Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Music For Horror RPGs

So I have a day when I can paint...and all my fingers are inflamed and swollen. My GP insists that I have no medical problems but my joints are too painful to work properly but I can just about type.

I am about to start playing in a post apocalyptic game which I think is going to feature a lot of zombies. I like zombies. A lot. It's not quite a psychological condition but I am learning to deal with it. After ten years of people telling me no, I don't like zombies, I only like playing D+D, the world is again my oyster.

However, today I am relegated to the role of cat warmer and I must get used to my position in the New World Order.

I found a blog which had a post talking about music for zombie games. The blog is called The Lead Will Walk The Earth and  is well worth a look especially if you like zombies. It made me think again about gaming soundtracks. I feel that decent  music makes a game especially if it's meant to be spooky or psychological. The problem I have got at the moment is that at a club, music also drowns everything else if you play it at a volume where it can be heard.

So at the moment I am mainly thinking about it, rather doing it. Some would say that this is the story of my life. So, I thought Top Ten List. Horror for modern and sci-fi games is my particular target today, so in no particular order.....

1. Battlestar Galactica - Bear McCreary is a name that no one had heard of until Battlestar Galactica started in the TV and now he seems to be in just about everything I watch. that says more about the kind of shows that i watch than about how prolific he is.  The is a good range of music across the four seasons of the show, Like the Allegro from season 2, Boomer Flees from season 1 and Passacaglia also from season 1 are good background tracks. My only word of caution is that the theme is rather iconic so I wouldn't use it.

2. The Last of Us - this is a PS3 game that I haven't played much because I don't own a PS3 but the music is really workable. There is a lot of good stuff for raising the background tension just a notch above base. Enough to knock people off kilter but not make the think that you are messing with their brains. there is also a lot of stuff that is nicely eery.

3. Moon - This is the Clint Mansell soundtrack to a fairly low budget movie. It does have high production values which makes the soundtrack pretty good. Again a lot of eery stuff, like Welcome To Lunar Industries. It is good for raising the bar on the tension levels.
4. Dead Island - I really include Dead Island because of one piece of music which is used as the trailer, which I think is by Giles Lamb. This is one of the most melancholy pieces of music I have ever heard and is my go to piece for death scenes. It is an excellent piece of contemporary classical music that I can listen to over and over. The rest of the soundtrack has it's moments too.

5. Aliens - To me this is the grand-daddy of soundtracks for RPGs.  I got this back in the nineties and have played it off an on ever since. James Horner composed this which I think of as one of the classic soundtracks. There is a constant stress in the the music all they way through and some nice combat orientated tracks that heighten fight scenes. This is a good album to keep people on their toes for the whole session. It links well with the soundtrack to Alien and Prometheus which gives you a nice near future and sci-fi vibe

6. Alice: Madness Returns - This is a game, let alone a soundtrack, that no one has ever heard off. Written by Jason Tai, it is just odd. This is not an album to use as background, it has a very disquieting nature about it. Whenever I listen to it, I feel that the fog is rolling in just before it gets dark. Something is very definitely around the corner in every track. On the downside, this music is disconcerting enough that it would struggle to be ported to another genre.

7. The Returned (Les Revanants) - This is a fairly new addition to my collection. It is the soundtrack to what I am told is one of last years best international shows by a Scottish  band called Mogwai.  I don't know if it's my favourite show of last year but it is wort a watch. the title track, which I think is called Hungry Face is powerful enough to make your players think twice if you start playing it when you give them a choice.

8. The Book of Eli - Another solid soundtrack, this time by Atticus Ross. there is a lot of good stuff on this album. I would not have said there was anything outstanding about it but I would say that nearly every track has a purpose and that although it is primarily a post-apocalyptic film, the tracks work in many genres.

9. Elysium - This is another new one in my collection this time by Ryan Amon who is someone I hadn't heard of before. This has a lot of good tracks for combats. Brutal and rapid.  There are also plenty of background and tension building tracks in there too. As well as being good for pure sci-fi, it has a insutrial/cyberpunk quality that makes it work for cyberpunk and shadowrun.

10. 28 Days Later - I liked this film and the soundtrack but I guess that I might get a bit of stick for this choice. This soundtrack, by John Murphy has a couple of cracking tracks. In the House, In a Heartbeat is a powerful track that builds slowly into a wall of stress. There is some nice melancholy produces such as No More Films and Frank's Death. Tracks like The Tunnel I think are great for combat scenes. The sequel, 28 Weeks Later, also has a few good tracks.

There are plenty of others out there. Too many to mention but they each have their own selling points. Generally, you don't want anything with lyrics as this can get people singing along and it breaks the mood a bit. That said, there are the odd tracks that work and lyrics in foreign languages are usually okay.

Stay away from anything too familiar. I often don't use title tracks as these tend to remind people more of the film than the situation you are trying to recreate. Star Wars is possibly the most memorable of all so I wouldn't use it of I wasn't playing a Star Wars game. Some films feature the repetition of the main theme (like Star Trek, James Bond or Mission Impossible for example) so I would be careful what you take. Terminators main theme is great but nearly every gamer knows it

Many composers work in a similar style and sometimes this can work in your favour. James Horner, who wrote aliens also wrote Avatar. The tribal chanting from Avatar, might not work for an Aliens type game but there is some crossover. He also did enemy at the gates and wind talkers, both World War 2.  If you are looking for a fairly smooth transition between tracks, look for albums bu the same composer as well as those froma series of films like Alien and Aliens.

Even if you don't play computer games, be open to them. Games specialise in trying to evoke emotions for different activities. Many are played repeatedly in the games so have to fit the need. This makes them quite useful for tabletop games.

The biggest tip I would give is listen to the track first. Do not assume you remember it even if you have seen the film a dozen times. Some tracks go on and on and may have several themes which alter the whole piece.

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