« Mythos, "Eternity"Odd Web Page Defacement »

The sadly short lifetime of game music

12/01/06 | by Adam | Categories: Music, Copyright, Games

Link: http://agonist.org/ian_welsh/20061130/vista_released_to_business_users_smart_people_will_pass

Ian Welsh over at The Agonist has a good run down on the DRM in Microsoft Vista and what it means. It's a good article, but Vista's not what I'm interested in for this discussion.

There's a brief reference to imbedded DRM on purchased downloaded music. Ian name-checks Jeremy Soule. Soule writes music for games including quite a good score for Black Isle's "Icewind Dale" from a few years ago. He then goes on to demonstrate why the DRM restrictions on music penalise those who buy it.

The reference to Jeremy Soule and his game scores is interesting. There was a period between about 1997 to 2002 or so where compressed digital music support was in its infancy in games. There were some games that shipped with cheesy MIDI-sourced music but most used the audio CD chapters of the game disc to play the soundtrack. At the time this didn't matter to me one way or the other, but now I'm very glad they did. Games by their very nature are incredibly ephemeral; they have a shelf-life of probably six months before the next group of them come out and the old are forgotten. Even purchased ones last little longer as hardware and software requirements change and render them incompatible. The music however -- at least if it's good -- should have a considerably longer lifespan than that, but as it's inherently tied to the game, it's gone just as soon.

Anyone who started gaming in the days of the C64 knows this well. Now although the old SID chip still has its afficionados, the quality of sound is by current standards pretty weak. This doesn't mean that the music is dead though. Amigans were used to this being done when musicians migrated from the C64 to the newer computer and took advantage of the better heardware to recast their old favourites in MOD and MED formats. I have little doubt that they did the same when moving to the original 16-bit SoundBlaster and had a chance to play with the additional tracks available there via formats like S3M. A number of years ago when a friend migrated from the Amiga to the PC, he brought over a stable of loved MOD files. While the PC could play them fine at that point, he decided to migrate them to audio CD using a tool that would take a MOD and turn it into a CDDA-friendly WAV file. I believe he's still listening to that collection. Recently, a couple of the old C64 composers have opted to go back and redo their old game music in a more contemporary and organic style, the result being the C64 Orchestra. Other game composers, where they've been able to keep their copyright, have put out self-published CDs using the sophisticated home-studio recording gear now available to them. But this is older music composed during the C64 and Amiga era when the games industry was a smaller and more informal affair; what about anything newer?

Back to the audio tracks on the CD. By doing this, the game companies inadvertantly future-proofed their game music. Even though the games may be no longer playable, the music is still accessible in its original quality. For games like "Icewind Dale", this is great as it's good music and would be a shame to lose. A year or two ago I went back through my old game CDs and pulled off all of the audio tracks I could in order to keep them available. Some, to be sure, are not so good but others like Danny Pelfrey's "Dark Reign", PopTop's "Railroad Tycoon II" and Red Storm's "Rainbow Six" still sound great.

Since then, most games encrypt their audio within the CD or DVD distribution rendering it unavailable. Some companies, like Blue Byte in their "The Settlers" series, opted to use non-encrypted MP3 files to distribute their song files and I applaud them for that. Unfortunately it's rare. Some, like Blizzard have little applets on their webpages to play music from older games; somehow I doubt that'll last through the next technology shuffle. The nearest persistent form of game soundtrack these days are companies that sell separate audio CDs of the game soundtrack (example from Blizzard again.) This is actually how I have a copy of the aforementioned soundtrack to "Icewind Dale" that I can still listen to.

I think that the history of game music demonstrates in a microcosm what will happen if effective and prevalent DRM appears and is adopted. The copyright owners of specific pieces of music will at a certain point decide that it's no longer profitable to sell and lock it away, never to be seen again. Copies outside of their control will slowly become unusable. Apart from those with good memories, or extraordinarily persistent in maintaining their access, it'll be as if the music never existed at all. This cannot be the way forward.



Comment from: Bryan Ewert [Visitor]  
Bryan Ewert

The “Space Debris” CD (now in MP3 format) is indeed alive and well, and still in regular rotation. In fact, it cycled its way through the playlist just in the last month.

Keep your eye out for game soundtracks in MP3 format that install in a manner which don’t look like MP3’s. Neverwinter Nights 1, for example, installs its soundtrack identified with “*.bmu” extensions. Simply renaming these files with “*.mp3″ extensions yields tracks you can drop directly into WinAmp.

12/09/06 @ 12:03
Comment from: Adam [Member]  

Thanks for the NWN tip; I’ll have to pull those off now I know what to look for.

What tracks were on the original “Space Debris” CD by the way?

12/09/06 @ 15:40
Comment from: Bryan Ewert [Visitor]
Bryan Ewert

The “Space Debris” CD:

Track Artist Title
----- --------------------------------- ---------------------

01 Captain Space Debris
02 Purple Motion (Future Crew) Darkness

03 Jogeir Liljedahl Ghouls
04 Jogeir Liljedahl GComp

05 Jogeir Liljedahl Guitar Slinger
06 Jason · Lemon (Noiseless) Defined As Mess

07 Nemesis · Renaissance Infinity Cubed
08 Moby Ra (Nooon) Bud Rap

09 The Zapper! (Force Ten) Acoustic Blues
10 Vocal (Rebels) Sweet Lorraine

11 Gabe Tompkins Jazzmine
12 Jaakko Manninen (Five Musicians) Can't Fake The Funk

13 Raphael Gesqua Melonmania
14 Mr Man (Andromeda) Distant Call

15 Klorathy (Freekers) Island Of Sadness
16 Noiseless Bass

17 Paal Granum · Vinnie (Spaceballs) The Groovy Element
18 Syntex (Stone Arts) Let It Linger

19 Antti Oksanen · Oskari Kurki Walkaway
20 Purple Motion (Future Crew) When The Heavens Fall

21 Brainbug Sincerely

12/11/06 @ 09:04
Comment from: Bryan Ewert [Visitor]
Bryan Ewert

As it happens, this weekend I stumbled across a playlist from my favorite Amiga MODs that I had assembled years ago (probably the year following “Space Debris"). This playlist was intended to be assembled into another CD, but “Beyond Music” was never actually produced.

Until now.

For “Space Debris” I had used MOD4WIN (

to re-sample the MODs to WAV files for CD pressing. This time I used WinAmp to write the WAV files, then Nero’s WaveEditor (only a so-so editor, but it has a clever modifier stack) to clean up the endings (many of the samples just stopped abruptly, or had an extended silence at the end). To replace MOD4WIN’s Surround mode I used WaveEditor’s “Stereo Processor” tool. The results were close to that generated by MOD4WIN, and using the editor I had more control over the final performance.

“Beyond Music”

01 [Captain] Beyond Music.mp3
02 [Mystic] Reassurance.mp3
03 [Sidewinder] Time Again.mp3
04 [Dens Design] Boom! And She Cums!.mp3
05 [Posion] Daria.mp3
06 [Elysis & Obscure] Classe!.mp3
07 [The Zapper] The Devil’s Dance.mp3
08 [Parity Error] The Exiles of Banack.mp3
09 [Crux] Black Christmas.mp3
10 [Racoon] Infinite Mass.mp3
11 [Yolk] Egosweeper.mp3
12 [Loonie] Lonelyness.mp3
13 [Plasm] DuracelSound.mp3
14 [Linus] Camel Busters.mp3
15 [4-Mat] In The Kitchen.mp3
16 [Necros] Mysticism.mp3
17 [Scorpik] Fudge.mp3
18 [Big Jim] (Dreaming of) Foreign Skys.mp3
19 [Timo & Heikki Niemela] Crooning.mp3

Play Length: 67m58s

12/24/06 @ 16:01
Comment from: Nimble [Member]  

Used to love MODs; I’d suck them down as fast as I could with a 14.4K modem.

That said, heck if I remember which ones I liked. There was one called Rainy Night, I think - began and ended with stormy weather sounds.

Game music has an absurdly short lifespan.

Game themes I have enjoyed:

  • Ultima III and IV music
  • Seven Cities of Gold
  • M.U.L.E.
  • PSI-5 Trading Company
  • Red Alert
  • Outcast (it’s all music by the Moscow Symphony Orchestra, composed by Lennie Moore
  • Diablo

Too many more in the C-64 era to list. Odd what having limited channels and a synthesis chip does to how memorable the songs are. Can’t say as I remember any amazing Intellivision songs :)

Is it sad the number of things which will continue to get lost due to sheer neglect. It’s not a new problem, but it certainly seems to be magnifying with the industry ‘representatives’ dictating the way forward.

Is it too late for the pebbles to vote?

When are they just going to stop pretending and go and outright attempt to nullify fair use clauses, instead of encroaching on it from all sides and squeezing it out as they have been?

12/28/06 @ 23:14
Comment from: Adam [Member]  

Bryan, that’s really neat! For my next birthday, I’d love a copy of those two CDs; I’d never got around to converting the old MOD files myself and I’m not sure I can even find them any more – although I have little doubt they’re on a backup archive somewhere in my home. Out of interest, did you ever collect the S3Ms? I had a number of those, including one which I also have in MOD; the S3M sounded infinitely better with the full 16 bit samples and rather more channels.

Ri(t)chie, I do have a copy of the Red Alert soundtrack on CD; it turned up one Tramps run so I bought it. You’re welcome to borrow it should you choose. As for the “Rainy Night” mod file, here you go! Although you’ll need to find an LHA extractor for your PC in order to play it…

01/02/07 @ 11:10
Comment from: Bryan Ewert [Visitor]
Bryan Ewert

Several of the selections in both collections are from ScreamTracker or FastTracker sources:

Space Debris

Beyond Music

01/06/07 @ 18:02
Comment from: Adam [Member]  

Wow; lots of required information for GameSpot’s site registration.

11/01/07 @ 15:31
December 2023
Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
 << <   > >>
          1 2
3 4 5 6 7 8 9
10 11 12 13 14 15 16
17 18 19 20 21 22 23
24 25 26 27 28 29 30
"Ready, Aye, Ready" was a slogan used by Canadian politicians to indicate Canada's willingness to assist the British Empire in any conflict. It remains in use as a motto for some of the Canadian military. It has almost nothing to do with the content of this blog.


  XML Feeds

powered by b2evolution