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Music to hunt bad guys to

December 14th, 2004 · No Comments · Gaming, Music

I can understand entirely why some video games have no (or very little) background music. Two games I enjoy very much, Rainbow 6: Black Arrow and Ghost Recon 2, both for Xbox, have almost no music during game play. Both are tense, tactical shooter simulations. Both use sound as key part of game play. Both have absolutely excellent audio.

But both don’t have any in-game soundtrack, mostly because it could be a distraction, and eventually, an annoyance. And while some games use dynamic soundtracks that change in response to the game play, this would be too much of a give away in a tactical shooter. You shouldn’t know you are safe because the music fades away, for instance. Nor should you know that something dangerous is nearby simply from a music cue.

So I completely understand why there is no music. But that doesn’t mean I don’t want any.

Some Xbox games, like Burnout 3, offer a custom soundtrack feature, allowing you to supplement or replace music used in the game with tunes of your choosing, but such games use music extensively. A game like Ghost Recon 2 doesn’t have this. (I’ll be discussing the custom soundtrack option of Burnout 3 in a future post.) So how can I add music to Ghost Recon 2, especially since I can use my stereo system, because it is providing the Xbox audio?

Getting the music together and setting up a play list is easy because I have an iPod. But I can’t use headphones while I play, because it’ll block too much of the game audio, and also interfere with the Xbox Live headset. I needed a way to mix the audio from the Xbox and the iPod.

While my stereo is busy with the Xbox, the speakers on my television set go unused, since my stereo uses a separate set of surround speakers. That means the audio input and speakers for the television could be put to use. All it takes is a mini-plug to RCA connector cable with enough length to reach from the back of the TV to a spot where I can put the iPod and still reach it while I play.

Now I have two independent audio channels. If one song on the iPod is a wee bit loud, I just lower the volume on the iPod. It works great. For people without that option, I suppose one of the iPod speaker docks could also do the same trick.

So what’s the right music for a tactical shooter?

I’m a bit of a soundtrack geek, so this was a fun challenge. The first obvious choice is some music from Hans Zimmer, well known for his militaristic soundtracks, like The Rock, Crimson Tides, and scads of others. One problem I had, though, was a lot of his stuff is too heavy. Both Rainbow Six and Ghost Recon 2 are tense, careful games, not frantic run-and-guns. So other than one or two nods to the obvious, like the Rock theme and the theme to Black Hawk Down, I opted to use several tracks from “Thunderbirds.” This is a pretty mediocre soundtrack, but that was actually a strength. I also took a few tracks from “King Arthur” as well.

For me, it was helpful that I hadn’t seen either “King Arthur” or “Thunderbirds,” so the music didn’t have any pre-associated imagery for me.

I also discovered the album “Unearthed” by E.S. Posthumus, which is considered a “virtual” soundtrack. Some of the stuff is a little pounding for the game play, but I can overlook it because the music is great adrenaline music.

But by far, the best music I have found for these types of games is John Powell’s score to the Bourne Identity and Bourne Supremacy. The music is tense without being too fast paced, and it’s a little understated, with a common theme throughout all the varied pieces.

I have a few other odd ball tracks, like Graeme Revell’s theme to the Negotiator, which is also perfect: tense and atmospheric. I also have a smattering of James Bond music as well, but that’s a stretch, mainly because Bond music is just so James Bond.

And with one exception, all the music is instrumental. That exception is a remix version of Filter’s “Hey Man Nice Shot” which I simply could not resist. There’s something really satisfying about looking through a virtual rifle scope and taking out some simulated bad guys while listening to this. (mp3 excerpt)

If you’ve got suggestions, I’d love to hear ’em. Remember, the goal is tension, not pounding action.

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