Someday Soundtracks: A few selections from Jeremy Soule

Someday Soundtracks is a semi-regular feature where I post a great track (or whole score) from one of my favourite games.

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If you’ve played a role-playing game over the last 20 years, chances are you’ve heard one Jeremy Soule‘s soundtracks. He’s an ubiquitous composer with over 80 video game soundtrack credits to his name. Being such a prolific composer, there’s no middle ground on Soule’s compositions: you either love them or despise them. A friend of mine recently described Soule’s music as sounding like “warmed over Tolkien.” However, I think Soule can be a beautiful composer, especially when it comes to setting a specific mood. Here are three tracks that show he’s made a lasting contribution to video game music.

Icewind Dale – Kuldahar Theme

This is from Black Isle’s 2000 role-playing game Icewind Dale. It’s quite incredible when you first experience Kuldahar, especially with this soundtrack playing it as you enter it. Most of the game up to the point takes place in snowy villages like Easthaven (which also boasts a great track from  Soule) and cold, isolated mountaintops. Kuldahar is a lush jungle city. This track perfectly sums up its beauty — and the unexpectedness of stumbling on a tropical paradise in the middle of a desolate and brutal winter landscape.

Neverwinter Nights – Heart of the Forest

I think this highlights Soule’s skill as an ambient composer. While his more bombastic soundtracks come across as mechanistic and cold, Soule understands how to create a subtle track that conveys a particular mood. Soule’s ambient tracks always demonstrate subtlety and restraint and never fail to stir an emotion in the player. “Heart of the Forest” appears in Chapter 2 of Neverwinter Nights‘ main campaign as you go deeper into Charwood, capturing the wood’s beauty and omnipresent menace.

First Light – Guild Wars

I’ve cheated with this one since it doesn’t actually appear in Guild Wars — it appears as a bonus on the special edition of Guild Wars’ first soundtrack. I think this is one of his best compositions, communicating the beauty of Tyria, Guild Wars’ fantasy world. I’m still surprised it was never included in Guild Wars or even its sequel, Guild Wars 2. You can imagine it playing in Ascalon (which it’s often paired with in fan videos) or Kryta. It’s stirring piece, and I challenge anyone not to be taken in by the world it evokes.

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Someday Soundtracks: Fallout 1 and 2

Someday Soundtracks is a semi-regular feature where I post a great track (or whole score) from one of my favourite games.

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Mark Morgan‘s ambient soundtracks for Fallout 1 and  Fallout 2 have always held a special fascination for me. His soundtracks, especially those he did for Fallout 1 and 2 don’t just communicate excitement or mood, but always communicate something to the player. Fallout maintains a consistent atmosphere of dread mainly because of Mark Morgan’s stellar work. I’ve never quite enjoyed Inon Zur‘s  ambient score for Fallout 3, preferring to keep on Galaxy News Radio. I was happy when Obsidian decided to use Morgan’s ambient work for Fallout: New Vegas and was surprised about how well his score works, even in a very different type of Fallout game.

While most people gravitate to The Ink Spot’s “Maybe” since that opens and closes Fallout 1 or even to Louis Armstrong’s “A Kiss To Build A Dream On” for Fallout 2, the industrial synths, desert reeds, and military noise Morgan created for the original games greatly enhances the experience of the game. Sometimes while I’m working, I’ll boot up the game’s soundtracks and remember the last time I traveled through the post-nuclear haze of Fallout’s world. Morgan has gone on to do the soundtrack for Wasteland 2 and will also be providing the music for Torment: Tides Of Numenera. I can’t wait to hear what he comes up with next.

Someday Soundtracks: “Hi-Tone Fandango”

Someday Soundtracks is a semi-regular feature where I post a great track from one of my favourite games.

Peter McConnell‘s soundtracks for both Lucasarts and Double Fine are arguably just as responsible for the success of their games as much as the immersive story and great characters created by designers like Tim Schaefer, Ron Gilbert, or Steve Grossman. Grim Fandango is the apotheosis of the classic Lucasarts adventure game and McConnell’s big band orchestration (with hints of bebop, swing, and Mexican folk music) adds a lot to its blend of 40s noir and Aztec mythology. I’ll randomly throw on the game’s soundtrack, whether I’m busy and need to concentrate or I’m just looking to relax, because it has so much to offer. “Hi-Tone Fandango” is my favourite track, and it plays while Manny wanders around the undead city of Rubacava just outside his own Calavera Cafe (the equivalent of Rick Blaine’s Cafe American in Casablanca). Give it a listen and imagine that you’re chasing a mystery in the middle of the night.

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