Soundtrack Saturdays: Metal Gear Solid V – Sins of the Father

I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned the sheer awesomeness the Metal Gear Solid series before. It revolutionized gaming as a medium; it made storytelling an essential aspect of how people play, resulting in games that felt more like blockbuster movies. Thanks to the technological developments and a popular following, the series has escalated with each passing entry. It’s not just about the incredibly detailed graphics, but the memorable characters, setting, theming, voice acting, and (of course) music. Sung by Donna Burke, Sins of the Father is the main song of the recently-released Metal Gear Solid V. It’s a reflection of the game’s theming: loss and pain, and to what lengths someone will go for the sake of revenge. It’s not a happy song, but it’s appropriately epic for a story about the world’s greatest hero becoming its worst villain. For better or worse, a legend is about to ride again.

If you want more MGSV, the full soundtrack can be found here and here.

RIP, Satoru Iwata

Yesterday, Satoru Iwata passed away. For those unfamiliar with his work, he was the president and CEO of Nintendo. But he was so much more than that; unlike countless other businessmen and executives, he earned his success the old fashioned way: starting from the bottom and working his way up. He studied programming in the 1970s, when video games were still in their infancy. He began as an unpaid intern for Commodore, then became a freelancer for HAL Laboratory while in college. After graduating, he worked full time and rose up its ranks in the early 90s. He had a hand in founding Creatures Inc., the folks responsible for bringing Pokemon to the world. He didn’t wasn’t just some guy in suit, either. He took over programming for Earthbound and saved it from developmental oblivion. He programmed the original Pokemon Red/Blue battle mechanics into Pokemon Stadium without any reference documents, using just the Game Boy’s source code instead…in one week. He famously compressed the all of the original game into the Gold/Silver cartridge, just to surprise and reward players for beating the regular quest. When Super Smash Bros. Melee was facing a delayed release date due to programming issues, he – already Nintendo’s General Manager of Corporate Planning – went downstairs and personally debugged the game hands-on, all in less than a month.

Yeah, he was that good.

He was in a unique position of growing alongside his industry; unlike many of his peers, his insight into game design came from the effort of making games the old fashioned way, with a focus on the fun experience while dealing with the hardware limitations. He understood that focusing so much on flashier graphics and processing power wasn’t necessarily the answer, and that appealing to people beyond hardcore gamers was incredibly important. Nintendo is often derided for appealing to kids instead of adults, but he was proud of it; he argued that children have an instinctual understanding of whether a game was good or not. He refused to let the company stagnate, constantly pushing them to try new things. He was initially mocked for bringing forth the DS and Wii – both consoles had unorthodox designs and admittedly terrible launch lineups – but was eventually vindicated via record-breaking sales numbers and some of the finest games in the last decade.

What was more inspiring is what Iwata did when the company wasn’t succeeding. Nintendo fell into a slump when it released the Wii U, mainly due to its high prices, strange design, and lacking lineup. The company was losing money, and he was being roasted by both gamers and corporate shareholders alike. Instead of stepping down, he voluntarily cut his salary in half to make up for it! That was the second time he did it, too; when the 3DS’s sales went poorly, he took the same action. When corporate demanded why he hadn’t fired employees for the sake of profit, he absolutely refused to do so, saying that it wouldn’t work well long-term, and that it’d wreck the company’s morale. If you look around online, you’ll find countless stories of people meeting Iwata and saying what a passionate, candid, and kind guy he was in person. When Ocarina of Time was released, he even went out and bought a copy on the way home from work. His hilarious “Direct To You” presentations and sense of humor have become the stuff of Internet memetic legend. The hundreds of thousands of tributes pouring in – even from Sony and Microsoft, Nintendo’s business rivals – shows just how loved and respected Iwata was.

I wish I had a personal story about meeting him. I wish I could say that we crossed paths at a convention, or that we shared an elevator, or that I pitched an idea and worked for him. But I can’t, and now I never will. Instead, all I have are the games he made, and the memories of how he helped shape my childhood. Yes, I caught all 151 of the original Pokemon, played almost every Kirby game, and spent countless hours fighting in Smash Bros. My gaming library is full of titles made with him as the Executive Producer; I wouldn’t be the same person without Mario, Zelda, Metroid, and other Nintendo franchises influencing me. While I don’t play nearly as much as I used to, gaming is still very much a part of me. It reminds me of something Iwata once said:

“On my business card, I am a corporate president. In my mind, I am a game developer. But in my heart, I am a gamer.”

Thank you for everything, Mr. Iwata. We understand.

Soundtrack Saturdays: Silent Hill 2 – Theme Of Laura

Trying to explain Silent Hill 2 is tricky business. It’s not because it’s difficult to understand from a narrative perspective, but because I really don’t want to spoil anything. It’s about a man named James Sunderland who comes to the titular town after receiving a letter from his wife…who died three years ago. What starts as a forlorn trip down memory lane quickly develops into one of the best psychological horror stories and character studies in gaming history. I could spend hours analyzing Silent Hill 2’s storytelling – particularly how Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment influenced it – but I don’t want to ruin it for those who haven’t played yet. After all these years, Laura’s Theme is still one of the most emotional songs in an already memorable game.

If you want more Silent Hill 2, you can find the full OST here.

Good gaming, good music.

Soundtrack Saturdays: Majora’s Mask – Inverted Stone Tower Remix

Hey, folks. You might’ve noticed that I really like Majora’s Mask. Since its released in 2000. it’s always been my favorite 3D Zelda game in terms of tone and theming; the concepts of change, loss, death, and determination to act despite them are surprisingly deep for a Nintendo game. The idea of immersing yourself in a self-contained, dream-like world and unraveling its dark secrets interests me for some reason. Of course, Wind Waker’s epic sailing appeals to the adventurer in me, but I’m always drawn to MM’s sinister world and the characters trapped with in it. There’s a real sense of tragedy and desperation involved. However, there is also hope; the choices and actions you undertake affect the outcome, often in ways you don’t foresee. It’s a great life lesson, even if it is masked (no pun intended) by a bizarre, twisted tale. The soundtrack is just as somber as you’d expect. While there aren’t any upbeat songs in the playlist, this awesome OC Remix of the original Inverted Stone Tower theme has long been a favorite of mine.

If you want more Majora’s Mask, you can find the full OST here.

Good gaming, good music.

Soundtrack Saturdays: Gran Turismo 3 – Light Velocity

When talking about racing video games, most people immediately mention the  Mario Kart series. It was fun, memorable, and a huge part of 90s American childhood. While it certainly deserves the nostalgia, it was only one of many amazing franchises out there. When it debuted on the Playstation in 1997, Gran Turismo stood out for its accuracy to real-life racing and selection of cars. However, the series didn’t really hit its stride until Gran Turismo 3 on the PS2. It was 2001 and very early in the console’s life cycle, but it was one of the first games to demonstrate what the new hardware was capable of. There weren’t as many cars due to the focus on graphical detail, but those cars were realistic and (for their time) utterly gorgeous. Having entries from Formula One, Lamborghini, and Porsche was a car enthusiast’s dream. Combined with the superb jazz and rock soundtrack, Gran Turismo 3 quickly became a modern classic, and one of the highest-selling games of all time.

If you want more Gran Turismo 3, you can find most of the OST here.

Good gaming, good music.

Soundtrack Saturdays: Donkey Kong Country 2 – Stickerbrush Symphony

Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest had a lot to live up to. With only a year since the release of the original DKC – one of the finest and visually stunning games on the SNES – it was a ridiculously tough act to follow. Rare stepped up to the challenge by introducing even more collectible items, tons of hidden rooms and secrets, more allies and enemies, even better graphics, more varied platforming and level designs, and a new character with a more unique abilities and jump physics.

It also boasted one of the finest soundtracks on the SNES, if not any console of that generation. David Wise put a lot of effort into the composition, and it shows. Other 16-bit games could only dream of having its intricate layering and epic tone. “Stickerbrush Symphony” is arguably the most famous track in DKC’s already impressive musical library. It’s strangely fitting that such a relaxing song plays during one of the toughest levels in the entire game.

If you want more DKC2, you can find the full OST here.

Good gaming, good music.

Soundtrack Saturdays: D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die – Main Theme

A little while back, I mentioned a game called D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die. It’s an exclusive title for the Xbox One directed by SWERY. While I’m not interested in the console, the concept of the game is pretty awesome: A private investigator from Boston (complete with the stereotypical accent), traveling through time to recollect the memories surrounding his wife’s murder. At times it’s surreal, hilarious, and utterly bizarre. What other game has slice-of-life moments involving clam chowder? Its jazz instrumental-based soundtrack is easily one of the finest of 2014. Due to the game’s relative obscurity, however, a lot of people haven’t heard it yet. Even if you’re not into gaming, the OST is definitely worth a listen.

If you want more D4, you can find previews here and here. More details about the OST can be found on the game’s site.

Good gaming, good music.