Thursday, June 3, 2010

Thursday Thoughts - Music

So this week's Thursday Thoughts may seem a little random at first. This week's installment was going to revolve around how critical reviews, willing that they're honest and fair, are what indie developers should want to see. You know, rather than dishonest 10's-across-the-board reviews by publications or sites that only wish to please others and keep any sort of advertising/product flow coming. But I think that can wait for another week while I go onto a more personal subject that, in the end, will still relate to gaming: Depeche Mode.

If someone told me I only had one band to listen to for the remainder of my existence, I don't think I'd hesitate with my answer of "Depeche Mode". And looking back over the last 12 years of my life, there's no one reason for that. I didn't get into the band until the very late 90's, I have nothing that all of a sudden got me listening to them, and I didn't become a die-hard fan overnight. Yet over the last decade no band has made me feel more focused on whatever I'm doing. For some odd reason, the music seems to drown out everything except for two things: itself, and whatever my senses and thoughts are pointed toward. Even emotions, even my hatred becomes a pointed spear rather than a desperate net.

I'm pretty sure this is starting to beg the question, "What does this have to do with gaming or even this blog?" Earlier today I was thinking, as I often do, about the kinds of games I'd make if I had an ounce of talent to do so. Ideas don't craft themselves into the 1's and 0's necessary to entertain others, and even though the tools are in front of me I'm pretty sure I'd be the farthest thing from a capable carpenter with them. Back to earlier, though. I thought, if I did have the motivation and ability to create the games I'd enjoy making, what music would I want in them? My mind went through the different styles of music that I normally hear in what I play. Would I want some trance? Some metal? Maybe melt a ton of different styles together like Yasunori Mitsuda does with the Chrono and Xeno games? And then it hit me: I'd want something that sounds like it came right off of Ultra. I'd want music that not only pleased my senses but also gave me a calm, focused look at the puzzle at hand.

And, really, games are all about puzzles. Even the most frantic fighter or racing game is a series of puzzles that need to be solved right then and there. Of course, I'm pretty sure hearing "Sister of Night" isn't all that great in every gaming scenario. Pounding out a combo during a crucial moment in Super SF4 isn't something I see myself doing to "It's No Good", and I doubt the BOOM HEADSHOT FPS crowd isn't going to go for otherwise appropriately named "Barrel of a Gun" as the soundtrack of their latest Call of Duty skirmish.

So where would it fit in? Why, in a lot of the indie games I see on the XBLIG Marketplace, of course. One such recent game, platformer Apple Jack, has a soundtrack that reminds me of this idea. The soundtrack itself is a simple acoustic guitar that sounds like it's being played near a campfire for the sheer sake of wooing a girl, but it's the presentation of it that matches the idea: it's there without invading the gameplay. You don't hum it while playing, you don't even really think about it other than acknowledging that it's there and that it's good. It almost pushes your mind toward the game, relaxing you and focusing your thoughts and efforts on what needs to be accomplished. Which is good in that game, as it's difficult and requires your attention, and I think the same thing would be accomplished with that sort of non-invasive new wave/electronica.

I know many will disagree with this and probably can't play a game without whatever the cool kids listen to these days playing on their iPods. I don't blame them. But from my experience and thoughts, I don't think there's any music out there that I'd rather see as a soundtrack for the majority of what I play than the synthpop sound of Depeche Mode. And if I ever do find the ability and desire to make games rather than just write about them, rest assured whatever music accompanies it will have its roots with my favorite electronic band.

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