Playlist Creation: Five Favourite Videogame Soundtrack Tunes

As I discussed last week, I’ve not been listening to music in a focused way recently, so I surprised myself a bit last night when I found myself on Spotify, working on my playlists again. I have probably 50-odd playlists on Spotify as my music taste is fairly eclectic, but I hadn’t realised I’d never put together a videogame soundtrack playlist before (other than a specific one for Monkey Island soundtracks). Videogame soundtracks feature frequently on my earworm playlists, as both Geth and I play a lot of videogames and the music is often very catchy, so it’s about time I start collecting my favourites together!

I started this process last night, but it’ll be a little more involved than most Spotify playlist creation processes as most of my favourite videogame soundtracks aren’t on Spotify. As such, I’ll have to track them down separately and store them in my local files in order to put the playlist together. This could be a bit of a long project as a result, but it’d be a great playlist to have, so I will persevere.

I have a lot of favourites, but here are five special tunes that have soundtracked my gaming life (and my life in general as a result).

‘Candion’ (Jazz Jackrabbit: Holiday Hare ’95, 1995)

An unseasonal Christmas example to start off with! Having spent about five years obsessively playing PC platformers – starting with Hunchy on the BBC Micro when I was very young and still spectacularly bad at videogames, then moving onto early ’90s offerings such as Jason Storm (I first played it on a black and white screen!), Word Rescue and Hocus Pocus – I spent pretty much all of 1994 and 1995 playing Jazz Jackrabbit, a Sonic-a-like for the PC. Every single one of the soundtrack tunes for the game’s thirty-odd levels brings back so many memories, but it’s this gorgeous MIDI rendition of ‘Carol Of The Bells’ from the game’s second set of Christmas-themed levels that stands out most for me.

‘Type A’ (Tetris, 1989)

I didn’t get a Nintendo Game Boy until 1997, a good eight years after the system had first come out. My younger brother Malcolm was fairly console-obsessed and spent most of the first half of the ’90s unsuccessfully pestering my parents for a Game Boy and/or a Sega Mega Drive. We were both keen viewers of GamesMaster on Channel 4 at the time, and one of my main memories of it is the constant background refrain of ‘ohhh I wish I could play that…’ Of course, having watched the episodes again on YouTube with Geth in more recent years and realising how eye-watering the prices were for consoles and videogames at the time – £50 for a single game in 1993! That’s £105 in today’s money! – I now understand why my brother’s requests fell on deaf ears! I, on the other hand, was perfectly happy gaming on the PC – that is, until I went on a school trip to France in 1997 and had the opportunity to borrow my friend Fiona’s Game Boy during the long boring hours spent on the coach. Realising the usefulness of portability (Mum and Dad were/are keen travellers and so I spent a lot of my life in the backseat of a car at that point), I requested one for Christmas that year. The prices may have been more wallet-friendly by then, as I got my Game Boy – and so did Malcolm, who wasn’t about to miss out on his long-awaited handheld system now that his big sister was getting one.

I had a few games for the system, including, of course, Tetris, which I believe was bundled with every Game Boy ever sold. I always appreciated the fact that you could choose from a selection of background music, something I don’t remember seeing in any other game of any era (I’m sure other examples exist but I’ve not come across them personally!). While I remember preferring the slightly classical-sounding ‘Type C’ when I was playing the game back in the ’90s, it’s the iconic ‘Type A’ that has seared itself into my brain for the rest of eternity.

Addendum: I can’t talk about the Tetris music without linking to the amazing ‘Russian history’ version!

‘The Swamp’ (Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge, 1991)

However, on the odd occasion that I wasn’t in the backseat of a car, the second half of the ’90s (and all of the ’00s… and to some extent the ’10s and ’20s and presumably every decade for the rest of my life) were all about LucasArts graphical adventure games. In 1997 (clearly a big year in gaming for us), Malcolm bought a magazine with a demo for The Curse Of Monkey Island, sending us both down an adventure game rabbithole from which I have yet to emerge nearly quarter of a century later. I’ve played many, many classics from the ’80s and ’90s, as well as a lot of great adventure games that have been made in more modern times, but the Monkey Island series will always be the greatest in my eyes. The soundtracks – an inspired blend of Caribbean reggae and more traditional ‘pirate’ genres such as English hornpipe, composed by Michael Land – are so brilliant that I have a whole separate playlist for them, as mentioned above, so it’s hard to pick a favourite track. However, the one that I think I’ve always loved the most is ‘The Swamp’, a spooky epic from the second entry in the series. It’s like a thousand memories in one.

‘It’s Detective Gumshoe, Pal!’ (Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, 2001)

I’m generally a late adopter of console and handheld systems. In my case it’s because I have such a backlog of old games that I don’t mind waiting a while to play the new ones (exceptions over the last year have included Paper Mario: The Origami King as I bought into the hype, Beyond A Steel Sky as I’d been excited about it for years, and Bravely Default II (arriving Friday! so excited!) as the previous entries were my favourite 3DS games ever. Geth is the same, which has probably been for the best this last year; I think we would have been inordinately stressed if we’d tried to partake in the PS5 / XBOX Series X launch palaver. I’d still like to get one or the other, but I’m happy to wait for a couple of years!

As such, I only got my first 3DS* in early 2014, three years after it had come out. Geth and I had been avid Wii gamers since the turn of the decade, but the Wii seemed like it was dying a death, as the official Nintendo magazine focused more and more on 3DS games. These 3DS games sounded REALLY good, and so I bought my 3DS for my 29th birthday. It was my first handheld since the Game Boy Colour (something I still almost regret buying** as I never actually bought any games for it, just used it to make my old Game Boy games look slightly more colourful. I only bought one because Malcolm spent the entirety of our 1999 summer holiday in France trying to find an affordable one in the supermarkets, and by the end of the holiday I wanted one too. Don’t buy into the hype!).

I love the 3DS and still play it a lot, even though I’ve got a Switch Lite too now. The system has provided what are now some of my favourite games of all time, such as the first two Bravely games, Fire Emblem: Awakening, and of course the brilliant Ace Attorney series, which was my first introduction to Japanese visual novel-style adventure gaming.

The Ace Attorney soundtracks are fantastic. The games were originally released in the early ’00s in Japan before being upgraded for worldwide release on the 3DS a decade later, and so the music is still very MIDI-sounding and retro. All the tracks are great, but my favourite is the character theme for Dick Gumshoe. (He’s not my favourite character but he has far and away the best music!)

*I’m now on my second. My first one died bravely in battle (like, literally in the middle of a Bravely Default battle) in 2016. That was a bad day.

**Almost, but not quite. Due to the vagaries of cartridge decay, my copy of Super Mario Land 3: Wario Land now refuses to play on my Game Boy, but plays perfectly on my Game Boy Colour. My Game Boy is still fine with my other cartridges, so it’s just one of those technical mysteries!

‘Leaving Earth’ (Mass Effect 3, 2012)

Around the same time as I was enjoying the Ace Attorney games for the first time, I finally got round to playing the Mass Effect series.

I mentioned earlier in this post that Geth and I are late console adopters, but we’re not as bad as we used to be. Back in the early ’10s, we waited a whole console generation so that we could pick up an XBOX 360 for cheap when the XBOX One came out in 2013. As such, we didn’t own the Mass Effect games until then, and though I watched Geth doing a couple of playthroughs in 2014, I didn’t get round to playing them myself until the following summer.

Mass Effect was a huge and important gaming experience for me. It was what inspired me to start running (because I watched Commander Shepard running around the universe and thought ‘I’d like to be able to run forever, too’). It shifted my expectations and perceived baselines around videogames, and has become a major comparison point for me when I’m evaluating new ones. Unlike the other games on this list, however, I wouldn’t say that the Mass Effect soundtrack is uniformly brilliant or even that memorable. It’s one particular track – ‘Leaving Earth’ from Mass Effect 3 – that stands out so much that it will always be one of my all-time favourites.

I always find it lovely that ‘Leaving Earth’ – along with many other soundtrack classics – was composed by Clint Mansell, who in the late ’80s and early ’90s was in Pop Will Eat Itself, one of the greebo bands loved by a teenage Geth back in the day. Greebo and epic soundtracks are worlds apart to me, but maybe not as much as I think!

In closer-to-home musical news: the Zoom band night I was attending on Wednesdays has come to an end for now 🙁 However, I intend to keep doing a bit of ukulele practice at the same time every Wednesday so that I don’t get out of the habit again. Maybe I’ll start learning some of my favourite videogame soundtracks on ukulele!

More musical thoughts next week.

A musical interlude

A slight bit of blog business today. Now that I’m caught up with all my pre-pandemic gig reviews, I’m planning to make Wednesday ‘music day’ on the blog. I’ve not focused on music posts for a while, as I’ve not been focusing on music so much in my everyday life, for a couple of reasons. First of all, gigs are obviously on the back burner for now. Secondly, I’ve not been listening to music in a focused way during the last year – I’ve been finding I concentrate on work better when it’s quiet, and when I’m out for a walk with headphones I prefer to listen to podcasts. When I do put music on (largely at the request of Geth when he wants some background music), it’s always an old standby like ’80s pop or synthwave or videogame soundtracks – it’s been a long time since I’ve deliberately listened to an album or sought out new music.

It’s been about eighteen months since I wrote my last New Hits Friday post, because I’ve not been keeping up with the chart for the last year (most chart music is not to my taste so I was starting to find it a bit of a chore, though I will go back and catch up because I still find the chart really interesting academically). I’m a few Now! albums behind, and other than the usual Christmas shows, I can’t remember the last time I turned on the music channels. It’s just not been a focus for the last year and a bit; there have been other things going on.

However, I would like to get back into the habit of focused music listening, which is why I’m going to be setting aside Wednesday blog posts for related content. This could take many forms – reviews, features, general ramblings – as I want to keep the scope quite broad. I expect that at first, I’ll mostly be focusing on music topics I already know about, but there’s always the potential to learn something new. Sometimes on ukulele!

Ocarina
Ocarina out of time. Mum and Dad passed this on to me a couple of Christmases ago but I haven’t had much chance to pick it up yet. One day 🙂

A little more comfortable

As part of the big year of home improvement, I’m gradually adding stuff to help make the space easier and more comfortable for day-to-day living. The coffee table in the centre of our living room had been feeling a bit claustrophobic and precarious, as it was too close to the sofa (meaning I had to squeeze in and out of my favourite spot all the time) and really cluttered on top due to my need to have a cushion on it during the day (I like to put my feet up!). I’ve never kicked any of my drinks over yet, but it was only a matter of time. As such, I bought this useful side table last week.

Side table

The soft storage basket in the base provides a space for all my gaming handhelds, and keeping drinks on the top next to me means that they are now at much less risk of being knocked over! This is important given the quantity of electronics I keep and use in the space.

I’ve also been enjoying having all our bread products tucked away out of sight in our new bread bin.

Bread bin

I found it a bit difficult to open at first, but it turns out the trick is not to close it too tightly.

In non-shiny news, I’ve had a fairly busy week. Not too much day job work, but I did have a lot of admin and accounting to do in preparation for submitting my tax return, which was as boring as you might expect! I’ve also been continuing with the TOMM cleaning method, which is still taking me about an hour a day while I get into the swing of it.

From Sunday onwards I was able to go outside to run, which I was really appreciating… and then on Wednesday night it snowed heavily again so I was back indoors on the treadmill yesterday morning! Thankfully it had mostly melted by today so I was back out on the roads again. Hopefully there won’t be any more snow over the weekend as I’ve got lots of outdoor running plans.

I’m still playing ukulele as part of the Zoom group on Wednesday evenings, and I’m still getting as much videogaming in as I possibly can, and… that’s about it. I expect life will continue in this vein for some time, at least until the current lockdown restrictions start to ease off again.

This week’s earworm playlists:

Saturday

The Marcels – ‘Blue Moon’
Ben E King – ‘Stand By Me’
John Barrowman – ‘Anything Goes’

Sunday

Yoko Shimomura – ‘Radiant Historia’
Cast of Oliver! – ‘Food, Glorious Food’
Duran Duran – ‘Friends Of Mine’

Monday

Noriyuki Iwadare – ‘Turnabout Sisters’
The Weeknd – ‘Blinding Lights’
Julian Nott – ‘Wallace And Gromit Main Theme’
Arrow – ‘Hot, Hot, Hot’

And a bonus track Geth was humming that day:

The Lancashire Hotpots – ‘The Technical Support Song’

Tuesday

Men Without Hats – ‘Safety Dance’
Glenn Miller – ‘In The Mood’
Audrey Hepburn – ‘Moon River’
3 Daft Monkeys – ‘Paranoid Big Brother’

Wednesday

Oasis – ‘Songbird’
Duran Duran – ‘Friends Of Mine’
The Strokes – ‘Last Nite’
The Chemical Brothers – ‘Galvanise’

Thursday

Bob Marley & The Wailers – ‘Three Little Birds’
Katy Perry – ‘Firework’
Duran Duran – ‘The Edge Of America’
Revo – ‘Fighting To The End’
Duran Duran – ‘Tel Aviv’
Belinda Carlisle – ‘Circle In The Sand
Duran Duran – ‘Anyone Out There’

Friday

Nintendo 3DS eShop – ‘Main Theme’
Landscape – ‘Einstein A Go Go’
Traditional – ‘America The Beautiful’
Pointer Sisters – ‘Automatic’
Audrey Hepburn – ‘Moon River’

Back to the ukulele

After my ukulele classes came to an abrupt halt – along with everything else – back in March 2020, I didn’t pick up my ukuleles much. I did have a good strum for a couple of weeks in the summer, as I had a lovely new tenor ukulele that Dad had sent as a surprise, but on the whole I found that I was busy with other things. I really need the motivation of either a regular weekly group or a daily streak in order to keep going with habits – and I don’t have time for yet another daily streak, especially now that I’ve started a cleaning one!

Thankfully, a local organisation has just started a weekly Zoom community band session. It’s free of charge, no experience required, and really relaxed – music groups on Zoom require everyone except the leader to be on mute due to feedback, so I can happily strum away without worrying about anyone else hearing my out-of-practice playing!

Tenor ukulele
Ukulele-ing from the comfort of my own sofa.

Tonight was the second session, and after the first it took me a bit by surprise as there were a lot of new songs and they were a bit tougher for me! It’s great though because it means I’ve got lots to practise before next week, which gives me the motivation I need to have a quick go every now and then. Hopefully I’ll be able to keep up a bit better at the next session!

First (half) week of work done

I’ve only been back at work for three days, but it’s been a pretty busy half week, so the weekend is very welcome! The combination of lockdown and snow lends itself well to videogaming, so that’s what I’ll be doing. Geth got me a Switch Lite for my birthday, I still have plenty of games in my backlog on other systems, and I still have lots of games from the most recent Adventuron jam to play and rate – so I’m not going to run out of entertainment any time soon.

It always takes me a while to find my feet again after Christmas. There’s a lot of stuff that needs sorting out in the house, but I’m gradually catching up with things. I’m sleeping late at the moment, which is a habit I really want to get out of so that I can get more done in the mornings. Hopefully once Geth is back at work next week, it’ll be easier to get into pattern.

I started attending a new Zoom music group this week. It’s very beginner-friendly, and Zoom music groups are always muted so I can happily bash away on my ukulele without worrying about anyone hearing me. As such, it’s a really good way to get back into playing; I haven’t found much time for practising since my previous classes came to a halt last March.

A good start to January, given the ongoing circumstances.

Pizza calendar
All calendars now arrived and installed. Getting there!

Today’s earworm playlist:

The Weeknd – ‘Blinding Lights’

Experimenting

Back to my mile route this morning…

…and then straight back into my game for more polishing off. Today was all about experimenting with external sound effects!… which didn’t work, and so I recreated them with the beeps that come as part of Adventuron instead. The beeps probably sound better and more consistent than the effects I made with my wide-ranging elderly instrument collection and limited musical skill, but hopefully I’ll be able to work out how to incorporate my own sound one of these days!

I also had Geth playtest the game this evening. This process always throws up a few issues that I need to work on, so that will be the first job for tomorrow.

Hopefully – fingers crossed! – when I update again tomorrow, the game will be all but finished. Jam deadline is Saturday afternoon!

1990s keyboard
One of my ultimately-unsuccessful sound effects was recorded on my clunky old Concertmate keyboard from 1994. I still love all the terrible voice settings you can use for the keyboard!

Today’s earworm playlist:

FM-84 – ‘Bend And Break’
Zara Larsson – ‘Lush Life’

Suddenly summer

Back to the intervals today…

…because Geth wants to start doing intervals, so he came running with me this morning to observe how they work. I only did half the number of sets I was doing a few weeks ago though!

It’s not been a great day. I had an absolutely terrible night’s sleep last night – partly due to the muggy heat and partly due to ongoing stress – and then we had some bad news this afternoon. I had hoped to get some work done on my next adventure game today, but there have just been too many distractions. Hopefully tomorrow I will be able to lose myself in it a bit.

On the plus side, we did go for a walk in the glorious warm sunshine, largely because we needed to get out of the house. Spring has felt a bit sudden this year due to the lockdown; the world has been on hold, but obviously the seasons haven’t. I’m looking forward to doing a lot of walking over the summer, even if we can’t do much else.

Ukulele collection
My ukulele family has expanded this week, thanks to a generous gift from Dad! Looking forward to having a good strum over the weekend.

Today’s earworm playlist:

Ollie Wride – ‘Back To Life’
Daniel Bedingfield – ‘If You’re Not The One’

Parallel universes

Another Wednesday interval session today…

…which was tough, but I’m kind of enjoying them in a slightly masochistic way. It was Geth’s turn to brave Sainsbury’s today, so I was able to focus on my run.

I then spent the afternoon finishing off a paper for a client, and am now weighing up options for the next few days’ entertainment. Disney Plus launched in the UK this week, which has been good timing in retrospect. Geth bought a year’s worth of subscription yesterday and put on Aladdin and The Sword in the Stone last night, which sparked a lot of fuzzy childhood memories. It also means we can watch the latest Star Wars TV series, which I expect we’ll be doing over the next week.

In the parallel universe where coronavirus didn’t happen, I had to make a decision about whether I was going to be spending tonight at the poetry night or at my ukulele class end-of-term concert (it would have been the concert, as that only happens three times per year – and for unrelated reasons was probably going to be the last one ever – but that’s all academic now). While the decision has been taken out of my hands, the poetry night is doing a Facebook Live event this evening, so I’ll have a nosey at that.

I’ll also be poking my head into the videogame world this evening – both playing them, and having a think about the next one I’m making…

Interval splits
Some of my best interval splits from this morning’s workout (I know this is a real ‘running bore’ picture but being in the house limits my photography ideas!).

Today’s earworm playlist:

Koichi Sugiyama – ‘Unflinchable Courage’
Toto – ‘Africa’
Cast of Aladdin – ‘Arabian Nights’
Bill Conti – ‘Gonna Fly Now’

An opposite-of-normal Wednesday

After the kind of interval session that just a week ago I could not have imagined fitting into my training until at least the summer…

…I came back home for a fairly unplanned afternoon. Work has been quiet for the last couple of weeks; I was (and still am) hopeful that because most academics are now working from home, they will have more time to write papers and hence more papers to send to me, but I suppose that everyone will be trying to negotiate a new normal at the moment before they can settle back into their work. However, I have had some constructive feedback on my most recent text adventure game, so I was able to spend most of the afternoon working on the next update for that.

Normally I’d be at ukulele class tonight. I’m not, obviously; it’s cancelled like everything else. As such, while it’s not a normal Wednesday, it’s now a ‘new normal’ day: the same as yesterday, and the same as tomorrow.

Braidburn Valley Park, April 1987
Windback Wednesday: Braidburn Valley Park, April 1987. Mum is pushing a two-month-old Malcolm in the buggy, and I’m standing to the left of the photo in my ‘puddle suit’. I last ran up and down that path a week ago today, before I left Edinburgh; it has not changed in the slightest in thirty-odd years. In these uncertain times, that is extremely comforting.

Today’s earworm playlist:

Koichi Sugiyama – ‘Unflinchable Courage’
Demi Lovato – ‘Confident’
Toto – ‘Africa’*

*I decided two weeks ago that Toto’s ‘Africa’ would be my handwashing song during the coronavirus pandemic. I have now washed my hands so much that it is also starting to become a frequent earworm.

Stretching out

I ran with Geth again this morning…

…and since then we’ve just been in the house, hiding from the cancelled world outside. Geth went to Sainsbury’s, and came back with approximately half the things I’d sent him out for (panic-buying has officially set in here in Newcastle), but we’ll manage. I also went to the pharmacy to pick up a prescription – the outside world feels a bit odd and apocalyptic at the moment.

It’s felt like a long day, but I’m not about to complain, because extra time is my most treasured thing and suddenly having a lot more of it is a real silver lining. Sage Gateshead has now closed, so my ukulele classes are not happening for the foreseeable future, and I don’t know when they’ll be rescheduled. The UK Games Expo confirmed this evening that they are postponing the event to August; parkrun will make an announcement tomorrow.

The North Tyneside 10k has also postponed to October, so that’s the last of my spring races fallen by the wayside. I’m amazed and grateful that none of my postponed races clash with each other (or with the GNR), and also feel quite lucky that I hadn’t booked any of my planned autumn races before this all kicked off. I had wanted to run the South Shields 10 Mile and the Great Scottish Run this year, but they’ll be there for me in the future.

Keeping in touch with family as the daily situation changes is my main priority at the moment, along with keeping myself and Geth safe and sane. Running is a big help with the latter, and I’m really glad I have that in my life at the moment.

Brooks running shoes
I was able to try out my new running shoes from Inverness this morning. They’re super bouncy and did give me a slight but noticeable boost!

Today’s earworm playlist:

Lightwood Games – ‘Link-A-Pix Theme’
Ollie Wride – ‘Back To Life’
Mesh and Mechanical Cabaret – ‘Born To Lie [Duet Version]’
Koichi Sugiyama – ‘Unflinchable Courage’
EMF – ‘Unbelievable’