Out 4- Blips, bleeps and noise
wah and double wah, I'm really, really depressed. What, no anger?
Piss off, you cheery bitches. Anger is last year's black, and too
much of a good thing will really mess with your publicly perceived
image. Or something. Yes yes, I am teary eyed and tragically morose
due to the old 'games as art' argument. Why? Well, it's really annoying
listening to morons whine on about the beauty of a game without
even mentioning the audio aspect. What? Are they habitual mute button
abusers or something? Silly sods...
people have obviously never heard of Hiroki
Kondo or Hideaki
Kobayashi. These people care not for the effort that an appropriate
score requires, nor the talent that allows a cart-based soundtrack
to still outclass most CD based music nearly ten years after release.
It's hard for these people to understand that, at least in the field
of games, music has been working against itself. If it is to grow,
become more than just a side issue, then it needs to learn from
the mistakes of the past, and work out which direction to take.
the early days, it was all blips, bleeps and noise. There was no
room for aural eloquence, simply because the technology didn't allow
for it. Sound was merely functional, keeping the player informed
as to what was going on. Those beeps in Pong are not merely for
entertainment, they're a valuable tool. Keeping your eye on the
block is one thing, knowing instinctively that your bat has returned
the ball and you can line yourself up for the return is quite another.
The engine hum in Lunar Lander, the steadily increasing drone of
the Space Invaders, the siren sounds of Pacman's power pills; all
useful tools, whether that be for enhancing judgement, or provoking
an emotional response for that burst of adrenaline. These were the
foundations of early video game music.
gaming equivalent of a party piece
the next big step in sound generation was merely seen as a novelty.
Digitised samples made a debut in the arcade with titles such as
Sinistar and infiltrated the home with Mattel's Intellivoice add-on
and games such as Impossible Mission. All in all, this technology
had no bearing on gameplay whatsoever, serving only to give a flashy
touch, the gaming equivalent of a party piece. Had this technique
been used to the full, it could have had some interesting repercussions,
yet the timing just wasn't right. Archaic hardware and a method
limited by design didn't help matters one iota. Sampling just isn't
the same as music, y'know? It just doesn't have the potential, or
the adaptability that realtime generation and chip-based music has.
years further down the line and sampling is pushed into the background.
It is chip-based music that rules the roost, and thus a golden age
begins, one that has yet to be topped, in my opinion. Not only did
we have scores that wove themselves to the action, thanks to Lucasart's
Imuse, but also the double whammy of the Megadrive (techno MIDI
mastery) and the SNES (sweeping orchestral beauty). These two consoles
proved that technical limitations could not smother the creativity
of the industry's best, quite the opposite in fact. Then what happened?
Some tosser decided that a u-turn was the best idea, so it was back
to sampling in the form of CD based tracks.
limited, no room for scope. It's obvious why CD music was considered
as the next step forward: it's very easy to do. There's no real
effort in burning a couple of tracks to a CD and calling it a soundtrack.
Chip based music was seen as laborious and limited in CD-ROM's formative
years, but only in terms of sound quality. Personally, I find CD
based music totally incongruous to gaming. I've heard so many hot-shot
badly chosen ska-poppy-punk tracks fade-out abruptly that it makes
me want to throw up. If I wanted to listen to The Offspring, I would
have bought their fucking album. Now, I expect very little from
game soundtracks when I used to expect, and receive, so much. Occasionally,
there's a welcome surprise, but more often than not, these surprises
appear on a machine that wasn't built for sound, the N64. It's funny
what a GPU can do to aid your soundtrack, as Kondo is well aware.
wall of sound
it all comes down to my central believe that if you remove the hardship,
then people will become complacent, lazy and self serving. Game
music has gone downhill, that's for certain, but can it improve
with the next generation of hardware? It's possible. Finally, hardware
manufacturers seem to have woken up to the fact that a licensed
soundtrack just isn't good enough, as is reflected in the sound
hardware in the PS2, X-Box and the GC. Of recent, there have been
few shining stars in terms of music, and even fewer of them are
streamed from CD to speaker. If only developers would bite the fucking
bullet and allow sound chips to shine, rather than relying on a
technology that allows for little adaptability or interactivity,
then we might have a wall of sound, rather than a fence.
Badly spelt rants or back pats to: Phreak@phreaquency.freeserve.co.uk
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