Sunday, 3 July 2016

Press Start & Replay: My Favourite Video Game Loops

Here's the thing. I love videogame soundtrack loops. I respect composers who can put together something that will set the tone, fade into the background for long periods, but still have a hook that makes it interesting when you just sit down and listen to it. This is a list of some of my favourite video game loops. I'm sure everyone's got their own favourites, but here are ones that put yours truly in a trance-like state of affection by association. Here they are in vague descending order of how much I love them.

10. 'Self-Justified Sacrifies' - Fingerspit
Gods Will Be Watching (2014)

Gods Will Be Watching is a 2014 sci-fi indie game about brutal resource allocation and difficult moral choices. The game is structured into scenarios that ask you to finely balance competing demands to prevent situations from spiralling out of control. For instance, in the opening scenario you are a space terrorist who must keep several hostages subdued enough so that you can hack a computer terminal in peace, without intimidating them so much that they go insane, try to run away and force you to blow their brains out. 'Self-Justified Sacrifices' is the loop that plays during this opening vignette, and its grim oppressive drive will keep shoving you in the back as you repeat the negotiations over and over again.

9. 'Tarant Sewers' - Ben Hogue
Arcanum: Of Steamworks & Magick Obscura (2001)

Arcanum, from the now defunct Trokia Studios, is probably my favourite CRPG. As the title suggests, the game depicts a land of Pseudo-Victorian era with Tolkien-esque races sdealing with the upheaval of an industrial revolution wholly incompatible with traditional magical powers. The developers (some of the key personnel behind the original Fallout series) decided to go with a string quartet to background most of the game's environments. The result is truly dapper. You can read more about the composition, and find links to downloads and sheet music on the composer's website.

8. 'Crystals' - M|O|O|N
Hotline Miami (2012)

The soundtrack of 2012's Hotline Miami gives the game's twitchy, numbing gameplay a mechanical blood-slick sheen. As you run into the same orgy of ultraviolence over and over again, the electronic music gradually starts to feel like you are trapped in some 1980's synthesiser nightmare. The only way out you know is to kill, kill, kill.

7. ‘Stickerbush Symphony’ - David Wise
Donkey Kong Country 2 - Diddy’s Kong-Quest (1995)

As we get further down this list, we're going to be turning up more and more things from my happy childhood times with the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. The Donkey Kong series both alternately delighted and enraged me as a kid. I can't tell you how much time I spent navigating bramble thickets with rotating cannon-barrels, gripping the controller in white-knuckle frustration. Maybe the developers knew just how frustrating the Bramble Blast level could be, because listening to this calm, collected track takes the edge off the pain.

6. ‘Look At All The Money’ - Christopher Tin [skip to 16:06]
Offworld Trading Company (2016)

Christopher Tin (famous for winning a Grammy for his work on the Civilization 4 opening theme) actually learnt to play Offworld Trading Company in order to compose its soundtrack. It shows, because the way the dynamic soundtrack of this score swells with the frenetic pace of the gameplay is masterful. Offworld Trading Company is a game of ruthless space capitalism, where your objective is to grind them into Martian dust with a combination of efficient production chains and outright barstardry. 'Look At All The Money' (at 16:06 of the video above) is a loop that plays in the late stages of a round, where resource prices become volatile and opponents begin the vicious endgame of buying out each other's stock. The music's ascending and descending march of arpeggios match the bewildering array of resource tickers and stock prices you'll need to keep track of if you want to emerge as space-tycoon-extraordinaire.  


5. 'Village Theme’ - Soyo Oka
Simcity SNES (1991)

There is something awfully charming about the SNES version of the classic city builder, Simcity. The addition of your advisor Dr. Wright to the replacement of the generic monster disaster with Bowser, the added Nintendo flavour made this game one of my favourite at the video rental store (remember those?). But it's the game's music that has left the strongest impression on me after all these years. The game's loops all have a wistful optimism to them, and your cities growth stages are all tied together by a recurring musical motif that reminds you of your cities humble beginnings even as it explodes into a metropolis.

4. 'prime #4507' - Hideki Sakamoto
Echochrome II (2010)

'prime #4507" is not technically a true 'loop' - it's a 75 minute long piece of music that holds the record for the longest single piece of music ever composed for a video game. It plays continuously as you solve Echochrome's puzzles, giving everything a jaunty optmism that reminds me that I should probably pick up my violin and play it every once in a while. This music is also great for long countryside car trips. It has a meandering, daydream-like quality that puts me at ease.

3. 'Undersea Palace' - Yasunori Mitsuda
Chrono Trigger (1995)

If any game could capture the feel of grand, menacing, undersea magic palace, it was Chrono Trigger. In fact, almost every track from this Square Enix SNES JRPG classic conjures up nostalgic visions of the game's space-time spanning locales in my mind. I'm not the only fan of Chrono Trigger's soundtrack, which has spawned multiple tributes including 2006's awesome Chrono Symphonic, 2016's Chronicles of Time, and the quirky Chrono Trigger x Jay-Z mashup, Chrono Jigga in 2013. It is my sincere hope to go to a live action Chrono Trigger orchestral concert before I die.

2. 'Battle Against a True Hero' - Toby Fox
Undertale (2015)

With Undertale's soundtrack, Toby Fox basically channeled everything special about the limited polyphony and instrument banks of countless old JRPG's and made something that can stand on its own purely in terms of raw epicness. I've enthused almost incoherently about Undertale in the past, and this is in no small part due to the game's fantastic music. I chose 'Battle Against a True Hero' because it makes for the most interesting comparison with Chrono Trigger, but I could just have easily chosen Dating Start! for its amusing musical reference to visual novel loops, MEGALOVANIA for its remix spawning determination, or the game's main theme for its poignant sparseness. Or any other track from the game really. 


1. '回廊 (Corridor)' - Shoji Meguro
Shin Megami Tensei: Persona4 (2008)

I can't really begin to explain how this music makes me feel. As a simple piano loop, this track from Persona4 that plays near the end of the game haunts me. The way it shifts between major and minor keys, between wistful sadness, mystery and delicate hope... for some reason more than any other this track hits me right in the feels. It may well be because this is the song that encapsulates some of the emotional depth of Persona4 for me - a game about uncertainty, identity and accepting one's flaws. It may be because this track is near the end of the game, and it's a subdued track when you expect an epic one. For whatever reason, this is the loop that makes me want to cry. And that's why it's number 1.

So how do you feel about these choices? Any loops from games that you love personally? Share your thoughts in the comments!