Category: Getting Nerdy about Video Game Music

From a game mod to Splinter Cell: How I discovered a song by accident.

Over the years, I’ve amassed ridiculous amounts of video game knowledge. I created the Secret Area as a good place to share said video game knowledge with people. Naturally, video game music is something I’m also interested in. While I am a bit of an outlier in terms of my game music tastes – I usually prefer stuff by American and European composers, and don’t really care much for Japanese game music past the SNES/Genesis era – I still love finding information about game music, much like a lot of things I like.

So I’m gonna get nerdy about video game music. I’m gonna write about something that came to mind fairly recently that I thought would be worth sharing. This will hopefully be the start of a new series where I delve into the oddities and bits of inane trivia of music in games.

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Poke646 is one of the best Half-Life mods out there. At the time, most Half-Life mods reused most of the existing templates that the original game used, making Black Mesa look like a research facility that spanned a whole continent. Mods like They Hunger and many others changed how people looked at Half-Life, but not nearly as well as Poke646 did. One day, I should write about Poke646 and its sequel Vendetta, they’re some of the best Half-Life mods out there.

The game’s credits, featured below, featured this haunting, ambient tune.

[youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pv-PuH6BNiI]

The hip-hop styled track really fit in line with the rest of the game, which also had some great original ambient music. Thankfully all this music is in the Poke646 mod folder, since I don’t know much about the composer of the ambient music, and there’s little information about it or the mod’s soundtrack online.

Cut to 2010. I had recently picked up Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Conviction Special Edition for $35 at Ubisoft’s online store because of an issue of the special USB keys not working on some copies. As I was going through the game itself, a certain tune started to play that sounded familiar…

(WARNING: Plot spoilers for Splinter Cell: Conviction within.)

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JNhxKNzeOHc&start=2155]

Yep. It’s the same song. Until then, I had thought that credits music was a unique track made for Poke646. In reality, it was a licensed song: DJ Shadow’s “Building Steam with a Grain of Salt,” from his 1996 debut Endtroducing…..

Ubisoft had licensed “Building Steam…” to play over this part of the game. Since it had been years since I had played Poke646, I had realized the tune sounded familiar but couldn’t quite place it until I replayed the mod much later. After knowing this fact, I bought the song not too long after, naturally.

Games using licensed music is hardly new, think of the many music games that have come out over the years. But most games usually have a composer do all the incidental music, rarely do they use a licensed song unless it’s made specifically for the game, like Eminem’s “Won’t Back Down” and “Survival” from Call of Duty: Black Ops and Call of Duty: Ghosts, respectively. Why Ubisoft thought the DJ Shadow tune fit this particular scene is a mystery that we’ll probably never know.

Speaking of DJ Shadow, he has contributed remixes to a few games himself, such as the “El Dorado Megamix” he did for the Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune soundtrack, and two tracks for Motorstorm Apocalypse. So he’s contributed music to the video game world, both directly and indirectly.

To bring it back around to Poke646, “Building Steam…” got a remix when Vendetta was released in 2006, adding some rocking guitars over the game’s credits. In a way, adding additional instrumentation to a song that heavily uses samples is interesting, because it’s using a song with samples as a sample for a new song. It’s fascinating, really.

Thanks to these mods, “Building Steam with a Grain of Salt” has become the Poke646 theme in my mind, which was used in some big budget game. Its inclusion in Splinter Cell: Conviction seems quite bizarre to me, especially since I first heard the song through a game mod many years before. Still a good song, highly recommend you give it a listen. Can’t say if the rest of Endtroducing….. is as amazing, but I’m willing to bet it’s a solid album.

I don’t follow many hip-hop or electronica DJs, but after hearing “Building Steam with a Grain of Salt,” I could probably get into this kind of music. Hell, I loved Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory, which was mostly Amon Tobin’s work, as well as enjoying most of Crackdown‘s licensed music which was the same kind of style. Time to broaden my tastes in music…

Speaking of game music, I recently updated an old article from 2013 comparing the tunes from NES game show games to their real-life counterparts. No longer using volatile YouTube videos, I replaced them with convenient MP3s. Check it out here if you wanna read more of me getting nerdy about video game music.

Music from the Xbox video game NHL Rivals 2004: A soundtrack review.

In my recent pick-up video, I had mentioned I found this unusual soundtrack: Music from the Xbox Video Game NHL Rivals 2004. Before I get into it any further, I should explain this soundtrack’s existence. Let’s go back a decade, as we talk about Microsoft’s failed attempt at a Sports game brand called “XSN Sports.”

Back in the day, Microsoft tried to make their own Sports franchise against EA and Sega. (This was before Take-Two bought Visual Concepts from Sega.) In 2003, they introduced XSN Sports as their flagship sports game brand. Under this banner, Microsoft’s sport-focused games featured tournaments and leagues that players could make in-game to share on the respective website. The games included NFL Fever 2004, Links 2004, and Rallisport Challenge 2. Alas, they couldn’t make a dent in the competition, and the XSN Sports brand was folded one year later. The XSN service was later shut down in 2006, presumably to shift focus onto the then-new Xbox 360.

As a promotional tie-in, they released the first in the “XSN Sports Soundtrack CD Series,” featuring various songs that come from the game’s soundtrack. However, despite saying “Volume 1” on the cover, there was never a Volume 2, which is funny in retrospect.

The soundtrack CD also comes with a bonus DVD, featuring some NHL highlights from the 2002-03 NHL season, some Wayne Gretsky promos, and DVD-ROM features of the game’s cinematics, trailers, and some wallpaper. Not much to say about all this, it’s a hockey game after all. My experience with hockey games begin and end at Blades of Steel.

Licensed soundtracks are hardly new, sports games have been doing this for a long time. Hell, bands used to be hyped for having a song in the new Madden game. What makes this special is the song selection, which seems unusual for a hockey game. Then again, I don’t watch hockey, so maybe this fits in some weird way. Let’s go track-by-track, shall we?

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