Game Music ME-shegoss!

Original Sound Version recently had a Q&A with Destructoid’s Jim Sterling as part of their Game Music Mishegoss series and I thought I’d borrow their Q’s to answer myself. I don’t know what a Mishegoss is and Google is all the way over there so I’ll just assume it’s one of the mid-bosses from Strider and post my own answers below in true meme-stealing form! Also, click any single game title for immediate linkage to YouTube videos of the tunes in question!

Like this, only with music

Like this, only with music

OSV: As a lifelong gamer and avid music fan, I’m sure you’ve found yourself replaying a level, looking at a menu screen a little longer, or doing something else to prolong a musical experience in a game. What are some of your earliest memories doing this?

ME: As a child I’d turn on an NES game and head to the Sound Test menu while doing homework or playing with toys. I eventually started holding a handheld tape recorder up to the TV speaker and slowly turning the volume knob to fade out each track, sure to hold my breath and keep as silent as possible. Whenever I hear Needle Man‘s music from Mega Man 3 I can always spot the moment from my old recording when my sister — who didn’t understand my silent flailing gestures — yelled as I shoo’ed her out of the room “I’M GOOOOOING!!”.

OSV: I recently had an interview with Martin Filipp, a head developer at Deep Silver (formerly Rockstar Vienna), and he believes strongly that the feeling of “missing something” while playing a game is almost always a result of music/sound that is not up to par. Do you agree/disagree?

ME: I’d agree but only as far as it’s my own fault. If I’m enjoying the music or complaining out loud to myself about how bad it is, I’m more likely to miss something important than if every part of the game is on the same level. Sadly, music and sound don’t seem to get much respect these days and most cues for in-game objectives almost always fall to the visual (glowing trails, flashing beacons, etc.). Ok, so I guess I do agree because publishers aren’t putting enough emphasis or resources in the hands of the audio guys.

All great games made better by music

All great games made better by music

OSV: Has there ever been a game experience for you that was saved because of its music?

ME: Most definitely! The grueling platforming of Ducktales and Batman on the NES, the repetitive mission attempts in Grand Theft Auto 3, the insane difficulty of Lords of Thunder, Revenge of Shinobi, and dozens of other games. The music in all of them was probably the last sliver of hope I could cling to in order to struggle through their challenges and make it to the end.

OSV: Has there ever been a game experience for you that was ruined because of its music?

ME: Most definitely, again! Foremost would have to be Um Jammer Lammy. If you’re going to make a music game you have to have good music! Everything from the lumberjack stage to the end sounded so horrible to my ears that I eventually gave up until some chapter skip codes surfaced. Ugh!

OSV: In a recent post of yours on SexyVideoGameLand (this is from their talk with Leigh Alexander, btw), you mentioned getting to the heart of “what creates emotional attachment to games”. How big or small a role does the game’s music play for you personally, and do you feel that is the sentiment of most gamers?
An immense role.  For me, there haven’t been many soundtracks of late that have really grabbed me and I think it’s for all the reasons that Leigh mentions. Spending loads of time with a game and its simple tunes in the 80’s and 90’s really drove those songs into my head. Of the last 8 years or so the soundtracks that stick out the most are from the Katamari Damacy series because they’re such an intrinsic and diverse collection of really catchy tunes and I’ve heard them repeatedly through several of the games. Everything else has mostly been moving towards forgettable orchestral stuff, but more on that later. I can’t say if that’s the sentiment of most gamers since I seem to be drifting farther and farther from the norm. I’d make a terrible analyst.

OSV: In a recent post of yours on SexyVideoGameLand (this is from their talk with Leigh Alexander, btw), you mentioned getting to the heart of “what creates emotional attachment to games”. How big or small a role does the game’s music play for you personally, and do you feel that is the sentiment of most gamers?

ME: An immense role.  For me, there haven’t been many soundtracks of late that have really grabbed me and I think it’s for all the reasons that Leigh mentions. Spending loads of time with a game and its simple tunes in the 80’s and 90’s really drove those songs into my head. Of the last 8 years or so the soundtracks that stick out the most are from the Katamari Damacy series because they’re such an intrinsic and diverse collection of really catchy tunes and I’ve heard them repeatedly through several of the games. Everything else has mostly been moving towards forgettable orchestral stuff, but more on that later. I can’t say if that’s the sentiment of most gamers since I seem to be drifting farther and farther from the norm. I’d make a terrible analyst.

OSV: As a follow-up, do you feel game music receives the attention and credit that it deserves?

ME: Not at all. At least, not here in the U.S. It has always been a dream of mine to talk about game music with a stranger or to flip on the radio and hear — if not a whole station — at least a single song introduced as “from the video game…”. I’m still waiting America. Thrill me.

Hey, look over there!

Hey, look over there!

OSV: A few gaming journalists (i.e. Garnett Lee, 1UP) have mentioned that they feel game music nowadays has “lost character” from years ago. Perhaps this is related to the idea that many feel game music has shifted toward film music and are not ecstatic about this jump. Do you agree/disagree? Good move/bad move?

ME: I completely agree. Most modern game music sounds exactly like film music which also hasn’t captured my interest for almost a decade (give or take a few specific exceptions). Medal of Honor and Intelligent Qube, the early games to use symphonic scores, were the oddballs at the time and sounded incredibly different from everything else. Now the roles have reversed and anything that sounds synthesized, “dirty”, acoustic, or just plain non-orchestrated really jumps out. Stranger’s Wrath, Voodoo Vince, Shatter, and Castlevania (most any of them) are a few recent ones that come lovingly to mind. Sadly, though, there hasn’t been much else lately. This is only my extremely personal belief though.

OSV: What are you top three game soundtracks/scores? (I’m going to guess that a Metal Gear game will appear on this list)

ME: You are wrong sirs! Metal Gear is great stuff but for all time? No way. I prefer catchy and listenable over powerful and dramatic so I’d have to say The Emperor’s New Groove, The New Tetris on Nintendo 64, aaaaand…. Mega Man 2. Bonus nod to Gitaroo Man but it’s kind of a licensed soundtrack. It’s not 100% original but that Legendary Theme (both versions) can easily bring me to tears of pure elation almost every time!

OSV: What is the most underrated game soundtrack?

ME: A lot of people outright ignored the Nintendo 64 but some of my favorite music comes coded on those bulky cartridges. When it was bad — WOW! — it was horrendous, but when it was in the right hands that system could sing some incredible music! Body Harvest, Beetle Adventure Racing, Deadly Arts, Tetrisphere & The New Tetris, Extreme G2, Rocket: Robot on Wheels. All of these are tragically underplayed.

For a single answer, though, for the most underrated soundtrack I can think of, I’d have to say… The Emperor’s New Groove. I understand how you might not expect anything at all from a late-generation PSone platformer based on an animated movie that Disney tried to distance themselves from but it’s truly great, really worth a listen. *ahem* I’m terrible at describing music but it’s almost all “live” performances and has an appropriate latin jazz, jungly kind of feel. The music alone is what kept me going through this game and it’s been with me ever since I set out to record it.

Thank you Otani

Thank you Otani

OSV: A lot of people identify their lives with music. Is there a tune or entire soundtrack in game music that you feel best identifies with your life?

ME: Shadow of the Colossus. It’s not a soundtrack I listen to a lot but overall I think it mirrors my own life and emotions the best. Triumphant at times, somber at others. Downright depressing every now and then but always with a soulful yearning behind it all. Yeah, I think that’s me. Now that you ask, the original NiGHTS soundtrack is also pretty similar in theme.

OSV: Many games have a GAME OVER fanfare or jingle of some sort. What is the ONE GAME OVER jingle that has made you nearly go postal?

ME: Without a second thought it’d be the Game Over jingle from Super Mario Sunshine! I died SO MANY TIMES playing that game (and endured it all over again to record the music) that I’ll never forget it, not EVER! I used to drop the controller and on the last two notes I would — first — forcefully grasp my wrist and, on that horrid final clown-nose-horn note, squeeze out a glorious middle finger at the screen. Now, if you’ll excuse me I have to find a GameCube controller and destroy it!!

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  • That was very entertaining! By the way, this is Gideon Dabi, Assoc Editor of Original Sound Version, and creator of the interview series. You are very welcome. 😉

    (BTW, Mishegoss is a Yiddish term meaning “craziness”. Cheers!)

    • Ah! You beat me to it! I was going to send you guys a link today. Thanks for coming up with the series and for hunting down industry peeps to talk to. I really like it!