Play It Again

By: Paul Millen

Published: July 14, 2010 Posted in: PC Gaming Nonsense

Nothing drags me back to the atmosphere of a favourite game more effectively than a quick slooshy of its amazing soundtrack.  After more years than I’d care to count, this little number, for example, still causes a flutter of excitement to course the length of my decaying vertibrae:

(on the NES, of course – as it’s the version I laboured over and also so obviously, terribly better than the music in the PC release)

Or this one:

That little piano run at 0:27… Ooof.  Chills.

Let’s continue this nostalgiafest with a look at some of my favourite music in PC games, shall we?

Deus Ex  - Alexander Brandon, Dan Gardopée, Michiel van den Bos, and Reeves Gabrels

As a music tech geek, I struggle to visualise Deus Ex’s music in terms of instruments, synths and conventional music software.  There’s nothing in there that I can identify as X-synth or Y-sample or whatever, offering the music a sense of otherness which works perfectly in the alienating setting of a near-future dystopia.

It’s actually Tracker music – a method which utilizes tiny samples manipulated within a Tracking program, allowing complex pieces to be composed and contained in small file sizes.  As well as Deus Ex this method can be heard in Unreal and Hitman: Codename 47.  It’s a way of composing that has largely been superseded by modern sequencers, virtual instruments and plug-ins, but it certainly has its aesthetic charm.  The mix ‘gels’ really well, don’t you think?

Incidentally, none of the guys who composed the original Deus Ex are coming back for Human Revolution.  Instead it’ll be Michael Mcann, composer for Splinter Cell: Double Agent.

Machinarium – Tomas Dvorak

This song is my favourite piece of game music from the last few years and does a wonderful job exemplifying Tomas Dvorak’s stunning score for Machinarium.

It’s.  Just.  Absolutely.  Perfect.

Multi-award winning Dvorak’s jazz background is in the fore as he melds organic tuned percussion, wind and strings with synth beats and glitchy 8-bit bleeps and boops.  Tracks are lo-fi, quirky and heart wrenching, just like the game.  The Glasshouse with Butterfly is another of my favourites.  I’d love to meet Tomas so I can ask him for tips and tricks, also so I can eat him and absorb his talent.

Beyond Good and Evil – Christophe Heral

Oh god, I just can’t… It’s… it’s so…  Quick, listen to this one:

A massively experienced composer for TV and film, BGaE is Heral’s only videogame score (until Rayman Origins is released at Christmas) but it’s perhaps the most musically accomplished, dare I say, ever.  There’s such diversity on display, rocketing through musical styles from one gaming environment to the next; reggae, jazz, Spanish, classical, techno, choral.  Blimey, and you did this single-handedly did you Christophe you big French show off?  I think the musical range is one of the main reasons BGaE feels like such a wonderful, expansive adventure.

Heral will be returning for the sequel too, so – hurrah!

Broken Sword – Barrington Pheloung

Bistro!  What a gloriously cinematic intro.  This guy does all the music for Morse, Lewis and a load of other stately TV shows so there’s some high calibre string arrangements to enjoy here.  Pheloung’s is a subtle touch that compliments the game with a delicious, airy atmosphere matching the pace and travails of young George Stobbart’s adventure perfectly.

Silent Hill – Akira Yamaoka

How much do I like Akira Yamaoka?  Well, I spent £500 on this because he used one for the Silent Hill soundtracks.  (Brilliant synth, no MIDI sync though)  I had to sell it not long after when times got hard.  Dang it.  Still, all this is to say that I fucking love the work of this man.

You never know where you are with the music in Silent Hill.  The quiet songs are too eerie to be soothing:

And the loud songs.  The loud songs hate you.

Imagine that exploding from your speakers as some unknowable horror comes at you with a rusty sword the size of snow plough blade.

Whether soft or angry, weird or terrifying, the music in Silent Hill is all tinged with a kind of profound sadness absolutely in line with the games’ moods.  Yamaoka’s soundtracks are often something between music and noise; they don’t sit on top like a theme complimenting and commentating on the environments you play through, they’re soundscapes of the environments, moving within them like the mist that surrounds the town of Silent Hill; an integral part of the game like no other.

The Silent Hill franchise has been ailing since 4 and its official death has pretty much been signified now that Akira Yamaoka, for the first time, won’t be composing for the next title.

I will now morn this loss by closing with a signature Yamaoka Silent Hill rock ballad.  Can’t help but love ‘em.

Paul Millen