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.
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!
…because I managed a fairly long run (well, long in terms of my recent efforts!) yesterday, which I was quite pleased with.
The weekend was really good. I spent most of it curled up on the sofa working on my latest game, with Geth playing Xenoblade Chronicles in the background. Today was more weekday-like though – I had a bit of day job work to do, and quite a lot of admin to catch up with. I’ve been neglecting the ‘coronawall’, which is basically a giant display of multicoloured lists pinned up on the living room wall, keeping track of all the stuff we were meant to be doing this year that got cancelled, and what’s happening with rescheduled dates and refunds and so on. After a bit of work this afternoon, it’s now up to date as far as the Great North Run, which was announced as cancelled this morning.
I still find it strange that back in early March I was still living my busy normal life, with races and parkruns and social running groups and family visits and gigs and boardgame meetups with friends and ukulele classes, and wondering why I never had time to get anything done, and then suddenly it all just… stopped. I find it even stranger that I still feel like there aren’t enough hours in the day!
I don’t really see my own life going back to the way it was, either, even if the world does eventually. The occasional event will be nice, but this year has proven to me that I need to spend the vast majority of my time at home, just me and Geth. The improvement in my mental health over the last three months has been absolutely immeasurable, despite the situational anxiety of COVID and everything else that’s happening.
Another nice productive day tomorrow, I hope.
Today’s earworm playlist:
Yoko Shimomura – ‘Colony 9’ Pet Shop Boys – ‘On Social Media’
…which I’m really happy about! It was only three miles, but still. I really had to fight for the motivation this morning, and it could very easily have been yet another one-miler, so I’m going to take it as a win.
We didn’t end up driving to Geth’s office this morning, as we had a bit of a late start after his birthday yesterday. Geth says he has enough work to be getting on with as it is for the next week, so we’ll collect his books next Friday instead. I’m actually fairly glad we didn’t, as the roadworks near us are so bad today that they’re having a knock-on effect on the whole surrounding area. Hopefully the traffic will be slightly better this time next week.
I’ll be settling down to work on my game over the weekend, but will post my running vlogs (and possibly a few extras) as usual.
…but I really am hoping to manage a longer run tomorrow.
I woke up really late, presumably due to not having slept well on Monday and Tuesday nights. As such, it’s been a bit of a slow day – it’s also Geth’s 40th birthday today, so we had a Zoom meetup to celebrate. I got him the new Xenoblade Chronicles version as his main present, which should keep him fairly quiet for the next couple of months!
It’s a shame that his milestone birthday coincided with lockdown, but a lot of people are in the same boat this year, and you have to make the best of it. It’ll be nice to have gradual face-to-face celebrations with people when we do get to meet up.
Tomorrow we’ll be taking a trip to Geth’s office, as he needs to collect his books for continued working-from-home purposes. Other than that, I’m looking forward to settling in with my current game project again.
Today’s earworm playlist:
Hiroyuki Sawano and Gemie – ‘Ashes Suite’ Mabel – ‘God Is A Dancer’
…because Easter Sunday was so enjoyable that Geth and I are going to try and have a similar day today with lots of videogaming. As such, I just did a quick run so that I could get it out the way. Lots of interesting routes planned for the week ahead though!
I’m also having a day off before getting back to working on my various game projects tomorrow. Just getting a bit of daily admin done and then I’ll be settling down with my 3DS. It was a lot of fun yesterday playing Professor Layton and Fire Emblem games with the soundtrack of Final Fantasy VII in the background (as I mentioned yesterday, Geth is playing the original game again, and the music is fab!). However, I’m going to take a bit of a break from my ongoing games today and get into a new one, as I’ve fallen into a bit of a grinding hole with most of the ones I’m playing.
Back to the normal (well, pandemic-normal) routine tomorrow.
Today’s earworm playlist:
Nobuo Uematsu – ‘Mako Reactor’ Tomohito Nishiura – ‘City Of Miracles’ Cast of The Jungle Book – ‘I Wanna Be Like You (The Monkey Song)’ The Dubliners – ‘Rocky Road To Dublin’
…because I had chocolate eggs waiting for me for breakfast!
I’m having a very relaxed Easter Sunday. I released the final version of Goblin Decathlon (with added graphics) this morning, and am looking forward to moving onto my next game. Today, though, is all about chilling out – Geth is starting a new playthrough of the original version of Final Fantasy VII, as we won’t be getting the new remake until we decide on a next-generation console. I’m looking forward to having the FFVII music in the room – it’s probably one of my favourite game atmospheres of all time.
Wishing you all a peaceful day.
Today’s earworm playlist:
Takeru Kanazaki – ‘Life at Garreg Mach Monastery’ Tones & I – ‘Dance Monkey’
…because I really woke up on the wrong side of bed this morning. I always feel massively out of sorts when the clocks go forward, and I also didn’t feel well (nothing to do with colds or anything else that could be coronavirus, thankfully!). So a short run it was, and if it hadn’t been for keeping my RED (run every day) streak going, I probably wouldn’t have made it out the door (especially given that a blizzard started as soon as I stepped outside – what happened to the nice spring weather we’ve been having all week?). However, I did feel much better after my run. This is why I’m doing RED in the first place, and it’s working, which is especially important in the current situation.
Geth is still playing Fire Emblem: Three Houses, so I’ve been getting on with admin this afternoon, plus a bit more work on my text adventure game. I estimate that I’ve got about two more hours left to play on the Bravely Default II demo this evening, and then I’ll be focusing on my 3DS games again for a while.
Camp NaNoWriMo starts on Tuesday (it’s a secondary NaNo where you set your own goal – they run them every April and July), so I’m going to sign up to that and use it as motivation to get some more game creation and other writing done over the next month.
Today’s earworm playlist:
Kuana Torres Kahele, James Ford Murphy and Napua Greig-Nakasone – ‘Someone To Lava’ Ollie Wride – ‘Back To Life’ Mike Harding and Myfanwy Talog – ‘DangerMouse Main Theme’ Eddy Grant – ‘I Don’t Wanna Dance’ Toto – ‘Africa’
…and since then I’ve had a very pleasant afternoon working on my new game, with Geth’s first playthrough of Fire Emblem: Three Houses in the background for entertainment. My game is based on the first idea I had for the most recent game jam – I didn’t have much time to work on my jam game last month, so chose a simpler game idea, but I knew I wanted to make the first one as well once I didn’t have any time constraints. It takes place in a fictional world that I originally invented in 2003 when I started working on my first adult full-length novel. I worked on the novel on and off for years before moving onto other projects, and so I never quite got it to a completed state, but I’m excited that I will finally get to share the story with the world via a few different releases (games and possibly some ebooks) that I will be putting out in the next couple of years.
I’ll also be doing a bit of gaming myself this evening. I’ve been really enjoying the Bravely Default II demo, and I’ve also still got a lot of games that I’m dipping in and out of on the 3DS. I find that, alongside running, it’s the best way of maintaining my mental health during these difficult times.
A similar day tomorrow, I hope 🙂
Today’s earworm playlist:
Spandau Ballet – ‘Gold’ Wiz Khalifa – ‘Black And Yellow’ Stereophonics – ‘Handbags And Gladrags’
…and since then I’ve spent the afternoon doing work for clients. Geth ventured out to Sainsbury’s this morning and managed to get most of what we needed, so hopefully this is a sign that supermarket stocks might be starting to stabilise.
Yesterday evening we managed to get some boardgaming in (we didn’t play Pandemic, though it was tempting!), and this evening will be spent on my 3DS. While the ongoing situation is still incredibly dread-inducing and depressing, my increased quantity of me-time is most definitely a silver lining. I’ve been lucky enough to get a fair bit of work lined up for this week, which prevents things from feeling too aimless.
A similar day tomorrow, then, and I expect the rest of the week will be the same!