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What do you think of this track from a game soundtrack?

Discussion in 'Tips, Tricks & Talk' started by Martin Hoffmann, May 19, 2019.

  1. A while ago I mentioned that I've recently stumbled over a videogame soundtrack that I would really love to hear your thoughts on, and I was encouraged to post it, so here it is:

    I'll share later how and why it's meaningful to me, but first I'd like to hear your thoughts on it in general, and specifically:

    - If you don't know anything about this game, what kind of genre/gameplay do you think this was composed for?

    - If you don't know it already, can you guess who the composer might be, based on the music?

    - If you didn't know this soundtrack already, does it come as a surprise to you that it actually is from a videogame soundtrack?

    - If you have no idea when this game was released, what would your guess be based on the music?
  2. Sure....I'll bite.

    I don't know anything about video games so .....

    Well... since it's called Total Annihilation (Commander Pack) I would guess a military strategy game


    No. I have known for years that video games get very large budgets for music.

  3. Old
    Well I played the game back in the days..1998? damn... I actually tbh I don´t think the music, specifically that track fits the game at all and I know the game pretty well. Though I think the track by itself is great and sure, I remember back then they did those things with higher budgets which was not so uncommon, think also about the shadows of the empire or Knights of the old republic and other titles. No Surprise for me especially that there are many great video game soundtracks from the past. Jeremy soul..right?
  4. #4 Eduardo Lopez, May 20, 2019
    Last edited: May 20, 2019
    Uhhh!! I haven´t heard this one! (big video game music fan!). I remember playing this game... can´t remember the music though.... I´m gonna have to get this soundtrack!

    I found a little bit funky that he went for that Lydian flavour at 0:20... I think it´s just personal taste, but I feel it does not belong, reminds me of The Simpsons with the driving ostinato.

    Man... I wonder what happened to Jeremy Soule, I don´t find his latest soundtracks this well orchestrated and composed, maybe he change his style?

    Thanks for sharing!
    Martin Hoffmann likes this.
  5. #5 Rohann van Rensburg, May 20, 2019
    Last edited: May 20, 2019
    Thanks for sharing! Didn't realize this was Soule. He's always had a solid melodic sensibility, his Elder Scrolls games have some wonderfully simple form to them and plenty of repeating/varied motifs.
    @Eduardo Lopez I think his newer scores are composed fantastically. They contain memorable, developed motifs that repeat and fit into simple structure. They're not as flashy or orchestra heavy, but I think they're more effective and set a better atmosphere.

    Video game music has attracted me as much as it has for a few reasons, namely creative freedom, more time/proportional budget, and structure. The scores are so wildly varied and differ tremendously in palette, colour and influence. I've heard people like Gustav Santanello, Jeremy Soule, Mick Gordon, Jesper Kyd or Garry Schyman talk about how the development team kept their fingers out of their work and simply provided them with broad clues, artwork, etc in order to inspire them and push them to create something fresh and interesting. What a dream! And they actually gave them time to work on it. Many of these scores are not on par with symphonic works, but I don't think video game music has that burden. The music is still incredibly interesting, and contains probably some of the most iconic themes in media history (I'll bet more people know a tune from Super Mario Bros and where it came from than they do i.e. Chariots of Fire at this point -- not that the music is comparable, but it is what it is).
    I've also always been attracted to the structure of certain games' music. You listen to a soundtrack, and there are complete pieces of music that don't have to adhere to a film's timing. You get this with symphonic suites as well, but the music is composed as such from the outset.

    Unfortunately game music is too becoming homogenized, but this of course reflects gaming big wigs' lack of regard for quality, artistic integrity or having even the first clue about what fans want, similar to many Hollywood studios I suppose (i.e. EA thinking they need to "consider a new way of releasing games" when literally every comment found online is about how they're obsessed with milking fans dry and only release broken, unfinished trash. Or this, humorous blunder on Blizzard's part, where they're essentially porting their assets onto a Chinese mobile game because they that's a bigger market than the fanbase that has supported them for two decades [don't bother watching it, just click the external to see the like/dislike ratio]:

    Have you ever seen a video with 316 000 dislikes? I haven't.)

    I think the continual hope for artistic integrity in the gaming world is probably indie games, as well as AA studios (I don't game really anymore so it's hard to keep up). Fortunately gamers tend to be a great deal less accepting of mediocrity, so there's yet hope.
    Martin Hoffmann likes this.
  6. Thanks a lot for the replies! I was hoping some of you would enjoy this :). Here is a youtube link with the full soundtrack if you want to listen to the rest of it:

    A while ago I was wondering if I'm even able to "deeply connect" with orchestral soundtrack music in a scenario where I didn't already like the work it was created for. As far as I could remember back then, all the soundtracks that I enjoyed listening to on their own where already "enriched" emotionally for my me having them first heard in context of a game of movie that I liked. The Total Annihilation soundtrack was the turning point for that theory because I was instantly intrigued by it in spite of never having played the game and after a few listens I already ranked it among my favourite orchestral game soundtracks and it has kept its place in the rotation of music that I listen to for a few months now. None of that happens often for me, it was a bit of a revelation to stumble over this through the youtube algorithm, when I was looking for the Supreme Commander Soundtrack.

    I had a hunch you might have played this back in the day! I don't know how or why, but this game went completely under my radar. I played C&C, Warcraft 2, Starcraft etc., but I only really heard about TA when I played Supreme Commander: Forged Alliance (one of the spiritual successors) and a friend praised TA as "the original" version of that game.
    Good deductive reasoning, you are correct. But would you have guessed that based on the music?
    While I have to admit to not having played this specific game, it was described to me as "pretty much Supreme Commander without the big experimental units", and based on that I have to agree with Alexander that I think it doesn't really fit the game/genre. I remember all the other orchestral soundtracks of similar games that I've played (Dawn of War, Supreme Commander, Planetary Annihilation) to be a fair bit slower and less "adventurous" for lack of a better world.

    Frankly I was surprised by the soundtrack. I love it, but I think it's fairly untypical for a game soundtrack if you exclude all the games that are based on existing movie franchises, like all the Star Wars or Star Trek games. As far as I could find out it also was fairly untypical to have a real orchestra recorded for a strategy game in the late 90's when this was released. If you guys can recommend similar game soundtracks that are from original game-IPs (no movie franchises), I'd love to hear them! There's much I haven't played or heard, like all JRPGs.

    Jeremy Soule still does amazing work, no doubt! But I too think there's a big difference in the style that TA had and all the other soundtracks that I know from him. To me this is the most John-Williams-inspired soundtrack that I know in non-Star-Wars games.

    "Call of Duty Infinite Warfare Reveal Trailer" - over 3 million dislikes. Also... "Do you not have phones?" :D
    That Diablo trailer has some of the most forgettable music I've ever heard, which is a huge shame when you consider that the original Diablo 1 had a soundtrack that was so uniquely recognizable and still sticks out.

    I find that interesting because I still can remember some melodies from the Warcraft 2 soundtrack and I haven't played that in way over a decade I think. Also I consider myself very bad at remembering music. Are you sure you did play the game with music when you played it?
  7. Glad you found you were able to connect that way! I find this happens more commonly for me with games than film or TV (especially TV), aside from obvious classics.
    I still remember WC2 melodies. Great score.

    I think that's often what makes JS's work interesting -- he gets the aesthetic there, but he doesn't write a generic sounding score. I didn't realize he did this though, interesting to see him writing like this. I hope he gets the job for writing the Amazon Middle-Earth series. I'm 80% certain it will be a stereotypical trainwreck that sullies the legacy of the original works, but there's a chance it might not.

    He's a huge JW fan, and was influenced by a lot of the composers that influenced JW.

    Haha I missed that one. AAA gaming companies are bizarrely out of touch. They're not even good at running businesses. I hope they mostly get replaced by "indie" studios like From Software, Ninja Theory, etc.

    Oh man, did it ever. I still love this theme:
    Martin Hoffmann likes this.
  8. Well......... I guess I am right there with you. I would never be able to "deeply connect" with this stuff.

    My 2 cents is: it sounds like it is time for you to branch out a bit with your listening and study of scores.

    I don't want to come off "knocking" the genre or the composer you listed too hard. It's clear they have serious chops.
    More effective would be for me to offer an analogy.

    I used to live right next to this cheap, but seriously kick-ass Korean restaurant. It should have cost twice what they charged.
    So ...... I ate there every week. Sometime 3-4 times a week.

    Anyhow I moved and life went on, and I ate at many different places. Still have found memories of that place.....but...
    I learned to enjoy many varied cuisines.

    Listen to something that "confounds" you at first. Where you like it.....but might not "get" what the composer is on about in place.

    If I may offer a suggestion:

    Spend some time listening to the piece below, or a similar work of your own choice. It's sort of like those improv exercises where you just
    "improv for 10 minutes....no matter what" . The main objective is to not stop until the end.

    Same here. Listen say 10 times. All the way thru each time. Let it frustrate or excite or whatever .....

  9. Ironically From Software's latest title is distributed by Activision Blizzard (who publish both Diablo and Call of Duty) in the west (not sure about Japan or who originally funded it). I believe even the AAA dev studios would be mostly doing fine if they had sufficient freedom. Imho the publishers that fund them and thus control their decisions to a too large degree are to blame, but I digress...
    Pretty much like in Hollywood probably...

    Thanks for the suggestion Doug! I did listen to it 10 times with an open mind, but I'm not sure I'm getting out of it what you were hoping. It is indeed very different to what I'm usually listening to, but to me it sounds perfectly fine, both on the first and on the tenth listen. Doesn't stir up much in me. I wouldn't say this really is outside of my comfort zone. If that was your goal, recommend me something with high dynamic range between loud and quiet parts, that always bothers the hell out of me. The one commonality between all the music that I like is that it's fairly consistent in dynamic range. If it has big and frequent jumps in loudness I usually find it agitating/frustrating to listen to.
  10. I still feel frustrated at times that though I'm familiar with and deeply appreciate certain "classical" composers and symphonies, that there's something about simpler music that seems to "get" me more at times, emotionally. The bulk of what I seem to be listening to in the symphonic vein is now masterworks, and while they are rooting deeper into my psyche I still have an affection for game scores I spent a lot of time with. Not sure how to reconcile that as of yet. Good analogy though.
  11. Youtube recommended this video to me today and it kind of fits here:

    Rohann van Rensburg likes this.
  12. Definitely true. Also comes down to repetition in the case of themes. It also makes sense why i.e. video game scores are so well loved -- memorable, thematic music that plays frequently while exploring an interesting and engaging world.

    There's a large bulk of it that has little to do with coincidental association, though, and I can usually discern which music is actually "good" from that I simply "like" due to association. I like Soule's work even though I didn't really play Oblivion. I've sought out a lot of simpler music (read: simpler thematic music, i.e. game scores) to fit various situations, seasons and settings, so while the association is there I wouldn't say it's what caused me to like the music -- I liked the music first, and created an association with it intentionally. Like slapping a soundtrack onto life. In many cases, the music was so evocative upon first listening to it that I intentionally fit it to a specific scenario ("this sounds perfect for a sunrise", "this sounds like misty forest music", etc). There's also a lot of music that emotionally resonates with me that I never fit to any particular experience, and listen to solely as an experience in and of itself. This emotional resonance is equally strong. In general, I think association is impossible to divorce from experience, really. That still leaves me with a gap in terms of experiencing certain symphonic masterworks, though. There are some that, even after repeated listens, they still don't quite stick. I don't know if that's just a matter of tonal preference, or complexity requiring a greater degree of familiarity.

    I think it also comes down to levels of "ease" when it comes to listening and understanding. I just finished watching Hilary Hahn's Sibelius concerto and it was exquisite, but it's not thematically memorable or emotionally evocative in the simpler way that other examples may be. I'll watch it again, to be sure, and it's exquisitely beautiful and engrossing; perhaps it simply needs more repetition.

    (An example in contrast may be some of Bach's more obvious piano works (Goldberg Variations, Well-Tempered Clavier). I had a hard time "getting" these at first, but I find them transcendentally beautiful and they bestow a sense of peace I haven't found with other music.)

    EDIT: I wonder if a greater degree of understanding makes a difference. We typically don't like what we don't really understand, but once one starts hearing themes, how they move and change, etc, the piece turns into a cohesive story.
    Martin Hoffmann likes this.
  13. I think it does make a great difference. Being able to appreciate a supreme level of craft opens up the door to emotions of awe and wonder that you can't have if you have no clue what's going on and something "looks easy", as many things do when done by masters of their craft. I sometimes have that with games because I can appreciate how bloody hard it is to make them.
  14. #14 Dmitry Egorov, Jun 6, 2019
    Last edited: Jun 6, 2019
    Aahhh, Total Annihilation, so glad to see this posted here!

    It might sound strange to some people, but this is my favourite piece of orchestral music. I'm heavily biased though, since I played the game intensively in my early teens. And honestly, I liked the soundtrack back than, and even listened to it separately from the game on occasion, but I didn't love it, like I do now. These days it's my go to piece of music when I'm tired of everything else. And like you, Martin, I've been struggling to find anything orchestral that engages me as much as this soundtrack. Tchaikovsky comes close for me, but maybe that's because I'm russian, and I've heard his music a lot in my childhood:)

    That being said, I know the music is not ideal and has a lot of potential for improvement. Specifically, unlike say William's music, it develops very little inside each track, and has no development or connection between tracks at all, aside from overall tone. Though, it might be dictated by the way the music is played inside the game: the next track is chosen randomly from the set of battle and peaceful tracks, depending on the situation in the game. And because of that it's better to listen to the soundtrack in shuffle mode, by the way, so that you get the same contrasting mix.

    On the other hand, the themes and the sound palette, though coarse at times, are mostly just fantastic and, to my ear, much more modern than William's (yes, sacrilege), while having the same adventurous spirit. Can't quite put my finger on the reason for it, though. Is it a different treatment of harmony in the themes, closer to Beatles/Rock? Is it different treatment of modes? Unusual orchestration? Can't quite say. And can't quite find anything like it in other orchestral music either.

    I also completely disagree with a notion that the soundtrack doesn't fit the game. For me it's perfect balance and contrast between the music and the sound effects, the latter being the literal representation of the events, and the former -- the emotional and metaphysical. I think the music perfectly represents the sense of fantastical adventure, along with the sense of awe at the scale and a lot of sadness for the futility of the conflict. I think you have to consider it in conjunction with the sound effects, not separately. The same goes for the Star Wars soundtrack, by the way. Though of course, it's much better, because the sound effects and dialog are tightly interwoven with the music, even are a part of it. Not clashing, like in a game. And because John Williams was much more experienced, when he wrote it, and is a Genius:)

    Anyway, as Eduardo pointed out, something happened to Jeremy Soule style at some point, from Icewind Dale onwards. And honestly this saddens me, I think if he had pursued his early style further, we potentially could have the next step in classical music. But oh well, can't dictate what a man is to write:)

    One more thing. I noticed that there's an orchestrator named Larry Kenton credited for the TA soundtrack: https://www.mobygames.com/developer/sheet/view/developerId,10500/ He's also credited for Azurik (which is also very good) and Soule's Harry Potter works, but not anything else. I wonder if he is at least in part responsible for this style? Maybe just a coincidence.

    And the last thing. Since you asked for something similar to listen to, here's a couple of Soule's other early works.

    Azurik, a game I never played, but like the soundtrack:

    Amen - a game for which Soule has written a few tracks, before it was cancelled.

    And the last is Consortium. A game that was released much later by the developers of Amen, for which its music was repurposed. I think, you can hear the contrast between the older and the newer music:
  15. @Dmitry Egorov Thank you so much for your contribution! Wonderful to discover some new Soule soundtracks that I didn't know yet! I was surprised that I hadn't heard of two of the games before, but one was never released like you said and one was only on the old xbox, which I never owned. I'm listening to the first two right now, but Consortium I'll save for possibly next year or so. That game was on my radar already, I just didn't know Soule made the soundtrack for it, so now I'm even more curious. It's one of the last games in the "immersive sim" genre, that I haven't played yet and supposedly it feels a bit like an episode of StarTrek TNG. Around christmas I've tried the recent years to find a couple of days to just binge on games of this kind and I think Consortium might be the right one for this year and I don't want to spoil the surprise of the music for myself by listening to the soundtrack before playing the game.

    You raise some very good points about hearing the soundtrack in context with the sound effects and I didn't know how the tracks were chosen in game. I felt like the way I heard the tracks in order of the mix there was a sort of progression down into dispair and defeat, total annihilation if you will... I was wondering whether those were different sets of tracks for 2 different factions or a progression that fits the story, one track on loop per mission, but battle tracks vs idle tracks makes much more sense and I see how I've had the wrong listening experience based on that. I'll check out the game some time and experience the music like it was meant to be! Thanks!
  16. @Martin Hoffmann Glad to share my discoveries:) I was surprised myself when I found these, since they're so good, and so relatively unknown.
    Martin Hoffmann likes this.
  17. Thanks for sharing! Had no idea these existed.

    One thing I've noticed about his newer music is that he seemed to exchange orchestral technicality for development. Yes, the songs are simple, but they develop satisfyingly within each piece and there's a lot of cohesion throughout an entire score. Songs from Skyrim reference one another, as well as overarching themes from Morrowind and Oblivion. He's probably the best example of doing this within a game score as this isn't something I've noticed a lot of game composers doing.
  18. #18 Dmitry Egorov, Mar 11, 2020
    Last edited: Mar 11, 2020
    Just noticed that you answered, sorry... You're welcome:)

    Yes I noticed that too. I haven't played the TES games much, unfortunately. When Morrowind came out, my computer was too slow for it, so I only got a limited experience. And then I never caught on with the series later.

    But overall, I think he was progressing as a composer, gradually learning to develop themes. If you listen to the Azurik's score it's already much more cohesive and developed than Total Annihilation's. So the question is, why drop the exciting and interesting orchestration later in his career? I have three guesses.

    First guess is that he went for more mainstream sound, wary of becoming too old school sounding. Second, he decided to focus on pure vi production to have an ultimate control of the final sound and fallen into the same pit every vst composer falls into: slower melodic lines or a lot of percussion and ostinatos. And the third guess is that he's not actually the one responsible for the orchestrations of his earlier works, but as I said before the credited orchestrator Larry Kenton is. He seems to have worked on all of the early Soule's projects, and when the style changed, he also stopped appearing in the credits. That's a strange coincidence.

    It's probably the combination of these reasons, though. Or maybe none of them, who knows:)
    Rohann van Rensburg likes this.
  19. Good points. I'm not sure what to think about that, honestly. I mean the same could be said for Williams in a way -- what he writes nowadays is nowhere near as dense, difficult and extravagant as before. The thematic simplicity in his writing has certainly not served him poorly, he's one of the most sought-after composers in the VG industry. Truthfully, I'd rather be able to pull off memorable melodies and create a worthwhile atmosphere at this point than write anything extravagant.
    Dmitry Egorov likes this.

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