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Poochy Ain't Stupid
LETTERS WITH AEGIS
     Monday, November 5, 2001 "can i be a booze hound?"     

JUMP, JIVE, & WAIL:

As many of you already know, Microsoft has had demo units of the Xbox on display in stores for several weeks. What many of you probably don't know is that Nintendo GameCube demo units are on display in some stores already. My town's Target, for one, has had their GameCube in for nearly a week, and stores like Walmart and Toys R Us supposedly have received them but just not set up yet.

The GameCube demo units have playable versions of Luigi's Mansion, Wave Race, and Rogue Leader. Pretty much everybody would enjoy at least one out of those three, so I suggest you do yourself a favor and go check the GameCube out. By the time you read this, it will be a mere 10 days til the Xbox launches and an also short 13 days til the GameCube hits. If you plan to get a system but don't know which yet, you'd best make up your mind in a hurry.

On next Monday, which will be my last column before the two new systems launch, we'll devote the entire column to Xbox and GameCube mania. Until then, though, we'll talk about video game music. It's blatantly obvious that music in video games has come a long way since the bleeps and blips of years past. Game music in general has reached a level of quality high enough that most people wouldn't complain even if there were no advancements from this point forward. However, like many other aspects of games that people seem to be more-or-less content with, I feel that music in video games can be exploited to a much greater potential.

As a special treat, keeping with today's theme, I have a music download for your listening pleasure. The file is in MP3 format, approximately 2.21 MB. I'm creating an RPG series (look for the first game in stores in 2013!), and what you're about to hear is a taste of one of the game's battle themes. The theme was written by my good friend Chad Seiter, who will compose the majority, if not the entirety, of the game's music. It is a work in progress, so keep that in mind when listening to it. Feel free to mail me any comments or suggestions you might have regarding the song, and I'll pass them along to Chad.


Oh, and by the way, before we begin, damn you all for sending so much good mail. I received almost 40 printable letters. If you wrote a great letter and it wasn't printed, that's why.

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    Guess the Quote Contest
    Try to guess (be specific) the quote towards the top of the page. If you're the first one to email me with the correct answer, I'll mention you in my next column. An individial may not win the contest twice in a row.
     

     
    quote
    Dance dance revolution 4th mix The song is "Shooting Star"

    My birthday is coming up very soon, and Id like some "Alex Chiu Immortality Rings," so Id appreciate a plug

    to my alex chiu referral link,

    http://www.alexchiu.com/affiliates/clickthru.cgi?id=stump

    -Stump

    Aegis:
    Indeed, "where were you to hold my hand, do the things that we had planned?" is from "Shooting Star," which can be heard (and danced to, of course) on DDR 4th Mix. Specifically, as others pointed out, the song is by the band BANG! (which may or may not be completely capitalized).

    Stump, because you won both this week and last week, you'll notice a little inclusion in the quote contest rules. From here on out, nobody can win the contest consecutive times. Granted, that may not be fair, but everybody deserves a moment in the sun, you know?

    Though the concept is a bit, um, hard to swallow, the Immortality Rings at least kinda look cool. Click the link, folks; help Stump get some free stuff. And Stump, if you get a whole lot of rings, maybe you can send one my way, ya know?



     
    middle of the road
    Aegis,

    You opened up one extra-large can o' worms with this particular topic. Trying to narrow down favorites in a field as broad and diverse as video game music, or even RPG music, is sometimes a daunting task.

    I think that my favorite song in an RPG would have to be Dancing Mad, the last boss theme from Final Fantasy VI. I don't think much explanation is necessary on that one, it's just a very well written piece, and it fits the in-game action to a T. It also showcases a few different styles, including the almost chorale-like third part. Here's to hearing an orchestrated version of it at some point. *glances at Scar with puppydog eyes*

    The best soundtrack for an RPG would have to go to the oft-nominated favorite, Xenogears. My only complaint with it is its relative brevity compared to the game, which caused parts of it to become monotonous, where in other circumstances, they would have been brilliant. This is more apparent when you listen to Creid, the arranged album, which I think, in some ways, represents Mitsuda's true vision of the music, one which could not be accomplished on the PSX (But hopefully will be on the PS2, with Xenosaga).

    Oddly enough, I don't recall playing an RPG with a bad soundtrack, and I've played a lot of RPGs. More than likely I've repressed that particular memory...

    Game music is, I think, being used in the right fashion, as a setting for the atmosphere and mood, and also as another way to further the emotional effect of certain key scenes. A perfect example of this would be the use of Aeris' Theme during the... incident in the City of Ancients. I don't think there's anything I would really change about the way music is being used, because game music is really heading in the right direction, especially with such steps as hiring the Seattle and London Symphonies for various games. This can only serve to heighten the effect... unless, of course, you're playing Earthbound, but that's a letter for another day...

    --Rico, anxiously awaiting feedback

    Aegis:
    Yeah, you're right. I opened a can of worms... not necessarily because of the topic itself, just because of the sheer volume of mail it effected.

    The only thing I really feel pressed to comment on is your opinion on the use of game music. Though you don't feel the same way, I mentioned in the intro that I think a lot more could be done in games as far as music goes. When you consider the possibilities of music interacting with game environments and player actions, non-interactive music begins to seem rather stale. I do like the idea of having talented musicians and orchestras perform music for games, but in this case you can't have your cake and eat it too. We'll delve further into this in our next letter.



     
    dynamically allocated
    Despite the wide range of video games to choose from for my favorite song, I still pick from an RPG: Magus's Theme from Chrono Trigger. The reason is not necessarily because it sounds awesome, but that it fits extremely well with the scene in which you meet Magus in his castle. I love that scene. Magus is talking to you during that light, eerie, wind-instrument opening, until suddenly he challenges you and jumps backward, during which the music flips to extremely cool, heavy, fast stuff for your fight.

    This is something I wish they had more often in all video games, but I can't say I've seen in RPGs (I haven't played many RPGs past the SNES, though, so I can't be sure). The first game I really saw this built-in was in Super Mario 64, where the background music of a level could change depending on which part of the level you were in. It was also done very well in Banjo-Kazooie, and probably many other games that I simply don't know about. This sort of dynamic music could change the mood of a level or area very quickly and without the stupid "(pause game), (wait for load time), (start new musical theme)" that I've seen all over.

    Being that RPGs can be very plot and mood oriented, the more subtle mood changes of dynamic music could do wonders. So they should either build scenes around changes in music, like that scene in CT, or make on-the-fly changes to the instrumentation, themes, volume, speed, etc. of the music a la N64 games. If done correctly, the music could swiftly and subtly change the player's emotional state. I can see it now: instead of the music simply changing to "evil-guy" music and the nemesis just waltzing in, you could have the music slowly switch to minor tones and start adding the bad guy's theme. By the time you notice these gradual changes in the music (if you're paying attention to the music at all), you'd have already been getting an unconsciously evil sensation and the feeling that something's about to go wrong.

    On to sound effects: SFX aren't all that important for the story and such, but they can certainly go horribly wrong. For instance, if the sound that's made when you move the cursor on the selection screen is overly loud and annoying, it makes me start thinking of the game as annoying, especially when I go to the menu screen often. On the other hand, some attack moves have great sound effects (a sword slash or some such) which never get old. They could use random variations on SFX, though, so it doesn't seem like you're always attacking with the very same move, even if you are.

    - Mag Roader

    Aegis:
    Mag Roader here gives some great examples and hypothetical uses of interactive music. I couldn't have said it better myself, really. I personally would rather see games take the route you see described here, however, there's a bit of a dilemma. As Rico mentioned in the previous letter, with the current storage capacity of games, we can realistically see completely prerecorded music scores by talented musicians. And, with the exception of cases in which the music is supposed to sound synthesized, I personally would rather listen to a recording of real instruments than a synthesized version of the same song.

    So it all boils down to style vs. substance. You can either have A) prerecorded static music or B) synthesized dynamic music. I'd personally choose option B, and honestly, synthesized music isn't that bad; most games have used and still use only midis. However, I anticipate seeing more people choosing the higher-quality fixed-track music as games progress in the future.

    Quickly touching upon sound effects before moving on, the majority of those who wrote in today shared similar sentiments to Mag Roader. Sound effects are necessary but not that important. Only looking at current and past RPGs, I'll agree for the most part. However, a fan of action or survival horror games would most probably look at sound effects with a greater emphasis. I see (or at least hope) that genres will blend to an extent in the future, and because of this, I imagine that sound effects in RPGs will be given more emphasis in the days to come. An RPG could be given so much more atmosphere with the proper use of sound effects, just think about it.



     
    a plethora of styles
    Dear Aegis,

    Favorite song [non-RPG] - "Still In the Dark" from Guilty Gear X. It's a hard, throbbing metal track, yet it still has this somber feel to it.

    Favorite song [RPG] - "Boat Song" From LUNAR:Silver Star Story COMPLETE. That one was so touching, one of the only RPG tracks that ever made me sob a bit. And it really gives a look into how Luna feels at that point in the game. Perfect.

    Best Game Soundtrack [non-RPG] - GGX. If there was any soundtrack that set the mood for a game, this is it. Who can listen to this stuff and not wanna beat the crap out of an opponent.

    Best game soundtrack [RPG] - Lufia and the Fortress of Doom. A game with lots of bouncy, happy moments and music to match, yet the serious points had music to drive the point home like no other RPG out there. And the boss battle with Guard Dios is still my favorite end battle theme, as it likely will always be.

    Worst Game Soundtrack [non-RPG] - Resident Evil. There wre some good bits [like when an enemy would jump out at you suddenly], but certainly not the best listening material, even for the series.

    Worst Game Soundtrack [RPG] - Grandia 1 - God, this one is boring musically. Thankk goodness the second one had better music.

    The one thing I find most disturbing, and thus the one thing I'd like to see change, is the apparent limitation that game music has based primarily on its genres. It seems all RPGs nowadays are mandated by some sort of law to have only symphonic style music, with very few exceptions. Either that or a very poor attempt at a medieval folk ambient sound. In the meantime, fighters and action games use rock or techno music, and adventure games will use sometimes techno if the tone of the game is a bit darker, but generally upbeat bubblegum pop-ish music. And of course no one dares use jazz, rythem & blues, or God forbid hiphop/rap influences. I'd love to see all sorts of music in games regardless of the genre. Maybe a gentle, depressing jazz riff while RPG hero X is dealing with having lost RPG girl Y, or a pulsing, angry symphonic number when the two fighting game rival characters go head to head. And see that there rap music? Works really nice in run down, urban towns and stuff.

    Jam

    Aegis:
    Hooray for Guilty Gear X. Hooray for the fact that North American gamers no longer have to import it to play it.

    You may have been the only one to write in about games using a wider variety of musical styles, and you provide some good examples. Though I really hadn't given tons of thought before to the different types of music game genres lock themselves into, the distinctions do exist. Although some game genres are arguably better off with the styles of music they currently employ (I don't know how cool I'd be on playing a 2D fighter with classical music), RPGs especially should be able to implement nearly any music style just because of the nature of RPGs. I'm sure some games do accomplish this to an extent already, but I've yet to see one that sounds anywhere near as diverse as our world does.



     
    intermission
    My favorite video game music? Man, that is so damn hard question...
    I like many battle themes, though sad songs rule too...
    Maybe Melodies of Life. That song is outstanding. Maybe For the Savior. Maybe To Far Away Times. Maybe Cuddle =P Maybe the good old Gurgu Volcano. Argh... You evil person have set this horrible, horrible question for us... That is just so evil. Now I'm going to tap in to the inner reserves of my strength to find the true answer...
    And the answer is:
    No, not One Winged Angel you fools!
    It's To Far Away Times! Yes! I LOVE THAT SONG!
    ...
    Now I'm going to fall into deep coma, and fly away while listening to that music. =)


    ---
    Night Bat...-

    Aegis:
    This letter made me laugh, so I thought I'd share with the rest of the class.



     
    47 years in the making
    Hi Aegis, you wonderul little person you!

    Music, eh? I love music! Especially videogame music! Of course, being a college student, everyone else thinks I'm a freak =( But not to worry! I will kil... uh, I will not let them get in my way! Mwahahahaha! Now, a few comments/questions:

    1) I'm really excited about the release of Project Majestic Mix! (Heh, I'm gonna get a gold CD, kudos for me). How about you? You should be excited! If you're not, I'll bop you on the head with a piece of dried salami!

    2) Do you think Mr. Uematsu is the greatest composer in all the land? Are there any others you can think of that are just as good as he?

    3) What's your favorite videogame soundtrack? Mine would be Chrono Trigger and FF6. Some of the best tunes came out of these games. What? Don't look at me like that! I'm not crazy, I tell ya! *Starts to swing the dried salami wildly*

    The ever present esper,
    Mr. Fenrir, from the Land of Lew

    Aegis:
    Indeed, I'm quite excited about Project Majestic Mix. For those who don't know, it's a CD of arranged versions of a wide variety of Squaresoft game music. A CD that's been years in the making at that... I'm getting the gold CD as well, and I made my donation over 2 years ago. I encourage everyone to check out Project Majestic Mix's official site and see what all the fuss is about. While you're there, download the MP3 demo: it's awesome.

    Uematsu's great, but I don't think I find him to be the greatest game composer. There are a lot of other talented composers, for RPGs and otherwise, whose works I enjoy just as much as Uematsu's, including Mitsuda, Koji Kondo, Phantasy Star's composer, and numerous others.

    My personal favorite game soundtrack is most probably... hmm... this is a bit tougher than I thought. Let's just say I'm undecided among FF6, FF7, and Chrono Trigger. While I'm at it, I'll also tell you...

    Favorite video game song: "Scars of Time" from Chrono Cross. Honorable mentions go to FF7's "One-Winged Angel," Metroid's Kraid's Hideout theme, and Sonic R's "Super Sonic Racing."

    My Worst Soundtrack Award goes not to an RPG, but to two racing games. Both Crusin' USA and the original San Francisco Rush had horrible, horrible music, and since I can't remember which was worse, I'm choosing them both.



     
    "how would you like to make a dollar, billy?"
    Hello O holy shield of the gods, I have a few comments regarding CC's suggestions yesterday.

    1.)My fav non-RPG song of all time would have to be Boom Boom Dollar by Donkey Kong and the Monkey Girls, who can be heard on Dance Dance Revolution.

    2.)The best soundtrack goes to the mammoth 4-cd FFVII soundtrack that rocked my world in 98'.

    3.)The worst soundtrack goes to the equally mammoth FFVIII soundtrack. I really didn't care for it(although my g/f can do a stunning rendition of Eyes on Me).

    4.)Music, IMHO, should be fully orchestrated in a game, instead of made with keyboards and computer generated music(imagine, if you would, you walk into town and the San Francisco orchestra plays sweet melodies to soothe your tired souls, instead of the blaring keyboards trying to sound like violins and brass instruments).

    5.)The Lunar series changed the way I looked at music in RPGs. I suggest that more games be a little like that. Not to the point when music's the main theme, but only to the point to say, a very complex puzzle in the first/last dungeon.

    6.)Sound effects in games can convey as much emotion as any speech or facial expression. To me, they are horribly overlooked, as I was shocked and on the brink of suing Squaresoft for completely changing the sound effects in the Chrono Trigger remake included in FF Chronicles(in case you didn't notice or don't have FF Chronicles, the sounds are much more high-pitched and whiney).

    7.)This may sound weird, but when I think about you(which isn't that often), I think of a little boy named Billy. maybe this is because your last name is close to Billy(Bilyk), or maybe it's because of your banner, which depicts a little anime boy. Now don't get me wrong, but I don't think of anything uh, "special" towards you, but you're one of my fav Q&A hosts, mainly because you almost always post my letters.

    Well, that's all for now. Hope I didn't freak you out with that last comment, and have a nice day, or night, depending on whenever you post the column.

    The Masked Mystere "The difficult is not impossible, the impossible, merely difficult

    Aegis:
    Actually, they were my suggestions, not that it matters...

    I agree, "Boom Boom Dollar" is a great song. In fact, most DDR games are filled with fantastic music. Some of it I don't like, such as the really heavy "Paranoia"-type stuff, but all-in-all it's great.

    Though I own Lunar: SSSC, I've yet to play it, so I'm left to ask, "a little like what?"

    Regarding your point number 6, first off, I'm glad to see I'm not alone in placing high emphasis on sound effects. Secondly, Square didn't intentionally change Chrono Trigger's sound effects. That's the fault of the PlayStation trying to emulate the SNES' sound chip. Trust me, it's not different because they wanted it to be that way.

    Regarding point 7... that's great. Just keep your distance, or I'm calling the cops.




    End of the Road:

    I had intended to include a couple more letters, as one might have otherwise guessed by the placement of the column's "intermission." However, time is an evil beast, knowing no bounds and hell-bent on destroying our lives. Translation? I've got class tomorrow and I'm tired like a fox.

    As an overview, Chrono Cross received the most votes for best soundtrack, and Grandia received the most votes for worst soundtrack. I hope you all have a pleasant week, and I'll catch you crazy crackers here again, I guarantee.


    Andrew P. Bilyk wears T-shirts. Sometimes.

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