Game Music Goes Indie

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With the advent of XBox Live Arcade, the Playstation Store, Nintendo’s WiiWare Channel and even the iPhone App Store, we may well have entered the Golden Age of independent game development. Tech journalists, geeky bloggers and the gaming community itself can’t seem to stop singing the praises of titles like Jonathan Blow’s artsy platform puzzler Braid, unique and quirky outings incorporating nontraditional aesthetics that easily set them apart from more mainstream fare.

While the reality of these projects is certainly far more complex, the general consensus seems to be that such avenues finally make it feasible for the bedroom coder to not only get his product out there to the masses, but to actually turn a profit. Yet while much attention is being paid to this obvious paradigm shift with regard to game design, the strides taken in the related realm of music and sound design often go unnoticed.

It wasn’t until the recent release of Capcom’s Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix that I personally took note of the doors that have been opened for independent musicians, arrangers and producers in gaming’s new era. Though the Street Fighter franchise is the very epitome of the traditional videogame, this downloadable title not only updated the graphics and play modes of the series’ highly successful sequel, but invited the OverClocked ReMix community to contribute alternate musical selections to this revamped outing. This juxtaposition of a well established, big-name property and true fan-generated content somehow put into perspective the role that the independent musical artist could potentially play as gaming moves forward into the new millennium. 

Fittingly enough, OCR, an organization firmly rooted in the belief that game music still retains its beauty and elegance even when divorced from its interactive element, went on to freely release the soundtrack in question for fans to enjoy while away from their consoles. Likewise, many other independent game soundtracks, such as Kyle Gabler’s Elfman-inspired work from World of Goo and the eerie accompaniment from my current console addiction LIT, have also been made available via their developers’ sites. 

While the videogame is very much a visual medium, it often relies heavily upon music to convey the finer points of elements like mood and setting. From the double-time chip-funk of Super Mario Bros as your last seconds wind down on the play clock to the arcade pomp and circumstance of Gauntlet‘s opening strains, game music is immersive, evocative and, above all else, functional. It’s an often ignored art form that nonetheless has both its celebrated heroes and its most ardent adherents. Moreover, it has a song for all tastes.

Some of my own favorite modern musical moments have come from the relatively unassuming locale of the downloadable indie. One example is WiiWare launch title Pop, and, while an official soundtrack has yet to be released, producer Andrew Curnock of Beat Therapy/Game Audio Australia was kind enough to direct me to a series of YouTube clips showcasing that game’s infectious electronica. An example is included below for your listening pleasure. Give it a spin, and then meditate a bit on the sounds of gaming yet to come.

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