Monthly Archives: February 2014

Block Rockin’ Beeps – Sleeping Dogs: System, by Terry Lynn

Track Name: System
Track Composer: Terry Lynn
Game: Sleeping Dogs (taken from her album Kingstonlogic 2.0)
Platform: Various
Sound Chip/System: N/A

Games have a somewhat awkward relationship with licensed music. Much like cinema and TV before them, they’ve had to try and learn where and how to use tracks they had no involvement in making. You can pick relatively little-known music and have it feel like your own, or you can pick widely-known (and more expensive) pieces and then have to deal with the preconceptions they bring along with them.

There have been some awful, awful choices from a few companies such as: the Marilyn Manson ‘New Shit’ trailer for Dragon Age, Phil Collin’s ‘In the Air Tonight’ launching Dead Space 3, the Johnny Cash cover of ‘Hurt’ used for Prototype 2 and finally the use of Skrillex’s ‘Bangarang‘ for the new Sonic Boom game. Personal feelings about the songs aren’t important; they’re all just bad choices for those trailers. Atmospherically inappropriate, hilariously out of place or just badly edited, none of them work.

Still, not everyone gets it wrong. The earliest successful forays into licensed music can be found in the original Tony Hawk games, Wipeout 2097 or SEGA’s arcade titles like Top Skater and Crazy Taxi. The songs fit the atmospheres and the cultures that the games portrayed, and while they weren’t particularly integrated into the action they were definitely great choices and, in turn, introduced a lot of gamers to bands they’d never heard of before as a delightful side-effect.

These days eyes are usually on each incarnation of GTA for the largest set of licensed music and they tend to provide quite a selection of interesting tracks. Unfortunately they exist only as radio fodder and while entertaining, they’re not utilized the way they could be. This is where today’s track, and the game that hosted it, come in.

Terry Lynn’s track, System is powerful. It’s an ass-kicking, angry track with serious purpose.

Sleeping Dogs, the unfairly compared open-world crime game, has one of the best selections of licensed music in game history. Varied, unusual and always fitting, it’s a pleasure to hear on the in-game radios but more than that, United Front used it to score certain moments in the game. Certain missions and moments within them are set to some of the licensed music, or can pick from a small selection of appropriate tracks.

‘System’ can be heard during the Club Bam Bam mission. You go to the club to inform the owner that your gang is the one running their protection now but the owner, and the opposing gang members, aren’t happy with you, so a huge brawl kicks off. Right at the start of it the DJ scratches off whatever is currently playing in the club and cues up something more appropriate, on my first playthrough it was System.

A raw, bass heavy, thumping, raging masterpiece of social upheaval. It fires from the speakers with a kick few songs will ever match and when it does, as a player, you are utterly pumped for the encounter. Coincidence happens, cool moves land their blows in time to music and the action is amplified. It’s one of those moments in games where all the elements come together and form something new and exciting. In short, a fantastic track for that moment.

But beyond that moment I still loved what I’d heard. I looked the track up and discovered it’s real message that Terry Lynn put out on the album it’s part of, Kingstonlogic 2.0. It’s about her home Kingston, Jamaica, it’s about the struggle against the corrupt government and police force that murders and oppresses people, about the poor quality of international help, it’s about people and their day to day lives. It’s an incredible album and through it Terry Lynn showed me, clearer than any news report had, the problems facing Jamaica. I was spurred to learn more, I bought the album, I read her lyrics, read articles she had linked to. I was educated and given a perspective I had never seen before. She imbued her music with incredible power.

United Front harnessed some of it for Sleeping Dogs, their own tale of police corruption and triad warfare, and they did it impressively well, but beyond that they showed me this music. They continued the chain of education and awareness that Terry Lynn started and gave me a new artist to follow. Alongside this I found many other new bands through the game, none quite with the same message, but all welcome additions to my library.

It all shows that licensed music, deftly wielded, can be a treasure chest.

Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs – Talking about the Story with writer, Dan Pinchbeck (Spoilers throughout!)

I recently played through Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs and I found it a captivating experience. While certainly different to the original it was a focused and disturbing game that portrayed a driven story of very dark and interesting ideas. I wanted to know a little more about and the man behind the story very generously agreed to answer some of my questions! These questions and answers are very much a post-mortem so if you’ve yet to play the game, and want to experience the mystery as intended, it’s best not to read this yet!

Otherwise read on and enjoy!

A Factory for Pigs 

1) The first Amnesia title owed a clear inspirational debt to H.P. Lovecraft, a favourite of games developers, while A Machine for Pigs seemed to keep some elements of that it had a different feel. I felt the story and visuals were reminiscent of Clive Barker, particularly his work in the Books of Blood and The Hellbound Heart/Hellraiser were they an inspiration? What other works inspired your horror exploration in AMFP?

Dan: Barker wasn’t specifically – haven’t read books of blood for years! I’m quite a big steampunk fan, so there’s a lot of that in there. Specifically G W Dahlquist’s Glass Books of the Dream Eaters trilogy, plus Lavie Tidhar and Stephen Hunt mainly. Hide Me Among The Graves by Tim Howard was quite influential as well.

A Lunch for Pigs

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Block Rockin’ Beeps – DEVIL’S CRUSH: Opening Theme

Track Name: Opening Theme
Track Composer: Toshiaki Sakoda
Game: Devil’s Crush (also known as Dragon’s Fury)
Platform: Mega Drive (PC-Engine originally)
Sound Chip/System: Yamaha YM2612

Simulation is always an odd task for a video game and I find for pinball games it’s been a very flawed proposition. Replicating the reality of the machines has, until rather recently, been extremely hard because they rely on the innate properties and natural understanding we have of physics. The movement of the freewheeling ball is governed primarily by physics and can only be altered somewhat by designer or play interaction. Simulating physics is an extremely computationally expensive task and even now, with the vast power games have at their hands, it’s still only an abstraction of reality. Developers attempt to make something believable, something that reacts in a way we would expect, rather than what is strictly 100% accurate.

Some games try to simulate the reality of pinball table design. Pinball FX-2 does a great job of presenting a lifelike pinball game and it’s a lot of fun, but it begs the question of why limit yourself to what already exists? The most memorable pinball games have embraced the unreal nature of video games and have taken that to the themeing and table design. Some of the most memorable, for gamers of the 16-bit era, are NAXAT Soft’s Crush games.

The music we’re listening to today comes from the Mega Drive version of the second instalment in the series, DEVIL’S CRUSH, which was also released under the name Dragon’s Fury. It is a twisted dark-fantasy pinball table with gruesome demonic imagery and bizarre boss-fights and the music suits it perfectly.

This track is less famous than the main table music, which is a high-energy fantasy rock effort, but I feel it’s the most effective and interesting piece that evokes the weird visual atmosphere the envelopes the game. It’s a creeping prelude to the action, considered and fearful with a high-gothic air to it; it also displays the Japanese vision of fantasy we’ve seen recently in games like Dark Souls.

It’s strange to think it’s for a pinball game, it feels grander and more involved than you would expect from genre that is typified by quick pick-and-play sessions, but that is a strength I feel. An unusual, dark composition like this lends the game more presence and separates it from the traditional pinball experience, More of an adventure, more of a game world and in turn, more determination from the player to beat it.

I would dearly have loved to use the PC-Engine version of this composition for this feature but sadly, despite being the original incarnation it’s just isn’t as good as the port. Technosoft, who handled the MD/Genesis conversion, masterfully controlled the unique elements of the Mega Drive sound chip to enhance Toshiaki Sakoda’s original compositions, they’re clearer and rawer, with sharper edges and more drive thanks to it. It’s a shame, because I look forward to having a great PC-Engine track featured here, but I had to go with the best version and this is undoubtedly it.

If you’re interested in more information on the Crush Pinball series, check out this article over at HardcoreGaming101 which talks about all the titles, including the oft-forgotten SNES title JAKI CRUSH.