Game Soundtracks

While I have already posted a little about some of my favorite game soundtracks, I thought I would use this post to quickly go over some others I frequently listen to.  I don’t feel each warrants a long review (at least at this point), but I hope this will be sufficient to pique your interest for some new music ideally suited for background listening.  As an aside: these days I’m much more interested in music that can be listened to as background, so that means vocals (esp. screaming, etc.) and “harsh” tones are not my ideals anymore…

Myst

One of the first great CD-ROM adventure games for the Macintosh, Myst provided not just a great story but an immersive world that was inviting for all, even if it was only traveled one screen and click at a time.  To go along with ground-breaking graphics, Robyn Miller composed a soundtrack full of lush strings and harmonies.  If you’ve played the game, this music will instantly take you back to those worlds.  For anyone else, the music for this game is a wonderful backdrop for a session of writing. This is available from Amazon here.

Riven

While Robyn Miller could have gone the same route as he did with Myst’s soundtrack, for Riven we are given something completely different.  Reflecting the darker tones of the game, the music of Riven is much more subdued, taking its time to fill the air with sounds that can be both wondrous and nerve-wracking. This is available from Amazon here.

Deus Ex

In a world of cybernetics and conspiracies, the soundtrack of Deus Ex was a perfect compliment.  Alexander Brandon crafted a wonderful mix of synths and strings to support a big game with levels spanning the globe.

Doom

Starting the tradition of using near-cheese rock/meta in id games, the soundtrack to Doom is a classic MIDI sampling courtesy of Bobby Prince.  We have drums, keyboards and guitars all used to give us a wide variety of music.  There are some nice atmospheric pieces, followed up by the stereotypical MIDI drumming every kid sitting at a synthesizer could come up with.

Doom (Playstation)

In contrast to Bobby Prince’s music to the original game, for the Playstation port Aubrey Hodges gives us a soundtrack that is far more subdued and darker.  This is music that will slowly creep up and help make the gamer feel uneasy. The soundtrack is available on Bandcamp here.

Quake

In stark contrast to games before and after Quake, Nine Inch Nails produced a subdued and creepy atmosphere (along with the game’s sound effects) that went a long way, along with the games ground-breaking 3D graphics, to showing the world what a computer game could do.

Quake 2

One of the earliest soundtracks to come from Sonic Mayhem, Quake 2 saw the pendulum of id games swing back from ambient to near-cheesy hard rock.  That’s not to say the music of Quake 2 is bad; the drums are outstanding, and the guitar tone is pretty good.  There’s not a lot (or even any) of bass guitar happening (a universal problem it seems) but that’s not the least of my criticisms for this soundtrack.  While there’s a little bit of variety, utilizing some guitars and synths for brief periods of ambient sounds, overall it can be hard to distinguish most tracks from each other.

Frozen Synapse

I had heard about this game, but like so many others I just didn’t pay much attention to it.  I can’t remember if I finally watched a video of the game or such, but while what I saw didn’t interest me much what I heard certainly did.  The music, with its outstanding production, is a great listen.  Utilizing synths in a way that resembles female vocals, the tracks present a wide variety and is well worth the purchase.  This is available here.

Halo

One of the first games to feature a truly movie-like score, utilizing instruments and percussion more than standard rock fare, the music of Halo was as much a landmark as the game’s action for Microsoft’s entry into the console field.  Listening to the music now it sounds like a composer who had access to a synth and sampler rather than being able to record a symphony live.  Whether that could be blamed on technological limitations of the time (goodness knows the power of synths and storage capacity of software samplers have sky-rocketed), the working budget that Bungie had, or what the final product could fit on an Xbox disc and in what format was optimal (still a problem for current consoles; I’d like to see the next generation put some focus into sound rather than graphics) I don’t know. The Halo soundtrack is available from Amazon here.

Final Fantasy 7

Nobuo Uematsu.  Any fan of video games, JRPG’s, etc. should know that name.  The biggest name behind some of the biggest games in video game history (honestly, I couldn’t even tell you the names of the producers/writers/creators of the Final Fantasy games), his soundtracks have helped put these incredibly detailed worlds into our minds.

While I had heard his music before in Final Fantasy 6 (3 here in the US on the SNES), it was with the debut of Final Fantasy 7 on the Playstation, along with new 3D graphics, that showcased this man’s talents.  Utilizing CDs rather than cartridges, the Playstation allowed Uematsu to write hours of music for a game that took dozens to complete.

Chrono Cross

Squaresoft didn’t just rely on Uematsu for outputting incredible music for its games.  For another popular line of JRPG’s they turned to Yasunori Mitsuda to create an incredible score.  Just as the Chrono games offer a refreshing difference from the Final Fantasy ones, so does his music.  In contrast to the strings and synths of Final Fantasy, the music of Chrono Cross utlizes more guitars, bass and percussion.  It’s a refreshing change, and many of the tracks are quite evocative.

The Longest Journey

While I never played the classic adventure games from Sierra Arts or Lucasarts, I did play many of the “2nd-generation” ones such as Myst and Syberia. One of the more recent adventure games, and what’s referred to by many as the last great adventure game, is The Longest Journey. This game has all of the signature items of a near-perfect adventure game: an engaging story, beautiful graphics and environments, hilarious dialogue, and a frustrating interface. Complementing all of that is a wonderful soundtrack by Bjørn Arve Lagim and Tor Linløkken. The soundtrack is included with the game on GOG.

Mass Effect (1-3)

For a series of games in an expansive and detailed world, it needed a soundtrack that could more than hold its own.  In the first game, being an introduction to the world and setting up a great confrontation, the music has a wide range of tones and tempos.  In the second and third games the tension and action are ramped up, and so is the music.  While all three soundtracks are incredible, the first one will always be my favorite.  They are available from Amazon here: 1, 2 and 3.

Unreal

It wasn’t enough for Alexander Brandon to create the amazing soundtrack for Deus Ex and its sequel. His composition skills were demonstrated again for a ground-breaking soundtrack for a game known for its corresponding ground-breaking graphics. While Deus Ex had a more cyberpunk in-your-face sound-stage, in Unreal we hear a lot more subdued pads, wind pipes and more worldly sounds.

Guild Wars

Jeremy Soule is the Hans Zimmer of games. I guess that is both a compliment and a slight, as they do share the trait of having a “signature sound” for better or worse. Of course, more often than not they write exactly the kind of music needed for the project, and when I first played Guild Wars the music was beautifully integrated. This soundtrack is available on Jeremy’s site here.

Fastfall: Dustforce OST

It was during a sale on Steam that I even heard about the indie game Dustforce. While platformers aren’t generally my kind of game, I was enamored with the look of this game, and then when I heard the soundtrack my mind was blown. The variety of sounds, the production, everything about it is top-notch. I cannot wait to hear more from Fastfall, and it looks like he’s working with Hitbox Team on their next game as well! The soundtrack is available on Bandcamp here.

My Setup

As a fan of both The Setup and the Workspace posts on John August’s site, I thought I would make a similar post.  Note that this is for what I do at home, not my day job.

Who are you, and what do you do?

My name is Christopher.  My day job is in IT, but I consider my “true work” to be a mish-mash of writing and composing/playing music.

What hardware do you use?

I have a desktop system that I built  a few years ago.  It wasn’t high-specced even then, but I have since doubled the amount of RAM as it’s gotten so cheap.  The DVD drive went out, so right now it doesn’t have any optical drives.  I originally put Windows 7 on it, but it now rotates between various linux distros.  I recently put on Ubuntu 12.10 which was working great until I switched video drivers to try out Steam, and now I only get my background, and the log-in screen won’t let me choose a different session.  I can’t believe it’s 2013 and the most “user-friendly” linux distro still has these kind of problems.  Either via USB or an external DVD drive Windows 7 or 8 will be going onto the system, and my days of trying out linux will be over.

I also have 2 Mac laptops, both are now about 5 years old.  The white MacBook has a newer battery that actually works, while the Apple-replaced one in the MacBook Pro barely lasts a few hours (even with dimmed screen, etc.).  The MacBook came with 2GB RAM and that’s the max it can handle; its hard drive was replaced a few years ago with a 7200 RPM one that helped a little bit. The MBP has been upgraded to 4GB RAM but still has it’s original hard drive.  I’ve debated putting an SSD in there, but with the worse battery I think I’ll just start saving towards a MacBook Air or Retina to replace both of them.

I also have an iPad (2nd generation) and my HTC Inspire 4G.  The iPad is still pretty good performance-wise and it’s battery is still great; while I do think a Retina screen would be great I’m in no rush to replace or supplement it.  The phone is getting pretty slow, even with a factory reset.  It was updated from Android 2.2 to 2.3, but I’m on the fence whether to go to a Nexus, iPhone or Windows Phone.  I’ll have to see what may be out later this year.

My key piece of music gear is my Yamaha acoustic guitar.  My very first guitar was a used Yamaha acoustic, and I was happy to finally get another acoustic recently.  It plays extremely well and it didn’t cost so much.  I’ve had various electric guitars over the years, both Strat-style (single-coil pickups) and Les Paul-style (humbucking pickups), but as my interest in certain styles of music has waned so has my interest in those instruments.

I also have an electric bass, and it’s a nice change of pace from playing a 6-string guitar.  It was my most expensive purchase, but once in your hands you can feel it.  I also have an amp to go with it, a simple solid-state combo unit.

I have a PDP 7-piece drum kit, and if it wasn’t for the great price I got it for I would admit it’s totally overkill.  I started with a Pearl double bass pedal but have moved back to a single Pearl 900, as its responsiveness can’t be matched and again my waning interest in music that really used a double pedal.  I added a Pearl brass snare drum, and have Paiste hats and a Zildjian ride.  I’m still looking into a crash, which will likely be one of those brands.  I also have a Latin Percussion cowbell, but until I get a mount it’s not used.  For drumsticks I rotate between thin jazz sticks to thicker 5B or even 2B, from either Vic Firth or Pro Mark.  My throne is a Roc-N-Soc, and my rear thanks me.  I use Pearl 900 hardware.

And what software?

Most of my writing is done within a plain text editor.  I’ve learned to leave formatting (except for screenwriting) until the very end, so the excess features and bloat of any word processor is overkill to me.  As I’ve written before, I also prefer keeping my work in plaintext so that I never get stuck in an obsolete or un-supported file format.  I’ve been burned by Sublime Text’s one update for version 2 and now charging again for 3, so I now rotate between Notepad++ and TextWrangler when working on Windows and Mac accordingly.  When I do need to work on formatting, I am happy in either Word or Pages (even though it’s in sore need of an update).

For screenwriting I use Final Draft.  I started out with Celtx, and for no cost it’s an outstanding value.  I’ve started looking into the Fountain markup language, and if it gains traction in Final Draft then I will likely move my screenwriting to a similar “plain text first and then formatting in a full program later” pattern.

I use Dropbox to keep files synced between the systems.  Right now I have a free account and have more than enough room for my documents and photos; eventually I will probably upgrade and move all my music over to it as well.

I have an older version of Propellerhead’s Reason.  This was before Reason and Record were re-integrated.  In my opinion Reason, like Ableton Live, is coming out with new versions far too often.  I can’t help but feel that it smacks of greed, lack of direction, etc.  I also grew tired of relying on one program to try to compose a whole song, even though I will give the nod to Reason for its completeness.  I do wish they’d upgrade the graphics, as we’re no longer on 800×600 screens and it’s too hard to read the instrument panels.

I do like Propellerhead’s newer iOS app Figure.  It has a very nice interface, and there have been some good updates for it.  I would like to see them apply this to Reason and their other software, and perhaps then I’ll take another look.

For my recording needs I’m fine with using Audacity, and it’s hard to beat free. I’ve dabbled with Garageband and it’s ok; if music was my main focus/income I would definitely go with Logic Pro over anything else.

What would be your dream setup?

I’m pretty happy with the abundance of equipment and options I have.   I still feel I have too much, and will likely continue to downsize and simplify.  I think the 2 older laptops need to be replaced by one good one, and I need to fix the desktop’s OS situation.  For writing I want to be able to work on it at any time and any place, even if I just have a phone or tablet available.  For music, I’m happy with an acoustic guitar and a notepad.  For recording, I may just buy a portable recorder for ideas and rough tracks, and then look into a nice USB mic for recording to the computer.

Bandcamp find: Dynatron



While looking up music from Hotline Miami, I found Perturbator’s music.  Via their label, Aphasia Records, I discovered Dynatron.  While Perturbator is reeking of dark streets, neon lights and cybernetics, Dynatron is optimistic space-faring music. If you enjoy the far-reaching ideals of 2001 or Tron, Dynatron may be just the thing for you.

Bandcamp find: Doom Playstation Soundtrack



I’ve listened to Bobby Prince’s soundtrack to Doom for years now.  I remember how excited I was to find the CD available online (this was back before mp3s kids), offering a far higher quality version of the music that was only heard via MIDI in-game.  Drums, guitar, keyboards and more were now heard.

There’s been some negativity about the music in id’s games.  While Quake had an excellent atmosphere thanks to Nine Inch Nails’ subdued sounds, most id games lean towards a hard rock/metal vibe.  While that may suit the Quake games, it didn’t fit quite as well in the Doom world.  This dark and brooding world needed a soundtrack to match.  It would receive it in its Playstation port.

For the Playstation port, Williams Entertainment turned to Aubrey Hodges for a new soundtrack.  I don’t know the details of why a new soundtrack was even created.  Never the less, what we have is a soundtrack that matches or possibly outshines Quake’s.  That soundtrack is now available for purchase from Bandcamp here.  I’ve been previewing the album from the website for a few weeks now, and it’s great background music.  Whether you need some good atmospheric background music while writing or coding, you’ll be hard-pressed to find something better.  There’s also other albums available on Bandcamp from Aubrey, and they are all excellent atmospheric pieces.

Bandcamp find: Perturbator



Have you heard the soundtrack to Hotline: Miami?  You haven’t?  Well listen to it here, for free!  Now, after you listen to it, if you’re like me, you’ll think that Track 5 is the best one.  When I listened to this soundtrack, I immediately had to find more music from Perturbator.  Their main page on Bandcamp is here.  If you are a fan of cyberpunk, science fiction, industrial, etc. then I think you’ll be a fan of Perturbator.