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Arka Ray

3 min

Play & Listen

Gods Of Rock

Build it and they will play

by Arka Ray

Ad-Rock screams into my ears, penetrating my muscles, compelling me to play the notes with precision. Kunal's on the drums, locked in a trance that makes his hands a blur. The energy radiating from the giant speaker next to me threatens to knock me off my feet.

Gods Of Rock | Build it and they will play

Calcutta - 1990

I’m sitting on my bed trying to figure out how to play The Game of Life, my present for turning 7, when Dad walks in with a cassette. It takes him seconds to fast-forward after loading Double Fantasy into my Walkman.

“This is about you,” he says, handing me my Walkman. “It’s called Beautiful Boy. John Lennon wrote it for his son. But he also wrote it for you.”

I hit play. I cry a bit when it ends, even though I catch less than half the words.

“That’s your real birthday gift. That, and The Beatles,” he says, handing me A Hard Day’s Night and Revolver.

Vancouver, BC - 2008

“So while you sit back and wonder why, I got this fucking thorn in my side, Oh my God it’s a mirage…”

Ad-Rock screams into my ears, penetrating my muscles, compelling me to play the notes with precision.

Kunal’s on the drums, locked in a trance that makes his hands a blur. The energy radiating from the giant speaker next to me threatens to knock me off my feet.

The stage rises high above the mortals below. This is what it must feel like to ascend to heaven.

Calcutta - 1991

“I look at you all, see the love there that’s sleeping. While my guitar gently weeps…”

I had been listening all day, imagining a guitar trembling under my fingers.

I finally muster up the courage to ask Mom, again, if I can take guitar lessons. “You know how I feel about that, Buro. Guitarists in Calcutta play at cheap bars. I want you to learn an instrument you’ll be proud of. The piano or tabla, maybe?”

I drop it. I could ask Dad. He’d be cool with it and probably convince Mom, but asking him doesn’t feel right. I don’t know why.

I go back to George.

Vancouver - 2008

“We want to hold a Rock Band competition for the Holiday party,” Mr. Singh says.

I’m in a meeting room at the new Microsoft Vancouver campus. “We need help. I’ll be sending around a questionnaire — fill it out if you want in.”

That afternoon, the questionnaire arrives. It’s simple - name, followed by just one question: “Why are you a good fit to run the Rock Band contest?”

“Because I helped build the game,” I write, and wonder if that makes me look like a show-off.

Yes, it does, but it’s also true. I hit Send.

Mumbai - 1998

“C’mon Buro, show us how to play your game…”

“Ok, fine, but you’re probably not going to do well till you get some practice.”

It’s a game I’ve built that I call Sin City 2000, an homage to my favorite strategy game and Frank Miller. Earlier that day it had come in 2nd statewide and selected for the national finals of a programming competition.

Dad sits at the keyboard and I show him the basics. He and mum both soak it all in.

An animation showing the po-po chasing pixelated goons rolls, accompanied by a thundering bassline.

Chol shaala!” he yells (translated roughly to “Let’s go get these bastards”), and claps his hands together with a loud clack — the way he does when he’s really into something.

In the background, Ad-Rock screams “IIIIIIIIIIIII can’t stand it…”

Redmond - 2007

“I’m not sure we’ll ship on time,” says Brad.

Other games release a piece of Downloadable Content every few months, if ever. Harmonix wants to release multiple songs for Rock Band every week. That means building custom tools that let our team process, certify, release, and market Rock Band DLC much faster than we currently do.

The tools are built, but the files they spit out are mysteriously rejected. We have less than two days to fix it.

“Dude,” I say, “That’s not an option. We need to hit the schedule — it’s public now — and if any songs release on PSN before Xbox Live, we are royally fucked.”

After some discussion, Brad leaves.

It’s 10 pm now, and I’m making coffee while watching the snow fall. What I need is some sleep — haven’t gotten a full night in over a week. I’m composing emails in my head. None are pleasant.

A vague idea floats in. I look over a sample config file comprised of hundreds of lines of XML. And there it is: the license mask needed an XOR operation. 1 and 1 should make 0, not 1, which is what the currently implemented OR operation outputs. A simple change.

I test it. It works. I want to tell someone. But I’m the only one here - there’s no one left to tell.

I thrust my hands into the air in victory, an imaginary crowd goes wild. I start typing up an email.

Vancouver - 2008

Kunal and I are on stage, putting the final touches on the setup. Kunal’s handling the sound equipment, I’m setting up the game. No expense was spared, all equipment is professional grade. Overkill, maybe, for a fake rock concert.

We are almost done, just need a final sound check. “Should we play a song, dude?” I ask Kunal.

“Let’s do it.”

I string the plastic guitar over my shoulder. Kunal sits down at the four-colored fake drum set.

“Which one?” I ask, scrolling through the set list.

“You know which one, dude,” he replies, with a conspiratorial smile.

Every hair on my arm stands straight up.

Mumbai - 2002

“I wish you had learned to play an instrument, Buro. That’s my only regret.”

Mom’s packing my bags. She hesitates, staring at my clothes. I’m leaving India soon to go to college in California. It will be the first time she will be without me.

“I wanted to learn the guitar, ma, but you didn’t want me to.”

“Yeah,” she sighs, “I messed up.”

Vancouver - 2008

The song ends. The silence is deafening as Kunal and I look over the rows of empty chairs, soon to be filled with drunk, happy party people.

We wonder where the screaming masses went. Those hundreds who, moments ago, were losing their shit over our music.

It doesn’t matter. They did their job; showed us what it feels like to be rock stars.

Actually, scratch that. What it feels like to be gods.

Geeks Need Love Too

The romance of video games

For many of us, video games figure into our everyday lives — and into our relationships, too. Sometimes we’re licking real life’s wounds while hiding out in some RPG, other times couples are learning how to move and fight as one, and other times we are just using a game as foreplay. One thing is for sure, lots of us are doing it.

One man. One broken heart. One rented video game. You’ll never guess what happens next. Ok, he plays the game. Heartache becomes escapism within a classic RPG, and maybe he’ll even get the girl. But probably not.

Love & Smash Bros. is an amazing tale of

  1. Winding down and letting it all hang the fuck out

  2. Dealing with the pressures of life that we all deal with

  3. How the right Player 2 can make life’s challenges so much easier to manage. We enjoyed it so much that it was the first short film we shot of one of our stories.

A very different take on the perfect Player 2, or Player 3… Milena’s story about how video games are good foreplay gets pretty steamy, if you know what I mean. STEAMY.