The hills are alive with the sound of music over here at OnlySP. We’ve decided to focus this week’s Discussion Points on Video Games Music and how important it is to us as gamers. Joining the discussion are Connor Sears, Matt Bianucci, Eoin Harnett and myself. Let’s get started!
Matt: For me, the music makes a difference in most games because many times, it sets the tone of the current setting. Most of the time there won’t be dialogue so the emotions will be evoked through whatever kind of music is playing. Games like Journey and Ni No Kuni really stood out to me in terms of score
Eoin: Composers for video game soundtracks need to keep in mind what kind of atmosphere is required at a given point. The director will often work with them in order to convey this, but at the same time, if its good it can stand out on its own.
Nathan: I’ll agree that music IS important for games but pretty much 90% of the time, I take it for granted. I’m often too focused on the game itself to notice the theme playing. Take Last Of Us. That had an impressive score from what I’ve read but I didn’t pay attention to it as much as I should have as I was way too focused on the intense combat.
Connor: On your point, Nathan, I think that if a game has a truly incredible soundtrack, and if they use it well, it will make itself noticed. And it obviously shouldn’t overpower the gameplay.
Nathan: No no, definitely not.
Connor: My favourite example of a game’s music used really well is Bastion. This game has an unbelievable score and many of the tracks do a great job of serving as background, not overpowering the gameplay. But on the occasion that they have a really remarkable piece of music, the gameplay slows to accommodate it. You’ll get a really powerful track right at the time that combat dies down and you’re just taking a walk.
Nathan: I’ve heard the music on its own without playing it and it sounds fantastic.
Matt: That’s another thing. If the music is good on its own, then it’s special to me. Heavy Rain and The Last of Us worked like that for me
Nathan: Sounds very impressive. Matt, that’s very true. I’ve listened to Hotline Miami‘s tracks countless amounts of times and it just stuck with me. Heavy Rain‘s soundtrack was outstanding. There was some seriously brooding music in that game.
Connor: But I don’t think just making a good album is what these game composers should be shooting for. Unless it actively compliments the gameplay, it’s just another album!
Matt: Connor, that’s when a game like Ni No Kuni will stand out. When you’re running around the world, there is a beautiful score that adds to the atmosphere. Also, that’s where GTA and Saints Row come in.
Connor: Where the soundtrack just plays while you’re driving around?
Nathan: To be honest, those types of games have genuinely broadened my music taste, GTA IV especially. Also, a shout out to San Andreas. I never listened to Rage Against The Machine before that game.
Connor: Yeah, that’s a nice point. Not a lot of people talk about it, but there was a game not too long ago, The Saboteur, that did the exact same thing. I actually enjoyed just driving around because I got to jam out to really cool 40s music. The Sabotuer was kind of a GTA clone, though, which is probably why it fits the category so well.
Matt: That was Saints Row The Third for me. I love being introduced to some new artists
Nathan: OK, guys. Question time! Why is a soundtrack important to you? Is it because it adds to the theme of the game or does it help solidify a moment in a game (you hear a song from the game and you instantly remember the boss battle it is associated with)?
Connor: It just makes a game more memorable. Definitely. When you find a game that is obviously very well thought out in terms of sound design, it sticks with you.
Matt: For me, it does some of both. I have certain songs that remind me of one specific moment in a game, but others that remind me of the game itself. For example, Kanye West’s Power from the Saints Row The Third soundtrack reminds me of a specific mission, but The Last Of Us theme reinforces the theme of the game for me.
Nathan: That’s very true. I immediately remember that skydiving mission in SR3 when I hear that song. Very cool moment.
Connor: Or the first time a dragon appears in Skyrim, and you get that epic dragon battle theme for the first time. It gives you a rush. You remember it. As a side note, it also gives you more of a reason to fight. No one wants to run away when you’ve got a chorus of Nords screaming at you.
Eoin: If the music is enjoyable it makes the game more enjoyable. But I think a soundtrack can add to the theme and solidify the moment. Put it this way; imagine if someone only ever played Pokemon on silent. A major aspect of the game’s theme and memorability is gone right out the window. The majority of gamers out there won’t actively listen out for the music intently whilst playing. It’s meant to mesh in with the background. So when the game is enjoyable and they pass the learning curve the appreciation of the game increases immensely.
Nathan: Very well put. I think soundtrack is important personally because along with visuals and speech, it can help add to the theme of what is being portrayed at the time. In Dark Souls, every boss you fight has its own theme. The music is orchestral, beautiful, haunting and everyone has different song.
By the time you fight the final boss, the music is different.
There’s no swelling choirs or orchestras but a simple piano playing quietly as the theme. It is used to great effect to highlight the final boss. The final boss is a shell of a god, a man who spent most of his life clinging to power but is now on the way out. You are here to either take over his position or plunge the world into darkness. He is the easiest boss and you are here to slaughter him. The piano playing highlights the sadness and despair the final boss feels and you feel like a true monster for killing him. The theme makes the boss battle so much more emotional. It’s the perfect way to showcase how music can make a game or even a moment so much more meaningful.
Matt: That sets the tone of the moment. It’s memorable because it had a meaning for the fight.
Connor: That’s so cool. I’d like to add that, as much as we all seem to be praising the merits of a good soundtrack, I don’t think that every game needs a killer score. There are other ways to tell a story, and developers shouldn’t feel the need to shoehorn in a great soundtrack unless they are ready to put in the time to really integrate it into gameplay. For me, soundtracks are one of those things where if it’s wonderful, it’s wonderful, but if it’s not there, it’s not a big deal.
Eoin: The only downfall to that idea is that it requires the game to be enjoyable in the first place. You could have a terrible game with an amazing soundtrack, but players will be too focused on the bad gameplay to appreciate the music.
Connor: Exactly, Eoin.
Eoin: Another example is Red Dead Redemption, the ending song is quite poignant. And the first time you reach Mexico “Far Away” by Jose Gonzalez comes on. I can’t say I was a massive fan of RDR, but man. Serious chills at that moment.
Nathan: That is until a surprise rattle snake ruins the song!
Connor: If you want to talk about ending songs, let’s talk Portal. Both 1 & 2 have ending songs that shift the game’s tone almost 180 degrees.
Nathan: Yes, Portal has such an iconic ending song that makes the game feel different.
Connor: Portal 2 has one of the best soundtracks I’ve ever seen in a game. It’s my studying music and I can’t play Portal 2 without jamming along.
Matt: I love a good soundtrack. If the game is great and the soundtrack isn’t, that’s fine with me, but for a game to really mean something to me, it had to have a great soundtrack. We’re also forgetting Uncharted. Nate’s Theme is one of the most recognizable songs in gaming for me.
Nathan: It nails the Indiana Jones adventure style so well.
Nathan: OK, since we all absolutely LOVE music in games, is there any way/shape/form that you actually dislike music in games?
I’ll shoot. Games with repetitive soundtracks.
Before I get started, let me say that I love GTA soundtracks. But when I play so much of a game that its music starts to repeat, it gets on my nerves fast. Now I know I can change the station and listen to something else, but then that will get on my nerves too. I guess I’m just being way too nit-picky! It is only a minor thing after all. This problem is a lot more obvious in Fallout 3. Luckily, they got away with it because the songs were catchy as hell.
Matt: That’s why I love the Saints Row soundtracks, they never get old for me.
Connor: Yeah, you’ve really got to work with repetition in mind when you’re scoring for a game. Because you never know how long someone’s going to be sitting there
Nathan: True. I sit for long periods with open world games.
Connor: You have to make sure your themes are mellow enough that they won’t grate on your ears after four listens. That is actually one time that less is more. A super simple background theme can play indefinitely without becoming bothersome.
Eoin: The thing is with regards to both Fallout and GTA, the soundtrack is on the radio, which is not mandatory listening. You can play the game with the radio off.
Nathan: Not with GTA though, you’re just hearing traffic otherwise. I can open my window for that.
Eoin: That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Makes it more realistic!
Nathan: I guess. Fallout, I agree with. The non-radio music for Fallout is so chilling
Eoin: And what most people neglect to remember about the Fallouts are the scores.
Nathan: Right, I’m gonna ask you guys have you gained a new love for a genre because of a particular game and if so, which game, what genre and why?
Matt: Ni No Kuni‘s music, it really stuck with me, I had to play for a while to get in to it, but it is close to my GOTY now.
Eoin: Fallout 3 and the Big Band soundtrack
Nathan: So, Fallout from Eoin and Ni No Kuni from Matt. Any particular reason why? Like did it speak to you personally or did it just burrow into your brains?
Matt: The soundtrack for NNK wad really catchy and the game itself just really stuck with me
Connor: To answer your question for me, Nathan, I can’t say that a game has ever changed my music tastes, but I have picked up some catchy older music I wouldn’t have caught otherwise from playing period games like L.A. Noire and The Saboteur.
Nathan: The Sabotuer did have this fantastic track.
Nathan: Anything else you guys want to discuss before we close?
Connor: I can’t believe we spent all this time talking about video game soundtracks without mentioning Crush 40 and the Sonic Adventure themes. ROLLING AROUND AT THE SPEED OF SOUND GOT ONE PLACE TO GO GOTTA FOLLOW MY RAINBOW!
Nathan Hughes: Yep, we are awful people for leaving that one out. I still think the Dayton USA music is the best racing music ever. ROOOOOLLLLLLLIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIINGGGGG STAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAART!
Eoin: So guys, is there a particular genre of music you feel should be implemented more in video games? As in, genres you think would add to the experience more?
Connor: I don’t know. Lots of different games have had lots of different soundtracks spanning lots of different genres.
Nathan: As much as I hate to say it, I think Dubstep could find a home in futuristic games. It sounds like future music.
Matt: It’s fun to use in Saints Row 4, but it’s mostly a joke there.
Connor: I kind of feel that dubstep might overpower a game really easily. It just needs to be softened.
Nathan: Aside from dubstep, Kavinsky is an artist who I want to see more in games. His music made Drive a better movie. His music is laced with retro beats that still sound like they’re from the future. I’ve heard a rumor he may be around for GTA V however.
Connor: And that’s kind of what Portal 2‘s soundtrack sounds like. Super electronic beats
Nathan: Yep. I love Portal 2‘s music. On the flip side, I want a game to release music that is the exact opposite to what the setting is. Like imagine a very brutal and gorey horror game set to airy classical music at times. I want to see the conflict between sound and image more in games.
Connor: They would have to tread carefully and really know what they’re doing to pull that off, Nathan. Otherwise, it becomes super gimmicky, super fast.
Nathan: I guess but sometimes the risk can be worth it. Far Cry 3 did it with Ride Of The Valkyries (although mimicking Apocalpyse Now). Oh and also, Far Cry 3 gets the award for the best and maybe only good use of dubstep in 2012 to compliment a game.
Matt: That could be something an indie game could pull off; I doubt a triple-A game would try that.
Nathan: True, I meant an indie game should attempt to do this.
Eoin: Or the other way around Nathan? A game like Animal Crossing with some Sludge Metal soundtrack? I think it’d be interesting to see a game that has a soundtrack, and not a score, convey the story. The soundtrack could be a compilation (like GTA or Fallout or Saints Row) , but it’s used in such a way that it mimics the story/gameplay. Put it this way: think of any game that has a storyline you love. Now imagine if the soundtrack to that game was 30 songs that matched the story. A beginning, middle and end.
Nathan: Yep, that could definitely be feasible. So much music to choose from these days.
Alright, I think we should wrap up soon. Anyone else want to throw in a final point before we’re done?
Eoin: Fun fact! I listened to 50 Shades of Grey whilst playing Minecraft. That’s the final point.
Connor: Breaking — Eoin listened to mom porn.
Nathan: “I’ve Listened To Erotic Fiction While Banging Rocks”.
OK guys, now does anyone have a recommendation for a soundtrack before we close? I was hoping to throw in what we think is the best of the VG world.
Eoin: I’d go with Minecraft, Fallout 3, and Brutal Legend. From this gen, those soundtracks were masterpieces. And were you to use the score for Fallout as opposed to the soundtrack, it would still apply.
Nathan: From myself? I’d say Oblivion,Hotline Miami and Deus Ex: Human Revolution. These are 3 games with very different styles. Oblivion is very classical, Hotline Miami is retro and Deus Ex sounds futuristic…
So that about concludes this week’s Discussion Points. Let us know what you thought of our ramblings or give us your soundtrack recommendation in the comments below.