Described as the author as having gameplay and a plot that will “make you cry”, Mibibli’s Quest strikes a tenuous balance between Mega Man clone and waking nightmare in all things, including its music.
Well, I say that, but to be entirely honest the soundtrack of Mibibli’s Quest leans more towards the former than the latter, with many a track hearkening back to the late ’80s NEStalgia that’s so pervasive in our culture even if it’s mostly hawked by people a few years older than I… and given that I’ve written my fair share of chiptunes, perhaps myself as well. The ideas are out there, in more than one way, but the tension between various elements is very much a defining element.
For the most part, the strangeness or lack thereof is kept discretely separated between tracks, which for the most part are either deliberately weird or more conventional and rarely somewhere in between. There are some notable exceptions in the second hub world, which has arguably more abstract tracks without going off the deep end. Another sign of this separation of concerns comes from the very instrumentation itself. Most of the tracks in Mibibli’s Quest are chiptunes. They’re mostly faithful to the limitations of the NES’s various soundchips, but I don’t think perfect accuracy was a goal. Some of the percussion and instrument layering leads me to believe that the tracks were put together on a more conventional digital audio workstation, though I wouldn’t rule out the use of emulation entirely.
The actual songwriting seems to be based primarily on rock music tropes. It makes sense even when you consider the chippy sounds used to illustrate these – rock is literally a form of popular music, and it’s one that doesn’t necessarily require a lot of simultaneous instruments to pull off. It should help explain why you’ll hear plenty of the stuff in chiptunes; it’s obviously not the only influence, but a good deal of it filters into Mibibli’s Quest. It’s especially notable in the introductory “Art Zone”, for instance. Beyond this, Ryan Melmoth’s most notable technique as a composer is arguably how he approaches harmonic/melodic construction. There’s a lot of progressions in these songs that are, to put out bluntly, kind of out there, at least by the rock music standards I’ve recently tried to convince you were relevant. Luckily, they’re not so overused as to be listener fatiguing, but they do help to contribute to the unique characteristics of this soundtrack. Barring that, there’s also the occasional unsettling soundscape to keep you awake, but Melmoth’s got enough pop sensibility in these tracks that they’re both accessible and hooky enough for a mass audience.
Needless to say, once this officially gets released on Steam, there’ll probably be a swarm of remixers on it like flies around vinegar. In what is becoming something of an internal obligation, I have contributed to this. Mibibli’s Quest does not, however, store its music in easily editable MIDIs or tracker form, at least not that I’m aware of. Still worth the time and effort.
To be perfectly honest with you, I still find the concept behind Gubble questionable. This PSX cover’s tagline is pretty accurate in describing the overall gameplay (mostly action, some thought required), but you’re still playing as an insane blathering alien that goes around disassembling prerendered 3D abstract landscapes with construction tools. The end result is basically a spiritual successor to Atari’s Crystal Castles, which kind of makes sense considering both games share a programmer. You’re probably wondering what elevates this game to the level of consideration you’ve come to expect from my “Anatomy of Video Game Music” series – it turns out there was a demoscene moon rising on the night Gubble was first conceived.
Gubble‘s music was written by Seppo Hurme (aka Fleshbrain), who wrote his fair share of tracker music in the early ’90s and also collaborated with the more famous Bjørn Lynne at times. The PC versions uses MIDI music; the quality of instruments in their soundtrack will depend greatly on your setup, and it might not necessarily represent the intent of the composer. When in doubt (and using Windows), install Coolsoft’s VirtualMIDISynth and your soundfont of choice. I am not sure if the PlayStation version uses sample/sequencer based audio, or if just plays prebaked recordings, but it still sounds better than, for instance, the stock MIDI functionality in recent versions of Windows.
Given the subject matter and apparent audience for the game (which is certainly child friendly and most likely explicitly aimed at a younger audience than mine), Gubble‘s soundtrack is… surprisingly nifty. There’s an even split between silly melodramatic cartoon orchestra music and electronic tracks that wouldn’t be out of place in an early 90s computer scenedemo. The former is arguably more appropriate for the game’s aesthetic, but I personally prefer demoscene techno to cartoon orchestra music. None of the tracks are particularly long, but they have their share of elaboration and interesting musical ideas. Some of them do admittedly feel incomplete; as if they abruptly conclude in what should rightly be in the middle of the composition. That’s a fairly common pitfall for video game composers, who understandably deal with different challenges than musicians writing for other mediums.
Overall, though, I’d say the OST is far more ambitious than you might initially expect given the circumstances that surround this game, and it’s got plenty of merits to keep your interest if you ever end up playing the game. Much of its strength is probably a result of MIDI/sequencer limitations; skilled composers can, after all, do especially well under such stylistic pressure, especially if you’re like Fleshbrain and you cut your teeth on module music.
P.S: Because Gubble stores its music in easily obtainable MIDIs, you get another quick and dirty track remix. People who are following my mainline musical efforts might be interested to know that I reused some instrument presets from “Superior Steel”, and thusly it sounds more like the industrial/EDM track I heard yearning to break free from the original.
When I wrote the first Anatomy of Video Game Music article, I was thinking I would focus more on chip music, since the technical end of such tends to give me some fertile topics of discussion. No such luck with Age of Empires II, though – it relies entirely on music streamed from a CD (or audio files if you’re playing the HD remaster that will serve as the base for this review). What I quickly noticed as friends drew me into playing this game was that the soundtrack direction was rather different than my first impressions of the game would lead me to believe. I usually don’t go into games with strong audio expectations, so this was a bit of a surprise.
Given the sheer amount of civilizations over time that Age of Empires represents (in this installment, the entire world over a millennium), you’d expect a wide variety of instrumentation and style, and for the most part, that’s what you get. There are a few commonalities of note, though – one is that the composer uses a lot of electronic samples – synthetic percussion, ambient noises, etc. throughout the tracks; I found them especially noticeable once I started doing the deep listening I needed to in order to do this analysis justice. It’s one thing to say that it makes for a stark contrast to the film score medievalism, but what I find is that this actually helps tie the tracks together – given the aforementioned scope, some unity comes in handy.
The structure of the soundtrack is a bit amorphous at the best of times, but much of this is probably due to the requirements of VGM, and more specifically the overarching need for the music not to be overbearing or obtrusive. Some tracks are fairly lively, but since this is background music for a video game that isn’t Brütal Legend, it never gets particularly intense. The music actually tends more introspective and subdued in the second half, for whatever reason, at least going by the HD version’s trackination. The first only needs a few more trancey synths tossed into to create some worldtronica recording like Juno Reactor, and since some of the game’s compositions were distributed as MIDIs that are easy to find over the internet, the potential for quick and productive remixing work is certainly there. As far as I know, the streamed audio included with the game was created by playing the compositions on high end audio equipment. That’d explain some of the synth presence, perhaps; it’s definitely hard to resist the temptation to add an instrument to your music when it’s on hand.
Whether or not it’s completely appropriate doesn’t really matter at this point; the soundtrack of The Age of Kings has a certain atmosphere that helps the rest of the game establish its time-sucking qualities. It’s also reasonably lengthy (about an hour; newer games in the genre sometimes have rather more music) and yet repetitive enough to stick in your head. There has to be some merit there. From an article-writing stance, there’s enough meat here that I was even able to discuss the technical aspects of the recording, which makes me happy.
P.S: As proof of how easy some MIDIs make remixing work, I provide to you an arrangement of “T Station” as forced through my current metal music production pipeline. It can’t have taken more than 90 minutes and is a pretty quick hackjob, but you might get some entertainment out of it.
This was originally posted on LinkedIn, but I thought it would be a good fit for my personal blog as well, so it’s making its debut here after about a week of exclusivity.
It doesn’t come out as often or as overtly as it might’ve when I was younger, but I’ve always been fascinated by old software. There was a period in the early 2000s where almost every computer game I played was for antiquated MS-DOS systems, and I often spent more time trying to get a game to run properly than I did actually playing the games (this was before DOSBox really became a viable option, although I later embraced it as its functionality improved and I gained access to more powerful computers). Long story short – with a few exceptions, like a huge box of floppies my mother bought me at a garage sale, I relied heavily on the efforts of benevolent archivists to keep myself entertained. Despite all this, and my major/minor combination of history and computer science, I didn’t expect that one day, I would actually contribute to their efforts.