Monday, December 24, 2012

What is a Leitmotiv, and Why Does It Matter?

Welcome to Leitmotif December! This is going to be one of my many attempts to write multiple articles around the same theme in a single month. Given my track record for updates thus far, I figure it's a fairly lofty goal. But I have some pretty fun ideas, and I'd love to share them with you!

This first article deals with exactly what a leitmotif is and how it works within the realm of video games. There have been many arguments within the academic community about what a leitmotif really is; it's a term that is most closely identified with German composer Richard Wagner (although it was used more by his critics than by the man himself), and many definitions of leitmotivs come from the analysis of Wagner's work. Since a strict definition of the term was never pinned down, scholars argue about the use of the term when describing movie soundtracks, game soundtracks, and other media music. This article will aim to provide a working definition of the term, the controversy that the term inspires, and a deeper look into the usage of the term when talking about game music.

A leitmotif, in its simplest form, is defined as a short musical passage that often repeats and is associated with a person, place, thing, or idea. On the surface, it's pretty easy to see how this idea applies to video game music.

One look at this stage should be enough to tell you why.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

"Love is Over": The Concept of Reward and Punishment through Music

One of the driving forces (and biggest points of contention) in video games is the fact that they're rooted in a reward-based system. If the player does well, the game ensures that the player feels good about himself or herself. These rewards differ from genre to genre: in role-playing games, the player may gain a tremendous amount of experience or find a rare, powerful item, while in adventure games the player may be treated to some new dialogue to enhance their experience. This concept also applies to music. When the player reaches the end of a level, solves a puzzle, or discovers something new, a victory tune often plays.

And sometimes, the characters raise the roof.

Conversely, if the player does poorly, the game is sure to indicate his or her shortcomings through the use of music. These musical cues generally activate when the player dies, fails a mission, loses a race, etc., and the most extreme of these cases is the dreaded "Game Over" screen, indicating the ultimate failure in the game. But how do these musical clips interact with the player? What purpose do they serve other than a reinforcement of the visual indication of gain or loss?

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

A Brief History of Early Video Game Music

In the beginning, mankind created video games. And it was good. But it wasn't great.

Back in the early days of games, programmers were having enough trouble creating a working product, putting all of their work (and processing power) into gameplay and graphical output. From the earliest, Tennis for Two, to more sophisticated early games like Galaga, there was either very little music (usually in the form of title screen jingles) or no music at all. It makes sense; this was back when the limits of gaming technology mandated that designers carefully choose how each bit of data was consumed. They just didn't have the space to worry about music when they were having enough trouble getting the game to run.

As shocking as that may seem now.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Songs to Grow On: Birdfeather Nebula

It's been quite a while since we've seen the dynamic duo of Banjo the bear and Kazooie the breegull, but no one can forget the catchy tunes that accompanied them through Grunty's Tower and beyond. This is a really cool take on the styles of Grant Kirkhope in the Banjo-Kazooie games as envisioned by Soundcloud user jdmoser. Check it out!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Interview: "Video Game Music Choir" Founder Julia Seeholzer

As a Northwestern student, I know a thing or two about a cappella groups. With about seventeen different groups, the college is never at a shortage of entirely vocalized music. However, one thing about which Northwestern cannot boast is having a group that sings only video game music, unlike Berklee College of Music in Boston. There, a student by the name of Julia Seeholzer created a group in Sepetember of 2009 where members arrange, rehearse, and perform different video game tunes, usually with little to no instrumental accompaniment. In a school devoted entirely to music, this yields some very impressive results. The following is an interview I conducted with Julia about the choir, her musical background, and her gaming background.

Julia Seeholzer

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Eternal Sonata, or, Chopin in Wonderland

Japan is known for many interesting game ideas, with anything from homoerotic shoot-'em-ups to all-female acting troupes who also defend the earth with giant robots. Many of these games don't make it to foreign shores, but every so often, one finds its way to the U.S. Eternal Sonata (known in Japan as Trusty Bell: Chopin's Dream) is a Japanese RPG with an unconventional plot: as the Japanese title suggests, the game centers around a dream that Frédéric Chopin (yes, THAT Frédéric Chopin) has while in a comatose state on the evening of his death. It's a strange concept, to be sure; however, when you're running around the battle field with a top hat-wearing Chopin and bludgeoning enemies with a conductor's baton, you stop questioning these details.

Chopin, as envisioned by Japan.

Although the game garnered predominantly positive reviews, some reviewers complained about its use of overdone JRPG cliches and simultaneously confusing and over-simplified plot. One thing that was universally agreed upon, though, was the fact that Eternal Sonata's music was some of the best that the Xbox 360 and the Playstation 3 had to offer.