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PC games have produced some beloved music, but there's a tiny irony in the fact that the technological advantages that the PC held over other platforms in the 1990s have actually hindered a music scene from forming around that original work.
We had CD-ROM, hard drives, and discrete soundcards years before anyone else, and those advances pushed many studios toward not only full-motion video but elaborate, orchestral music rather than the chiptunes possible on the NES, SNES, and other sound palettes—a sound that has become a beloved aesthetic and genre in and of itself. Nintendo s (and even Sega s) platforms inspire a ton of affection, but there s still a lot of worthy professional and amateur PC gaming floating around the web.
Songe is an unbelievably talented multi-instrumentalist, mixing everything from flutes, drums, and ocarinas (when appropriate) to multiple guitars and piano, to his own vocal backing, like on his terrific takes on Warcraft II s Orc theme or the Skyrim Dragonborn theme. Among his dozens of tracks, his Spelunky Mines Medley stands out as a reverent interpretation of a song heard thousands of times by any dedicated Spelunker.
The only piece of game music to win a Grammy, this performance by a Los Angeles choir is my favorite among the many that have been recorded. Composer Christopher Tin was, interestingly enough, the roommate of Civilization IV lead designer Soren Johnson.
Performed by: Angel City Chorale Original composer: Christopher Tin Buy on Amazon
This rock-metal cover of UNATCO (the organization of which Deus Ex s JC Denton is a member) was one of the favorite things I found online, mainly due to how restrained it is. So many of the metal covers of game music fall drift dangerously close to parody with over-applied kick pedaling and overlong guitar solos. Skilton keeps it simple here while producing an exciting take on what was a pretty sedate, austere tune originally.
We really like Ben Prunty s stuff around here—so much so that we asked him to compose an original song for our podcast—so it s great to see an FTL track covered so well by Canadian guitarist James Mills. Give Mills System Shock 2, Hearthstone, StarCraft, and Dragon Age: Inquisition tracks a listen too.
From the Weird Al genre we have this rap from Captain Spalding, a regular on the PC Gamer TF2 server circa 2008-2010.
Way back in 2005 OCRemix, the web's biggest game remix community, assembled a team (that included Super Meat Boy composer Danny Baranowsky) to produce a massive two-disc, 23-track tribute to Doom. The best way to get it is by downloading it through OCRemix's official torrent.
There s an insane amount of Mass Effect covers out there paying homage to Jack Wall (and others ) incredible work. Sadly, an uncomfortable amount of it is dubstep. Tim Skilton s take on the wonderful Suicide Mission theme isn t, thank goodness.
Tidwell is well known to fans of game music covers (you can find a lot of his stuff on Spotify), but he rarely covers songs from PC games.
Danny Baranowsky is absolutely prolific, having most recently composed for musical dungeon crawler Crypt of the Necrodancer. With his style of mixing modern composition with instrumentation from the 8- and 16-bit era, it s no surprise that Baranowsky got his start on OCRemix. Super Meat Boy remains his essential work and while the official Super Meat Boy album contains a bunch of covers, I love the official piano collection by Brent Kennedy, a 10-track set that can be had for $5.
A list of PC gaming music wouldn't be complete without Frank Klepacki. Almost two decades after its release Red Alert's "Hell March" track gets the most play, but rather than recommending one of many, many takes on that boot-stomping classic, I think stuff like "Act on Instinct" represents Klepacki's grinding, industrial oeuvre much better.
Performed by: Tim Timofetus SkiltonOriginal composer: Frank Klepacki
You won t see X-COM getting a lot of recognition for its music in remixing communities, but this track from Fnotte manages to make something good out of the memorable intro sequence to UFO Defense.
Performed by: Fnotte Original composer: John Broomhall
I don't even know what to say about Spelunky speedruns anymore. YouTuber D Tea has beaten the game's hardest run through the City of Gold and Hell in three minutes and forty-four seconds, and you know what? I'm not surprised. I won't be surprised when it's beaten either. I've ceased to be surprised by what amazing Spleunky players can achieve.
Last time we reported on a Hell run it was impressive that the game had been beaten in less than seven minutes. How far away those innocent days seem now.
"Very, very good run," D Tea writes in the YouTube description. "This was a seed where pretty much everything went right, apart from a few small factors like not having a compass. The fast start, shopkeeper de-aggro on 3-4, and a 42 second hell were all amazing (and lucky) things that made this run good."
D Tea reckons there are ways to shave time off the record, too. "The only realistic time saves here are in the temple with the somewhat slow 4-2 and 4-3," he writes, "as well as Olmec with the hell door spawn being on the right side."
Think you're up to the challenge? I'm not. No siree.
Here's a pattern I've noticed: you either "don't get" Spelunky or you're obsessed with it. As a member of the latter category, I have the deepest sympathy for the former. I haven't played Derek Yu's masterful, procedurally generated platformer for a couple of months now, but I still think about it all the time, so news that Yu is writing a whole book on the game's creation is very welcome indeed.
Published by Boss Fight Books, 'Spelunky' is the "story of a game's creation as told by its creator", tracing its origins as a free PC game through to its rebirth as a multiplatform classic. Here's what the publisher writes:
"Spelunky is a game design manifesto in which Derek Yu uses his own game to discuss wide-ranging topics such as randomization, creative process, team dynamics, the philosophy of challenging games, and player feedback. Grab some ropes, a mattock, and your favorite pug—this book is going to dig deep."
Spelunky releases some time this summer (or winter down in Australia). You can pre-order it on the website, where you'll find several other books in the Boss Fight catalogue, including works on Baldur's Gate II, World of Warcraft, Chrono Trigger, ZZT, Galaga, Jagged Alliance 2, and Super Mario Bros. 2.
In celebration of the release of Crypt of the Necrodancer, maybe, Valve has collected some of Steam's best roguelikes and lopped off much of the cost. The Steam Roguelike Sale runs over the weekend, and discounts roguelikelike heavy hitters like FTL, Rogue Legacy, Risk of Rain and Spelunky, and even a couple of fits-the-rigid-definition-of-a-roguelike, also known as 'proper' roguelikes, too.
My picks of the bunch would be Delver for 50% off, a first-person dungeon crawl with great music; the maybe-too-grindy-but-still-good Rogue Legacy for 75% off; the deeper-than-Moria NEO Scavenger for 33% less; Spelunky for chump change; and the fab One Way Heroics for a ridiculous 77p. You can also grab Binding of Isaac: Rebirth for 33% off, FTL for just under 2, and, well, browse the list yourself, there's a load of great stuff here.
The Steam Roguelike Sale ends Monday 27th April at 10am PST, which my brain always tells me stands for 'PlaneScape Torment'.
Speedruns are artistry. Not only do they demonstrate complete mastery over a game, but they also poke away at the edges of what a game intends you to do. Watching a perfect speedrun is similar, I imagine, to watching good gymnastics, but they're more than just skill-based. They're borne of a curiosity about the edges of games: the things we're not meant to see and the things we aren't supposed to do.
There's a whole science behind speedruns. Players spend weeks and sometimes years chiselling a perfect path through a game. They exploit minor traversal bugs to gain speed, they tap away at the outer limits of a game world in search of hidden routes, and then they move to execute all these tricks in one graceful swoop. There's a strong collaborative spirit among speedrun communities, because in the end, it's all about what's possible, not who wins.
There are lots of different speedruns, and the rules vary depending on the type of speedrun a player hopes to achieve. Most of the runs I've featured below are Any% runs, which simply require the player to complete the game under any difficulty setting as quickly as possible. These contrast with 100% runs, which as the name suggests requires full completion of the game (any secret worlds or any optional collectibles, for example).
What follows aren't "the best speedruns of all time" but instead a selection of especially impressive runs. I've tried to collect those most suited to spectating, so there are a lot of shooters and platformers. Meanwhile, I've generally avoided speedruns too heavily reliant on glitches that bypass huge sections of a game (like this Pillars of Eternity run, for example). I'm not arguing these aren't legitimate: just that they're not as fun to watch.
Bethesda made a big deal of Skyrim's 100 hour potential back in 2011, but I'm sure they're not surprised that speedrunner gr3yscale has beaten the game in less than 40 minutes. After all, Skyrim QA guy Sam Bernstein managed to complete the whole game, glitch and cheat free, in two hours and 16 minutes. If you know what you're doing, the biggest games can be reduced to a series of carefully timed leaps.
Gr3yscale's world record time of 39:24 uses a number of built-in exploits, but arguably more interesting than the run itself is this accompanying tutorial video on how he achieved it. The lengthy video is a step-by-step instructional, detailing everything from the graphics settings you should use (as low as possible) through to how to steal the Blank Lexicon from Septimus Signus in less than five seconds. If you've got any interest in the painstaking process of routefinding for a speedrun, it's a must watch.
For the best example of speedrunner Kahmul78 s thoroughness, look no further than the 1:56 mark below. The way he switches his inventory load out in the middle of a plunge attack demonstrates that every second is precious for an adept speedrunner. He won t need those newly equipped arrows for a while, but when you re looking to shave off precious seconds in a notoriously difficult game, you don t waste time.
After clearing the tutorial area, Kahmul78 takes a very unconventional route through Lordran. Using the Skeleton Key starting item he passes through New Londo Ruins and Valley of the Drakes into Darkroot Basin, then onto Undead Parish. This not only skips the second boss encounter, but it also means facing off against the first mandatory boss battle by the eight minute mark.
For the average first time player it s likely to take up to five hours to make that much progress (or about ten, if you re like me). The fact that this whole run wraps up in under 48 minutes naturally attracted a lot of attention when it was first posted. There are quicker Dark Souls speedruns out there which exploit a major glitch, but this is the real deal.
With so many tools at his disposal it's little wonder that Corvo Attano can get the job done quickly. He's not really meant to do it this quickly though, with speedrunner TheWalrusMovement completing the stealth adventure in 34:35. Attano's Blink ability a lightning quick dash mainly used for covert operations is utilised a lot in this run, to the extent that it's difficult to keep track of TheWalrusMovement's routing.
Nonetheless, Dishonored is a surprisingly enjoyable game to spectate, and TheWalrusMovement is forthcoming with his secrets. This world record run can probably be improved the runner's commentary points out a couple of areas of improvement but this is the best out there in the meantime.
Picture this: you ve just returned from Hell only to find that Earth is in worse shape. You were really looking forward to having a beer though, so you want to save the world as quickly as possible. But how quickly is as quickly as possible? How s 23 minutes and three seconds sound? Not bad at all! Start pouring.
The work of speedrunner Zero-Master, this Ultra-Violent mode playthrough managed to topple a record set in 2010 by Looper. That s a long time in speedrun years and it only managed to come out on top by 22 seconds. A backseat speedrunner will no doubt see areas of improvement in the below video, which Zero-Master concedes to in his YouTube description, but for the time being this is the quickest run there is.
While Doom 2 is probably the most popular speedrunning instalment in the series, it s worth checking out speedruns of the two Final Doom WAD packs too. These outings upped the difficulty dramatically, and if you want to see a run with a few clever rocket jumps, look no further.
Duke 3D s Build engine is home to a lot of glitches very handy to speedrunners. As Duke speedrunner LLCoolDave explains in this video, a major one is crouchjumping . If you crouch while freefalling and then hit the jump key before touching the ground, Duke can clip through certain walls and structures. The engine in Duke 3D is less than stable, allowing for switches to be triggered from unintended vantage points and whole regions of levels to be skipped.
As in most glitchy speedruns, triggering the engine s limitations at just the right moment is an impressive skill in itself. Speedrunner Mr_Wiggelz manages to complete the game in 9:19 below, though it s worth noting that only the first three episodes of the Duke Nukem 3D Megaton Edition feature (the fourth episode didn t appear in the original game).
Mr_Wiggelz admits that he messed up a couple of times during this run, so it probably won t be long before we see it bettered.
Some genres, especially platformers and shooters, are particularly suited to the speedrun. Others, like the open world RPG, definitely are not. That doesn t stop people from trying to beat the likes of Pillars of Eternity, Skyrim and Fallout 3 in the time it takes to prepare an English breakfast, but there s inevitably glitches involved. Games like these are designed to eat up your time and life.
Rydou s 18:53 speedrun of Fallout 3 (that s 18 minutes, not hours) utilises a few glitches, but no cheats or third-party programs. As he explains on his YouTube page, this run makes liberal use of a quicksave bug. Basically, if you rapidly quicksave and then quickload you ll briefly have the ability to clip through walls. In this way, the player-character goes from birth to saving Washington in less than 20 minutes.
After a bit of publicity off the back of this speedrun, Rydou moved to emphasise the difference between cheating and exploiting glitches. For those who wonder about the legitimacy of the run, using and exploiting glitches have always been a part of the speedrun community. This is a way to push the game even further, and [is] not considered cheating.
An hour and 32 minutes might not sound impressive for a Half-Life 2 speedrun: the game's an all time classic and ten years old to boot. You can blame the game's regular unskippable dialogue sequences for that record, but hey, at least it gives record holder Gocn k some time to take a break. He needs it.
There are some interesting strategies in this video. GocAk makes liberal use of two traversal glitches common in Valve's Source Engine, namely Accelerated Back Hopping and Accelerated Side Hopping. For a stunning example of the former skip to the 29 minute mark, where a sequence of careful jumps actually propels the player into the air.
Sourceruns.org has a more detailed description: "When you exceed the game's speed limit, the game tries to slow you down whenever you jump, back to the desired speed. By default the game thinks that you're moving forwards, so when you exceed the speed limit, it'll accelerate you backwards. If you are facing backwards, this will only increase your speed. So, the faster you're going - the more you will get accelerated."
No big tricks or glitches here, just an exceptionally talented player. Speedrunner Dingodrole completes Hotline Miami in 20 minutes and seven seconds, but his ultimate goal is to get below the 20 minute mark. If you watch the whole run you'll notice there's very little room for improvement, and Dingodrole seems to have the routing down pat. He's been steadily chipping away at the time for a while now, so it's probably inevitable that this will be beaten some day.
It pays to know a game intimately before embarking on a speedrun, but that rule has a different meaning when it comes to I Wanna Be The Guy. A parodic love letter to 8-bit platformers, I Wanna Be The Guy subverts every reliable trope in the platformer rule book. Shiny red apples aren t collectibles: they ll kill you. Don t worry about reaching those spikes: they ll come to you. Nothing is predictable, and everything is learnt from the experience of dying. You can t learn this game, you have to memorise it.
So it s always fun to monitor the speedrunning community s progress with I Wanna Be The Guy (as well as its many follow-ups). You need a great memory and superhuman dexterity to complete the game once, let alone in 28 minutes and 40 seconds without glitches, as Tesivonius has done.
A few caveats: this is a segmented Portal speedrun, which means the game wasn't completed from beginning to end in a single playthrough. Instead, the best level times were stitched together for the final video. Additionally, there were four different speedrunners involved: Nick "Z1mb0bw4y" Roth, Josh "Inexistence" Peaker, Nick "Gocnak" Kerns, and Sebastian "Xebaz" Dressler. Some would argue a segmented speedrun is illegitimate, but wherever you stand on that matter, it's still interesting to see what's possible.
This run uses neither cheats or hacks, but it does exploit a number of glitches. "This run first started after the discovery of a new glitch, which snowballed into a whirlwind of discoveries of new tricks, skips, and glitches," the team writes. As you'll see below, the glitches make for a disorientating watch, but its fascinating nonetheless.
The Quake speedrun scene used to be massive, boasting its own highly organised community in the form of Quake Done Quick. The below video sees all four episodes of the game completed in 11 minutes and 29 seconds (on Nightmare difficulty!) and demonstrates world class bunny hopping and rocket jumping skills. The occasional glitch is implemented and whole chunks of certain maps are skipped with the help of rocket jumps, but no cheats were used.
Twitch streamer Bananasaurus Rex is, or was, the world authority on Spelunky. It was he who figured out how to kill the game s invincible ghost. It was he who achieved a solo Eggplant run (this involves carrying an Eggplant to the end of the game, obviously). It was he who collected $3.1 million worth of gold in a single playthrough. Arguably the highest bar he set was the legendary 5:02 Hell speedrun. Simply reaching Hell is difficult enough on its own, but completing the whole game using this route is punishment. Doing it in five minutes is God tier.
Unfortunately for Bananasaurus Rex, someone managed to beat his Hell run, and not by a measly couple of seconds. Youtuber Latedog beat secret boss Yama in 4:36, creating a new record which let s face it will probably only be beaten by accident. Like Bananasaurus Rex he utilises the warp device, which is somewhat reliant on luck but pretty much crucial if you want to shear minutes off a playthrough.
When humankind is wiped off the face of the earth by some malevolent alien society, the planet s new inhabitants will learn a couple of things as they sift through the rubble. First, we really liked bottled water. Secondly, Coca-Cola was an especially totalitarian leader. Thirdly, we were really bloody good at Super Meat Boy.
Speedrunner Vorpal has been chipping away at the world record for a while, but this is the best he/she has managed so far: the base game completed in 17 minutes and 54 seconds. That stat doesn t include the dark levels or any of the retro themed ones, but anyone who has spent half-an-hour with Team Meat s punishing platformer will peek through fingers as Vorpal passes the final boss run by the skin of his teeth.
Speedruns can be beautiful. Twitch streamer sheilalpoint completes VVVVV in 12:12 in the below video, and watching it (with the sound down) can be like watching a weird 1970s art film about a little man s efforts to euthanise himself in outer space.
The beauty of this run is that there aren t really any major tricks, just a thorough knowledge of the game s layout. Sheilalpoint pulls some interesting maneuvers with the game s checkpoints particularly in one sequence where hitting them as they collide with spikes actually increases the momentum of the player character but otherwise, this is plain old fashioned mastery.
In Why I Love, PC Gamer writers pick an aspect of PC gaming that they love and write about why it's brilliant. Today, Phil explains why he loves Spelunky's biggest asshole.
Spelunky's Tunnel Jerk is an asshole. Seriously, screw that guy. Here's why I love him.
First, let's backtrack a second. I love so much of Spelunky, so deciding what particular element to hone in on should be difficult. The procedural generation is a given: it makes the game what it is, and allows for a difficulty that's based on learning systems over memorising routes. Those systems are brilliant too. Everything that happens in Spelunky makes sense, and is the result of its individual elements interacting with each other. It can be surprising, but it is so in a way that's consistent with its rules.
There is bullshit in Spelunky, but it's traceable bullshit. You can enter a level, hear a distant explosion and be informed that the shopkeeper is very angry with you. Make no mistake, this is bullshit—but it happened because a Fire Frog was caught by a Tikki Trap and the resulting explosion caused a rock to fly into the shopkeeper's face. Chaos theory. A Fire Frog jumps in the jungle, and now a shopkeeper will murder you in 3-2.
Spelunky, in so many ways, is perfect. Infuriating, but perfect. It's a bundle of nasty surprises waiting to punish any mistake, and a series of rewards designed to tempt you into making one. For me, Tunnel Jerk is the personification of this principle.
Tunnel Jerk—referred to as "Tunnel Man" officially—is an ostensibly helpful NPC. He appears in the transitions between worlds, and offers to create a shortcut to the world that you're travelling towards. This is helpful. Most people's experience of any unfamiliar world in Spelunky is to die within seconds. New worlds take on a semi-mythical property. They are the unknowable land of death beyond the comfort of the familiar. Spelunky is always difficult, but knowledge is your shield against its most homicidal tendencies.
Tunnel Jerk offers a way to kickstart that familiarity. Learning the jungle is hard when you can only get there by first traversing the mines. But if you can skip straight to the jungle, you can more easily absorb its tricks. And it's not like Tunnel Jerk is asking for much. Two bombs? Fine, whatever. Given that you'll probably die in the first three seconds of entering the jungle, it's not like you'll be using them.
It doesn't end there, though. Oh, you want ropes now? Yeah, okay, I guess? And now you want... wait, what? $10,000?! Seriously, dude?
At this point, you have a goal. Spelunky is great at this. In addition to its primary success state, there are multiple potential goals along the way. Jetpack? Nope, I'm $5,000 short and the ghost is here. Alien base? Maybe, but it's a long shot. New character? Only if I stumble across a coffin. Well, I guess I could always give Tunnel Jerk the thing that he wants.
Completing Spelunky is an achievement to be proud of, but it's also a long-term battle. I'd played it hundreds of times before I ever completed it. I'd reached the damn City of Gold before I ever completed it. I would never have brought down Olmec if it wasn't for the smaller successes along the way; if it wasn't for the feeling of progress, no matter how small. Reaching a new world is an obvious mini-triumph, but so are Tunnel Jerk's most absurd challenges. They feel impossible. $10,000?! That's a lot of money when you're starting out, and a lot to blow on a shortcut.
From there, it escalates. A shotgun? You want me to take a shotgun to the ice caves and then just give it up?! Are you a crazy person? Well fine, I'll do it. I'll do it to prove I can. See, Tunnel Jerk, I was prepared to give up a shotgun. What else have you got?
Chaos theory. A Fire Frog jumps in the jungle, and now a shopkeeper will murder you in 3-2.
The reveal of what else Tunnel Jerk has got is almost beautiful in its audacity. If you've not experienced it, consider this a spoiler of sorts.
Tunnel Jerk's final request—the one that unlocks a shortcut to the Temple, and an end to his dominion over you—is a key. The key that unlocks the chest to the Udjat Eye. The Udjat Eye that lives on one the last few levels on the mines. It's so wondrously arbitrary. Away from the chest, the key does nothing. It has no use. Worse, it stops you picking up genuinely useful items like the shotgun, damsel or idol. To take it all the way from the mines, through the jungle, and to the end of the ice caves? It's the definition of pointless.
But it's also a goal, and so you try it. You lose the key in the rivers of the jungle, and you lose it in the void of the ice caves. Maybe a boulder crushes it, or you die trying to retrieve it after leaving it in a "safe place" in order to rescue a damsel. Every time you fail, you curse that Tunnel Jerk's stupid request. You curse him over and over, until the glorious day when you finally bring him his idiotic trinket. All in all, he seems pretty happy about it.
For me, defeating the Tunnel Jerk was more satisfying than completing the game. He's an asshole. Seriously, screw that guy. That's why I love him.