Game Music

Game Music Mishegoss: An Interview with Destructoid’s Jim Sterling

October 20, 2009 | | 7 Comments Share thison Facebook Game Music Mishegoss: An Interview with Destructoid’s Jim Sterlingon Twitter

Whether he’s convincing you that Bayonetta is hotter than your girlfriend or explaining how Altered Beast is the “Citizen Kane of Gaming“, you can be guaranteed that Destructoid’s Reviews Editor, Jim Sterling, will provide something thoughtful, entertaining, and worth your time. I jumped at the opportunity to discuss game music with him and found his answers surprising and insightful. He is our second entrant into Game Music Mishegoss, the OSV Exclusive Feature where we interview the most prominent voices in video games and the gaming press.

What does Jim Sterling think about the state of gaming music? What are his favorites? Click the jump to find out!

OSV: As a lifelong gamer and avid music fan, I’m sure you’ve found yourself replaying a level, looking at a menu screen a little longer, or doing something else to prolong a musical experience in a game. What are some of your earliest memories doing this?

Sterling: The Sonic the Hedgehog series has always had one of the most fantastic soundtracks in my opinion, and I’d linger in many levels just to hear my favorite parts of a tune. One notable instance is the Starlight Zone in the original game. One major problem with the games is that certain sound effects will “write over” the music, and collecting rings would interfere with the best bit of the Starlight Zone music, just before the ludicrous 16-bit saxaphone kicks in. So, even today, when I play Starlight Zone, I sometimes stop playing the level during my favorite part of the tune, for fear of ruining the tune with gatecrashing sound effects.

OSV: I recently had an interview with Martin Filipp, a head developer at Deep Silver (formerly Rockstar Vienna), and he believes strongly that the feeling of “missing something” while playing a game is almost always a result of music/sound that is not up to par. Do you agree/disagree?

Sterling: I think the music can make or break certain experiences, definitely. RPGs in particular need good, strong soundtracks in order to really kick things up. The battle music in Lost Odyssey, for example, is absolutely beautiful and makes every fight a treat. If I play an RPG and the battle music is not up to par, I am very disappointed.

OSV: Has there ever been a game experience for you that was saved because of its music?

Sterling: The greatness of the music is often the result of high production values. If a game has low production values, then it won’t have good music. It will almost always be a garbage game as well, so no, I can’t say that a videogame soundtrack has saved a game, because bad music and bad games tend to go hand-in-hand.

OSV: Has there ever been a game experience for you that was ruined because of its music?

Sterling: I want to name and shame many recent Sonic videogames for the atrocious crap they like to call a game soundtrack. Unfortunately, the experience was ruined because of many, many things, and the soundtrack was more the straw that broke the camel’s back.

OSV: What is the most underrated game soundtrack?

Sterling: I’m going to come out of left field and actually name the Pokemon series. Its music isn’t really ever talked about much, but there has been some really good music to come from that franchise. The original Red/Blue had some terrific little tunes despite the less-than-stellar sound of the Game Boy itself.

OSV: Do you feel game music receives the attention and credit that it deserves?

Sterling: Among gamers themselves, yes. I think good music is often recognized by fans, and the success of Video Games Live tends to demonstrate that perfectly. Respect outside of the gaming industry, though? Possibly not as much as it could get. There are tunes in many videogames that stand up against soundtracks from any movie. That said, however, does it matter if Hollywood or any non-gamer respects videogames? There’s a lot of talk these days about games getting “respect” and “credit” and really, who cares? If the gamers are loving the art that comes from a good videogame, then that’s really all that matters.

OSV: A few gaming journalists (i.e. Garnett Lee, 1UP) have mentioned that they feel game music nowadays has “lost character” from years ago. Perhaps this is related to the idea that many feel game music has shifted toward film music and are not ecstatic about this jump. Do you agree/disagree? Good move/bad move?

Sterling: I agree, and I have my own theories for this. I believe that the move from synthesized music and MIDI-quality sound has actually harmed the idea of the memorable game theme tune. Before we had sweeping orchestral soundtracks, composers were limited in their abilities. What this meant was that they had to be more creative and make the meagre tools at their disposal really count. When you can only make a few sounds at any given time, you’re going to have to make those sounds stick in a player’s head.

Simple tunes lead to simple, yet potentially brilliant, melodies, and that’s what soundtracks are missing these days. Sure, an orchestra sounds beautiful, but rarely do orchestral soundtracks produce melodies, and melody is what gives us those really remarkable soundtracks that we hum to ourselves long after we’ve finished the game. Most of this pompous, grand, sweeping orchestral music sounds the same, basically. We should simplify our music a little and get back to what really made tunes stand out. That’s not to say you can’t have a memorable tune come out of a full orchestra, but the focus these days seems to be on simply sounding “big” and not sounding “great.”

OSV: What are your top game soundtracks/scores? (Pick as many as you’d like. I’m going to guess that a Metal Gear game will appear on this list!)

Sterling: Sonic the Hedgehog 2, Silent Hill 2, and the Metal Gear Solid series all have terrific tunes. Of those three games, the standout tracks would be “Hilltop Zone,” “Promise,” and the main MGS2 theme. Standalone tracks would include the aforementioned Lost Odyssey battle theme “Fire Above The Battle”, and Kuja’s trance theme from FFIX, “Dark Messenger.” Something about those Nazi-esque marching steps really gets me.

OSV: Many games have a GAME OVER fanfare or jingle of some sort. What is the ONE GAME OVER jingle that has made you nearly go postal?

Sterling: Final Fantasy VII. It just sounds really smug. I usually like the Crystal Theme, but the opening sound is just sickening and something that should be in a soap opera.

Hope you enjoyed the interview as much as we did! Stay tuned for another edition of Game Music Mishegoss in the coming weeks.

Tags: , , , , , ,


« Next Post

Previous Post »

More like this Post