Extra Punctuation

Extra Punctuation
Your Game Music is Bland and You Should Feel Bad

Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw | 21 May 2013 16:00
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Those of you who actually take your video watching seriously no doubt have noticed Rhymedown Spectacular, the new series on The Escapist I co-produce with Jim Sterling. If you're unfamiliar with it, you should probably watch it now. Stick it on in the background while you read this, maybe. Basically it's a poetry reading, and I have found over the years that writing in a rhyme structure is something I find appealing.

This interest once manifested as one of my occasional little indulgences I have been known to tack onto the end of a Zero Punctuation. The one I'm referring to was quite a while ago - I think it was one of the Guitar Heroes - and it was the one where I displayed the title screen of the first Deus Ex and then sang some lyrics I'd made up to accompany the very memorable theme tune of that game. And I had a bit of fun with that idea, so for a while I had my eye out for other games I could do something similar with. Maybe put out a compilation album someday.

But with the possible exception of Uncharted, I never found anything quite as suitable again. There just aren't very many video games these days that have memorable or iconic theme tunes. Oh, you'll find plenty in retro gaming - your Mario, your Tetris, your Sonic, even moving a little further ahead you'll have your Doom and your Duke Nukem 3D Midi title tunes. Music from when the sound guys had very little to work with and even adding a drumbeat to your basic melody was like keeping plates spinning. Now, though, as with so many other features in video games, the loss of limitation has led to in-game music becoming generic, unmemorable, and unwilling to stand out. Quick: hum your favorite music from Sonic 2. Chances are good you went for the title tune, or Chemical Plant, or Mystic Cave or one of those. Now: hum your favorite music from, say, Halo 4. Yeah, that's my point.

Half the triple-A games these days just use interchangeable bombastic movie trailer orchestral pieces and the rest fall back on the kind of electronic music that gets played at nightclubs when the management feel that not enough drinks are being bought. And this is a shame, because a good, memorable use of music can add so much to a gaming experience.

It was Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon that made me think of this, because the game's introductory game play is a helicopter turret sequence while "Long Tall Sally" by Little Richard is playing. Now, this is part of the game's commitment to parodying 80's action sci-fi because the film Predator starts with the very same song being played as the main characters are being flown in by helicopter. But this is the good kind of referential comedy that works on some level even if you're unfamiliar with the reference material. In Predator they weren't using a mounted gun at the time, and sweeping over a base mowing down terrified helpless enemies like the ejaculating god of death while Little Richard is vocally having a really good time in the background was just plain fun. It set the tone and left me with a really good first impression, fully on board for some ironic fun violence.

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