Your Game Music is Bland and You Should Feel Bad

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Your Game Music is Bland and You Should Feel Bad

Yahtzee speculates that using full-blown orchestras to make a triple-A game's soundtrack doesn't help that game stay memorable.

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If i may comment, a good number of fighting games have great soundtracks, particularly anything that has Daisuke Ishiwatari working on the soundtrack as he creates a distant soundtrack. I do understand the issue because orchestras are only memorable if you have other types of music to counter it.

p.s. Is the J-pop song in Dragon's Dogma really that bad or does Yahtzee just not like J-pop?

One of my favourite background soundtracks I stick on regularly is from Bastion. It's so good (especially Setting Sail, Coming Home). I've never bought a soundtrack from a Triple-A title, however.

*Mandatory Shadow of the Colossus post here*

Izanagi009:
...a good number of fighting games have great soundtracks...

"gonna take you for a ride..."

"I can feel it coming over me, I feel it all around me/ I've been waiting for this moment all my life, it's my destiny!"

(I know that's not what you were referring to, I just wanted to ruin everyone's days.)

I remember that scene in Saint's Row 3 with Bonnie Tyler playing as you race to rescue your gang members. I didn't get quite the same effect out of it though, since I managed to got through three seperate vehicles in that drive, the music stopping every time I got out of the car/truck/helicopter.

I'm not a very good driver.

As a musician and composer, I have to say: I don't think a theme song being "humable" is a very good metric when determining how effective a soundtrack is. By all definition, a soundtrack's job is to compliment, not overburden. In the retro days of memorable, catchy tunes, game soundtracks were the most prominent sound effect - nowadays, aural atmosphere is achieved by so many disciplines that the soundtrack's prominence would act against it.

Orchestrations have produced many memorable game soundtracks, don't get me wrong. I think Halo Reach's is actually the best Halo soundtrack, Super Mario Galaxy has twice provided exhilarating scores, and games like Asura's Wrath and Rayman Origins have provided a uniqueness in full orchestral scores quite unlike their peers.

Not every game needs an orchestral score, this much is true. And simpler is often better, this too is true. But orchestral soundtracks have provided some of the best music in videogames, and I don't think I'm alone in thinking that.

RatherDashing89:

Izanagi009:
...a good number of fighting games have great soundtracks...

"gonna take you for a ride..."

"I can feel it coming over me, I feel it all around me/ I've been waiting for this moment all my life, it's my destiny!"

(I know that's not what you were referring to, I just wanted to ruin everyone's days.)

What game is this monstrosity from?

but seriously, Blazblue and Guilty Gear have awesome music

here's a sample from Blazblue

You know, I actually enjoy the music in current games. Yeah it's not as memorable, but that's probably because we now have big budgets and the computing power to play quality music, and not old chip-tunes that ran for levels and drilled in to your head. Everyone can hum the theme of Mario mostly because it was a very short loop without many layers that make up normal music.

Extra Credits did an episode on this way back and explained why people think that game music is 'bad'. (Spoiler alert: it isn't)

As for memorable music nowadays? Hell, I still remember music from Bastion, Shadow of the Colossus, Journey, some awesome tracks from Dark Souls, Bayonetta had unique and awesome tracks (Fly Me To the Moon comes to mind).

Anyway, I completely disagree, I find music today to be way better than in ye olde days.

Edit: Whoops, ninja'd.

For a recent game with very memorable and swinging tunes, I shall point to Rayman Origins. Primarily the treasure chest chase music. It got you all juiced up to go for a sprint. The crooning of the underwater levels worked like a charm, too.

Eleven posts in and nobody has mentioned De Guile? Shame on you escapists!


It's funny how I can remember "Nowhere to Run" from The Warriors (which I haven't seen in years) but I can't recall any of the soundtracks from recently released games I've played. One that does stand out is Assassin's Creed 2's. No I couldn't hum it for you Yahtzee, but I do remember how much it contributed to the atmosphere of the game.

Boooo, shame on you Yahtzee, the Halo Games have excellent soundtracks! I mean we all remember this right?

Du du du dunnn, du du du dunnn, du du du duuun de do de

But on topic, yeah we don't get too much great stuff these days, some of it's alright, some of it sorta good, but nothing iconic, aside from the aforementioned Halo theme, I mean where's our new Nobuno Uenmatso for the new generation? I ask mainly because he hasn't done anything since Lost Odessy to my knowledge, and every instrument is his bitch.

I suspect the real reason we haven't seen him is because he's actually the devil, and he's busy schooling people in various rock offs.

But surely using licensed music is going to end up equally if not more expensive than comissioning a score? Is drawing on popular music the only way of engaging today's gamers? I don't think that's true, but that's what he seems to be implying. A well-chosen piece of licensed music can be incredibly effective, but I don't see why that should be the only effective option.

Good incidental music isn't intrusive; well-done it interweaves with the aesthetics to create a memorable experience, rather than just memorable music. That's one of the reasons why I prefer Red Dead Redemption to Grand Theft Auto. I couldn't hum the tunes or melodies to you, but I'd rather that than a popular song from the real world.

Izanagi009:

What game is this monstrosity from?


Don't say I didn't warn you...

On topic, I've always thought Halo's music was very memorable. Mario Galaxy, as mentioned above, has a lot of new tunes that anyone who has played the game will recognize immediately. In fact, hearing Galaxy's music never fails to make me nostalgic for the game and remembering just how happy the game made me. The music is inherently connected to the masterful gameplay in my mind.

Assassin's Creed 2 doesn't have memorable music, but not every game has to. AC's music sets the tone perfectly--it's one of my favorite soundtracks to have playing in the background while I'm wargaming or DM'ing.

Andy of Comix Inc:

As a musician and composer, I have to say: I don't think a theme song being "humable" is a very good metric when determining how effective a soundtrack is. By all definition, a soundtrack's job is to compliment, not overburden. In the retro days of memorable, catchy tunes, game soundtracks were the most prominent sound effect - nowadays, aural atmosphere is achieved by so many disciplines that the soundtrack's prominence would act against it.

Orchestrations have produced many memorable game soundtracks, don't get me wrong. I think Halo Reach's is actually the best Halo soundtrack, Super Mario Galaxy has twice provided exhilarating scores, and games like Asura's Wrath and Rayman Origins have provided a uniqueness in full orchestral scores quite unlike their peers.

Not every game needs an orchestral score, this much is true. And simpler is often better, this too is true. But orchestral soundtracks have provided some of the best music in videogames, and I don't think I'm alone in thinking that.

Arguably, I'd take that one step further: in many games (and quite certainly AAA titles), if it was the music that stuck in your head for days afterwards, then the rest of the game sucked. Hard. Any competent game should be compelling enough to not have its limelight stolen by its soundtrack.

Exceptions apply, of course, with funnily enough Halo being a notable exception. Its theme is both hummable, and excellent soundtrack.

i think it was a bad choice to try and call out Halo, of all things...

dun dun dun duunnnn dun dun dun duuuuun dun dun dun duuuunnn.....

Izanagi009:
If i may comment, a good number of fighting games have great soundtracks, particularly anything that has Daisuke Ishiwatari working on the soundtrack as he creates a distant soundtrack. I do understand the issue because orchestras are only memorable if you have other types of music to counter it.

p.s. Is the J-pop song in Dragon's Dogma really that bad or does Yahtzee just not like J-pop?

It's so damn corny, so cheesy, that it gets stuck in your head. It does so to the point that you end up admitting that it really isn't that bad of a song. And to be honest, it really is better than what they put in Dark Arisen, ie. an operatic flavored minute-long opening piece.

But on topic, I have to agree that there really aren't many stand out tunes nowadays. I'm trying to come up with any recent titles I've played that were neither ambiance or average orchestral pieces, and I'm having a lot of trouble coming up with many. Journey stands out, but that's outright biased for me to say, as I consider it to be a perfect marriage of music, gameplay, and story. I will say that SSX3 and SSX: On Tour are probably two of my favorites for rock/pop/hip-hop/rap/whatever-else soundtracks, although they're snowboarding games designed to be ridiculous, playing it fast and loose with the laws of physics (and hell, On Tour's design is based in punk-rock with "Run to the hills" playing during the opening).

One song that always comes to my mind when talking about video game music is this awesome piece:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qVawf1l5zc0

This is taken from the german credits of Thief 2. This song is also played two times during the game in certain areas but only in the german version as far as I know. After hearing this I looked for the band I became aware of Subway to Sally and many other bands who play similar music....

And I have to agree that many games do have forgettable music......unfortunately. Because I really like good music.

But there are also good examples for music. The first piece I heard related to World of Warcraft for example was a the piece "A call to Arms" and this is the kind of piece that sticks to your mind.

And of course the portal song is awesome as well.

Izanagi009:

RatherDashing89:

Izanagi009:
...a good number of fighting games have great soundtracks...

"gonna take you for a ride..."

"I can feel it coming over me, I feel it all around me/ I've been waiting for this moment all my life, it's my destiny!"

(I know that's not what you were referring to, I just wanted to ruin everyone's days.)

What game is this monstrosity from?

but seriously, Blazblue and Guilty Gear have awesome music

here's a sample from Blazblue

Daisuke Ishiwatari does the best music of any fighting and i'll state that as fact, KoF 2nd and Street Fighter 3rd. Tekken the only song that ever left a kind of impact on me was the staff role credits song from the first Tag [here]

Anyway, L.A. Noire had a good soundtrack.

Anyway, most music seems to only be forgotten in the background in the old days they were highly Melody driven (for obvious reason) and every level sounded different but now they can often sound the same, maybe it's because of they shifted to cinematic or something.

Problem is most good game music seems to come from Japan. You mentioned Dragon's Dogma's opening, but also the BlazBlue and Guilty Gear fighting games and the Disgaea series has amazing music as well.

Must be an American thing to put one song in by Hans Zimmer and maybe Two Steps From Hell if you want to secure that 10 score in sound on metacritic and call it a day.

For everyone mentioning Halo, you're right. It did have awesome music. At least, until Halo 4, which is the one Yahtzee mentioned.

The theme song everyone knows from that didn't show up ONCE, nor any variation, nor even a new theme song to fill the void. Generic orchestral soundtrack, ho!

Yes I am still bitter, why do you ask?

In my opinion, one of the best most recent examples of pairing original music with a memorable moment in a game happens in Super Meat Boy. I'm of course talking about the Battle of Lil Slugger. If for some reason you frequent a gaming website and still haven't heard this music or played the game, here it is.

This music happens at the first boss of the game. The villain has set fire to the forest around you and a giant chase scene unfolds as he tries to run you down with a huge robot that is essentially a giant chainsaw. Definitely one of my favorite bosses of all time simply for the atmosphere of the encounter.

a bit; it's another habit of games trying to emulate film, though ONLY Hollywood blockbusters it seems.

I think the problem is less about whether or not modern soundtracks are distinctive - I think most of us could name one or two memorable ones. I think it's more to do with that game soundtracks are less willing to experiment with genre. These days, by and large the orchestra holds sway. I'd like to see more games with some jazz, funk, metal, pop, whatever else influences in their repertoire.

The most I've ever been affected by game music was in MGS3- when you were fighting The Boss. That instrumental Snake Eater was intense, and when the vocals kicked in, and I realised that I'd die if I let the song end...

I'm just saying, feel free to compose some of your own lyrics for Snake Eater, Mr. Yahtzee.

I *kind* of agree but at the same time a lot of scores stick out in my mind; Mass Effect, the various Assassin's Creed's, the (pre-reboot) Tomb Raider trilogy, the Batman Arkham Asylum/City main theme, pretty much all of Rayman Origins.

But in terms of just soundtracks, Bioshock 1 and Infinite are very memorable. Between Beyond the Sea, to all the classical music, to the fantastic covers in Infinite.

I think it's just a problem with all modern, mainstream media. Even in film, much as I love Zimmer's Batman stuff, Avengers and Star Trek reminded me just how much I miss big, bombastic main themes.

Quijiboh:
I think the problem is less about whether or not modern soundtracks are distinctive - I think most of us could name one or two memorable ones. I think it's more to do with that game soundtracks are less willing to experiment with genre. These days, by and large the orchestra holds sway. I'd like to see more games with some jazz, funk, metal, pop, whatever else influences in their repertoire.

The opening to Anarchy Reign was in the groove.
Not enough games have Jazz or Funk in it in my opinion but then Soul Fjord that indie game has got one underused genre down too :P

Frontastic:
I *kind* of agree but at the same time a lot of scores stick out in my mind; Mass Effect, the various Assassin's Creed's, the (pre-reboot) Tomb Raider trilogy, the Batman Arkham Asylum/City main theme, pretty much all of Rayman Origins.

Really? I can't remember one song in any of the Arkham games, and i'm a huge Batnut, Mass effect? Only the main theme

Izanagi009:
p.s. Is the J-pop song in Dragon's Dogma really that bad or does Yahtzee just not like J-pop?

It's over-the-top and it's really obvious that the singer isn't actually all that familiar with English. It's got a lot of heart, though, and I personally kind of came to enjoy it quite a bit even though its glaring issues mean I couldn't really call it "good" overall.

Much like the game!

It's funny because I remember watching some sort of trailer for Black Ops 2 and the devs seemed very exited about working with some big hollywood composer. Do you remember any of the original soundtrack from that game? I know I can't, so maybe all that money they spend on big talents was in vain.
The only thing I do remember from Black Ops 1 was that part when you got on a boat and shot up some non americans while "Sympathy for the devil" was playing. It's the same thing with Mass Effect 3, the only piece of music I remember was when that kid died and everything went silent for the music. The point I'm making is that sometimes the song must be in the center of the scene for it to be memorable. The quiet little piano pieces in the background kinda fade away when something louder is happening. Does anyone else remember the time when you got to Mexico in Red Dead Redemption?

Yahtzee has basically said what I've been saying for years now. We've reached some sort of singularity where - by unwritten law - you absolutely MUST have an Orchestral soundtrack, even if it doesn't suit the tone and feel of your game. And while on the occasion you can find something that does it differently (like most of Micheal McCann's work), it is mostly the same grey, unidentifiable mess.

It's also one of the big reasons I put Chaos Gate over anything Dawn of War had in it's soundtrack.

I hardly ever hear anyone talk about it, but I think the soundtrack to the first Modern Warfare game was excellent. Every piece of music worked perfectly for its situation, and it even had some strong melodic themes which it brought back during dramatic moments.

It had a fairly unique sound to it, in a game where they could have easily gone generic.

But I think the games which best combine both the old-school strong melodic approach and the newer cinematic orchestral approach would be the Metal Gear Solid series.

Granted sweeping orchestras are becoming very common in games (and movies) nowadays but that doesn't necessarily mean they're bad and there are games out there still doing very different things. To name one: Brutal Legend which had an entire soundtrack made out of rock songs to keep in with its theme of being an homage to rock. More recently the track "Songbird" from Bioshock Infinite had perhaps the most intimidating use for what I could swear is a stapler I've ever heard. Metal Gear Rising is the most recent example I can think of that didn't use orchestra very much and regardless of if you like the game or soundtrack you can't deny they did a lot to enhance the boss fights and the tempo added to the sense of speed in the combat. Honestly, citing Halo seems like a bit of a cheap shot seeing as that has one of the least inspired soundtracks going.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ULQgMntenO8

Oh yeah!
Tataratata tataratata
Baby Baby
Tataratata tata
Oh yeah!
Tataratata tataratata
Baby Baby
Tataratata tata

Yeah, try to get that freaking song out of your head.

joshuaayt:
The most I've ever been affected by game music was in MGS3- when you were fighting The Boss. That instrumental Snake Eater was intense, and when the vocals kicked in, and I realised that I'd die if I let the song end...

I'm just saying, feel free to compose some of your own lyrics for Snake Eater, Mr. Yahtzee.

Normally I don't notice soundtracks in games but newest Metal Gear game has a soundtrack so amazing I've basically favorited every single one on my youtube account.

It is just beyond amazing if you're into that style of music especially with the gameplay going on alongside it.

These three are my favorites but you actually have to try rather hard to pull a bad song from the OST.

This makes me wonder what ever happened to good music for boss battles since there is literally no better way to hype up a good boss battle than with good music.

Bbobv:
In my opinion, one of the best most recent examples of pairing original music with a memorable moment in a game happens in Super Meat Boy. I'm of course talking about the Battle of Lil Slugger. If for some reason you frequent a gaming website and still haven't heard this music or played the game, here it is.

This music happens at the first boss of the game. The villain has set fire to the forest around you and a giant chase scene unfolds as he tries to run you down with a huge robot that is essentially a giant chainsaw. Definitely one of my favorite bosses of all time simply for the atmosphere of the encounter.

How serendipitous, I was actually listening to this when coming into the thread. Danny Baronowsky came a long way, hell I used to listen to some of his OC remix tracks back in the early days of WoW:BC because I liked them so much, and then lo and behold he actually makes a video game soundtrack, all of it memorable. I was so happy when I played SMB and learned this.

But yeah the MEMORABLE music tracks of recent year are all appearing from the indie scene or remixed old Classics. I mean Bastion's soundtrack is sublime also...

There's a handful of gems but I think franchises need to spend a little more focus one coming up with memorable melodies to match. It can make all the difference. Fuck I think Sonic the Hedgehog has gotten by all these years on his soundtracks alone or so the myth goes.

DOUBLE WHAMY: Captcha-Ear Candy.

Okay I've had my dosage of el coincidence today.

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