Game Music – Thoughts and Resources

Kotaku had a post the other day: The Moment that Changed How I View Music in Games. When I saw the title, my first though was that for me, it was the Opera scene in Final Fantasy (3 or 6 depending on if you use the English or Japanese numbering of the titles.) I was pleasantly surprised to open the article and find that the author was talking about exactly that.

For those unfamiliar, the article above goes into good detail about the sequence, but in short there is a portion of the game where you are tasked with learning a song for an in-game opera (unrelated to the rest of the story) and “perform” it by selecting subsequent lines of the lyrics.

This was long before the days of voice in games, but the developers did a fantastic job of actually making it seem like the song was being sung by the performer (considering the hardware available at the time!) In the twenty years since what I played as Final Fantasy III on the SNES was released, I still occasionally find myself humming Maria’s song.

When it comes to games, music seems to fall into a handful of categories. First there are the games where the music either really fits well and is used at the right times. To me, these are games like the Ultima series (you can listen to many of the Ultima tunes at Auric’s Ultima Moongates) and the Morrowind, Oblivion, and Skyrim games (music by Jeremy Soule – you’ve no doubt heard music composed by Mr. Soule, as he has composed music for just about every kind of game you can think of.) If I pop in a CD with the theme from the Plane of Time (EverQuest) on it, I can easily recall countless hours spent in that zone.

By the same token, I know that most of my guildies in EQ had turned their music off a few days after starting to play the game. That’s a shame, because some of the music was very good, but it also got pretty repetitive at times. That is a danger in any MMO though, where the developer does not really have any way of matching the pacing of the music to the action happening in the game.

The second category of game music, to me anyway, is music that fits well in the game but goes almost unnoticed by the player. This is good in some ways – it doesn’t distract the player from the game – but it is almost like a movie score. It is there to support what is happening on the screen and not meant to overshadow it. As such, if you remember it at all it is on a subconscious level.

Third would be rhythm or music based games. In these games,  the music is an obvious attraction and may be popular music being used as the basis for the game (Rock Band, Guitar Hero, etc) or perhaps original or generated music integrated into the game, along the lines of the Bit.Trip series. In both types of games, the music is fundamental to the game, though in the case of the former you may not associate the songs with the game – you already know the songs.

Finally, there are games where the music just doesn’t seem to fit. I’m not going to call out any specifics here, but we all know games like this, where the music is best turned off and left off.

For the indie developer, when working on a game, music is nearly a requirement these days, and finding or generating good music can be quite a task. If you are a small (or one person) team, you need to not only be able to write the code and generate the graphics, now you need songs too.

One source I’ve found for music for my own projects is – one of my favorite sites. Yup, OGA contains not just graphics, but music and sound effects too. There are some really talented people uploading music to OGA, that fit any number of genres, to 8-bit chiptunes, fantasy scores, and sci-fi inspired music.

Many of the tracks have been released as CC0 (Public Domain) and can be used in anything you want to create. Others have non-PD but generally friendly licensing terms – be sure to check the licenses before you include them in your project – but definitely take a listen.


Wasteland – Twenty Six Years Later

At the front of the original Wasteland manual was a short note from the programmer, describing tradeoffs that were made during the development to enable certain features to be present. The note ends with the following text:

Wasteland_CoverartThere’s a lot for you to see and do throughout the game, but you don’t have to follow any single path for success. There’s plenty of room to goof off in this game. So don’t sweat it if you don’t know what something is used for — you might not even need it to win. But don’t make too many judgement errors too many times, or victory will slip farther and farther away. We can’t make it too easy to win, after all.


After you finish Wasteland the first time (for which we congratulate you), you can go back and check out all theplaces you didn’t get to fully explore the first time through. Play it again; try things a different way. It’s not over when it’s over.


I doubt that, at the time, the writer could have possibly envisioned the way that final sentence – “It’s not over when it’s over” – would manifest itself. Or that it would be twenty six years before it did.

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Returning to Norrath

I have played pretty much all of the major MMORPG releases, if not at retail then at least in betas. While not the first MMO I had played, EverQuest was certainly the one that is the most memorable for me.


Some of my old EverQuest stuff – Yes, even EQ Online Adventures

I started on release day (March 16, 1999) with a group of local friends that had all decided to buy the game based on the excitement one of our number expressed while participating in the beta, and had soon formed a guild that became one of the top dozen guilds game-wide in the pre-World of Warcraft days.

In the 15 plus years since its release, the original EverQuest has seen 20 expansions. As a guild, we retired around the time of the Dragons of Norrath expansion (Early 2005) and moved on to other things. Some of us played EverQuest 2 (released in November 2004) for a while as well, which probably contributed to retirements from the original EverQuest.

Last month (April 2014) Sony Online Entertainment changed up their All-Access subscription, dropping the price and adding EverQuest, EverQuest 2, PlanetSide 2, DC Universe Online, and Dragon’s Prophet to a single subscription. Also included when they are released will be Landmark and EverQuest Next.

At some point over the years, Sony had converted their games to a free-to-play model, introducing an in-game store selling items and features for real-world cash. I had popped back into both EQ and EQ2 a couple of times over the last decade to see how things looked, and with the revamp of the All Access pass, I decided to reactivate my subscription and take the old games for a spin.

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Numenera – First Impressions

I picked up the Numenera core rulebook a short while back. For those not familiar with Numenera, this is a new pen-and-paper role-playing game from Monte Cook, the long time TSR author, and producer of various D&D publications, including several items from the Planescape setting, and founder of Malhavoc Press, a producer of D20 supplements.

MCG-Numenera-Cover-CorebookNumenera was funded on Kickstarter, raising over $500,000. Unfortunately, by the time I found out about it the Kickstarter campaign had ended, so I picked up my copy on Amazon.

The setting is described as “Science Fantasy”, and takes place on Earth about 1,000,000,000 (yes, one billion) years in the future. Over this vast stretch of time, our world is now unrecognizable. Several civilizations have arisen, thrived, and fallen over the course of this time, with the game detailing the setting of the Ninth World, built upon the rubble and ashes of the eight great civilizations that came before it.

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Humble Spring Sale


The Humble Store is running a spring sale from May 6th through May 21st, with some pretty good savings on a number of games, including some recent titles like Thief and South Park : The Stick of Truth.

10% of all Humble Stores go to charity, and their weekly and roughly monthly pay-what-you-want deals are usually pretty good for picking up games and occasionally other items (right now the main Humble Bundle is a set of digital comic books).

Most of the games net you Steam keys, so you will need a Steam account to redeem them.

Kickstarter Delivery – Veronica Mars

Back in April 2013, I joined 91,584 other people and contributed to the Kickstarter campaign for the Veronica Mars movie. I had never seen the series at the time, but I had heard from a few people that it was really good, so I backed the Kickstarter and went hunting for the DVDs of the TV Series online. I was able to get each season for about $12 each by keeping an eye on the prices over a couple of months.

My wife and I both really enjoyed the series, so when the backer streaming version of the movie was released on the day it came out in theaters we sat down and watched it, though the streaming quality wasn’t that great. The sound kept getting out of sync just enough to make it look like a badly dubbed film. Bad sound sync always seems to be distracting in a movie for me, so while I enjoyed the film itself the overall experience wasn’t the best.

When I got home today, though, I found the final part of my Kickstarter reward for the campaign waiting for me:



The packaging is decidedly no frills (no printed insert – just the case and the disc), but I expect that it is the same as the retail DVD that is coming out tomorrow. That packaging seems to be the case more and more for DVDs these days.

Some time this week, we will sit down and watch the DVD version, without the distraction of the weird sound issues. I’ll also be interested to watch the documentary about the making of the movie that is included on the disc.

As an aside, so far (knock on wood) everything I have backed on Kickstarter (9 projects at this point) has either delivered as promised or is moving along smoothly – in fact, I just exited Wasteland 2 before typing up this post.) Generally I think a lot of the problems people have with Kickstarter campaigns come from not really thinking about how realistic the campaign’s goal is before jumping in. I know I’ve seen several that I thought were interesting, but the lack of detail on how exactly the producers were going to accomplish what they were planning has steered me away from them.

Active Directory Authoritative Restore

One of the things I hope to do with this blog is post tidbits of information that I come up with after resolving an IT-related problem. Things that were not immediately obvious when searching around the internet to research the issue. Hopefully if other people run into the same problem, they will be able to benefit from these posts. Of course, all of the standard disclaimers apply – this worked in the environment I was in. Your environment might be different. Always backup first, your mileage may vary, etc 🙂

Over the weekend, I was asked to assist with a problem. About 500 user accounts had been accidentally deleted from an organization’s Active Directory. Their AD domain is a child domain of a larger forest, and the deletion had come from a user in the domain above them.

The network in question was running Windows 2008 R2 for some of their domain controllers, but several were still Windows 2003, so the functional level was still at 2003. This means that the Active Directory recycle bin feature was not available. Given the size of the deletion, it was necessary to perform a restore from backup.

Once we had done the tape-based restore, blocked incoming sync traffic, and marked the objects on the restored domain controller as authoritative, we attempted to use repadmin to push the changes out from the restored DC with:


repadmin /syncall (dc name) /e /A /P /d /q


and monitor the replication with


repadmin /showreps (neighbor dc name)


But we kept receiving an error message from /showreps stating that:


Last attempt @ YYYY-MM-DD HH:MM:SS failed, result 8418 (0x20e2):
"The replication operation failed because of a schema mismatch between the servers involved."


Upon investigation, it turned out that the admins in the parent domain had issued a schema update related to a custom AD attribute on the same day as the deletion took place, meaning that the NTDS backup from the night before did not contain that schema update, but did contain the user accounts and group membership that needed to be restored.

The solution turned out to be ensuring that the objects in the restored DC were authoritative and then enabling incoming replication traffic on the DC:


repadmin /options (ServerName) -DISABLE_INBOUND_REPL


This allowed the schema update to complete, which enabled replication between the restored DC and the rest of the domain. After this was done, the /syncall replication performed normally. We then performed a second push to ensure group memberships were updated. When doing an authoritative restore it is possible that group membership lists will be pushed before user accounts are created, so when the group is replicated the users that don’t yet exist won’t be in the replicated group. Pushing the groups a second time (after all of the user accounts are replicated) resolves this problem.

All in all, it took a few hours, but the problem was resolved without any major disruption.

Portal 2 Mod – Thinking with Time Machine

Portal and Portal 2 are very near the top of my list of all-time favorite games. The original game was simply so well done that I was overjoyed when they announced a sequel. Even though the second game was considerably longer than the first, I finished Portal 2 in a single sitting, and have gone back through it several times. I’ve also played all of the co-op levels with a friend.

Along comes Steam user Stridemann with a mod for Portal 2 that adds an entirely new twist to the puzzle solving fun : A “Back to the Future” styled tablet that lets you record and play back your actions so that you can interact with your past self in order to complete test chambers. Called “Thinking with Time Machine” (a rather unfortunate play on the Thinking with Portals tagline), the mod is free as long as you own Portal 2 (and if you don’t, you should!)

 2014-05-02_00001Handing myself a cube!

One of the primary mechanics in TWTM is recording yourself crouched by a wall you would not normally be able to jump to so that you can replay yourself doing so and jump onto your own back and up onto the ledge. This is the first mechanic you learn in the mod, and one that is used extensively throughout, but it is by no means the only one.

You will need to have your clone do things like pick up cubes and bring them to certain locations where you will later come along and take them from her. Since objects like blocks and spheres, and the environment, are not effected by your personal time machine, you need to make sure the circumstances for your clone interacting with them are correct before replaying your actions.

The result is an enjoyable twist on the standard Portal puzzle mechanics, and rather like playing coop by yourself (without having to wonder what in the world the other person is doing/thinking. If you are wondering that while playing TWTM, well…) There are a few things to learn that aren’t really documented anywhere that I’ve been able to find (the keys do flash quickly in in-game animations on the walls of the early levels):

  • Press “R” to start a recording, and “Q” to end it.
  • Press “F” to begin playing back your most recent recording (you can only have one)
  • When you play back a recording, all open portals will close as if you went through a discouragement field
  • Your clone’s portals are separate from your own. You can both open orange and blue portals, but your portals connect to your portals and hers connect to hers
  • Balls don’t necessarily observe the rules of gravity as we understand them. Chamber 5, I’m looking at you!


My clone creating portals

While a bit short (the test chamber numbers go up to 9, though the last one doesn’t involve much other than a cutscene), TWTM is a very enjoyable mod. The difficulty progression seems about right, and while there are occasionally areas where timing is important, it never really becomes a “twitch” game, making thinking through the puzzles the primary challenge rather that needing to jump at exactly the right second from exactly the right spot.

The author has hinted at the possibility of a way for others to make TWTM levels, but hasn’t released anything along those lines yet. I would love to see the mod expanded upon with new chambers.

Steam Sale – Star Wars Franchise


Steam is running a weekend long sale of everything Star Wars in honor of Star Wars Day (May the 4th be with you!). All of the titles are 66% off until Monday. The titles include:

Star Wars Collection 2014
Star Wars Battlefront II
Star Wars Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II
Star Wars Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy
Star Wars Jedi Knight: Mysteries of the Sith
Star Wars Republic Commando
Star Wars Starfighter
Star Wars The Clone Wars: Republic Heroes
Star Wars The Force Unleashed: Ultimate Sith Edition
Star Wars The Force Unleashed II
Star Wars Dark Forces
Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic
Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic II
Star Wars Empire at War: Gold Pack
Pinball FX2 – Star Wars Pinball: Balance of the Force Pack
Pinball FX2 – Star Wars Pack


Cool Kickstarter Projects – Rollable D4s

One thing you can never have as a tabletop RPG player is too many dice. Ok, so my wife might disagree with that statement, but I stand by it! Every few years, someone comes up with a way to make a new type of dice (remember the d30’s and the 100-sided dice?)

A Kickstarter user by the name of Leo Atreides from the UK has a project that is about halfway through the funding period to produce “rollable” four-sided dice. I’m not certain I actually need a differently shaped d4, but they do look sleek.


He lists free international delivery, and for £10 (that about $17 US Dollars) you can pick up 8 dice (four of your choosing and four of theirs) plus any stretch goal items that wind up getting funded. Assuming you end up with a few extra dice from the bonuses, that should work out to less than $2/die, about twice what dice sets go for on Amazon, but they don’t have these on Amazon… 🙂

You can visit the Kickstarter campaign to learn more or back the project.


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