And now for something completely different

13 min read

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NfERnOv2's avatar
By NfERnOv2
Looking at my last journal entry, it must've about been an aeon since I updated this journal-thingy. As I don't have much art-related news going on (besides my attempts to tame the beast called a drawing tablet), let me share a little-known fact about me:
Pretty much half of the music I listen to, one way or the other, comes from a video game.

To make things clear, when I say video game music, I'm talking about every single song that was specifically written for a game, not just those electronic beeps 'n other funky noises some people may think about when they hear the word "computer".

If this still sounds a tad bit too geeky to you, you might want to skip on this one; otherwise, read on! (Beware though, I haven't written anything decent in a while so I've got a whole lot of inspiration =p)
Now, onto business: what makes video game music so different from, well, let's call it "regular music" for simplicity's sake.

First of all, I don't really consider video game music as a genre on it's own. It can come in pretty much any genre you like. There's rock, metal, dance, classical, jazz, ...  and of course, the old-skool electronic beep's-'n noises music. (That genre's called chip music by the way.)
In this sense, video game music isn't really different from regular music. Just to prove the diversity, let's give some examples you might recognize:
* Super mario world (and all the other mario games really): This is chip music in its full glory. The great thing about chip music is, they can be oh so catchy, because they sound so simple. I'm sure that anyone that hasn't played mario in years can easily recall or at least recognize the game's intro tune.
* Quake II: This First-person shooter must've got one of the most kick-ass rock/metal sound tracks ever made. It fits the game pretty darned well too, aggressive music for an aggressive game. :) Oh, if you're into metal, you'll love Painkiller's sound track, no doubt.
* Total annihilation: If you think classical music is for old people, this Realtime Strategy game might tell you otherwise. A quick summary, Total Annihilation is about the eternal struggle for domination between the Core and the Arm (two robot/machine races). The cool thing is, the music always fits the current situation. If things're rather calm, in other words you're just building up your defense, you'll hear calm music. But when your screen is crawling with hundreds of robots battling their way out you'll hear this epic hugeish music, really adds a lot to the game's experience.
* Sam & Max hit the road: This wicked adventure game is all about a white rabbit, filled with non-sensical humour ("I'd pee in my pants if I wore any"), called Max and your average detective dog Sam, who's funny in a drier kind of way. This duo is trying to solve the case of a sasquatch (a bigfoot) missing from a carnival's freak-show hosted by siamese twins. As you can imagine, this game is accompanied by rather wacky music. That one song that keeps sticking around in my head is this jazzy tune you'll hear when Sam'n Max are in their office. It's real easy on the ears, so the stickyness doesn't bother me at all. :)
* Grand Theft Auto: The GTA-series is the best example of video game music's diversity. Although a lot of the music wasn't specifically made for this series, it always seemed to work out great with the overall theme: somewhat bad boy/gangsta'-like, but not all too serious. Here's some of the music genres that passed the revue: rock, pop, drum'n bass, hip hop, soul, funk, house; heck, even reggae and country (I'll never grow tired of that song that goes like "All my exes live in Texas" =p My knowledge of country songs doesn't go much further than that though...).

Okay fine, so video game music can be pretty much anything. Something that makes it different from regular music though, is the fact that few people actually know who wrote those songs. I only two of them: First off, there's Jeremy Soule; he did the music on Dungeon Siege, Prey, Total Annihilation, Morrowind and probably a whole lot more. The second one is Frank Klepacki; he's known for the music on the Command & Conquer-series.
Now what does this anonymity imply? Well, obviously those people don't do their thing to become famous; chances of living a bling-bling papparazi-swarming life are rather slim. :) Therefore, they must make music for music's sake, which is a good thing! Also, there is no such thing as commercial video game music. (Well, unless you buy commercial music for use in your game...) And most of all, it'll be hard to find a ringtone of'em! (Good lord, how I disgust those ringtones, and the ones that make money on'em, and especially the naïve souls buying 'em =p (Okay fine, I'll admit, I bought two myself once. That felt like such a rip off that I must've thought "Never again!") )

Another thing that's different from regular music is that video game music is written to blend in with the world where the game takes place, which I think is much more inspiring than the themes most regular music is based on. What is regular music based on really? Uninspired regular music can easily be classified amongst these: love, hate, sex, money and the music itself. Those themes probably have a lot of different aspects to them, but still, I think they're overused.
Now, like I said, when writing music for a game, you've got a whole new world, atmosphere, maybe even another way of thinking you can work with. In this aspect, the music for a game resembles the music for a movie.
Let's give some examples to show how much material you can work with:
* Dungeon Keeper: Dungeon Keeper is one of the few games where you can actually play the bad guy. Mmh no, bad's an understatement; actually it's pretty evil. =p The whole game takes place below the earth, where you can build out your evil dungeon, training your evil creatures to take down those pesky heroes in shining white armor.
This type of world gives you plenty of material to write some evil (That's the last time I'll use that word, promise) sounding sound track, which they did. Wouldn't recommend listening to it when you're in a Happy happy joy joy-mood :). (Off-topic: "Happy happy joy joy" actually is a song from the Ren'n Stimpy cartoon show...)
* Monkey Island: This humorous adventure game has lots of different-themed music to it. Here's some examples: In Monkey Island 3 you'll find a barber shop. The barbers in there actually used to be a band of tough pirates, but they've all grown tired of raiding their fellow pirates and lost their call for the seven seas. The music you'll hear in the barber shop reflects this pretty well. On the one hand, it sounds somewhat barberly elegant (or gay, if you prefer that word...) ; you'll also hear some scissors rythmically snipping hair in the background; on the other hand though, you'll find it still has this rough piratey touch to it. (or the "Yaargh matey"-touch, if you prefer that one)
Here's another fun Monkey Island-example. All of the Monkey Island games have got a side character called Stan. He's a salesman doing a different ridiculous scam in each game. If he tries to sell something, he sells as much body language as he talks: a lot. The music they've written for this character is real catchy. The first 10 seconds start out somewhat serious, but then it suddenly turns into a happy feel-good tune. Gotta love it. :)
* Max Payne: Max Payne doesn't have a lot of music to it, but the theme song is something to remember. Here's the main story line: Max used to work as a DEA special agent. He lived the so-called "American dream": he was married to his beautiful wife Michelle and they just had a new-born baby. That dream came crashing down when one day he finds junks under the influence of a new drug called Valkyr, have killed both his wife and the baby. Michelle knew too much and therefore these goons were hired to take her down.
From that day on, Max becomes a bittered man and does everything it takes to find the ones responsible for taking away what he lived for. You can find back all those emotions in Max Payne's theme song; there's some hope, but especially a lot of bitterness to it.

Well this should give you an idea of the several things video game music can be based upon. I could give several more examples, but that'd just turn boring if you never played any of these games. :)
The best thing about video game music is yet to come though. That thing is, if you've actually played and liked a game, it will add a lot more value to its music as well.
Here's an example to show you what I mean: You really had a hard time taking down that last end-boss; you shouted'n sweared, but he just won't go down. When you finally do manage to take him down for good you'll experience that moment of sweet sweet victory. (So sweet :) ) Unconsciously, you'll attach that same feeling to the music you heard during that fight. Therefore, you'll experience that same feeling (not as strong, but still...) if you hear that same tune afterwards. In other words, you can replay that same scene in your head just by listening to the music. See what I mean by added value?
This benefit also works for a movie's sound track, but I don't
think it's as strong since you're passively trying to imagine you're some character in a movie, whilst in a game you actively play some character(s).

Now, enough of what I think about video games music, let's get on to the practical side of things: how do I get my music without having to start them games?
Well, there are several ways:
* If your game was made during the late nineties and it came on a CD (the days floppy disks were still common and CD's were the new shizzle :) ), there's a small chance
you can simply put that game's CD into your stereo and you're all set. You just need to skip the 1st track since that's where the game's data is located. (Don't worry, most likely you won't hear anything nor damage anything if you attempt to play that 1st track)
Anything beyond the 1st track are the songs you're looking for. These are the games that apply this trick and that I know of: Carmageddon II, Driver, Dungeon Keeper, Hexen II, Kingpin, Quake II, Total Annihilation, ...
* Perhaps a common format was used to store the music (like an .mp3). Just browse through your installation directory or the game's CD/DVD to see if you can find anything that looks like music.
Some games like to pack their stuff together in archive files (like a .zip), so you can also try and look for huge files and attempt to open them with your favourite archiver. (WinZIP, WinRAR, 7-zip, ...)
Then browse through those archives and you might find some neat stuff.
* Nothing yet? We'll have to resort to the internet then. Sometimes some exotic formats are used to store a game's music. If you're lucky you can find a tool on the net that'll convert or extract the stuff to a more common format.
How to find one? For example, if I'm looking for music from Need For Speed, I'll simply query Google for something like: "Need For Speed extract music" or "NFS extract music".
I'm not really sure whether this method is all that legal; in the end you're just converting the files you own to something more useable. No harm in that, right?
* Don't worry, there're more tricks up my sleeve. :) If your game is somewhat old, or it's a console game, you can probably find a site that provides the music you're looking for. Usually these come in the .mid-format. These files can be very small (30kB on average) because they just say when to play what instruments; they don't contain any actual "sound-data". The actual sounds of these instruments are already installed on your computer.
Unless your game is freeware, not sure whether this method's legal either... Simply look for "video game music" on Wikipedia and you'll find some handy references.
* If none of these methods work, there still is a chance they released a sound track cd. (If the music was done by Jeremy Soule, there probably is one. Just head on over to:
* Still no results? A last resort could be to record the output of your sound card to a file. I've got no clue on how to do this, since I've never tried it, but it's got to be possible. Otherwise, just hook up your computer to your amplifier, which you could attach to a tape recorder. Then you can record the music onto a tape, or whatever recording-thing you've got attached to your amplifier.
* Last, but certainly not least, I can recommend this great resource: Overclocked Remix. This site contains thousands of video game music remixes ; you'll probably find lots of stuff to your liking there. Occasionally they'll also release entire remix albums; definitely worth checking out those as well, even if you don't know the game they're from.
There used to be a podcast as well, called VGDJ, that discussed some of the remixes, but unfortunately that one's down for a while. If you're interested however, you can still find all episodes on their website.

There, I've had my say, wanted to write about this one for a while; I hope I could somehow raise your interest in video game music just a tinesy bit. :)

, Tim
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Nassia's avatar
Hehe, de examens zijn duidelijk gedaan ;)
Maar het was leuk om te lezen, ik had eigenlijk nog nooit over spelletjesmuziek nagedacht...
NfERnOv2's avatar
Wel eerlijkgezegd was den helft vd tekst al uitgedacht ergens midden in de examens... :)
Da's zowa den tijd da allerhande rare ideeën in m'n hoofd ontstaan.
Nassia's avatar
Ik denk dat het een overlevingsmechanisme van de hersenen is, om gek worden door te veel cursussen tegen te gaan :)