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Boss Tunes: The OneUps

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If you’ve followed the video game cover scene for any length of time, chances are good that the OneUps aren’t a new name for you. They’ve been around for almost a decade and a half and have played numerous concerts and even opened for the Penny Arcade Expo (PAX) in 2008 . Back in September of 2002, “Mustin” (a.k.a. Mr. M), Nathan McLeod, and William Reyes gathered for their mutual love of music and video games, forming what would become one of the most notable video game cover bands.

“The way I remember it was Mustin, Nathan Mcleod and myself were in a room of the music building at our university and we started talking about how cool it would be to play music from the game Super Mario Kart,” Reyes reclaled. “One thing led to another.”

One thing led to another indeed. Over a decade and seven studio albums later, the band has been going strong as one of the pivotal influences in video game cover music.

The OneUps have been going strong for close to 15 years and through numerous iterations.

“We’ve seen a lot of changes,” Mustin commented. “Some of the initial crew never even made it to the first record. Most notably was former Editor-in-Chief of Destructoid, Dale North on keys. We had a violin player, and prominent sax player, but people have to move on. The good thing is when people can come back and do a guest recording, like both sax players Nathan McLeod and Anthony Lofton were able to do on the last album, ‘Songs for the Recently Deceased.’ Overall, we’ve had over 15 people in and out of the band in the past 15+ years.”

While Reyes commented that the band’s eclectic music ranges in genres from Latin jazz, funk, classical, and even a few closer to heavy metal and rock influences, most laymen will classify the a lot of the OneUps’ catalog under the broad heading of “jazz” with a laid-back feel and very pronounced instrumentation.

A lot…but not all.

I would describe our music as a mix of many influences. It doesn’t quite belong to one single genre. We all come from different musical areas. In general we all appreciate bands like Jamiroquai, Daft Punk, George Clinton, and 80’s pop.

In many ways, this allows the iconic tunes that the band covers to be front and center in their arrangements with the clever instrumentation and improvisational sections playing support to those familiar melodies.

I think our usual goal is to have fun with each song. We can add anything we want, change harmonies or rhythms, and pay homage to other tunes all while trying not to depreciate the original. All we really try to accomplish is to create an arrangement of a song that we love and that our fans hopefully love as well.

Overall, the band values “diversity and artistic integrity” and, if the wide range of genres covered by the OneUps doesn’t sell that point, I don’t know what does. While their first few albums were pretty straight forward remixes of popular video game tunes, as the band went on, the music became more outlandish in instrumentation and style, creating a very distinct identity for the band that would become one of the forefathers of video game cover bands.

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Photo by NickelEdge (https://www.facebook.com/nickeledge/)

While the OneUps do have a “typical” instrumental setup for their pieces, they utilize a variety of instruments and musical styles for their pieces, giving them an often eclectic sound that, along with their willingness to experiment with genres, means no two songs sound alike.

“Our usual setup is two guitars, bass, drums and keyboard,” remarked Reyes. “We do add certain instruments for specific songs or shows depending on our set-list. We’ve used saxophones, congas, flutes, synths, and violin. We also have members who can play more than one instrument.”

These days, the band consists of Tim Yarbough on electric and acoustic guitar; Reyes, still going strong on his electric and synth guitar; Mustin on the electric and acoustic bass, keyboards and “various other stuff”; and Jared Dunn on percussion and sometimes keyboards.

Along with their wide range of musical genres, the OneUps cover a huge variety of music. Naturally there are classics like their cover of the Legend of Zelda theme and plenty of Mega Man and Sonic the Hedgehog stage themes, but their tracklist contains more than a few less-mixed titles like the Angry Birds theme, Ghosts and Goblins, Silent Hill, and even a few obscure pieces like a chill rendition of a song from the Nightmare on Elm Street game (which I highly recommend giving a listen to here).

“We are old,” Reyes quipped when asked when the band remixed so many classic (and obscure) pieces.

“A few of my all-time favorites are classics for Nintendo such as the Zelda series and Castlevania games,” he went on. “I love Street Fighter II.  I also loved the newer God of War games. They are wonderful and magical.”

“I’ve been gaming since I was 9,” Mustin added. “The games I remember most playing are Super Mario Bros. 3, Final Fantasy IV, Streets of Rage 2, Sim City, Mega Man III, Chrono Trigger – the list goes on. Recently I’ve been playing a lot of Splatoon with my wife, and I just finished playing through Final Fantasy VI for the bajillionth time. Not sure how much time I can make for games going forward but I just got Miitomo and I’m enjoying it! I think I may arrange the shop music – so good!

“I recently finished Undertale and I haven’t been moved by a game like that since Chrono Trigger. It really floored me. And to think that one dude did almost all of that, Toby Fox. Man… It’s hard to wrap my head around. But it was a fantastic game. I didn’t know much about it and I had my four-year-old daughter guide my decisions in the game, which lead me on the “Pacifist” path (which I only learned about much later), and it made for a very powerful experience. It was nice to be able to involve the whole family in a single player game and all benefit from its entertainment. Highly recommended.”

Hopefully that means The OneUps’ next album will feature some Undertale pieces.

To date, the OneUps have produced seven studio albums, with their most recent one having just come out in February of this year – the very literally-named Part Seven.

Part Seven is the seventh studio album from The OneUps. It’s a collection of recording sessions with bassist Matthew “Moose” Bridges and features some favorite (and some obscure) NES/SNES era games like Mega Man 2, Pilotwings, Donkey Kong Country, Double Dragon, Super Mario Bros., and even Bucky O’Hare. The genres range from Funk to Blues, to Hip-Hop to Metal.

Part Seven and the OneUps’ other six albums – Volume One, Volume 2, Super Mario Kart Album, Intergalactic Redux, Intergalactic Continuum, and Songs for the Recently Deceased – are all available for digital distribution on Amazon, Google Play, iTunes, Bandcamp, and Loudr.fm. You can also order physical copies of their music at their website here.

Things aren’t slowing down anytime soon for the prolific cover band. Reyes said that the band has experienced “some good luck financially with our band adventures” and the future will contain “more shows, more music, more albums, more everything.”

As always, I asked my interviewees what they thought of the current state of gaming. Mustin chimed in:

It’s an exciting time! It will continue to get more exciting as the technologies become more powerful and varied. It’s unfortunate to see how gamers treat each other behind a microphone or a Twitter handle, but as far as the games go, there’s some really cool stuff going on. I’m looking forward to what the VR world will bring and I hope the indie momentum doesn’t collapse on itself, though that’s more of a problem for technology and media as a whole. Gotta stay on your toes!

Reyes commented on the importance of video game music:

It is essential. When a person plays a video game and the music accompanies his/her journey, the music then becomes the soundtrack of the person. It’s personalized and the player internalizes it and often learns to love it. It obviously influences and enhances the mood during each stage or section of the game which is why games have music. Without the music the game can still be enjoyed, but it’s only half of the amazing experience that it could be. 

Boss Tunes’ Picks

As I alluded to earlier, it took the OneUps a few albums to really get off the ground in this writer’s opinion. While their first few albums weren’t bad by any stretch of the imagination, they weren’t anywhere near as experimental, unique, or interesting as their later stuff. It was pretty stock standard instrumentation of the video game tunes they were remixing.

But with their two “intergalactic” albums (four and five) in particular, the OneUps really started to experiment with instruments, genres, and musical structures in ways that made their music stand head and shoulders above lesser arrangements. It made the music their own, which is what a good cover band should do.  This has only become more true in their sixth and seventh albums, which are easily my favorites, despite not containing as many songs that are as personal to me (i.e. songs from games that I have played for any length of time). This means that a lot of the songs that stood out to me are songs that aren’t necessarily ones that I’ve heard before or are from games that I enjoyed as a kid. Which speaks volumes for the OneUps’ skills as both musicians and remixers.

That being said, picking three favorites out of a tracklist of almost 100 songs is no mean feat, and unfortunately the songs that I recognize naturally rise to the top of the list when all is said and done.

As always, I have selected three of my own personal favorites and listed them below (in no particular order). I encourage you to head on over to the digital distribution service of your own personal preference and buy copies of one or all of their albums (or the OneUps’ website for a physical copy!). Be sure to sound off in the comments below with your own favorites.

#3: Hardest Working Duck in Show Business [Duck Tales] (Songs for the Recently Deceased)

As I said before, the OneUps cover a wide range of musical genres. While many of their pieces have a distinctly jazz spin to them, there’s just as many that flirt the line of rock or even metal. However, my own personal taste tends towards their jazz arrangements of pieces, and Hardest Working Duck in Show Business is a great arrangement of the Transylvania theme, with shout outs to the jazzy, funky soul era of the 1950’s and 1960’s. One Youtube commenter likened it to James Brown, and I can totally hear it. It takes away some of the sinister undertones of the original and makes it sound more like a swing-dance party in Count Duckula’s castle.

No I don’t know if Count Duckula was a thing in Ducktales. Just bear with me.

The absolute perfect selection of style/genre for this remix cements this as an amazing track from start to finish, and the improv sections are well-executed and take nothing away from the piece as a whole. The instrumentation makes the OneUps sound like a swing band, much bigger than they are, and gives this piece a really playful tone despite the minor key. I may have started dancing a bit. May God have mercy on everyone’s soul.

#2: Sonic the Hedgehog 2 – Mystic Cave (Volume 2)

I don’t know what it is, but I’ve never been into the Sonic the Hedgehog stage themes. It’s more than likely because I never owned a Genesis as a kid, but I’ve never found them as iconic, catchy, or timeless as the Mega Man and Mario Brothers stage musics that Capcom and Nintendo churned out in the late 80’s and 90’s. Since I did play Mega Man and Mario Brothers games as a kid, I’m almost sure that’s the reason, but whatever the case, rarely does Sega’s speedy, spiked mascot frequent my playlists.

The OneUps’ arrangement of Mystic Cave is probably the sole exception.

There’s so much character to this piece. Its minor tonality has an almost slithering character and it screams “underground stage” as much, if not more, than Zelda and Mario’s own underground themes. While there is a shade of mystery and an almost ominous tone to it, it isn’t as outright threatening as those respective tunes and the OneUps make the most of the almost playfully-ominous melody while adding their own jazzy character to it.

#1: Boomer Kuwanger (Volume 2)

Once again I find myself picking a Mega Man X tune over other excellent Mega Man classic tunes (this time it’s the Air Man arrangement and Shadow Man arrangement on the same album, not to mention the excellent Metal Man arrangement on Volume 7), but it’s just hard to deny the excellent music from the series, even if I preferred the classic series’ gameplay and story and between Jonny Atma playing up the wailing 90’s tone of the soundtrack and the OneUps’ more unorthodox approach to remixing this piece, I definitely have to allow that the Mega Man X music is at least as good, if not better, than my beloved Mega Man classic series.

This job is making me learn all sorts of weird things about myself.

From the laid-back opening with the OneUps’ iconic string/saxophone combination, this is an excellent homage to one of the most recognizable tunes from the original Mega Man X. The build up to each refrain and the improv sections to an excellent job of getting the listener hyped up several times throughout the piece and I just can’t help but bob my head along with the infectious rhythm.

Enjoy our Content? Please think about supporting OnlySP on Patreon if you’ve enjoyed this interview. Every dollar pledged helps us to continue bringing you all the latest single player games coverage. And be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter (@Official_OnlySP) to get the latest single player news, opinions, discussion, and feature articles as they’re available.

Enjoy Boss Tunes? Check out the last installment of Boss Tunes, featuring Jonny Atma here.

 

 

Writer, journalist, teacher, pedant. Reid's done just about anything and everything involving words and now he's hoping to use them for something he's passionate about: video games. He's been gaming since the onset of the NES era and has never looked back.

Features

The Maker of 2019’s Must-Have Interstellar RPG Within the Cosmos Talks Gameplay, Lore, and the Future

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Within the Cosmos

Some indie games look impressive enough to match anything coming out of the AAA studios. Within the Cosmos fits that bill to a tee. Every screenshot from the project shines with ethereal beauty, and the description makes it sound like a marvellous mash-up of Deus Ex, Mass Effect, and Halo

This RPG casts players as a would-be colonist intended to seed human life away from what seems to be an apocalyptic interstellar war.

To find out more about the promising project, OnlySP reached out to developer Francis Debois, who went into great depth about the gameplay, structure, and the processes involved in production across the last five years. 

OnlySP: I wanted to start by asking about the gameplay. In the marketing you’ve mentioned that objectives can be completed through stealth, combat, or diplomacy, which is always a plus for an RPG. Is that multi-path approach available for every mission, and how free-form are the player’s options?

Debois: The missions in the game generally give you multiple ways to affect how the mission unfolds, whether it’s through dialogue or how the player approaches the mission. Also, the options available to you are governed by the type of character you create. If you have a character that’s high in Intelligence, you might be able to hack a control panel that opens a door to a room that you’d otherwise have to fight through to get to, or if your Charisma isn’t high enough, and you try to convince them to leave the area, they might not listen to what you have to say, and they’ll become hostile, or you can simply avoid all of that and find a way to sneak inside!

OnlySP: From what I understand, the RPG levelling mechanics are tied to modules on the character’s suit. Can you tell us more about how this system works and maybe provide examples of some of those modules and upgrades?

Debois: Modules are essentially “perk points” that you can use to upgrade your character. Every time you level up your character, you will get a module you can use to enhance/alter your character. The perks available to you are tied to your attribute points. So, if your Agility is high enough, you can “spend” a module and get the “Light Steps” perk, which makes your footsteps much lighter, therefore harder for the enemies to hear.

OnlySP: The game also has a stat system, which sounds a little like S.P.E.C.I.A.L. from Fallout. Is that an apt comparison? Will players be able to improve and modify those stats through gameplay and, if so, how?

Debois: Yeah, it’s a similar idea to how S.P.E.C.I.A.L. works in Fallout or similar games. When the player starts the game, they will be given a fixed amount of points that they can assign to their attributes. So, if you decide to max out your Constitution and Agility, you’ll have a character who’s agile, sneaky, and strong, but that would come at the cost of not having much Intelligence, Charisma, or Perception. So, you’re really gonna have to think about what attributes you favour, or you could put a roughly equal amount into all of them and have a character that can do a little bit of everything but not a master of everything. It’s up to you. I feel like that system will really create the desire for players to have multiple playthroughs of the game, and still have each playthrough feel like a different experience.

As far as improving and modifying those stats… I’m still trying to get the balance right. There might be one or two instances where you can upgrade them, or get temporary boosts to them, but whether you can improve or modify them beyond that is still being determined.

OnlySP: While upgrading, will players be able to respec their character’s abilities at all or are they locked into the upgrades they use?

Debois: No, they won’t be able to respec. Once you select an upgrade/perk, that’s what you’re locked into.

OnlySP: If I recall correctly, I’ve read somewhere that Within the Cosmos has a linear structure. Does that mean players won’t be able to revisit previous locations? 

Debois: You WILL be able to revisit previous locations. It’s linear in the sense that you can’t visit a new region, or planet that you have no narrative reason to visit yet. For example, the first planet you go to in the game is Alios, the second planet you visit is Berith II. If you’re right in the beginning of the game and you just got to Alios, you won’t be able to just go straight to Berith II until you’ve reached the point in the story where it makes sense to go there, but once you go there, you can go back and forth between those planets as often as you’d like. Also, I used the term “linear” as a way to get the point across that it’s not a huge open sandbox or anything. The game is very story-driven.

OnlySP: Speaking of locations, the game has the character visiting a number of planets. How many planets are there, and how have you differentiated each of them?

Debois: There are three planets in the game. Each one is aesthetically different, with different fauna, different factions, and the architecture of each planet reflects the dominant faction or factions on that planet. Aside from those locations, there are other places you’ll visit for a mission or a series of missions.

OnlySP: Looking at the Steam Greenlight page, there’s mention of vehicles and survival mechanics, but those seem not to have made it to the final version. Can you maybe explain how the development process has resulted in changes from the game you initially set out to make?

Debois: The direction the game was headed when I created the Greenlight page was completely different to what it ended up being! Initially, I intended to make an FPS with survival mechanics, but as the game progressed, and I started writing more of the story, I realised that survival mechanics didn’t really make sense, and it negatively impacted the experience. There were many things that were added and cut out in the end, so vehicles, and the survival mechanics were just two of the many things that simply didn’t end up feeling right as the game really began to take shape. As I wrote more and more, I felt like an RPG would be the best way for players to experience the game and the story.

OnlySP: You’ve mentioned that the game should take between eight and ten hours to complete. Does that factor in all the content available in the game or just the main missions?

Debois: 8-10 hours is a rough estimate of what I would say an “average” playthrough would be. Which is someone who has completed the main story, and did a few side missions. If you decide to do everything possible in the game, it will certainly take longer than that, but if you decide to strictly follow the main story, it will be shorter than that.

OnlySP: As I’ve been following Within the Cosmos, I’ve felt that it looks a bit like Halo and sounds a lot like Deus Ex. It’s got me wondering what you feel as though it’s most similar to and what sort of inspirations have shaped the look, feel, and overall tone?

Debois: Oh, there have been so many inspirations! I love the FPS RPG genre, so Deus Ex was a massive inspiration, as was Fallout: New Vegas. Those are two top tier FPS RPG games that I absolutely love. Space-based games have had an influence as well, such as Halo and Mass Effect. They helped shape the game in one way or another. I’d say the biggest inspiration behind it all has been Star Trek, I think the story and lore will reflect that to some degree.

OnlySP: Within the Cosmos is set against the backdrop of an interstellar war. How much of that background lore will players be privy to as the experience goes on?

Debois: The interstellar war is the reason that the player, and the factions are there in the first place. You will be exposed to the history of the war by reading some of the logs in the game, and through some characters you meet, etc. The war is what ties everything together. As you play through the game, you will see that even though you’ve escaped to this region of space, which is far away from the war itself, you still feel the effects of it. What you decide to do can really influence how the war plays out.

OnlySP: Meanwhile, the main story follows an individual sent to safety to preserve the human race. We’ve seen similar ideas of species protection and propagation in the likes of Fallout and Mass Effect: Andromeda. How is Within the Cosmos distinct from those earlier games?

Debois: Well, I really don’t like to compare Within the Cosmos to other games, but Fallout is more of a sandbox, and Mass Effect is more of a story-driven action RPG. Within the Cosmos falls somewhere in the middle of that.

OnlySP: As I understand it, Within the Cosmos, is entirely self-funded, self-developed, and self-published. Did you ever consider crowdfunding or partnering with a publisher to help get the game across the line sooner? Why or why not?

Debois: Not really, no. Some people suggested that I should try crowdfunding but that was something I was never interested in for Within the Cosmos. This was really a game that I wanted to make myself, so funding it and publishing it myself felt the most natural to me.

OnlySP: I know there’s still a little while before Within the Cosmos launches, but what’s next for debdev?

Debois: Once Within the Cosmos is out, I’m going to listen to the feedback from the community, and just work on updating the game with more content as time goes on. I really want to give this game all the support I can give it. Anything after that, we’ll have to see what happens! I would love to work on some of the other ideas I have, some more RPGs. There are other games that I really want to make, but after dedicating nearly five years of my life to this game, I’m not sure I will have the financial means to be able to do this again! 

OnlySP: Finally, do you have any final comments that you’d like to leave with our readers?

Debois: I’d really like to thank those who have been giving the game compliments, and those who have been providing feedback! It all really means a lot to me, and proves that all the years of hard work that I have inputted into the game, has been all worth it!

Thank you all for reading this, and for having an interest in Within the Cosmos! I really hope you check it out on Steam, wishlist it, and play it when it releases on 1 August!


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