Let’s Hear It for Game Soundtracks!

The aphorism is that a picture tells a thousand words. I’d contend that a piece of music can do more than that. From tinny 2 bit bleeps to the present day the soundtrack has been an accompaniment to games for almost as long as games have been around. It’s taken considerably longer however, for them to gain much in the way of artistic credibility or recognition. Having more than a few years of classical piano by the time I turned 10, it’s safe to say I had a reasonable appreciation for music from a young age. While my keyboard has become qwerty rather than black and white, my enjoyment of music has only grown over the years.

It was years ago that I felt a queasy thrill of horror the first time I played Sensory Overload and heard the music pumping as enemies approached while I crept through the corridors. The synth laden techno coming out of the tinny little speakers on our old Apple PowerPC5500 helped to bring the creepy sci-fi setting to life that much more. I never managed to finish the game but the soundtrack stayed with me for a long time. I ended up digging through Tomb Raider 2’s program folder to find the files containing game’s soundtrack. All because one of the cheesy techno tracks that played through a snowmobile sequence grabbed me so much I just had to keep listening to it (a thought occurs that my later love of electronic music may have its’ beginnings here). Or the bombastic orchestral stylings of Warcraft 2, matched so perfectly with the equally cheesy high fantasy. In all of these games the experience of playing and the memories of fun I’d had became intimately tied to the music of the soundtrack. Continue reading

Sequels : Exceptions to the rule : Part 3 : Grand Theft Auto

It’s time for the last in my series on gaming sequels and exceptions to the law of diminishing marginal returns. In this case it’s Grand Theft Auto (GTA), because I’m basically drooling in anticipation of GTA5’s release. Grand Theft Auto started from humble beginnings as a top down 2d pixelated anarchic crime spree from DMA Design (now known as Rockstar North) back in 1997. A city based free roaming open world game with the combination of casual criminality and the ability to do almost anything you could want drew me and my friends in like depraved moths to a sexy flame. I didn’t have a PC at the time but I played it with great enthusiasm at my friends’ places.

Like an Adventure Holiday

This screenshot hints strongly at GTA5 having the kind of scope that San Andreas had. Good times ahead?

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Get Real (the art of immersion in computer games)

Realism in computer gaming can be a touchy subject. I happen to prefer realism in my computer games. I’ll be the first to admit that not all the gaming community is with me on this one. One friend went so far as to tell me during a spirited debate on gaming that I don’t like games, I like simulations (it may have been swearier in real life). This isn’t really the case, I don’t play any true simulations and I like realism in a game but that doesn’t encompass all I look for. What I look for most is a gaming experience I can get immersed in without being pulled back to reality by the game itself. It’s de rigeur for games to promise immersive experience but most seem to fall short of that ultimate goal. Often the reason for this isn’t as shallow as graphics or as complex as physics but about the mechanics of the game defining how involved and immersed you feel. Why does this happen when so much effort is put into game design? To answer this you have to go to the dawn of gaming history.

As an entertainment medium games have changed significantly since their inception back in the days of Pong. Early game designers worked with mere kilobytes of ram and storage as well as limited processing capacity. They had to make tradeoffs in the graphics and gameplay but produced spectacular games for their time which laid the foundations for the games we have today. Any medium that changes over time has certain evolutionary hangovers left from previous eras. Currently game graphics (on the PC at least) are within a hairs breath of being photorealistic. Complex physics simulation is the norm and lighting engines are able to paint a world so realistically they can make a sunset to make any ancient greek poet mildly aroused. But there are still some remnants of game history left like a vestigial tail on modern gaming that make me realise I’m playing a game not staring at another world through my screen. I will admit to being a whore for good graphics. I do like games that look fantastic, but I’m not so shallow that this defines my level of interest. Even more than graphics its about the feeling of immersion in the game world, graphics help produce this but ultimately it takes more. You have to have gameplay that draws the player into their character and the feeling of being there in the game. The physicality of a game, if you will. In previous generations of gaming hardware limited the ability of game designers to implement this but today nothing stands in the way apart from convention and tradition.

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