Today isn’t necessarily an exercise in seeing scenes while listening to music as much as it is appreciating said music. There are times when I get stuck while writing; happens to the best of us. Often we get up, we go for a walk, we fold laundry, wash dishes, watch a movie…anything to get our minds off of it so that, hopefully, an answer will come to us through something else. I often will listen to some music…and usually, it’s from a selection of video game soundtracks that I hold in high regard. Video game soundtracks can and often are a form of art. Growing up with Nintendo, Super Nintendo, Playstation… I’ve been introduced to several gorgeous compositions that have fully immersed me in the world of the game and often inspired me in my writing. If we’re being honest here…there are dozens upon dozens of game soundtracks that I own and adore. But, today, I’m going to share with you my top ten along with why I enjoy them. So…here we go!
10.) A Walk in the Dark – Cody Cook
This was a more recent discovery for me but the soundtrack still has a haunting piano score, weaving a sense of curiosity, mystery, and urgency. It even has a few moments that are kind of jazzy. What I like most about it is the variation. It goes from some simplistic, elegant pieces into very intricate and dramatic sections. “Bast is Alone” is my favorite track from the album. I’ve listened to this while working on my “Cold Walls” apocalyptic novel. It works very well for both bright memories in the character’s past as well as the dark ones she is currently going through.
9.) Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons – Gustaf Grefburg
This video game soundtrack stayed with me. There’s enchantment, spirit, and sorrow in all of its tracks. The vocals are particularly uplifting and/or heart-wrenching depending on what scene you are imagining when you listen to them. There is often a sense of quiet desperation in these tracks, too. The light guitar and the drums bring out this very well. I’ve listened to this soundtrack several times, without really a particular project in mind. I have hopes one day of writing a fantasy epic, and know that if I were to undertake that kind of project, I would certainly be listening to this while doing it. But, for now, I’ll be content to meditate on these songs and gain inspiration from them for the future.
8.) Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness – Peter Connelly and Martin Iveson
To be fair, all of the Tomb Raider soundtracks are phenomenal. This one is, in my opinion, the best. The pieces are a little more varied and have a darker tone to them. This is probably one of the first soundtracks that I stopped in awe and thought to myself, “This is really quite something.” My favorite track will probably always be “Parisian Ghetto”, with “The Monstrum Crime Scene” as a close second. The sinister quality that the music takes on always makes me eager to create characters that have designs, characters who the protagonist meets in his/her travels but who all have their own angles to play. I’ve listened to this soundtrack countless times on numerous projects, including most recently Memento Mori: Book 3 of the Monstrum Chronicles.
7.) Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines – Various Composers
I really, really wish that I had a name to attribute the score music in this game to. It’s BRILLIANT. It’s dark, grungy, electric, and sometimes terrifying. And it’s inspired me plenty of times while writing my vampiric characters in “The Monstrum Chronicles.” Of course the ever popular menu theme is one of my all-time favorites but I also really enjoy “Dark Asia”, “Downtown Theme”, and “Moldy Old World”. That last one especially reminds me of a dingy past that someone is reentering, possibly against their will. A certain familiarity that is twisted and now seems ominous, even dangerous.
6.) Beyond Two Souls – Normund Corbiel, Lorne Balfe, Hans Zimmer
This is a stellar soundtrack. First off, it’s HANS ZIMMER. Anyone who is anyone has adored a film soundtrack that he has composed (Angels and Demons…by far one of the best). Secondly, it’s LORNE BALFE. Assassins Creed, anyone? And thirdly…Normund Corbiel, who is a genius, because he’s the composer of the soundtrack for Heavy Rain (more on that later). This is a very cinematic soundtrack. It is grandiose, dramatic, traumatic, and joyous. It sweeps, and swings and really grips you. This isn’t a minimalist soundtrack by any means. There are, however, some tracks that are deeply moving that evoke those emotions with only solo instruments, and do so very well, before incorporating the whole orchestra. One of these is “My Imaginary Friend”, which will always be my favorite. Others definitely worth a listen are “Dawkins’ Suite”, “The Experiment”, and “Homeless Life”. Oh and the menu theme which isn’t technically part of the official soundtrack.
5.) The Last of Us – Gustavo Santaolalla
By far, one of the best video game soundtracks to date, and an emotional thrill-ride that will have you crying by the time you’ve reached the end of it. The soundtrack has its gritty, dark side, showing us a side of the world that has grown dangerous and cold after many years. There are tracks that sound more like lullabies, and tracks that seem to cling to the last threads of humanity that these characters have left within them. The guitar gives it an old west sort of feeling at times and that makes it seem that much more timeless. The main theme for the game is one of the best, as well as “Forgotten Memories”, “All Gone”, and last but certainly not least, “The Way it Was”.
4.) Dear Esther – Jessica Curry
This is a very short, very emotive game. It’s soundtrack is breathtaking. Over a very short amount of time, you fall in love with a character who is heartbroken about the death of his beloved and as he wanders an island, searching for meaning in all of his memories, the music carries us along with it. “I Have Begun my Ascent” is probably one of the most beautiful video game tracks that I’ve ever heard. It’s not the only one of that caliber on the album. I’m a sucker for violin and this soundtrack is full of its wonderful solos. “Golden Ratio”, “Moon in my Palm”, and “Always (Hebridian Mix)” also shouldn’t be missed. I’ve listened to this soundtrack allot while contemplating my outline for Book 4, and while working on “Cold Walls”.
3.) Heavy Rain – Normund Corbiel
I consider “Heavy Rain” to be my introduction to the “modern video game”. Up until a few years ago, I had owned an old Playstation (yes, the first one), and several game for it, but nothing with amazing graphics, and a symphonic soundtrack. Heavy Rain changed that. In particular, one track. Norman Jayden’s Theme. It was through listening to this music that I was able to get inside my characters’ heads while working on earlier books in “The Monstrum Chronicles” as well as other projects. While playing off of the similar dark piano pieces that “Beyond: Two Souls” has, it also sounds more like a film noir. Film noir is more shadowy, there are always people hiding around the corner, waiting for a chance to make their moves. Heavy Rain’s soundtrack has themes that are personalized for particular characters and give very different feelings and evoke very different moods. “Madison’s Theme” is much more subdued, more tranquil, but not any less ominous. And that’s what I love about this soundtrack.
2.) Limbo – Martin Stig Andersen
Just saying, this could easily be number 1, too. I can’t think of enough good things to say about this soundtrack. It’s the most minimal of the ones in the top 10. It is mostly ambient music and sounds. Very gentle, very non-intrusive sounds, easily something that someone would listen to while meditating or doing yoga. The music doesn’t try to make you feel anything. There is just enough there so that it doesn’t take away from the visuals in your head or on the screen. It compliments them, enhances them. That’s why I do my best creating and visualizing when I am listening to this soundtrack. I “see” things so much better because I have a guide that’s more assisting than actually leading. My favorite track will always be “Boys’ Fort”. And yes, I listen to this soundtrack when I write ANYTHING dark. No matter the project, this one gets put on. It’s really that good.
1.) Journey – Austin Wintory
There is no other soundtrack more beautiful than this one. It’s my personal opinion…but to me, it’s fact. It transports you, it transforms you, soothes, invigorates, saddens, and calms. It’s a medley of joy, terror, despair, and hope. By the end of the soundtrack, you feel as though you are soaring. There are very few game soundtracks that create the seamless quality that this one does, that pull you along without the sometimes completely jarring change that occurs when switching from a contemplative track to an action one. Again, the music compliments the visuals of the game, beautiful music fitting perfectly with gorgeous images of sand, deserts, and age old ruins. I’ve listened to these pieces time and time again on numerous projects, fitting well with both darker and lighter fiction. But they always make me feel warm after, make me feel good about myself and what I’ve put down on paper. And that’s a nice thing. Sometimes, a little self-confidence and inner peace is exactly what one needs after listening to some good music.
Stay tuned for more Inspiration Through Music…and Cooking Adventures. Honestly…I’ve been subsisting on diets of boxed mashed potatoes, cereal, and animal crackers for the last several weeks, guys. Mostly in lieu of the fact that I can’t afford ingredients for elaborate meals, ha ha. 😦 Soon. Soon, I will have a new Cooking Adventure for you.