Category: Getting Nerdy about Video Game Music


2017 marks the tenth anniversary of the best damn music game franchise in video game history. I’m talking about the most awesome fake plastic rock game around: Rock Band. Screw your DDRs, your Beatmanias, and all that. Rock Band is where it’s at.

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Sadly I didn’t get into the instrument rhythm genre until 2009, the year Activision totally thought releasing six Guitar Hero games at $60 a pop was a sound business decision. GameStop was already giving away excess Guitar Hero II 360 guitars when bought with Guitar Hero: Aerosmith, which was on sale for $10. Needless to say, this gave me an easy way to get into the genre proper, after my previous experience of sucking on Even Flow on Easy in Guitar Hero III. I later snagged the then-recent Rock Band 2 a few months later. Alongside getting The Beatles: Rock Band set for Christmas that year, that was when my Rock Band journey truly started.

The first Rock Band is 10 years old, and I’m gonna celebrate it by pointing out how proud Harmonix was of its new features.

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Rock Band was the first western game to implement not just guitar and bass, but drums and vocals as well. Using their experiences from making tons of Karaoke Revolution games, as well as making drums simple and complex, they made a game that became one of the best damn party games around. Provided you had the room and space to hold all the plastic instruments.

But there was another feature that they were particularly proud of: The Big Rock Ending.

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A Big Rock Ending in action.

 

In older Guitar Hero games, a fair share of songs ended up with a ridiculous flurry of notes, which was an annoying shift after playing something like “Smoke on the Water”. To counter this, Harmonix introduced the Big Rock Ending. In this, you just strum any note, and bang on any drum to amass points, then hit a specific set of notes at the end. Hit them all, you successfully bank the bonus. A single miss, and it goes up in smoke. Literally.

This solved the problem Harmonix had with the Guitar Hero games at this point. Give them the chance to be a rock star while not making a song harder than it needed to be. They were very, very proud of this new feature. Naturally they had to pad part of the 58-song setlist with them.

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Activision. I probably don’t need to say any more, but I’m going to. They’re a company that fully endorses the practice of “make something until it stops making money, then burn it alive and dump the ashes.” Franchises like Tony Hawk’s Pro SkaterGuitar Hero, and James Bond came out practically yearly until the quality suffered. Many iconic studios like Neversoft, Bizarre Creations, and Radical Entertainment were among the casualties when their games didn’t sell well enough. Others, like Raven Software, were enslaved to make Call of Duty after two back-to-back commercial failures (Wolfenstein and Singularity). Even then, who knows when the COD bubble will finally burst?

But before Activision was the monstrous juggernaut they are now, they were still a company that was recovering from the ’80s. A bunch of bad business deals forced the company to be bought by a holding firm in the early ’90s, ran by Robert “Bobby” Kotick, who still runs the company to this day.

While Activision was trying to rebuild during the ’90s, they decided to do something unusual in terms of localization of two Super Famicom games to the west. Localization is fairly common, sometimes changing stuff like minimizing Hitler and Nazi references in Bionic Commando on the NES, to straight up overhauls of existing games like Masked Ninja Hanamaru becoming a game involving Domino’s short-lived mascot Yo! Noid for the NES. In Activision’s case, theirs were somewhere in the middle: they decided to scrap the original Super Famicom soundtrack, get a contract deal with some fairly popular electronic bands, and have their songs be part of the new American soundtrack, complete with advertising this fact on the box and in the game itself.

So, all I can say now, is “Are you ready for this?”

(Before I go any further: Shout out to online buddy LanceBoyle for giving me the inspiration to write about these. Not the guy from MegaRace, though I’ll give him a shout out too because why not?)

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The first game they attempted this with was BioMetal, a fairly innocuous shoot-em-up with powerups that was a decent little R-Type clone. Alas I am very bad at these kind of games, so I couldn’t get past the first stage. Though from what I’ve seen, it seems to be just one of many shoot-em-ups on a system filled with them. It’s why stuff like Phalanx had that weird hillbilly on the cover, to make it stand out.

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Though, Activision’s attempt to make it stand out was a bit more unusual: Replacing composer Yoshio Nagashima’s soundtrack with songs from the band 2 Unlimited. 2 Unlimited was the band that made that fairly popular electronic song “Get Ready for This,” a song that plays practically at every sporting event you could imagine. It plays during the title screen and appears on Stage 2.

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In my many years of casually running a blog, I’ve ended up collecting a fair share of video game-related junk. Demo discs. Hot wheels cars. Even collecting bottles of Mountain Dew Game Fuel. But one I’ve gotten the most often is random video game-related music.

I have the traditional soundtrack fare of music straight from the game, but there isn’t a whole lot I could write about those. Except maybe that copy of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time that Nintendo Power was giving away to people who re-subscribed to the magazine. But I do have a fair share of stuff that’s tangentially related to video games that I think are interesting.

So here are five random video game-related CDs I own, in no particular order.

Music from the Motion Picture: Tomb Raider

This was around the time where the franchise was in a slight slump thanks to Eidos following Activision’s philosophy of pumping out a new game every year, but before the trainwreck that was Angel of Darkness. I never saw the movies based on Tomb Raider, but I heard they’re fun, popular little action flicks. Maybe that was because a certain Angelina Jolie was the titular star… (The film also features a pre-James Bond Daniel Craig!)

I honestly didn’t think the film would be filled to the brim with licensed music, but there’s a lot here, and it’s a mix of industrial (Nine Inch Nails) and electronic artists (Chemical Brothers, Moby, Fatboy Slim). A lot of it is a good example of that late ‘90s-early 2000s style of pop/industrial and hip-hop/rock sound. A lot of these are artists I’ve heard of, but the only song on here I was familiar with prior to listening was Basement Jaxx’s “Where’s Your Head At.” Which is so early 2000s it hurts.

The only thing I’m saddened by is no portions of the film’s score by Graeme Revell. That was released on a separate CD – It was common to release a soundtrack of the licensed music and a separate CD for the film’s score – but even having one or two tracks on here would’ve been a nice surprise.

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I’ll admit that my interest in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive has dropped off in recent months. There not being a lot of major updates is the main reason, but also because I love when they announce new music kits. Just when I thought Valve was basically saving 2017 to be the “year of CS:GO,” they drop a bomb on us:

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A bunch of gloves that are rare as a god damn knife, but that’s not what I’m here to talk about. I’m here to talk about MORE MUSIC KITS! I know this sounds silly, but I’m always interested in what musicians decide to contribute. This time, it’s all lumped into a $7 case, and they’re all “StatTrak” versions so any time you get an MVP in a competitive match, your teammates and enemies will know how awesome you are.

If you’re curious about the previous music kits, here’s the links to past music kits I’ve reviewed:

Series One: The original nine from 2014.

Series Two: The special Midnight Riders Christmas one, plus six more kits including collaborations between Valve and Devolver Digital.

Series Three: A whopping 14 kits, featuring new and returning artists, and the first Valve/Red Bull Records collaboration.

This time, we got seven music kits. Three of them are from bands from Red Bull Records, which I covered before; three more are from Hopeless Records, the band that notably had artists like Taking Back Sunday, Sum 41 and Yellowcard. Sadly those bands aren’t featured, but instead we get the B-tier bands on their catalog. The last remaining kit is from a returning musician, and it fits with the theme of rock and metal. (Hint: It’s not Daniel Sadowski.)

Like before, I’ll link to the page of the music kit at csgostash.com so you can listen along. Just click the album cover and you’re off to the races. In addition, I’ve also added highlights in underline that explain certain terminology since I realized that not everyone who follows this blog will get what I’m saying if they don’t play CS:GO. That being said, let’s get rocking.


Beartooth, Aggressive

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Beartooth is back for round two. This new music kit hits harder and is even more aggressive. We’ve also made the MVP anthem extra heavy so your opponents feel really bad after they’ve lost to you.

Our first returning act, Beartooth has another pack based on their newest album, Aggressive. Their last music kit was one of those that took a while to warm up to, but this one’s actually damn good. All the tracks are various cuts from the album, in instrumental form. “Loser” highlights as the main menu track, and their other singles “Aggressive,” “Always Dead” and “Hated” contribute to various parts of the kit from action cues to bomb timers. But they even went for album cuts for the remaining sections, such as “Censored” being one of the round/action cue timers.

Since these are the instrumentals, they really do highlight the rocking metal feel of the tracks without someone screeching over them. This also didn’t take long for me to like it, compared to “Disgusting”, which took a while for me to warm up to.

Final Verdict: If you want rocking metal, this is one I’d recommend.

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About a day or so after I finished writing the last post about Counter-Life, I took a nap. When I woke up, I found out about this:

More CS:GO music kits.

Not only more of them, but practically doubling the total number of music kits from 16 to 30. I nearly fainted after that. This time it seems we’ve hit a big variety sampler pack, from returning artists to film composers, and even an interesting collaboration between Valve and a record company. In addition to the new music kits, they added “StatTrak” versions that keep track of the times you’ve become the MVP in competitive matches. It seems a bit silly, almost like a joke someone made to Valve without saying they were kidding afterwards.

Since I’ve written about the previous ones before, it’d be remiss of me not to continue the tradition. (You can see what I thought of the initial nine music kits here, and the later additions in February 2015 here.) Like before, I’m gonna write how I felt about each one, mentioning some of my favorite tracks, and whether or not it’s worth the $5-8 to grab, with a quick verdict at the end.

Now in the last collection, I had made videos of the new kits, but this time I passed on doing that. It’s not that it wasn’t fun to make, it’s that considering my meticulous nature for making these things, I would’ve been here all weekend working on something that’s already been eclipsed by other YouTubers for lesser effort. So instead I’ll be linking to the pages of the music kits on csgostash.com. just click on the album cover to be whisked away to a page where you can listen along.

So without further ado, let’s get started…

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Let's ignore the stickers and look at the big prize: NEW MUSIC!

Let’s ignore the stickers and look at the big prize: NEW MUSIC!

It’s that time again. On February 12, 2015, Valve introduced a second batch of music kits for Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. I had written about the first nine late last year, and it’s become one of my more popular posts recently. If you wanna see my reviews for the first nine music kits, click here.

Since there’s new ones, I thought it’d be nice to come back and write about these brand new ones and see if they’re worth your money.

Naturally, I’m going to review these, complete with videos so you can listen along. Like before, these music kits will randomly appear in the game as an offer for $6.99, or you can buy one on the Steam Market. Right now, they’re a bit overinflated (About $10-15 per kit compared to the $6.99 in game), but they’ll eventually even out once more of them appear in the store.

I’m also gonna throw one in that came out in December, after I had written the original CS:GO music kits post. Consider these music kits part of a “Series 2,” if you will.

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So for the past month and a half, I’ve been fixated on something a bit unusual:

When you need some jams while using the AWP on Dust II.

When you need some jams while using the AWP on Dust II.

Valve introduced “music kits” to Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. These special items replace the game’s default music with unique tracks by nine different musicians. You can get one of these offered randomly in-game for $6.99, or buy one on the Steam marketplace if you’re looking for a specific one. Alternatively you can “borrow” anyone’s music kit who has a music kit equipped, so you can give it a try in action.

I love video game music. I also tend to get nerdy about the parts of video game music most people don’t notice. Naturally when this was announced, I was excited for something that was probably done to distract us from how broken the CZ75-Auto is in CS:GO. But I was curious on what each one sounded like, and if they were a good fit.

The first nine music kits introduced. A nice mix of game composers, DJs and rockers.

The first nine music kits introduced. A nice mix of game composers, DJs and rockers.

For the sake of this, I’m gonna give sort of a mini-review of each kit. Granted, I’m not great at reviewing music, but I’ll try to review it to the best of my abilities, and link to videos that feature each kit so you can listen to them for yourself. Without further ado, let’s get started.

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Over the years, I’ve amassed ridiculous amounts of video game knowledge. I created the Secret Area as a good place to share said video game knowledge with people. Naturally, video game music is something I’m also interested in. While I am a bit of an outlier in terms of my game music tastes – I usually prefer stuff by American and European composers, and don’t really care much for Japanese game music past the SNES/Genesis era – I still love finding information about game music, much like a lot of things I like.

So I’m gonna get nerdy about video game music. I’m gonna write about something that came to mind fairly recently that I thought would be worth sharing. This will hopefully be the start of a new series where I delve into the oddities and bits of inane trivia of music in games.

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Poke646 is one of the best Half-Life mods out there. At the time, most Half-Life mods reused most of the existing templates that the original game used, making Black Mesa look like a research facility that spanned a whole continent. Mods like They Hunger and many others changed how people looked at Half-Life, but not nearly as well as Poke646 did. One day, I should write about Poke646 and its sequel Vendetta, they’re some of the best Half-Life mods out there.

The game’s credits, featured below, featured this haunting, ambient tune.

The hip-hop styled track really fit in line with the rest of the game, which also had some great original ambient music. Thankfully all this music is in the Poke646 mod folder, since I don’t know much about the composer of the ambient music, and there’s little information about it or the mod’s soundtrack online.

Cut to 2010. I had recently picked up Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Conviction Special Edition for $35 at Ubisoft’s online store because of an issue of the special USB keys not working on some copies. As I was going through the game itself, a certain tune started to play that sounded familiar…

(WARNING: Plot spoilers for Splinter Cell: Conviction within.)

Yep. It’s the same song. Until then, I had thought that credits music was a unique track made for Poke646. In reality, it was a licensed song: DJ Shadow’s “Building Steam with a Grain of Salt,” from his 1996 debut Endtroducing…..

Ubisoft had licensed “Building Steam…” to play over this part of the game. Since it had been years since I had played Poke646, I had realized the tune sounded familiar but couldn’t quite place it until I replayed the mod much later. After knowing this fact, I bought the song not too long after, naturally.

Games using licensed music is hardly new, think of the many music games that have come out over the years. But most games usually have a composer do all the incidental music, rarely do they use a licensed song unless it’s made specifically for the game, like Eminem’s “Won’t Back Down” and “Survival” from Call of Duty: Black Ops and Call of Duty: Ghosts, respectively. Why Ubisoft thought the DJ Shadow tune fit this particular scene is a mystery that we’ll probably never know.

Speaking of DJ Shadow, he has contributed remixes to a few games himself, such as the “El Dorado Megamix” he did for the Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune soundtrack, and two tracks for Motorstorm Apocalypse. So he’s contributed music to the video game world, both directly and indirectly.

To bring it back around to Poke646, “Building Steam…” got a remix when Vendetta was released in 2006, adding some rocking guitars over the game’s credits. In a way, adding additional instrumentation to a song that heavily uses samples is interesting, because it’s using a song with samples as a sample for a new song. It’s fascinating, really.

Thanks to these mods, “Building Steam with a Grain of Salt” has become the Poke646 theme in my mind, which was used in some big budget game. Its inclusion in Splinter Cell: Conviction seems quite bizarre to me, especially since I first heard the song through a game mod many years before. Still a good song, highly recommend you give it a listen. Can’t say if the rest of Endtroducing….. is as amazing, but I’m willing to bet it’s a solid album.

I don’t follow many hip-hop or electronica DJs, but after hearing “Building Steam with a Grain of Salt,” I could probably get into this kind of music. Hell, I loved Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory, which was mostly Amon Tobin’s work, as well as enjoying most of Crackdown‘s licensed music which was the same kind of style. Time to broaden my tastes in music…

Speaking of game music, I recently updated an old article from 2013 comparing the tunes from NES game show games to their real-life counterparts. No longer using volatile YouTube videos, I replaced them with convenient MP3s. Check it out here if you wanna read more of me getting nerdy about video game music.

In my recent pick-up video, I had mentioned I found this unusual soundtrack: Music from the Xbox Video Game NHL Rivals 2004. Before I get into it any further, I should explain this soundtrack’s existence. Let’s go back a decade, as we talk about Microsoft’s failed attempt at a Sports game brand called “XSN Sports.”

Back in the day, Microsoft tried to make their own Sports franchise against EA and Sega. (This was before Take-Two bought Visual Concepts from Sega.) In 2003, they introduced XSN Sports as their flagship sports game brand. Under this banner, Microsoft’s sport-focused games featured tournaments and leagues that players could make in-game to share on the respective website. The games included NFL Fever 2004, Links 2004, and Rallisport Challenge 2. Alas, they couldn’t make a dent in the competition, and the XSN Sports brand was folded one year later. The XSN service was later shut down in 2006, presumably to shift focus onto the then-new Xbox 360.

As a promotional tie-in, they released the first in the “XSN Sports Soundtrack CD Series,” featuring various songs that come from the game’s soundtrack. However, despite saying “Volume 1” on the cover, there was never a Volume 2, which is funny in retrospect.

The soundtrack CD also comes with a bonus DVD, featuring some NHL highlights from the 2002-03 NHL season, some Wayne Gretsky promos, and DVD-ROM features of the game’s cinematics, trailers, and some wallpaper. Not much to say about all this, it’s a hockey game after all. My experience with hockey games begin and end at Blades of Steel.

Licensed soundtracks are hardly new, sports games have been doing this for a long time. Hell, bands used to be hyped for having a song in the new Madden game. What makes this special is the song selection, which seems unusual for a hockey game. Then again, I don’t watch hockey, so maybe this fits in some weird way. Let’s go track-by-track, shall we?

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