Top Score Is A Great Podcast About Videogame Music

Top Score is a podcast that interviews and highlights the work of videogames’ best composers. The show is produced by Minnesota Public Radio and since 2011 has featured musicians from Skyrim, Grim Fandango, Luftrausers and Legend of Grimrock 2, among dozens of others. It’s designed to be accessible to an audience who maybe know music better than they know games, but the result is a series of entertaining interviews with insight into a part of the game production process that often goes overlooked. What’s the news here? There isn’t any – it’s simply excellent and I only discovered it this weekend.

The show is presented by Emily Reese, who was interviewed by Gamasutra last year about her interest in games, music and radio:

[Gamasutra]: Do you have a favorite piece of video game music or a favorite score overall? Is there a score that you feel follows the game’s events and player choices the most?

ER: Oh man. A favorite piece or a favorite score. That is SO hard, because there are so many different choices. It’s not like you’re asking, ‘what’s your favorite Baroque harpsichord suite’. I have favorite 8-bit era scores (Metroid), favorite chip tune scores (Fez), and favorite orchestral scores. I can tell you the scores I consistently return to, like all of Jesper Kyd’s music, particularly AC Brotherhood and Darksiders II. I’ve never played Guild Ward 2, but Jeremy Soule’s music is absolutely exquisite in that game. And, of course, Skyrim. Jason Graves’s Dead Space 2 is one of the best scores ever written in a game. I listen a lot to Papo & Yo, and lately, I can’t stop listening to Ibb & Obb and Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons. If we talk about individual tracks, I never get enough of “Glacier Gully” by Lorne Balfe. I have to stop now, because I’ve not even mentioned Uncharted or Halo ODST or Journey or Mass Effect or Bastion. I vote that this question is too unfair.

The show’s home on radio means that the audio quality and editing are of a higher quality than you normally find on hobbyist podcasts, which is a boon given the subject matter. All previous episodes can be found alongside supplementary posts on the Minnesota Public Radio website, although it may be quicker to subscribe and find recent episodes via its second home at the Infinite Guest podcast network. I started with the episode about Peter McConnell’s work on the Grim Fandango: Remastered soundtrack.

Give it a listen if you’ve been yearning for Classic FM to play more videogame soundtracks.

28 Comments

  1. Synesthesia says:

    Fantastic find, thanks for this.

    On a different subject, will RPS make a post on the passing of Iwata? I know this is an all pc website, but I think he’s a guy that influenced a great part of this readership. Just a thought.

  2. TheRaven says:

    Am I the only one that gets really angry when I see Jeremy Soule’s name pop up without a giant asterisk warning people about how shady his company is. As one of thousands who “only” got conned out of a single Skyrim soundtrack I feel bad for people that see things like this, try to buy a soundtrack from his website, and then after getting strung along for months (Until the dispute payment deadline passes) then gets to search the internet and join the pending class action lawsuit against his company.

    link to tentonhammer.com

    • Wedge says:

      Ah Jeremy Soule, the man who turned one music track into full scores for four major games.

      • Arglebargle says:

        The Morrowind Theme is absolutely lovely, but it has been redone for every Elder Scrolls game since. I suspect that the producers probably ask for yet another iteration for every game though.

        Too bad he seems like an asshat.

      • Derman says:

        A lot of games (and series) have recurring themes in their soundtracks, that’s nothing new. You can ignore his works on games like Guild Wars and Secret of Evermore and judge him by some of his less-original choices, we call it cherry picking. Skyrim, Morrowind and Oblivion still have a lot of great original music to make up for it.

        I doubt it’s directly Soule’s fault they have not delivered the soundtracks, but that’s pretty shady regardless.

    • Jalan says:

      Ah ha, this explains why it’s no longer possible to buy physical copies through that site any more (well, likely partly explains it at least).

      I have a lot of respect for Soule, but he has got to be one of the most overpaid people composing music for video games these days.

  3. Wedge says:

    Neat I guess, but most of the video game music scene is so boring in the Western world compared to Asia. Most AAA games that have “memorable” scores are still just the same boring wannabe movie scores that are totally uninteresting outside the context of a game. Though the rise of the indie game development scene has helped alleviate a lot of that, as there are some fantastic scores to be found there.

    And there are some interviews in there with indie level composers like Ben Prunty and Andrew Aversa, so I might poke through it for those.

    • MarkC says:

      There does seem to be a particularly classical focus in this show and I’m particularly surprised there’s no mention of Danny Baronowski being covered, (he certainly should be if he isn’t). Regardless, it’s good to see another example of the growing importance of game music in modern culture. I’ll defo give this show a listen.

  4. mcgiants says:

    Dang, I’ve been listening since the beginning. If I’d have know the RPS community was interested, I’d of shared it a long time ago.
    My bad.

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    SoundDust says:

    This is right up my alley, thanks!

  6. Gibster says:

    I’m not a music person but when asked what my favorite music is I always say video game OSTs so this is quite cool to see.

  7. caff says:

    Hey cool this looks good! I’ve been hunting for music to play, when all I needed was the Crate and Crowbar podcast and now this. :)

  8. caff says:

    Episode #220 is Jesper Kyd! What a legend. Always loved his soundtracks :)

    • jrodman says:

      This makes me feel quite nostalgic.
      I remember downloading his mods over a modem in high school.

  9. Not_Id says:

    Now that was interesting.

    Certainly beats all of those daily news blurb articles about this or that game that you guys have been putting out lately.

  10. SlimShanks says:

    Oh this sounds fun. Music is tremendous, games are amazing. This is tremendously amazing. But I have to wonder how many shows you could do on this topic as the number of really good game soundtracks is… limited. That said, I can hope that there will be multiple episodes about Human Revolution!
    Also I recall the soundtrack of Skyrim being uninteresting. Not technically bad, but really not inspired or unique. Does anyone remember how in Oblivion the music occasionally sounded like The Matrix? Really messed me up…

  11. kwyjibo says:

    I found out about these by chance linked from a random Wikipedia reference, the ones I’ve listened to are quite good.

    No one knows of the show because there are no transcripts which makes it hard to search for. Come on Google, get it together.

  12. Skeletor68 says:

    I put a thread in the forum a while back but you’ll never get anyone that way.

    Fantastic interviews in there. I especially liked the Darren Korb, Austin Wintory and Matt Uelmen ones.

    Also, please everyone come to iDIG in Dublin next year.

    Also today is one of the last days for ‘Zelda: A Link to the Celts’ Kickstarter for Irish trad versions of Zelda tunes. Awesome stuff.

  13. DaViD_082 says:

    Very informative and easy to listen even if you don´t know anything about music aside from “I (don´t) like it” podcast; and it´s just around twenty minutes, which is also good. Thanks for sharing/finding it…

  14. Hmm-Hmm. says:

    Ooh! I’ll certainly be listening to that later, thanks! So, what’s the easiest way to find an overview of all episodes, not just the latest ones?

  15. cpt_freakout says:

    Ohhh, great! RPS should have a column on game music *wink wink*

  16. LordMidas says:

    I love you Graham, I’ve been looking for a game music creator podcast for yonks. And here it is. Happy days :)

    And like cpt_freakout says, more articles about game music and audio design, and the creators, would be ace.

  17. Cosmo D says:

    Excellent find, Graham and RPS!

    =g

  18. Viper50BMG says:

    Top Score is one of my all-time favorite podcasts; it’s informative, interesting, and incredibly well-presented.
    (Full disclosure: after being a fan for the last couple years, I was asked to interview for one of the episodes, so I may be somewhat biased.)

  19. oueddy says:

    Thanks so much for finding this and sharing it. I so rarely get any discussion around my love of modern and classical video game music. Immediately went to the episode about Journey with Austin Wintory, I must have listened to that soundtrack over a hundred times :)