Trying to understand how games work

Category Archives: Music


So there was a point in time in which I would write about video game music every Saturday. I liked that, I wanted to get back to it. However there will be changes made to the format. Last time I did this I would put up a single piece of music and write a little bit about that. This time I don’t want to be as rigid with it, if I have something on my mind to say about music, I’m writing it down. Anyway here goes.

Recently I started listening to the Pat Metheny Group, an old Jazz Fusion band, admittedly I became aware of them through a recent anime JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure. At the end of their album Still Life (Talking) this piano track comes on and every time I hear it I think of some small village at night-time in a Japanese Role-Playing Game.

There are certain musical artists I’ve listened to and it’s been very clear how they’ve influenced game composers. Stick on Emerson, Lake and Palmer and you’ll hear where some of the battle music from Final Fantasy comes from. Stick on Yellow Magic Orchestra and you’ll hear where a lot of inspiration for NES music.

While I don’t have a lot to say about this, I thought it would be interesting to bring it up. Maybe I could dive deeper in the future.

I would really appreciate feedback on this because I’m trying something new here. Feel free to leave a comment or bug me on Twitter.

Traditional is what you could call most Dragon Quest games. There’s not a lot that changes between the games, only small things, the mechanics change a tiny bit, the stories differ. That said they are fun, and in a way like comfort food, the kind of thing you want to stay consistant each time you have it. The music is consistantly good too.

This track was not in the original version of the game, this one was. In my personal opinion Koichi Sugiyama, composer of the Dragon Quest games, is better suited to working with an orchestra. Yet in all initial releases of Dragon Quest games are put out with music sounding like it comes from someone’s keyboard. The music is still nice, since it’s still all the same good songs, but it doesn’t sound as good as it could be.

That’s why I applaud the localization team that worked on this game for switching the keyboard-tunes for a fully orchastrated soundtrack that just lends this big fantasy RPG an epic feel. An orchestra can just do that, make something feel just bigger. I don’t think films like Star Wars would have the same impact if it was filled with cheesy pop music. Orchestras can feel like a powerful thing in music, and if used effectively can be brilliant.

Now to turn to a personal favourite franchise, and also a franchise in which I think the music does a very good job of setting the tone. The music calls to mind Vangelis, composer of Blade Runner, Chariots of Fire and more. You could argue that electronic music is just effective short-hand to say “it’s science fiction”, however I think that’s selling this music a bit short.

To quote Douglas Adams “Space is big. Really big.” In Mass Effect, that big space is there to be explored. Humans are newcomers in the game’s galactic society filled with all sorts of aliens, they still have a lot to learn, a lot to discover. Of course there’s danger out there too, and you’ve got to save the galaxy from it, because it’s a videogame.

And I think with just this piece of music, it already plants that idea in your head. Why not re-read that last paragraph while playing the music to see if it fits? Why not read it aloud with a dramatic voice-over? Why not close your eyes and think of space while the music’s on? Maybe that’s getting a little too into it but you can see what I mean right?

Since this piece is going up between Christmas and New Year, I thought I would do something to maybe keep in the theme. I thought about it and it basically came down to “it’s cold now so I’m picking an ice level.”

Sonic 3 is probably my favourite Sonic game, it’s not usually most people’s preferred choice, but I enjoy it a lot. I wasn’t that great at it, so I’d mess around with cheat-codes to switch on debug mode to turn myself into a ring and fly through the stage. I intend to get back to it some point soon and try to finish it legitimately, but I’ve told myself that about so many games now.

Now to talk about the music. I’m a big fan of the Mega Drive’s music capabilities, it’s too low fidelity to create anything realistic, so people just got creative with it. There’s a lot on the system I’d love to feature here but right now we have this cool dance-ish track to listen to.

For those of you that didn’t know, there have been several claims by people that Michael Jackson worked on the music for this game, if you compare a some of the game’s tracks it can seem fairly obvious.

Even MJ collaborator Brad Buxley stated he was involved, speaking to the french magazine “Black & White”:

“I’ve never played the game so I do not know what tracks on which Michael and I have worked the developers have kept, but we did compose music for the game. Michael called me at the time for help on this project, and that’s what I did. And if he is not credited for composing the music, it’s because he was not happy with the sound coming out of the console. At the time, game consoles did not allow an optimal sound reproduction, and Michael found it frustrating. He did not want to be associated with a product that devalued his music.”

If anything, this piece of music sounds fairly similar to another piece of music Brad Buxley worked on.

I have a few ideas for some new features on PixPen, this being one of them. It might seem a bit simple, well it is, this is basically “some music wot Samuel likes”. And what’s wrong with that? You might like some of the music I put on here. That said you might not, it’s music, it can be fairly subjective.

For the first track I thought I’d pick a recent game, Bravely Default. I’m not picking a major theme from an emotionally resonant moment, or the main battle theme. I’m picking an optional boss theme, that’s technically a remix of music from another game, Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes of Light.

I haven’t played that game. I’ve had a listen to the original track and I don’t quite like it as much as this version.

What I like about this song is there’s a level of hopefulness and happiness about it, not something you get much of in videogame boss themes. It’s nice to have a positive feeling going into battle, as insane as that just sounds there. But it makes it feel a little more fun, and I like fun, don’t you?

Anyway, I hope I can make this a weekly thing, depending on the music I can find. I am sure there are thousands of tracks in ready supply, I’m not going to be afraid to repeat games if I have to as well.

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