June 21st, 2005

Wedding day

Contemporary music in game soundtracks rant (featuring 19 seconds of (semi)original music!)

"New dialects of Ebonics rise and fall every few years to support these games."

-- My friend John in reference to NFL Street 2


Has anybody else seen that game? It looks ridiculous. Then again, all sports video games look ridiculous to me, but this one takes place in like, an abandoned alley and features sterling dialogue like this:
"Yo, looks like you got a severe case of fumble-itis, fool"
and this:
Player A: Git ova there and cover tight end.
Player B: I'll cover yo' mama's tight end.
Anyway, the soundtrack is the kind of rap music that (apparently) hardcore video-football players purchase, and that strikes me as a bad idea. First of all, everybody isn't going to like it, but unless you can turn the music off (I didn't check), you probably have to listen to it since sound is more important in today's games than it used to be.

This raises a point that I have wondered about because I actually do think about crap like this: Is it better to have a soundtrack that sounds contemporary, or a soundtrack that fits the game? These two things are by no means mutually exclusive -- nothing fits NFL Street better than hip-hop, and you can tell that whoever composed the music for the old Castlevania games was listening to a lot of Iron Maiden at the time. The difference is that Castlevania's soundtrack was limited by the sound hardware, so anybody looking for Iron Maiden is going to have to try to hear Iron Maiden. The constraints on video game music are a lot less severe now, and the music sounds better.

The downside to this is the same as the downside to special effects in movies. In ten years late-'90s CGI will be identifiable as late-'90s CGI. Audiences will still like, say, The Fifth Element because it's a fun, mindless summer movie, and the special effects, though they may eventually look dated, were state-of-the-art in 1997. However, Matrix-style bullet-time was overused by the time The Matrix was out on DVD, and will be heavily scorned by Donal Logue when VH-1 gets around to making "I Love the Naughties." At the speed they move, we should see it sometime next week.

Five years from now NFL Street 2 is going to sound very 2005y, and we're going to make fun of it. Of course, Electronic Arts isn't losing sleep over that because they're trying to sell this game in 2005, not 2010. Their market research has shown that the people likely to buy NFL Street 2 are also likely to appreciate a soundtrack featuring artists with names like Wylde Bunch, Jakk Frost, and DJ D-Cup & The Pecs (I said "like"). On the other hand, I know hardcore gamers who still play Super Tecmo Bowl and PGA Tour Golf on NES and Super Nintendo, respectively.

Certain types of games -- notably puzzle, strategy and sports games -- have a great deal of longevity. Most puzzle games (Tetris, anything from PopCap, etc.) feature background loops which would be too boring for active listening, but make appropriate ambient noise. As with Tetis, I doubt that Noah's Ark or Bejeweled will be any less addictive or that anybody will really tire of its music. Strategy games usually use dramatic orchestral music that's non-descript enough to fit the action onscreen, whether you're mining di-orium IV, being attacked by a heard of werebison, or rebuilding city hall. Orchestral music will never go out of fashion.

Sports simulations are the only games that have routinely used popular (or popularish) music. Yes, okay, Trent Reznor does a soundtrack here and there. So does Kurt Harland. But even first-person shooters use a variety of styles. In a few years, NFL Street 2 will sound distinctly dated in a way that Final Fantasy II and even Pac Man, though they are even more dated, do not.

I'm sorry, this was supposed to be a really short entry.
  • Current Music
    Oingo Boingo -- Same Man I Was Before