Archive for July, 2010

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StarCraft – “Terran One” (Glenn Stafford, Derek Duke, Jason Hayes)

July 31, 2010

To follow up on the StarCraft II music, here is my favorite piece from the original StarCraft, “Terran One.” This theme uses the guitars, drums, and synth bass revitalized in the sequel. The StarCraft soundtrack was also available for purchase in iTunes. The composers of StarCraft collaborated on Blizzard’s later works, WarCraft III and StarCraft II.

StarCraft – “Terran One” (Glenn Stafford, Derek Duke, Jason Hayes)

The “Terran One” theme is pretty long at nearly 9 minutes, and as a result, it really feels more like three or four different pieces. The first movement is a kind of space opera with lots of metallic percussion, rock riffs, and the ever-present steady beat of the strings and drums. This is supported by a flute and brass line holding the overlying melody – the introduction is really quite subtle at about 1:26. This is echoed again really subtly at 2:40 before picking back up full force. It’s these steady beats with the brass melody that make this segment memorable.

The piece hits full swing in the second movement beginning about 3:55 where the guitars and trumpets go wild in a kind of dance. Again, the brass with tight beats makes this memorable, and the theme here is much more hummable than the other one. This is PC music at its best! Later on, some funky vocal synths are added (5:30) in something a bit reminiscent of WarCraft 2‘s Humans themes. I think this may be mostly Glenn Stafford’s doing. Anyway, the track finally ends with some excellent guitar work that combines acoustic and rock to great effect. I guess the track is so popular, it even inspired this guy to do an electric violin cover (it’s pretty short)! By the way, “Terran 2” sounds even more like a modern version of the WarCraft 2 Humans themes.

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StarCraft II – “Wings of Liberty” (Derek Duke, et al)

July 30, 2010

StarCraft II was released on Tuesday to great fanfare. Easily the most anticipated title of the summer, there were many places that opened at midnight to sell it – other fans who had purchased a digital copy simply had to wait for their authorization codes (a really cool system if you ask me). I actually haven’t bought the game yet, partly because I haven’t finished Brood War and partly because my computer simply can’t play it (same thing happened when WarCraft III came out actually). Well, that and a little thing called money, or lack thereof. Anyway, even if you don’t have the game, you can still listen to the soundtrack, which contains all the great stuff you may recall from the original StarCraft: space guitars, drums and trumpets, dramatic action, tense violence, and terrific battles. So without further ado, the main theme “Wings of Liberty.”

StarCraft II – “Wings of Liberty” (Derek Duke Glenn Stafford, Neal Acree, & Russell Brower)

“Wings of Liberty” is a pretty amazing piece. It manages to capture the wide range of emotions and situations that present themselves within the game, from battles and construction to epic drama and the horrors of space. The main theme opens up with that guitar we remember so well, a type of airy, echoing tone that travels across the chasms of night; a space guitar for space marines. The theme hits full stride at 1:15 with sweeping trumpets and choir – a martial tune that locks step with heroic thirds that produce ever-forward, ever-upward movement for a terrific, stirring experience. When people think StarCraft, they will now think of this theme.

The main theme levels out with a tremulous choir at 1:44 before finally breaking at 2:15 for a flute and clarinet section. Basically, you can’t have epic trumpets for seven minutes straight, as that gets old after awhile and plus, the audience needs to have a break in the intensity. With the third movement at 3:30, we hear strings and trumpets for the graceful sky-sweeping of spaceships in action, followed by an intense battle at 4:00 as the troops disembark and seek out the enemy in his lair… The section finishes with a truly creepy opera singer with a kind of pseudo-Latin lyrics similar to what was used in the WarCraft III main theme, “A Call to Arms,” though here with horror rather than glory in mind. This is followed by a piano movement at 5:15 which builds again at 6:10 to trumpets and a reprise of the main theme. A truly epic, sweeping piece that clearly deserves more than one listen. You can bet when they play this at Video Games Live, it will be something super-dramatic that should completely fill the walls of the concert hall.

Anyway, you can get the soundtrack currently in three ways. The first is, of course, by purchasing the game (though I don’t know if they use MP3 or some other audio format for the music, but with some digging, you should be able to find it). The second was a special bonus disc for people who purchased the Limited Edition version of the game. The final one is available through the iTunes store, and contains a separate tracklist with several different songs. “Wings of Liberty” is included in both albums.

Derek Duke and Glenn Stafford have been longtime composers of the StarCraft and WarCraft series (among other Blizzard titles). Neal Acree and Russell Brower are relative newcomers, having composed works for World of Warcraft. Russell Brower was also responsible for the Diablo III “Overture”.

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Vanguard: Saga of Heroes – “Vanguard Main Theme” (Todd Masten)

July 29, 2010

Vanguard: Saga of Heroes is a fantasy MMORPG by Sigil Games and published by Sony Online Entertainment. The game has a brilliant orchestral and mostly Celtic soundtrack (with some Egyptian and Middle Eastern references here and there), complete with several lyrical tracks (by a female vocalist, in Gaelic) – and bagpipes! The recording is of excellent quality and the fantasy compositions are full of atmosphere. The limited edition version of the game came with an 18-track soundtrack by Todd Masten (Vigilante 8, Terminus). An excellent soundtrack that is definitely worth the listen.

Vanguard: Saga of Heroes – “Vanguard Main Theme” (Todd Masten)

The “Main Theme” is a dramatic march that clocks in at just under five minutes. The strings dominate this track, their free, floating movement like ocean waves or gusts of wind blowing over great plains. It’s a nice classical piece, with the violins at 1:25 in particular reminiscent of Vivaldi. The choir is introduced in this section at about 2:00, producing an excellent tapestry of light, airy strings and a heavenly choir. At 2:26, the theme transitions to a darker march with piano – the world is full of danger and drama – before returning to the choral section and main theme (now with a flute) for a reprise.

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Guardian Legend – “The Legend of Lightning Larry” (zyko)

July 28, 2010

I started playing Guardian Legend (1988) lately. The game is a unique shmup created by Compile (makers of M.U.S.H.A., among others) and published by Irem (makers of R-Type). The game has an interesting design that is kind of a cross between Zelda and Gradius (with maybe a hint of Blaster Master), with a maze-like overworld in which you can walk in 8 directions and corridor stages where your character morphs into a spaceship to blast the evil empire. However, the game suffers from haphazard enemy placement and sub-par graphics, average music, among other things. Anyway, there are a few songs from the game that get stuck in my head, most notably the “Aqua Sector Corridor.”

Guardian Legend – “The Legend of Lightning Larry”

“The Legend of Lightning Larry” is a remix of the “Aqua Sector Corridor” theme. The original version is a little short at 25 seconds for the loop, but the theme has a memorable melody that suffers from lack of proper development. Anyway, zyko’s mix takes a jazz/funk approach to the song. There’s some mean drum and bass here with enough development and interesting sounds to keep the song fresh through its four minute stint. At the end, there are explosions/thunder claps that work pretty well, too. I don’t know who Lightning Larry is, but he sure plays a mean guitar (and likely channels lazers from his hands like in Guardian Legend. Really breathes a lot of life into what is otherwise just an odd shmup.

One other remix that I think works well is “Xenogenesis” by Ubik from VGMix 2.0. This song is a mix of the “Wasteland Sector” and is a great electronica piece that rolls along quite nicely.

Masatomo Miyamoto and Takeshi Santo are together known as Miyamoto-Shant. Mr. Miyamoto seems to have quit the industry in the early 90s after his stint at Compile while Takeshi Santo continues to compose music today, his credits including Treasure Hunter G and Riveria: The Promised Land. Zyko (aka Waleed Hawatky) is an Egyptian with West Coast vibes, and has produced some interesting guitar arranges through Dwelling of Duels and VGMix 2.0 (remember his “Zombie Man” Mega Man 2 remix?).

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Last Hope – “Desert Lab ~ Dark Fear” (Rafael Dyll)

July 27, 2010

Last Hope (2007) was one of the final games released for the Sega Dreamcast (as well as Neo Geo). The game is a shmup in the style of R-Type and Pulstar – and is infinitely more difficult (if such a thing was possible…). Essentially, the game does everything possible in order to kill you within five seconds flat, so as a result, you rarely hear more than a tiny bit of the soundtrack at once. The soundtrack was composed by Rafael Dyll (Soldner-X: Himmelsturmer) and was packaged with the limited edition version of the game (which is a bit odd, considering the game uses redbook audio, too…).

Last Hope – “Desert Lab ~ Dark Fear” (Rafael Dyll)

Dyll’s work on Last Hope is very reminiscent of that of Chris Huelsbeck, which is not very surprising, considering the German composer is influenced by Huelsbeck’s work (in fact, some of the track titles, such as “Katakis” and “Freedom” are borrowed straight out of his oeuvre). Both soothing and mysterious, “Desert Lab ~ Dark Fear” is a nice trance piece, with a deep bass reminiscent of R-Type and Apidya (actually, the overall beat feels a bit like “Stickerbrush Symphony” as well), and a synth line that adds tension and mystery. Dyll’s instrument set is also very close to that of Chris Huelsbeck’s arrange albums, with electric synths that seem to glide from the speakers and a rhythm straight out of Huelsbeck’s Apidya mixes (particularly the break at 2:23). The entire piece is over 8 minutes long (just like an old Amiga song), but with a long loop and nice variations, it never gets old. It’s great if you’re into electronica, and you’ll eat it up if you’re a Huelsbeck fan. Overall though, despite the similarities, the soundtrack is pretty original, and really more an homage – or rather a rebirth – of the music of the past.

An odd thing about this game is that it had an extremely low print run. Only 60 copies of the Neo Geo version were produced, and the limited edition with the soundtrack CD for Dreamcast was hand-numbered at 500. Thankfully, the soundtrack will be released this October 1 (10110) in Europe for 12.95 Euros (about $17US – better get it while the Euro is weak!). It will include 7 remix tracks.

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Ninja Gaiden Shadow – “Stage 1” (Don)

July 26, 2010

The Game Boy has a pretty awesome sound processor. While unable to encode drum samples like the MMC-equipped NES cartridges, the sound has a bit more fiber, creating stronger music. A good example of this is Ninja Gaiden Shadow (1992), the prequel to Ninja Gaiden on the NES (where Ryu Hayabusa fights a servant of Jaquio, and in the NES version, Jaquio is merely the servant of another guy and so on).

Ninja Gaiden Shadow – “Stage 1” (Don)

Anyway, the track is pretty cool and sounds a little like something from Capcom (though it was made by a composer from either Natsume or Tecmo). The beat here is pretty deliberate, a nice ninja shuffle, and that’s really a big part of what makes it memorable. It’s how videogame ninjas from the 90s moved.

The composer is unknown, listed only as ‘Don’ in the credits. The game was originally going to be an adaptation of Shadow of the Ninja from the NES.

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Riglord Saga 2 – “Ending ~Main Theme~” (Yasufumi Fukuda)

July 25, 2010

Riglord Saga 2 (1996) is the Japan-only sequel to the Sega Saturn game, Blazing Heroes (aka Riglord Saga in Japan). The series is a strategy RPG with turn-based tactical battles where the player controls a small army. In the first game, the player must defeat an evil wizard trying to open the portals of Mystaria (the game is sometimes known as Shadows of Mystaria). The sequel seems to provide an interesting narrative twist, with the main protagonist as a princess being hunted by the Seven Wisemen for some devious purpose.

Riglord Saga 2 – “Ending ~Main Theme~” (Yasufumi Fukuda)

The music for Riglord Saga 2 contains a wide variety of tunes, with ethnic themes for each of the cities and regions, some with a pop flavor to them – each with the full atmosphere of CD-quality audio. Others are full-on orchestral themes, such as the “Ending ~Main Theme~”. It is a very pleasant, sweeping score that must have been one of the live recorded studio tracks (some of the other pieces sound like they have synths – similar to Arc the Lad, which was touted as the first game to feature a score performed by a live orchestra…). The main theme is rolling and pleasant, with a beautiful call and response between the strings and brass. The piece then transitions into a processional clarinet piece with excellent melodic layering from the strings, which builds into the final section, a redux of the main theme. Anyway, I’m not entirely sure what the context for the song is as I’ve never played the game, but it’s certainly a pleasant orchestral piece to end the day with (or begin, if you check this blog in the mornings!).

Yasufumi Fukuda, the main composer, has worked on a wide range of games, from Sword and Sorcery to the recent arcade/360 shmup, Deathsmiles. His collaborator, Tadashi Ohtsubo, worked with arrangement of the album and also served as the pianist for the orchestra. Mr. Ohtsubo has worked on mostly Sega pieces, including NiGHTS and Sonic World Adventure.