Archive for the ‘Is it VGM?’ Category

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“Air Man Ga Taosenai” (Sera)

June 10, 2010

A little-known Japanese mixer known as Sera (Tetsukuzu Okiba) created an internet phenomenon when he composed a song called “Air Man Ga Taosenai” (2007) – I Can’t Beat Air Man. The song really took off when someone uploaded from the album the two machinima videos/cartoons using Mega Man II footage and custom animations. The videos are absolutely hilarious, especially if you’ve played the games – because the funny thing is, Air Man really isn’t that hard! Though this song isn’t VGM, it’s a phenomenon based on a game and isn’t that bad a melody, so I think it fits well here.

There are umpteen different versions of this video. This one by Team Nekokan has subtitles, so you can actually tell what they’re saying.

This is the other good version of the video. The clip is instrumental and contains an extra ending section with credits and a bizarre ending. I actually prefer the instrumental version over the lyrical one (the album has only karaoke though, which isn’t as good, and you can also avoid the jazz version by ShavaDava). Read the rest of this entry ?

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Castlevania – “Be in a Belmont” (Div and the Divs)

April 29, 2010

Here’s another song we can definitely say is not vgm (but is about games, so it fits here). It’s a bunch of guys complaining about how much it sucks to be a vampire hunter. The song was made back in 2005 by the UK high school ska band Div and the Divs for their album Tea (a quite British title). They seem to be nonexistant today, as their Myspace page (the only remaining record of their existence) has not been updated in five years (so THAT’s what Myspace looked like five years ago!). Don’t even bother with their homepage – it just pulls a 404.

Castlevania – “Be in a Belmont” (Div and the Divs)

Actually, this video here is a ‘speedy speedrun’ I made (basically a speedrun playback sped up to fit the length of a song so you don’t have to watch the full length – the most popular one is a Super Castlevania IV clip set to “Travel Demon“). I was surprised to find out it’s been syndicated on YouTube (as in, someone re-uploaded it). This speedrun was by the almighty Phil and Genisto; even though there’s a faster speedrun out there, this is the best in terms of tricks. Incidentally, I made another version of their speedrun set to “Scourge of 1691”, but YouTube won’t let you upload a file that’s longer than 10 minutes.

While I can’t really say that Div and the Divs were any good (pretty much all their music sounds like this), the sort of depressed, blue-collar English accent really does work well with the complaining (as well as the alcohol references from craftily-placed bottles of holy water). And of course he’s complaining despite the fact that the Simon in the video is ripping through this game. (Castlevania is even harder if you have a copy that likes to freeze halfway through Death’s level.)

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Is it VGM? Salamander OVA 3 – “Last Battle” (Tatsumi Umegaki)

January 16, 2010

So far, we’ve looked at original and licensed music used in games as well as music about games. What about other media that use vgm, such as the soundtrack to a film or tv show based on a game? For this example, we have the Salamander OVA (1988-9), a three-part anime loosely based on Gradius 2: Gofer’s Ambition (1988). This series contains remixed music from the Salamander and Gradius 2 games to fit with the theme of the series. “Last Battle” from Salamander OVA 3: Gofer no Yabou Original Soundtrack contains arrangements of several themes from Gradius 2, including “Tabidaichi” (“Depart”) and “Salamander ~Boss Theme~”.

Salamander OVA 3: Gofer no Yabou Original Soundtrack – “Last Battle” (Tatsumi Umegaki)

In this instance, I think we can approach it the same way we would any arranged vgm: even though the piece is part of a film/tv show soundtrack, because it is arranged music from a videogame, this particular track can be considered vgm while simultaneously being thought of as an anime soundtrack. Note that a lot of the music in Salamander OVA sounds original, so even though they use a few arrangements, the albums themselves are anime rather than vgm. The distinction is that they contain vgm arrangements.

Incidentally, many videogame adaptations make generous use of arranged game music, particularly works like the Super Mario Bros. cartoons. Sadly, some completely miss the opportunity, such as the Doom movie, which contained no homage to “E1M1”.

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Is it VGM? – “Disco Space Invaders” (Funny Stuff)

January 15, 2010

Ok, this track is dipping into the bottom of the barrel of ridiculosity: Disco Space Invaders (1979). A previously unknown album predating Pac-Man Fever (Buckner and Garcia, 1981), this was discovered by the folks at Points-TV back in 2007. It’s classically cheesy, but ultimately far better than Buckner and Garcia’s Pac-Man disco “treat” which I have never managed to suffer myself through. “Disco Space Invaders” also poses some interesting questions for whether or not it is actually vgm: does the mere inclusion of game audio automatically make a song vgm? Here is a music video someone made to make the listening easier:

“Disco Space Invaders” (Funny Stuff)

“Disco Space Invaders” contains sfx of the lazer turret from Space Invaders firing as well as the explosions, the flying saucer, and the intense downward beat of the Invaders as they move across the screen and come steadily closer. Space Invaders is notable for this four-note ‘song’, a piece of dynamic audio that responds to the player’s actions: the more Invaders destroyed, the faster the aliens move. This is the first game to feature background audio, and given the soundtracks of the time, it’s not that much of a stretch to call it ‘music’. Read the rest of this entry ?

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Is it VGM? – Guitar Hero – “Wanna Be a Guitar Hero” (Monkey Steals the Peach)

January 14, 2010

Today’s installment of “Is it VGM?” is really a question of music games in general, particularly those using licensed music. If we loosely define vgm as “music that plays in a videogame” and include pieces like “Moonlight Sonata” in our list of vgm, shouldn’t we treat the music from games like Guitar Hero the same? As a case study for this question, I present “Gonna Be a Guitar Hero” from Guitar Hero by Monkey Steals the Peach.

Guitar Hero – “Gonna Be a Guitar Hero” (Monkey Steals the Peach)

Guitar Hero and other games like it are designed to simulate playing music to give the experience of being a rock and roll star. The game is played by pressing buttons on a guitar controller that correspond with a series of notes streaming down on the screen. Songs appearing in the games are covered by the Guitar Hero music team, with each instrument recorded and encoded separately.

Now “Gonna Be a Guitar Hero” is a somewhat special case for licensed music as its lyrics in many ways refer to the game itself. However, the title does not seem to have been composed specifically for the game, but was likely the inspiration for the game’s title. (The band name, on the other hand, seems a reference to a ninja ball-grab move, whose name I would like to think is a reference to Journey to the West. But you know, peach-stealing is also something monkeys do anyway). But the question remains of whether we should approach licensed music in music games differently than we would say licensed music in film or even a game soundtrack in general.

Many vgm reviewers will tend to avoid discussing licensed music when they talk about vgm. This is understandable because there is certainly a distinct difference in composition and use of music (licensed or otherwise) in traditional videogames. After all, there is a different approach to composing a song to match the feel of a particular scene, character, or level of a game than having the composition of the song determine the kinds of gameplay (i.e. the timing of buttons). If we were to even take a vgm tune and place it within a music game (such as a Super Mario Bros. remix in Donkey Konga), it would change the way we think about and interact with the music, considering it as both a song and a “level” of gameplay rather than solely as music for a game level – a distinction that becomes clearer with Vib Ribbon, which generates the game level based on the music put in the PlayStation.

It’s also interesting to note that game developer also make a distinction between original and licensed music, with the Game Audio Network Guild giving Guitar Hero “Best Use of Licensed Music” for 2005 (the musicians who recorded Guitar Hero – a collection of five veritable guitar bandits – also performed an absolutely kick-ass rock performance on stage at the GANG Awards, a feat beaten only by Koji Kondo, the Lucasarts band, and Chris Kline’s appearance in 2008). However, game developers also recognize that it is still game audio, granting the soundtrack “Most Innovative Use of Audio” for 2005; the game also received the “Excellence in Audio” award at the Game Developers Choice Awards at GDC.

Personally, I have to say music games fall into a special category of vgm; they fall in the gray area of defining what vgm is. The fact that the music appears within the game (or at least the cover recordings) might at first seem reason enough of calling it part of a ‘video game soundtrack’ just as we did “Moonlight Sonata”. However, they are not vgm as traditionally defined – music generates gameplay rather than supporting the play experience. Thus, the potential of any song to become a track in Guitar Hero, a fact especially true of customizable soundtracks for games such as Vib Ribbon and Audiosurf, throws further curve balls into the discussion of defining what game music is where hypothetically any song can suddenly become ‘game music’ (and vgm can suddenly become the soundtracks to multiple games). Perhaps I will leave the cover recordings in as a technicality (or at least let them hover in the gray area), but otherwise the definition of the term simply becomes too broad so as to become meaningless, and so I am forced to draw a line here.

Here’s the song’s lyrics so you can sing along while pondering your own conclusion:

I’m so sick and tired of being bored,
Had it up to here with being ignored.
The kids that walk by in their tired haze,
Lookin’ for a place just to have their say:

Gonna be a guitar hero!
We finally got our way!
Gonna be a guitar hero!
Gotta get on stage today!

There’s too many players that we despise,
Gotta find a way to equalize —
Decimate the robots down on the floor:
That’s what i use star power for!

Gonna be a guitar hero!
We finally got our way!
Gonna be a guitar hero!
Gotta get on stage today!

Guitar!

Hero!

Guitar!

Gonna be a guitar hero.

And now for a rant. Some people – mostly musicians (in my eye closet Luddites) – have claimed and complained that Guitar Hero and its ilk are somehow ruining music by preventing youngsters from picking up real guitars (angst that is no doubt springing from the changing nature of musical listening and the weakness of the music industry in general). This is all so much hogwash. While the games do not teach a player to play music while simulating the illusion of playing, what Guitar Hero does for game players is introduces them to new music they may not have heard before as well as present a new and unique way of listening to music. I can personally attest to having little interest in mainstream rock music before picking up the game; the comfortability of being able to hear the music within the safety of Guitar Hero while simultaneously ‘performing’ the music allowed for a greater appreciation that would not have been possible through radio alone. Timing notes accurately gives players a sense of rhythm and notation through ‘visual listening’, and when coupled with player performance gives a sense of intimacy with the music that might otherwise be missing. Whether it gets some kid interested in picking up an instrument or not is beside the point to me – what these games do is provide greater exposure and appreciation of rock music (a fact that has been confirmed by phenomenal increases in music sales for songs included in the games). The only downside is that no compilation albums have been released combining all the music from the games in one place (something that seems to me fairly doable on iTunes).

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Is it VGM? – Earthworm Jim 2 – “Moonlight Sonata (1st Movement)” (Beethoven)

January 13, 2010

Continuing on the theme of “Is it VGM”, I present the famous “Moonlight Sonata (1st Movement)” as appears in Earthworm Jim 2 for the Sega Saturn (1996). This piece plays in the stage “The Villi People”, aka “Jim’s Now a Blind Cave Salamander” in which Jim has to disguise himself as a salamander to sneak inside the enemy base. Jim is vulnerable outside of his super suit and in this sequence has to navigate a treacherous bio-cave where the undulating walls of villi are dangerous to the touch, enemies bob erratically through narrow passages, and pinball bumpers threaten to fling the hapless worm to the walls. To make matters worse, in the latter half of the stage, visibility is limited to only a tiny sphere of light. All these elements work together with the meditative nature of “Moonlight Sonata” to build tension incredibly while also giving a sense of humorous sophistication due to the ridiculousness of the situation, not unlike Loony Tunes’ “Rabbit of Seville”. Below is a clip of the song in context as well as a copy of the MP3 off the game CD. I am going to go on a whim and say this was performed by Tommy Tallarico, though it’s composed by the master Ludwig von Beethoven.

Earthworm Jim 2 – “Moonlight Sonata (1st Movement)” (Ludwig von Beethoven)

Moonlight Sonata” is a brilliant and meditative musical tongue-twister. The sequence of notes variating on the theme is often unexpected, leaping about the keyboard with surprising rapidity, at times feeling yet held together by that very same theme.The interplay of left and right hand added to the mix is a big reason why “Moonlight Sonata” is one of the most difficult piano pieces to play. Additionally, the slow meter of the song and the emphasis on particular notes puts the listener into a trance, completely absorbed by the full aural glory of the piano, submerging in the dark waters beneath the moon’s reflection.

Public domain music has been used in game soundtracks since the beginning. Gyruss (Arcade, 1983), Master Builder (Atari 2600, 1983), Parodius (MSX, 1988), Kid Icarus (NES, 1986), and recently Eternal Sonata (XBox 360, 2006) use whole or partial songs from popular and public domain music. Read the rest of this entry ?

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Is it VGM? – “Spontaneous Devotion” (Random)

January 12, 2010

This week, I am starting a series called “Is it VGM?” where I’ll be exploring that same question. There’s a lot of music that appears in games or is derived from games, so it’s important that we take a look at different aspects of this. First on the list is a piece by Random, a Swedish chiptune artist who was featured on I Am 8-Bit. “Spontaneous Devotion” is a wonderful piece of chiptune from his album Bad Joke, and it is one of my favorite pieces of chiptune music out there (the album is also available for free download).

Bad Joke – “Spontaneous Devotion” (Random)

First off, “Spontaneous Devotion” is a piece of chiptune music, or music generated from sound chips of old computers and game systems (in this case, a Game Boy – or maybe two Game Boys, as this is in stereo and seems like it has more than four instruments). The brightness of the notes and the song’s complex layering make it candy for the ears – the song seems as much about worshiping happiness as it is the pure joy of music. Random pushes the Game Boy to its limits.

Random also presented this song as a live performance at the chiptune show Pulsewave 3, where he used a light and video show also generated by Game Boys. He manipulates and performs on the Game Boys like a DJ, completely absorbed in the mixing and the music, a master of the craft and a scion of new media.

Hundreds of artists have been influenced by the unique sound produced by old electronics – no physical instrument has the same feel as a square wave arpeggio Read the rest of this entry ?