On Music and Gaming…

Since the dawning of my gaming life I’ve enjoyed the aural pleasantries afforded by my addictions. Be it the twee jingles in Moon Cresta that almost goad you into performing well with the little pea-shooter that is the “I” ship, or the jaunty bounce-along of the near-monotonic backing music featured in Moon Patrol. Hey look, both examples had “Moon” in the title – wacky.

Of course, I was spoiled in my upbringing; my first real games machine (the beloved Commodore 64) featured the mighty MOS 6581 sound chip, affectionately known at the time – and fondly remembered as – “SID”. Sure, the early aural “delights” created by programmers using SID did little to elevate the games on the C64 above those of its peers; but there’s little denying the impact of the glorious speech synthesis of Impossible Mission (and the somewhat grittier Suicide Express).

However, the advent of the professional computer musician – and, most notably, Rob Hubbard and Martin Galway – changed all that. After reading all the hyperbole of the english gaming magazines (thankyou, Zzap!64), the first time I heard Monty on the Run I was gobsmacked.

In the same way that people tend to be polarised into two groups – Mac or PC, Crows or Power, Black or White – the C64 community tended to be split on the “best” composer for their machine. I’m a Hubbard man, myself; whilst there’s no denying that only Galway could create the eleven-minute epic of Parallax (which, I risk flamage to state, is infinitely more enjoyable than Hubbard’s Pink Floyd-esque Delta theme), Hubbard consistently came up with a great beat and tunes that bubblegummed away in your mind for days.

The dark horse on the C64, in my opinion, was Steve Rowlands of Apex Computer Productions, the brotherly duo responsible for the magnificently sick Creatures series, the deep Retrograde, and perhaps the C64’s last great game, Mayhem in Monsterland. ACP frequently published little compilations of their tunes and demos on the covertapes of various magazines, and so it was that I happened upon the Monty on the Run, Crazy Comets, I, Ball, and the oft-lauded, but rarely heard, Thalamusik from Sanxion (the “live” synth version of the loading track was on the first Zzap!64 covertape, no less). But after I left my C64 in search of degree qualifications I also left my gaming-bound musical interests.

(For the uninitiated, C64 music is often presented as *.sid files, which can be played using plug-ins for your music player of choice. The Wikipedia page for the High Voltage SID Collection acts as a gateway to memories of my gaming youth.)

My return to gaming after a somewhat Uni-inspired absence was through Quake; it was made all the sweeter because of Trent Reznor’s involvement with the soundtrack. This was after NIN had hit pop culture via the cheekily wannabe-subversion of “Closer” and “The Downward Spiral“, which no doubt created additional interest in the game through tech-savvy industrial pop fans. And, whilst I adore “Broken” and have a lot of time for Reznor’s aural frolics in general, there was no way I was going to combine my fringe interests in a manner similar to that of a LAN-mate one evening; eager to impress all with his intimate knowledge of Reznor’s background, he substituted the troubled atmosphere of the original Quake CD audio for “Pretty Hate Machine“. “The Only Time” should not be associated with fragging. Or any kind of gaming. Ever.

Further PC gaming (most notably through Deus Ex) further enhanced the expectation that game music should be left in the background, or leveraged for atmosphere and punches – I’m hard-pressed to mention any other PC-gaming music of note. On acquiring my Xbox, Halo emphasised that further with a glorious score, but one which worked in concert with the game; it’s impossible for me to hear the score and not imagine the associated assault on the Covenant, and vice versa.

The game that changed it all for me (again), though, was Jet Set Radio Future.

JSRF was recommended to me as a solid second Xbox game and, the moment the “Graffiti is art. However…” warning left the screen, I was awestruck. Hideki Naganuma‘s “The Concept of Love” is a perfect opener for a glorious game, and the rest of the soundtrack was of comparable quality. Discovering (after the fact) that I could buy dodgy Taiwanese bootlegs of the JSRF (and the crunchier Jet Set Radio) soundtracks on eBay allowed me to indulge in Naganuma on demand; then I started branching out into other artists on the soundtrack: Russell Simins, Guitar Vader and, most significantly, Cibo Matto.

In the same way that we have Black/White, Mac/PC, and Hubbard/Galway polarisations, with JSRF there was the love/hate split regarding Cibo Matto’s “Birthday Cake”. I loved it, and a cunning one-click-buy deal on Amazon suddenly saw me in possession of both their studio albums. And they are *fabulous*. Further catalogue exploration, coupled with the wallet-worrying scope of GEMM, saw my Cibo Matto collection pretty much complete, and they’ve rarely been troubled at the top of my AudioScrobbler rankings.

Things didn’t stop there, though; perusal of AudioScrobbler’s charts for Naganuma threw up a few new song names amongst the usual collection of mis-tagged tracks; more soundtracks! An arcade game I’m never likely to see, Ollie King, followed by Sonic Rush for the DS, research revealed. But I didn’t own a DS…

And suddenly, I did. I bought it for Sonic Rush. So I could claim “Fair Use” on the ripped soundtrack I found on the Net. A good friend at Sega helped locate a copy of the CD soundtrack that Naganuma (through WaveMaster) put out. And Naganuma returned to my ‘Scrobbling with a vengeance.

The new DS led to Electroplankton. Project Rub and Rub Rabbits. Buying a Dreamcast for Jet Set Radio and Rez led to Space Channel 5, which will lead into Lumines Live (eventually). Rez on the PS2 justified access to Katamari Damacy and its soundtrack. The track “Glitter Girl” that accompanies the opening FMV to Perfect Dark Zero. The majestic scores of Panzer Dragoon Orta and pretty much any Zelda game. The cheeky cheese of Super Galdelic Hour and Vib Ribbon and Super Monkey Ball. Even the perfectly weighted silence of Ico makes for a memorable aural experience.

I (relatively) recently started trying to bash my way through FreQuency on the PS2 (why do I continually buy these rhythm games? I’m amazingly crapulent at them… but that’s a topic for another entry), and one tune would *not* leave my head. GameFAQs and YouTube told me that the tune in question was Freezepop‘s “Science Genius Girl”. Freezepop’s MySpace page (which contains some great tracks) was enough to convince me to buy all their tunage that I could; initially, I was convinced that “Science Genius Girl” was a perfect pop song (downloadable in a glorious retro-tinged remix). Then I discovered the glorious chorus of “Tenisu No Boifurendo“. And then came the stunning “Stakeout“, in which I utterly fail to find flaw.

Oh yes, music in gaming has come a long way from the beeps, boops, and occasional spot music of the arcade games of my formative youth. And games have introduced me to music which have introduced me to more games and more consoles and more music… leading to both a burgeoning CD and game collection.

Oh look, my latest batch of Freezepop rarities have just arrived from GEMM…

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