Saturday, 31 August 2013

Finding the right way around this map might be pretty hard because he's LIPS on crack

Before we begin, I'd like to make you aware that I'm too, too into soundtracks. 

Trust me, when you find yourself parking at the supermarket to the sound of Barbossa is Hungry at least once a week for a month, it's probably time to see someone about it. Then again, judge for yourself: 

If you get out of the car at exactly 0.07, it almost justifies this. 

Film soundtracks have always been a big draw for me. The reasoning is simple; they're evocative by design, because they simply have to be: they're made for an extremely specific task, i.e. to complement the visuals and draw the viewer in. Without music (as I've found in my own limited experience of filmmaking), movies simply don't work. This won't be the last time I discuss this particular example, but watch the video below: 

Seriously, I need to see someone about how often this comes up. 

Now go back and watch it - or at least just the final duel - with the sound turned off. It is, to my mind, hilariously awkward. This is the ultimate tribute to Ennio Morricone, outside of The Spaghetti Western Orchestra: 

Very long, but worth watching. Like Anaconda. Or an Anaconda.

Right here and right now, though, this is not about film soundtracks. Recently, in point of fact, I've found myself buying just about as many video game soundtracks as other albums. 

(Okay, so, recently, 'other albums' includes two film soundtracks. Bear with me on this. Addictions are difficult things.)

I am, for my sins, a committed gamer. I use Steam to do this, and it is a very fine service; so fine, in fact, that I haven't bought an actual, factual, physical copy of a game for at least half a decade, or thereabouts. (Also, if any console gamers want to take a moment to kick in with the usual 'lol PC gamer' commentary, etcetera, now's your chance. Done? Okay. Good.)

One option that's been popping up recently, which is of interest to me in my limited capacity as a music journalist, is that for an additional sum - often not too much, although the last time I checked the first example I'm about to raise costs as much for the soundtrack as for the game, but for a good reason - you can add the game's soundtrack to your purchase. 

That first example is most pertinent to you if you're a fan of a bit of the old ultraviolence; if you are, you might consider purchasing Hotline Miami. (Or, for instance, if you're nostalgic for the first GTA and top-down fast-paced action.)

The soundtrack to Hotline Miami is, however, amazing. So much so that I ended up taking a bundle of the tracks, spacing them out, and created a CD for the car with about ten of them on it. I can give you what I think are three of the best:

Your mileage may vary. I find them really addictive listening, and here's the main thing; I find them addictive listening outside of the game 'experience' itself. For me, they're the sound of a parallel 1980s universe discothéque, a world of music from a specific era but a different world. 

This is interesting, because game soundtracks, like film soundtracks, can be quite difficult to listen to outside of actually playing the game itself, simply because they are contextually located experiences -


Okay, so the pretentiousness alarm deserved to go off, then. But to put it in a better way; when you're watching a film or playing a game, you're taking on a whole package of experiences at once - the whole audio-visual option, because the soundtrack has to mesh with the visuals and, when it does, this is what creates something memorable. Listening to the same music outside of the whole experience relocates the music to another part of your life, and it may do so... less successfully.

Because I wanted to get into the right frame of mind for this article, I finally buckled under and bought the Monaco soundtrack. Monaco is kind of an exemplar of the way I play games now; very quick, very intense, then leave it for rediscovery at a later date. 

(I had similar experiences with FTL and Papers, Please among other examples; a few days to a week of sheer intense overplay, then a bit of burnout, then back to casual play. This is by contrast with, for example, the old-school strategy games and, premier example, Final Fantasy X, which I spent something like forty-plus hours playing and which I credit with maintaining my sanity as an undergraduate.) 

Monaco is charming. The visuals don't work as stills, though; it's one of the few games that I'd say you genuinely have to experience to see how it all works. This isn't the gaming blog, though - that's been neglected for even longer - so we'll knock game discussion the head, for now. The music, though, is such a big part of the experience; in part because every level has a theme, but also because of the way it works in context. Monaco is a game about thievery, albeit a fairly genteel - until the explosives come out - thievery - and so it needs two soundtracks which can arguably be separated into: 

(I) Nobody's noticed us
(II) RUN. 

In-game, the soundtrack switches between the two as soon as one of the up to four players is noticed or in trouble, so it's a clever way of both manipulating the adrenaline and informing other people on your team that someone's in trouble, somewhere, and that you might have to help. I'll be honest, Rififi this is not: 

There a moments of cleverness, and tunnel-digging / hacking / seducing, and there are moments of sheer blind panic where every guard on the level is chasing you and firing automatic weapons, and the soundtrack shifts seamlessly between the two. 

So does the soundtrack work outside of the game in the same way as, say, a film soundtrack can? Not exactly. This is not a bad thing, but the Monaco soundtrack fits very precisely into the experience of playing the game, and outside it is a fine soundtrack but not one that you'd put on at, say, a jazz party or a 1980s parallel universe dischothéque. It is, however, jaunty. It's a lot of fun to listen to while, say, writing. But because every game of Monaco is different depending on who you end up playing with, there's no real specific memory triggers in the same way that a film soundtrack has, or even the same way that Hotline Miami has (as each song on the HM soundtrack is tied to a specific level. I still bought the Monaco soundtrack, though. This is primarily because, well, jaunty, and there's also a really charming paragraph that's not noticeable at first on the website but that convinced me utterly that I was right in doing so: 

Special thanks to Holly Sedillos for letting me sample her amazingly ... uh, "colorful" upright piano before she had it serviced to make it actually sound good!

And it's true; the piano on the soundtrack is unique. The first obvious reference word would be 'jaunty', but it's a jazzy soundtrack (with digressions into more classical styles and slower numbers as required by the plot of the game). You can get it for the princely sum of $7 - which I'm reliably informed is precisely £4.70 - and even if you never play the game or even find out anything about the game or have an allergy to Unitary Constitutional Principalities or games about gentle thievery, at this price, it's more than worth it. 

There aren't many official videos about of the soundtrack, but I can give you this as a taster: 

Because of this, the scales have kind of fallen from my eyes about game soundtracks. This is because they're now fairly easy to get hold of; my next purchase, for instance, ended up being the Timesplitters 2 soundtrack&nbsp for five cheeky dollars. This is even more evocative, because TS2 was, in my humblest, kind of amazing. 

So in this way, the Timesplitters soundtrack is more of a novelty because of the nostalgia associated with it, whereas Monaco is different because it's a more recent proposition. (Plus, in order to play TS2 I'd have to shell out for a used console somewhere and a copy of the game, whereas the with the soundtrack I can remember each level wholesale.)

This is something I'd like to come back to, but for now; is there anyone out there who listens to video game soundtracks in their daily life, or do I need to seek some sort of therapy? 


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