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A relative newcomer to the video game space, Nikola Nikita Jeremic is proving to be a composer to keep an eye on. His appreciation for the medium comes through loud and clear in his latest project, Starpoint Gemini: Warlords. Geno recently had a chance to sit down with the up-and-comer and get some insight into Nikola’s creative process, his set up, and his inspirations for the soundtrack’s sci-fi soundscapes…

GENO: The sound of space is generally approached in terms of its scope: massive, formless and uncharted. It’s been well served when scored from this angle, but many struggle to maintain an LP’s worth of momentum and the message devolves into a meandering greyspace by record’s end. Your recordings for Starpoint Gemini: Warlords feel utterly counterpoint to this general working order. Everything feels 1:1 where you can reach out, interacting with even the furthest set points on your map; it’s an incredibly intimate score and all the more exciting and singular because of it. Can you talk a little bit about the origins of this record and why it feels so up close? Did you have a finite direction already in mind before ever scoring a single note? And what were the tenets that guided your early process?

NIKOLA: The idea for this type of soundtrack came from my initial meeting with development team at Little Green Men studios, and we’ve had a lot of brainstorming sessions before I even started working on the actual score for the game. I first got in touch with them in 2015 and I’ve sent them two demos (one ambient and one action) for review, and then we’ve decided to go for that type of Homeworld and EvE Online sound. Luckily enough, all of us in the team are big fans of those soundtracks and the stuff that Vangelis did during the 70’s and the 80’s. It feels so up close and personal because it is something that I’ve always wanted to do, and I gave myself 100% to this score. I am a big fan of big analogue synth sounds and I always wanted to do a score based almost completely on synth sounds. I was mostly guided by concept art and gameplay of the game and my sheer imagination. To be honest, this entire score is one big one-man jam session with a lot of improvisation. I wanted to make the ambient tracks uniformed, so they can be played on a playlist inside the game engine, but still make it feel like a single track which is never-ending. The action music approach was a bit different, and I wanted to make them all driven by big percussion beds layered with sequenced synth basses and weird noises with some occasional orchestral elements here and there. The biggest challenge was making the three thematic cues for the credits and the main menu. I always wanted to write a memorable melody for a game franchise, so I guess SPG Warlords is my first shot at this.


GENO: ‘Horizon’ and ‘The Expanse’ are breathtaking; there is this texture to them, a melancholy that you have made exist in physical form. I’ve tried to tear them apart to try to get at what exactly makes them so genuinely bereaved, but there is this glistening, devastated warmth that you’ve achieved almost blessedly free of organic instruments (there are a few). Was this your aim with both of these compositions and how did you make these particular works so expressive and lyrical?

NIKOLA: Are you reading my mind by any chance? 😊 HAHA! 😊 Yes, that was the point for those two tracks, and a general feel of emptiness and melancholy was the driving force of the ambient tracks in the game. I mean, you’re all alone traveling through this entire galaxy with loads of dangerous encounters waiting for you behind every asteroid field etc… But still this loneliness is so soothing and relaxing. I dedicated special attention to creating original synth pads and textures in order to create this washy big soundscape for these tracks. I also wanted to make some sort of minimalist leit-motif to make them lyrical. I had the similar approach to other ambient tracks. ‘Horizon’ is a sort of an homage to Vangelis’ early minimalist works.

 GENO: Starpoint Gemini: Warlords feels incredibly live, improvised even; this is brilliant because it feels absolutely unencumbered, unpredictable and this freedom translates directly to more affecting set pieces. Was this recorded in a semi or completely live setting? Your action cues ‘War Machine’, ‘Form The Line’, ‘Red Line’, and ‘Loose Cannon’ are inspired in their bestial clanging. What sorts of ideas did you want to get across about these tracks specifically, and what’s your general feeling toward the scoring of action in 2018? Are you more at home creating this sort of hard driven rain, or do you feel more aligned with the introspective, probing nature the likes of ‘The Expanse’, and ‘Horizon’?

NIKOLA: Like I said, the entire score for this is one big improvising jam session where I played everything. It is done completely “in the box” with software instruments and a few hardware synths and guitars that I own. So, it is sort of recorded with software instruments, but they were performed live by me. I played every single note, and there were no quantizations of notes. I really wanted to make everything feel live, even the sequenced rhythmic synths.

Regarding the action cues, the sole idea was to make them pounding and angry. ‘Loose Cannon’ is a good example of this idea, because it is this huge wall of sound which so intense and it really drives the action moments in the game. Your adrenaline really jumps when you’re surrounded by an armada of enemy ships and you need to take them out fast because your shields are going down from all the shooting. To be honest, I do like writing hard-hitting action stuff, but somehow, I feel more at home with these soundscapes and ambient music in general. If I ever get the chance to work again on another big MMO title (I worked on Destiny 2), I think that I’d be most helpful as an additional music composer for ambient music. You know those big ambient cues when you’re exploring the worlds of The Elder Scrolls Online, Guild Wars, World of Warcraft and The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt? That’s what I’d love to do! 😊

GENO: Let’s talk about ‘Unempty Space': there is this heavy, oppressive and otherworldly presence here and it’s really, really unnerving. Congratulations!!! It is no easy task making space frightening again. This is so much more than an application of stock reverb and looping dissonance. Talk to me about how you’ve made space sound terrifying again. Are there certain keys, scales, or chords you feel naturally lend themselves to fear? Is it something you applied to your work on this LP? What was your methodology as it pertained to balancing all the disparate elements of space? Is it chiefly about defining the color, the sound, or the ambient noise? Can it be pared down to a few simple traits?

NIKOLA: Thank you so much for the kind words! 😊 ‘Unempty Space’ is actually the very first demo I sent the developers back in 2015, and they’ve loved it so much that we decided to keep it in the game as a featured track. This track is really what I meant when I said that everything was improvised and played live. I just started messing with some sounds and started sketching and eventually ‘Unempty Space’ is what came out of it. I think this track was done only by using Urs Heckman Zebra 2 soft synth, I am not sure. When I approach a track that needs to be unnerving and dark, I don’t think about chords and notes, I usually think about the type of sound I want to achieve. So, here I was looking for the type of sound that would make me feel uneasy and I went with that. I played a few notes and go the track going. Most of it was revolving around the key of D minor I think and diminished neighboring chords. The reverb was straight out of the synth, nothing additional was used here. My personal formula for portraying the vastness and darkness of space is to have big low-end drones and layer some different pads and soundscapes on top of that. But you have to be careful when balancing the sonic ranges of the individual instruments in order not to make everything too washy and muddy, because that’s a common issue for me when working on these types of tracks. You can achieve this type of sound with a single software synth and one reverb that can glue everything together if you’re creative enough.


GENO: Let’s talk kit for a minute; I’m extremely curious as to what this setup would look like on the floor of a stage. The guitars, the line of instruments… the list/s of players. Is this something that could feasibly be performed by a small group of musicians, or would it be something on a much larger scale? What exactly am I hearing on this LP? Your synth sound is particularly wonderful, really daring. What sorts of synthesizers would you say are your “go to”? For this record, did you employ older, outdated synths? Would you say you have a passion for the instrument in general? Which of any instrument did you find most effective in conveying your message on this recording?

NIKOLA: I think this entire soundtrack could be performed on a stage with a few musicians on synthesizers, a guitar player and a smaller orchestra. I like smaller orchestras, because the sound is always delicate and intimate, plus it doesn’t get in the way of additional instruments standing out. What you’re hearing on this LP is exactly that. A few good synths, a Fender Stratocaster and a small orchestra. I don’t own many hardware synths even though I am a massive synth enthusiast. My go-to soft-synths here were U-He Zebra 2 and Arturia V collection (CS 80, Moog, Jupiter and ARP 2600). When it comes to hardware synths, I used my Yamaha DX7 and two KORG Volcas (Volca Bass and Volca Keys), and I can’t say enough praises about Volcas. Truly affordable and easy to use analogue synths with massive sounds. I ran most of my hardware synths through a few guitar pedals to make them sound a bit more massive, and I also had my electric guitars on top of that. I am a passionate fan of synths and guitars, and I always find a way to include them in every work that I do, be it a sci-fi or epic fantasy. The CEO of LGM studios said for example that the track called ‘Frontier’ sounds like something that Vangelis and David Guilmour would do together, and that’s probably the biggest compliment I ever got as a musician.😊

GENO: The completed work for Starpoint Gemini: Warlords, is lengthy. Making even short albums can be a painful experience. About how long did it take you to complete (start and end date), and what did your cutting room floor look like? Did anything stand out about the recording of the LP to you, i.e.: longer demo period, altering course, or starting over from scratch? Is there a particular song that you personally enjoy the most and why?

NIKOLA: If we don’t count the demoing period in 2015, the actual work on the soundtrack took no more than a month and a half in continuity, so that’s almost one track on every two days. From mid-November 2016 to first week of January of 2017 was the entire soundtrack done, including the mixing. You can say, I was highly motivated to work on this, because the genre is something I am really into. The developers actually had very few remarks for the soundtrack, and it is something that I have never experienced before, and I couldn’t believe it. I know it sounds unbelievable, and maybe I sound a bit full of myself, but they really had few remarks and they were signing off every track on the day it was finished and it went straight into the game. The best time I had was while working on ambient tracks, because I really experimented with the sounds for my synths. But what really stands out is when I sat down to work the main opening theme that plays in the main menu, and that was the last thing I did for this soundtrack. I got into panic mode because I didn’t have any idea about the melody that would represent the world of SPG Warlords, and it hit me quite by accident while I was improvising with this lead sound that plays the melody and I knew I had it. After that it was easy to create everything around it. My personal favorites on this soundtrack are ‘Warlords Ascension’ (the main theme), ‘Still Waters Run Deep’, ‘Unempty Space’ and ‘Frontier’ because they really represent what I was going for with this soundtrack, to present the vastness and loneliness of a space adventure.

GENO: I mentioned earlier that the record feels free of interference from the outside. Were you given total artistic control or were there guidelines via concept art and storyboards? Do you find this sort of guidance helpful? Were there ever moments during the process where you hit a wall and had to walk away from the project for a few days? What was the most difficult composition for Starpoint Gemini: Warlords?

NIKOLA: This is one of the very first projects I ever got where I was given total independence and artistic control, and that’s a double-edged sword because you’re the one who’s here to create this new sound from scratch for a big universe, and there’s always this small fear of not being good enough when the clients are taking their first listen. It’s a horrifying experience when you’re looking at faces of your clients while they are listening to your music for the first time. Regarding SPG Warlords, I never hit a wall and I was never away from the project during the composing process because I was truly inspired to create something that’s really me. Concept art and a short brief about the game were very helpful and one of my screens always had a scene from the game on it while I was composing, because I really had to immerse myself in this world. The hardest challenge was the main menu theme honestly. I always have issues when trying to compose something that needs to be minimalistic and simple enough, but still sounds big.

GENO: With any type of project comes stories, hilarious and horrifying. Did the sessions for Starpoint Gemini: Warlords yield any of this sort of folklore? Were the master reels stuck in transit for three weeks in Alpine, Texas? Did the studio get snowed in during a blizzard? Are there any memories you’d like to share about your time creating this score?

NIKOLA: Well the studio was snowed in during that period because it was a tough winter that year and I didn’t get out much. 😊 A couple of weird situations happened during those times. Once I was recording this guitar melody for ‘Frontier’ and I played something that sounded really awesome to me and I improvised all over the track, but then I realized the recording button wasn’t on. 😊 Another thing happened when I prepared the masters to send you guys for publishing, and when I started uploading them, I realized the master output was muted, so I almost sent you 60 minutes of silence haha! 😛


GENO: Music is generally a lifelong occupation. It starts with admiration at a young age that moves to active creation shortly thereafter. Is making music something you’ve always wanted to do or did you have other plans that were put aside in favor of this goal? And… one of my favorite questions that I always ask musicians: did you have a high school band, did you record with them, and can I hear it? What was your first instrument?

NIKOLA: Since my early childhood I was always surrounded by music. I remember I learned to use cassette tape and record players to listen to music on headphones that were bigger than my head at that time. I started dreaming about doing music in my teens and I kept nagging my parents to buy me an electric guitar, but then I got an acoustic and I was bored to death because I wanted to make loud noise that came from the radio. Of course, I had a band in high school with a few of my friends. It was a heavy metal band but it didn’t last for long, we had only two songs at that time and thank God there are no recordings of them! 😊 During my time with the band I got interested in soundtracks and started experimenting with keyboards, so I got hooked on synths pretty fast and to the so-called “cinematic” sound. I never got a formal musical education, I learned everything I know by myself from reading books and listening to music. When I talk about music I don’t talk about theory or harmony or counterpoint, I talk about feelings and where I want to take the listeners. That was the only thing I wanted to do and I have invested every cell in my body to make it a living profession for me, because it’s rather difficult to be able to do it here in Serbia and it is why I started networking via Facebook (Thank you Mark Zuckerberg 😛 ).

GENO: Finally, what’s next for you? Are you planning a string of new recording projects or are you currently looking to take a break and decompress? Any final thoughts for listeners and fans on Starpoint Gemini: Warlords?

NIKOLA: I am very bad at having breaks, because I am really enjoying what I do, so right now I am mostly working on smaller indie games for local developers here. There will be a couple of interesting projects here and there during this year, I hope. I am looking forward to seeing anyone playing SPG Warlords on Xbox One and they are always welcome to join me on my adventures in-game while we are waiting for future releases. 😊 I truly hope the people will like the soundtrack and enjoy listening to it as much as I have enjoyed creating it.

GENO: Thank you so much for stopping in today and letting us get this fantastic behind the scenes look at your incredible score. We wish you the very best in 2018 and are looking forward to all of your future recordings.     

NIKOLA: Thank you for having me here as a guest, and I wish you all the best in your future releases! 😊

Starpoint Gemini Warlords (Original Game Soundtrack) is available on!


Having fallen in love only 4 times in his life Geno counts Double Dragon as his second and truest love. He has worked in record retail since 2000 and believes David Hayter to be the one true Solid Snake. Currently, he is putting together a band which only perform songs from Street Fighter 3rd Strike.

2018 is a mere ten days away and with that realization, we at have eagerly compiled our choices for our favorite records of the last twelve months. It’s a difficult task to place one score over the other as we feel so very strongly about each of these entries and artists that we’ve decided that for this year at least, they all represent the number one spot in some way, shape or form. At, we love this genre of music above all else and are eternally grateful that our sentiments are shared by such a vibrant and wonderful community. From all of us at, have a safe and wonderful holiday and we will see you in the new year. Now…onto that list.


Rather than Geno attempting to take on this task alone, we’ve asked Bernard to collaborate closely with him. Generally, they hate each other, but they’ve decided to call a truce for the length of this feature. Neither seems to know if the truce will hold.

The Music Of Persona 5

Composer Shoji Meguro

Written summary by Geno

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Listen: Wake Up, Get Up, Get Out There

On July 3rd, 1973, a frail and visibly exhausted David Bowie stood before an audience to declare his time as Ziggy Stardust had run its course and that in fact, this would be his last show. It wasn’t of course, but Bowie, sensing the atrophy and general fatigue of his own creation sought an exit that would allow him ample space to cultivate in directions beyond zones that were both familiar and habitually referenced. Bowie realized, that the termination point of the Ziggy Stardust character was necessary to reframe and extend his legacy beyond what some might have seen as nothing more than gimmicks or sleight of hand. The answer was simple to Bowie: walk away.

In this very same manner, longtime Persona series composer Shoji Meguro, had for many years accepted the congratulations lavished upon and afforded him by his work. Rightly so, 2008’s Persona 4 solidified him as a brand, a name considered for permanent, multiple effigies found dotted across parts of his native homeland. Meguro’s sound was his very own, his signature absolutely identifiable, and his ticket sales…assured. So…his band played and played and played. This went on for years. Then, suddenly, Meguro disappeared. His output seemingly stalled mid-ascension. In this interim,his likeness became attached to music largely remixed or rearranged for projects already long in gestation. Meguro, like Bowie, had walked away. Rather than placate an expectant audience with another serviceable rubber-stamped setlist, Meguro instead gnashed his teeth, toiling alone for years and out came Persona 5.

Absenteeism has done well for Meguro, however, as complacency is replaced indiscriminately with a slovenly rabidness that Meguro,eyes open, mouth agape, sees fit to saturate these proceedings with. Persona 5 maintains some of Meguro’s autographed whistle tests, but the time spent tinkering within 5’s pupa shell is a fascinating process of anarchic rebranding. Persona 5 is Meguro delivering phrases in neither Kanji or full English, but rather some hypnotic hybrid language, that while largely untranslatable, remains utterly gripping. Meguro is also increasingly insistent that his way is the only way forward…with good reason. Beyond neon, beyond tilted angles, and  beyond logotype, this is a man in full.

The Music Of Nier Automata

Composer Keiichi Okabe

 Written summary by Bernard

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     Listen: The Weight Of The World

“Once in a generation”, would probably be the most succinct and cliched way of describing NieR: Automata, but that kind of small-mouthed praise falls short when we talk about Automata’s music. “Once in an era” maybe, or “Once in a lifetime”. Keiichi Okabe had the nearly impossible task that was following up his previous masterpiece, the NieR: Gestalt & Replicant soundtrack from 2010. This behemoth of a burden was made even more difficult by the fact that Yoko Taro is a notoriously hard man to work with.The inherent lunacy present in the themes of Automata would’ve made it easy to create a disjointed, foul mess of a score that had no coherence and destroyed engagement from the player.

Okabe work was a resounding success; we received sorrowful punches from pieces like “Mourning”, we felt the bleakness on asking the question on what it means to be human by listening to “A Beautiful Song” and “Emil: Despair”, we soared above the carnage of the battlefield and inundated our souls with hope and defiance with the game’s final theme “The Weight of the World / The End of YoRHa”. The deep emotional resonance felt during the game’s conclusion is enough to make a grown man tear up, an expressive and beautiful parable that will stay with you long after the controller has been put down.

The Music Of The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild

Composer Manaka Kataoka

Written summary by Geno

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Listen: The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild: Main Theme

The Legend Of Zelda has for years, as a series, labored inexplicably and to its detriment with an inability to alter its musical typeset. Its painted corner is one in which shade and texture are oils and base waiting for reapplication. Discussions to darken or lighten are muted affairs with the same roundtable vote that errs on the side of silencing dissenters. The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild and its divisive cleavage is the furthest stray from its days as a pre-fabricated edge. Lead composer Manaka Kataoka’s choices are ones that finally place adage and nostalgia in the furthest rearview. In many ways, Kataoka seems intent to score beyond the soundstage for which he was first employed, as The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild is very much a personal statement from Kataoka, as it is the assigned backdrop to a series now approaching 40. Kataoka’s touch is one that judiciously mutes the franchise’s stubbornly repetitive call-outs, its overplayed bombast, and its typically indelicate handling of moments of introspection. Kataoka’s removal of Zelda’s more inherently theme park elements reveals and restores a deftness and subtlety seemingly long trampled underfoot.

The Music Of Touhou 16: Hidden Star in Four Seasons

Composer Jun’ya Ota, “ZUN”

Written summary by Bernard

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Listen:The Concealed Four Seasons (Okina Matara’s Theme)

A dream is shared among millions around the world, the dream shapeshifts and morphs as it jumps from mind to mind. But somehow, it all comes back to its origin: Jun’ya Ota, “ZUN”, had done it yet again, painstakingly for the sixteenth time and counting. Touhou had always been sort of an oddball, a weird singularity on the already weird Japanese independent scene. But the music, the music was always right. Intoxicating and exuberant, much like the whole franchise, it constantly skirts the line between playfulness and seriousness. A fascinating and powerful dreamlike feeling is produced, that refuses to be pinned down as a self-serving exercise or an imitative, parodic recitation of Eastern mythology. ZUN is in top form in Hidden Star in Four Seasons, and the journey he takes us through spans every color in nature: from the beautiful pink cherry blossom of spring, to the serene white of snows in winter.

The Music Of Resident Evil 7

Composers Akiyuki Morimoto, Miwako Chinone, Satoshi Hori, Cris Velasco, and Brian D’Oliveira

Written summary by Geno

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 Listen: Main Hall

It seems that composers in the modern day have forgotten that horror is an element largely devoid of sound. With this in mind, the artist’s application then becomes a route of brute force in an attempt to pull their audience along a desired line with smoke plumes and poorly costumed thrills, but this guidance, this hand holding, only deadens the delivery of cortisol to the brain ensuring a reaction that is subdued, easily manipulated and controlled. Not so with Resident Evil 7. More a cast than conclave, Resident Evil 7’s multiple composers are each actors playing to individual scenes under widely contrasting circumstances. Disparities aside, the core of their work is one that emphasizes silence almost to vertigo. It is unobtrusive and distant, but this detachment is merely in the service of heightening some measureless form of malevolent dissonance, an unsteady clanging…perpetual ambiguity. Presence, not companionship, is everything a horror record should aspire to be, and Resident Evil 7’s score is an omnipresent diary of observation; it watches but has no inclination of ever interceding.

The Music Of Ruiner

Composer Susumu Hirasawa

Written summary by Bernard

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 Listen: Sidewalks And Skeletons

RUINER was perhaps one of those games that slid under some people’s radar. As a game it wasn’t exceptional. One of many stick shooters that don’t really reinvent the wheel, but provide solid entertainment for those of us with twitchy fingers and masochistic streaks. The main driving forces behind the soundtrack are two young electronica prodigies, “Zamilska” and “Sidewalks and Skeletons”, and they do not disappoint. The game’s score seethes with a retro futurism straight from the 80s, an electro-pop mix of hyper alert bounciness, and gleaming tubes with cables that connect Kraftwerk and dreams to the far horizon. It’s brutal and unforgiving, while at the same time melancholy and retrospective. Deliciously crunchy, but painful in its loneliness and the realization that the future that the 80s envisioned is no place for a god-fearing man.

The Music Of -Middle Earth- Shadows Of War

Composers Garry Schyman, Nathan Grigg, and Kelli Schaefer. 

Written summary by Geno

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Listen: The Siege Of Minas Ithil

For composer Garry Schyman, the previous decade was one marked by laconic verse and agonizing degrees of modulation. His scrupulous moves within the world of the Bioshock  franchise were indeed wholesale victories of faultless pitch, though it seemed that Schyman’s  tenor was purposely held below the octave it was meant to scale, and that without much effort seemed easily attainable. This delivery of restraint has served his records well, as with each of his new pressings, the level of human voice is increased, colliding ever closer to the desired mark. This progression comes to full-throttle maturity with Middle Earth-Shadows Of War. It is obvious that Schyman is no stranger to projecting, as the ink on his scores from Bioshock to Dante’s Inferno, and  Front Mission Evolved, among others, are song cycles that attempt to challenge ever the grander set-piece. Still, what Middle Earth: Shadows Of War achieves is unfettered grandiloquence, and the end result is quite possibly one the most lavishly ornate and italicized action scores of the last two decades in gaming.

The Music Of Hollow Knight

Composer Christopher Larkin

Written summary by Bernard

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Listen: Greenpath

Darkness and desolation are such overdone concepts, that when a game comes around completely cemented on these two concepts one cannot help but to raise a skeptical eyebrow. It was a pleasant surprise then, when Hollow Knight shattered every preconception when it came to both its gameplay and its music. Composed by relative unknown Christopher Larkin, there is darkness in the game’s music with a bit of Zelda’s DNA injected into its genes , but there is also a touch of renewal, a touch of new age whimsicality backed by a full orchestra. Hollow Knight rings like a musical dream about faith and forgiveness. A fairy tale for the modern gamer, where optimism has yet to drown in a sea of cynicism.

The Music Of Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice

Composers Andy La Plegua and David García Díaz

Written summary by Bernard

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 Listen: Passarella Death Squad – Just Like Sleep

Uncomfortable, unsettling, unnerving, unbalanced. It’s difficult to describe how Hellblade plays out without sounding a bit unhinged. But in the end what makes Hellblade so special is that it doesn’t try to separate violence from the mental wounds it creates. Senua doesn’t only physically fight the undead hordes of viking warriors, but she also fights the trauma of her past, tries to defeat the phantoms that inhabit her mind. Ninja Theory did a fantastic job with the sound direction, using binaural 3D to make the player feel like they’re Senua herself, wrestling with the demons of mental illness. It’s frightening and amazing at the same time, the music masterfully creates an atmosphere where fear is thick and permeates the air like a toxic gas. One must constantly remind oneself that this is only a game, brilliant and malevolent, but a game nonetheless.

Thanks for another great year with us here at! We’ll see you all in 2018!

Today I’m counting down my  favorite records of 2015, and if there is one absolute in my daily routine, it is listening to videogame scores…repeatedly.  There is absolutely nothing I would rather be listening to. If you knew me personally, you would also know that there is nothing I enjoy talking about more. Congratulations to these tremendous artists.

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Listen: Broken Age: Vella Wakes


#3.) Peter McConnell and Broken Age–  Video games as a medium are still largely restricted to easily identifiable genres. Some war, some space…some war in space, gruff soldiers, sundries of murky, banal horror titles, and amnesia-ridden RPG protagonists. It’s all been done before and to death. The ideas inherent in these games have been savaged by every make and model of success and failure over the last 40 years.

If creation under this aged model of repackage, recycle, repackage sounds arduous…imagine scoring the same thing, the same scenes near verbatim over and over and over. It’s the hard fact that comes with laying brick, and it is one that most game composers must grapple with on a daily basis: boss encounters, the hero’s walk on, the antagonist smirk, the difficult decision, all are necessary pieces, all require a similar methodology. The question then becomes, how does one stay above the water when it is made so easy to drown in a parade of your own clones? The re-tweaked, the worked-over, all from the same sea of brittle, familiar overtures? Celebrated composer Peter McConnell is one of the very select few unwilling to shuffle alongside the bloated and the capsized as McConnell himself is the embodiment of constant reinvention. No two of his recordings sound like they were drawn from the same stock: not a single one. Nothing inside his brilliant works for 1998’s Grim Fandango could play understudy, adlib for 2005’s bizarrely opulent work as seen in Psychonauts. His voice is a distinct one, and one that’s almost without peer. Broken Age is a foothold, a bottling that actually captures the presence of space where objects exceed your grasp as they float at once near to desolately far beyond reach. Echoes are miles, light years in real-time, and they carry with them the ring of both the ponderous and the unexplored like I have never heard before. In contrast, McConnell’s duality as seen in this record’s flip-side is coruscate, warm, candidly spoken, and hand in hand. Making all things new.

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Listen: Axiom Verge: The Axiom

#2.) Thomas Happ and Axiom Verge- 

For the masses of uninitiated, those who do not play video games in any sort of setting, the aural assault of 8-bit chip-tunes is defined by a series of absolute capitulations. To begin, it is a rudimentary instrument by design: nothing more than a toolset of frangible wires. Despite this, it’s a deceivingly tricky tablature: one that is seemingly easy to master but almost impossible to alchemize in correct proportion. Thomas Happ, composer of 2015’s Axiom Verge, plays his stunningly, sybaritic verse without misstep or apology. Axiom Verge is a sumptuous framework, a land mass of low, desolate flange and cold yet hedonistic swirl. It is a representation of some of the very best the genre has ever produced, as it carefully marries the tried and faultless master-techniques of its past operators into a symbiotic union of organic and ambient sound. While most have a tendency to over-emphasize one channel over the other, Happ strikes a balance that is perfectly measured in audience threshold: just as you feel you might be overtaken by the machines, Happ dispenses an expressive edict of live sound. For those new to this chorus and for those who’ve become disaffected by the glut of the disingenuous, Happ presents a manifesto that bookends the old guard, and provides a full measure as to how to proceed and advocate from this point forward. Look beyond.

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Listen: Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain: V Has Come To

#1.)  Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

Ludvig Forssell, Justin Burnett, Daniel James, Akihiro Honda, Donna Burke, and Harry Gregson-Williams-

It was never going to be easy and that is the simple fact of it. Scoring for one of video games most divisive and influential series is but one single, exceedingly difficult factor. Couple that with the knowledge that this will indeed be the final pure-blooded mainline entry in the Metal Gear pantheon and the weight begins to multiply one hundred-fold. As if to follow suit, The Phantom Pain isn’t a collection of easily drawn lines. So much of its subject matter is a cortical, gray meringue of open interpretation: what is so easily defined as morally black could just as well be identified by a spectrum of colors from another point of view.

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Listen: Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain: Disarmament

Chief composer Ludvig Forssell’s Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain’s score is a dangerous and unflinching collection of swerving vignettes expertly pieced together. It details in full the dearth of sunlight present in the subject matter, and accurately recounts the severity of those myopic stretches of night driving that so consume the majority of the Phantom Pain. Forssell’s faultless approach means to ground the proceedings in the incalculable grit of actual despair, and it’s also one of the first in the series to appropriately gauge and ballast the mood of Metal Gear’s tactile world. A full symphony amongst the wreckage of the Phantom Pain’s backdrop seems an unlikely variable, and so Forssell wisely presents material that is by-and-large stripped down, scaled back and uncomfortably up close: the larger the room, the greater the percentage of emotion lost.

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Listen:  Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain: The Code Talker

Forssell’s flawless, brunt creation is also one of the most successful musical collaborations in recent gaming history. Composers Justin Burnett, Daniel James and long-time series guardians Akihiro Honda, Donna Burke and Harry Gregson-Williams effortlessly adhere to all of Forssell’s hard-lined cornerstones. Working in separate capacities and lengthy moments in tandem, Forssell’s extended cohorts fashion definitive inscriptions that are paramount and absolutely necessary to both lighten and shade Forssell’s lofty draft of working blueprints. Despite the staggering run-time of The Phantom Pain’s dual platters, never once does the collective’s aesthetic cohesion falter; all subtext remains intact and the strength of the compositions gorgeously disseminates the narrative without so much as a single lull in attention.

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Listen: Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain: OKB Zero

Whatever the goals, whatever the bullseye first marked and envisioned by Forssell and his team a near half decade ago is made flesh with this release. When one of these composers is remembered, all of them will be evoked simultaneously and in concert. There is no larger compliment than to be credited with complete and full understanding. The acknowledgement that of the millions of variations and outcomes that could have been, only this group was capable of delivering that final, eloquent eulogy. Unequivocally, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain’s score is the definitive series work as transcribed by those chosen few who’ve peered through its many assorted and  daunting masks: the practitioners responsible for uncovering its lifetime of heartbreaking concealments. A true seeing.

As a standing farewell: this is good.


Having fallen in love only 4 times in his life Geno counts Double Dragon as his second and truest love. He has worked in record retail since 2000 and believes David Hayter to be the one true Solid Snake. Currently, he is putting together a band which only perform songs from Street Fighter 3rd Strike.

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Listen: Metal Gear Solid V: Original Soundtrack: Mike Oldfield: Nuclear

In its most base form, composers Ludvig Forssell, Justin Burnett, Harry Gregson-Williams, and Daniel James’s score for Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is the sound of ice, but not of it breaking, nor of it being formed…but the SOUND of it. It’s not something you can photograph or truly gauge with your ear. For some, it’s terrestrial, completely alien, a fogged intonation, a strange drowning sibilate. To others it’s an arrival knell: a sound only known and familiar to those who’ve been immersed in the throes of crippling mental and emotional isolation. Imagine its hollow encapsulation turned to physical echo, its corridor growing larger and longer. This is the frigid tolling that is to be found within much of the Phantom Pain, and it is this cold that is essential to its framework. Grieving and loss often rant indecipherably, their telegraphs exceedingly verbose as the mind becomes consumed and appropriated by schism and brokenness. Lead composer Ludvig Forssell and his collaborators must carefully interpret what little can actually be translated from the scribble, and make sense of what remains available from this dying white noise: this must be a meticulous clarification, a vision, a definitive account of the ordeal, no matter how boreal the chimera. Here is the sound of desolation: how I wish you were here with me now.

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 Listen: Metal Gear Solid V: Original Soundtrack: Withered Peace

But… before we talk about the later acts of The Phantom Pain, we have to make note of its preface. The mere fact that Metal Gear Solid V’s dual acts share closely related passages within the same novel would be of both failure and disservice to Forssell, as his sublime and inordinately pregnant dusk (Ground Zeroes score) requires and deserves separate and magnified praise. The compositions for Ground Zeroes offer up a striking penumbra. This is a finite, panoramic view of the moment where stasis finally fails and all its many delicate supporting mechanisms enter into a state of steady decline: things are simply, irreparably breaking down. Whatever glints, whatever thin parcels the aurora that may have remained are slowly being gagged from above. Withered Peace is the clearest mark of this shift, you can hear it as it stammers loudly, as if it were searching itself for some remedy, some tangible gadget to alter the present course: there’s regret, trembling, and an audible degree of indecision. Conversely, Bloodstained Anthem wholly embraces the boldness of the stygian landscape before it. Forssell’s work needs no anchor, as both these pieces demonstrate his innate and incredible abilities to advocate for both sides of the countered nature of The Phantom Pain. Composer Harry Gregson-Williams’ contributions are encompassed in their entirety within the Ground Zeroes prologue, but despite their brevity, serve as some measure of pavement to bridge the myopic night driving that’s about to take place in the Phantom Pain. She’s Rigged and The Fall Of Mother Base are key components within the full transition, and they do serve as reminders of why exactly Gregson-Williams has been kept on full retainer for some 14 years by Kojima productions. Ground Zeroes stands as a luminous signpost within the Phantom Pain’s many stunning and intricate lines and fractures. But…what of that ice?

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Listen: Metal Gear Solid V: Original Soundtrack: V Has Come To

Yes, back to that ice. Understand me, when I say that The Phantom Pain’s score is the fullest measure of destitution. If you were hoping for something gentler, some still-water alcove of obligingly arranged reminiscence, perhaps, I’d advise you to look elsewhere. I’d also add that in dealing with the subject matter of The Phantom Pain, doing the above described would be to erase all meaning from the text. While the vinyl for Ground Zeroes walked the scant hairline between the underworld, Phantom Pain’s LP proper dissolves all supporting allegiances with few exceptions. The opening, V Has Come Too, makes gorgeously vivid and painterly Forssell’s muse (Big Boss). Rather than draft him as someone or something fully one dimensional, villain or savior, Forssell instead makes a stunning cast from his fragments of deficiency, his failures, and his malcontent interspersed with what indeterminate good actually remains of the man this far down the wire, and shows us just how teetered our hero actually is. Listen closely and you’ll be able to hear the entire composition attempt to steady itself, a single note at a time, with some notes just under their range, some movements pushing too far to the right, and regular unscripted outbursts are common: conditions change. Without question, V Has Come Too is one of the greatest pieces of music I’ve yet heard in a videogame or film in over a decade, and one of the best pieces the medium of musical entertainment has produced as a whole: yes it’s that good. A Burning Escape runs deeply accented and caliginous strides around even the murkiest lore within the Metal Gear mythos. The wisely uncut full 9 minute duration of Escape is the very anchor of the 1st half of this record and composers Burnett and Forssell’s low agonized crawl give shape to all that the Phantom Pain represents, but these are moments recalled in short flashes without access to the full memory, and no doubt, Forssell and Burnett realize it NEEDS to be this way.

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Listen: Metal Gear Solid V: Original Soundtrack: Kept You Waiting Huh

Much of what the Phantom Pain is built around, is madness. Contrary to popular belief, madness isn’t a personal exercise, it’s not one of isolation…it’s shared, collective, and enabled. In the case of Big Boss, his lieutenants, his friends, and all his allies are complicit in his downfall: however much his men may object, they still goad their mentor to continue, and despite objections remain silent. Kept You Waiting Huh? expertly redecorates the Boss, reinstates him to a man in full, his former appearance, but not his former self. Waiting’s celebratory pomp perfectly masks Boss’s intent as Forssell’s multi-part walk on cues for the Boss via Waiting and Afghanistan’s A Big Place offer up both opulent pastoral stretches with enough room for imagined soliloquies, and physical enough that despite the years behind him, Big Boss is a man of undiminished build, undaunted and nonchalant as he reengages his enemy. Forssell intrinsically understands the importance of this moment, and he delivers it with gravitas and aplomb. And still, this is only just the beginning.

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Listen: Metal Gear Solid V: Original Soundtrack: On The Trail

Action is of course, a large and core proportion of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, and the things Forssell does with each piece of the script’s call for bullets will no doubt turn heads in sharp approval. Forssell’s treatment of celebrated director Hideo Kojima’s stage is one of the most radical and sharply visceral set-lists to grace a numbered MGS entry. Where Metal Gear Solid 4’s instrumentation was intent largely to pontificate and place every moment under glass and Metal Gear Solid 2’s was a touch too grandiose, Metal Gear Solid V, strips away that penchant of the series to lean on larger and grander orchestration: Encounters here aren’t sanitized, and any ideas you have about the sound of the action being overly, disproportionately produced, or densely populated with a symphony too enormous would be wrong. Forssell is intent to sell his pieces in exact dimensions with much of the fat being left to drain instead of further marinating a dish already fully seasoned. Forssell’s MGS is an experiment, a live improv with instruments strewn about the floor, all plugged and live with microphones. His methodology carries with it this capricious nature that seems to revitalize and re-invent this series very defined, very heavy accent. Take Encounter On The Plains, Metallic Archaea, On The Trail, Drop Off, Parasites, and Unforgiving Sands: each of them are imposing but palatial mutations that collapse and re-atomize with each passing second. Where you begin, you don’t end up. This is purposeful, I can only guess, because Forssell (rightfully) seems intent on dismantling the clarity of these once picked apart and perfectly cued junctions (action cues) . Surely nothing about a real firefight can be choreographed, and clarity itself has no place there: Forssell gets it.

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Listen: Metal Gear Solid V: Original Soundtrack: OKB Zero

Forssell’s scaled down approach to Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain also allows for more emotion from the personalities that he’s scoring for, with an emphasis placed on room for them to breathe, and time enough to manifest the traits of their character (this includes the environments). Let me be clear: Forssell’s compositions come closest to actually recapturing the feeling of the original Metal Gear Solid album by composer Tappy Iwase. Forssell’s design likewise maintains and even surpasses Iwase’s level of melancholy. OKB Zero ’s broken and fading string-light pageantry is one of the greatest moments of audio in any MGS title full-stop. The exact same could also be said of Shining Light’s, Even In Death and Beautiful Mirage as they bring this series to the point of full circle, similarly awash in the sound of white( there’s that ice again) that once greeted series mainstay Solid Snake as he infiltrated Shadow Moses Island some 17 years ago. In regards to the main vocal theme Sins Of The Father, Forssell deserves further standing ovations as it is probably not common knowledge that the lyrics were of his invention with music by series stalwart Akihiro Honda. It goes without saying that overdue credit goes to spectacular vocalist, Donna Burke, without whom it would be lost.

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Listen: Metal Gear Solid V: Original Soundtrack: Beautiful Mirage

The Phantom Pain is VERY much Ludvig Forssell’s show, but his collaborating composer Justin Burnett’s contributions are to be applauded for their excellence and their flawless adherence to Forssell’s ultra gritty vision. This is a seamless work that requires you to be able to live inside of it, where even the slightest incongruence would have had the power to remove you from its world: this duo is very tightly knit. Burnett’s Angering Mantis in particular follows the precedent that both he and Forssell set early on with Burning Escape, and exemplified further by Forssell on OKB Zero. Mantis is given ample time, because Burnett knows that for something to be truly frightening, grizzly even, it will take more than a first glance, as both glances and initial introductions can be deceiving, but given a little longer…that’s when the evil sinks in.

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Listen: Metal Gear Solid V: Original Soundtrack: Shining Lights, Even In Death

Fullest marks and the very highest of compliments go to those artists who can successfully weave the imagery of their LP cover into the tracks on their album. Composers Ludvig Forssell, Justin Burnett, Harry Gregson-Williams and Daniel James have indeed unraveled and decoded all of The Phantom Pain’s many variant 12 inch pressings: their combined inscriptions create a score to best and eclipse all of the series’ past masters. The mere existence of this record adds value and stock to the series of Metal Gear, and imbues its future with the numerous possibilities beyond the ice: a true passing of the torch.


Having fallen in love only 4 times in his life Geno counts Double Dragon as his second and truest love. He has worked in record retail since 2000 and believes David Hayter to be the one true Solid Snake. Currently, he is putting together a band which only perform songs from Street Fighter 3rd Strike.

Celebrating the album releases of Broken Age, and the recent re-release of the score for Grim Fandango at are a very BIG deal.

So much so, that back in May, I went in search of their composer: industry legend Peter McConnell. On a very bright and HOT day in June, Peter and I discussed the hidden blessings of crowd-funding, the echoes of space, the villain theme, Lucas Arts, and the beginnings of his work on Grim Fandango.

Be sure to order your copies of both Broken Age and Grim Fandango here on

Geno :

It’s the summer of 2000, and I have just moved to Austin, Texas. I’m completely miserable. Having no real sense of friends, school and money… my free time was spent feeling utterly despondent. I was just working a record store job and playing in a rock band. My computer just BARELY ran Tim Schafer’s 1998 classic Grim Fandango, BUT it ran, which was good enough for me. I was there, you know, huddled in a corner of my room with headphones. It was late at night, and I was trying not to wake my roommate. The headphones were key because they amplified the component I felt was the most important, aside from the story’s brilliant writing: your singular and altogether mind-blowing score. Your music was one of the ONLY truly bright spots of that year. I have always wanted to thank you for that, but never thought I’d have the chance, and here we are. I just wanted to say, before we get started, thank you from the bottom of my heart, and multiply that a few million times.

Peter McConnell

Wow, thanks for that. It’s nice to know I was able to create something that had that effect. Expressing yourself is only half of the value of music, if that – the other half is touching someone else personally.

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Legendary Composer Peter McConnell


Broken Age was a dream made possible in part by the dollars of the newly-minted initiatives of crowd-funding. While it’s a blessing to the gathering of momentum, and the green lighting of a project I imagine it’s an artist’s nightmare in terms of expectations turned into demands, and a rather strict timetable for the delivery of the finished product. What was the consensus, the overall mood while you worked on Broken Age? When you were first approached about composition of the score, what did your initial blueprints look like? Did they end up matching the boldness of the ink as seen in the final record? What changed? Did the investors on the project grow too loud in that they disrupted your creative process? Can you tell me a little bit about the first piece you composed for Broken Age? Did it make it onto the final track list? How long did everything take from the demo phase to completion and insertion of your pieces into the game?

Peter McConnell:

When I first heard that Double Fine had hit a record in crowd-funding I emailed Tim, who was at the DICE show in Las Vegas, to congratulate him, He mailed back “so, are you going to do the music?” I believe my answer was “hell, yes!” I was very excited to be involved in a totally new way of doing a project. Believe it or not, I particularly liked the “reality TV” aspect of it. I had never had the opportunity to connect directly to the audience of a game while it was in production, and I enjoyed making the videos where we talked about how the music got made. And honestly I was kind of insulated from the downside of that process – some of the intense discussions on the forums – for me it was all good.

As for the blueprints versus the final score, the blueprints were the humblest hint of what we were finally able to do. The big challenge in the beginning was to figure out how to score the kind of emotional drama that we could see unfolding with the very limited (that’s right, very limited!) budget we had to work with. Doing live instruments at all seemed barely affordable, so I tried to figure out ways to portray everything with a small group of players, even with the first Mog Chothra scene. But when Shay stepped out into space for the first time free of his tether, I thought, “Man, I just HAVE to have French horns here – but how?” What happened at that point was pure serendipity. I had been commissioned by Andrew Pogson, who was assistant artistic director at Melbourne Symphony, to do a suite of Grim Fandango music. This was a major effort in itself, as it involved getting permission from LucasArts and Disney, and in the course of our many discussions it came up that Andrew was a backer of Broken Age. When he found out I was the composer for Broken Age he asked me what would be the chances of getting MSO to record music for Broken Age. I said, “You read my mind!” and what followed was truly a miracle – we were able to get the MSO leadership, the players union and members of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation to come together with Double Fine and figure out a way to record music for the game. The blueprints could never have accounted for that amount of good fortune.

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Welcome to the Broken Age


There’s something inherently special about the adventure game genre. Nothing is forced, you’re not brandishing a gun or weapon in the classic sense most of the time, and there are indefinite moments of pause. Most importantly, (I have always thought) is that the music isn’t always ratcheting up tension and forcibly bombarding the player’s emotions. Do you feel that a more natural human connection is able to be established through music within the confines of an adventure title? Does it give you more room to interpret a scene? What, if any makes the adventure genre a different sort of musical vehicle?

Peter McConnell:

In a word, yes. What the adventure game offers, through the natural pauses in action created by solving the puzzles, is a way to reflect on the emotional content of the story. Another way to think of it is that the story in an adventure game is more evenly split between gameplay and cut scenes (as opposed to being mostly in the cut scenes), so more of the music is directly connected to telling a story. On a very practical level this means you get to write more slow and melodic music, which I love to do. On the other hand, it’s a lot of fun to write a good action piece for a platformer or shooter as well!

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The Sound Of Peter McConnell’s Space


Broken Age explores some of the mystery of being an ordinary person marooned in space. Galactic exploration is still very much undone, still something largely mythical. Time to get up Little Spaceman, and Hello Space, epically, beautifully marks the vastness of this ordeal. How do you envision the sound of the unexplored planet, the black hole, and the dying star? What takes more precedence when you’re scoring for space: the vastness of the echo, the singular desolation, or the darkness? I hear a little bit of all three in Hello Space. Which is your favorite element?

Peter McConnell:

Great questions. As I mentioned earlier, the space music was where it really became clear that we needed an orchestra – because of the sense of vastness and the big feelings I wanted to portray. That started with the French horn theme at the beginning of “Hello Space” and grew from there. Another element in that piece besides the orchestra was my electric violin playing, to give an otherworldly effect. The loneliness part was tied to the smaller ensemble pieces like “Time to Get Up, Little Spaceman” which we recorded with a string and wind quintet. The darkness suffuses both types of pieces and that’s harder to explain. I’m very visually oriented, and I keep either a movie or a still of what I’m scoring up on a screen at all times, so I can be in direct visual contact with what I’m scoring at as I compose. I just wrote something that felt like darkness.

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Vella’s Morning Stroll


Broken Age’s Vella wakes and Was That East Or West are absolutely gorgeous! Speaking directly about Was That East Or West You never hear truly remarkable ballads inside a video game. It’s all things genuine, plaintive and haunting. Was there any temptation to add vocals or chorus to complete it? Why are we not seeing the Peter McConnell band proper? Similarly, it’s a testament to the core of Broken Age’s make-up of normal, mildly broken hearted protagonists, and how they deal with their individual set of overwhelming circumstances. What do you feel were the score’s most important tenets? Is there something you absolutely felt the record needed to convey?

Peter McConnell:

With “Was That East or West” I was channeling producer/guitarist/singer Daniel Lanois as well as harkening back to some of my own folk-rock band roots, so I think it’s safe to say there are imaginary vocals in that piece, suggested by the slide guitar part. As for the score concept, it was to evoke as vividly as possible the unique character of many different worlds. There is a pretty broad range of musical style in the game. Just as I couldn’t imagine the space parts without orchestra, acoustic guitar music for the forest just seemed right. During production one of the backers wrote in that it was cool that they were using different composers for different parts of the game. I took that as a complement.

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Meet Mog Chothra


The idea of the boss or level guardian in video games has changed radically in video games over the last 10 years. Gone are the traditional fanged beats, or floating death scythe wielders; it’s become an encounter based in ether, almost invisible. Do you feel your approach to the scoring for a game’s main villain/s has changed? With that in mind, how do you keep up that sort of bottomless creativity and momentum going when approaching this task with every new score year after year? “It’s another bad guy…whoopee!”

Peter McConnell:

I’m always trying to do what I do better than the last time. So even with my experience, I don’t feel that I’ve touched on all I want to do with any particular type of musical moment, not even the Big Scary Boss cue. And the process is always the same, but still full of surprises – bring up the picture or video of game play, and then listen carefully for the first thing I hear. Once in a while I find I have to re-visit an initial impulse, but I chalk that off to not listening carefully enough in that first moment.

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Life aboard the Bossa Nostra


On that note, Broken Age’s Mog Chothra and Final Battle are two of my absolute FAVORITE boss themes in recent memory. Can you tell me about how you map out that villain DNA? What did you do specifically for Mog Chothra and Battle at Shellmound?

Peter McConnell:

Thanks for saying so! Both of those pieces weave together themes from the major characters, especially Mog, Vella and in particular Vella’s grandfather, who is an important symbol of the strength that comes to Vella through her lineage. One of the most poignant themes to me in the Broken Age story, now that I’m a dad, is the relationship between parents and children – how both can succeed or fail, teach each other or make terrible mistakes. My own kids intuited this in the game. They got right away how Shay was testing his limits in the spaceship, for example, and knew instinctively that Marek in his wolf form was important and in a sense a bringer of knowledge, but perhaps not without some kind of darker motive. And to me almost everything that Vella and Shay do has some relationship to their families, even when rebelling, as rebelling exists in relation to what is being rebelled against.

In Vella’s case, it seems at first to be all about rebelling, since her own parents appear to be clueless, but her grandfather is a rock throughout. You think in the beginning that he is just a crazy old coot, maybe a bit senile. But he’s the one who invokes the Beastkiller name; he’s the one who won’t give up the knife; he’s the one who cheers when Vella escapes from Mog Chothra. So his theme is important. You first hear it on what could be called the silliest of instruments – a mediaeval instrument called a crumhorn played during the knife puzzle. It’s kind of a cross between a bassoon or English horn and a kazoo in sound (again serendipitously one of the clarinetists in our quintet also played crumhorn). You’re supposed to hear it as archaic at best and comic at worst. But then it comes back as a noble French horn theme in the scene when Vella learns to ride the bird who rescues her from Mog Chothra. In the moment when she takes command, you hear the theme breaking through as if she is drawing from something deep within – and that something comes from her heritage.

By the time she fights Mog Chothra for real at Shellmound, she is fully in touch with her warrior ancestry. So you hear the grandfather theme in full force at the climax of the Shellmound Battle piece. In the finale, the theme comes back again in super-compressed form as her grandfather seems to psychically transmit each blow that she delivers to put down Marek. There are a number of other themes woven into these pieces, but for me the theme that connects Vella to her grandfather is the most important.

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Welcome to Shellmound


I’ve been trying to gather shards of Broken Age’s record together to fashion my own central title theme. There was no single piece. There was no such designation on the album, but if I had to cobble one together, it would be pieces of Welcome to Merriloft, mixed with Cloud Colony Arrival and Rising Sun. Do you agree with my math? Are there specific points in the score that you would tie together so as to create the score’s ultimate piece? Were there ideas that you wanted to include, but for whatever reason, simply had to check at the door? Can you talk to me a little bit about your initial ideas for Welcome to Merriloft and Rising Sun ? Is that a didgeridoo on The Lumberjack’s Cabin? I love that piece.

Peter McConnell:

The title theme of Broken Age is the piece called “Broken Age” as it appears in the complete version of the soundtrack – “Broken Age” plus “Vella Wakes” in the initial version. I admit it’s not obvious to the ear how the score springs from this music, which comes from the opening split screen followed by Vella waking on the hillside. Musically, this opening music works as an intro to “March in the Clouds,” which you might call Vella’s travelling theme. This same theme is the essence of “Welcome to Merriloftt,” which is essentially an airy version of the march and defines the whole cloud colony, even though it comes before the march. Shay’s wake up music works as an alternate consequent, or follow-up, phrase to the first half of “Broken Age.” So a lot comes from the very opening piece, and it isn’t obvious because the musical order of things in my mind is a little different from the chronological order in which the story is told.

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Life in Vella’s Shoes


The score for Broken Age feels so incredibly fresh, so physically organic, and so playful. Case in point: March In The Clouds, and Face The Cupcakes. Is there anything you use as a barometer to test your own work to see if it will achieve the results you see inside your head? Do you feel more comfortable in a recording session with many players (a full symphony, a band), or do you prefer the intimacy of you alone in a sound booth? Where does Broken Age fit into this spectrum? How large is that symphony? Do you feel like you achieved all that was possible with Broken Age? What are your favorite pieces? Would you change anything? I wouldn’t.

Peter McConnell:

Thanks – I especially like the word “organic,” because it suggests what I wanted to evoke in the score. The only barometer I use is this: as I’m working on a piece, how do I feel when I press “play?” I listen very closely to my own reaction, and if it’s not what I had hoped, I figure out what is responsible for the problem and fix it. I love all recording sessions, whether they are a small group or an ensemble. Because time and money are at stake they can be stressful, but they are far and the way the best part of my job. When real instrumental artists play the music – that’s the moment the music comes to life. It’s a privilege to be there when it happens, and a joy to guide it. Of course I enjoy playing the parts I play as well, but there is a kind of vicarious thrill I get when hearing someone else play the music that is hard to explain. There were different configurations of players used for the symphonic part: most of the music was a 38-piece and the finale and some of the bigger pieces in Act II were a 42-piece group. I can’t say exactly what my favorite pieces are, although I think you’ve named just about all of them, and I’m certainly happy with the whole thing as it came out.

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Broken Age receives the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra Treatment.


Grim Fandango Remastered just hit the digital retail storefront, and Sumthing Else Music Works celebrated the occasion with a re-release of your original score. I worship Grim Fandango’s soundtrack (just wanted to make sure you knew that!) All these years later, how does it feel to hear those songs again? Are you like most musicians who would rather not listen to their older material in favor of moving ahead? Do you find yourself nit-picking at things that bother you about it?

Peter McConnell:

I didn’t nit-pick after the fact – I fixed all those things that bothered me! I put in a ton of work into that re-release and was super lucky to have resources like the MSO and the teams at Sony and Pyramind Studios in San Francisco to fix the problematic sounds, add new parts, do killer re-mixes and make the orchestral music actually orchestral. I have to say that I truly enjoy listening to the soundtrack now, which honestly I didn’t before, since we had 1990’s-era sounds in the original and no live orchestra at all. The good parts stayed good, though; we kept all those wonderful original instrumental jazz performances, as well as adding a couple of new ones.

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Grim Fandango Finally Gets Remastered


There’s so much to love on Fandango’s vinyl that I’d be hard pressed to pick a favorite, and it changes with the day. If push came to shove, I’d say Mr. Frustration Man , or Gambling Glottis, Hi- Tone Fandango…never mind, like I said too hard to choose, and it’s a temperamental list changing with the second. My GOD! You single-handedly redefined the birth of cool over the span of 50 tracks! What are your memories of that time period? Can you share a funny story with us about the creation of Grim Fandango’s score?

Peter McConnell:

I often say that Grim was a perfect storm. Tim Schafer was tapping into major currents of the time from the rebirth of swing to a sudden new awareness of the Day of the Dead in Anglo culture. Musically this was reflected in the San Francisco music scene. There is a particular part of town called the Mission District, full of clubs, where on one night you could go into one place and hear a great swing band, into another and hear acid jazz, into another and hear Tom Waits’ reed player, then drop into a Tacqueria and hear a mariachi band. Almost the entire Grim score was already right there in the Mission, and indeed virtually every musician on the original soundtrack played or lived in that part of town. The mariachi band in particular was an adventure to work with, since only the band leader spoke English. Music is the universal language, though, and I asked him if the guys thought what I had given them to play was reasonably authentic. He said they thought it sounded like “Halloween music,” which I took as a compliment since, after all, it is about the Day of the Dead.

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Grim Fandango: The Sight and Sound


Where did the inspiration for Grim Fandango come from? Your compositions play like a man possessed, like it had been something you had wanted to do your entire life. Was it a sound you had grown up with? I see you as a punk-rock kid, and less the child reared on Count Basie, Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman.

Peter McConnell:

I have always been interested in many different kinds of music. I was classically trained on violin and loved playing folk music on guitar and banjo in high school. I’ve also played a lot of rock and roll and fronted an alt rock band while I was working at LucasArts. But jazz has always been something special for me. I first developed a great love of it in college, more as a listener than as a player. I heard Dizzy Gillepsie and Sun Ra live and it changed my life. And that’s what I tapped into for Grim. In that sense it was something I had always been dying to write, no pun intended. In fact I came up with Maximino’s theme before Grim was even conceived of – think it was during Full Throttle or even Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis – this tune just popped into my head and I thought, “Man, that would be a cool gangster tune, I hope I get to use it someday.”

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Grim Fandango: It’s in the visuals


How do you compose generally? Are you more visual with drawings and sketches, or do you read the scenario and just find it as you play? Can you give us an example of a more challenging piece? How did you overcome it?

Peter McConnell:

I’m extremely visually oriented. I have a big screen that is just for visuals – concept art, gameplay video or cut scenes, and I keep something up on it all the time when composing, because it helps me stay true to the feeling of what I am scoring. When I was working on Grim I had paper art all over the office – mostly black & white pictures of the characters and backgrounds, which was appropriate for a Noir story, don’t you think? I also kept a picture of Duke Ellington as a young man right over my computer screen to inspire me. We even had a visual way of putting the whole score together. There was a tool in the music system we developed, the iMUSE system, that let you create buttons on a Mac screen, associate them with audio files, and put them in a little map with lines between them indicating connections in the game. Each button stood for a room or a situation, and the audio files started out as recordings we made of Tim talking about the various parts of the game. It was cool because you could visualize how all of the parts of the game and the score related to each other. As the production progressed, Tim’s recordings would be replaced with recordings of me humming a theme into a hand-held cassette player, and then with mockups of each piece using sampled instruments, and then finally with finished recordings.

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                                                     The History Of Lucas Arts


You worked at Lucas Arts during its Adventure game heyday, and worked on everything from The Dig, to Full-Throttle and Indiana Jones and The Fate Of Atlantis. WOW! What was your very first job at the company? In those days, were you already accustomed to writing rather large scores, or was it very much a trial by fire?

Peter McConnell:

I got the job at LucasArts in large part because my friend and colleague Michael Land was starting up the audio department there and needed someone who could both program and write music, and I fit the bill. But my music experience at the time consisted mostly of my college work and from playing in a number of bands. So I was not all accustomed to writing large scores, and in that sense it was trial by fire. My first job at the company was to help Michael develop the iMUSE system, which was LucasArts’ system for playing music that would adapt in real time to gameplay. When we were done with the first iteration of the system, we got to road test it by writing music for Monkey Island II. By that time there were three composers: Michael, Clint Bajakian, and me. Right on the heels of Monkey Island II came Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis. I have to say those were a couple of wonderful titles to have as first scoring gigs, even with the limited sound capabilities of the time.

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                        Preview: Indiana Jones and The Fate of Atlantis Soundtrack


How do you feel about composing music in video games today as opposed to 25, 30 years ago? You’ve scored every type of medium; which do you find the most rewarding and the most challenging? Is there anything you still have a desire to do, a dream for yourself? Where do you plan to be 10 to 15 years down the road?

Peter McConnell:

I do like the fact that we have much greater resources to work with now, whether we are working on a AAA console title or a hand-held game. You have to remember the state of the art back then – the first Pro Tools system came out well after Monkey II and Indy IV, cost something like $6K and we didn’t have one, because we couldn’t justify the expense. Now we have state-of-the-art studios, get to record at places like Skywalker Sound, and work with orchestras from all over the world. I just got back from playing music of Monkey Island, Grim Fandango and Broken Age with the Colorado Symphony at the Video Games Live concert in Red Rocks. If you had told me I’d be doing that 25 years ago I’d never have believed it. That said, things haven’t changed that much when it comes to scoring a game. And I love all the types of projects I get to do, from Broken Age to Hearthstone to Plants vs. Zombies. Each has its challenges and particular rewards; in fact I think it’s the variety of projects that is most enjoyable for me. No two of them are alike. If I have any desires it would be to keep the same variety of cool and interesting projects going – that and write a score for musical theater, but that’s another story completely.


Thanks so much Mr. McConnell; it’s been a true honor to be able to sit with you here today, and it’s not something I will ever forget. Do you have any parting words for our readers at Sumthing .com?

Peter McConnell:

It’s been my great pleasure. And thank you to all the readers at for listening!


Having fallen in love only 4 times in his life Geno counts Double Dragon as his second and truest love. He has worked in record retail since 2000 and believes David Hayter to be the one true Solid Snake. Currently, he is putting together a band which only perform songs from Street Fighter 3rd Strike.

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SNK: The Allure of The 90’s Advertisement

SNK is dead. Well, not DEAD, but more… quiet mahogany dead. I realize that these statements are erroneous as in actuality, the company is somewhat alive through a litany of signed paper documents, but effectively in my mind, the human element has just been completely removed from the equation. Recently, I’m not sure you heard, because I almost missed the announcement altogether and ran into the gagging newsreel very much by accident. In short, SNK was bought out by the Chinese corporation Leyou Technology, who now wields the rights to all and every classic SNK IP from Metal Slug to Kizuna Encounter. I don’t know why the disclosure hit me as hard as it did, because really all it is is money changing hands, but something’s been lost in that exchange, and warranted or not, you can paint me utterly despondent. Where is the caution on SNK’s side? What happened to their dry erase board of tentative releases? What will happen to King Of Fighters? It’s a TRAP! To quote singer song-writer Bert Jansch:

“I know that I might die from poison, invisible hanging there in the sunlight, and don’t you know your creator is running out of ideas.”

Hmm, familiar. BUT! That’s enough Nasdaq talk, this isn’t the 5:00 news.

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 Believe not the negative things you’ve read: SVC Chaos IS AMAZING!


I guess I feel like the fight is finally over, because the folks who ran both SNK proper and then SNK Playmore, fought a truly spectacular bout for independence without any sort of meddlesome interference from the outside. They did EXACTLY as they pleased: Come on, they released the original Neo Geo AES system for $599 United States dollars in 1990! This thing was and STILL is something to be slack-jawed about. The idea of owning an AES for me was an unfathomable proposition all those many years ago, and it remained an elusive piece of fiction, until I physically got my hands on one in 2007. It only took 17 years. With that in mind, did I ever happen to tell you about the time I bought my Neo Geo AES? NO! Well, this will only take a minute.

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 Samurai Shodown 2: Still something to behold

The guy who sold me my Neo Geo unit (boxed, complete and with fabled universal unibios already on board) was by all accounts a strange breed. He was selling his AES simply and for no other reason than to free up space! SPACE ? WHAT? So whatever small insignificant cube of his apartment lot that was dominated by this gorgeous relic was too much to bear? He must like to be sad, someone who enjoys the taste of his own tears; it’s the only logical conclusion I can draw.

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A Slice Of SNK/ Neo Geo History

I looked around and immediately eyed a short-list of things he could indeed jettison directly from his balcony window, as we spoke. He could do it NOW, his problem would be solved, and he would thank me for changing his mind, I’d have no machine, but I would have done the RIGHT thing. To be fair, he did have a fully functioning Gorf machine next to his bathroom, and a stack of in box mint Sega Saturn consoles hanging out on the bar in his kitchen, but I mean, what did he need all those cumbersome lamps for? Light? Has this guy heard of track lighting? Flashlights? There were ways around his dilemma, but there was no convincing him; he sold me the set for $220 after I cautiously, casually suggested the amount from his counter $250. No haggling, no caveat, he just wanted it GONE! He then tried to persuade me to buy his Gorf and the Saturns; I entertained the notion, but I actually had a plane to catch some 45 minutes away from departure. I’d driven to the furthest end of Austin with no hope of making it to my flight. I had to change my reservation, had to pay an exorbitant fee to do so, but I finally had my Neo Geo, EVERYTHING else could wait. And for EVERYTHING else, I’d likely favor making it to the airport saying to myself: there’s always a next time. For this though, I stood unmoved, stock still until the deal was done. That’s the effect SNK has on me both past and present tense, it still feels behemoth, larger than life, and something I’d count myself lucky to take part in and to own.

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If You Like Nam-1975: Try The Super Spy

So, I just wanted to express my love and appreciation for SNK; they’re definitely not dead, but it’s my fervent wish not to see their legacy torn apart by conglomerate entities. Sadly, these companies’ only concern is something driven by dollars in the bank and the number of mobile phones they can reach with pachinko Nam-1975’: that’s no way to go out.

Leave SNK and the Neo Geo sacred for God’s sake…somebody just bought New York Seltzer back to market. Man, nothing gold!


Having fallen in love only 4 times in his life Geno counts Double Dragon as his second and truest love. He has worked in record retail since 2000 and believes David Hayter to be the one true Solid Snake. Currently, he is putting together a band which only perform songs from Street Fighter 3rd Strike.

Today we reach the end of our summer long countdown chronicling the 25 greatest NES soundtracks ever made. If you missed last week, please click here.

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Listen: The Duel (Opening)

  1. Ninja Gaiden / Composer : Keiji Yamagishi / Release Year :1989

It’s plausible (indulge me), to say that without Keiji Yamagishi’s 1989 album for Tecmo’s Ninja Gaiden, the video games industry might not have made it this far, or at the very least, we’d be sitting in a very alternate version of 1985. Story would have remained an afterthought, music in-game treated as some exorbitant luxury: some would have it, and others wouldn’t. It’s that simple. Where certainly there had been fine examples before Yamagishi’s treatise, his peers were indeed vocal: Konami’s 1987 Castlevania and Nintendo’s 1985 classic Metroid immediately spring to mind, neither matched Yamagishi’s fetish for scale .

Ninja Gaiden is one of the first records to truly capture the character of its franchise: loose and nimble, stark and conflicted Ryu Hyabusa is given such an articulate baritone that people stopped dead in the streets, simply to breathe him in. He could be reading penny saver advertisements, Publishers Clearing House propoganda, the latest polls that no one seemed to care about: it didn’t matter; when Yamagishi’s foil was flapping his jaws, the public remained entranced.

You’d heard action and drama scored in games before, but really, you hadn‘t; no one had until Yamagishi’s platter arrived at their door. His union brought something filmic, a depth far beyond the general discord, his sound outclassing even the most high end titles and stymieing, once and for all, the noxious potpourri found to be emanating frequently from Nintendo’s more bottom feeding scores.

Playing back the tapes some 26 years later, you’re still likely to be caught up and transfixed by Yamagishi’s multiple ticks. The tracks aren’t all that long, and they’re quick to reach their refrain, but for what they lack in excess, they replace with a kind of fixation: you’re more than happy, insistent even to hear Ninja Gaiden’s main cues for hours, maybe even to complete nausea. You’re convinced that there is no other way to hear these tunes. I’m here to tell you: of course not, you might miss something, and so what’s another go around?

It’s a dare really, find something better than Yamagishi’s Information and Coercion ; try to top Masked Devil. What intro level music surpasses Pushing Onward? How about Unbreakable Determination? Go ahead, I’ll wait here….(years pass)………..Time’s up!

So, I entreat you, be thankful everyday for Keiji Yamagishi, and Tecmo’s Ninja Gaiden. Without them, your idea of video games might have been irrevocably skewed. It’s difficult, I know, but imagine games today being as bare bones and empty as the worst Atari 2600 shovel ware. Those lengthy stories, that character development, that cinematic touch, and of course the music all gone! Crisis averted.

Listen, I hear Yamagishi’s a real sucker for mail and stickers, and I think it’s time we all sent over some thank you cards, don’t you?

Essential Tracks: Information and Coercion/ Evading the Enemy/ Masked Devil / The Duel / Rugged Terrain / Seeking Truth / Unbreakable Determination / Nowhere to Run

Update: Keiji Yamagishi is part of the fantastic creative collective Brave Wave. He currently has a new record that can be found here. Spoiler: it’s incredible!


Listen: Good Weather

  1. Mr. Gimmick / Composer: Masashi Kageyama / Release Year: 1992

Composer Masashi Kageyama’s score for Sunsoft’s Mr. Gimmick is neither the product of a script, nor of action, nor of canned applause and least of all not something built from a predetermined and circumscribed path. The NES employs a rather hollow core for use in the creation of its music, a stingy meridian that utilizes a pitiful gratuity of sound samples and carries even fewer channels with which to screen its broadcast.

Its design, seemingly in perpetuity, is partially responsible for muddling every composition ever written for it. That is, of course, with the exception of one: Mr. Gimmick. (Gimmick in Japan)


Listen: Happy Birthday

 Writing for the NES requires constant adaptation, as the movement from organic strings to sound type to numbered values removes a vast number of the elements that make it accessible to the public at large. Not everyone can understand nor decipher, nor appreciate your love for this music, and it is because, for better or worse, the fact is that many of its human elements have been stripped away.

When you think of these compositions, hear them playing, you’re most likely to envision machines, and not the people who actually wrote the songs. One’s personal enjoyment of 8-bit chiptunes is tied to a process of surrender and acceptance, and it is an invitation that few willingly grant passage.


Listen: Lion Heart

It’s with all of this in mind that I’d like you to forget for a moment the litany of restrictions I’ve just painstakingly described, because as I stated in the beginning, absolutely none of it applies to Masashi Kageyama’s Mr. Gimmick. Catharsis is not a term I’d assign to many of the forebears of this genre, but I do so without reservation. On top of that suspension, I’d like to add an indulgent, rather liberal heaping of praise when it concerns Kageyama’s 1992 score.


Listen: Slow Illusion

 Again the NES, solely judged on its sound chip, has but a few splintered emotions to explore, and such a small percentage of its composers understood exactly how to fully manipulate it. Kageyama, however, is one of the VERY select few to cultivate such a flush and widely versed terrain of play despite these limitations. While most will hit a particular type of note over the head, beat it to death even (the action game score, the joyous platformer, the haunted house, and the space mission ), Kageyama plays naturally and without repetition in response to changes in the situation, but he’s also a person, a friend who’s alive and in the room: someone you can see, someone you find ease in talking to, and someone you can reach out and touch.

Kageyama realizes, like any truly brilliant musician does ( and I’ve said this many times before), that music cannot be directed nor come from a place of convolution or duplicity: People will always see right through it. It has to be real, and it has to be come with a willingness to speak with and to counsel as many people as is conceivable.


Listen: Cadbury

Close examination of Masashi Kageyama’s Mr. Gimmick reveals a deeply personal tale, one that is easily identifiable, but one that’s told with such affably sweet tenderness, and with gentle, but unflinching introspection that it can be emotionally overwhelming. Kageyama speaks at times low, describing the pained frustrations to be found within his own past, things he‘s perhaps not proud of, outbursts he’d rather forget, and if could dial back a clock to a certain moment in time, he’d do so without a second glance. It’s universal.

And yes, I’m getting a sense of all this directly from his score.


Listen: Just Friends

This is but one single angle of this particular recording though, and many times, more than can accurately be accounted for, he’s prone to beaming. Kageyama is nothing less than effulgent in his recollections, snapshots recalling everything from the bizarre inconsistencies in the shapes and colors of fall leaves, wind on his face during bike rides on isolated strips of road, being surrounded by friends; all their separate bonds, and how during the winter if you stand a VERY certain way, half slouched, hands out to your sides but still in direct sunlight, it can make you forget the cold. His tales fly at you with such charisma and warmth that by the night’s end, you’ve felt you’ve known him your entire life, already sharing inside jokes betweeen the two of you and having exchanged phone numbers, the logical next step is becoming best friends. Kageyama’s happy to oblige.


Listen: Sophia

 Probing the album even further, you begin to realize how all-encompassing Mr. Gimmick truly is. Our composer shies away from nothing; if it is something to be found in daily life, he’s included it here to sumptuous effect: birthday mornings, falling in love, the paralysis of a sudden tragedy, grades of sunshine, family around a table, afternoon breaks, trying to fall asleep and friendship. There’s more though, throughout Mr. Gimmick’s entirety, its lengthy musical sojurn, Kageyama holds your hand. It is unprecedented, the feeling of closeness that he creates, it’s amplified, radiant even, and it bests the typical separation anxiety that comes with most albums from the NES library. There are no words for it, and it’s the only one of its kind that has ever left me sobbing and in tears.


Listen: Good Night

So, what makes the difference here? What makes Mr. Gimmick the very best NES soundtrack ever made? Well…there’s a thing about nostalgia, and nostalgia is something that’s tied to each and every game on this list. Let us take an example, The Legend Of Zelda’s over world theme; it’s amazing, but it’s a permanent memory. If you heard it today for the first time, you’d probably still love it very much, but I’m not sure that you’d be able to relate to it as readily as you would to Kageyama’s Mr. Gimmick. While Zelda’s theme remains completely incredible, my guess is that if you found both Zelda and Mr. Gimmick together in a play list you might in fact skip over Zelda’s theme in favor of Mr. Gimmick. Why?

It’s simple, Zelda is a recollection tied to very specific moments, and in the given scenario you might not exactly be feeling its very explicit pull. Mr. Gimmick on the other hand, regardless of any lingering sentimentality, remains something stunning and unsurprisingly current. Kageyama’s album plays more like the records in your own collection, and when called upon, has the ability to not only scratch the more familiar of your itches, but also encourages further experimentation in the pursuit of new retrospection. It’s what elevates his work over all others. Kageyama’s not the product of some blurring reminiscence, and he’s not stamped by time. He’s physically always going to be there with you when playing his songs. He’s not separated by language, not hamstrung by the actual distance between himself and his audience, and not at all afraid to share with you personally: there‘s both trust, and love there. Masashi Kageyama and his music never seem to concern themselves with the preoccupations of this industry: it is never about dungeons, shoot-outs, evil undead hordes, or aliens…his primary concern is making music that fosters a direct connection with the audience he cares so much about.

He’s happy playing his saxophone, content in between to joke loudly , or listen intently all the while, smiling…the only living boy in New York.


Listen: Paradigm

It is for all these aforementioned reasons, for his genius and inspiration that Masashi Kageyama and the music for Mr. Gimmick earn without question the award for the Nintendo Entertaiment System’s single greatest soundtrack ever made.

Essential tracks: ALL OF IT…don’t miss a single beat.

Update: At the time of this writing Kageyama is currently in preparations to record a brand new album, his first in years. He’s also joined the spectacular roster of artists commissioned by the wonderful folks at Brave Wave. Please look forward to it.


Having fallen in love only 4 times in his life Geno counts Double Dragon as his second and truest love. He has worked in record retail since 2000 and believes David Hayter to be the one true Solid Snake. Currently, he is putting together a band which only perform songs from Street Fighter 3rd Strike.

This week we continue our countdown of the greatest 25 NES soundtracks ever made. If you missed last week, please click here.


Listen : Heat Wave

  1. Bionic Commando / Composer: Junko Tamiya / Release Year 1988

To aptly describe the overwhelming sensation of Junko Tamiya’s Bionic Commando score, I’d like to borrow a lyric from Smog singer-songwriter

Bill Callahan’s tune, Diamond Dancer:

She was dancing so hard, she danced herself into a diamond.. dancing all by herself, and not minding…doing the thing as she dreamed it.

These lines illustrate to perfection the devotion Tamiya placed into this work, realizing that when you deliver to your audience, you don’t deliver silver nor platinum…to those you love, you give diamonds.

Bionic Commando showcases Tamiya’s superb registry of dexterous italics: her sense of extending a dip or climb, that rolling sound at first LONG and gorgeously scenic, but whose final revolution becomes both an intricate coil of serous and choppy flutter, all tracked and sequenced over the top of one other. It’s truly lyrical, and what’s more, Tamiya makes it all sound so effortlessly natural, like the original written notes had not undergone the rigor of translation from strung guitar to compressed sound files

Capcom’s Bionic Commando is also somewhat of a signpost for Kamiya. In under a year, she’d be on board for compositional duties for 1989’s Strider; that same year she’d suture the loose ends that still remained for the iconic Final Fight. She wrote 1990’s Sweet Home, Street Fighter 2010, and finally Little Nemo. This wave of brilliance, rather cruelly, went un-credited, as was common practice in the 80’s. Tamiya spent a considerable amount of her career under the pseudonym Gondamin.

Bionic Commando’s score is an opulently versed yield, a richly potent seed of things present and to come for Tamiya, and as it stands, a critical, a defining moment for the framing of video game portraits as complemented by the color of their soundstripe.

Essential Tracks: Heat Wave / Albatross Encounter / Leap Of Faith / BC theme / Ok, We’ll Move / Intro Film


Listen: Bubble Man

  1. Mega Man 2 / Composers: Takashi Tateishi / Release Year 1988

In 1988, Capcom composer Takashi Tateishi had every reason to feel emboldened. The scoring work he had done along with his partner Manami Matsumae for Mega Man’s 1987 baptism, effectively wrote the prologue to the eight-bit sound bible, a genre still swaddling about in its infancy.

The reaction to their work resonated with players on such a deep and fundamental level that Tateishi began fielding requests from his fans on the streets. Naturally, some level of hubris and celebrity also seemed to follow suit.

When recording sessions began, for unknown reasons, the pair splintered a-la Sam & Dave, and the duo was a duo no more.

Tateishi was now a single artist, brazen, impudent and determined to deliver THE follow-up expansion to the preface he had co-written almost two years earlier.

Tateishi’s initial scrawls were frenzied, desperate even…a string of stillborn compositions. Banging away on a quickly detuned piano, drifting aimless solos on clarinet and harpsicord…Tateishi, thinking the magic would somehow coalesce quickly, labored over fruitless months.

Tateishi was however under the erroneous belief that the sequel would remain a near facsimile of the original: simple, short and quickly turned around to market. That was until he received THE call: the size of Mega Man 2 would be TRIPLE that of the original.

The melodies he’d abandoned in favor of their truncated version, the multiple act opera he’d dropped because he’d be short on money to pay the troupe of tenors he’d hired, and the stunning finale ensemble of players he’d assembled, dispersed like a crowd in a riot: It was all fair game now, and everyone was invited back.

Mega Man 2’s soundtrack could and indeed would be made without sparing a single expense. Armed with an inspired and impressive cache of instrumentals, Tateishi went to work assembling his a,b,c, and d sides of vinyl. If he was going to do it, it would need to encompass at the very least, two records. It makes sense that the rest of the biblical text he had spent so much time fleshing out found life as the world’s first video game double album. This is how fortunes change, world order is altered, and history is made permanent…written.

It’s tough being the seer, the burdened prophet…you’ve got an awful lot to say and such a tiny window in which to decree it.

Essential Tracks : Bubble Man / Metal Man / Air Man / Crash Man / Heat Man / Wood Man / Quick Man

Don’t forget, that you can purchase both Bionic Commando and Mega Man 2 right here, and right now on

Next week, the end of our countdown, see you then.


Having fallen in love only 4 times in his life Geno counts Double Dragon as his second and truest love. He has worked in record retail since 2000 and believes David Hayter to be the one true Solid Snake. Currently, he is putting together a band which only perform songs from Street Fighter 3rd Strike.

This week we continue our countdown of the greatest 25 NES soundtracks ever made. If you missed last week, please click here.


Listen: Tropics Of Torture


  1. Super C / Composer: Hidenori Maezawa / Release Year 1990

It’s Contra you remember most, but it shouldn’t be. Konami’s late 80’s action iconography turn stands mostly pale, absent of lips, a bust formed of fictile adjoining parts: A mannequin decorated for windows. While wholly serviceable, pleasing to the senses even, it’s useless in any form of function or utility. You play dress up with it, and so what? 1990’s Super C is a moment ignorant, forgetful of all this needless preening. Fact is, Contra’s action shuffles slowly, stops frequently, and poses, mostly making a spectacle of its many inconsequential shades of eyeliner. We’re talking music here, right? Absolutely. Contra’s first record is all of these above things: My God it’s beautiful, but why SO many photographs? Super C is Contra high on the muck, and the evidence is everywhere…starting with the cover art.  Contra’s glossy finish, its fatted, contented cover stars replaced with Super C’s oozing alien gurgle bubbles: Goodbye style council.

Composer Hidenori Maezawa’s flawless reworking of the arcade’s original score retains all of its savage cuff, and avoids becoming some pared-down, balding affair that’s struggling to simulate the full wig.

Less the stately glitz of its predecessor, and more the busy hands of men  hastily running an unbroken sprint through fields of terrestrial slop,

this is how you do left to right.

Essential Tracks : Gates Of  Fort Firestorm / Lair Of The Jungle / Fruit Of The Doom Defense / Red Falcon’s Poison Palace / Tropics Of Torture


Listen: Stage 1

  1. Batman / Composer: Naoki Kodaka / Release Year: 1990

The reality of Batman’s 1990 NES score is that it is not made for action.

This however is the entire point of this work, which is concerned primarily with the study of deeply pronounced flaws of character or of the physical body: a man pondering his disfigured limbs, subjugating his need for control and justifying his perverse addictions. Its level of melancholy is categorically startling, and rarely does Kodaka see the necessity to veil or shroud his intent. Everything is touched with a sense of overcast, a sensation that feels not simply heavy but burdensome. Madness is a delicate thing to entertain, but Kodaka gives ample room to both cerebral persuasions( sickness and clarity) as they vie for place at the forefront of every moment as it changes. Batman NES is long seeded turmoil at the moment of its transformation into a path, where despite a chosen side, every action bears whispers of the other.

Essential Tracks: Stage 1 / Stage 4 / Stage 2 / Intro Scene / Game Over / Stage 3

The final four entries are here…stay tuned.


Having fallen in love only 4 times in his life Geno counts Double Dragon as his second and truest love. He has worked in record retail since 2000 and believes David Hayter to be the one true Solid Snake. Currently, he is putting together a band which only perform songs from Street Fighter 3rd Strike.

This week we continue our countdown of the greatest 25 NES soundtracks ever made. If you missed last week, please click here.


Listen: Bloody Tears

  1. Castlevania 2: Simons Quest / Composers: Satoe Terashima and Kenichi Matsubara / Release Year :1988

There are those who argue in favor of the soundtrack Castlevania 3: Dracula’s Curse over Castlevania 2: Simon’s Quest. I’m not among this camp…not at all. While still excellent, Castlevania 3’s musical accompaniment somehow feels forced. You can’t shake that disease: the sinking feeling that it has been worked over numerous times, changed hands, redrafted then abandoned, then yet again further retuned; the band has simply been playing too long. It tends to happen when you’ve been commissioned to follow up the sounds of a genre landmark, a masterpiece: everything bitter.

Simon’s Quest, as judged solely by its accompaniment, is an invariably fascinating narrative, where every hundred to thousand listens only enhances the nature of its perfectly metered, yet fleeting couplets. In theory, simplicity such as this usually begs some level of ephemera, but it is that same concise use of assonance, that fluidity of the tongue that extends its lifespan infinitely. Simon’s Quest, more so than residing incumbent entries or past manipulators, equips the series with a true identity, and makes incalculable inroads on every single sound made in its name going forward.

More proof? How many more times can you possibly remix Bloody Tears?

You see my point.

Essential Tracks: Bloody Tears / Message Of Darkness / Monster Dance (night theme) / A Requiem (ending) / Silence Of Daylight / Within These Castle Walls


Listen: Transmission Screen

  1. Strider / Composer: Harumi Fujita / Release Year: 1989

One of the more unlucky recipients within the late 80’s Strider trifecta (part manga, part arcade game, part original NES title) had to be the team behind Strider NES. The game, completely stripped of ALL the glamour of the headlining arcade machine, being piloted by a truly baffled collective left to interpret the still burgeoning, unwritten lore, and minus ALL the trademarks of a then single entry series, would make any sane individual reach for their transfer form, or at worst, accept terms of severance from the company. The story of NES Strider’s island of mock-ups and submission rejection letters remains an untold legend.

Despite the numerous setbacks and the scant prickly thistle with which they were given to work with, Strider NES was an ambition given light by the smallest band of only the most zealous of believers within Capcom. Composer Harumi Fujita makes her unforgettable, one of a kind monotype print from a combination of every scattered, impossible, and nonplussed moment: a scramble to set tone and create enough plausibility for Strider Hiryu to exist in the frame.

Fujita drags in every last favor ever owed to her, making adjustments and taking payouts in real time, forcibly projecting her still gargling sing-song onto Hiryu. It’s an INCREDIBLE ride as she’s unfazed and ready to set over the top of Strider’s world, whatever the moment brings, whether a conscious stream or a rambling cuckoo’s nest of flying irrelevant debris. Scope is not something Strider is left wanting, and Fujita’s lens has covered the world, all of it, brilliantly.

Pyramids, future world, dictators, red dragons…Africa: whatever, just toss it on the pile, and give her a minute.

Essential Tracks: Transmission ScreenKazakh Theme / China Theme / Africa theme / Red Dragon Theme / Title Theme

A break next week, but the list comes ever closer to the end.

Happy 4th of July everyone! Go play some NES!


Having fallen in love only 4 times in his life Geno counts Double Dragon as his second and truest love. He has worked in record retail since 2000 and believes David Hayter to be the one true Solid Snake. Currently, he is putting together a band which only perform songs from Street Fighter 3rd Strike.

Composer - Song Name
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