Your Game Music is Bland and You Should Feel Bad

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Watch as I nostalgia bomb this thread...

Though he does have a point, I think he's exaggerating the issue somewhat. Mass Effect is one of my favourite series, and I could not hum anything from its soundtrack, but by the same token the noise that the Claymore 300-M makes when it's fired is something I don't think I can forget. Hitman: Absolution; I vaguely remember a song called "Black Bandanna" or something, but yeah, the soundtrack never stuck out. Then there are games like Skyrim, and I can be pretty certain that, even if you don't know the lyrics, you can shout along with that choir without missing a beat. Same with the Left 4 Dead theme - that's really recognisable. Whilst it may be the case that fewer popular games use music well, there's still a significant amount of good themes out there.

I've come to believe that much of the reason games have such lackluster soundtracks is due to the publishers more than anything else. Publishers don't want quality in their games, because quality = money spent. What they want is big-names to put on the box. Doesn't matter if the Seattle Symphony Orchestra was paid to come in on a Saturday and spend an hour picking their ears and recording stings, what matters is that their name is on the front of the box. Everything else can be done by an unpaid intern with a music program. I'm sure more than a few games got their musical score not by what sounded good with the action, but instead by which movie was popular, or which brand-name musician worked on the last AAA game.

Assuming that I'm wrong (and I might be), I also believe in genuine cases that it's a case of musicians following the path of least resistance. Least resistance is slow, building up orchestra pieces that culminate in lots of blaring brass and half-hearted drums. Perfect example is the sampler music that Planetary Annihilation is getting ready to use: Lots of blaring brass with digital cherubs singing that simply never ends.

And I don't feel that it's entirely the composers fault for doing that. People need limits in order to create great things. Being able to put hi-def music into games has caused a very common problem of there being infinite possibilities but only one trodden, beaten down path that everyone chooses because trying new things could offend someone or it could simply not work. It's why our 8-bit soundtracks are still the most popular instances of video game music even though the technical barriers have fallen and game music should be just as good as industry music in theory. Everyone is going to try and take the path of least resistance in doing their job.

I would imagine that most of these composers just use generic collections of melodies and just find ways to string them together, because what's the point in putting effort into the soundtrack of this one particular game when five others games are scratching at your office door to get generic blandy-bland percussion with brass that sounds like a foghorn blaring "BOOOOOOOOOOORIIIIIIIIIIING".

Oh, you just had to mention Spec Ops: The Line didn't you Yahtzee, oh you sly gentleman.
However that moment from the game while ridiculous, and even more exaggerated with the music doesn't spring to mind as easily as this:


It's also played in that same level before the heli rocket scene I believe. But it really got to me when it played much, much later on, there's even a more grimdark version of this if you don't believe me.

Well, the Halo fanbois are out in force, aren't they (to be fair, if he had called out any other AAA game in the last few years, the result would have been the same).

While there is lots of current music that I find catchy and memorable (Dynasty Warriors stands out in particular), limting myself to AAA games, and not counting remixes of older soundtracks (sorry Skyrim) or licensed songs (sorry Bioshock), there are only three soundtracks that really stand out.

-Assasin's Creed 2
-God of War
-Bayonetta

The last two is particularly noteworthy because at first glance it seems to fall into the same bombastic orchestra trap that is being discussed. But Bayonetta pulls it off because the orchestra pieces are juxtaposed against up-beat pop music and remixes of old Genesis titles. More importantly, the orchestral pieces match the tempo of the action on the sceen, so it doesn't feel out of place. God of War gets the latter point, and also is thematically appropriate because the plot reads like a Wagnerian Opera

Something REALLY interesting and also more than a little confusing is that the Dragon's Dogma main theme had two versions, one for the Japanese version of the game that was (in my opinion at least) far better and then the US and PAL version that was...well questionable quality.
Main Theme for the US and PAL:


Main Theme for JP:

Main Topic:
Hm, while I agree that the biggest of the big all have very boring samey soundtracks (though I think we can agree that isn't the only thing boring and samey about them) it sounds like you're saying that you need a real world vocal based piece to be "unique and memorable", advice which I think is blatantly terrible.

I then had a large comment typed out here, but decided it sounded a bit too ranty for my tastes and that if I wouldn't read my own comment I shouldn't expect anyone else to, if anyone expresses interest I will expand further.

So basically Yahtzee's moaning that there's not enough iconic music in games, and his answer is to chuck more licensed songs in there?

I've disagreed with Yahtzee about things in the past, but I think on this topic he couldn't be any more wrong if he tried. Video game music is currently going through a massive golden period. Sure, you have your games like COD with generic action-movie orchestrals. They'll always be there. But then you also have games like Rayman Origins, where the entire soundtrack is one long crowning moment of awesome. You have soundtracks to games like Darksiders II, which is just hauntingly beautiful. There's the Mario Galaxy games, which added orchestral soundtracks to Mario for the first time, and which were incredible. There's everything Jeremy Soule's been doing, most notably and recently his work on Skyrim. There's Skyward Sword's soundtrack, which is just phenomenal.

Modern games lack hummable tunes? Fans have been doing covers and arrangements of Skyrim songs ever since it came out. Your tunes have to be pretty memorable in order to do that.

Game music has to serve a function. It has to aid the atmosphere of the game without distracting the player. Back in the 8-bit and 16-bit days, you had a focus on melody-led tunes simply because that was all the hardware had to offer. I've been dicking around with Famitracker recently, and it's incredible how limited composers were back in the NES and SNES days. You had to have strong melodies, simply because that was the only way to make the music stand out.

Gaming has moved on, and so has the purpose of soundtracks. Melody is no longer the be all and end all. You can have a focus on chordal tones and arrangements, and allow that to add to the atmosphere of the game. That doesn't mean there isn't a place for melody, but as I keep saying, it all has to work towards the overall experience of the game. The theme from Deus Ex Human Revolution is phenomenal, but there's not much of a melody to speak of. It's a Minor I-bVII-bVI chordal progression, arranged with synths, vocals and electronics. And it works absolutely beautifully.

Claiming that licensed tunes are the answer, as if every game is Resevoir Dogs or GTA San Andreas, is a case of incredibly narrow vision. How would a licensed tune fit into Skyrim? How would Final Fantasy benefit from it? How would Halo benefit from having a Rolling Stones number?

If you can't find a great soundtrack in all of modern gaming, then you don't know crap about modern gaming.

Soundtracks don't need to be catchy to be effective, as long as you have one memorable title track. They don't even need to be very good - the Dark Souls OST is painful to listen to alone, but it works very well in-game because it's properly paced.

Then why did you bitch about MGR's battle music in your review Yathzee. And Bayonetta's. One would think you are racist against the Japanese but we all know that is not true because Silent Hill.

I don't know if it's been mentioned, yet, but I've been playing Dark Souls for the very first time (loving it, by the way) and most of the boss themes tend to sound very similar, but then I came across the Moonlight Butterfly boss and I was instantly hit with a huge amount of meaning to what would otherwise have been a very unmemorable boss fight because of the choice of music involved.

It's actually very weak on its own, but in that moment it was amazing. The song just shoved a load of things into my brain at once as I watched this strange, yet, graceful beast glide through the air. I felt like I didn't want to kill something so beautiful, even though I must. I felt like I was destroying something precious and my "victory" felt hollow and rather melancholy when it breathed its last.

It caught me by surprise and it's one that has stood out to me and stuck in my mind simply because of that music.

WoW music is pretty damn epic

Kargathia:

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.

False.

Gameplay and music aren't sharing a see-saw. They can both excell inclusively.

For example, Megaman (and shame on you, Yahtzee, for not mentioning). Both gameplay and music here are capable of standing individually, each memorable and celebrated in its own right and undiminished by the absence of the other. When combined, however, it produces a visceral effect that's greater than the sum of its parts.


(skip to 0:27 to cut to the chase)

(skip to 0:27 to cut to the chase, again)

The problem with his whole argument is when he said "Hum your favorite music from Halo 4", I immediately could ("117" for anyone interested).

Maybe it's just that I pay particular attention to soundtracks but I can think of a hell of a lot of recent stuff that was both memorable and kicked all kinds of ass. Deus Ex HR, AC2/3, Metro 2033, ME, Halo (Not just the original, all of them), Journey, Dear Esther, Braid (although that was technically all licensed), Heavy Rain, Alan Wake, Half Life 2, Arkham City, Bioshock, Uncharted...

Maybe it's not that they aren't memorable, maybe you just aren't paying close enough attention.

Mike Richards:
The problem with his whole argument is when he said "Hum your favorite music from Halo 4", I immediately could ("117" for anyone interested).

Maybe it's just that I pay particular attention to soundtracks but I can think of a hell of a lot of recent stuff that was both memorable and kicked all kinds of ass. Deus Ex HR, AC2/3, Metro 2033, ME, Halo (Not just the original, all of them), Journey, Dear Esther, Braid (although that was technically all licensed), Heavy Rain, Alan Wake, Half Life 2, Arkham City, Bioshock, Uncharted...

Maybe it's not that they aren't memorable, maybe you just aren't paying close enough attention.

I think it's just that you pay attention, actually the fact that you made a conscious effort to remember means it's you :P

The best sound tracks are the ones you don't consciously listen but when you remember a particular part you can still reminisce by the music alone.

Pink Gregory:
But surely using licensed music is going to end up equally if not more expensive than comissioning a score?

Not necessarily. With the perceived decline in music sales and broadcast outlets, most music publishers are eager to find new sources of royalty revenue. This is especially true of up-and-coming artists, who need as much exposure as they can get.

The New Super Mario Bros series has hummable tunes, but they're mostly crap. I don't think music necessarily has to be hummable to be memorable, though. The main theme throughout the Halo franchise is quite difficult to hum because it's got so many parts, but it's one of the best songs in gaming that I can think of. The original Metroid was intentionally designed not to be hummable (at least by 1986 standards) and it still manages to be amazing.

I'll agree that game music is getting awfully bland as a whole, but that doesn't mean it needs to be hummable. Having a distinct melody with a few distinct counter-melodies would be a great middle ground, IMO.

P.S. Thanks

I think the only reason people bought Knucklebusters was for Rob Hubbard's music.

'Cause it sure as hell wasn't for the game.

Airport fight at the end of Max Payne 3.

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

Phuctifyno:

Kargathia:

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.

False.

Gameplay and music aren't sharing a see-saw. They can both excell inclusively.

For example, Megaman (and shame on you, Yahtzee, for not mentioning). Both gameplay and music here are capable of standing individually, each memorable and celebrated in its own right and undiminished by the absence of the other. When combined, however, it produces a visceral effect that's greater than the sum of its parts.


(skip to 0:27 to cut to the chase)

(skip to 0:27 to cut to the chase, again)

I might need to clarify this to "current" games, as all but the most basic indie games currently feature such a vast range of stimuli that for the soundtrack to stand out so much it gets stuck in your head, it would've had to muscle its way into the limelight. This is even more so for AAA titles, as they do not have indie gaming's luxury of being able to concentrate on one particular mechanic or aspect, and still deliver a good game.

I have to say, the music to Deadly Premonitions is really memorable. The whole sequence set to the song Amazing Grace is unforgettable. The various character's songs are all good and catchy, particularly the 'around-town-whistling-song'. I honestly can't say enough good things about this game. It'd be pretty cool if Yahtzee reviewed the new Director's Cut of the game.

I will always be a true fan of Anodyne for the meditative melancholy its music grants me.

good to know yahtzee and I have the same tastes in music.

BeepBoop:
I have to say, the music to Deadly Premonitions is really memorable. The whole sequence set to the song Amazing Grace is unforgettable. The various character's songs are all good and catchy, particularly the 'around-town-whistling-song'. I honestly can't say enough good things about this game. It'd be pretty cool if Yahtzee reviewed the new Director's Cut of the game.

Indeed, Deadly Premonition is an excellent example of great music in video games, Let someone listen to 'Life is Beautiful' then listen to 'Underground' (Red Room Theme) and tell them they're both in the same game...

My favorite from Saints Row 2 is when he sings Sister Christian:

"You know them boys don't wanna play no more with you CUZ U SUCK BITCH it's truuuueee..." always makes me laugh my ass off.

Although disappointment immediately followed upon the mention of Saints Row The Third, which had a decent moment when your character and Pierce sing What I Got by Sublime. Good at first, but like the rest of the game, they half-assed it. They expected you've already gotten to your next destination and gotten out of the car in good time, so if you just sit in the car outside of the destination marker to listen more, it just descends into pointless mumbling. :(

Red X:

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

Yeah, the Arkham games were hugely let down by not having the theme from Batman 89/Animated Series, I always used to hum it when I was flying around Arkham City. Doo doo de dooo! doo do de do doo.

Also I love that loads of people are putting the humming in their posts. As we all know, every piece of music can be summed up by various doo's and de's

bafrali:
Then why did you bitch about MGR's battle music in your review Yathzee. And Bayonetta's. One would think you are racist against the Japanese but we all know that is not true because Silent Hill.

For MGR, I think it's because on the surface they're pretty cheesy, especially if you're not into J Rock, I quite liked them because they sort of reminded me of Guilty Gears soundtrack. But their main purpose is to exist as the death soliloquy usually present for bosses in the rest of Metal Gear, the problem is that you can't really listen to the lyrics while you're fighting for your life and really trying not to die, and if you get stuck, listening to the opening verse time and time again gets pretty tedious.

Of course that's quite nicely flipped when you fight the final boss, because the song appears to be from Raidens point of view.

The main theme to No More Heroes is memorable, I think, because it tries to evoke the simpler melodies of retro titles. It's remixed throughout the entire game but stays immediately recognizable.
Mighty Switch Force also has a pretty bangin' soundtrack. It's techno-y, sure, but that helps boost the futuristic setting of the game.

Stormtyrant:
One of my favourite background soundtracks I stick on regularly is from Bastion. It's so good (especially Setting Sail, Coming Home).

Damn straight.

I still find myself humming the bombastic Nuclear Winter theme from Freedom Force. What amazes me about these music conversations is that no-one ever mentions the da Blob games. They have the best soundtracks ever recorded and the music changes according to the gameplay.

NameIsRobertPaulson:
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.

I think you missed the fact that he was calling the Dragons Dogma song memorably aweful

ImSkeletor:

NameIsRobertPaulson:
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.

I think you missed the fact that he was calling the Dragons Dogma song memorably aweful

But he remembered it, which says something about the music. Most AAA music these days is so easily forgettable.

I really liked the moment in SR3 when that song starts playing, and the first scene in Blood Dragon. There's too few games that uses good music. San Andreas is probably the game I think does it best, and it has several radio channels with great songs. Beyond Good and Evil has some catchy tunes, like propaganda and the space battle. VtM: Bloodlines had some good goth music, especially the last song.

"...the loss of limitation has led to in-game music becoming generic, unmemorable, and unwilling to stand out."

Couldn't be said better, Yahtzee. I can remember old games like The Last Ninja and in spite of them running on an 8-bit system with 64k RAM everything about it was memorable, especially the music. Now that damn near every title has a full orchestra, it doesn't do much more than just provide some distraction to gunfire, and ironically, these publishers paid a lot of money to provide an experience that's just plain mediocre. I can pick out a more recent title or two like Black and White* and Emperor: Battle for Dune whose music had every bit as much to add to the game as the visuals and gameplay, but I could pick out twenty titles published before the year 2000. Damn, those two titles I mentioned are over 10 years old. And for some odd reason, I think it's saying exactly what I want it to.

*Warning: You may be singing the "sailor song" for days after you've heard it, so click at your own risk.

I noticed this earlier actually, when I was thinking about getting Injustice: Gods Among Us.
While I was watching some gameplay, I happened to catch a little bit of the music;


The fact that today was the first time I'd even acknowledged the music throughout the various videos I've been watching since the game came out was the first sign that this music might be a little dull. But actually listening to it now, it just confirms that this kind of music really doesn't seem that great.
But then if the music weren't like this, it'd run the risk of being unfitting. You got Green Lantern and Sinestro fighting for their lives, the mood's going to be ruined if you have music like the Sonic 2 theme going on in the background.

Also I still haven't decided if I want the game.

I'd say Crysis 2 has a pretty kick-ass main theme. No wonder too, since it was composed by no other than Hanz Zimmer.

Of course, speaking of both iconic and memorable, there's always one: C&C Red Alert.

When I bought RA3, I haven't played RA2 for some 10 years. Yet, hearing that music again made me jump with nostalgia joy. Even without it I think it's great game music though.

Probably less memorable but nevertheless great music: anything from Jesper Kyd (AssCreed series, Hitman series, K&L series, a billion of others); Chris Vrenna (Alice series); Serious Sam series. Aaaand Portal series.

I'm also quite fond of the 'loading music' of GTA IV and some themes in Mass Effect series.

And that's just he stuff I have installed right now. Maybe I don't play games with shitty music.

I have the soundtracks to almost all of these:

Halo
Every Metal Gear Solid game to ever have an orchestra
Valkyria Chronicles
Mass Effect
Sonic Adventure and Adventure 2
Shadow of the Colossus
Persona 3-4
Ar Tonelico, all of them
Lots of recent Final Fantasy games*
Xenosaga 1-3
Star Ocean 3
Bastion

And probably more.

Also, I will point out that turning chiptunes into full orchestral remixes can be utterly glorious. For any Touhou fans out there, go listen to Morrigan's and Tutti Sound's full film-score-style remasterings of most of the boss themes. It turns the music from catchy into freaking *legendary.*

I think I know why Yahtzee doesn't think game music is amazing: he doesn't watch enough cinematic games. He hates JRPGs, and he doesn't seem to go for anything Western where your gameplay is interrupted by cutscenes, ever. These often have really stellar music because cool movie-like scenes tend to do that.

Also, as someone posted earlier, Yahtzee has clearly never played Metal Gear Solid 3. Oh gosh that ending sequence with the song.

I think this is one of the reasons I got so attached to the PS2 era Dynasty Warriors games- having stuff like this blasting in the background was phenomenal.


...plus now I know what kind of music Yahtzee likes, and it makes me happy because we have yet another shared taste, lol.

While there are individual game soundtracks which stand out, I find Yahtzee's criticism of Triple-A titles is a legitimate one. Like many projects of that kind of budget, the need for financers to have creative control over the creators means a lot of stuff is going to conform to a checklist rather than a creator's desires.

Still, some gems do get through. Anything Valve does tends to be memorable.

As well, someone mentioned fighting games having a tendency to be memorable. I found myself still humming this jaunty number, despite myself.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xarzFrDsc1I

I specifically buy game soundtracks, such as Deus Ex Human Revolution, Command and Conquer 3, Portal 2 and Black Mesa. Admittedly, I don't play the games he denigrates. If AAA means big budget games, the first three I mentioned are big budget games and they have great soundtracks. Perhaps Yahtzee means big budget first person shooters.

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