The soundtrack album is a neat little thing. Music used in the film that you can listen to outside of the movie. I always liked soundtrack albums because sometimes you’d find cool songs on there you wouldn’t find anywhere else. It’s one of those things that I tend to grab when I find them in a thrift store because there’s some good songs on there.
Then there’s the “music inspired by the film” soundtracks. Usually made when there’s only a handful of songs that play in the film, yet they have to fill up a CD, so they get a bunch of songs that fit the film for padding. These are a bit less inspired, but can be still interesting based on the song selection. Not particularly my favorites, but if the song selection’s good I can forgive it.
I had recently acquired an “inspired by” soundtrack, and it’s kind of a wild one. It’s not of a hit movie, or a teen drama. It’s… a soundtrack inspired by a game show.
Who Wants to be a Millionaire: The Album is one of those “music inspired by” albums. Released in 2000 during peak Millionaire mania in the United States, the album features a myriad of songs that are, as mentioned on the album cover featuring host Regis Philbin, “inspired by the hit ABC television show.”
Normally, there wouldn’t be a whole lot to say about this kind of album. Since it’s inspired by the TV show, it’s a bunch of licensed songs. But the album does put its own spin on the formula, with not only licensed songs, but two new songs, both themed after the big quiz show.
We start with a rather insipid Millionaire song homage called “I Want to Be a Millionaire,” performed by Jack & Jemma. Jack is one Jack D. Elliot, a remixer/producer of pop artists like The Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears. Jemma is his wife, so they were probably trying to see if they could make success as a pop producer/singer duo. As far as I can tell, this didn’t get very far on the music charts anywhere. Even with having veteran music producer David Foster co-producing the record.
“I Want to Be a Millionaire” is a fairly unremarkable dance hit where Jack raps about the show: “Is it A or B or C or D / So I could win a million dollars on TV.” After the verses, Jemma sings the chorus: “I Want to Be a Millionaire / So I can buy anything, never work another day / Ask me nicely, I might share because / I’m gonna be a Millionaire.” That’s all she contributes to the track outside of an occasional “oh oh oh oh,” it’s more Jack than Jemma in this case.
Surprisingly, Regis Philbin appears in the song as well, asking Jack the toughest $1,000,000 question: “What is the name of controversial rapper Eminem?” with Jack making jabs at bands like Sugar Ray while name-dropping Eminem’s real name. I get it’s supposed to be a bit like conventional hip-hop sketches, but this is just… lame. (As far as I can tell, Jack did not got the opportunity to remix/produce something with Eminem. Probably for good reason!)
“I Want to be a Millionaire” is like when you hear a radio station’s morning zoo crew try to perform songs of their own, usually themed on the city or the sports team. It’s kitschy, yes, but it’s not good. Definitely a terrible god damn earworm, that’s for sure.
It’s December! Around this time, The Game Awards makes its presence known, with World Premieres, sponsored content and of course, games winning awards. Started by Geoff Keighley in 2014, it’s now entering its eighth year of trying to be something that’s the video game equivalent of the Academy Awards. Whether or not he’s succeeded is up for debate.
Way back in 2012, Year One of this blog, I had made a post about the “highlights” of Spike TV and their Video Game Awards, the predecessor to The Game Awards. It was rather crude, much like a fair share of my first few years of this blog, of which I eventually went back and gave it an overhaul in 2019. You can see the updated version here. I figured since I’m still going at this “writing about games” thing 10 years later, I figure it’s time to do part two of this series, covering the current version of the Video Game Awards.
The Game Awards are something I really hold no love to. It’s the most crass, commercial thing of the entire video game industry, replacing E3 as the most visible but problematic thing about the toxic game industry. Thus much like the first post, I’m going to point out some of the more awkward and stupid moments of this “revered” Game Awards.
But first, some ground rules: We’ll go year by year, covering what I feel are the most notable parts. We won’t talk much about what games actually won, as awards like these are arbitrary, and having a conversation about what should’ve won is like people who constantly debate about game review scores: pointless. We’ll only cover things that I think are worth being a lowlight, which might be missing out on some things that others might consider “cringe” and should be covered here. (Which means you won’t see me post something like SonicFox winning Best Esports Player in 2018 on this list, because he deserved that. Sorry.)
That being said, let’s get started.
The Repeat Offenders
Before we get into the inaugural year of The Game Awards, I’m gonna start by covering certain events that happen repeatedly in several years, to speed things along.
From 2016 onward, each Game Awards starts with a 30 minute pre-show. During this process, they would alternate between interviews about the show, and showing off World Premieres and giving out some awards before the actual broadcast. In essence, the pre-show is like the regular show but at a faster clip. The hosts changed from year to year, but the hosts were Kyle Bosman (2016-2017), Geoff Keighley (2016-2018), and Sydnee Goodman (2019-present).
What awards get mentioned during the pre-show vary from year to year, but usually it’s the ones that wouldn’t have people come up to accept the award, or in the case from 2019 onward, the Esports centric awards. Shoving these off to a pre-show just to have more World Premieres always felt scummy to me, but apparently most contemporary award shows don’t cover all the awards in a single broadcast either, so… I don’t know. At least in some categories, they do have people come up to accept the award, so they at least get some time in the spotlight, just not on center stage.
In addition, this rapid-fire announcement of awards continues well into the regular broadcast. In a lot of cases, Geoff will appear on stage and go through up to 3-4 categories at a time, most of the time being the ones that are voted on by viewers. Again, nothing really wrong with this per se, but it just makes the actual awards just be a prop so we can get more World Premieres in.
Finally, returning from the Spike Video Game Awards, there are promotional ads everywhere. These change from year to year, but they’re often the go-to digital services of today: Discord, Grubhub, TikTok, Spotify, the works. Sponsors for upcoming video game films and video game-adjacent products are prominent. Facebook Gaming sponsors a taped segment each year covering gamers from around the world. And in some years, there’s ads for services that no longer exist, like go90 being incredibly prominent during 2015’s broadcast, or 2019, which had several ads for Google Stadia, a service shutting down in early 2023.
Much like its predecessor, there’s still award categories sponsored by brands like Samsung, Gillette and Subway. While there’s no “Most Addictive Game fueled by Mountain Dew” category anymore, it makes the award show feel a bit hollow to have brands sponsor specific awards.
The debut year of The Game Awards was an… interesting affair. Since Geoff and the show’s production team were transitioning from broadcast television to internet streaming, there’s a fair share of technical problems that happen throughout the broadcast. Microphones don’t work, awkward camera cuts, the works.
One of those technical problems seems to be this secondary camera angle that they constantly cut to when not on center stage, where Geoff will either be talking or doing an interview with someone like Marty O’Donnell. I assume this camera angle has a purpose: maybe to get a better angle of the people being interviewed. But instead it just looks like someone in the control booth accidentally switched to the wrong camera. It’s kinda funny to get rather unflattering angles of people like Reggie Fils-Aime.
One common award featured during these broadcasts is “Trending Gamer,” an award voted upon the community highlighting notable internet gaming personalities. The award would eventually get renamed to “Content Creator of the Year,” but with the same rules in place.
The inaugural year has Justine “iJustine” Ezarik and Stephen “Boogie2988” Williams presenting the award, of which the candidates were a bunch of relatively unknown Youtubers, Pewdiepie, and weirdly, Jeff Gerstmann. The winner ended up being John Bain, better known as “TotalBiscuit.”
I’m putting this here because TotalBiscuit was one of those personalities who was very much on the side of Gamergate, even though he tried to renounce it a few times. He was a fairly toxic personality when it came to gaming culture, complete with saying that his critics “didn’t actually play games,” and introducing The Framerate Police, a Steam Curators group that basically wagged fingers at games that dared to have locked framerates for their games, like the original Tomb Raider from 1997.
TotalBiscuit passed away in 2018 from cancer, a few years after this award. At the time TotalBiscuit had found out he was in the early stages of cancer, thus he accepts his award from his home.
For the record, I do not wish he died of cancer. I wish he was still alive so that he could get his head on straight and not try to pander to the angry gamers crowd like he had. At worst, he could’ve gone the Pewdiepie route and powwowed openly with right-wing fascists. At least then I could rightly ignore the guy. Though, in retrospect, The Game Awards did go with the more safer choice, because if Pewdiepie won, the award would’ve been a much worse look today. But honestly, I wish Jeff Gerstmann won. After all, Jeff Gerstmann is still a threat.
In a continuation of the slapdash production of the first Game Awards, we have miscommunication leading to an awkward presentation.
Best Mobile/Handheld Game was presented by comedians Matt Braunger and Ron Funches, two fairly amusing people — I always loved when Funches appeared on The Giant Beastcast. After doing a silly bit where they try to rip off Angry Birds, they announce the winner: Blizzard Entertainment for Hearthstone. Matt then says “Blizzard can’t be here tonight,” and they accept the award in their honor. Cut to Geoff, confused, where he mentions that someone from Blizzard is at the show, but continues with a conversation with Nintendo’s Reggie Fils-Aime. Eventually Blizzard producer Eric Dodds appears to accept his award and give his speech at the little nook where Geoff is interviewing Reggie. It’s kinda hilarious that such a thing happened, and wouldn’t be the last time we would see award mishaps like these.
It’s the holidays again – at least as of this writing – and naturally I thought about writing about a holiday themed game. Realizing that’s not a particularly big pool of games to choose from, I opted for games based on media franchises that took place during the holidays. Like Die Hard.
We could have the never-ending debate of whether or not Die Hard is a Christmas movie, but instead I’d rather talk about the strange resurgence of Die Hard video games throughout the late-90s to early-2000s. After the Lethal Weapon-like Die Hard With a Vengeance hit theaters, the fate of the franchise seemed to be in doubt, with whether or not a fourth film would even be made.
During this time, 20th Century Fox decided to get into the video game business, forming the short-lived Fox Interactive, licensing some of their film franchises for video games, with varying levels of success. The Alien vs. Predator games were fairly popular, with the original No One Lives Forever franchise also being one of the more critically positive ones. Also a bunch of terrible games based on The Simpsons, but the less said about those, the better.
Naturally since 20th Century Fox produces and owns Die Hard, it too got a fair share of video games. There’s the notable Die Hard Trilogy which did three different gameplay styles in a single game, which was uncommon around that time. There’s that time Sega made a game inspired by the film called Dynamite Deka that got localized as Die Hard Arcade when it hit the States. There’s even the Lithtech-powered Die Hard Nakatomi Plaza which was originally meant to be a free mod until copyright lawyers came in, converting it became a full-fledged budget title. I wrote about that one back in 2015, of which you can read here.
But there was one more attempt at a big Die Hard game. But this time instead of adapting the original film, they wrote a story that could’ve been the plot for a fourth film. And it’s the kind of game that will make you wish blew up Die Hard like Nakatomi Plaza.
Die Hard Vendetta is a first-person shooter developed by Bits Studios and published by Sierra and Fox Interactive, released in 2002 for the Nintendo GameCube. Initially, this Die Hard video game project had its origins as a Nintendo 64 title, but once the popularity of the N64 waned, they pivoted hard to the newer consoles, thus the game was shifted over to the more powerful GameCube. There’s a lot of information on the Nintendo 64 iteration on Unseen64, of which it’s an interesting read.
At the time, critics were nonplussed by this edition of the franchise, with Jeff Gerstmann of GameSpot giving it a rather scathing review at the time. Other critics were about as critical, with this game being thrown to the pile of licensed video games that got mostly forgotten. I picked this up game several years ago when GameStop was slowly phasing out used GameCube games from their store. I remembered the GameSpot review for the game, and when I see a critic be rather harsh about a game, I kinda wanted to see for myself if it was truly that bad. Turns out they were right in this case.
Funny enough, I got Die Hard Vendetta around the same time I got swindled into trying StoneLoops! of Jurassica through GameStop’s short-lived Impulse digital distribution service. I wrote about StoneLoops! way back in 2012, one of the early posts on the blog. Funny little coincidence, there.
Taking place years after the events of Die Hard With a Vengeance, John McClane is a semi-retired NYPD police officer who moved to Los Angeles… sorry, Century City, who’s watching a news report from Dick Thornberg, the snarky news reporter from the first film, where he’s reporting at an art gallery where they’re announcing a piece of art being recovered from Piet Gruber, the son of Hans Gruber from the original film.
Eventually a massive shootout happens, leading to a hostage situation at the art gallery. Several people are at risk, including the art gallery owner and John’s daughter Lucy, who’s now grown up and followed the life of her dad by also being a police officer. Being the caring parent John McClane apparently has become now, he grabs his service revolver and heads down to the art gallery to find out what’s going on.
Naturally, Die Hard Vendetta is a first-person shooter. Fairly straightforward shooter controls for the time in spite of the GameCube having fewer buttons than its contemporaries: The control stick moves, C-stick aims, L button does more refined aiming, R button fires, Z button reloads. Fairly easy to understand stuff.
D-pad up and down will switch items and weapons, and left and right can switch between John’s arsenal and items he’s acquired throughout the mission. X and Y are your jump and crouch buttons, hitting X twice will do a dive to prone, which is required to progress in some parts of the game. While the game does have a dedicated jump button, the game also unlocks an auto jump option where if you’re on a ledge, McClane will automatically try to jump across. It’s interesting and can be useful sometimes, but a lot of times McClane will either not jump far enough, or will jump when I don’t want him to. Worst off, the game has some rather nasty fall damage if you miss these jumps.
Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? is one of those rather ubiquitous edutainment titles of the late 80s and early 90s. A geography-driven game, the goal is to find clues around the world to stop Carmen’s henchmen from stealing some of the most notable artifacts from around the world, eventually leading to stopping Carmen herself.
A fair share of computers around the world hadWhere in the World is Carmen Sandiego?installed, probably alongside Odell Lake or Number Munchers. But as time goes on, the video games have become only one part of what people remember about Carmen Sandiego as a franchise. If you’re in that generation of ’90s kids like me, you probably remember Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? not from a best-selling video game series, but through a rather popular game show.
Also called Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?, it was a kids game show that was about the wonders of geography. This show was co-produced by PBS stations WGBH and WQED, and aired on PBS stations all around the country. Hosted by actor Greg Lee and featuring actress Lynne Thigpen as “The Chief,” it featured kids playing gumshoes at ACME Crimenet, answering geography questions to stop the theft of an artifact of the world from one of Carmen’s henchmen, with the final round having the winning gumshoe try to find Carmen herself to win a fabulous trip.
This show holds about as much nostalgia for kids of the 80s and 90s as most of Nickelodeon’s well known game shows did. It definitely rivals some of the greats on that network, what with it’s cool style, entertaining form of education, and fun quiz elements, giving a silly but fun vibe to the whole show. It lasted about 4 years on PBS before pivoting from geography to history, with a follow-up series called Where In Time is Carmen Sandiego? lasting two more years before ending production.
Naturally for a show that’s modestly popular like Where in the World… is, there would be loads of merchandising. The common T-shirts, video game adaptations, the works. Since the show featured a capella band Rockapella singing throughout the show’s 250+ episode run, naturally a soundtrack CD was also released. But there’s more than one soundtrack made for Where in the World…, andthat one’s been mostly forgotten. Let’s talk about Carmen Sandiego: Out of this World.
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Admittedly, I’m writing about this primarily because of an article I read about the game show that has been making the internet rounds lately. Christian Carrion of Buzzerblog, a noted blog about game show news, did some investigative journalism about a rumored long-lost episode of the show called “Auld Lang Gone,” where a contestant was visibly injured in the bonus round, causing it to be unaired. You can read about that tale over at Buzzerblog here, and it made me think about this album as a response.
This album features 10 songs about various things, from pop-driven songs about geography, to twangy country about families, to songs about bugs and Carmen Sandiego herself. A lot of these songs have fairly simple, cutesy lyrics, which tells me this album is clearly aiming for a younger demographic. Which is not a bad thing, children’s music can be fun and exciting like its adult counterparts without being fluff Yanni-esque fare.
So, you’d think an album based on the game show where a bunch of guys sing a capella would have Rockapella show up everywhere, right? Well, technically yes. Prominent member Sean Altman produces and co-writes most of the album with longtime collaborator David Yazbek, and does a handful of backing vocals on a lot of the album.
If you want to listen along with me, I’ve put up the entire album here. Legalities aside, the album’s been out of print for over 25 years, and with the exception of two songs here, the album isn’t available on YouTube or streaming services like Spotify. If that ever changes, or a record label objects to me having this music for some kids album freely available to download, I will take the link down.
Over the years I’ve written about games, I end up writing about games from a certain genre, and that’s first-person shooters. It’s my genre of choice, with enjoyable action romps like Doom and Quake to more cinematic experiences like Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. Though for every Call of Duty, there’s a clunker of a single player experience, such as Homefront, which I replayed recently.
Homefront is a game developed by Kaos Studios, a development team consisting of people who made the popular Desert Combat mod for Battlefield 1942 way back when, were the ones who worked on this infamous game. Backed by THQ’s ambitious marketing campaign, the game had the chance to be something really, really interesting. Except it wasn’t.
Prior to Homefront, Kaos Studios only made one game: the middling Battlefield clone Frontlines: Fuel of War. After the lukewarm reception that game got, they soon were hard to work on a spiritual successor in Homefront. According to a retrospective over at Polygon, the game was meant to be strictly a multiplayer-only experience – which makes sense, considering the developer’s pedigree – but executive meddling caused a shift in marketing to add a traditional single player campaign, causing it to drown out the carefully crafted multiplayer they had made.
I decided to replay this, on PC this time – my previous experience was through the streaming OnLive service around 2012 or so – and it hasn’t gotten any better. If anything, it’s much worse than I remember.
Homefront’s single player campaign checks off every single thing Call of Duty did, but somewhat worse: there’s a section where you kick open a door and shoot everybody in slow motion like in Modern Warfare 2, a portion of a stage where you’re picking off enemies as a sniper as you infiltrate an enemy camp ala “All Ghillied Up” from Call of Duty 4, even a section at the very end has you using a CUAV drone to pick off targets on the Golden Gate Bridge much like a section in Modern Warfare 2.
It feels like someone up top at THQ said to Kaos, “Hey! Remember that thing that Call of Duty did? Do that!” and did so without having a say in the matter. A shame, really.
But that’s not what I’m here to write about. I’m here to write about the game’s product placement.
Product placement in video games is a sticky kind of subject matter. I can’t think of any recent game that used it effectively short of sports games, and even there it can get pretty bad at times. Homefront is littered with advertisements for so many brands that taints the atmosphere of the game, taking place in a modest town in the middle of the United States. For being part of “the resistance,” you sure see a lot of product placement.
Kaos Studios’ lead level designer once talked about using brands in their game, and how they were allegedly rejected by several companies in doing so. Though it sounded like there’s only a brand or two in the entire game, there are many, many more brands than what they say here. It also looks pretty ironic considering in this interview they condemn Infinity Ward for making Burger Town, a fictitious brand in Modern Warfare 2.
As I played through Homefront’s campaign, I started documenting all the brands I saw. Now I don’t think I got every single bit of product placement here, there’s likely a few I missed because there’s shockingly so many of them. I’m ranking them from the least offensive to the most egregious in the entire game. It gets pretty ugly in spots, so strap in.
Homefront starts with a section where protagonist Robert Jacobs – a successful graduate of the Gordon Freeman School of Character Development – is shoved onto a bus ostensibly to be retrained as an enemy fighter pilot. That gets stopped short by the supporting allies of the resistance, Connor and Rianna. Though it does give a glimpse of a few Pabst Blue Ribbon banners strewn throughout the city before the bus is flipped over.
Not long after Jacobs escapes, they slip through a certain restaurant chain – more on that later – and walk past a Full Throttle vending machine. An energy drink brand by Monster, it’s one of two brands they own that are featured in this game, the other being NOS, which shows up a little later into Chapter 3. Oddly enough, Monster itself is a no-show here. Guess they save the main brand for the real prestigious games like Call of Duty.