Archive for June, 2010

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Trailblazer – “Alchemy” (Robert Wells)

June 30, 2010

Trailblazer (1986, 1992) is a classic C64 game that was later ported to the Amiga via shareware. You control a rolling ball through a racetrack in outer space. There are different kinds of tiles: blue ones speed you up, red slow you down, whhite sends you at warp speed, purple are walls, green make you bounce, and the black ones are holes. There are also cyan colored blocks that reverse left and right directions. You can also bounce your ball, but depending on the game version, there may be a limited number you can make. Trailblazer was recently re-made for Gizmondo. The original design was by Shaun Southern, and it was ported to the Amiga by Alchemy, which is also the name of this song. The music is by Robert Wells (Ginseng).

Trailblazer – “Alchemy” (Robert Wells)

“Alchemy” is the only song playing in Trailblazer – it plays on the title screen and within the levels as an endless trance. It’s a nice active theme with a forward-rolling bass line and drums upon which additional layers of electric piano and bass flares. There are plenty of drum and piano solos. The synth piano accompanied with a drumline makes the track feel a bit like commando music. It’s a little monotonous after awhile, but the style is very consistent. Out of all the Amiga games I had on my system (and here I didn’t have anything really cool like Turrican…), this was the most memorable simply because the song was so good. Here is the original MOD for reference (had some trouble looping it!).

There is little information on Robert Wells, though his complete discography (or in this case MODography) is on Amiga Music Preservation (an awesome site that archives Amiga MOD files (playable in Winamp and Foobar out of the box) and catalogues information on who composed them (though it sadly does not include the names of the games in which these tracks appear)). Google suggests he lives in Australia.

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8-Bit Mondays: Pitfall II: Lost Caverns – “Theme” (David Crane)

June 29, 2010

Here is a classic: one of the best songs on the Atari 2600, the main theme from Pitfall II: Lost Caverns (1984). This game is pretty amazing coming from a machine that was only designed to play two games: Pong and Combat. The musical score rivals early NES games, and the melody holds well on its own as a nice piece of adventure music. However, what really stood the soundtrack apart was the adaptive audio: upbeat music would play after gold was collected, sad music would play when the player hit an enemy, and if nothing happened for an extended period, background music would play. When the player collects a balloon, the game also plays “Sobre las Olas” (Over the Waves), a famous Mexican song (skip to about 1:35 in this video). The video below contains the three main tunes in the game in a medley. Download link is broken, but here is a different version. It’s entirely in three-channel audio (only three instruments or ‘voices’).

Pitfall II: Lost Caverns – “Theme” (David Crane)

The version I uploaded is an arrange of the main theme and background music. The main theme is very adventurous and immediately hummable. There is even a little of Mickey Mousing here with flutes reflecting Pitfall Harry’s jumping and rope swinging abilities. The second half is a slower version of the theme, and these fifteen seconds get pretty monotonous, so I arranged the track to loop back to the more exciting main theme. The short track lengths are fairly typical in length for vgm of the time, and it’s not like the Atari could store tons of music data in the first place, which makes the theme even more amazing.

Oddly, there have not appear to have been any remixes of this theme. Pitfall II was released for several other systems though, and the version for the arcade by Sega has a remixed soundtrack. Unlike the Atari 2600 version though, it plays the main theme throughout and the background theme in Stage 2. SEGA Arcade 80s Vol. 2 (2003) contains the soundtrack to the arcade version. The game is kind of a mix between the first two games and standard platformer fare.

Though David Crane is a programmer rather than a composer, Pitfall II‘s theme is a notch above most programmer music, which is often either poor in quality or renditions of public domain music (such as Sousa marches, Bach, or Beethoven). Crane’s work includes Little Computer People, A Boy and His Blob, and the infamous Night Trap.

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Red Dead Redemption – “The Shootist” (Bill Elm, Woody Jackson)

June 28, 2010

About a month after its release, Red Dead Redemption (2010) is still one of the top-selling games (and still takes first spot for most frequently-accessed titles on GameFAQs). The soundtrack is spaghetti western, with plenty of guitars and chanting, but it also has a selection of period-style pieces (fiddle, whistling, harmonica, guitar) as well as some decent lyrical pieces (including a rendition of “Bury Me Not on the Lone Prairie” with mostly original lyrics). However, I’m a sucker for allusions to Ennio Morricone, and so “The Shootist” is my pick. The soundtrack was composed by Bill Elm and Woody Jackson (and I can’t find any information on either of them).

Red Dead Redemption – “The Shootist” (Bill Elm, Woody Jackson)

“The Shootist” is a good example of a modern take on the spaghetti western, using traditional instruments, but  modern mixing and composition (“El Club de los Cuerpos” is another good example, with a modern drum line, latin trumpets, and distorted whoopings. It’s sort of like an art house spaghetti western. The melody contains elements of the main theme, which is also worth checking out (though a bit repetitive…). There is a wonderful echo on the guitar, taken straight out of Ennio Morricone’s collection. The song also has great wonderful percussion, with a collection of drums, bongoes, wood blocks, castanets, triangle, and cow bells. Exotic instruments such as the bean stick and  Jew’s harp add to the atmosphere. However, the mix of bongoes and guitar feels retro-70s to me (particularly where James Bond is concerned), but it all works together wonderfully. The end of the song includes sound effects from the game as well at the end to help add to the atmosphere and aural narrative. Read the rest of this entry ?

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Shadow of the Colossus – “Swift Horse” (Kow Otani)

June 27, 2010

Third and probably last installment from Shadow of the Colossus. “Swift Horse” is fairly different from the other tracks in that it lacks the ominous size, discord, and intense fighting of the other pieces and is instead driven by string and trumpets. The track is actually not used in the game (at least not the NTSC version) but does appear on the time trial screen in the Japanese version. It is an illustrative piece for Agro, demonstrating his free spirit, nobility, and strength in battle – along with an indication of his fate in the closing notes. The driving strings and trumpets match the rhythm of the horse’s gallop.

Shadow of the Colossus – “Swift Horse” (Kow Otani)

Incidentally, there are a few remixes for Shadow of the Colossus floating out there, including this one for “Swift Horse”. The track actually seems to work pretty well as a guitar piece, especially because the original has such smooth progression – though it lacks the variety of instrumentation in the original (especially those bells). The game’s epic soundtrack seems to translate pretty well to guitar. There is also a guitar mix of “The Open Way” by the same guy. You can read more reviews of individual songs off this FAQ.

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Shadow of the Colossus – “The Opened Way” (Kow Otani)

June 25, 2010

Returning to Shadow of the Colossus, here is “The Opened Way”, one of the main Colossus battle themes. Each colossi uses one of several themes, helping give it a unique feel. “The Opened Way” is one of the best of the bunch as it has one of the most memorable melodies from the soundtrack and gives a perfect soundtrack to the massive movements of the colossus coupled with the nimble motion of the hero, Wander. This theme is used when fighting the first colossus, as well as several others.

Shadow of the Colossus – “The Opened Way” (Kow Otani)

“The Opened Way” seems a little antique, probably due primarily to the deep drums as well as the strings. The entire soundtrack is like this, feeling like a setting distant from our own. The theme has a lot of desperation, the gruesome work of fighting and brutal sword slashes, as well as a tinge of melancholy. There are three major sections, the first dominated by strings, the second with a trumpet line and flute, and the third with and excellent call and response between strings and drums. The second and third sections in particular have incredible melody while the drums have amazing volume. The overall impression is a metaphor of battle as a waltz to the death.

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Passion – “Sakura” (Yuki Kajiura)

June 25, 2010

Passion (2007) is a wonderful album from Eminence Orchestra featuring the work of Yasunori Mitsuda, Hitoshi Sakamoto, and Yuki Kajiura. The soundtrack is a recording of a concert held in a select number of cities such as Singapore, Baltimore, and Sydney, so is fairly difficult to find. It contains music from games, anime, and standalone albums, all using a six-piece orchestra conducted by violinist Hiroaki Yura (Grim Grimoire). This piece, “Sakura” is from Xenosaga II: Jenseits von Gut und Bose (2005). It is one of my favorite tracks.

Passion – “Sakura” (Yuki Kajiura)

This piano and violin piece has a fleeting beauty – though intensely emotional, after only a short time, it is gone. This makes it an excellent selection for an album of this name, but also gains greater meaning when given its context. “Sakura” is the theme of Sakura Mizrahi, a girl who contracted a disease which left her unable to “respond to external stimuli” – yet learned the piano. Her theme song is thus very fitting for reflecting her musical skills as well as a fleeting beauty and innocence that is soon lost, like a falling cherry blossom.

The in-game theme has four versions, and this YouTube video contains three of them. The first is a piano arrange, while the second contains Italian lyrics (no translation). Version #4 was the version arranged for Passion. Read the rest of this entry ?

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Shadow of the Colossus – “The Farthest Land” (Kow Otani)

June 24, 2010

It is very difficult to define an entire game by a single song, so I am always looking for chances to show more than one song from a game – which is a little different than simply showing a series of interesting songs. Shadow of the Colossus (2005) falls in both categories – a game that I would love to show multiple songs from because one song simply cannot capture the entirety of the game, but one that contains several songs that play well on their own. The soundtrack is very exotic, containing interesting combinations of strings, percussion, brass, harp, fagotto (a kind of bassoon), and choral which ultimately create a cross between medieval and fantasy – I would love to know what Kow Otani’s influences are. You really cannot mark the style as being anything other than native to the world of Ico. The album with the Japanese title Wander and the Colossus ~Roar of the Earth~ is marked with a series of battle tracks as well as interludes that serve to break up the action – so not only is the album aesthetically pleasing, but it is also well arranged.

Shadow of the Colossus ~Roar of the Earth~ – “The Farthest Land” (Kow Otani)

Though one of the battle themes such as “The Opened Way” might serve to better illustrate the bulk of the game, “The Farthest Land” is my favorite piece. It serves as a kind of intermission – or more accurately, an overture for the second half of the album and an illustration of the spirit behind the game (the colossi, while central to the game, are not the entirety of it). I think I love the track the most because of its beautiful melancholy, its recalling of a distant land, a legend, and a young man with hopes and dreams that are not quite fulfilled the way he desires. The chimes, tambourine, and flute give the piece a dreamlike, magical quality, a kind of lullaby, while the echoes of (what I think is) a dulcimer send the emotions of the piece across the desert to peoples distant both geographically and temporally. It’s simply an amazing piece. Interestingly, “The Farthest Land” plays twice on the album, first halfway through, and again at the end as a reprise.

Shadow of the Colossus happens to be my favorite game (even though I’ve played it only once; I think I’m about due for a second play-through!). This is due to the emotions of playing it, the beauty of the world, and the richness of the battles. Other excellent songs from the album are “A Swift Horse”, “In Awe of the Power”, and “A Despair-Filled Fairwell”. Each song sounds very different from the last, creating a rich tapestry for the entire album.

Kow Otani (sometimes spelled Kow Ohtani), has composed music for both games and anime (notably Outlaw Star). One of his earliest compositions was the interesting hybrid shooter Philsoma (1995), a launch title for the PS1 and fairly difficult to locate.