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The Purist - Issue 2: Personalizing Your Gaming Experience with Music

The Purist PureZC Editorial Jaghnus Gaming Music

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#1 SpikeReynolds


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Posted 01 June 2015 - 09:50 PM

Hello, all, and welcome to the Purist. Today I want to talk about video game music; or rather, the choice between taking in the atmosphere as the developers intended versus cutting your own path, creating your own experience, and playing your own music instead. I can't deny that some games have excellent soundtracks that I wouldn't dare disrupt. You would never see me playing music over Kirby 64 or Sonic Adventure. In a lot of cases, especially with Zelda Classic, I do prefer my own music choices over what the developers had in mind. 
I can hear some of you ZCers getting the torches and pitchforks from here, so let me explain. This choice started much earlier. In the early days of ZC, I was playing on a Windows 95 computer with a less than adequate sound card, and my MIDI quality suffered. On top of that, the quality and number of MIDIs to choose from in 1999 was not nearly what it is today, and that's not getting into this new-fangled MP3 thing you kids are doing nowadays. Often times, it was less an issue with the developer's vision and more with the fact that my primary PC could barely handle Jazz Jackrabbit. 
I'll take one of my favorite quests as an example. 'Zelda's Butt' by Spram. I can't begin to explain how much I love that quest. Everything in it is awesome...except for that stock NES Overworld MIDI. I've heard that low quality MIDI in so many quests in the last 16 years that it actually pulls me out of the experience. Now, I discovered this quest around the same time I discovered a new band, so the choice was purely coincidental. Pop up Zelda's Butt (heh.) Pop a King's X playlist on Youtube, and bam; like that the entire experience changed for me. The atmospheric but heavy sound meshed perfectly with a quest that, like the music I was listening to, was just a little bit out there, and special because of it. 
Your mileage may vary on music choices, but I've found that something with the same dynamic qualities and variation as video game music works the best. It also helps when the feel of the music and the game match up. For adventure games, I like atmospheric music that ebbs and flows, much like the adventure. For more fast placed gameplay, like a shooter or hack-and-slash game, I prefer something with a pace to match the action. And so on, and so forth. 
I have a small list of bands I use for each genre, but it keeps growing. Here's a few that I like to use:
Action-Adventure-Progressive rock like King's X, Uriah Heep, Yes, Rush, and Dream Theater
Shooter/Hack n' Slash- Heavy Metal. The Faster the better for me on this. MegaDeth, the Showdown, Project 86, and Tremonti are the backbone of my action playlist.
JRPGs- Instrumental guitar music, mostly acoustic. The likes of Jon Gomm, Eric Johnson, and Andy McKee make up most of this. 
Platformers- Pretty much nothing but 90's music. The adventure platformer sadly went the way of Smash Mouth and got left in the 90s. As such I have probably my largest playlist devoted to pure 90s nostalgia. Fuel, Sugar Ray, the Cranberries, Stone Temple Pilots...I could go on all day.
Binx, another member of the team, had a little to say on the subject of game music as well, here it is straight from the horse's mouth.

Hey, guys, Binx, here. So, choosing music for your quest. I don't think a lot of people realize what an impact having appropriate and varied music can have on a quest, since some of the best quests in  the database are marred by recycling the same old Zelda 1 midis, when you could do so much more. So, here's a list of things to think about when choosing music for your quest:

1. Whether or not to write your own music.
Now, obviously, not everyone is a composer, and if you're not up to writing your own music for the quest, that's perfectly okay. But for those of you who ARE composers/songwriters, i highly recommend contributing at least some original music to your quests. It offers a refreshing break from tired video game songs people have heard a million times. Programs like Anvil Studios are free, and they have a number of different composer functions, (from a piano roll, to sheet music, and so on), or if you're a more advanced user, and you want to create more authentic sounds, you could use Famitracker (A program which I have yet to learn, but I've heard what people do with it, and it's awesome). Either way, original music adds a personal touch that can't easily be replicated.
2. Which file format to use for music.
Zelda Classic has three primary formats that people use: Tracker files, MIDIs and MP3s, but which should you use for your quest? Eh, honestly, it doesn't matter a whole lot. Tracker (.nsf) files are preferred by some, for its ability to properly recreate NES-style sounds, which many modern MIDIs don't do well; and MP3 files are, of course, nice because you can load recorded music (good for people who like hearing real instruments, or who can play an instrument, but can't write sheet music); however, I usually use MIDI, because the songs are loaded directly into the .qst file, and don't require separate downloads, unlike the aforementioned tracker and MP3 files. I believe you may be able use WAV files, as well, but those are ridiculously huge, so just don't do it.
3. Theme
Regardless of whether your music is original or taken from another game (again, both are acceptable, this is a fangame engine, after all), it needs to fit the mood of the area. If you're trying to convey a quiet and spooky atmosphere, high-energy pop music is probably no the right choice. Official LoZ games have been phenomenal at this, with each area's music providing a distinct feel that fit the overall mood of the area. Grand, bombastic songs like Z1 overworld themes, or the Lord of the Rings score, or things like that are great for overworld areas, while calm, quiet songs work better for things like towns. Reducing the music, or removing it completely at times can help to set a very oppressive atmosphere, and high-energy tunes can help create a sense of urgency. Elemental themes are important, here, too, could you imagine if they used the Ice Cavern music from Ocarina of Time in the Fire Temple, instead? That would have been terrible. The est advice I can say here is to listen to a lot of songs and ask yourself "Does this fit here?" and don't just decide "Yes" out of laziness or because you really like the song.
4. Variety
Yeah, yeah, I know that Zelda 1 only had three songs (Four, if you count the title screen), but adding a greater variety of songs can really help set different areas apart from each other. That being said, too many songs can distract from the experience, since the music changes too often to appreciate each song, so, finding a balance here is key. I make relatively large overworld maps for each area, so that each song used gets to play through, but not so large that the songs start to become grating, and probably have between 15 and 20 songs per quest, depending on how many overworld areas I have. It's by no means necessary to use that many songs, but it helps, and with all the variety of VG music out there, how could you not want to?
So, yeah, that's my two cents. Agree? Disagree? Think I should have my sensitive bits roasted over an open flame for wasting your time with this tripe? Let me know in the comments, below, and we can have discourse. 


I'm eager to hear opinions on this. Have you ever tried this yourself? Is this something that you do on a regular basis? Do you have one or multiple gaming playlists? I'd also like to hear from quest makers. Do you feel like people playing their own music over your quests tarnishes your vision, or do you think it's just their way of personalizing the experience you're giving them?


And of course, once again, thanks for reading the Purist.


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#2 FireSeraphim


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Posted 02 June 2015 - 05:11 AM


I feel obliged to correct you on a few things regard ZC's Music support. Didn't you know that Zeldaclassic can support Ogg Vorbises, .SPC files, and .VGM files? Allow me to get into detail why this is a good thing.

Ogg Vorbis can contain music at the same high quality as MP3 with merely half the filesize, therefore saving precious filespace.


An individual .SPC file is exactly 64.5 Kilobytes, regard of which song it is because .SPC files are basically raw SNES musical data + the instrument data, hence making it perfectly ideal for ZC Quest trying to invoke a SNES aesthetic.


.VGM Files are basically raw Sega Genesis and raw Sega Master System musical data and like .SPC files aren't all that big, infact the biggest .VGM File I have seen is only 5 Kilobytes. Usually .VGM Files are stored inside .VGZ Files, in order to extract them, one only needs to rename the extension from .VGZ to .ZIP, then extract the contents of the renamed .VGZ file like you would a .ZIP file. I recommend using 7-Zip for this process, it's one of the most reliable open-source file zipper/extracters I have ever used.


The same principle can be applied to extracting .SPC Files from .RSN files as well. I don't know why no-one here seems to know this but I hope I have enlightened you all and that better quest will come from this information being revealed.


Likewise you can find .SPC files stored in .RSN files at http://snesmusic.org/v2/. You can also find .VGM files stored inside .VGZ files at http://project2612.org/.

Edited by FireSeraphim, 02 June 2015 - 05:13 AM.

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#3 Binx


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Posted 02 June 2015 - 02:24 PM

I think the issue with .OGG .SPC and .VGM files is the same as the .NSF files (didn't mention them simply because they're used even more rarely than the .NSF format): The quest can't store them all on its own, so most quest designers just don't use them. They certainly are an option, if that's the way you want to go, but many people (myself included) don't like having to download extra attachments to play a quest, especially since those files aren't hosted by the database, here.


EDIT: Also, I think I'm the one you meant to correct, since Jaghnus' post didn't say anything about ZC's musical capabilities outside of having had problems with MIDI files due to shoddy equipment early on.

Edited by Binx, 02 June 2015 - 02:29 PM.

#4 FireSeraphim


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Posted 02 June 2015 - 03:22 PM

My apologies Jaghnus and Binx.

#5 SpikeReynolds


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Posted 03 June 2015 - 12:53 AM

My apologies Jaghnus and Binx.

It's all good, man. Happens to the best of us.


The quoted post there about choice of game music was all Binx's. Mine was the article about choice of music to play instead of normal game music.

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#6 Dimi


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Posted 07 June 2015 - 10:52 PM

I tend to be a little opposite. I hear some great music, then make a quest because if it. Why think of a dungeon theme and choose some music when you can choose some music and build the dungeon around the music?

#7 Matthew Bluefox

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Posted 16 June 2015 - 01:16 AM

Thanks for this post. I learned something new today about music cumpatibility in ZC. :) I did use some NSF files before, it's really great to have these with so little filesize and so much music choice.

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