Your Game Music is Bland and You Should Feel Bad

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Yahtzee Croshaw:
Your Game Music is Bland and You Should Feel Bad

Staying with Saint's Row, near the end of Saint's Row 3 you're given a mission to run off and rescue someone, whereupon "I Need A Hero" by Bonnie Tyler starts playing, independent of any car stereo. And I found that the moment stood out in my mind so much that a few days later I found myself looking up the song on Youtube. And when I did so, I couldn't help noticing that the first comment - and incidentally I loathe that one often accidentally sees the top comment on a Youtube video and in almost every case it spoils the best part of the fucking thing - was someone asking "Hey, did anyone else come here because of Saint's Row 3?
Read more at http://www.escapistmagazine.com/articles/view/columns/extra-punctuation/10340-Your-Game-Music-is-Bland-and-You-Should-Feel-Bad.2#ye9fqsvoj7mdV4pt.99

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Exactly that! I even upvoted that comment!
Are you sure you didn't pop up in my head as a psychotic imagination around the time of your Guitar Hero 3 review and stayed there?
Hey, I found a game where the music is really good and important for you there!!!

Except it's gathering dust in a corner now...

Thanks much for all those years of video and columns and books, mate!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

This is something I've known for years and lamented endlessly. When you think back to the games that really stood out in your childhood, more often than not you can identify them entirely by ear. A good soundtrack used intelligently can turn a good game into an excellent game.

Super Metroid wouldn't be half as good as it is without its soundtrack.

Here it is, Red Alert theme. In 3 versions.



I think the theme that sticks out most in my mind is the Max Payne 2 theme.

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.

I agree. The music isn't the best ever, but it's definitely catchy, and if for whatever reason I heard it outside of the game itself I would immediately recognize it for what it is.

I don't know, there are some pieces from modern games that I like. The themes for Skyrim and Portal 2, a lot of the stuff from BioShock Infinite, things like that. But yeah, game scores as a whole have become a lot more movie-soundtrack-ish, and have kind of faded into the background because of it.

Couldn't agree more.

I feel the perfect example of this is a game Riot made for April fool's this year. It was a flash game that took around 15 minutes to complete and was only playable on April 1st.

This some of the music from it

It's soo good! If Riot can make music like that for something that's more parts joke than game, then triple-A devs should sure as hell be able to do it for their multi-million dollar products.

Old news, I was bitching about this back in the day when Final Fantasy X came out.

Final Fantasy IX music was basically a MIDI soundtrack brought with a piano, voices, flutes, etc. It was as memorable as a (S)NES-tune, but could be labeled as "actual music" because it wasn't limited to 8/16-bit blips and bloops.

Have a go at Jesters of the Moon, Loss of Me or The Place I'll Return To Someday and tell me that doesn't sound like the stuff that could linger in your head for days to come.

I had a quick flick through and don't think anyone mentioned Deus Ex HR. Aside from Icarus, the entire soundtrack of the game is outstanding- on their own some are really weak but, for me, the real triumph of the DXHR soundtrack is atmosphere. It really helps build on the atmosphere of the argument. Icarus is an outstanding stand-alone piece (imo) and the opening credits track (Forget its name, sorry!) really struck me as well.

The MGS series has been mentioned several times here and I'd like to echo that, having replayed the HD collection recently. Not only is the music memorable, but there are "center pieces" in the game(s) as well. For example, I played Peacewalker recently and on one of the latter missions the song "Heaven's Divide" played which really cements the game in my memory.

Someone mentioned Skyrim too which I couldn't agree with more, the soundtrack there really made the game stand out to me.

I think that it's important we don't get too hung up on "memorable" tunes, though. They're great, they have their place, but what about music that simply adds to the atmosphere? Gaming is an interactive medium so music should (ideally) add to the atmosphere and be able to impart a.. sense of the game world, of the surroundings. You've got your visuals, you've got the nearby sounds (NPC's coughing or what have you) but what is the baseline? What is in the "silence"?

Games that pull of both, having a hugely memorable soundtrack that completes the game's aesthetics and delivers part of the story with it is truly the best, but being great at one or the other isn't too bad either.

I can think of examples of truly "bad" music such as the recent Sonic 4 Episodes 1 & 2 which I thought sounded terrible, but I don't think that'd leave me to say game music overall is "bad". If anything, I'd say it's way beyond what we had ten, twenty years ago and has made some of the really stand out pieces in modern gaming stand equal to, if not better than the old 16 bit tunes.

Stormtyrant:
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.

Hear, hear! My personal favourite is "Build That Wall". Chills me to the bone every time I hear it.

Anyone who's played Mario Galaxy has got to admit that you remember Good Egg Galaxy and Gusty Garden Galaxy's music. Seriously, those game's scores are the most under-rated scores in existence. I mean, they went from Sunshine's mediocre score to probably one of the best fully orchestrated scores in gaming.

I just find that a lot of music for games nowadays stems a lot from the lack of identity a lot of games have today. Isn't it obvious that the games that know exactly what they want to be to set themselves out from the crowed often-times have the best music? Your Metal Gears, Deus Ex: HRs, Mario Galaxies and Halos. There main themes fit so well because they personify the games they are in. If you listened to Metal Gear Solid's theme song you would probably think about the themes the games are trying to convey, the same if you listened to Halo's theme. It's one thing to look at the game's genre and go "make music that would fit it", but it's another thing to look at the game itself.

Good article.

I might have a slightly different take as someone drawn to more experimental music and sound design over strong 'anthem' and 'theme' tunes, though I can see the value of them, absolutely.

Here's a thought, Yahtzee - it strikes me that all these soaring symphonic scores and orchestral arrangements are, in a very strange way, almost trying to serve as an atmospheric ambience to establish a mood, in the same manner minimalist soundtracks are used for RPG / horror games. However, it seems the failure is in that where your Silent Hills or Fallouts or Planescape Torments had excellent, memorable feels from their respective experimental OSTs, the 'feel' that the cliche common orchestration of major releases is just that of a high budget spectacle and the perceived need for top-tier production gloss.

We associate the big dense orchestral OSTs with big budget games because that's always where we hear them and the homogenized association also seems to be driving demand for them in games who want to be 'important' and 'big', but might be better served with an approach that offers SOMETHING different, tonally.

Just my 0.02

Arqus_Zed:
Old news, I was bitching about this back in the day when Final Fantasy X came out.

Final Fantasy IX music was basically a MIDI soundtrack brought with a piano, voices, flutes, etc. It was as memorable as a (S)NES-tune, but could be labeled as "actual music" because it wasn't limited to 8/16-bit blips and bloops.

Have a go at Jesters of the Moon, Loss of Me or The Place I'll Return To Someday and tell me that doesn't sound like the stuff that could linger in your head for days to come.

Though I've played FF9, The Place I'll Return To Someday really didn't hit me as THAT memorable. Sure, it was catchy and all, and sure I could hum the melody from memory, but it wasn't really iconic (to me, at least) as a Final Fantasy song. However, that all changed when I heard this:

Now, as I remember both this and the old song, I can say with absolution that it is an iconic song. I needed that perspective shift that the original song didn't quite give before. Perhaps it's that it didn't suit my personal taste before, but I can see now how the original inspired that kind of memorability.

Also, Persona songs should not go without mention. Very memorable. (Again, to me at least)

One could argue on some of the finer points you've asserted, Mr. Croshaw, but if there's one thing you are unequivocally right about it's this little snippet:

"Whether it's running from cover to cover snapping off gunfire, or blocking your way through a melee fight, a good song instantly makes any moment of generic combat memorable."

Upon reading that, I instantly recalled a number of memorable crescendo-like moments from across my gaming experiences. Including this one:

Without that song, it would've felt like just another "fight off waves of incoming enemies" event. With it though, it was far more memorable.

On a side note...

Did really nobody mention Skyrim yet? I thought bought the main theme and "The dragonborn comes" two super memorable songs.
I loved all the Mass Effect BGM, the atmosphere was always astonishing.
And of course Borderlands 1+2 are probably in my top 10 ever.



Beware contains awesomeness!

"Ezio's Family" is a song I'll listen to on occasion. I'd say Assassin's Creed 2 got it's soundtrack right. But, overall, I'd agree; there aren't many memorable songs anymore.

The Elder Scrolls has always been top-notch when it comes to soundtracks

And of course the song that is burned into the mind of anyone that played Morrowind.

Adeptus Aspartem:



Beware contains awesomeness!

Borderlands don't count, those are licensed music, even Persona 2 used Licensed music way back in the day :P

(good songs though)

Oh Yahtzee, you poor bastard. You clearly haven't played Super Meat Boy, have you? Somebody get Danny Baranowsky on the phone ASAP; a British-Australian game critic is in desperate need of his talents.

XD

I don't think a recognizable melody is really necessary to make a game score great. It all depends on the function the music is trying to have.

And I will have to disagree that there aren't any good melodies anymore. Halo, Mass Effect, Uncharted, Elder Scrolls and more all have great scores with prominent melodic parts in the music.

Not sure what full orchestras have to do with anything, they can do basically whatever the composer wants them to do.

I know it doesn't count as an 'original soundtrack' but the 1950s (cold war era) music from Fallout 3 always struck me as a very ironic yet fitting backdrop to the game.

"I don't want to set the woooorld... ooooon... fiiiire... "

CrazyCapnMorgan:

Arqus_Zed:
Old news, I was bitching about this back in the day when Final Fantasy X came out.

Final Fantasy IX music was basically a MIDI soundtrack brought with a piano, voices, flutes, etc. It was as memorable as a (S)NES-tune, but could be labeled as "actual music" because it wasn't limited to 8/16-bit blips and bloops.

Have a go at Jesters of the Moon, Loss of Me or The Place I'll Return To Someday and tell me that doesn't sound like the stuff that could linger in your head for days to come.

Though I've played FF9, The Place I'll Return To Someday really didn't hit me as THAT memorable. Sure, it was catchy and all, and sure I could hum the melody from memory, but it wasn't really iconic (to me, at least) as a Final Fantasy song. However, that all changed when I heard this:

Now, as I remember both this and the old song, I can say with absolution that it is an iconic song. I needed that perspective shift that the original song didn't quite give before. Perhaps it's that it didn't suit my personal taste before, but I can see now how the original inspired that kind of memorability.

Also, Persona songs should not go without mention. Very memorable. (Again, to me at least)

Wow, they're pretty kick ass, just been checking em out, their Master of Puppets/Dancing Mad fusion was very nice indeed :D

elvor0:
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?

exactly, except with Halo 4 they left out the old theme and all of the previous Halo music except for a few seconds at the very beginning and one song over the credits, and possibly reusing some notes in a minimalist piece that I appreciate but find hard to fully like
anyway, Yahtzee, and whoever else, there's this Chrome extension called YouTube Options that lets you hide various parts of the page, on YouTube and several other video-heavy sites-- I've been using it to get rid of comments and one or two other things for about a month now and it's good

So basically Yahtzee prefers 80's music over Original Soundtracks. If it fits, then by all means use it. However, I prefer more creativity in my games than just having random rock songs pasted into it. If that's really what you want, just have your own tunes playing at the same time...

Also, games with great OS:
Mass Effect series
Elder Scrolls Series
Bastion!!!!!!!!!!(best ever IMO)
Borderlands 2 (love the music that plays when you're on top of the Bloodshot Ramparts)
Halo Series
MW2 (Hans Zimmer ftw)
Portal 2

And there's many more. Honestly, given how sound quality has gotten better in games over the years, I think gaming music has gotten better. It allows for much more complex music.

You're kidding me, right?

Most games with OS's use them incredibly well. And saying that Halo has a bad soundtrack? You can accuse Halo of alot of shit, but saying its, I dont know, dumbed down music in games, thats defiantly not it.

Having a "hummable" track dosent mean jack shit for the quality of the music, really. It just seems like your playing to the "Gaming sucks because its not exactly like what it used to be" crowd -_-

Here are a couple of songs from recent games that I really like:

RatherDashing89:

I'll admit it to you, simple peasant wearing short pants, that this song gets me infinitely more psyched than, say, Eye of the Tiger.

Breywood:

"...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.

Keep in mind though that we're not just talking about any old 8-bit machine, but the C-64, whose sound chip was designed by synthesiser design legend, Bob Yannes.

Take Wizball, for example:

Though that clip sounds as if it's synthesised SidPlay--the filters are off for a start--nothing was able to approach that level of quality in audio synthesis until the 16-bit era. And sticking with Martin Galway, here's Parallax:

Matt Grey's Desert theme from Tusker:

Jeroen Tel and Reyn Ouwehand's work on Dutch Breeze:

Markus Siebold's excellent work on Turrican II:

There was something very, very special about that little machine.

I get what you're saying, Yahtzee, but orchestra musicians needs jobs too. This is a good thing for them.

Also, I like bombastic orchestras. I can hum the Halo theme just fine.

Of all the modern Triple-A games I've played recently (Admittedly, not too many), I'd have to say Skyrim has the most non-bland music... Especially the pieces that play when a dragon drops out of the sky on you.

Stormtyrant:
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.

I bought Bastion the day it came out on Steam, all because Yahtzee gushed unashamedly about it. I played it for half an hour, thought 'fuck it' and went back to Steam and bought the soundtrack. Of all things, it was the title music which sold me on the idea.

I'd say the two songs that really stick out for me are "In Case of Trouble" and "Slinger's Song". Really, though, the music that comes with each new weapon is fantastic; its tone subconsciously adds to the history of the group that used it.

j-e-f-f-e-r-s:
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?

While I agree with the rest of your post, I found the last sentence of this paragraph kind of funny because the Halo games have had licensed music. Halo 2 had songs by Breaking Benjamin and Incubus. In fact the fight where the instrumental version of "Blow Me Away" started playing was one of many favorite moments from the entire franchise.

Bioshock Infinite doesn't get enough credit for a great soundtrack.

What about this amazing rendition of Will the Circle be Unbroken. Not just a good song, but what it does to set the theme of Columbia and if you listen to the lyrics what they mean to the entire plot of the game. Extremely well thought out and executed soundtrack.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LAIS-ADK6c8&list=PL3QZUm48uWnsdFakp3A2fI-NzmfH1jyQe&index=3

elvor0:
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.

I came here for this reason. One of the most iconic things about the Halo series is the soundtrack, and probably one of the best things about the games. I even learned to play this particular mix on the guitar once (forgot it now).

I love Marty O'Donnell.

Alan Wake also had some really cool songs in it (Nick Cave, Bowie), despite not being an original soundtrack, and especially hearing that Cave song on a radio in the forest really added to the experience I must say.

Xdeser2:
You're kidding me, right?

Most games with OS's use them incredibly well. And saying that Halo has a bad soundtrack? You can accuse Halo of alot of shit, but saying its, I dont know, dumbed down music in games, thats defiantly not it.

Having a "hummable" track dosent mean jack shit for the quality of the music, really. It just seems like your playing to the "Gaming sucks because its not exactly like what it used to be" crowd -_-

Well Halo has actually been dead for quite a while now, so it's not exactly a new AAA release.

My brain hit a wall trying to sing Emerald Hill's theme, the Super Sonic theme, and the ending theme all at once. I am a happy person.

There are a handful of orchestral songs that fit in my mind... Skyrim's theme is one that my friends and I sing. Not many but a handful.

Katamari on the Rocks deserves some mention... I guess that's a bit old to some, but still certainly worth it to me.

But it's nothing today compared to, say, any given earlier console. That I can't think of a single song from FFXIII and can hum or play every song from FFIX is a good show...

But I'm the guy who has "Live and Learn" as his alarm, so...

I knew from the get-go that this was just gonna be a link-fest.

Aitamen:

But I'm the guy who has "Live and Learn" as his alarm, so...

I have Chono Trigger's "Brink of Time" song as mine :P

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