Sunday, 11 April 2010

Videogame Music Corner

For all the love I have for Mass Effect 2, the game's soundtrack still bothers me a little. The Vangelis-esque pieces from the first game have taken a backseat for some run-of-the-mill John Williams style grandeur. As competent as it is, it's nowhere near as memorable as the original Mass Effect score. It's made me think about it in the more general sense and address my feelings on videogame soundtracks in general.

Maybe it was the limited tool set that gave 8 and 16-Bit era soundtracks their distinct charm. Maybe it's simple rose-tinted nostalgia. Either way, it feels to me that contemporary game soundtracks are always lacking. Obviously there are a few exceptions - Castle Crashers, Street Fighter 4, Left 4 Dead - but that itself is the problem; games with decent soundtracks shouldn't be the exception, we need memorable, distinctive soundtracks as the norm.
Amid all it's lunacy, Bayonetta had an amazing soundtrack. Say what you will about endless remixes of 'Fly Me To The Moon', at least it's distinctive: I, for one, cannot hear that song now without thinking about climaxes and lollipops.

The development of videogames as a medium has, like any other, relied on technological advancement. As technology improves, developers will, and always have, found new ways of making games interesting and engaging. This advancement, however, always seems focused on the visual element. It's almost as if post-Playstation, audio technology reached some sort of plateau. Surround sound would have been the last frontier for videogame audio and even then, original soundtracks would have been unaffected. Graphical development still has new ground to break; there are still visual styles that have been left untouched and 3D is on the horizon. Audio, however, faces a much less determined future.

I'm hoping that somewhere out there, someone or one particular game will reassure me - tell me that it's all going to be alright and videogames won't be permanently restricted to aping shitty Hollywood idiot-fodder. A boy can dream. Until then, said boy is going to keep the rose-tinted shades on and keep listening to Mux Mool. Retro fans, enjoy:


vandalworks said...

Video game soundtracks arent that good? EAtrax is amazing! always some killer beatz and gangsta'rappin on there!!

Ahem. Nah I mostly agree with you, there was something great about the 8 and 16 bit soundtracks, possibly becuse they were so different to normal music. I'd love to see a game start off with a retro soundtrack, and as you gradually proceed through the game it gets more sophisticated and more modern. perhaps a game chronicling the most amazing moments of the videogames? It could begin as a 2d platformer, a side scrolling shooter, then adapt into a 3-d setting with the graphics becoming more and more elaborate.

Maybe its just Kev having a wet dream.

The Faux Bot said...

Dude! that would be fucking awesome. I think they tried something like that with that last Matt Hazard game. Unfortunately it was a total pile of shit.

Caffeine Powered said...

I couldn't agree more about ME2's music, dude. What the fuck happened?

I dig the Illusive Man theme, but aside from that, everything is just so mehhhhhhh.

cr0nt said...

*cough* Half-life 2 *cough*

The lighting, the sound - hell, EVERYTHING was conceived to work out of you the exact emotion that you were intended to feel. Valve are the masters of would you kindly. It seems hardly anybody else picked up on it. Valve setting trends again ^_^

Bioshock has a perfectly apt soundtrack too. It's not AS bad as you make out, but it is pretty dismal that the majority of games have sound tacked on to the end and its not given its due share of the budget of the game's development. However, a game costs multiple millions of currency to develop and some concessions must be made at the time of development.

ME2 ost is maybe only so bad because the first one was so freaking awesome. But the sound effects and in game are better - which would you prefer? Its hard not to make a comparison but compare ME2's ost with that of some other game - its still better than 60% of games.

However, the music isn't the only part to the sound development - in order to make you feel 'like you're part of the action'(TM) the sound effects need to be top notch (something that Battlefield BC 2 has in spades) as well as voice acting, then you have to make sure that you get HD surround audio for each of the above. Given that the entirety of the sound budget has to cover the music, the sound effects, the voice acting and the programming in of the sound (if you're developing openGL - directx allows access to the sound modules) [there's more to it but this is enough in this monologue] then its easy to see why a lot of games end up with a below par ost.

It's not as simple as 'let's get a genius musician in' - there will always be people who don't like the music for a game, in fact I HATE The Third Door (SFIV theme tune) and love the metal sound track to BlazBlue but so many other people will disagree and prefer the other - however the sound effects of both are top notch, and BlazBlue has pretty tremendous voice acting [I hate Fei Long's Engrish version so it loses points].

The Faux Bot said...

I have to admit to my oversight in regards to Bioshock and Half-Life 2. Only reason I didn't mention Bioshock was because it's licensed music stuck in my memory far more.

You're right in what you say, which kind of echoes my point. I miss heartfelt OST's, now so often it seems to be an afterthought. Whether it's because they have to focus on sound effects or other apsects entirely, it still irks me that the OST has to take a back seat.


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