There are very few fan-made, independently-operated places on the internet these days that can say they’ve survived a decade and are still kicking. Even more so for places that dedicate themselves to the love of video game music and re-imagining favorite tunes from hundreds of games both past and present. As of today, there’s only one place that can boast that it’s survived 10 years as a full-blown competition between gaming music fans to create the most awesome and badass re-compositions of classic (and even obscure) video game tracks in a battle royale to claim superiority on a regular basis.
That place has been known as the “Dwelling of Duels“. Wanna know what it’s all been about these past years?
It all started as a creation of a forum that was originally made to support fans of classic video game cover band, The Minibosses – known as The Shizz. The Minibosses’ wiki describes the competition’s conception as such:
In AD 2003, war was beginning. Shizz user Oroku-Saki considered himself to be the best guitarist ever, but housethegrate and Ashane disagreed. After much flaming and arguing, a competition was arranged by Crimson: each of the “pro” entrants would cover Dwelling of Doom from Castlevania 2, adding their own guitar solo. Each of the “amateur” entrants could cover any song from any game.
There were only two entries: Crimson and Radne, both in the amateur category. However, DoD was born. Over the next two years, it attracted many new entrants and was established as a solid part of the shizz.
Thus began a monthly competition between musicians and game enthusiasts to lock egos and skills in both celebration for their most beloved game music, and also to prove dominance over the rest of the rabble. For a month, anyway.
Amongst the various other video game music communities, DoD had two things that makes it stand out. The first is that each month has a particular theme to it, such as “Mega Man Month” or “8bit vs. 16bit Month“, that participants must stick to in order to submit a legit entry to be judged. The occasional “Free Month” loosens up the requirements with any track from any title being fair game. This kept things interesting from month to month, allowing for either tight restrictions or loose freedom to entice both competitors and listeners alike. The other very unique part of the Duels is the requirement that at least one of the main instruments used to construct any entry to qualify has to be performed live. That means a live guitar, live bass, live keyboard or any other instrument that is not strictly virtual must be actually played and used in the track without heavy alterations. This posed another creative challenge for those musicians who might not be strictly live-players to push themselves to learn new avenues of producing music that they may not have found the motivation for otherwise. (Alternate entries could also be submitted for fun and left out of the judging, but would still need to abide by the same rules and competitors)
Songs are collected within a month’s timeframe, give or take depending on the theme, and then presented anonymously for a listening party to cast judgement on. The party is free for anyone, regardless of musical or gaming talent, to get in on and vote on each entrant. Votes are tallied at the end, with artist names and rankings being announced with special notice going to the top 3 highest-rated songs.
The competition has produced and honed a wide variety of talent that have since been involved in various projects in the video game music scene, both in collaborative community endeavors and in professional releases, and as the limitations of the technology and recording hardware/software evolved, so too did the pool of creativity.
The creation, organization, and drive behind Dwelling of Duel can be credited to more than just the people who started the competition. In the decade it’s been around, several members of both The Shizz and the game music community at large have been huge contributors to it’s long-standing spirit.
Contributor since the second competition ever (October 2003 – “Horror Games Month“) and occasional fill-in for hosting duties, Ryan8bit reflects on his involvement in DoD since the beginning:
I think one of my favorite personal memories was how after the competition started to get more fierce with more people entering, it became a lot more difficult to win. I hadn’t won for a long time, and then the first month after I had gone to my first MAGfest, I competed in a free month (February 2006) which had some pretty fierce competition, and I managed to win. My wife knew that it meant something to me, and she made me a congratulatory cake, which was pretty awesome.
There are lots of other great memories too like virt and Snappleman’s MAGfest tie after all the trash talk, MAGfest spaz dancing during songs, zmetallica getting upset and leaving MAGfest when people laughed at his song, personally hosting some of the biggest months in the history of DoD, and having the amazing coincidence of winning the 2nd Ninja Gaiden month after being the only entrant in the first Ninja Gaiden month. There’s just too many memories to recount.
DoD has really been this great thing for a lot of people. You would see people like Danimal come in with really rough production, and then leave with really tight skills. So many people improved so much over the years, and it was always fun following everybody and trying to guess who was who when things were anonymous.
Creating DoD was one of the cooler things I’ve done. I’m amazed that it has been going for 10 years and the little crappy 1-page html site I made has provided hundreds of hours of quality music to people, spawned a live act at Magfest and introduced me to many that I consider great friends.
As far as seeing things from my side, it has taken a lot of work from multiple people to make things go. We’ve gotten redesigns in the past from people like creeper, art from Jaquio and FoxxDragon, advisory and support help from Ryan8bit and all those years managed by Paragon. Mostly tho it has been the hard work of the artists month after month bringing an amazing amount of music to the community. It’s those artists that DoD is really about and I hope the site can continue to help them out both in exposing others to their songs and getting them feedback.
My favorite moment is still March of 2005’s competition. It was a pretty tough time in my life as I was totally poor and living off ramen, eggs and pancake mix. But I remember that month when I got Summer Time from Hale-Bopp and I just spent one afternoon in my room sitting in a ray of sunshine and listening to all the amazing music that had come in. Knowing all that good music was coming in helped me get by some difficult times.
The man who took over for the man for the past few years known as Paragon followed up on Crimson’s statement:
I think the best aspect of DoD is that it gives relatively inexperienced artists an impetus to practice and develop their skills, especially for recording. It was very cool being able to see people like Ryan8bit go from newbies with good ideas to really proficient, talented musicians.
DoD is probably the greatest, longstanding tradition in the entire VG arrangement scene. it’s responsible for the birth of a huge body of talent that would otherwise not likely exist in a style that remains unique to it.
I learned to play the electric guitar solely because of DoD. I was already playing bass, chapman stick, and keyboard but felt that what I wanted to present needed a real guitar playing sound and, in the absence of knowing anyone at the time who played guitar, I picked it up myself and here I am now.
Indeed, many additions to the main competition have come from it’s long tenure. This past MAGfest saw the debut of Dwelling of Duels Live, comprised of long-time competitors, take the 2nd stage and wow the performance with live renditions of several popular DoD entries from the past decade. It’s also spurred the creation of it’s own dedicated forum separate of The Shizz for the sole purpose of fostering more in-depth discussion and collaboration between musicians and fans alike. Truly, in the past 10 years, DoD has come into it’s own beyond what its original scope of a group of fellow music-makers having a bit of fun could have ever hoped to evolve into into.
With this current month celebrating the 10th year of the competition and hopefully enticing contributors both past and present into dusting off their guitars and keyboards for old time’s sake, as well as inspiring new blood to join in the fun, the gaming music community can only hope that the next 10 years of the Duels help bring about the next generation of fantastic talent and the future of video game music as a whole.