Month: January 2019

The Ultimate Video Game: setting and themes


In response to Later Levels’ Question of the month, I thought I’d take a stab at this!

The question is part of The Ultimate Video Game, a collaborative 12-month project to come up with the best virtual video game based on the input of contributors from the community.

This month it’s about setting and themes, so without further ado…

What would be your ideal setting and themes for the ultimate video game?

I’m not a fan of wandering far and wide in search of some ancient scroll or elusive relative. I like everything to be contained, so all the action can take place in a microcosm flourishing with detail and full of interesting objects and things to engage with.

So naturally I’ve gone for… drum roll… an abandoned IT room.

Wait! Come back! Not just any abandoned IT room – An abandoned IT room from 1989.

Stay with me.

During an excavation in modern-day London, archaeologists unearth the basement of an old office building. Despite the rest of the tower block being torn down decades ago, this floor is preserved in all its glory thanks to some sturdy masonry and a general ignorance about IT departments.

The room is a glorious mix of old tech and 80s paraphernalia. There are boxes of early mice and keyboards, floppy disks, software packages, manuals and a half-stocked vending machine. Posters of Depeche Mode and The Cure line the walls. The desks are strewn with empty tobacco packets and stress balls. There are cupboards and drawers, some still locked.

The techs had their entertainment figured out, too. There’s a Commodore 64 rigged up in the corner in front of some beanbags and next to it is a chart scrawled with top scores. On top of one of the filing cabinets a battered walkman is popped open, revealing a mix tape (SPOILER!)

Needless to say, the setting provides plenty of scope for foraging – particularly if this ends up being an adventure game (COUGH). Just imagine the range of inventory items and puzzle chains.

Everything in the room has laid dormant for 30 years, now awoken for the first time. Among the burgeoning technology and flecks of neon, a steely dampness hangs in the air. What were they really doing down here?

Postscript: favourite video game music in 2018

The games I’ve played this year have introduced me to some great music. Here are my three favourite pieces, and why they stood out.

Maniac Mansion (DOS) – main theme (Chris Grigg and David Lawrence)

When I first heard this I was (aptly) blown away. It’s bold, exciting and pretty admirable for its time. The layering works brilliantly, building up from a basic signature tune to a really epic piece. Just when you think it’s done, that shrill refrain kicks in (0:41), perfectly timed with the chainsaw.

The rawness of the DOS version will always be my favourite rendition. The other versions are just over-produced for my liking (especially you, Nintendo).

Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge (SE) – Dinky Island jungle (Peter McConnell)

This is just so beautiful. I was fully engrossed in the game but when I entered the jungle area the music stopped me in my tracks. The gentle, zen-like notes breeze in softly, then some bird tweets are sprinkled over the top. So very subtly, the main theme creeps in just enough to remind you what game you’re playing, without breaking the mood.

It’s also so well placed. After the pelting action of LeChuck’s Fortress in the chapter before, the nice, calming return to nature is just perfect.

Unforeseen Incidents – hotel lobby (Tristan Berger)

In a similar way, the music in this scene takes a gentle, soulful turn. It’s very Twin Peaks, and likely a homage in keeping with other elements of the game (especially the setting). I’ve chosen a scene with the TV playing – while those sounds slightly overlap the music, I really like the neon glow it adds. The whole scene is beautifully low-lit and mysterious.

Similar to the jungle in Monkey Island, it serves as a bit of down time from the main action in the game, and the music really complements that.

What video game music have you enjoyed this year?