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PixlTalk Episode 65: The Sound that Resonates

Music in games: Taking a look at what often goes unappreciated.

I think it’s safe to say that most of us love music. Regardless of age, culture, or region music plays an integral part in our lives. It evokes such strong personal emotions yet appeals to such a wide audience. Why is it then – with music being such an important facet of our lives – that it often goes unnoticed when attached to other media forms?  

This week we look to rectify that, discussing the importance of video game soundtracks. We discuss the brilliance of older 8-bit classics, and our thoughts on more contemporary pieces. Has there been a decline in the use of musical scores in games? Or has the industry/technology simply gotten better at naturally melding music and gameplay? What about music rhythm games, what role do they play in the industry? Are they past their heyday, or is resurgence possible given time?

We share a lot of our favorite tracks and the memories they bring back. Please feel free to share some of your favorite tracks and memories as well.

Also be sure to check out JD’s and Esteban’s blog posts as they’re both great reads.

Esteban’s Blog: http://www.pixlbit.com/blog/126/the_music_sensory_trigger

JD’s Blog: http://www.pixlbit.com/blog/34/the_power_of_a_good_video_game_ost


 

Comments

Angelo Grant Staff Writer

05/04/2012 at 05:38 PM

Ok, this is kind of disjointed, but I wrote it while I was listening to the podcast, so forgive me please.

I also wrote a blog on the topic some time ago (some content stolen for this post): http://www.pixlbit.com/blog/105/my_take_on_the_games_as_art_debate_2_the_chip_tune

I was always very impressed by the music in Castlevania: Symphony of the Night.  Especially when I discovered it was yellowbook audio, not redbook.  In other words, it was not CD audio played from the disk.  Fantastic stuff.

Amazing opening track from FF X:  You mean this one right?  Return to Zanarkand? Man I could listen to this one all day.  I actually figured out how to play it myself on piano, along with a few other songs, like the Gemini Man theme from Mega Man 3, and Terra's Theme from FF VI (III US.)  I love this stuff way too much.

So if you haven't figured it out yet, I'm a little obsessed with game music.  Umatsu was probably the first name related to video games that I knew from memory.  That's before even Miamoto.

You know what game had a fantastic orchestrated sound track?  Star Fox.  This is before you could do real instrumentation, so it's all synth, but it's fantastic.  It did everything right, repeating themes in other songs, dramatic movements.  That game really had a whole lot of effort put into every aspect of it, and the score was no exception. Example:  Space Armada theme.  Epic.

Esteban:  You know who should have done the soundtrack for Prince of Persia: Warrior Within?  Ra.  Their music has that alternative / metal edge they were looking for, but has plenty of Arabic overtones as well. Yes, it would have been possible for the game to have it's cake and eat it too. It's seriously awesome  (example of the far eastern feel I was talking about.) Check it out (this one would have been perfect for the credits.)  

I think someone asked if a soundtrack has ever redeemed an otherwise unworthy game.  I can think of two examples:  First, and oldest, The Silver Surfer. This game is horrible, it straight up sucks and don't let anybody tell you otherwise, but my word how on earth did they make these songs with the NES hardware? Just listen to THIS! and THIS!  If it doesn't excite you, you don't have a pulse! It's so so so SO good!  The game isn't worth playing, but because of the score, people still talk about it.

Second example, Nier. I love this game, but it is loaded with issues.  It's mediocre game-play takes you through an interesting story punctuated by moments of intelligence and shock, wrapped in graphics I can only describe as last gen.  I've walked away from this game several times, but I keep coming back to it because of the music.  I hear it in my sleep it's so good.  Once you hear it and experience it, you can't get it out of your head. It's all so simple, but amazingly captivating and dramatic.

some of my personal favorites not mentioned above or in the podcast:

Skyrim: Streets of Whiterun Tell me you can't taste the cold and see the snow fall when you hear this.

Morrowind: Main Theme To the best of my knowledge, this set the stage for the thematic elements (musically) for the rest of the franchise, and it's perfect.

SNES Donkey Kong Country, which has a perfectly appropriate theme for almost(jungle) every(ocean) environment (cave.)

Mega Man:  Friggin everything from 2 & 3, and some of 4.

Chrono Cross: Dream of the Shore near Another World gorgeous. Emotional. Mournful. Touching. I've sat on the map for 15 min just letting it loop before. I know it got mentioned in the podcast, but I just had to.

Rock Band:  Well, I'm a drummer, and Rock Band taught me a few things.  It's NOT going to teach you how to play the drums since the hi-hat is missing, and the timing is off, but it will teach you rhythm and how the drummer is doing what he's doing. It also taught me that Danny Carry and Mike Portnoy (of Tool and Dream Theater respectively) are as brain breaking as they sound.  

Michael117

05/04/2012 at 05:55 PM

^^^   Now that's a comment. Angelo for the win. I'm in love with Elder Scrolls themes, and Morrowind has my favorite one. Just hearing somebody else mention it gets me into fanboy mode for that game and its score. I haven't played Skyrim yet and I'm dying waiting for a GOTY edition, so I don't know about the music yet. Oblivion's music is amazing and fits the game so perfectly, but I absolutley have to say Morrowind's music is my favorite.

Our Take

Esteban Cuevas Staff Alumnus

05/04/2012 at 06:26 PM

I listed to some of the Ra music you put up. I don't think it has as many Arabic overtones as you said but it would work better than the music they put in Prince of Persia: Warrior Within.

That Chrono Cross song you posted is my favorite song on the soundtrack. I sat on the map for a long time too listening to that. That was my main deciding factor in buying the soundtrack.

Michael117: I haven't gotten to Skyrim either. I will get it someday and hear all the awesome music it has.

Angelo Grant Staff Writer

05/07/2012 at 02:09 PM

Figured I'd throw a few more of my favorites up there:

Xenogears: Bonds of Sea and Fire

Final Fantasy Tactics: Intro Music (not sure of the title)

Mega Man 4: Cossack Theme 2 I was never sure why nobody loves this one as much as I do

Deus Ex: Intro (again, don't know the name)

Terranigma: Underworld and Overworld

Alundra: The Wind that Shook the Earth

Grandia: Title Music (so many with no name! What's up with that?)

Almost all of the Legend of Mana soundtrack (too bad the game sucks)

Sorry, one more NieR: Ashes of Dreams.  I want this sound track SO BAD.

Nick DiMola Director

05/08/2012 at 01:16 PM

Worth mentioning - the soundtrack to Fez is all sorts of amazing.

See here - http://disasterpeace.com/album/fez

Angelo Grant Staff Writer

05/08/2012 at 02:54 PM

Glad you pointed that one out.  It's quite good!

Julian Titus Senior Editor

05/07/2012 at 11:15 PM

I own over 40 game soundtracks. And by "own", I mean just that. It's a collection I've put together over the past 14 years, and I don't even own some of the obvious titles like the FF VII-IX OSTs. Some of the gems in my collection are the American release of the Secret of Mana OST, the Super Metroid soundtrack, and Soul Edge: Khan Super Sessions. I love game music, and when I ran my store we would crank it all day long to advertise our soundtracks for sale. I regularly listen to my music even now.

It's funny, because I feel like game music has declined as the audio quality has increased. In the 8 and 16 bit days, composers had to work hard to make each level sound unique. Think about The Legend of Zelda. That game has, what, three tracks? Title screen, overworld, underworld. But who got tired of hearing those songs? I know I didn't. Each town in Final Fantasy IV has its own personality, and the characters in most of the FF games have their own themes. It's not unlike Star Wars, where everyone thinks of Vader with the Imperial March, or Leia to that song that plays when Luke finds her.

Music in games today tends to be very orchestral but lacking in personality. It truly has become background music. I see the same problem in movies, with most films having just a score with no personality. Although the Marvel Avenger movies each have a very distinct score.

The Tri-Force crew has a music show planned, but it's going to be a lot different. Please look forward to it!

Esteban Cuevas Staff Alumnus

05/08/2012 at 03:06 AM

You've got the Soul Edge Khan Super Sessions? NICE!

Julian Titus Senior Editor

05/08/2012 at 08:58 AM

The Soul Edge cinematic theme song is in my workout mix. :)

Esteban Cuevas Staff Alumnus

05/08/2012 at 06:20 PM

Nice. That'll get you pumped up.

"We all need to shine on to see
How far we´ve come on our journey
How far yet to go searching for our star!"

Angelo Grant Staff Writer

05/08/2012 at 10:32 AM

I think there are exceptions to the rule about older soundtracks.  Some examples that really stick out in my mind are Nier and the recent Elder Scrolls games, which I've already mentioned.  Also, the more I play Xenoblade, the more I love the score of that game.  It's much more melodic than the typical orchestral score, and even tracks that aren't favorites of mine grow on me.  My kids even commented on the music.  When a 9 year old stops to just listen to music, you know you've done something right.

Julian Titus Senior Editor

05/08/2012 at 06:41 PM

Oh sure, there's exceptions to every rule. But is the music in Nier and Xenoblade the type of music where you hear a track and can easily pinpoint where it sits within the game? That's the point I'm making. I enjoy the music in Fable, Mass Effect, and Portal, but have me listen to music from any one of those games and I'd be hard pressed to tell you exactly where the tracks came from.

Angelo Grant Staff Writer

05/10/2012 at 11:01 AM

I'd say yes, but again, these are exceptions, and while the scores are fully orchestrated, they emphasize melody over ambiance.  I think that's the key to association.  I mentioned Morrowind's theme and Skyrim's Streets of Whitefall earlier.  Those are memorable as well, but aren't quite as melodic.  

NieR is an exception to nearly every game soundtrack rule.  I know I dropped a sea of links, but check out the NieR ones if nothing else.  You'll understand whey they are so memorable.  The songs have lyrics, and it works.  The vocalist wrote her own words and was instructed by the creators of the game to take a few modern languages and imagine what they would sound like 4000 years in the future.  She did an outstanding job.  Only one song is in English, and it shattered my perception of Japanese use of the English language in song (usually, it comes off as pop covered with cheese.)  They are extremely memorable and hold very tight associations with in game events and locations.

The two I already posted are Song of the Ancients (the thematic piece of the soundtrack) and Snow in Summer

Here's the Song of the Ancients Battle (an aggressive version of the song I already posted)

This one is The Wretched Automatons a fan favorite used in an industrial ruin populated by aggressive robots.

This song is called Grandma.  It's a theme for a character you never see, but is the only person a very tortured character has anything in common with.

Here's the English piece I mentioned.  It's the theme associated with the main character's daughter.

Spend some time poking around YouTube.  You won't be disappointed with this one.

Julian Titus Senior Editor

05/10/2012 at 10:12 PM

You know what I'm realizing? My apathy for game soundtracks is directly related to the fall of Japanese development. Most of the games I play these days are made in the West, and they opt for the generic-but-epic orchestrated scores. Japanese composers still try to write their music with the theme of the game and characters in mind. For example, two of my favorite soundtracks this generation that I would want to own are Bayonetta and Asura's Wrath. I remember the music from those games distinctly. Western soundtracks that I consider memorable tend to be from licensed music, like GTA IV and Alan Wake.

Thanks for helping me realize this! I never really thought about it before.

But Final Fantasy XIII-2 is an embarassment of a soundtrack. If you need proof:

Crazy Chocobo

Joaquim Mira Media Manager

05/10/2012 at 10:53 PM

In regards to Chocobo song, it's like they hired the guys that make the Sonic the Hedgehog rock music.

Angelo Grant Staff Writer

05/11/2012 at 11:21 AM

Please... for the love of GOD tell me Umatsu had nothing to do with this.  It's the musical equivalent of violent diarrhea.

Joaquim Mira Media Manager

05/11/2012 at 01:29 PM

According to Wikipedia he was not a composer for XIII-2.

Angelo Grant Staff Writer

05/11/2012 at 01:48 PM

Yeah, but I think the original composition is his.  Just wondering if he put his stamp on it, or if they licensed the tune from Smile Please, or something like that.

Julian Titus Senior Editor

05/11/2012 at 05:55 PM

Uematsu's last complete FF soundtrack was X. He worked on some tracks for XI, but the only involvement he has with his compositions for Square Enix now is the Distant Worlds concert (which is amazing). SE controls the rights and ownership of all that music.

Michael117

05/08/2012 at 07:01 PM

The only OST I ever owned was Ocarina of Time. I sent money through the mail (stupidest idea ever, but it just had to work that one time and thankfully it did) and they sent it to me. It took like months but it was worth it.

Now I just listen to game music on youtube whenever I get the urge to hear it. I love hearing stuff from F-Zero and Starfox for example and those are in my favorites list on youtube so I can pull that shit up daily. The Corneria theme, Big Blue, and Mute City are awesome.

I see what you mean about some orchestral high production scores becoming less memorable in some newer games, but I wouldn't trade it for the world. I wouldn't go back to those old sounds unless the game itself was meant to be old design. 8Bit sounds are timeless and charming, but the orchestral themes and high production music in games like Morrowind and Halo are better than anything I heard in the old days. I wouldn't give up Halo or Morrowind for anything. The ears don't lie, you can't put rose tinted glasses on them! Lol

Julian Titus Senior Editor

05/08/2012 at 08:06 PM

That's why I usually listen to orchestrated versions of those older soundtracks. But it's not rose tinted glasses when I say that many of those compositions were simply more interesting. When you play the theme of Cyan's castle with a full orchestra it sounds amazing and is far more notable than, say, most of the music in Dragon Age.

Anonymous

05/08/2012 at 12:02 AM

Hey when I heard you guys on the pod cast talking about the music that acompanys the games we play your awesome with all the different thoughts and things you discussed. Music for me just keeps things going and sometimes the music just sucks but, it's  part of most of the enjoyment all so. Thanks good pod cast show.

Mike Wall Staff Alumnus

05/08/2012 at 01:33 PM

Glad you enjoyed. Always great to hear from listeners. If you have any questions, comments, or you'd like to see us tackle other topics in the future feel free to let us know.

Esteban Cuevas Staff Alumnus

05/11/2012 at 06:29 AM

Man there's a lot of back and forth going on. I glad so many people appreciate music in video games.

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