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One thing you don’t see very often is a game soundtrack that defies people’s expectations. That’s not to say that the music we're getting is bad, soundtracks just tend to tread ground that has been walked on hundreds of times already.

The right soundtrack can really make or break a game. From the famous theme in Super Mario Bros. to the haunting chant heard after firing up Halo, good pieces of music become just as memorable as the games they were a part of. There’s no better proof of this than the existence of Play! and Video Games Live, both of which are dedicated to performing music from video games in a concert setting, but they almost always focus on the titles with the more "normal" musical selections.

Take the God of War series as an example of a "normal" soundtrack. The music in these games is suitably epic to match the events unfolding on screen, but there is nothing unexpected or out of the ordinary contained within. Interestingly, the song that Lead Designer David Jaffe listened to throughout development of the project was “Come Sail Away” by Styx. How different would God of War have been if the soundtrack had been similar to that ‘70s classic, instead of a safe (and semi-boring) orchestra?

The true inspiration behind God of War

 

Television and film aren’t afraid of pushing the musical envelope. An example that comes to my mind immediately is the episode of Lost where we’re introduced to Desmond. Lost has a pretty standard television soundtrack, complete with the usual array of musical cues, but then there’s the moment I mentioned above:

The song featured is called “Make Your Own Kind of Music” by Mama Cass Elliot, a piece from 1969. It’s completely different from the music heard later in the same video, and Desmond’s first appearance wouldn’t have felt as important if it had used the standard Lost music.

Films do the same thing, and Nicolas Winding Refn's Drive is a perfect example of this. It’s a movie about a stuntman who moonlights as a getaway driver for criminals. Here’s an example of its music:

Who would’ve thought that 80’s synth-pop was the right choice for a modern film about gangsters? It’s a different kind of selection that sets the style and tone for the film, and it works well.

Unfortunately, I can’t think of a single game that makes daring choices like these when it comes to music. Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas both have some inspired choices with great tracks from the 50’s, but none of it organically shows up in-game. A majority of the songs heard are from the player’s Pip-Boy or radios scattered throughout the world. The same can be said of the Grand Theft Auto series. Great music selections, but it is all found on the radio.

Games will often make interesting musical choices in trailers, at least. Gears of War and Assassin’s Creed are known for deliberately pairing action with music, from the somber tone of Michael Andrews' "Mad World" to the electric beat in "Genesis" by Justice. Even Dead Space got in on the fun by featuring "Untitled #7 (a.k.a. "Dauðalagið)” by Sigur Rós in its launch trailer. The latest example is a Dark Souls trailer containing the song “All Saints Day” by The Silent Comedy:

I'm sure we’ll never hear that song in Dark Souls itself. It probably wouldn’t play nice with the game’s bleak and gothic themes, but if it worked in the trailer, who says it can’t work somewhere within the game? It would certainly be different, and in an industry dominated by an endless stream of sequels and risk-averse design choices, I’d go for the road less traveled over the safer alternative. It’s a shame more developers don’t seem to agree with me.

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