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More Than Just Noise: Stereotoid Edition


Always a group wanting to get the last word in a couple of us threw this together. It's our attempt at a Monthly Musing done as a group. The results are...interesting. We have one review, a few mini-musings, and a rant that I totally just typed and left completely as is so it may not make anything sense at all but it was fun as hell to write.

So hopefully you'll find a little something here you can nod your head to, or shake it in disapproval, or generally just ponder on.

As we say goodbye to this month's musing I want to thank Ross for picking up the Monthly Musing idea after Anthony left and thusly giving us this month's awesome topic. As a music nerd and a gaming nerd it was truly horrifying, revolting, interesting, inspiring, and metal to learn the various taste and opinions of my Dtoiders.

Album: Mass Effect Original Soundtrack

Artist: Jack Wall and Sam Hulick and featuring additional music by Richard Jacques and David Kates

Label: Sumthing

Released: November 20, 2007

Genre: Video Game Soundtrack

*Sub-genres Ambient, synth, Score

Sounds like: One part Blade Runner, one part Inception, all parts awesome

A great game is the sum of many parts. Some are obvious like the graphics or art style that draws you in immediately. As a gamer, I can appreciate a beautiful game and can become engaged with an engrossing story line and sold gameplay mechanics. However, it doesnít click for me unless the soundtrack is excellent as well. A memorable soundtrack can make a good game become great and a great game become a memory that you will carry with you as long as you are a gamer, if not longer. Soundtracks act as music that can give a game a soul. It speaks to the quiet, soft parts of us that we donít readily access. Thatís why I love music and thatís why I wanted to write a bit about the soundtrack for Mass Effect.

The music for Mass Effect needed to convey this idea of the future and sleekness maintaining a sense of intrigue and courage that has not changed in humanity of the centuries. The soundtrack achieves this by dividing the soundtrack between synth-heavy pumping beats and swelling orchestral scores. Thick organic synthesizer pulses out like an ion engine and provides a sublime future sound for this space epic. Think the soundtrack to Blade Runner meets pretty much any soundtrack John Carpenter made in the 80ís. This stuff ranges from peaceful to dark but never feels forced or silly. Where the synthesizer tracks focus on the futuristic setting of the game, the orchestral tracks appeal to the fight humanity is engaged in and feel much more personal. These are songs of hope and determination. They are the soundtrack to Shepardís struggles not only to defeat Saren but to prove that humanity can be a part of a universe much larger than themselves.

It should be noted that there is a track called M4, Pt. II sung by the band Faunts on the soundtrack. At first, I didnít care for it. It took me out of my own thoughts and felt it wasnít necessary to have something this jarringly different on the soundtrack and disrupt the pace. However, after multiple listens, I have to admit that it grows on you. Imagine a space rock Joy Division but Canadian and less angry but more brooding. It has a menacing, ethereal quality and uses just enough minor chords to keep me into it. Add to that the fact that it plays over the ending credits and I think contextually it fits.
Even if you have played Mass Effect go back and give the soundtrack a shot. You may find that there is some powerful music to be found.

Personal favorite tracks: M4, Pt.II, Battle at Eden Prime, The Citadel

TL;DR: Synth-laden future sounds, orchestral fistbumping, and a dark brooding song to darkly brood to

- Occams electric toothbrush

When we were asked to write a review of a game soundtrack, my mind instantly gravitated towards the Tony Hawk games. Why? Because those games are what made me the person I am today. I know, it sounds strange. Most people remember the series as a re-hashed cash in, but to me the games will always hold a special place in my heart.

My late mother bought me my first Tony Hawk game, Tony Hawkís Pro Skater 2, for the N64 in I think 2000. I was about eight or so at the time and I was starting to get into the skate culture. I lacked the athletic ability to actually skate, but the world of it fascinated me to no end. Tony Hawk was my personal idol, like most young boys following the 1999 X-Games, where he landed the first recorded 900. The Tony Hawk games were my first real gaming addiction. After playing THPS 3 at a friendís house, I was hooked. I would go over just to play the game, which I did for hours at a time. Later, I got a PS2 for Christmas and THPS 4 as a gift from my aunt/godmother. And the rest is another story for another time.

But the reason we are all here is simple: music. The thing is, I canít just pick one game in the series and review its soundtrack. I owe the series much more than that. Pretty much the entirety of my musical tastes from 2000 or so to now can be traced to the Tony Hawk games. My love of Primus, CKY, Clutch, Bad Religion, Queens of the Stone Age, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Kasabian, Anglo Jackson, Silversun Pickups, and countless songs from countless artists all stem directly from these games. I honestly donít know what I would be listening to if it werenít for these games. Admittedly, at first I really didnít pay attention to the music, but by the fourth game, I started taking more notice. I remember having only Less Than Jakeís ďAll My Friends Are MetalheadsĒ on my playlist in THPS 4 for the longest time. I really liked that songÖ

Though I listened mostly to the rock/metal/some punk stuff on the soundtracks, I was often exposed to songs and genres that I would never have listened to otherwise. I developed an appreciation of Ska and underground Rap, which though I donít listen to them normally, I put them in the song rotation anyway. It broke up the gameplay flow somewhat.

As for what the music did for the gameplay, wellÖ..it really didnít do much from a technical standpoint. Itís simply more fun to skate to music, ask any skate punk. The music either chills you out or gets you excited, just like real skating. You know, without all the injuries and consequences. Neversoft always knew how to put together a top-notch soundtrack, and, one can argue, they still do as the current developers of the Guitar Hero games. There was always an excellent mix of popular artists and groups no one outside of their town has heard of. I remember trying to research a band called Noise, whose song I liked on the eighth game. It took me weeks to find their site, which only had a blog two years out of date and a couple of pictures from a long-forgotten show. These guys were obviously incredibly small time. Thatís whatís wonderful about the games for me; it was an amazing resource for my musical library. These games are why I will support licensed music in games (when appropriate) for the rest of my life. Itís just a shame that the mentality used in these games is gone. Now when you see licensed songs in a game, itís usually large, well-known bands. I miss learning about all of the small time and underground acts that only a few hundred people have heard of.

Well, there you have it; this is my retrospective on the music of the Tony Hawk games. Looking back, itís a shame the series went the way it did; Proving Ground (the last real game in the series) actually did some things good. If only they could reclaim the glory that was Underground. I will always enjoy the memories I have of the series, simply based on the times I spent with them. They were the first games where I truly became good at something. Never before (or after, for that matter) was I ever significantly better at something than all my friends. I can still break out some insane combos, and Iím incredibly rusty. The games, and their music, have gotten so deep into my skin and my history that they are a part of who I am today. They are the reason I play games, the reason I love music games, the reason I am here writing about music. No other games, and no other source of music, have ever or will ever influence me more than these games.


Yeah I know, it's a crappy logo

Iíve probably said this before, whether it was in Stereocast or some random tweet or Tumblr post, but for a while, I was solely a rap kid. I swear to our robot overlord, I was blacker when I was 7-9 years old than I am now, and back then, I had no problem with it. Hell, I played through the entirety of Duke Nukem 3D with my brother while listening to the entirety of Stankonia by Outkast. I was pretty hardcore on that southern rap stuff.

I then went through my musical changing phases. I discovered, I liked more than just rap, such as rock, electronic, punk, all that stuff. While I went through my musical coming of age (or as I know like to call them, phases, as Iíll change genreís a lot before I actually settled on liking everything but country), I began being attracted to licensed soundtracks, especially those of EA Games. Now before hand, I didnít have much experience with bands that I knew being in games I played, so when I first picked up SSX Tricky for my Gamecube, I didnít know I was about look forward to every EA Trax release afterwards.

SSX Tricky was a special game for me. First off, it was one of my first EA Sports titles, back when EA Sports still had the sub-studio BIG, and second off, it was probably the first game I had played that didnít have a soundtrack composed for the game. Honestly, I didnít know the famous Run DMC track would be the header of everything I did in that game, but I was surprised with how much time I spent just playing races so I could listen to some of my favorite songs over and over again. The artist that stuck out to me in that game was BT, who would be one of my first shots into the electronic scene. I can honestly say that when I mentioned BT, someone told me Daft Punk was better, and the rest was history.

In time, I would grow to love what EA Trax put together for their respective games. NBA Street Vol. 2 reminded me that Pete Rock and CL Smooth were still freaking awesome. NFL Street 2 introduced me to the X-ecutioners, Burnout 3 drove me deeper into punk and indie rock such as The Von Bondies, The Futureheads, and Pennywise, and the following Burnout Revenge gave me The Dead 60s, We Are Scientists, and Mindless Self Indulgence. Although, I was really damn surprised when I started checking up on MSIís other stuff. EA could have warned a guy.

However, nothing out of the EA Trax lineup hooked me more than that other SSX game, SSX 3. Basement Jaxx, Rokysopp, The Chemical Brothers, N.E.R.D., Kinky; the impressive lineup of artists that, at the time I was not familiar with blew me away. Along with the excellent sound manipulation and the badass DJ Atomica (donít judge me, heís badass and you know it), SSX3 came to be another focal point for me musically. I mean, it astounds me that I totally would have missed Rokysopp until this year, had it not been for SSX 3. Can you believe that?

EA Trax still holds true for me today. Iíve picked up at least 4 or 5 new artists from Burnout Paradise, the Madden soundtracks are always a joy to listen to, and when I downloaded the Fight Night Round 3 demo last year, I spent more time sitting at the title screen listening to songs than I did busting up peopleís faces. If youíre looking for new music to listen to, or good music to listen to, or both, I can testify that EA has what you need.

Except SSX 4. Still waiting on that one.


Music games can be a touchy subject for some people. The genre is far from without its critics; from gamers to real musicians, it seems like everyone has something to say about the games with the little plastic controllers. However, as time goes on, the bridge between game and teaching tool is fast closing, as is obvious with the upcoming Rock Band 3. But I am not here to talk about the games themselves; I am here to talk about what makes the games what they are, namely, the music itself.

Though they didnít have nearly the same effect on me as the Tony Hawk games did, music games (starting with Guitar Hero II for me) have shaped both my musical tastes and, to some degree, my self esteem. To say that I discovered a number of bands through music games in incredibly understandable, and also probably very common. They didnít turn me onto certain band in the same way that the Tony Haw games did, but when I played those games I didnít really have much of a musical palate. Those games game me my musical tastes. By the time I started playing music games, I already had a pretty established musical range. What attracted me to the genre was what attracts most people to the genre; the illusion of talent.

This is where my self esteem comes in Look, Iím a short, chubby, somewhat lonesome gamer, I donít have a lot of self esteem to start with. Once I started playing on hard (later expert) and beating y friends, I felt awesome. Iíll be the first to admit that itís kind of pathetic to say that being good at a music game is a morale boost, but thatís what it is for me. When I finally got to expert on Rock Band 2ís drums, I felt amazing. Thereís nothing quite like keeping perfect time throughout a difficult and fast song. For me, itís never been that much about the music, though itís high up there I importance. Music games have always been about the experience and the feeling of adequacy it gave me that I couldnít find elsewhere. Itís similar to what being good at Tony Hawk did for me before I started playing music games.

However, as the days and months went by, the dust began to gather on my tiny plastic guitar and drums. My peripherals sit unplayed on either side of my TV. Is it because I tire of them? Maybe a little, but I will never forget what they gave me: self esteem and some awesome songs to listen to on my MP3 player.


As a child I have many memories of videogame music. I wouldnít go as far as to say Iím a huge chiptune fan but thereís definitely a nostalgia factor that kind of sweeps me away. Pretty much any Sonic game (leading up to Sonic Adventure 2 in fact), The Lion King with itís amazing recreation of the films score in 16-bit, Road Rash, and countless others all immediately come to mind. These are the videogame tracks I love. Not so much because theyíre timeless classics of music but because as a child thatís what left an impression on me. Even well into the Dreamcast era I can recall to you soundtracks, not wholly original but enjoyable nonetheless, that blew me away. Halo and Jet Grind Radio probably being the last two original or pseudo-original soundtracks that have ever really hit home with me. Iíve yet to find a recent soundtrack that I can say has impressed me and I think now I know why.

None of them have left an impression on me. I donít feel like anything in most recent games has really taken me places. I remember playing The Lion King as a kid and remembering the feeling like I was Simba. Hearing I Just Canít Wait to Be King playing as the colorful world danced all about on the screen and thinking that this was it. I was in the film, I felt like I had become a part of that scene. Now to that same effect itís not as if The Lion King was its own soundtrack. It owes much of its impact to the original creators who created the filmís score. But then I look at games like Jet Grind Radio (and itís Xbox remake) which undoubtedly reflected so much personality and character that it was hard not to come away without feeling like the game had had some kind of impact. The soundtrack was cool, it was fresh, it had a bit of a mean streak but it was done in such a flavorful and colorful fashion and you felt it. You could tape a piece of cardboard onto the screen, blast the speakers, and even still the feeling of playful and urbane rebellion just lit up the room.

Fast forward a few years and the concept of the big budget orchestral score has gotten everyoneís attention. After titles like Final Fantasy and Halo really managed to bring the idea to life the entire industry seemed to run with it. I remember press conferences where developers would brag about how big the orchestra was, who conducted it, where it was recorded. But it was all bullshit. It just felt like everything else that we had been exposed to for years. And after hearing Uemtsu or OíDonnell and Salvatori who could really compare?

See hereís the thing, Uematsu, OíDonnell, Salvatori, these guys had a vision. They wanted to impress upon their audiences this array of emotion and they did that with style. They didnít use by the numbers techniques but instead they went their own way. Uematsu has a flair for the dramatic, he knows how to tug at your heartstrings and even moreso he knows what to use to do so. Heís an interesting master of fusion and he doesnít hold back at the concept of a challenge. He hits it big and hard and for that he manages to make melodrama manageable.

OíDonnell and Salvatori of Bungie are just terribly talented folks through and through. They too had a vision. A vision of a space saga, one filled with mystery, discovery, and grandiose. But ironically most of their tracks donít even reflect that grandiose in the typical fashion. For the most part, not entirely but for the most part, they do it with minimalism and atmosphere and for that theyíre incredibly successful. What grabs your attention is chanting, the non-traditional drums, the soft and mellow strings. Sure Halo has itís epic moments but for me, mind you not traditionally a big Halo fan, I left remembering the little bits. The soft harmonies, the quiet chants, the songs that played during the moments when most videogames would just pull the cord and leave you in silence until the next epic moment.

It is my feeling, though Iím sure not entirely shared by my friends or even readers, that much of this has been lost and itís a shame. The music is composed well, and to some extent of the last 2 or 3 years I would argue, it has been improving in quality but more importantly in diversity. Now that it seems thereís nowhere else to go for the generic big budget cinema score the call for uniquity is back. At least to some extent. Chiptunesí recent rise in popularity leaves in me a fear that maybe what once left impressions on us, what separate our sound from the sound of everyone else, is just the thing of nostalgia and niche. Iím not one to say that the ďGolden DaysĒ are behind us and thereís nothing left to believe in but Iíd be a liar if I said there isnít a tiny pit of pessimism.

I mean, again, the music means well. It is well written and for the most part well scored. Recent titles like Red Dead Redemption and the Mass Effect trilogy are absolutely fine examples of well written scores that go beyond the call of duty both as pieces of the overall presentation and as music in general. But they still donít leave me satisfied. They donít leave an impression. I donít feel like the score is making me a part of something. A happy observer? Most definitely. When playing RDR I really felt like I was seeing before my eyes, and hearing with my ears, the old west as fabled to me by the brilliant Spaghetti Westerns that entranced my Texan father. And when playing Mass Effect the score especially took me to the voyages of Captain Janeway as she traversed the starship Voyager through unknown space; tale which my mother exposed me to. But, and dear God in heaven I hope this rant makes sense to someone, it never felt like I could put tape on the tv screen, blast the volume, and feel like these were audible portals. Rather they felt like audible set pieces and Iím not yet sure if itís the quality of composition or just that Iím growing unimpressionable. Time will tell I suppose.

I guess I can close with saying that I can appreciate where the music has gone. I can appreciate that we live in an age where the styles of music, be it licensed or original, can live side-by-side. Retro throwbacks like Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game can have delightful chiptune music sitting beside NBA Streetís amazing hip-hop soundtrack, Brutal Legendsí incredible metal soundtrack, Child of Edenís trance soundtrack, and so on and so forth. And I donít believe Iím a lost cause, and I know itís not a nostalgia that I cling to. Iím impressed for sure but not fully impressioned. I know it can happen, and to be frank I think Child of Eden and the new DmC (assuming that wicked music from the trailer is what makes it in-game) will do that. I can see the opportunities. In the meantime Iím perfectly content being that guy driving through Austin with Hideki Nagaumaís Rock It On blaring through my car.

I just want to remind people this exist and is awesome.



Hope you enjoyed this little mash-up! See you tomorrow everyone!
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About Stereotoidone of us since 7:53 PM on 03.05.2010