Recently some of the contributors of Input Error went to the IMAX as part of the BFI film festival to see “DJ Yoda Does Videogames”.
A selection of video game soundtracks and games-inspired videos from the last 30 odd years on a gigantic screen? It was great.
Now thats-a-gots-us-a-thinkings. What are our favourite computer soundtracks?
I’m sure many of you will mutually smile, slap each other on the knee, and agree with a few of the choices below. Who knows, you might debate who’s massively wrong and why. Best keep that to yourself though.
Leisure Suit Larry theme – Tandy
The Leisure Suit Larry theme regularly comes to mind as an earworm in its own right. I remember at the time being determined to learn it on piano, though when I’d achieved that goal I discovered it was a pretty niche party trick since most people had no idea what it was.
The idea of such an iconic melody for a game theme is more of a rarity as games more closely resemble the film industry with major releases now, but what probably started as someone messing around in midi for the first game was adapted into a cabaret extravaganza in the end and suddenly the pauses in that monotone original made sense and showed what the composer had in mind.
Behold! Larry’s evolution:
Leisure Suit Larry” Theme (Jan Zottmann ft. Al Lowe)
Max Payne 3 Soundtrack – HEALTH – TEARS
Being a massive HEALTH fan, and it having been so long since they’d produced any new material at the time, I was admittedly a little biased when I first listened to the Max Payne soundtrack they scored. I loved the ambition of it all, combining some of their signature sounds, but valuing the suitability to the game scenario above all else. The brooding industrial textures and ambient dread replaced the raw aggression of their earlier releases and upped the level of suspense to another level. Achieving this and simultaneously producing something that was interesting to listen to as an album out of context and in its own right was a hell of an achievement, but one they somehow pulled off.
Silent Hill 2 OST (full album)
It’s easy with this sort of thing to just choose whatever you’re most familiar with as even a bad song listened to enough times you’ll end up softening to. However the Silent Hill 2 soundtrack is a genuinely unsettling, sinister soundtrack in its own right. If someone sent it to you without knowing it was a soundtrack, you wouldn’t question it. Tracks like Promise have a nursery rhyme level of innocence in the lead melody but all underwritten by ghostly sounds that together create a sense of tragedy before it’s even begun. The composer Akira Yamaoka reminds me of Yann Tiersen who wrote the Amelie soundtrack with his comfort switching up genre and instrumentation to best realise the appropriate sounds. I personally believe this soundtrack is a bigger part of the reason people thought Silent Hill 2 was such a leap forward from the first. Much like the game, it took similar themes and ideas, but had another go with the benefit of hindsight. Game companies are willing to spend more on soundtracks than in the early 2000s now and I believe it’s successes like this one that convinced them that the investment was worthwhile.
Joey Jo Jo
Xenon 2 Megablast
I remember finding out that this tune was sampled from John Carpenter’s theme from Assault on Precinct 13. On the one hand, I was disappointed that the tune did not come fully formed from someone in Bomb the Bass. On the other hand, it originated in the head of a film director that I really rate. Even though I always was (and still am) rubbish at this game unless the cheat code for Super Nashwan is used, I never used to mind, because I got to listen to this tune. And that’s the true meaning of Christmas. Or something.
Sonic the Hedgehog – OST (Master System)
Thinking of music for this list, I realised that most video game music that I like was written by the same person. Sonic the Hedgehog, Streets of Rage, Revenge of Shinobi. You spend an hour (if you’re lucky!) on finishing each game, you watch the credits and see the same name, Yuzo Koshiro. It also helped that I started out with all Sega consoles and that’s where most of his work in the 90s can be found. That’s why I pick the Sky Base track, not Green Hill Zone. I had to work hard to hear this tune!
Chime – Phil Hartnoll – For Silence
Not much to say about this, except that it is the best tune in the game, Chime. The build up from the tinkly bells at the beginning to the full on strings in the main section is a great incentive when playing this game.
I could have picked the entire soundtrack but I always come back to the main theme. With most RPG’s the ability to grind your path comes down to whether or not you can stomach listening to the same soundtrack over and over again. I recall the first time I heard the track as you wander the sweeping plains outside the village, the soundtrack radiates the excitement of a grand adventure. I immediately fell in love with it. The music contributes to the tone and feel of the unknowable alien world, and ultimately the revelations to come, especially with your second play-through. To this day I’ve no idea how a nonsense futuristic language could sound so beautiful. A true masterpiece.
I rarely stopped to listen to game introductions in my youth. Yes, I was an inpatient tike. Chaos Engine and a few choice Sensible Software titles bucked that trend. How many games did you ever start, not to play, but to listen to the intro?
Final Fantasy 7
It would have been easy to pick an obscure soundtrack and bask in reflected glory of those who also remember niche things, but I had to go for the most obvious because like many others, I’ll never forget these soundtracks. I’m confident I couldn’t have played it for as long as I did without some of the most addictive music known the videogames.
I’d admit I was close to swapping in the Lemmings soundtrack.
Zelda: Ocarina of Time
There you have it. I hope you enjoyed these shared memories, maybe even wiped away a tear.
Off you go then.