Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band live at Hyde Park, London is currently playing on my XBOX DVD player. I want to pick up my guitar, gather some friends and sing along with us all playing instruments. They can’t play them? Oh well let’s just stick on Rock Band and pretend to play them… What do you mean there’s no Boss on the game? Philistines! Why not? He’s one of the best songwriters of our time!
Ok then, I’ll play some Dylan… HE’S NOT ON THERE EITHER?? What about Bowie? Oh only a few, and not even his best. Ok what about some greats like The Beatles or Metallica? Oh I have to buy SEPARATE games for that. Can’t I just put all the songs into one manageable easy game like the library transfer Rock Band has? No? Ahh… So what’s on Rock Band 3 then? Oh. That. Really? That too? Well, that’s a bit naff really isn’t it?
Basically, rhythm games have managed to convert me into entire boredom. I was a great defender of them, especially Rock Band. The tracking was better for me and the expansion capabilities were fantastic. Even as someone who can actually play musical instruments, I found the genre enchanting and a great escape from the pursuit of original rock stardom. I didn’t even mind the Guitar Hero series doing one off additions as it made bigger scope for a better soundtrack. Metallica being the prime example of how well it could be done, although I also quite liked Aerosmith’s addition. Anyone else remember IBM’s Quest For Fame on the PC? Tennis Racket and special controller with awesome tunes? It was a hoot!
But Guitar Hero changed after World Tour. It became too full of itself, and the controversy surrounding the usage of Kurt Cobain’s image was enough to send my liberal meter sky high and turn away from the franchise. Rock Band expanded brilliantly, capturing some of my favourite bands and songs. Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Rush and No Doubt for example.
Then Activision had to ruin it all by making everything they could into a game. DJ Hero. Band Hero. Recorder Hero, where you blew into the Wii remote to play along. Maracas Hero, where you got two 6-axis controller pads and threw them around violently to a virtual flamenco on screen in the style of Strictly Come Dancing. Then you got Bez Hero for the Kinect where you get as smashed as you could and danced incoherently to nothing but bright blinding lights whilst popping virtual pills using the RT trigger.
Ok so I exaggerate a little, but you can’t say that you don’t believe something similar may have crossed the minds of the developers. Roughly translated to “how far can we drag this out and make some $ before people get utterly bored?” It seems that only another two years was the answer to that question. Which for me is a shame. Now I’ll have to go to a pub and sing along to a badly constructed karaoke backing track to get my music kicks. All I wanted was Born To Run! (Cries into pillow)
The time has finally come where officially the real forerunners of the franchise fire their great Halo and let life start off from scratch. Bungie have handed over to the Microsoft run 343 Industries. Fear immediately fills the mind of naff sequels, pointless plots, substandard gameplay and terrible cash-ins. Fans of the Halo games should have every right to fear…
Or should they? Put simply, no. Halo is in safe hands, and if the recent behind-the-scenes video of the Defiant Map Pack for Halo Reach is anything to go by, it might actually be pretty prosperous. The problem being is that this now huge intellectual property, or IP if you will, is as much of a money earner as other franchises like Call Of Duty. However, it is not Call Of Duty. One of the things that Bungie have done, along in tandem with Microsoft Game Studios, is keep the plot and the story cannon rigid and consistent. When the original Halo game was released a trilogy of books was also released. The Fall Of Reach, The Flood and First Strike. The basis of the first book served to inspire not only the latest game but also the entire back-story of our hero John 117. Then you have the iconic Red vs. Blue series, many more books, toys, figurines, comics, cartoons and soon to be movies.
What I’m trying to get at here is that Halo has been a franchise of not just games, but story, merchandise and all round engrossing sci-fi fan wielding property for nearly ten years. Ever since the first game hit our shelves, xbox’s and PC’s. The plot and story of Halo will certainly survive and be frankly as encapsulating as ever. For the gamer however, you may feel the game may change or lose its “Pick Up And Play” accessibility. I however don’t think that much will change. Of course the engine will be updated or even totally changed, but fans will accept and wait for that as long as the end product is beautiful to look at, smooth to play and enjoyable to experience.
The people at 343 Industries have been involved for a while now. As far back as Halo Wars. Halo Waypoint, Halo Legends and even Halo 3 ODST have had some involvement with the company. Many of them are ex-Bungie staff. Let’s be honest here as well, most of them are probably fans of the series. They certainly won’t knowingly turn their gleaming multi-million dollar IP into a steaming pile of pavement chocolate, and as a quote I read earlier in the week says “no one ever sets out to make a bad TV show.” The same can be said for games.
I do have some worries of course; it wouldn’t be natural if I didn’t. Halo Wars needs to improve. The story wasn’t as good as it could have been but the idea was sound and the game was fun to play. As Halo Wars 2 is already very much in progress, we can only hope these lessons are already learned. Halo and maybe Halo 2 could and should get a HD re-master. The PS3 is currently doing the same to the Tomb Raider franchise and an up rated Halo re-release would definitely sell well and be very welcome. I fear for the soundtrack to the franchise. Halo Wars Stephen Rippy did well in places but he is no Marty O’ Donnell. I hope whoever gets the music will do the franchise justice as it’s one of the things that definitely makes the games.
Of course time will tell. But I firmly believe this beloved franchise, held dear by many including myself, will survive and survive well. Bungie have instilled a community of Halo gamers and fans. These fans will talk and talk. They will be the life and death of Halo. Bungie always listened to them and 343 Industries look like they will too. Besides, Microsoft is not the kind of company who release a yearly game to make money. The Fable and Forza series come out when they are ready. They certainly won’t publish a series to death like… Say… Activision… Oh dear Bungie… All the best!
Soundtracks in games have become immense. That’s the only word to describe it. Rising from the limited but creatively excellent 8-bit sound to the glorious, vast orchestral giants. Original or not, the musical direction of a game has always been one of the underlying aspects that makes a game. Of course there is gameplay, graphics and plot but if there isn’t the depth that music provides, then really there’s nothing to supports the game. Can you imagine Sonic without its glorious background music? No. Exactly. So I decided (quite some time ago, but I’ve been too scared to publish it) to compile my top ten list of game music - in no particular order. This will cause some controversy and discussion and I welcome it. I know I’m completely and utterly wrong in some respects, and I can only comment from the games I’ve played. There are some rules as well, which I’ve adhered to.
Like movies, game soundtracks have taken a huge direction in popularising music as well as using established music. Obvious nods must go to the EA Sports titles as well as various racing games. In fact F1 2010 has a great soundtrack. The NFL series has its own theme, The Madden Theme composed by NFL composer David Robidoux which is brilliant and genuinely excites you to play the game. To this end though, unless composed specifically for the game, it will not be allowed on this list. Which means the likes of “Beyond The Sea” from Bioshock and every Grand Theft Auto soundtrack is excluded. Again however, a notable mention to the GTA series; GTA 3’s Mix FM was a hardcore way to drive and mow people down, and who can forget the utter brilliance that is GTA Vice City. So, only originally composed music for the game. It can be a song, just as long as it’s exclusive to the game.
Another rule is that I can only have one choice from a game or franchise of games. So no Mario 1 and Mario 3 for example, I can only choose one from the entire series. This will cause great consternation in my choices… possibly. I have put no constraints on the platforms; everything from Spectrum 48k to Xbox 360 has been considered. Again with such a large field to look at, my choices will anger. Good.
So without further ado, here goes my top ten computer game music.
Chani’s Eyes – Dune (PC/Amiga/Sega CD) 1992
So as far as games go, Dune 2: The Battle for Arrakis gets the props in the community. The template for the entire Command & Conquer series, this game is not so highly renowned. However, it is a great game with loose links to the movie, though if you haven’t read the book, you might be a bit lost as to what you should do. The soundtrack itself is a source of much controversy. Stooped in a long legal battle with the composer, it was finally released as Exxon: Spice Opera and if you’re lucky enough to own an original copy from the early 90s you can download this legally…otherwise you’re screwed. However, this tune, which forms the source of the main tune from the game, is a great piece of music that, if you’ve played the game, perfectly fits the desperation of the planet and the epic landscapes it portrays.
Title theme – Streets Of Rage (Mega Drive/Genesis) 1991
I’m giving a few more honourable nods here before I go into why I’ve chosen this one. Those being Golden Axe 1 & 2, Shinobi and Double Dragon. Again, great games with awesome soundtracks, especially the Golden Axe series. However they all suffer from one problem… They sound dated. Not the sound of course but the music itself. The Golden Axe 2 theme for example starts like a grand giant Conan The Barbarian epic until it goes into some 80’s action tune. Streets Of Rage does not sound dated. It is a cool piece of music that wouldn’t be out of place in many contemporary police or detective dramas. And that’s why everyone loves it. It holds the tension perfectly for the story it unveils in the titles. Many games had music and a brief description of a plot traversing the screen, but Streets Of Rage did this perfectly. It matched the tone and the darkness of the game. If someone were to recreate this with real instruments, I would challenge you not to be impressed. Whether you went orchestral or rock with it, it would sound just as good and as dark as the original.
Far Away by Jose Gonzalez – Red Dead Redemption (Xbox 360/PS3) 2010
I brought the limited edition of this game because it came with the soundtrack. I love westerns. The Morricone scores for the Man With No Name trilogy are outstanding. I even liked the score to the old LucasArts PC game Outlaws, which paid homage to the genre. So I brought it for some good old western music. Imagine my surprise when (SPOILERS) I crossed the river into Mexico and suddenly this epic, vast, beautiful landscape, encapsulated in a song comes out of nowhere. There were no songs before, only great incidental music, so this, beautiful piece of music, blew my mind. I was slowly trotting along with my horse and then this filled the air. It is the single, most perfect placement of a song anywhere in a game. Imagine my surprise when I found out it was done exclusively for the game and my joy when I remembered I had the soundtrack. There’s not much more I can say that the song doesn’t, but if you want a special treat, head over to the Rockstar official website for the game. There you will find a live acoustic rooftop performance of the song by the man himself. Well worth a look.
Dogs Of War – Medal of Honor: European Assault (Xbox/PS2/GC) 2005
Michael Giacchino has written the scores for pretty much all of the Medal of Honor series. Famous now for composing Alias, Lost, Star Trek, MI:3… Basically he’s J.J. Abrams right hand man for music. For this game however he did not, and it shows. It’s a refreshing difference to the series. Admittedly the first time I heard it was in a trailer for EA’s The Simpsons Game, which also used it. But once discovered, I could only marvel at how this song really shows the bravery, courage and dire futility of war. Far being from a normal “these brave men sacrificed their lives for their country” type of score, it really does bring something genuinely upsetting and foreboding. Which is perfect for the type of game it is. Like the end of Star Wars Episode 2, it ends on not this gallant major epic note of the others but a soft, sombre, low minor note. It evokes emotion to really say to you, the player, “Look you’re having fun, but this really happened. People have died, pointlessly. People still do and it’s not to be forgotten in the entertainment of triumph.”… MESSAGE!
Ending – Sonic The Hedgehog 2 (Mega Drive/Genesis) 1992
WHAT!?!?!?!!!! You’re using the END of a game as the music???? Not the theme? Not the Green Hill Zone from Sonic 1? WHAT’S THE MATTER WITH YOU???
Have you got the rage out of your system enough yet to hear me out? Good. Well yes I agree the 5 second Sonic the Hedgehog theme is iconic. As is the relentless drone of the Green Hill Zone until you hear the jingle of rings fly out of you as you accidently hit a monkey in a tree or the bolt from a crab. But cast your mind back to the ending of Sonic 1 (or YouTube it if you’ve forgotten). You’re in this big metal place; you beat Dr. Robotnik and then BAMM!!! You’re back in Green Hill with a slight reprise of the theme before the credits repeat the zone’s themes. Sonic 2 on the other hand had a story ending (which Sonic 3 ripped off. Don’t remember? YouTube it) that actually followed what was happening. The scene where (SPOILERS) you are falling from the destroyed Death Egg in space before Tails comes to your rescue in the plane and catches you. The music is composed for the sequence and is rather rewarding once you’ve completed it. It makes you feel that you’ve achieved something for this world that you’ve been playing in and not just completing a game. I expect to be heavily challenged on this one but it’s my opinion and I’m sticking with it.
Title Theme – Silent Hill (PlayStation) 1999
I don’t expect too much criticism on this one to be honest. What can you say other than it is a great mystery track. At a time when The X-Files was popular and children’s shows like ‘Goosebumps’ and ‘Are You Afraid Of The Dark?’ haunted and excited, there was a nice, almost minimalist approach to music for the horror portrayed, so it didn’t detract from the story or cost a lot but was in keeping with the genre whilst making an iconic theme (X-Files & Millennium are prime examples). This is gaming’s version of those iconic themes. It’s almost a film score with Silent Hill and the composer; Akira Yamaoka has gained huge notoriety for his work on the series. But for me his best theme has to be the original. The slow warm tremolo guitar sound with the beauty of the mandolin (without looking it up), sets up the game and it sets up the atmosphere. Something which I believe, so I’ve heard, Alan Wake also does brilliantly. If you’re looking for a song to head a survival horror third-person game, then this is it.
Welcome To Rapture – Bioshock (PC/Xbox 360/PS3) 2007
Ok so I know my earlier statement about the rules, but this is within them. This piece of music is one of the many originally composed pieces for the game and perfectly complements the beginning wonder and drama of seeing Rapture for the first time. It is evil, epic, yet tragic - the lament of a wonderful grand dream and visionary idea twisted to serve the needs of those who seek to exploit it. And the fact that you never hear the music again in the game is a further effort to make it more poignant. In my opinion, which is the point of this blog, if there were to be a Bioshock movie, it would be criminal if the reveal of rapture weren’t welcomed to the screen with a loud rousing reproduction of this piece. This music IS Rapture. Not the year when the game’s set. Not the Art Deco brilliance of the design. Not even the psychotic Splicers and characters. This piece is Rapture.
The Legend of Zelda – The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker (GC) 2003
Now this is going to get me carted through the streets like the criminal I am. However this piece of music is perfect in every way for the series. I love the theme. In any version, from 8-bit to 16-bit to even the amusing System Of A Down rendition. However, this so far is the best use of the theme. In fact the entire soundtrack to the Wind Waker is a beautiful opus to its lovely nautical almost cartoon-like graphics, which is the perfect way to treat such an iconic character (in the games mythology of course). The theme for Zelda is the best adventure theme for a computer game (Final Fantasy fans have just created voodoo dolls of me now) and like Streets Of Rage, it is not dated in the slightest. It’s perfectly recreated in any form without losing what it is or the time. As a fan of the Conan movies, I can relate to great theme tunes that stay with you and sound right, regardless of them being 28 years old. A few notable nods here (on the subject of adventure games), are going to the entire LucasArts series: Monkey Island, Sam & Max, Full Throttle, and to Fable (with Danny Elfman no less).
Unforgotten – Halo 2 (Xbox 360/PC) 2004
A lot is made of the Halo soundtracks. As of time of writing the Halo: Reach soundtrack is currently number 3 in the iTunes Soundtrack album chart. The music for the Halo franchise is simply brilliant. Marty O’ Donnell makes up for his lack of gaming ability with his talent with the musical stave. I love the Halo soundtracks… all of them. So my hardest decision was which song to choose. There are the iconic chanting monks for the theme, which is brilliant and encapsulating. There’s the opus of how Halo 3 pans out with some great music during the in-game sequences, which take from all of the previous games. Even the trailers to the games have had incredible music and the brilliance of the atmospheric Halo 3: ODST is beyond comparison. However once I went onto Unforgotten, I knew that it couldn’t be anything else. This is an absolutely beautiful piece of music, first heard in Halo 2 but repeats throughout 2 and 3, notably on the menu screens for 3. I challenge you to provide a better, more emotive piece of music from the entire series. Hats off to you Marty.
Still Alive – Portal (PC/Xbox 360/PS3) 2007
Ok so maybe this is cheating as it’s on everyone’s list but this has to be on my list. For the pure reason of how brilliant the game was as well as it being an utterly original and hilarious payoff. I got this game and was with a friend who was watching me play it. Of course it didn’t take long but we were laughing at how deliciously insane GlaDOS was. Then game over (SPOILERS). Fair enough. Nice game, original, fun and entertaining. Then GlaDOS sings… There was nothing funnier than listening to her at that moment in time. Jonathon Coulton’s lyrics are incredible. There are several insane computers in Science Fiction and gaming. But I can’t ever see Hal 9000 donning a tuxedo and banging out some Sinatra at the end of a movie. GlaDOS was different and when you look in retrospect, it makes sense that a dead (?) computer sings a lovely song about science. Want some other funny songs? Try ‘That’s Death’ from the beginning of Discworld 2: Missing, presumed? (UK title).
That concludes my list. You may disagree. Please come and comment. I am undoubtedly wrong and have omitted something heinously in your view. Even though I stress that these I’ve personally experienced so that’s my excuse. Please throw in your ‘two cents’ and agree or disagree! Thank you for reading.
So I’ve spent a lot of time over the past few months playing FIFA 11 for the XBOX 360 (I just can’t get on with the pads for the PS3). I even had a 4-3 Liverpool Vs Newcastle thriller online with a friend. This great score line prompted some nostalgia for me. Like the old premier league games with the same teams and score line. But my nostalgia wasn’t for the football itself, it was for the games. I can trace back from FIFA 11 to the first Pro Evo released for the next gen consoles, Pro Evo 6. A downright poor attempt overall but great online play. I then went back to the PS2 days of Pro Evo 4 & 5. Still these are my favourite football games of the modern era. Many a night was wasted in the company of friends having tournaments with fast food and the trading of toy wrestling championship belts for whoever came out on top.
But this wasn’t where I was to look. I casted my mind back right to the beginning of the FIFA franchise. The imaginatively titled FIFA International Soccer on the Sega Mega Drive (Genesis). Now unless you’re my age or slightly older, or you’ve played the emulation on FIFA 06 on the PS2, you’d have never have know that there were only three real football games before this (not including Sensible Soccer as A) it was a brilliant albeit joke game and B) it called football soccer… BOO). World Cup Italia ’90 (which came with most console bundles with Super Monaco GP and Columns) was the first football game of the 16-bit generation. This top down view game looked like it had come straight out of the arcade. Whilst I still had Nessun Dorma running through my head, a bunch of half false named ball-like-heads with little feet kicked a ball around in something akin to a virtual Subbuteo. Of course the problem with this game is it was incredibly hard to play. You selected your team from a badly drawn map, selected your players from screens more reminiscent of a Spectrum and then were greeted with a game that made it impossible to keep possession unless you passed it continuously. Only to be backed up with odd matte painted screens for goal kicks.
Next on my list, although not next on the timeline, was World Cup USA ‘94. This game had learned nothing of its other licensed predecessors mistakes. Incomprehensible baseball card like menu screens followed another badly drawn globe map for team selection, followed by even more incomprehensible baseball card screens. All of which included the pointless dog mascot. I don’t know why they didn’t put cheerleaders in and have done with it. But it’s game play, although fairly terrible and again plagued with fake names, did take its lessons from Sensible Soccer. The top down view was zoomed out further and the grass was a much brighter green… And that’s where my praises end. It was terrible. Awful. Nay a disgusting excuse for portrayal of the beautiful game. In fairness this game was totally dwarfed by the equally licensed, but again faked named, FIFA International Soccer… Enough said. Except that England were on that FIFA game and not on USA ’94. If you don’t know why, then you should ask your parents or older siblings why 2010’s England World Cup flops were not a huge surprise.
But until FIFA took over my console life, and Premier Manager took over my PC life, there was only one football game for me. A game where a kid famously asked Sir Patrick Moore’s Gamesmaster on TV how he could get more power into his kicks. I’m speaking of course of European Club Soccer. That’s right. Club. Not country. Before FIFA ’95, this game showcased the best clubs in all of the motherlands of modern Football. It was incredibly hard to score on. But it had club teams that Pro Evo now could only dream of. It had a side view so you could see the whole of the players nicely animated, perfectly formed, and more of the pitch without needing a radar. You had fake names still but close enough so that you knew who they were. You had kits that looked like the actual kits. Badges that looked like the actual team badges and a referee on the pitch. Something that only recently has come into modern Football games. This ref would even show cards to you on the pitch. The soundtrack was great and because of its difficulty, it was oh so rewarding when you actually won. I’m not sure that modern gamers will understand the stress of throwing your controller across the room and the lead coming out –making the game crashing and meaning you had to restart from the beginning and not the last save point- due to the difficulty and agonising stress the game caused. But believe me that this kind of stress made me into the man I am today. That being a bitter cynical football fan that knows how lucky you are to be born into a gaming platform of 3D realistically modelled, dynamically accurate football games.
Just remember that when you play modern football games that streaming down the flanks and belting a shot in from the corner of the box won’t guarantee you a goal anymore like it used to. You actually have to play football, and that is why you… I… Fail.