile, I’ve had the chance over the last week to work with Tony on some of his and Amy’s original stuff, which has been great fun. They’re churning out some really excellent tunes! I’ll wait until he thinks things are ready before posting anything.

Lots more here for those new to the site. Leave a comment if you come by!

Don’t they go by in a blink…

Keyboard, People, Performance Comments Off on Don’t they go by in a blink…

Trying to comprehend how over three years got past me since the last substantive post here, which was toward the end of the Berklee activity. That seems like mere weeks ago. Feel like I’ve been in something of a suspended state throughout most of that time, and am just waking up from it.

That post back in mid-’11 was also put up partway through a live performance experiment with some guys I connected with in late 2010, ultimately called The Brookhouse Band. For various reasons – the typical interpersonal adjustments and communication breakdowns that always seem to be part of such projects; a keyboardist who joined and quit, twice; family and relationship issues tending to interrupt our progress… – we never actually got far beyond the brook house. But we did have some moments during our year-plus of rehearsing toward a viable repertoire. The goal was to get out into some of the CT venues as a ‘classic rock’ band, maybe work up some original tunes… the usual aspirations. I exited at the end of January, ’12, after recognizing that our various priorities weren’t ultimately compatible. Ken & Chris have since gotten together with bassist Mark Hubble to form The Lone Wolf Trio – now playing out and about, as you’ll see at their FB page.

Haven’t done much of anything musically since early ’12, when the remainder of our game plan hit too many potholes to go any further and I started working on Plan B. Now we’re closing in on 2015 – a realization that was actually a tad frightening, i.e., how quickly that much time had passed – and the motivation to come up with an alternative way forward seems to be returning. Took a long, honest look at the past and decided that some of the most rewarding of all those experiences was while performing live, back in the G.C. days… and even way back in Berlin, with Matt, Doug, Jay & Darryl. Part of this examination included acknowledging the fact that the one instrument I’ve never really explored was the one I was first drawn to: keyboard.

During the stint with BHB, the biggest problem was finding and keeping a good keyboardist, preferably one with vocal ability. There are tons of guitarists, drummers, bassists and vocalists out there. But many of the working keyboard players seem to be splitting their time between two or more projects because of the demand. It may or may not be realistic, but the 18-month plan going forward is aimed, in part, at leveraging that situation. For various reasons, it’s long past time for some formal keyboard study. Outside of live performance, keyboard facility is critical in the context of composition, orchestration and arranging, and of course it’s never a bad thing to be able to sit down at a piano and be able to play more than Heart & Soul.

To this end, I cast around for some online keyboard training and ultimately found PianoMarvel, which has led to some pretty quick progress. I’m partway through Level 3 (of 6) at day 24 of a 30-day trial. I’ll probably subscribe, as the method seems to be working for me. The Berklee coursework and the year or so I spent studying ‘cello cured me of the mental block I’d always had regarding music notation. That was pretty serious: my brain would literally lock up. Now I’m finding that while not necessarily easy, things are coming reasonably quickly. No doubt this is at least tangentially related to my 100+wpm typing ability (haven’t written anything more than a birthday card longhand in a decade or more). It will take some work to get back to hands that work independently again (guitar, bass and cello all force them to work in tandem). But I credit the time I spent working through the various theory and ear training courses with just having a better feel for what I’m doing. At this age, it’s a big help.

Of course, a plan like this would be less fun without a wish list for gear. Patty has expressed a renewed interest in keyboard – she studied organ for years in her teens (at Pop’s insistence – she really wanted to learn piano). So I’ve decided that a Yamaha DGX650 is in our immediate future – probably before Christmas. It seems to get glowing reviews everywhere, has standard (GHS) weighted keys, a piano sound based on the sampled Yamaha CFIIIS (9′ Grand) and lots of options for rhythm accompaniment as well as education.

DGX650B

That’ll be our “home” piano, which could conceivably go on the road.

For performance, I’m looking at the Roland V-Combo VR-09 and, later, the Jupiter-80.

vr-09_angle_1_gal jupiter-80_angle_gal
The former isn’t terribly expensive, and appears to have a reasonably decent array of basic EP, SP and modifiable organ sounds (including highly tweakable, stereo Leslie simulation), as well as plenty of synth voices; the latter looks like pretty much the top-end of performance synths, and has the sort of split, layering, preset and other capability that seems necessary. As I learn more, this wishlist may change. I looked at Workstations and Arranger/Backing keyboards, but unless there’s a need for sequencing or a digital rhythm section for live performances, I’m not sure all those bells and whistles would ever get used. I already have both SONAR and Reaper audio workstations here in the studio, which are just fine for sequencing, music production, etc. Beyond this we’ll need a volume pedal and, once a second axe is added, a small (2 or 4-chan) mixer.

Since keyboards probably go best through the P.A. during live performance, I’ll probably also invest in a 16-channel, stereo-amped P.A. system with two sets of speakers – one for just the keyboard rig, which can double as monitors when used with the other set, i.e., for a full band P.A.

On the surface this seems like a pretty big shift, having been mostly some sort of guitarist since the age of 15, but I think it’s a natural one for a number of reasons. And I’m always about multple reasons. I feel like a lack of basic keyboard skill really held back progress I could have made during my abbreviated attempt to complete Ben’s Composition for Film & TV course, which I started after completing the two Master Certs, but never actually finished (part of the slow ’11 meltdown, I’m thinking), as well as during other coursework. Mike was right when he recommended pursuing some basic keyboard training prior to any attempt to interact with Conrad re: film score production. Any (even semi-) serious musician needs basic keyboard ability – I wish someone had been able to impress that upon me back when I dropped it in Jr. High, because playing guitar was “cooler”. And frankly the prospect of playing keyboards live is more attractive – at this point – than going back to bass (which is up for sale again, BTW – shoot me a note if you or anyone you know is looking for a Fender American Deluxe Jazz Bass V in the beautiful and now-discontinued rosewood neck / Transparent Wine color).

I suppose we’ll revisit all this in 6 months and a year and see how it holds up. I’m optimistic…

 

Digital Performer 8 – Windows at last! But… ready for prime time?

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Ben Newhouse and Brad Hatfield both made copious use of Digital Performer in various in-class demos. I was jealous at the apparent ease with which they were able accomplish some tasks like matching shifting tempo of a project to a live performance, use of the conductor track for high-level project control, etc. I’ve been on the lookout for a Windows version since.

Well, the Windows 7 version is out now and I’m in the process of evaluating the 30-day Demo. Fun times.

BTW, I’m running this eval on a three-plus-year-old “Quad Xtreme” system from ADK: Core i7 920 OC’d to 3.4GHz, 12 GB RAM, multiple OS, Data, Audio and Sample drives, 27” and 2o” displays, no special input devices beyond a standard keyboard, gaming mouse and an old Roland PC-200 MIDI keyboard controller fed through a Presonus FireStudio Mobile (which drives two KRK Rokit5’s for audio output). This application has more functions than anyone could possibly use, so I’ll simply be discussing reactions as I do a basic eval.

First impression: this early port of DP is to Windows DAWs what Blender is to Windows 3D graphics applications. It is not only very non-conventional with regard to terminology (“chunks”? “bundles”?), but also its basic functionality is different from a conventional Windows app. In fact, it’s just this side of user-alien, and definitely requires a shift of perspective to get comfortable with it. I’m not there yet.

For instance, right-clicking doesn’t always work intuitively, Alt-click is used to stand in for the Mac’s one-button-mouse Option-click. Quite often I will Alt-click to bring up a preferences setting and the Preferences window flashes briefly, only to be immediately hidden behind the main window. Hmmm… Double-clicking can also be used for this function in some cases (e.g., to bring up a menu for a button), but the double-click speed is apparently programmatically monitored, not driven by Windows messaging, as it’s not consistent. Hovering over an unknown UI element does nothing… for a moment; then, unexpectedly, a tooltip will appear. Or not.

These are all symptoms of a port “in progress” and they just make operation… cumbersome. This alone makes me inclined to feel that the Windows version – while welcome – really is not yet ready for professional use where deadlines or other factors turn these idiosyncrasies into genuine annoyances. And when cost is considered, well, Reaper looks as good and functions as well.

The download and install of the Demo went great. I was pleased to see that it set up both the 32- and 64-bit versions. At this time I believe Apple STILL hasn’t released a version of the QuickTime video player that supports 64-bit. I’m starting to doubt they ever will at this point. So for evaluating scoring to video and 32-bit-only plugins, having both versions is a nice boost. It looks like the Demo app functionality is not restricted in any way other than the 30-day trial.

Again, I’m immediately made aware that this is a port that doesn’t fully respect the Windows conventions, as the application refuses to open in the location I last left it when I shut it down. Easily fixed, however, with a tweak via Edit / Preferences:  just change General / Document / Startup Options to “Reopen last file”, which appears to also preserve the window settings. Nice, intuitive – didn’t have to go groping through the manual for that little tidbit.

Next obvious annoyance: the app is definitely NOT using ClearType for text. The text on the screen is downright hard to read in some spots (I’m at 1920×1080 here). It looks like a VGA signal, which doesn’t work well with some of the VERY tiny numbers and text. Didn’t find a way to make that any clearer, at least with a few minutes’ searching the Preferences. Again, another obvious symptom of a port. I try out the nice feature of changing a value by dragging and, after a few changes, the program crashes and goes non-responsive. I have to use Task Manager to kill it. Would have been a genuine issue if I’d been an hour into a mixing session and had this happen.

Setting up MIDI was very painless (as it should be, these days), and I was able to bounce through the MIDI tutorial in the “Getting Started” guide. However, contrary to the instructions there, one cannot change the name of a MIDI interface shown in the “Bundle” (??) by double-clicking. Doesn’t work. Alt-click, Ctrl-click, Right-click, Double-click… none of those provide a way to change the MIDI interface name either.

I find that I do like the abililty to arbitrarily drag a window/view off and onto the “Consolidated” (?) window. And I already like the MIDI editor – relatively easy to size, zoom and scroll it as needed, and the cursor doesn’t do anything wierd or unexpected if I accidentally click, etc.

More later…

 

Kickstarter – Musical about the Life and Songs of Myra Taylor

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Check out my cousin’s new Kickstarter project – a musical about the life of Jazz Songwriter/Singer Myra Taylor.

When I Need Your Love

Audio Recording, Composition, Education, Guitar, Songwriting 1 Comment

So… congratulate me!!

I just finished the second of two Master Certificate programs at Berklee College of Music’s online campus – Berkleemusic. The first was Theory, Harmony and Ear Training, completed last term. This one was Arranging & Orchestration, where I just posted the last scoring assignment for Film Scoring 101. I’ll be re-doing that submission in SONAR with EWQLSO before posting it here. Right now it’s still being exported from Sibelius, which is great for writing but not so great for rendered audio.

However, the final project for Brad Hatfield’s Songwriting for Film & TV came out rather well, I think. It’s a tune called When I Need Your Love and works as a replacement for Can’t Hurry Love, which plays over a montage in the film Alchemy (if you’ve seen it, you know what I’m referring to).

Thanks to my brother Tony for providing the May-style guitar work in the interlude, and to Ken Daniel for providing drum fills that made the drum track come to life. Also thanks to Brad for suggesting the bells (actually, he meant glock, which I interpreted as tubular bells… but it works).

When I Need Your Love – MP3 – VB – 4.8MB – 2:38 min.

Have a great summer everyone!

My Heart Still Needs You

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Week 2 of Songwriting (see previous post) and we’re still pushing forward.

This week’s real-world assignment was to rewrite a temp song (i.e., something that’s already been recorded, published, released, etc.) that’s been used in a movie or TV show for screening purposes. It’s a torch song being played at a high school reunion (by a DJ) and needs to have a musical break for dialog. The licensing would cost too much to use the original, so an original ‘sound-alike’ needs to be written… in three days.

There are rules and techniques associated with this, but I won’t bore you. Basically, the idea is to create something original that’s as close to the original temp song as possible, without skirting copyright issues, etc. Except for the lyrics, melody and vocal track, of course, this was cobbled together quickly from various loops I found here and there – resequenced, recorded, mixed, etc.

I’ll leave it to you folks to guess which tune I cloned here. It may be obvious, but perhaps not quite as obvious as you think, because the IMaj7-VIm7-IIm7-V79 chord progression used in this tune is pretty popular for standards. Maybe this’ll become one of them.

My Heart Still Needs You – MP3 – 128kBps – 3.7MB – 3:51 min.

Lyrics:

My Heart Still Needs You

One day you found my empty heart
(and) You filled it with your
Love from the very start.
Then you left me and I don’know why.
My lips want to say good-bye.
But my heart still needs you …

Your laugh still taunts me every day.
I wake at night – you’re gone.
And that ache won’t go away.
Darlin’ you gotta know
My hands want to let you go.
But my heart still needs you …

One day you held this empty heart.
And filled it with your smilin’ love.
Now it’s torn apart. You’re gone and I
Don’t know why.
My head don’t wanna wonder why.
But my heart still needs you

Those nights above that foggy bay
Those quiet little games we’d play
I’ve tried to put that all away
And every time I think it’s gone
It all comes back like a favorite song
What can I do – my heart still wants you.

Copyright © 2011 Ron Romano

Here’s a hint.

Fold Over Me

Audio Recording, Composition, Performance, Songwriting, Video 3 Comments

Hopefully I completed my first Master Certificate (in Theory, Harmony and Ear Training) at Berkleemusic last week (update: with a 4.0 average! …uh-huh… uh-huh…). Still waiting for the final grade to be posted for my last class. It was a lot of work, but it sure doesn’t seem like it’s been over two years.

This term should be the last one for the second Master Certificate (Arranging and Orchestration). Both classes look to be extremely interesting: Film Scoring 101 and Songwriting for Film and TV.

We hit the ground running in Songwriting – the video below is my submission for the first week’s assignment, which was to write a song for a snippet of an episode of Grey’s Anatomy, which I’ve never watched. All week I kicked around ideas but nothing really gelled. Then yesterday on the way home from band rehearsal a bit of a verse melody came to me, then some bridge melody and, before I got home, I pretty much had the whole tune composed in my head. Pardon the ugly vocal – I’m fighting a really nasty cough right now. If this thing lives beyond schoolwork, hopefully I can get my daughter to sing it.

This was done in SONAR 8.5 Producer (32-bit version) since QuickTime doesn’t yet support 64-bit and I didn’t install a 32-bit version of SONAR X1 (which, so far, really hasn’t even been worth the nominal $99 I spent for the upgrade). Drums are Session Drummer 3; guitar and piano are both EastWest PLAY instruments, played/sequenced by me; bass is me, live. I think I got the audio file a few seconds too long (whiteout at the end). Hey – it’s my first time ever trying this…

Video is below (just click). Enjoy.
Read the rest…

Orchestration II Final – Indiana Fields

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Okay, so while there’s a good deal of relief and satisfaction after having completed a (second) 12-week course in Orchestration, I’m genuinely bummed as well. I wouldn’t mind if this course had gone on for another 12… or even 24 weeks. It’s been that interesting / challenging / rewarding. Hats off to Berklee and Ben Newhouse for having developed a really great program and an excellent online course. I highly recommend it.

This is by far the longest piece I’ve composed, let alone actually scored in its entirety. It’s for medium-sized orchestra and is sequenced entirely using Cakewalk SONAR 8.5 and the Kontakt sampling synthesizer, using Native Instruments’ version of the Vienna Symphonic Library. I upgraded to Kontakt 4 during development, so there’s a mix of sounds from both versions 3.5 and 4. I like how the orchestration for this turned out, but getting the individual instrument and overall orchestra sound I ‘hear’ (e.g., in other similar compositions, like film score CDs and, especially, the works of some of my classmates) continues to elude me. Comments, suggestions welcome.

As I listen to the final version as it was submitted, and its predecessor, I’m finding I like parts of the latter better…

Indiana Fields ‘Beta’ – MP3 – 192kBps – 6.2MB – 4:30 min.

Final submission:

Indiana Fields – MP3 – 192kBps – 6.5MB – 4:30 min.
Indiana Fields – Full Concert Score

For the truly masochistic, here’s a scratch recording of this tune in its original form:

Indiana Fields, 1943 – MP3 – 192kBps – 5.5MB – 4:00 min.

Long Weekend – Time to catch up!

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Got a chance to catch my breath this weekend. The extra day off is much appreciated. Lots been going on here. I finally got my music ‘studio’ about 99% finished, work has gotten pretty busy for the first time in a couple years and the two courses I’m taking this term have been surprisingly time-consuming (but in a good way).

On the music room front, over the past several months, I managed to take our largely unused faux dining room (which used to be the TV room / den) and turn it into a serviceable office / music room. We went from this (that’s a close-up of the unfinished bookshelves I removed, stained, sealed and reinstalled):

to this:

to this:

to this:

to this:

Here’s a detail of the denim and striped fabric we used to cover the walls:

There are a few small spots left to fabric-cover and I need about 12′ of chair rail to go over the fabric seam. Other than that (and a good cleaning), it’s complete.

It’s a very lovely, breezy work environment with the big picture window (instead of staring into a corner with the old corner ‘cockpit‘ upstairs) and now there’s more than enough room for the sorely-needed two-monitor setup, with space to one side for my work laptop. Kudos to Patty for coming up with the idea!

Not much actual music composition going on, per se these days. This term I have Orchestration 2 and Keyboard Method (basic piano), so I’m essentially orchestrating and learning to play lots of OPM (other people’s music). That said, the term has yielded some interesting work, posted below. I also realized there were a few things from the Harmony class I never posted, … so here we go…

Cadence at a Gallop

After the ‘Battlestar‘ theme we worked on various types of progression cadences, and in a couple of assignments we (or, at least I) worked those cadences into a musical idea that ultimately became another theme. That theme worked its way into this term in Orchestration 2.

The first the assignment actually included five different cadences:

|| E | A E | A | Esus4 | E | – I IV I IV Isus4 I – Plagal

| C#m | F#m C#m | A | A | B | – VIm IIm VIm IV V – Half

| A | D A | B | C#m | – IV bVII IV V VIm – Deceptive (w/a touch of Mixed)

| A | A | B | E | E | – IV V I – Full

| C | C | D | E | E || – bVI bVII I – Mixed

Cadence Series – MP3 – 192kBps – 1MB – 0:45 min.

This grew into what turned out sounding like a nice little homage to the late Michael Kamen:

Horns and Strings – MP3 – 192kBps – 1.25MB – 0:55 min.

Fast forwarding to last week or so, I did a proper orchestration of this which came out quite fun:

Full Orchestra – MP3 – 192kBps – 1.25MB – 0:55 min.

Why Must You Love This Way

One of the last things done for the Harmony course was a nice rumba tune titled as above. Here’s the first two minutes:

Why Must You Love This Way – MP3 – 160kBps – 2.3MB – 1:59 min.

On to Orchestration 2

We’ve done a LOT of really cool and interesting stuff this term. Some of it has been a bit tedious, but even the activities involved in that have been a learning experience. Once again, Ben’s course provides more than I can absorb in one pass.

One of the first fun workshops we did was compose and orchestrate a short piece derived from a passage containing only accented rhythm (i.e., no melody, etc.). I took the Copland approach here (sorry about the low signal level):

Accent Workshop – MP3 – 160kBps – 900kB – 0:44 min.

During Week 3 we orchestrated the theme from Harry Potter. Since I’ve never seen the film(s) or listened to the music, this was an interesting exercise. We were given the basic melody / countermelody:

and we had to come up with two different orchestrations:

Potter #1 – MP3 – 160kBps – 650kB – 0:33 min.
Potter #2 – MP3 – 160kBps – 570kB – 0:29 min.

During Week 4 one of the things we covered was the different sample types in our sampling synthesizers (I use Native Instruments’ Kontakt 3.5). The following piece, which was written by Ben, I believe, required the combination of a number of different sample types for each instrument.

Combining Samples – MP3 – 160kBps – 341kB – 0:17 min.

That week we also were given a chord progression – no melody – and we came up with a composition / orchestration to match.

In the first, I experimented a little with the different sample types we’d just covered. Might’ve gotten a little heavy-handed with that. And in the second I tried to employ some of the stuff we’d done up to that point on crescendos.

Progression Orchestration #1 – MP3 – 160kBps – 1MB – 0:54 min.
Progression Orchestration #2 – MP3 – 160kBps – 828kB – 0:42 min.

Moving on to Week 5, we were introduced to The Flight of the Hornet Toad and asked to orchestrate it for a workshop. I think this is one of Ben’s, I’m not sure. It sounds like his sense of humor. Here’s what it looks like:

Here’s what it sounds like (on piano):

The Flight of the Hornet Toad (Piano) – MP3 – 192kBps – 539kB – 0:22 min.

Here’s what it sounds like (in my head):

The Flight of the Hornet Toad (Orch) – MP3 – 160kBps – 481kB – 0:24 min.

I’ve since found a better snare roll… 😉

The assignment for Week 5 was to orchestrate an excerpt from Frederic Chopin’s Prelude No. 20 in C minor – probably one of the most depressingly beautiful pieces of music out there. I hope I did it some level of justice:

Chopin – MP3 – 192kBps – 2.3MB – 1:35 min.

Jumping forward to Week 7, we started working on layers. In the following workshop, we were given a melody and harmony, and asked to add a middleground layer with the remaining instruments, as appropriate. Here’s the original, the added layer and the combined mock-ups:

Original – MP3 – 192kBps – 747kB – 0:31 min.
Added Middleground – MP3 – 192kBps – 747kB – 0:31 min.
Combined – MP3 – 192kBps – 747kB – 0:31 min.

Week 8 was all about chaos – not really appealing to me. But we did do one cool workshop, which opened up an important door in terms of making better-quality recordings. This is a piece composed by Ben. He provided left and right channels for each of the instrument tracks (which includes a really nice-sounding cello sample) and we needed to produce them by setting the panning roughly the same as an orchestra would sound like to a listener in the audience:

Panning – MP3 – 192kBps – 2.3MB – 1:40 min.

While doing this workshop I discovered that my level settings for most of the stuff I’ve been doing is set quite a bit too high. Ultimately, this creates some distortion and muddies the overall sound before the signal gets to the (software) compressor, which I use as a last stage to kick up the signal level without going over 0dB. Lesson learned!

That brings us up pretty much to date except for this week’s stuff, which I’ve already done (gotta take advantage of those extra days when they come along). Last but not least, here’s an orchestration built form a basic piano sketch – an excerpt from a Beethoven piano sonata:

Here’s the piano version, followed by my orchestration:

Beethoven Sonata – Piano – MP3 – 192kBps – 711kB – 0:30 min.
Beethoven Sonata – Orchestra – MP3 – 192kBps -600kB – 0:25 min.

Yes – it’s been a BUSY few months!!

Crysis 2 – here’s hoping

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Great preview for Crysis 2 at Amazon. Reminiscent of some of the nice work done in advance of Halo 3 (uhm… Microsoft? remember the PC? the platform that made you global software overlord? any chance we’ll see H3 on that? ever?).


Click the full screen button – it’s hi-rez.

Let’s hope EA doesn’t screw the pooch on this great franchise like they did with Medal of Honor. Pre-order here if you’re an optimist.

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