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Video games are really advancing as an entertainment medium.
As this generation’s consoles reach maturity, and the PC continues its path of
growth, it’s fairly easy to say that developers know pretty well how to do it,
these days. Graphics continue to get more detailed, gameplay becomes more
accessible and fun, and overall concepts of video games are reaching a new
level of polish. Of course, in the midst of all this is a video game’s sound.
So many titles offer cinematic experiences, with fully
orchestrated and epic scores that reach out to the deepest chambers of your ear
canals. I, for one, love it. Hearing the whistle of a soft flute melody, the
bellow of a low brass feature, or the exposure of a singular instrument, I love
hearing what the latest and greatest composers come up with. Want examples?
Just listen to the deep, moving sounds of The Elder Scrolls, Uncharted,
Warcraft, Final Fantasy, and Halo, among many other greats.
As an aspiring
musician, hearing these scores for the first time is as exciting as playing the
actual game. At some points, I find myself not even playing in the moment at
hand, but rather listening to the music in the background. I don’t know what it
is about it, but the deep, dark, and mystical feelings of so many great game
scores always pull me in. What can I say? I’m a sucker for the good stuff.
Of course, that means that the music is super important. If
I like it enough, I’ll look it up on YouTube, and for all-time favorites I’ll
buy the OST to a game or movie. The feelings that emanate from such powerful
playing, can at some points be overwhelming to the point of chills, and after a
good time of listening it’s all worth it. Here are a few of my favorite tracks
from blockbuster video games:
I’ll start off with my favorites as of now –
Batman Arkham City Main Theme
The choir and the low brass at the beginning gives the dark
tones that are necessary for receiving the atmosphere of Arkham City, and the
feeling of the Dark Knight. The part that gets me every time, though, is the buildup
that starts around 1:30, and reaches its climax at 1:55. At that point, it’s
like you can just HEAR the power of justice. This composer didn’t just throw
some notes down –HE really understood what the music of Batman should be.
The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion Main Theme
Probably my second most favorite theme I’ve ever heard. To
me, Skyrim’s theme holds no ground in contest. The pulsating cellos, the
ringing bass, the triumphant horns, leading into the sweeping line of strings,
which in turn evolves into the brooding low brass exposure. When I hear this,
the feeling of exploration instantly comes to mind. But before you become to
desensitized, it all fades away, leaving the listener to hold their breath, as
the beautiful woodwinds pick up the remainder of the melody. It’s all so
beautiful… And it captures the pure essence of Oblivion: Exploration, with a
touch of civilization.
Halo Reach Overture
By far one my favorite pieces in recent memory, from the
legendary scores of the Halo series. Honestly, I couldn’t mention video game
music without throwing in Halo and the genius composer Martin O’Donnell. The
first half of the theme is exactly what Halo should be, and that in turn can be
translated as the sound of something new, foreign, and grand. Basically, it’s
epic. But the second half, even more, is what really gets me. It immediately
slows down in pace, allowing for the mourning minor key to really emphasize
itself. The crying horns, the emotional bass, the empathetic strings… This
piece was a great surprise that kept from even touching the Start Game button
in Reach when I plugged it in for the first time.
And while, as much as
I love listening to all these great themes, after I while I will eventually
begin to replace them with other songs and pieces that I love. It is with this,
that I offer you all advice, a theory of musical “feng shui” in video games.
The feeling of each game is different. However, often times
games that are divided within their genre or settings can get away with similar
genres of music. How about we go through some of my most favorite combinations
of music to listen to while playing video games…
First Person Shooters
My default playlist for when I play games such as Halo, Call
of Duty, or Battlefield is always something along the lines of rock music. If
it doesn’t have distorted guitar and bass, it’s not heavy enough. Honestly, who
wants to relax when they’re shooting people in the face? So, my go-to artists
for when I play shooters are as follows.
This genre is ultimately just slightly harder to place above
the rest, simply because there is so much variety in gameplay and setting. However,
I think I’ve finally found a rotation of music that fits the games well. As I’m
sure everyone’s noticed, publishers are really starting to push dubstep in
their video game trailers, what with all the action and crazy stuff they throw
in. While dubstep does really well, the over-arching genre of rave music is
generally a good fit. Here are my impressions of what works best:
This one is a little peculiar, as some may find this a
little contradictory. Many RPGs now have fully-orchestrated soundtracks, but
after I’ve heard them for a while, I put on a good rotation of classical music,
or modern orchestral. There’s not much that else is really as good of a fit. The
longer nature leads to more down-time, and that’s great for the extended nature
of classical. Here are some good fits:
So, that just about
sums up my lecture. I hope you guys enjoyed reading, and perhaps even learned
to appreciate the music the same way as I do. There’s some fantastic stuff out
there; you just have to listen for it.
If you guys liked it, have ideas, or simply want to have
conversation, that’s what the comments section is for! Sound off below guys, I’d
love to learn what your music set lists are for gaming.
So, this is in response to Sora3Ben, but may be useful to many others, as well. If you're interested in hearing more awesome orchestral music from video games, or just like the sound of a symphony, these are great pieces that I would love to recommend.
If you're looking for Final Fantasy, Chrono Trigger, or Secret of Mana in orchestral form, buying the CD of Symphonic Fantasies is an absolute necessity. Check out a video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=abUlWFUjt-k
Next, are some individual pieces that I personally enjoy listening to all the time. God of War III's Main Theme/Overture, The Hikari Kingdom Orchestra theme from Kingdom Hearts makes me well up every time. Finale, Tip of the Spear, Roll Call, Behold a Pale Horse, Never Forget, and Finish the Fight are some of the best renditions of the classis Halo theme's throughout the entire franchise.
If you want to get the most bang for your buck, go ahead and shoot for "The Greatest Video Game Music", by The London Philharmonic Orchestra. Nearly every famous game franchise is represented, and represented beautifully. Also, there is the ongoing "Video Games Live" concerts, that also have CD's on iTunes that are definitely worth purchasing. In these albums are orchestral versions of great classics like Mario, Zelda, Tetris, and the greats, like Call of Duty, Battlefield, Mass Effect, Bioshock, Final Fantasy, Uncharted, Metal Gear, Grand Theft Auto, Elder Scrolls, Fallout -Even Angry Birds.
If you want some good 'ol classical music, I recommend once again the work of The London Philharmonic Orchestra, as they have recently put out The 50 Darkest Pieces, and The 50 Greatest Classical Pieces of all time. My favorite picks are well-known favorites, such as "In The Hall of the Mountain King", "Mars, Bringer of War", "Symphony No. 7 in A Major, Ride of the Valkyries, Carmina Burana: O Fortuna, Suite gothique pour grande orgue, A Night on the Bare Mountain, Symphony No. 5 in C Minor, among so many others. Please give all these songs a try, guys. I promise you won't regret it!
I just wanted to say to everybody, thank you for the comments and support! I greatly appreciate it, and this was by far one of the blogs that I've enjoyed writing the most. Thanks again, everybody! I hope to write more stuff like this in the future