We've done a lot of big-budget games so far in our Best Video Game Music of 2011 series, but there were some great indie soundtracks released, as well. One of the very best of those was Danny Baranowsky's dangerous, dark, synthy work on the Zelda-esque roguelike The Binding of Isaac.
Described by our own Stephen Totilo as "A wonderfully warped Old Testament Take on The Legend of Zelda," The Binding of Isaac was a rigidly difficult game that centered around punishing exploration and experimentation as players made their way through a series of randomly generated basement levels in an attempt to help the titular hero escape from his mother's zealotous captivity.
It was a wonderfully challenging, creepy game, but what put it over the top for me was Baranowsky's sinister soundtrack. A dark combination of synths and electronic beats, it took a bit of Danny Elfman, a touch of Muse, a hint of old-school Final Fantasy boss music, and brought 'em all together into something dark and unique.
For this entry in our series, I thought it would be fun to chat with Baranowsky about the process behind writing three of my favorite tracks.
This is one of the first tracks to play in the game, and one of the most evocative. It's got this winding, ever shifting 6/8-ish thing going on, and the melody twists and turns and never quite resolves the way you expect it to. The chord progression almost reminds me of a creepy (or, creepier) version of "The Carol of the Bells," which feels appropriate, given the sinister biblical allegory of the game. Here's Baranowsky:
"Welcome to the basement" was kind of the idea [with "Sacrificial."]. Something brooding, a little "music-box"-y, and inspired by classical choral music (to fit in with the biblical allusion). But at this point the way I write is very based on state of mind, I try to consume the aesthetics of the game and the situation of the track at hand, and just be absorbed in it and just.....go.
That it ended up being in 9/8 with other parts in 6/8 just kind of happened, I felt like the asymmetry of it would help to make people not get comfortable in any kind of familiar rhythm, while at the same time having sections that were something to ground the track and give people a feeling of progression.
This piece is gorgeous. Nothing says "a moment of calm in the storm" like some wide, wandering ambient chords. I love the natural sixth that turns up in here—most minor tonalities have a flat sixth, but here, we've got an "A" landing while in C minor (kind of sounds like it's over a Bb chord, actually). It's that brightness that gives things a pensive air, as opposed to the driving dread of most of the other tracks on the soundtrack. Which is fitting, since it plays inside of the "safe" secret rooms in the game.
Late in development, most of the music was done, and I had some time to polish/add extra shit, and so I started doing like the "Shop Theme (Greed)" and "Ambush Room Theme (Burning Ambush)", and I felt that the secret rooms (you find them by bombing walls) was a great opportunity to introduce music unlike most of the rest of the game, kind of a contrast to the madness/insanity/evil of the rest of the game.
Indeed it was.
The funny thing about "Respite" is that the idea for the arrangement came to me instantly, and the whole track was sone in about 15 minutes. Not terribly impressive, it's very short, but the funny thing is Omnisphere (the VST used to make it) had some some dumb ass bug that made it POP every time it looped. I spent hours screaming at my buddy Jimmy Hinson (Big Giant Circles, worked on Mass Effect 2 soundtrack) who is kind of an Omnisphere guru and he calmed me down and helped me fix it. and then, to top it all off, because of the way the game was coded (flash) all the tracks have gaps when they repeat anyway, so it didn't even matter....
This track is shit-hot. In my opinion. What starts out as the sort of typical boss-battle-ish driving thing quickly morphs into something more notey and more compelling. Right around 0:33 shit gets real, as the beat double-times with this cool-as-heck ascending sixteenth-note line in E minor, pulling up, up, up and back around to the driving, building main theme. A terrific example of boss-style music done right.
I don't know why but boss music has always been my favorite music from probably anything ever. I can't begin to try and guess how many hours of my life I've listened to the boss themes from FF4, FF6, FF7 and FF8 on loop. I like to think my boss themes are very Uematsuean (i just coined that), which feels like blasphemy to say, but he is by far the greatest influence on my with regards to music in general, and certainly boss themes.
As influences go, you could certainly do a lot worse than Final Fantasy maestro Nobuo Uematsu, a.k.a. the guy who wrote J.E.N.O.V.A.
You can download the The Binding of Isaac soundtrack for ridiculously cheap from Baranowsky's BandCamp page, and he has also just released a very cool album of piano renditions of tunes from his killer Super Meat Boy soundtrack. Check 'em both out.
We'll be back tomorrow with another of 2011's best video game soundtracks.
"The Best Game Music of 2011" is a multi-part series highlighting the best video game soundtracks of the year.
Rock, Paper, Shotgun - firstname.lastname@example.org (Adam Smith)
Here’s an indie bundle with a difference – it doesn’t contain any games. Instead, the Indie Music Bundle it’s a collection of soundtracks from some of your favourite (assumption #1) indie games and some you have probably never heard of (assumption #2). As is swiftly becoming obligatory, the ten albums are available at a price of your choosing, although this is for one day only, being a Black Friday sale. The minimum price is $1 and if you pay at least $10 you’ll receive seven bonus items.
Of the ones that I know, the VVVVVV soundtrack is simply wonderful, and both Super Meat Boy and The Binding of Isaac, are quite enjoyable. The latter is in the $10 bonus items. Even if you opt to be stingy, for a dollar you’re sure to find something that you love (assumption #3). Everything is DRM-free and delivered as 320kbps MP3s. Take a look.
Rock, Paper, Shotgun - email@example.com (Kieron Gillen)
Hullo! I used to write on this site, and then I got very tired. I sleep most the day now. It’s nice. When I’m sleeping, I get my nurse to play podcasts. This is my favourite games podcast in ages. Roguelike Radio is a Roguelike-centric podcast which plays a different one every couple of weeks and does a show about it. In this case, however, they’ve got Edmund McMillen on to talk about Binding of Isaac. And it’s so brilliant, I almost managed to stand up. But my legs failed, and I was left sprawling hopelessly on the floor. I wish I had working legs and a functioning penis, though that’s probably too much information. But honestly, unless my critical faculties are as rusty as my cog-powered cock, this is a genuinely brilliant, wide-ranging interview about McMillen’s latest. Go listen! Meanwhile, I’m going to have a little lie down. Bye!
The Humble Voxatron Debut deal has expanded again. There's four days to go until time runs out, but if you decide to pick up the voxelly indie blaster, you'll now also get a copy of squishy platformer, Gish.
It's worth remembering that if you pay more than the average donation, which currently sits at $5.18, you'll get bonus copies of The Binding of Isaac and robotic puzzle platformer, Blocks that Matter. As with all the Humble Bundle deals, you can pay what you want, and choose how much of your donation goes to the developers, Child's Play and the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
At this moment, The Humble Voxatron Bundle has received $757,593.38 in payments, with 146,195 purchases. It may well clear ONE MILLION DOLLARS before it expires in ... four days, ten hours and 38 minutes (and counting). Head to the Humble Bundle site to get in on the deal.
Your opinion on voxels may or may not be one of unbridled adoration (mine is that "voxel" is really fun to say), but now the Humble Voxatron Debut's venturing outside its voxel-centric comfort zone. Voxely.
First up, there's recent indie dungeon-crawling darling The Binding of Isaac, which combines steep difficulty with imagery that will leave your brain crying in the fetal position in the darkest corner of your face. Then there's Blocks That Matter, a puzzler with a Minecraft-inspired twist. Simply beat the average price (currently $4.73) and all three games are yours. Or, you know, wait until a better deal comes along. Which will be never.
Rock, Paper, Shotgun - firstname.lastname@example.org (Alec Meer)
The devious wee sods. It’s always like this: the Humble Bundle announces its latest pay-what-you-want indie deal, so we duly post about it because the people should know and all that. Then, a few days later, they go and add more games to the bundle, so it seems wise to also post about that. They’ve [...]
Update info: -Fixed Final boss music bug -Fixed Brimstone + tech/nail bug -Fixed Mr. Bombs recharge bug -Fixed Eves unlocking (now unlocked by meeting satan 2 times and getting 2 items from him) -Added info subtext for all new items
BIG HALLOWEEN UPDATE (with no actual lame halloween themes) -Added chapter 5 (unlocked after 10 mom kills) -Added 3+ new bosses -Added 4 new enemies -Added 20+ new items -Added one new unlockable character (Eve) -Added one new "FINAL" ending. -Added 6+ new achievements -Added 2 new music tracks -Added updated collection viewer -Added 4 new tarot cards (finishig the major arcana)
Fixes: -lots of small bugs were fixed -load time fixed -a few minor item balances
The Binding of Isaac was already quite evil. You play as a naked child fleeing for his life through a monster-infested basement to escape his mother, who has been commanded by god to slay Isaac as proof of her faith. Indiegames note that after the free Halloween update, you will be able to fight three new bosses, four new enemies and collect more than 20 new items if you successfully slay your mother ten times. The update also adds a new playable character, another ending, more achievements, more music, tarot cards and MORE EVIL. The Binding of Isaac comes from one half of Team Meat, Edmund McMillen, and is available now on Steam for £3.99 / $4.99.