Hello LusiCharms. Longtime readers of my weekly column (yes, I am aware how falsely prestigious I make my patchwork self-serving editorials sound by phrasing it as a “weekly column”) will be aware that video game music has no small rotation in my thoughts regarding the medium. I started something called The Nobuo Review that I never really got up and running, and even tried to dissect the way that gamer and symphony cultures interact. In fact, it was just over a year ago when I posted my claim that game music needs to change. My point is similar to that one, dear LusiDuos, but I want to come at it from a slightly different angle. A lot can change in a year.
There are two works specifically that has changed the way I look at what game music could be. One is a thirteen minute track written by a guy only known as PanchoVeda. There was a time when I was considering using a tracker to write a few tracks for LFoPD, and this overly ambitious effort would have been a long-forgotten chapter in my life were it not for the serendipitous posting of Sans Deli in the forums. I think the track is a masterpiece. It uses simple premises to build something more complicated and it gives the unique feeling that it was specifically written for an 8-bit sound. That might sound like an obvious observation, but many tracker tunes that I have come across give the sense that they are written in 8-bit for novelty or nostalgic reasons, not to take advantage of the medium’s unique sounds.
I do not think that Sans Deli would necessarily be good video game music nor is my point that games should try to revert to the 8-bit sound. I was rather taken in by the realization that there are still composers who are dedicated to all that music can be. Somebody with PanchoVeda’s musical skills and sensibilities would be able to speak to producers and writers on a game and actually get inside the themes and moods of the title to not just support the game’s intentions, but to be an extension of them. A character’s theme should be as essential to who that character is as their dialogue and actions. Music has that potential. Technology has been such a double-edged sword for music composition and creation. On one hand, it is easy for almost anybody to write music in increasingly creative forms, but on the other it has also become easier to make something dull sound impressive. Competence has been accepted as good or even great to some gamers as they seem to forget what music is capable of. To me, PanchoVedo provides an example that good composers and video game sensibilities have a symbiotic relationship that was initially taken advantage of but is largely forgotten now, especially by big budget titles. People now appear to be so used to competence that they have forgotten what “good” actually is.
The second work that reinstated my disillusionment with video game music was something that is even further from the medium: Fantasia. I encourage anybody who has not seen this film as an adult to do so as soon as possible. It is a shocking reminder of how Walt Disney himself, while an extremely competent businessman, was an artist first. Fantasia can be watched by children, but it is not intended for children. It is intended to be a work of art and it succeeds almost entirely. Better than any other attempt I know of, Fantasia gives music and picture equal respect and value. Re-watching it for the second time in two years initially frustrated me because it reminded me of how little patience modern society has for letting themselves truly delve into great works, seemingly more interested in something novel to have an immediate reaction to instead of forming a relationship with a complicated piece of music or the beautiful layers of animation. But then, as my mind tends to do, I related Fantasia to video games, wondering what would happen if a game found a truly talented composer and dedicated their game to match the form and themes of the music. Of course it would be a different process than something like Fantasia because video game music usually has to loop, but why not give music the respect that Disney did over seventy years ago?
I hope I am not misunderstood, dear LusiScores, because it is not my wish to have classical music overtake video games (although I would not be opposed), but rather that both game-makers and composers step up to the plate to unleash the potential of both.
Do you feel I am being dramatic? Perhaps I am, but so is Beethoven’s music, and I like it that way. I also challenge you to watch Fantasia or listen to Sans Deli multiple times over the course of a few weeks, and not just in the background. Either way, sound off in the comments below with your opinions on the state of video game music. Indie games are starting to get the right idea, but I feel we still have a long way to go. Do you agree?