I am a doctoral student in Cultural Anthropology, with a bachelor's in English & Creative Writing. I specialize in subcultures and cognition.
I love gaming, and I have followed the industry and its technology since I was a kid in the 80's. I have gamed primarily on PC since 2000, though I still follow console news and hardware as well. I was also a sales associate at Micro Center for a while, which was a great experience and got me into PC hardware.
I worked as a mapper and beta tester for the mod Action Half-Life. My maps, most of which have vanilla Half-Life Deathmatch versions, are available on my website.
I've been on a game soundtrack kick lately. Since my ex-girlfriend died two years ago, I have had difficulty concentrating and it's made getting schoolwork done almost impossible. Listening to game music seems to help, though, especially when I bring my super-nice Audio-Technica headphones with me (I tend to study/write at cafes with my netbook). Even before she died, the Shatter soundtrack was one of my favorite pieces of study music.
Anyway, I've found myself not only buying the soundtrack editions of games like FEZ, They Bleed Pixels, and Fly'N lately, but digging around for free soundtracks as well. It turned out that I had access to far more music already than I realized.
Some soundtracks are simply available as free direct downloads, which I'll cover in a separate blog next week. First, though, you should know that you probably already own way more game soundtracks than you think, especially if you game on PC. There are a few ways you might already have access to them, and that's what I'm here to share.
Many games on GoG include the game soundtrack along with the other extras. Just double-checking my catalog there netted me a few I'd missed. Gamers on GoG have also made some lists of games with free soundtracks you can get elsewhere:
GoG Free Soundtracks List (original thread)
Game Installation Directories and Steam
While most games don't officially include a soundtrack, you can frequently find the music sitting in some folder in .mp3, .ogg, .flac, or .wav format. These aren't always ideal – they may not be properly named, or require conversion to a more practical format – but if you really like a game they can be great, especially if there is no official soundtrack to buy. If you don't see the files, they may be "packed" with other game files in a large, .zip-like file. You can sometimes open these with a program like Winrar, or by downloading the game or engine's mod tools.
Retail games install to different locations, and GoG lets you choose, so you're on your own looking for those. Steam game installs are a bit easier to find. To check a specific Steam game's directory, right-click on it in your library and select "Properties" from the drop-down menu. A box will pop up. Select the "Local Files" tab. Then click the "Browse Local Files" button, and the game directory will pop up.
If you want to go through all your installed games manually, Steam games are installed to this directory (unless you changed it), and sorted by name:
It didn't take long to find an example on my own. Ys I includes three versions of its soundtrack – the original, a 2000ish version, and a contemporary mix. In the game installation was a "music" directory with 75 files. They had three different prefixes, 25 in each group. That's right – all three soundtracks in .ogg format, right there for the taking! No proper names or anything, but sometimes you can find those elsewhere if it matters to you.
Most of the Humble Bundles have included the soundtracks to their games. I slacked on downloading these when I was first buying the bundles, so when I went back to get them all it was pretty crazy how much music I owned but had neglected to claim. Definitely double-check any bundles you own, and remember to take the soundtracks into consideration the next time one comes up!
While hardly ideal, YouTube can be a useful place to find soundtracks, particularly for older titles from the 80s and 90s. Someone put together a playlist, for example, with a lot of 8-bit tunes. Sometimes people put up an entire soundtrack as a single file; other times they break it up track-by-track, just like you'd expect for a regular soundtrack. You can listen to them right on YouTube, obviously, or download and convert them to a preferred format – a lot of work, but worth it for your favorite games.
The downside is that quality on YouTube is a mixed bag. Also, old game music was generated through .midi files by the console itself, so it sounds different on different players. Ideally, you would want music recorded directly from the console itself. Even then there is variance; later models of the Genesis had inferior sound output, for example.
Often if a game's music is available, fan sites will either host it or link to it. If you like Metroid, for example, you can find some of the music on Metroid Database. Look around and you'll find similar sites dedicated to many of your favorite games.
File Conversion, Downloading, etc.
I use DownloadHelper to download YouTube videos, and SUPER or an old (when it was free) version of dbPoweramp to convert between formats. If anyone could suggest some good conversion software (flv/ogg/wav/flac/mp4 to mp3 mostly) that's readily available, leave a comment and I'll add your info here.
Coming Next Week
In Part 2 I'll be linking to some free, legally available soundtracks that you can just go download directly. I only know so many, though, and that GoG Free Soundtrack List is pretty impressive already. Anyway, if you know any I should include, mention/link them in the comments and I'll be sure they are included. I'll probably list some game soundtracks that are flat out worth buying, too.