Your Game Music is Bland and You Should Feel Bad

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Annihilist:

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.

What? There was a new game less than a year ago.

Gaming has changed and so has it's music. Back in the day, you had to have a catchy melody, because that was the games' primary source of audio. Nowadays, there are other ways to utilize music in a game.

There are a great many video game soundtracks now. Problem is, they mainly stem from Japan. Try listening to the Soul Calibur IV OST, or Sonic Unleashed (as flawed as the game is, the soundtrack is marvelous).

Probably wasn't the best idea to criticise triple A games for being bland and start with Halo. Those games are legendary for their soundtracks. That said, I don't quite agree when he says the orchestral/techno-inspired soundtracks of most triple-A games are bland. Taste in music is a subjective thing and I'm personally quite fond of that type of thing. The ones that spring to mind for me are Skyrim and Mass Effect 3 - the dragon fight theme and Leaving Earth are two of my favourite gaming songs, even if neither of them are quite as iconic as Super Mario Bros or the Tetris theme. Rayman: Origins was pretty awesome for a modern game as well.

I am very fond of those moments in games where they'll switch to a licensed song to provide a bit of punch like the "I Need a Hero" moment mentioned (though that reminded me of the climax of Shrek 2 more than anything else). José González in Red Dead Redemption anyone? People mentioned the awesome use of 'Snake Eater' in MGS3, but Peace Walker did something equally sweet with 'Heaven's Divide'.

nykirnsu:

Annihilist:

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.

What? There was a new game less than a year ago.

Bungie respectfully discontinued the franchise. Halo is therefore over - Bungie left it alone because it needn't be milked for cash any more. Microsoft shamelessly resurrected it so they could make more money from it.

It's not a Halo game. It's just another bland AAA title with the world "Halo" stamped on it.

Can I just add that the eerie music to the stealth sections of Beyond Good and Evil really made the game spectacular for me. It completed the experience.

i think Bioshock uses music to good effect, especially Infinite. Must agree about Saints Row 3, the very first time my character started singing along, I literally could not stop laughing and the final mission with Bonnie Tyler playing was incredible too.

Super Meat Boy is another good example of using music well, however I don't know if that is classed as a AAA game.

Umm... have to disagree with Yahtzee here.
For example, I could hum 3 to 4 Jeremy Soule tracks from different games without even pausing to remember - and that even if you count all Elder Scrolls themes as a single entry.

3 words. Ni No Kuni.

The main theme, over world theme, battle theme. All magical and amazing. Its one of the few games that i've played in years where i just sat and listened to the music over and over.

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.

Durn, beat me to it.

Just because the orchestral compositions aren't 'hum-along' catchy doesn't mean they aren't fulfilling their duty as a score.

That said, there's room for both. It's just that we've so much of one style for so long we're all fairly sick of it.
And I absolutely hate Two Steps From Hell.
Just....throwin' it out there.

The last thing that stuck out for me was just after the Borderlands 2 credits. I skipped them but 'How you like me now' kept playing. It felt like I was playing the opening cutscene.

Quick (though it turns out, not that short), not-even-skimmed response to original assertation:

Yep, I agree wholeheartedly.

Now, that doesn't automatically mean that all John Williams-esque orchestral game soundtrack music is inherently crap and unmemorable... but there does come a point where it all starts to merge together into one big sticky lump.

I can barely tell the difference between the themes from the different Star Wars prequels for heaven's sake, and wouldn't be able to spot the Avatar overture even from point-blank range. I've listened through to a three box set of the Halo soundtracks and still haven't a hope of being able to tell which one a particular piece was from. Or that it was from Halo at all. Or a videogame rather than some random film.
OTOH there are plenty that do stand out, though mainly in films rather than games (earlier Williams stuff, and Joe Hisaishi are good examples of the genre being used for effect, but unique and interesting composition still showing through).

Whereas I can identify a lot more older BGM pretty easily. When all you've got to work with is three pure tones, a noise channel and whatever glitch effects you can discover - or maybe a 6-voice FM synth, or 8-voice 8-bit sample tracker, both of which have to be shared with the SFX - the focus seems to end up more on the compositional side in order to both differentiate your tunes from everyone else's (who will largely be using the same "instruments", or at least sharing some common samples from the devkit because making new ones that don't sound like crap is expensive and difficult), and to actually make them worth listening to in the first place despite exhibiting otherwise unattractive timbres. Bizarrely, the opening of Streets of Rage on the Game Gear is still one of the more evocative bits of intro music, to my ear. You could probably make it better by using an actual flute and pop-orchestra back up to perform the same notes, but the soul of it is already there coming through the PSG.

And, well ... Monkey Island 1+2. The jury's out on whether the General MIDI or the CDDA version is better.

However there is also the third way - less cod-orchestral pre-recorded compositions. There's a lot of those which have their own character, and really help with the "feel" and identity of a game title. Gran Turismo did this well, for all its faults both musical and gameplay-wise... how many other games have a semi orchestral soft rockin' guitar solo intro with an actually identifiable leitmotif that continues down the series, but then switch to overbearing Smooth Jazz for the menus (... yet have pretty generic whoever's-in-the-charts licensed music and cheap-rate original compositions for the actual driving sections)? The SSX and even GTA series have soundtrack CD worthy selections of licensed and original work across many genres which somehow still manage, through supra-generic thematic content, to tie together a subliminal image of what the game's about. Every Final Fantasy has its own attractive musical identity despite spanning not only more than a dozen installments, but every major hardware generation since the 80s. And then we have the 22khz, mono, ADPCM daddy of the lot, the Command and Conquer series, where playing in silence just wasn't the same, and when you hear a bit of the music, having played the game at all, you know exactly where it's from.

But still enough people seem to think "I know what will make our game/movie seem more epic and timeless: SWELLING STRINGS, SOME TIMPANIS AND A HORN SECTION! Get me the number for the London Philharmonic, stat!"... but don't bother actually making something you can then find yourself humming on the way to work.
/facepalm

(post second-proofread self-commentary edit: wow, I don't know what was in that last cup of tea, but I'm going for another one as I've some difficult brainwork to do this afternoon and that level of (even if false) erudity will come in very useful)

Another good example of excellent music in modern-day games; Deus Ex: Human Revolution. The soundtrack is so good it's being licenses for AAA movie "After Earth"

http://www.gamerevolution.com/news/deus-ex-track-used-in-after-earth-will-smiths-fatherson-scifi-movie-18079

I don't think anyone's mentioned this yet: 80s song used to accompany a big moment in the game?

Turn up the radio!

Also, although themes are less "hummable" they're still pretty memorable. I couldn't hum "Icarus" from Deus Ex or "Vigil" from Mass Effect but they're both really good pieces.

I mostly agree with the article, and my favorite songs are mostly the ones from 8 bit or 16 bit games (Chrono Trigger is my favorite soundtrack ever). That said, I see three reasons to explain how un-memorable most soundtracks are these days:

1) Action: There's much more stuff going on than there used to be in the past. Back in the 8/16bit days, we had barebones graphics and sound, and music was much more prominent, especially in the slower-paced games. I recall reading from a videogame music composer that when they were making turn-based RPGs, they had to use more active, striking, music to keep the players engaged, whereas with more action-oriented games, it can take a seat back and let the game action itself set the tempo for the player. It makes sense.

2) Repetition: We (well, I, at least) tend to spend a lot less time with individual games nowadays. It was harder to have access to games, and back when we were "analog", we consumed media at a much slower pace. We used to play games for weeks, repeat single levels for hours upon hours upon hours until we were able to advance. I have the Rolling Thunder (NES) firmly ingrained in my mind because of that. And who doesn't remember the Top Gear (NES) iconic tunes? I spent months playing around with "build" for Duke Nukem 3D, playing and replaying levels, and I can hum all songs from the game's first episode effortlessly. The town music from the first Diablo is part of my psyche at this time.

3) Intention: It's not in most of the current developers' intentions to make a strong, identifiable melody/harmony, they simply treat the soundtrack as background noise intended to subliminarly increase or release player tension, so they're not really trying to make great songs, just psychological triggers.

That said, the modern soundtracks that I can remember best are basically songs I've heard over and over and over again continuously: soundtracks to grand strategy games, like Civilization or Total War (spent hundreds of hours on each, listening to the same songs). Some songs from Guild Wars (the only one mmorpg-ish game which I played for long hours, over 1000, in fact). And recently, the songs from Pushmo/Crashmo, the 3DS downloadable puzzle game, but that's a lot closer to traditional melody-crafting (I played them for a combined time of over 30 hours over the last month. Great little games).

Other than repetition, the other way to make a song memorable these days, I find, is to just include something that shakes up the aural landscape. A complete change of tone, or the inclusion of vocals on and otherwise instrumental only soundtrack. It works in TV/Movies: watch Collateral ( http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0369339/ ) and tell me the song segment in the middle of the movie isn't something to remember; and who else had goosebumps all over when they heard Johnny Cash in the first season finale for Terminator - Sarah Connor Chronicles (warning: spoilers in the video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gIIFQ42s_tM )? It works in videogames, too.

All that said, I do believe we have great composers in the current industry, Jeremy Soule being the most recognizable name, and Jeff van Dyck being another of my favorites.

StashAugustine:
I don't think anyone's mentioned this yet: 80s song used to accompany a big moment in the game?

Hah! That's exactly what I was describing in the Sarah Connor Chronicles link.

Personal experience: Video games have some measurable impact on my musical taste, starting with Fallout's Inkspots ("Mayyyybeeeee....") and the ambient soundscapes of Fallout and Fallout 2. The later Fallout Games (Fallout 3 and New Vegas) introduced me to a lot of cool music as well, along with Bioshock. Without games, I would probably still listen to pop'nrock and not much else.

Starik20X6:

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.

It's a guilty pleasure of mine as well. The main problem is that it plays on just about every menu screen--there's no alternate songs or playlist. Since it stands out more than, say, the menu music from Super Smash Bros, the amount of time you spend listening to it (in a fighting game, so a good percentage of your time is in menus) means it's very easy to get that song permanently embedded into your brain. The Marvel vs. Capcom song is even worse since it repeats the same line so much within the same song, and seems to be the only song that plays in the whole game.

Here's a fantastic example of the music matching the scenario.

Months later I can still perfectly hear this tune in my head whenever I remember that scene.

TheGrueHunter:

Months later I can still perfectly hear this tune in my head whenever I remember that scene.

Can't... contain... the quotes..... !!!

This isn't my fault.

More people need to hear the absolutely bizarre choice in music present in Deadly Premonition.

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

Okay, firstly, the song is called "Holding out for a Hero" not "I Need a Hero".
What the triple-A pimps need to do is spend some of their huge money on a composer of some renown, or better yet, one of some renown from a different country. Then give them a long, stretchy leash to stretch their creative muscles. They'll handle the rest. Ah but Triple-A is crippled from the get-go. When one mentality exerts strict control over everything, than nothing about the work can rise above that mentality's ability. And if said mentality consists of a group, like a board or a committee, then nothing about the work can possibly rise above mediocrity.

the previous Halo games (i.e. Marty) had music that always stuck with me

in recent memory, Mass Effect 3's piano pieces hit me real hard. absolutely loved them

I will always remember the hotel level in SpecOps - the level and combat weren't that memorable on their own, but having Deep Purple's Hush blaring hollowly from the hotel speakers as the DJ taunts you, while you're fighting your way through the hotel, is the first thing I think of when I think of that game.

I have to agree with Yahtzee here; most modern games with orchestral backing don't have terribly memorable (or especially enjoyable) soundtracks. The only one that springs to mind is Modern Warfare 2, and that doesn't really count because they had HANS FRICKING ZIMMER compose for them. If you DO like orchestral stuff, I suggest hunting down the games Jesper Kyd did work for. (e.g. Assassin's Creed, Hitman 2, Freedom Fighters, etc.) He uses the standard instruments as a jumping-off point and adds craziness on top, and it's wonderful.

I'm glad that he was specific about halo 4's soundtrack sucking..because the original score was fucking excellent. I know this song so damn well, I catch myself humming it all the time. I guess it helped that it was free Guitar Hero DLC.

Yahtzee Croshaw:
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.

Read Full Article

I find it funny that you specifically mentioned Halo 4. I actually found the Halo 1-3 main theme to be quite memorable, and it has a guitar riff i could recite from memory easily, and I didn't even really like Halo that much! Perhaps you should actually listen to it before you badmouth it, Ben

In fact, there are quite a few modern videogame songs I enjoy. Blizzard always does a fantastic Job, and the wings of liberty main theme is something I really appreciate. I also find it a bit insulting that you didn't consider valve. "Still Alive" has been a nerdgasm since it first came out.

Other modern videogame themes I know and think are great:

Battlefield 1942 loading theme

Katamari on the Rocks

Everything from the Sam and Max telltale games!

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.

That's completely true, but I'm sure Yahtzee was fully aware of that. It's just that there is something to be said for having a driving, catchy tune that stands out. Not least because it's something you remember and gives you a fond memory of the game. Indeed I bet a large number of older games wouldn't be remembered as well were it not for their memorable theme tunes. Yet this approach seems to have been almost 100% pushed aside in the AAA sector.

That's why I think Nobuo Uematsu was (or is?...but he doesn't seem to actually anything these days) such an immense genius. His soundtracks managed to both provide a great melody AND compliment or even add to the mood. Ordinarily there is a significant trade off between having something that blends into the background, complimenting the narrative, and having a catchy melody that jumps out. He would achieve both simultaneously. Truly a god.

talideon:

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.

[snip]

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

First off, thanks for posting those music pieces. I'd be too distracted to listen if you hadn't posted them. While I'd say that the C-64 was an excellent canvas, the introduction of MIDI certainly enlarged that canvas, even if the canvas wasn't as high quality. There are still some great artists of that era like Jamie McMenamy who was instrumental for setting the atmosphere for Strahd's Possession as the visuals and the gameplay and Gabriel Knight also springs to mind, but there is music from even excellent games like Master of Magic and Wing Commander was something I wished I could forget.

Once full digital recordings could be replayed like Unreal or Mechwarrior II, there is plenty of music that I remember fondly but there are also an increasing number of big name composers doing their best, but run down the same hallway, making eerily the same footsteps, like Inon Zur (who composed some really memorable pieces but I also found he had plenty more forgettable ones) or Frank Klepacki, who despite being earning beautiful laurels for his work with Dune and Command and Conquer, there aren't more than odd tracks like Bigfoot and Hell March that I've considered something other than mediocre since 1995.

I won't say that all music from recent games is dull, but I do have to wonder how much money was blown by a publisher to create a mediocre audio experience, which can be as important to a game as any other part of its development.

Here is my irrefutable evidence in how music can (and WILL) make your game feel awesome. Even pinball games:

And if Portal has a catchy ending song, so does Godhand:


Gotta keep my pimp hand strong!

Arkham City, Mass Effect, Skyrim, Bioshock Infinite, heck, even Minecraft. All have either great use of music or memorable tunes. I don't get where you're going Mr. Croshaw.

Kind of out of left field here but if you want an example of a AAA game with a soundtrack that adds something to the experience I'd say max panye 3 has that in spades. Not to give spoilers but that last level of the game when that music starts it just makes that whole section of the game just feel epic and memorable.

I'm fairly satisfied with current use of music in games. At least I turn it off less often, which is a positive sign.

I'd wish they'd use more songs from bands though, such as the track played at the end of the original Mass Effect.
That little piano tune from Mass Effect 3 has without a doubt sent a chill down more spines than just mine, I'm sure.
Which leads to association.

If you're invested in a game, the music can help keep you immersed.

World of Warcraft has some of the most bland music, in some zones, that you'll ever find in video games.
However, some of the orchestral music in it is nothing short of spectacular, and if you've been to Blizzcon or the World Wide Invitational in Paris, the live versions are breathtaking.
After such an experience you can easily feel more immersed while slaying pigs for their snouts and imagine yourself a fearsome warrior of Azeroth.

I fear Yahtzee, that you're becomming a jaded old coot who spends most of his time on silly games that don't appeal to you. I say that because I know that I am and that it takes an epic game to get my attention.

Yahtzee, the Halo series has some of the best music in modern gaming. Halo is what started the whole orchestral soundtrack thing for shooters, and not only did it start it, it's always been the best at it. Marty O'Donnell is a genius, and his soundtracks are all really memorable.

Unfortunately, Marty didn't work on Halo 4, which is why the soundtrack, while decent, really isn't memorable or special. Really unfortunate.

Still, the Halo series are all modern triple A games that use orchestral soundtracks, and they work incredibly well, and are memorable.

Also, have you played any of platinum's games for more than 20 minutes? Their soundtracks are freaking great!

Annihilist:

nykirnsu:

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

What? There was a new game less than a year ago.

Bungie respectfully discontinued the franchise. Halo is therefore over - Bungie left it alone because it needn't be milked for cash any more. Microsoft shamelessly resurrected it so they could make more money from it.

It's not a Halo game. It's just another bland AAA title with the world "Halo" stamped on it.

Even if you look at it like that, Halo Reach is still only 2 years old. That's still fairly recent in my opinion, especially considering how often we fellate Valve games from 2004 on this site.

So no, Halo hasn't been dead for "quite a while."

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