Thursday, September 15, 2011

Songs of the Moment 9/15/11 - Video Game Music 2

Before you lose interest, know that I don't think I've ever felt as passionate about a single music post as I am about this one. Over two years ago, I posted my first video game music playlist; since then, one of those songs (Faith) showed up in my list of my 17 all-time favorite songs, one (Still Alive) appeared on Rock Band, and another (Baba Yetu) won a Grammy...I think this stuff is worth your time. The last five songs are a must-listen!

Check the first in this series here:

I spend a lot of time playing video games. At least an hour almost every day and up to seven hours on an plan-less day. Am I addicted? Not in the way you would think. I'm not addicted to the violence or the laziness. I'm addicted to the stories, the immersion, the experience. Few people know that my aspiration to be a fiction novelist owes its existence to video games. It isn't enough to study or observe fictional worlds, as I'm restricted to with books and movies. I crave being inside of them, affecting their plots and devoting hours to their rich art - things that certain video games specialize in. Hopefully some of these tunes will help you understand the appeal I find in gaming.

1. Mall Music 5 from Dead Rising 2
Dead Rising 2 has a pretty dark nature: you're stuck in a giant mall during a zombie outbreak; survive for three days to be rescued. Seems like a pretty cruel, mindless objective, right? Well songs like this add a unique sort of realism to the situation, I mean...this does sound like something that would be playing in a mall, right? The game isn't about taking out zombies, it's about running around the mall to save survivors, stopping looters and psychos from putting others in danger, and protecting your character's ten-year-old daughter. Music like this strengthens the portrayal of the big idea.

2. Departure from Final Fantasy: Crystal Chronicles
I shared this game's theme song in the last post, but I just have to share one more from the 52-song soundtrack. In this game, you and a few friends journey out into a dangerous fantasy land that hasn't been explored for decades to collect some of the magic energy that keeps your town alive. This tune is the first you come across in the brave journey and fits the mood well. I would replay that first level just to hear this song. Earlier today my sister, who used to play the game with me, told me that she's considering to use it for a dance that she has to choreograph. This mix of obscure instruments is wonderful.

3. Cohen's Masterpiece from Bioshock
"The artist has a duty: to seduce the ear and delight the spirit." -Sander Cohen
How about something more technically impressive? In Bioshock, you character is caught in a plane crash over the ocean. He finds his way into a underworld city called Rapture that is being torn apart by the unrestrained ambition of the utopians who built it. Sander Cohen is a psychotic man you find who is so obsessed with dramatic theater and art that he wants you to collect dead bodies for his new masterpiece. Pretty crazy, huh? Well so is his song. It captures the terror, the aesthetic value, and the eccentricity of the scene.

4. Tokara Forest Theme from Unreal Tournament 2004
Unreal Tournament 2004 is one of my top three favorite games of all time. I included the main theme last time, but this one better fits the game's atmosphere. This game's premise is a lot like that of The Hunger Games, with preferable differences. Skilled fighters are put into a virtual world to duke it out for the world's enjoyment; the good news is that they have unlimited lives. Each of the 100-or-so virtual arenas has its own music theme; these range from hardcore electronic to more dulcet tunes like this song, which plays over a giant forest setting. I've never felt so immersed as a result of a game's soundtrack.

5. Twinkle Twinkle Little Star from Dead Space
I'm fairly certain you'll never hear anything more creepy than this cover, which is hardly as lovable as its uberly popular original version. This extended version of a bedtime favorite was performed by one of the producers of the game and can be heard in the distance as you fight to get out of an alien-infested spaceship. This tune is the epitome of the feeling you have throughout the entire gives me the chills every single time.

6. Ring Around the Rosie from Dead Space 2
Bad news...the aliens have now gained controlled over a gigantic spaceport and another childhood favorite has been corrupted in the process. I got this game for my birthday back in February and I've only played it for an hour because it is so flipping terrifying. Nothing scares me after that hour...dead serious. This song contains some of the intensity of the game with some of the startling sound effects you encounter in the space port. Creepy! Sorry in advance for the nightmares!

7. Sailing on the Wind by Vincent Diamente from Flower
Let's calm your racing heart with something especially light-hearted. Flower is a game like no other. You control a single flower petal pushed around by the breeze. Your goal: collect more flower petals to bring life back to the dull city! It sounds dumb and only lasts about 30 minutes, but the outstanding soundtrack and cool scenery makes this game a surprisingly beautiful experience that, I dare say, just about any non-gamer would enjoy.

8. Want You Gone by Jonathan Coulton/GLaDOS from Portal 2
"Goodbye my only friend...oh, did you think I meant you? That would be funny if it weren't so sad."
Portal's theme song, which I put in my previous post, took the world by storm. Everybody wondered if it could be outdone in the game's sequel, which also took the world by storm this past summer. Turns out it could. In fact, I think that the first song sucks compared to this new one. Characterized by the cruel humor of the game's prevailing villain, an A.I. that forces you to run through puzzling tests for the good of science, this song is the perfect ending to the most satisfying puzzle game I've ever played. It has some spoilers so be careful!

9. Destiny of Love by Inon Zur from Dragon Age 2
Now we're getting to the truly brilliant stuff. Many video game tunes rely upon the games they're composed to become noticed, but these songs achieve a level of artful prestige that reaches far beyond gaming. This song, for instance, can easily compete with the likes of Enya and the Lord of the Rings soundtrack. Inon Zur is a genius (check his song from Prince of Persia in my last post). These vocals are ridiculous! In this game, your family's town is destroyed by an army of dark creatures and you must fight to make a mark in your new home to improve the lives of your friends and family. This tune expresses some of the deep emotions the game tries to get across and draws from the world's complex backstory. Incredible stuff.

10. Edward Carnby by Oliver DeRiviere from Alone in the Dark
Speaking of ridiculous vocals, here's a Bulgarian choir for your listening enjoyment. In this game, New York City is being ripped to shreds by demons and the character you play, after which this song is titled, is the only one who can stop it. Orchestrations like this pack a lot of emotion into the story...this is the sort of feeling I crave in a video game. You might want to also check out Tiesto's electronic remix of this song.

11. The Poet and the Muse by Poets of the Fall from Alan Wake
This song is one of a kind. It's written by an actual rock band, which becomes a separate band within the story of the game, and it's lyrics are centered on the game's plot. Alan Wake is something truly inspired...the protagonist, Alan, is a horror novelist whose story comes to life around him. He must journey through darkness to figure out how he can write an ending that will both please the evil power he created and allow him to save his missing wife. The song's "Poet" is Tom, a man who lost his own wife, the "Muse", when he was in Alan's situation and who guides Alan to victory. If that isn't a cool premise, who knows what is. The amazing soundtrack and powerful storytelling, perhaps the most powerful of any video game, formed an experience I treasure far more than most.

12. Painful Memories by Normand Corbeil from Heavy Rain
"How far would you go to save someone you love?" -Heavy Rain tagline
Where do I start with Heavy Rain? Much like Alan Wake, this game is more about story than gameplay, which I love, unlike most gamers. You play Ethan Mars, a man partially responsible for his oldest son's death. Ethan gets divorced and is still haunted by his mistake when his second son and only other child is kidnapped by the Origami Killer, a criminal who promises to kill the boy if Ethan doesn't endure several crazy trials. This song captures the dynamic mood perfectly and frequently plays throughout the touching story. The song, like the game, is far too short.

13. Dead Island Trailer Theme by Giles Lamb
This last song has me speechless. It isn't from a game, but rather from the cinematic trailer of a game, which received 6.5 million views on Youtube...yes, it's that good. I'll spare you the pretty gruesome, extremely sad story of the trailer and get straight to the best part. Piano + string quartet = unspeakable passion in this simple, yet heart-wrenching piece. Unfortunately, I don't have this game yet and I have heard that it doesn't contain much of the emotion this song provides. I guess that makes this song a three-minute thing, an experience in and of itself. It just might break into my list of all-time favorites. Enjoy.

If you're brave enough, watch the trailer for the full effect:

Wow...that was lengthy. What can I say? I'm in love with the topic. I'm studying computer engineering so I can expand the virtual world and I'm looking into creative writing so I can create powerful stories of my own. In many ways, my greatest life goals depend upon that early start I had in the world of gaming. For the same reason a reader might dive into a book or a dancer might freestyle in the middle of an empty stage, I turn to video games. The allow me to escape. They make the world seem a bit more exciting. Add a bit of music, my other most favorite thing in the world, and you've got a work of art unlike anything else out there. In my opinion, you ought to count video games in if you want to consider yourself a full-fledged artistic explorer. I know, as always, that it's hard for me to communicate my passion effectively, but I hope you at least enjoyed this taste of a leading aspect of my life. Thanks!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Music Challenge #1

Just how immersed in the world of music am I? Lately I've been wanting to test this somehow and I think I've finally come up with a decent method. I'm going to listen as many artists as I hints, no time limit no preparation, right here, right now. This includes bands, solo musicians, and musical projects (i.e. Owl City). Let's see how many I can get. It's 10:04...ready, set, go!


Alright guys, it is 10:48 and my mind is fried...turns out the greatest challenge here isn't searching for new artists, it's remembering their names! I quickly realized that the list was far too long to stick here so I'll just give you a summary.

I came up with a list of 326 artists starting with The Dangerous Summer and ending with Coheed and Cambria. I was astounded when I suddenly couldn't recall the names of some of my favorites like A Fine Frenzy, Great Northern, The Morning Of, and Moving Mountains...then again, I got some unexpected ones as well (Elvis Costello, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Kellie Pickler). My thought process was extra nifty. I watched as my list of country artists shifted into rap artists when Taylor Swift led to Kanye West. Sometimes I would even think in rhymes like from All Time Low to OK Go. Anyway...I think I'll hone my skills with this silly test and try again eventually. In the meantime, why don't you challenge yourself?