When Darren Korb started making music professionally, he had no idea that video game music was even an option.
“I didn’t know there was a community around it, and I didn’t know it was the kind of thing you could get into. I thought it was like five guys making all the music,” said Korb in a recent interview.
Now that he’s achieved some level of success after creating the soundtrack for the 2011 indie hit Bastion, Korb sees things a bit differently: it’s not just a profession, it’s a growing community of composers, audiophiles, and fans. With video games becoming more and more complex—almost like films in some respects—sound mixing and audio direction have become almost as important as the gameplay itself. In 2012 we saw the success of Journey, which not only raked in “Game of the Year” awards, but also received the industry’s first Grammy nomination for “Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media.”
The special attention now paid to a game’s soundtrack is why the Video Game Orchestra is one of the most in-demand acts, both inside the community and out. It’s why events like Boston Plays Indies—a chiptune and video game concert organized through the Boston Festival for Indie Games (BFIG)—even exists at all.
The debut event takes place at the Middle East on September 14 and was organized thanks to the high demand for live music at the indie games festival, which is only in its second year.
“We received an extremely strong interest from the regional game consumer and developer community to feature live music as part of this year’s festival,” said Michael Myers, show producer of Boston Plays Indies.
Korb is performing at the event as both a solo act and as a part of the trio Control Group. They are featured on a playbill that not only contains the aforementioned VGO, but also DJ Cutman and deadbeatblast. The four feel like they would normally perform at separate venues, as each of their sounds vary too much to be consistent. But that’s what game music is. It’s no longer just chiptune, 8-bit, and electronic beeps. It spans across all genres.
“The limits of game music are gone now,” said Korb. “It could be anything. It could live in a space with all music at this point. It’s not necessarily its own separate thing.”
The community has also grown right along with the technology that creates it. Chiptune—a style of music created with, or to sound like, vintage computers and consoles—was the standard for a while because according to Korb, that’s all there was.
“A whole generation of people really like that sound because it sounds really good and they grew up listening to it,” he said.
“Anything is on the table now because it’s audiophiles playing music instead of midi.”
The soundtrack for Bastion doesn’t sound like this at all. Korb calls it “acoustic frontier hip-hop” and that’s the only real way to describe it. The game takes place in a post-apocalyptic world heavily influenced by western iconography and Cormac McCarthy and the music perfectly matches the desolate worlds that you explore.
“I wanted to do something I hadn’t really heard in a game before,” Korb said. “I wanted to make it very eclectic for that reason and for other reasons as well. I wanted to, above all, capture the tone we were reaching for.”
That paid off for Korb and Supergiant Games. The song “Build That Wall” won “”Best Song in a Game” at Spike TV’s 2011 VGAs. The studio is currently working on its follow-up Transistor.
The video game music genre is less of a genre, then, and more of a very large umbrella. Each soundtrack (the good ones anyway) encompasses the world the developers create and because video game stories are not confined by technology anymore, they can really be anything. It’s why Boston Plays Indies isn’t even just for gamers.
It’s for fans of music. It’s for performers.
BOSTON PLAYS INDIES
MIDDLE EAST DOWNSTAIRS
472 MASS. AVE.,