Behind the sounds: Hotline Miami and FTL

By David Valjalo on January 21st, 2013 at 9:00 pm.

Music man David Valjalo follows-up his exploration of the big-budget orchestral soundtracks in the mainstream games industry with a look at the other end of the scale – the super-low-budget, ultra-catchy, sometimes kitschy scores of indie darlings. He rounds up the men behind Hotline Miami, Sweden-based Dennis Wedin and Jonatan Soderstrom, two of the soundtrack artists they hand-picked, US artists M.O.O.N. and Scattle, and FTL composer Ben Prunty, to get the scoop on making music for small games and, quite often, small change.

Recently we learned all about the revolution in game music that had transformed soundtracks into orchestral epics. A newfound respect for and understanding of the importance of a score, in big budget games such as Black Ops 2 and the Assassin’s Creed series, had lead developers to embrace composers like Jack Wall and Jesper Kyd, giving them unprecedented creative freedom and powers. Sounds great, doesn’t it? A game soundtrack renaissance. 

Well, here’s something less glitzy: aspiring game music composer Ben Prunty upped sticks in 1999 to move from his home in Maine to California with the ambition of breaking into the scene equipped with little more than a burning passion for game music. Most recently you might have heard his work proving a spacey soundtrack for the excellent, interstellar, roguelike-like FTL: Faster Than Light, but how long did Prunty have to wait for his big break? Around 13 years.

Ben Prunty

“I just thought it would be really cool to make music with computers,” he tells me, “even though I didn’t know anything about music theory. I got a copy of Sonic Foundry’s ACID program. I got it from a paper catalogue. I went to school for audio engineering then taught myself music theory. There’s not a whole lot of game industry presence in Maine – just trees. California was the place to go.”

At the time, in 1999, game music was starting to advance in scope and style, thanks to the boost in technology that the disc-based age had ushered in. “There wasn’t as much recognition [for game music] back then,” says Prunty, “but there was enough for me to want to find out more about artists that I really liked.” One such artist who helped and inspired Prunty belongs to the high-profile composer camp I interviewed previously. “I was a huge fan of Jesper Kyd. In the old days he had a little forum on his website and people would go and ask him questions. So I would go there and he’d recommend things. He recommended Cubase as a tool to use and that’s what I use to this day.”

Though game composers can, in theory, work from their homes, freelancing like a writer as many choose to, Prunty’s geographical move was motivated by a belief that being close to developers also means being close to employment. “The two pieces of advice I always give are, one, write music all the time and, second, go out and meet developers, find out where they meet, what parties they have, go to them, meet them. They’re the two most important pieces of advice I can give. You can [outsource] once you’re established, you can work wherever you want. But before then, the importance of meeting people face-to-face is incredible. Every gig I’ve ever gotten was a result of me knowing people as friends. I’m working on Gravity Ghost right now and the reason I got that job was I went to a big game jam we have here, saw the game demoed and asked the developer if I could do music for it.”

It didn’t, of course, all fall into place immediately. Prunty found himself working day jobs and composing in his spare time for indie games, many of which would never see the light of a monitor. “I got to California and I got side-tracked. I was fixing computer hardware. I got a lot of random hobby projects, indie projects that got cancelled. A lot of indie projects are cancelled, they never make it to completion, probably around 90 per cent of indie games that get started don’t get finished. But all of that gave me experience.”

Prunty’s belief that you need to be where the action is makes sense, but then you hear a story like that of Hotline Miami, a game as beloved for its darkly pulsing soundtrack as it is for its strategic ultra-violence. “We had a temp soundtrack in place for the game,” says one half of the game’s dev team, Jonatan Soderstrom. “But when we couldn’t get the licenses for the tracks I went out on to Band Camp and found a bunch of cool music you could download for free. That’s how I found M.O.O.N.”

M.O.O.N.

“It started with Jonatan sending me a Facebook message”, says M.O.O.N., confirming that the internet age has made virtual networking a new avenue for a budding composer.

Scattle, another contributor to the game’s synth-infused, throbbing 80s-inspired tracks, had a different route to the project. “I’d seen the game on an indie games blog and got talking to Jonatan, who I’d worked with briefly on another game, who then sent me a build when it was called Cocaine Cowboy. I was like ‘it’s sick’. Then I sent him an email asking if I could contribute and that was that.”

Each indie game music developer has a unique story and their individual approaches to projects differ wildly, too, as evidenced by the varied soundscapes they conjure for titles like FTL and Hotline Miami. Prunty’s aim was to avoid any cliched sci-fi fanfares: “The lack of orchestra in FTL is actually a deliberate decision. A lot of people write sci-fi soundtracks with an orchestra in mind, thanks to Star Wars and Star Trek, I suppose. I thought that if I took out the orchestral score, let it just be electronic but with a cinematic sound – because there’s still a lot of non-chiptune type sound going on in FTL – I thought that if I just didn’t have an orchestra, I could give it a more unique sound.”

For Hotline Miami, Soderstrom and Wedin set out with a clear vision for their own audio, similarly committed to defying convention: “It was early on we decided we didn’t want music that sounded like game music, we wanted it to sound like a movie soundtrack. The final soundtrack has the exact same feeling as the original temp track we had.”

“We tried to capture the mood of the 80s, not make it sound chiptune-y, or what you’d expect from pixel-art games,” says Wedin.

Scattle and M.O.O.N. had different approaches to their roles in the Hotline soundtrack. Scattle was tasked with scoring parts of the game itself while M.O.O.N.’s work was recruited to contribute directly to the soundtrack. “My tracks were actually made separately from the game,” says M.O.O.N. “I was trying to create an atmosphere of what it would be like to be isolated in space, a real feeling of being out there, surrounded by different sounds. That’s what I was going for, and worked well with what they were after.”

Scattle

Scattle’s approach was to go back to some source material that he felt was in-tune with the era that Hotline was evoking. “I went to early [John] Carpenter, Escape From LA. I was trying to match the action with my sound, in a way. At the end of the game, there’s all these fucking bullets flying and I thought it was right to go with something loud, something 80s. I always like to think about what the player’s actually doing, and try to match my sound to that.”

Another advantage to indie game work is how open developers are with their work, unafraid to show and reveal as much as possible before release to get a composer’s creative juices flowing. It’s a freedom of information that runs counter to stories from the opposite end of the spectrum, where studios can leave the soundtrack to the final countdown to release which often ends up rushing artists to completion on a triple-A title.

“They had a nearly finished game to show me,” Prunty says of his FTL experience. “I could sit down and play it, and I knew it was great and knew I wanted to make music for it. I wanted to evoke the feeling of an old PC game but still have a deep atmosphere to it. There’s chiptune stuff to go along with the look of the game, but I wanted to suggest that there’s more to the world than you’re seeing. There’s already a lot of that in the game – a story that’s not really explained to you, text events that hint at more stuff going, a bigger picture, and I wanted to reflect that in the score.”

Scattle had a similar experience with near-finished code to score, summing up the simplicity and focus of his own process in a single sentence: “I saw the game and just knew how it should sound.”

As an indie game composer, your signature sound can be a result the tools you use as much as the style of title you’re working on, and each composer gets passionate when you ask the simple question: what do you use? “I use samples, but my audio workstation is Renoise,” says Scattle.

“You use Re-Noise?” M.O.O.N. interjects. “I’ve never heard of anyone who actually uses that.”

“It looks so technical,” says Scattle, “but I’ve been using it for a year and a half now and I’m really comfortable with it.”

“My real baby is a Waldorf Blofeld synthesiser, it’s really just a tank. I create all my sounds within that,” explains M.O.O.N. “I’m a very technical guy, so I take a very technical approach, I do most of my producing within a computer program but the Waldorf is my partner in crime.”

Prunty’s weapons of choice are all finely detailed on his website over here. It’s all equipment that you can probably pick up for – if not a song, excusing the pun – then certainly for a couple of thousand dollars’ investment, a far cry from the costs required to create professional live music for, and in, a big studio.

Intriguingly, indie game composing doesn’t just have a lower cost barrier to entry, it also has the potential to deliver greater rewards, suggests Prunty. “It might actually be a bit more lucrative to be an indie game composer rather than a triple-A composer. Indie devs are more flexible with payments, you often get to keep the rights. I have the rights to the FTL soundtrack which means every soundtrack sale goes to me. That can be very lucrative. There are plenty of composers out there that make no money on indie games, of course. I just happened to be lucky to be attached to a project that became wildly successful.”

But even with success, Prunty sees the need to remain close to the indie game scene physically.  “I recently quit my last non-game music job, doing music full-time, it’s great. Only since FTL have I been able to do that. The FTL sales have been good to us. There were many times I felt like giving up, I wasn’t making it, but all that time gave me the experience, the skill in writing music, the network flow and ability to get things done quickly, to prepare me for FTL. Maybe some day I won’t need to be in a big metropolitan area but right now the ability to go to GDC cheaply, not having to fly out, it’s really great.”

And even with Hotline Miami under his belt, Scattle is still trying to cram as much work into his itinerary as possible: “I just want to be doing everything I can so that if something falls through there’s always work to fall back on.”

There may be a clear divide between the jobs available – and the security of such jobs – to an indie game composer and the established big budget freelancers, but artists like M.O.O.N. aren’t cynical about the resources available at big game studios. Rather, he suggests, indie composers are ready to embrace them: “A big budget thing would be incredible, but for me it’s all about creative control, as long as I’m still experimenting, doing what I want to do, that’s what’s important to me. To have a huge budget for me to take things where I want them to go, I don’t see a downside to that.”

When queried on the big budget end of the scale, on the proliferation of me-too orchestral scores, Prunty is honest about the positives and negatives but, perhaps unsurprisingly, expresses adoration for the work of his mentor, Jesper Kyd. “I felt the Assassin’s Creed 2 soundtrack was really unique and interesting – on the other hand I played Call Of Duty Modern Warfare 2 but didn’t notice the soundtrack at all. So maybe there is some that, where they’re trying to ape Hollywood a bit. I think the take away from that is you’re going to have some generic soundtracks in triple-A and some really excellent ones, but the same applies to indie games. You’ll have some me-too soundtracks there, too.”

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78 Comments »

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  1. Yosharian says:

    These guys are making some of the most exciting sounds I’ve heard in years, and furthermore it’s an area that mainstream gaming is absolutely fucking clueless at.

    Keep it up.

    PS: Lone Survivor is another recent one with an absolutely brilliant soundtrack

    • sven says:

      YES, and one of the songs from HLM was by the same artist/LS creator

      • Angel Dust says:

        I think he (Jasper Byrne) did 3 songs for Hotline Miami, including that awesome post-level scorecard tune.

        • terkanmeisa says:

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        • Randomer says:

          Okay, that clears up some confusion. I kept hearing “Jasper Byrne did the soundtrack. M.O.O.N did the soundtrack. Jasper Byrne…”. But I never hear “These guys each did part of the soundtrack.” I was very confused.

    • f1x says:

      Come on, suddenly all “mainstream” OSTs are crap?

      I love FTL and Hotline miami soundtracks but there are plenty of good scores out there in all ranges, I’m just thinking about Sleeping Dogs, the selection of music for that game (game themes and radios) is fucking awesome

      • Yosharian says:

        Yes, they are.

        • crizzyeyes says:

          I wouldn’t call Sleeping Dogs a mainstream game, though… hell, gaming itself has only recently even come close to being considered mainstream. There are only a relative few franchises that could be classified as “mainstream.” There’s a difference between high-budget and mainstream.

  2. Lemming says:

    “Prunty’s weapons of choice are all finely detailed on his website over here. “

    The link just goes to an image.

    • Michael Fogg says:

      Hey new guy! Learn to link the articles properly!

      • David Valjalo says:

        Oooops – until it gets sorted, here’s Ben’s blog link with all the juicy details:

        http://benprunty.com/2013/01/03/heres-what-i-used-to-make-the-ftl-soundtrack/

        • Fallward says:

          I have to say, it’s really good of him to share his set-up with everyone. 13 years of struggling and pushing at what he loves and he’s willing to share the secrets he learned along the way – what a top guy.

          • Premium User Badge

            phuzz says:

            You still need the talent to use the kit. I bet you could stick me in front of all of it and come back in a day to find all I’d made was a repetitive bleeping noise.
            And that would just be the fire alarm running out of batteries.

  3. Grey_Ghost says:

    My top 3 music in games list has to be…
    1. StarControl II
    2. Fallout 1&2
    3. Homeworld 1&2

    • GernauMorat says:

      Add Civ 4 and you’ve got it

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          c-Row says:

          Original or Human Revolution? In my opinion McCann did a great job on the latter.

          • LionsPhil says:

            Well, the original has Hong Kong Streets/The Synapse. Beautifully layered and syncopated.

            As far as I got into HR before getting sick of the game (which is not very far, to be fair to its composer), all I remember hearing were some forgettable ambient-pad bits and echos trying to call back to the originals’ riffs.

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            c-Row says:

            Well, I haven’t played the original for it not ‘clicking’ with me after the tutorial and Liberty Island, so I could listen to HR with fresh ears. I recognized the original’s theme every now and then, though.

    • SominiTheCommenter says:

      Fallout for sure. Mark Morgan doesn’t make music, he makes magic. Looking forward to Wasteland 2.

    • Ross Angus says:

      I really liked the choice of music in Tiny and Big.

  4. Premium User Badge

    ffordesoon says:

    Hotlne Miami’s soundtrack is the reason it’s sold so well and gotten so much press, I think. Not to imply that the game isn’t a masterpiece, because it is, but if it sounded like a more traditional indie game (whatever that means), and that had been reflected in the trailers, it would have sold about a tenth as well. I genuinely believe that. Because a visual experience with limp audio just doesn’t [i]feel[/i] half as good as a full audiovisual feast. If game developers take one thing from movies, let it be the understanding of music’s power to reinforce the mood of a scene.

    • apa says:

      I bought HLM because of the soundtrack. I’ve probably listened to it more than played the game :)

    • Ostymandias says:

      Hotline Miami is really a rhythmic puzzle game in top down-shooter disguise. Clearing the levels is, through constant trial and error, about mastering their tempo, their flow and timings. The music is half the pacing of game; a click track of sorts. So the soundtrack is not just about the aesthetic feeling of the game, I feel, but a part of it in a way I haven’t really experienced in games other than outspoken music games such as Audiosurf.

  5. MOKKA says:

    Speaking of M O O N, this track is pretty great:

    http://music.musicofthemoon.com/track/dust

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      Petethegoat says:

      That track ~is~ pretty great. Moon does some good shit.

  6. svge says:

    I can’t speak for Hotline Miami but whilst I think FTL’s music is perfectly serviceable and fits the game nicely there’s nothing really exciting there for me musically. The Metroid games are a great example of this synthetic orchestra direction and that’s music I’ll never forget. It’s the cookie cutter synths noises we’ve been hearing since Vangelis in FTL and with current production technology I’d like a more processed sound to really make me listen. Not to say I don’t applaud Prunty, he’s doing what he loves for money and he’ll only get better so good for him!

    Anyway I’ve heard a lot of praise for the music in FTL and It’s certainly justified; I just thought I would offer my contrasting opinion.

  7. Premium User Badge

    Cardinal says:

    I like the Super Hexagon music plenty – it’s my new theme tune.

    • hamburger_cheesedoodle says:

      Yeah :D Worth looking it up on Bandcamp, since you never get to hear the full thing in game. (Well, maybe you do, but if you do, I want to know your secrets)

  8. DiamondDog says:

    As much as the Hotline Miami soundtrack worked well with the game, I still think some of it is a bit tame. Not bad, but I kind of wish it was a bit more unhinged. Maybe a bit more of Sun Araw’s weirdness in there, but then the game really needed the tempo of the other tracks.

    After picking up Endless Space recently I have to say I was pleasantly surprised by the soundtrack. A lot more interesting and engaging than I ever expected it to be.

  9. Josh W says:

    Reading this article, and the one before it, has led to me listening to much happy music, cheers!

    It’s also the sort of interesting that leads to little defined response, the sort of thing I’d just say an approving hmm about in real life, and ponder every now and again for a few days, so count this as the text equivalent.

    Love to hear something about interactive composers too, most of the people shown so far seem to work in the wonderful worlds of looping atmospheric longform music and exact scores, and adding something about those people working in highly game reactive music would be a great complement to these.

    • David Valjalo says:

      Thanks for reading and responding – what sort of specific titles/composers are you referring to when you say “game reactive” music?

      • Josh W says:

        Good question, when trying to think of things, I come up with rez, proteus, electroplancton etc, but that’s not really what I’m talking about, I’m talking about those moments where you’re in some tense section of an action game and things chill out, and because there are two different matching music tracks for different activity levels that it crossfades between, the game chills out too, to the more subtle stuff where certain different things that you do as a player inspire different musical cues that all flow into the main melodies.

        I can remember noticing them in games, but I can’t remember which ones!

        • David Valjalo says:

          I’m with you. Halo comes to mind as a game where the music felt like it genuinely evolved around your actions/situations…

        • crinkles esq. says:

          Unreal 1. They used the MOD tracker format (sequenced PCM samples), made popular in the late 80s and early 90s by the Amiga demoscene, to generate dynamic music. Since it was sample-based, this allowed them to transition to “fight” music or tense moments more fluidly than simple crossfades between audio tracks.

        • Michael Fogg says:

          Lucasarts adventure games used to have a specially patented (!) system called iMuse to allow for seamless transitions between scenes – the song would continue from the same point but with a different arrangement.

          • LionsPhil says:

            A great demo of it is walking from ship to ship in the opening area of Monkey Island 2.

            Also getting into Sam & Max’s car at various different times, for a sharper transition.

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          Wisq says:

          Dungeon Keeper 2 used a multi-track system whereby the music was divided into several tracks of increasing intensity level, and each track was subdivided into segments. At any segment transition, it could increase or decrease the intensity, with no crossfading, and with genuinely different arrangements rather than just layering more instruments on.

          I’ve listened to the raw tracks ripped straight from the game, and it’s really interesting, because you can totally understand how it works just from listening, yet it’s all incredibly seamless in-game and you don’t notice it at all.

          • LionsPhil says:

            It had a cute touch in if you grab hold of the music volume slider in the sound settings, the gentle choral moans of the titlescreen turn into the combat theme.

    • whatisvalis says:

      Any AAA game is going to have a highly dynamic and interactive score.

  10. Premium User Badge

    Rikard Peterson says:

    In the category of indie low budget game scores, my favourite is The Journey Down, but that’s in a completely different genre than this.

    And a suggestion for future music articles (I really hope there will be future music articles!): How about including music clips in the article? A screenshot doesn’t help here, and this is an area where you have a great advantage compared to a print magazine, where sound can’t really be placed in an article. I found the music by following the links to the home pages linked to, but I’m sure they would gladly have let you include a song each in the article if you’d asked them.

  11. zain3000 says:

    Most of these artists post their music on soundcloud. For all those who are interested:

    M.O.O.N.
    Scattle

    And some of the other composers on the HLM soundtrack:

    PERTURBATOR
    Jasper Byrne

    EDIT: Yeesh, it took me 3 tries to get that right! Need to work on HTML skills…

  12. Soapeh says:

    The tracks on HLM by Perturbator led me on a wonderful journey of his work, showcased at https://soundcloud.com/perturbator – I can’t wait for the new album.

    • zain3000 says:

      I am absolutely loving PERTURBATOR’s stuff as well. I was always a big fan of Depeche Mode and that eerily-dark 80’s synth stuff. This just takes it to another level.

  13. Premium User Badge

    felisc says:

    Great serie you’re writing here David.
    It’s be lovely if you applied the same idea to sound design too. I’d enjoy seeing someone like Charles Deenen on one side and Tapio Liukkonen on the other. Just two examples amongst a thousand.
    But yeah, congrats.

  14. mattfaulkner says:

    IMO the FTL soundtrack is another case of a mediocre soundtrack getting a lot of praise because the game itself is great and forces the players to listen to something over and over again. I thought the soundtrack was boring and slightly annoying.

    The hotline miami soundtrack was very, very good on the other hand.

    • zain3000 says:

      I agree to a certain extent. While the soundtrack is definitely quite good in-game, I can’t see myself listening to it out of that context.

      HLM, on the other hand… well, enough’s been said about that where I feel I’d just be another voice in a sea of worship and adulation.

    • PopeRatzo says:

      For me, the music was the best thing about the game. Maybe I would have felt differently if I’d been able to complete more than a handful of levels. Almost certainly I would have felt differently.

    • Premium User Badge

      c-Row says:

      I disagree. Bought the FTL soundtrack from Prunty’s Bandcamp page after playing the game, and it works great both as game soundtrack and background music while coding.

      Also, Renoise! Woooh!

    • LionsPhil says:

      I’d say the FTL soundtrack is a good soundtrack. It’s a perfectly acceptable piece of atmosphere work while in-game, but I have no real desire to listen to it outside of the game.

      • Muzman says:

        Exactly. Someone’s desire, or lack thereof, to listen to game music outside the game doesn’t really decide if it’s good or not.

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          c-Row says:

          But you are more likely to listen to a good soundtrack outside of its game than a bad one, so I’d say it’s a good sign.

          • Muzman says:

            Not really. You are more likely to listen to a distinctive one that you enjoy outside of the game. One that’s doing it’s job well doesn’t need to be any of those things.

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            c-Row says:

            Well, you are.

            I’d like to suggest Dead Space here. The soundtrack works within the game but it is neither memorable nor does it work without the game’s images. I say it’s a fitting soundtrack and functional in what it is trying to achieve for the player, but not necessarily a good one people will still bring up in a thread like this a few years down the road.

            On the other end of the scale you got games like Final Fantasy, the Zelda series, even old stuff like the Turrican soundtracks. Those work perfectly fine outside of the game. Final Fantasy didn’t spawn countless tribute CDs, soundtrack albums and even symphonic orchestra sessions just because its music worked so well within the context of the game, but because it is good enough to stand on its own.

          • Muzman says:

            It’s still not a necessary condition of a good soundtrack that it be entertaining on its own. It might be desireable. It might be what makes one memorable. But to over weight these things is a mistake. It’s mostly in films that you find this to date, but plenty of scores contain quite unpleasant sounds and moods that aren’t really ‘good listening’ by any standard. They are still doing a brilliant job in their proper context and took considerable artistry and creativity to place them there (they can involve going against ‘musical’ tendencies at times, which can be quite difficult)
            If we start measuring soundtracks by their stand alone popularity or endurance then the craft and effectiveness of all the ones that didn’t achieve that would be unfairly ignored. Not that that sort of populism is terribly surprising. It still should be countered with a more nuanced understanding where possible.

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            c-Row says:

            I still don’t think working within the context of a game or movie necessarily makes it a good soundtrack either. Hans Zimmer writes effective music to support the bombastic images of Transformers and PotC, but that’s not a sign of his qualities as a composer but the size of the RCP sound library and the tropes he uses in his work movie after movie after movie. David Arnold scored several Bond movies and started to repeat himself after a while, and while the scores still work they begin to become repetitive and dull. A piano emphasizing a sad part of a movie or game works because it triggers certain emotions within the viewer or player – and therefore gets used on almost every occasion – but its neither creative or “good because it works” if the melody itself is just music by numbers.

            The best soundtracks are those that work both ways.

          • LennyLeonardo says:

            I agree with Muzman. A soundtrack that’s good to listen to on its own is like a comic panel that happens to good to look out out of context. It’s a happy coincidence, but it shouldn’t be the goal of the composer/artist to sell it that way.

            It’s true that you might better remember the soundtracks that you listen to in more than one context, though. Plus, I think you’re being a little unfair on Zimmer. He definitely puts the movie first.

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            c-Row says:

            He surely shines when leaving his usual paths, as he proved with the score from Inception, but most of the time it’s just the next rehash of The Rock.

  15. PopeRatzo says:

    I’m trying to figure out what makes those HML tunes “80’s-inspired”.

    As someone who was already a fully-grown music lover in the 80’s, I don’t recall anything sounding much like that. It sounds more like a dubstep generation impression of what the 80’s would have sounded like in their dreams. Which I guess is the whole point.

    Tweencore 80’s through a broken speaker.

    Whatever, it’s wonderful music. I only wish the 80s had sounded that good. Except for a handful of little-known experimentalists, theorists and proto-hip hop, there was a lot of very bad music in most of the 80s.

    • Muzman says:

      When those big DX-7-ish synth sounds get going, they yell 80s. Not all the tracks have those though.
      But yes, it’s more a 2000s take on 80s than real 80s (which is good for me too since if it were real 80s production personally would find it almost unlistenable).

      • LionsPhil says:

        Bah. Kids these days, etc.

        • f1x says:

          When I read 80’s I’m automatically thinking Van Halen, Whitesnake, Iron Maiden’s Dickinson era
          and the birth of Trash metal so to say, Slayer, Metallica, Anthrax

          also the decade of the now called old-school hip-hop, Public Enemy, Beastie Boys, LL Cool J, Rakim, N.W.A.

          obviously not the same 80s ;)

    • crizzyeyes says:

      Yeah, I got the impression that it was supposed to be a modern soundtrack that reminds one of the 80’s, not a retro soundtrack that resembles the 80’s. If that makes any sense. Some of the tracks are a little more outstandingly-80’s though (PERTURBATORs’ come to mind)

  16. Muzman says:

    Good stuff.
    Hotline Miami’s method is surprising for no one having thought of it before. I guess the current indie music situation has reached critical mass only in the last year or two.
    But people should really be doing a lot more of that stuff. Good “Composers” as such are hard to find. People releasing really interesting music of many kinds for virtually nothing are in staggering abundance.

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      Oozo says:

      Jon Blow did something very similar for Braid — that is, it did not have an original OST, but individual tracks from artists he found on a service similar to Bandcamp (or Bandcamp itself, don’t remember the details).

      I imagine there are other games that compiled their soundtrack instead of creating it from scratch, too. (Not counting all the games that are not commercial projects anyway — “Space Funeral”, for example, taught me about the ways of many a classic weird musician not familiar to me before.)

      So Hotline Miami is not a completely unique case, even though its method certainly is the exception. As you say, with the abundance of unknown artists providing their music for free, it might become ever more common.

      • Muzman says:

        Yeah, good point. I guess HM’s music is designed to smack you in the face (or kick down a door and hit you with a bat) so it’s more obvious.
        But yes, everyone please do this. Especially if you are stuck and contemplating chiptunes or something.

  17. Xzi says:

    FTL has music? While playing, I mostly just listen to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NKTpWi5itOM

    I adored Hotline Miami’s soundtrack, though. It made you want to keep playing forever no matter how many times you failed.

  18. Premium User Badge

    elderman says:

    I hope these articles develop into an ongoing series about game music. It would be interesting to hear more detailed interviews with game composers about their approach to specific games and/or analyses of how their scores work.

    So far, it’s been mostly about game sound tracks as a sort of elaboration of movie scores, accompaniment to what happens on screen. They set the tone, establish mood, enhance emotion, or create a rhythm for a scene, for example. The articles mention structural differences between movie and game music, but the role they occupy in the player’s experience are similar.

    I write this not having played any of the games mentioned so far in the column, but it’d be interesting to hear about game composers who try to participate more specifically in the art of game making, where the music is part of the interactive game play experience, where it accepts input and gives feedback.

    Looking through my current game library, the two games I see that integrate music into their game play are Bit.Trip.Runner and Braid (this time I volunteer to be the wanker who brings up Jonathan Blow). The Bit.Trip games are genre music games, of course; in Braid, the music symbolizes in-game time. There must be other games in which the music is interesting as music and in which the music is part of the game-play experience. Music of the Spheres could be promising this way.

    —————
    Just as an aside, one indie game with a sound-track I loved was And Yet it Moves. The beatbox sound track matched the hand-made feel of the visuals and it was pleasant — not an overwhelming wall of sound, unique, and specific to the game.

  19. Randomer says:

    I’ve noticed that a lot of Kickstarters put the soundtrack in at the ~$45 dollar mark, as part of the “Super Ultra Deluxe Edition”. I kinda wish this weren’t the case. I’m far more likely to get a lot of pleasure out of the music than I am out of the game. Consequently, I’m more likely to Kickstart for the music than for the game. If more Kickstarters put the music at the $15 level (when the main game is at $10), I’d be a lot more likely to impulse Kickstart. But it’s just not going to happen if I have to pay $45.

  20. Davidsve says:

    The opening track for Hotline Miami by Sun Araw is amazing. If you haven’t already, check out his other albums (of which I recommend On Patrol). Also, I love the “Music of the week” recommendations in The Sunday Papers. RPS are strangely enough into good, weird music. Keep it up.

  21. HelenSmithe22 says:

    til I saw the paycheck which said $9541, I accept …that…my neighbours mother could trully erning money part time from there labtop.. there friends cousin started doing this for only about 14 months and just now repayed the morgage on there apartment and bought a top of the range Porsche 911. I went here, Great60.com