Ryan Hemsworth’s Favorite Video Game Music

As part of Diggin’ in the Carts, our series on video game music, we’ve asked artists to provide the soundtrack selections that they remember the most. In this edition, multi-talented Canadian producer Ryan Hemsworth looks back to childhood sleepovers and some nightmarish gameplay to present an eerie selection of favorite tunes from the world of games.

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Nights into Dreams... - Gate of Your Dream

“Gate of Your Dream” from Nights into Dreams...

I never owned a Sega when I was younger, but I had a cousin who practically owned every system, so when I would visit I’d sit for hours and watch him play video games. Nights into Dreams... has a weird memory in my mind, especially because it was the Christmas version of that game. The concept of a dream/nightmare world, Christmas-themed video game is kind of like nothing else. (Honestly, the memories are a little bit more haunting than fun for some reason.) The soundtrack was almost uncomfortably dream-like. In the game, the world kind of mirrors itself, so what’s down is up and what’s up is down. There’s a lot of panning sounds, and children talking in the background. A lot of layers, but it’s really balanced and patient at the same time. It’s an eight second loop over and over, but it’s hypnotizing.

Silent Hill - Over

“Over” from Silent Hill

This series followed me growing up for some reason. For my ninth birthday sleepover party, I had a bunch of friends come over. That was my introduction to the game, and it was probably the best way. It was a classic sleepover game. We were terrified and didn’t go to bed until the sun came up. There was something in that feeling that was so different and exciting compared to a lot of games I’d played up to that point. A lot of times when I played Silent Hill on my own, the TV was either on mute or the volume was really low. I just didn’t want to hear anything going on.

But the days I felt courageous, I realized the importance of the music of the game. There was so much effort in the balancing of the ambience, the music and the silence. Akira Yamaoka’s specialty is ambience and sound design, but it’s not to slight his melodies. He can pull off classy and kitschy with ease, and that’s really hard to pull off. It’s important to note that he can do sound effects, ambience and music, and everything sounds genuine. There’s a real attention to detail that wasn’t given to games around that time.

“Polaroid” from Vib-Ribbon

This game is a rhythm-based game; obviously, the music is totally fun, and really crazy. It fits the genre, but Vib-Ribbon isn’t Dance Dance Revolution or something. This first theme is really creative and catchy. You tell that they had fun making it.

Vib-Ribbon - Polaroid

What I like about it is that it’s really sparse, so every sound that they use is peculiar and important in its own way. The drum sounds are all probably from the same basic drum machine, and they’re totally distorted and blown out. There are these sync glitches that are panning around throughout the track, mixing with these Polaroid camera sound effects at the same time. Over the top of all this, it’s just this really happy, fairly out-of-tune voice singing nonsensical lyrics about hopping mountains and oceans and being ready for death. That’s kind of all you do in the game, just jump around.

“Sarah” from Sanitarium

I don’t really know where I discovered this game. I must have been about ten years old, and I was totally unfamiliar with playing with click games. I’ve actually not played many since, but it definitely opened my eyes to these types of games that have amazing sample material.

Sanitarium - Sarah

The game itself definitely gave me a lot of nightmares. It deals with repressed memories of sibling loss, a lot of mental health issues; so there’s a lot going on. Although the soundtrack itself isn’t really life-changing, the cut scenes and the sections that the music pairs itself up with makes it hit that much harder. “Sarah” in particular accompanies a cut scene that shows the character Sarah and her younger sister, dying at a young age. It’s deep stuff, and the cheesy MIDI melodies somehow work. Games and movies probably aren’t going to use these sounds again. It just wouldn't make sense now. We’ve just advanced so much with production techniques, and the instruments that we use.

“Nanorobot Tune” from Machinarium

I love this song because I think they knew they were making a game that would be played with headphones on. That’s music that I love the most. Besides that, it’s such a great example to show how far video games soundtracks have come. Composers have always found a way to create emotional depth and personality and catchiness, and add a swing to the music, but for me the Machinarium soundtrack is an example of everything being pushed the fullest of the system and the composer’s capability.

Machinarium - Nanorobot Tune

In “Nanorobot Tune,” Floex takes us through a world of sounds, old and new. They match up with the environments and little robot characters in the game perfectly. It feels digital and sharp, but analog and half-broken at the same time. It can be background music, or completely in focus.

That takes a lot talent to be able to wear all these different hats, balance all these different worlds. I think that’s what it comes down to with composition, because it’s kind of a selfless job, in a way. You’re never going to be the face of this game or this platform, but in the end, what you’re doing is so important to the overall project and the package, and creating this entire experience.

By Ryan Hemsworth on November 17, 2016

On a different note