Tag Archives: music

The Finish Line Is Back There a Bit

I submitted my PhD thesis the other day.

This is a rather excellent development.

I think I’m happy with how it turned out. Though, of course, I’m not really willing to re-open it and check just yet. I’ll wait and see what the examiners say, and in the meantime, I will try to recover from the final stretch. I took six weeks off work to finish the thesis—a time period in which I took about three days off thesis work, not including the time I spent preparing and presenting a paper at the Games Research Methods Symposium at Sydney Uni (a really interesting conference, but from a timing perspective it wasn’t my greatest decision). I worked myself beyond exhaustion, lost track of the day several times, and still had to make compromises on several aspects and processes. I had to avoid Twitter to keep my mental health above water. I had to employ several fine-toothed combs, including one to remove spaces around em-dashes (a bad habit), one to ensure the use of Oxford commas (easy things to miss, it turns out), and one to switch out the singular ‘they’ (a good habit, but a PhD thesis isn’t the time to fight that battle). EndNote caused a day of intense frustration when it started changing citations of its own volition. And while most aspects of the formatting style I’d previously used for my honours thesis could be re-used to save trouble, I did have to switch the font in the end. But all told, I think it turned out well.

My initial plan, going into this PhD, was to study the intersection of thematic and gameplay genres. However, I soon found semiotics to be a more interesting and less well-trod path. My thesis ended up being a very substantial development of the work I started in my “Meaningful Play” article: a semiotic framework capable of analysing the initial composition and interactive configuration of game music separately (because there are some quite different processes going on in each). I was quite impressed by the idea of the player’s authorship of their experience—a concept which is not new in studies of games, but which had yet to be fully applied to game music, and which gets really interesting when comparing gameplay to other forms of play. With the exception of some work on Microsoft Flight, all of the analysis and writing I’ve done over the last five and a half years has made it into the thesis in some way. However, there are several avenues of investigation that came up during my study that I didn’t have time or space to pursue. I dropped four potential chapters, and still nearly hit my word limit.

In between afternoon naps, I’ve been trying to think of things to do with my reacquired freedom. I’m presenting a conference paper in December, but I’ve decided not to do any academic work until September to give myself a break. I’ve been reading for leisure again, which is nice. I’ve got time for photography, including astro and analogue. And there’s a mountain of unplayed games in my Steam library to play through. But I’ve also completed my strategy of encouraging thesis progress through self-bribery. I found that I was much more likely to write when I set myself goals with tangible rewards, and for the ultimate reward I decided to aim for a MIDI controller. I’ve been itching to make music, to play some piano, and even to compose. So I’ve bought a device with plenty of scope for productivity and experimentation, and am having quite a lot of fun playing around with music again. I might even try my hand at making some game music—coming at my object of study from the other direction, as it were.

Anyway, thanks for reading up to this point. I plan to keep writing (who knows? I might even do so more frequently), because games and music are excellent things. Somehow, writing my thesis hasn’t crippled my ability to enjoy either. I think that must be some kind of miracle.

The Difficulties and Delights of Dark Souls

I’ve been getting into Dark Souls lately. I’ve been playing the Prepare to Die Edition of the first one by myself, and have been playing Dark Souls III with my bro-in-law. Both are excellent. Both are huge. Both are really hard.

What initially made me realise the difficulty of these games was actually coming back to Skyrim after playing Bloodborne which, let’s face it, is basically a Dark Souls game. After having difficulty battling mid-range monsters in Bloodborne, returning to Skyrim and accidentally becoming arch-mage of the Mages’ Guild really highlighted the differences between the difficulty gradients. It seems to me sometimes that Skyrim is so easy that it’s basically about collecting sweet loots. But Dark Souls is so hard that it rewards learning, and that’s really not something you can say about a game very often. The game rewards noticing the patterns that enemies take, and is brutal in its punishment when you don’t. And although I get really frustrated with having to re-play so much after dying so often, I do also really appreciate how much Dark Souls makes you work for your progress.

The one thing I don’t particularly enjoy is how far it is (geographically) between bonfires and boss fights. I don’t find it enjoyable having to fight my way back through 5+ minutes of enemies only to encounter certain death, 10+ times in a row. Grinding is one thing, but this isn’t grinding, it’s just walking. I’m sure there’s a good reason for it somewhere, and I deal with it just fine, it’s just not my preference in a game activity.

I find the use of music in Dark Souls interesting. My best guess at the moment (and I think I’m well under half way through) is that music is used a. at the Firelink Shrine, and b. at a place where you can join a covenant (which also includes the Firelink Shrine atm). But I’m far from sold on this theory. The Ash Lake area is one of these — the first in-game area I’d heard music after Firelink Shrine, and such grand music at that — and it’s huge compared to where you meet Quelaag’s Sister. I also like that when you’re entering Ash Lake the music only begins intermittently, when you’re looking directly at one of the shafts of light descending from the “sky”, and then when you’re on the beach the music becomes constant.

Oh! and also, music is used c. in boss fights. I realised this halfway through fighting Executioner Smough, several tens of hours into Dark Souls. After taking out Ornstein you can keep Smough behind a pillar to avoid damage and just take a swing every so often. This takes a while to get through, and I think eventually I calmed down to a point where the link between gameplay tension and musical tension broke. Which made me realise how much music I hadn’t been noticing. And that makes me think that the music for these boss fights must be near perfectly matched to the action. Very cool.

I also noticed that, while fighting Lautrec of Carim, that there’s another layer of ambient sound added in a musical sort of way (i.e. non-diegetic) — a very atmospheric kind of sound. Now, I’m a fellow who likes his single player games quite single-player-y, so I haven’t invaded any other players’ worlds, and I can’t rule out that this sound might just be the “you’re a phantom now” aural cue. I don’t know. But I’ll find out, because I’m planning a thesis chapter on exactly this kind of use of ambient sound.

Also, I really like that these games have such beautiful worlds. For a games with such dark themes they use light, space and colour very well. And grumble grumble falling off things but it is pretty amazing to have such a masterful use of vertical space in 3D video games.

Between the amazing worlds and the amazing challenge these games present, it’s easy to get lost in them. So far, I’m enjoying this a lot more than I thought I would.

Somewhat miraculously, I’ve also been getting a lot of thesis work done lately. The end appears both in sight and achievable, and that’s fantastic. There’s still a long way to go, but I’m liking how it’s coming together, and I’m starting to believe that it might actually be a worthwhile piece of research.

subLiminal Lines of Lament for the Loss of Lothlórien (etc.) in LotR

My wife pointed out that I missed a stunningly obvious chance at alliteration in the title of my last post, so I’m trying to make up for it here. Please forgive me.

I’ve recently finished my first read-through of The Lord of the Rings in over a decade. And I loved it. My age has more than doubled since I first read it, and almost doubled since I last read it. I spent more time reading Tolkien’s descriptions of the world, whether because I’m older and slower or I’ve shed my previous familiarity I’m not sure. But the effect on my imagining was brilliant — every mountain range was an order of magnitude larger in my mind; forest-covered ranges were expansive rather than small hills with the suggestion of trees; views extended to a legitimately distant horizon just as Tolkien wrote them to be; directions, distances and times between the places of Middle-earth were more important and more vast. I guess it must have been easy for 15 year old me to all but skip over a description of Fangorn Forest as a dark smudge below the faint peaks of the Misty Mountains on the horizon. Since then I’ve visited Austria and seen real mountains, so perhaps I now have a better appreciation for the kind of distance required to shrink them and can work that into my imagination. Tolkien’s writing rewards the effort of reading deliberately like nothing else I’ve ever read. He has taken such care to put everything together correctly. (Since I began writing this post I’ve also finished reading the last three books of Robin Hobb’s series The Rain Wild Chronicles — as we describe them, “Mills and Boon and dragons” — and this has heightened my appreciation for books in which every detail aligns correctly with the others, fun though they were to read.)

There may also have been a partly conscious attempt to see in my mind what Tolkien wrote rather than what Peter Jackson’s films depicted — this certainly brought into relief some of the liberties Jackson took. One of the liberties that stood out most to me was the involvement of an army of Elves of Lothlórien in the Battle of the Hornburg (or, in the film, the Battle of Helm’s Deep). In the films, they turn up, fight, and are nearly all killed. In the book, Legolas is the only Elf present. Elves fight the hosts of Sauron but only “off-screen”, nearer to Lothórien and Mirkwood their homelands, in a more defensive posture.

I find this significant because of an underlying theme of the book: the end of the Third Age of Middle-earth, a significant part of which is the departure of the Elves. This is a really sad theme, because in Tolkien’s telling, the Elves are departing because their joy in Middle-earth is ending, and consequently they are slowly abandoning all that they have worked towards in Middle-earth. The effects of their power are slowly being lifted from the world. One of the most clear examples of this would be the abandonment of Rivendell and Lothlórien by Elrond and Galadriel after the power of their rings waned (the rings having provided the power to sustain and protect those places from Sauron). But things like the rarity of sightings of Elves in the Shire, the slow demise of the Ents (who were first taught speech by the Elves), the choice of Arwen to be mortal, and Legolas’ longing to depart after hearing gulls, ensure that this theme is ever-present. And it is clear in the book that the end of the Elves’ involvement in Middle-earth is near complete by the time the tale begins; the Elves that remain are those that have lingered. Jackson depicts the departure and sadness of the Elves by slaughtering an army of them (as though to offer a reason for the departure), and by making every Elf except Legolas a grump (seriously, compare the film’s version of the Council of Elrond to the book’s depiction of Bilbo’s first entry into Rivendell in The Hobbit). Tolkien emphasises the departure by the simple fact that no army of Elves exists to come to the aid of the armies of Men — most are already gone, and those who remain can only defend their own realms. This may have been near-impossible to describe in a film where Elrond, Arwen and Legolas play such key roles, but I don’t think Jackson’s modified narrative did true justice to the theme.

So, it is just as well, I think, that Howard Shore’s score does what the films’ story does not, and picks up this theme from the outset. I remember from my honours study being surprised, at the start of my critical listening, to find that what I considered the “main theme” (that associated with the Shire) is not the first music heard; the “title theme” (in this case, literally the theme that accompanies the title) is a sorrowful tune, a lament. Following from Galadriel’s narration of the events of the Second and Third Ages, her observations that “the world is changed,” this tune takes up the sorrow that Galadriel feels at this change. This is the sorrow of one of the mightiest of the Elves, one of the sustainers of the Elves’ beauty, power and influence. And being heard at the very start of the film, this music sets the emotional scene and thus explains the world more subtly, and I think more authentically, than Jackson’s narrative. From the start, it explains that the background to this tale of adversity, endurance and victory is the deeper, older tale of a loss that cannot be averted. It’s a tale told well through music — though, of course, Tolkien still tells it better.

Hamlet, Spaceships and Shiny Things

I haven’t had much time for gaming lately, but here are some notes on some of the games I have been playing.

To Be or Not To Be

My wife and I have both been playing this adorable little choose-your-own-Shakespeare-adventure mobile game by Ryan North (of Dinosaur Comics) and developed by Australian company Tin Man Games. It’s brilliant. I must admit that I’m a Dinosaur Comics fan (though I’ve been trying to read through to current day for several years now) and I’ve noticed that it reads enough like DC and has enough DC in-jokes that I suspect people who haven’t read DC might not get what’s going on half the time. But it’s a refreshing take on Shakespeare and I like how they’ve implemented the music: simply, but responsively enough for the kind of game it is, and it’s really quite pretty.

EVE Online

I’ve jumped back in to EVE recently after a disheartened absence following my corp losing our POS in wormhole space. And now that I’m back in highsec I’m really paranoid. In w-space you get used to spamming the scanner to make sure you’re not about to be killed, and it’s not a habit that’s easy to let slip — nor is really the kind of habit that you should let slip, because in EVE, as in Game of Thrones, everybody is going to die all of the time. Except that in EVE, “everybody” is you. The relatively chilled highsec music doesn’t really allay any of those fears, and I’m a bit surprised at that. I may have been subconsciously expecting highsec to be like a warm fuzzy blanket after the cold emptiness of w-space. I guess losing a ship full of stuff in your first trek back in the game shatters that expectation. Oh well.

I think, also, that knowing that the whole CODE. thing happened while I was away from highsec makes me expect a whole lot more ganking than before. So far, I haven’t seen any (except for the aforementioned gank I experienced that was unrelated to CODE.), but I’m keeping my eyes peeled.

Maybe now that VR is a thing and we’re all wearing headsets we can figure out a way to read brain activity to determine emotional state and adjust music accordingly. This would almost certainly be terribly annoying (particularly if you’re multitasking) but if you’re fully immersed and expecting to be ganked it could enhance the heck out of that paranoia.


As mentioned very briefly in an earlier post, I’ve finally got through Skyrim‘s main quest. Such dragons! And it’s such a beautiful game world. I really enjoyed Blackreach just for its unexpected vastness and the prettiness of all the shiny things. So many shiny things.

But Skyrim, much like Oblivion before it, is easy. Don’t get me wrong, I sort of like making my character near-invincible just by existing. My sneaking skills are top shelf, which is sort of weird for a battleaxe-wielding, heavily-armoured Nord. But quite aside from the fact that my character is a sneaky beefcake, the missions just don’t challenge. Over Christmas I watched my bro-in-law play Bloodborne quite a lot, and played it a little myself. Learning enemy moves, jumping out of the way in the nick of time and spending hours trying to beat one boss are par for the course. Then I came home, jumped in to Skyrim and accidentally became Archmage of the Mages’ Guild. A few quests and then suddenly the Archmage dies, all the mages avenge him, and they tell me that I’m Archmage… because the guy with the battleaxe is clearly the best mage. Never mind that he can only cast Apprentice level spells. A mere technicality.

But the game is pretty and the music is nice, both of which Skyrim a lovely place to explore. And those dragons are really quite good dragons.

Satisfaction in abstraction

I’m increasingly aware of a preference I have for the study of abstractions. In its current form, this is manifesting as an enjoyment of musical semiotics, which I’ve been studying for thesis and prospective article purposes. This isn’t a new thing for me, I think. When I started to find undergraduate physics too hard because I’d forgotten how to do integral calculus in the year between school and uni, I majored in pure mathematics instead. I’ve always found the application of mathematical models to real-life situations a bit challenging; on the other hand, algebra for algebra’s sake is satisfying, pure geometry or topology fascinates me, and set theory permeates my thinking about anything quantifiable.

Musical semiotics is a little controversial. On the surface of it, music doesn’t seem able to convey meaning; you can’t say, for instance, that middle C signifies a tree, or love, or the number 231. On the other hand, you could say that music can convey meaning within the external framework of a shared musical pedagogy. In that instance, a perfect cadence could convey a sense of satisfaction if there’s a socially-acknowledged precedent of perfect cadences representing satisfaction. But if this is the case in the Western tradition, there’s nothing to say it must hold in other musical traditions. Furthermore, some have argued that it’s possible to distinguish between a ‘meaning’ and a ‘significance’; that is, what a thing means in and of itself, and what significance external factors can give it in people’s minds. It’s fairly broadly accepted that music can connote — it can be made to signify something within its immediate context — but can it denote, or refer to something outside itself? Some say “yes” and some say “no” (and it sometimes seems that each answer is also followed by “of course, that should be obvious”).

This is barely scratching the surface of the question of musical meaning, let alone how (and if) music in games is meaningful. I know it is meaningful, at very least through its context within the audiovisual text, and I’m pretty sure there are even multiple ways in which it can bear meaning. But proving this in my thesis is shaping up to be a significant (and hopefully quite satisfying) challenge. I’m part way there with my current work, but every new text I read seems to open up further avenues for investigation. I guess I’m just glad that I can include some abstract theorising in my studies. Being able to look beyond the texts I study to the bigger issues, the things that inform, shape and permeate all such texts, and even beyond those things to the small glimpses one gets of how humans work through what they create; this is what, for me, makes this study worthwhile.

Unheard Valve melodies

I’ve recently noticed that I’ve been not-noticing something, and it surprised me quite a lot. I’ve been not-noticing the music in Valve games — in Half-Life 2 and Portal 2 specifically.

This surprised me, because these games are excellent. Perhaps excellent enough to make me concentrate on the gameplay and forget about the music. The theory on film music is that when it’s doing its job you shouldn’t notice it much. Its job is to make you feel what’s on the screen, so if it draws attention to itself, it’s doing it wrong (massive generalisation, but fairly accurate for mainstream cinema). I understand Claudia Gorbman’s Unheard Melodies: Narrative Film Music (1987) discusses this, and the concept has passed into common film music parlance. I guess we assume this is also the case for video game music, though that might just be another left-over assumption from film music studies (should look into this… thesis chapter potential?). Whatever was going on, I’d certainly overlooked the music in these games—perhaps I was too busy being entertained by a talking potato.

My moment of realisation came when, as I do about once a year, I loaded up my second play-through of Half-Life 2. For some reason I decided to play through the game again before attempting the Episodes, and I still haven’t got through it. Anyway, I was fanging the hovercraft around a bend and the music started up and I thought “Wow, how on earth haven’t I noticed that music before?” It’s incredibly subtle, electronically precise like most of the Half-Life sound experience, and rather emotive. The Half-Life game world is one of the more sparse and ambient worlds in gaming I feel, and the music suited it exactly, giving its usual emotional direction without hindering the player’s ability to usefully employ their sense of hearing.

Perhaps as a result of my Half-Life 2 revelation, I began to pay more attention while playing Portal 2 and was similarly surprised. The obvious points of musical interest in the game are finding “Exile Vilify” by The National playing in a side room and the game’s credits song (which could only disappoint after “Still Alive” in Portal, but is still pretty good). But the score is both eerie and crisp, often showing a similar precision to Half-Life 2 but haunted and a little disturbed. I think it matches the game’s myriad tensions: Aperture’s past(s) and post-apocalyptic present, an awe of discovery (testing!!) muted by nervousness, two antagonistic and psychotic artificial intelligences, and of course the interplay between intelligence and movement upon which gameplay relies. Even the multiplayer has a more light-hearted, sociable treatment of the same musical mentality. But all of this is very subtle, and more so given that the score is juxtaposed with un-subtle music—”Exile Vilify” is a prime example, as is the jazz version of “Still Alive” that plays over the radios, but even the “sound effects” for using Gels and Aerial Faith Plates (and probably other things) are actually musical cues that actively modulate to match the current background music (even mid-cue!). All in all, its an intensely musical game, but it’s just rather quiet about it.

I’m a little ashamed I didn’t pay attention to these excellent scores on my first play-throughs. Both Half-Life 2 and Portal 2 have a multitude of innovative or just plain excellent elements that usurp players’ attentions, so it’s not my fault; and besides, who isn’t distracted by the surprise of a good sequel?  But maybe Valve has silently found the formula for that holy grail of video games — music that works so well and so subtly that it never gets boring, and thus avoids being indelibly stamped upon your consciousness in a bad way.

Reflections on the MSA/NZMS 2013 conference and my own place in the world

I’m in Brisbane at the moment, having attended the joint annual conference of the Musicological Society of Australia together with the New Zealand Musicological Society this week. It’s been an intellectually stimulating week of papers from a truly diverse range of disciplines. As I usually do after a conference, I’m coming away with a head full of ideas and an inexplicable desire to start composing again. But that will definitely have to remain a hobby (at best) for the time being since, as I might mention a bit further down, things been hella busy.

I mentioned a diverse range of disciplines, and I wasn’t kidding. Highlights included a set of papers suggesting that certain composers should be considered as modernists, a paper on “the cup game” and its role in high school musical culture, a paper on the metal scene and underground sub-scene of Adelaide, a paper on remodernism in the work of a Georgian composer, a paper denouncing the labelling of Reich’s “Different Trains” as documentary, a paper on the inaccuracies (and otherwise) of an amateur scribe, a paper on child soldier musicians in Australia and England, and another set of papers on creativity in the recording/producing processes. My favourite thing about conferences like this is that your mind is stretched in so many different directions. Quite beyond just being interesting, it helps me think about my own work in new ways.

Also thought-provoking was the discussion around music and musicology’s place in Australian university culture and the nation’s culture at large. What I heard, and what resonated with me, was that there’s a certain sense of entitlement among musical practitioners, educators and theorists regarding access to the public purse which stands in direct opposition to the uniquely anti-intellectual, anti-academic rhetoric and mentality found in Australia. The call was to be responsible and to be able to justify your place—this is something I struggle with frequently, and I suspect that’s because I don’t fully expect people would accept my justification, even if I had a good argument prepared. I think I can justify my research to someone who’s sold on the notion that the pursuit of knowledge in all its forms is beneficial to society, but people (and even universities) these days don’t seem to buy that without significant discounts. But quite apart from my puny little PhD, I find it disturbing that music itself is falling under the same ire. I guess when Spotify etc. let you access music ad nauseum, musical practitioners seem as abstract and irrelevant as a cow does to a supermarket-bought scotch fillet. Super sad.

The presentation of my own paper on L.A. Noire‘s place in the noir tradition went well. I had a chance in the week leading up to the conference to re-do some of the video examples, and I think it paid off. Removing the part where I crash a car into a power pole certainly made me look more professional. The questions I received afterwards were helpful, as always—I often feel as though I learn more from the questions than I impart in the presentation. But it’s particularly good to have had another chance to discuss ludomusicology on the national stage. I’m slowly getting more of an idea of who’s interested in this field in Australia, and while numbers are small I’m hopeful that talking and presenting can help change that.

My big stack of work at the moment is finishing off the article version of this paper and sending that off for publication (hopefully). I aim to get that finished ASAP so I can start working on EVE Online and its multiple musical experiences, which I’m quite excited to do. Things are busy, but they’re moving forward.

Pointing Things Out with Music 1: Left 4 Dead

Left 4 Dead is the game that got me into the whole video game music thing. About the time I was first playing it I took a course at uni on film music, during which the lecturer took us through the music of Psycho. Pretty soon I realised that the tone clusters and the descending semitones Bernard Hermann used to freak people out in Psycho were also used in Left 4 Dead to the same effect. I started to listen a bit more closely to the music when I was playing games, and here we are.

I’m going to write a few posts about pointing things out with music, because the games I’ve been playing lately all seem to do this differently and I think that’s kinda cool.

Left 4 Dead almost smacks you in the face with its musical cues. It uses leitmotifs for each kind of zombie you fight, and even one for the zombie horde that comes to eat your brains if you noob it up too much. If you’re not familiar with the term “leitmotif”, listen to the music that comes into your head when you think of Darth Vader or Indiana Jones. That music comes to your mind because it’s repeated when those characters have important on-screen moments — they’re like musical name tags for those characters. John Williams, who wrote the music for Star Wars and Indiana Jones, apparently loves leitmotifs heaps, and I think he probably got pro tips on their use from Wagner or Strauss or someone.

Leitmotifs are a nice touch for a game like Left 4 Dead. It could have been a “shoot everything that moves” game like Quake or something, with a suitably “make all the noise” soundtrack. But a leitmotif-laden soundtrack gives Left 4 Dead a touch of cinematic panache and it gives you a heady dose of prescience, which is actually quite terrifying. If you can see a horde of zombies coming at you, you know where to aim. But musical information is not usually directional. If you only hear a bit of music that tells you they’re coming but not from where, you flail around nervously and fire off a few shots at anything that moves, less ignorant but powerless and scared because your impending death could come from anywhere. The focus turns from killing things to surviving. The game is better for it.

I also think Left 4 Dead deserves a bit of kudos for its musical tutorial slash intro movie. The intro plays all of the leitmotifs as it introduces the “special infected”. If you bother to watch it, you learn things. Learning is fun! And so is not having your brains eaten. Double win.

Intergalactic Solace

A friend got me on to EVE Online a couple of years ago. Despite an apparently widespread opinion that it’s a spreadsheet simulator, I quite enjoy it for its Star Trek-on-nerd-steroids vibe. Outer space in RL is awesomely beautiful, and EVE has enough simulated space prettiness to satisfy APOD cravings while you go about your particular flavour of business. And whatever your business you need that eye candy to get you through it, because EVE is one of the most prolific learning curve generators I’ve ever encountered. There’s a steep learning curve to every action or profession you undertake in EVE; the game can be simultaneously tedious and engrossing, but the time in/knowledge out ratio is unparallelled.

Every six months or so, EVE is updated by an expansion. These usually include some kind of story-backed changes to the game world (read: different ways to kill other spaceships) along with various alterations to the mechanics of gameplay. One of these expansions came out in November 2012, just a couple of months ago. I didn’t get a chance to play EVE until after Christmas, but when I did I noticed quite a lot of things had changed, and I was pleasantly surprised that the dull and discordant theme music from the previous expansion had been replaced by a new theme with spirit. There’s a new main theme tune with every expansion, and sometimes they’re not so amazing.

EVE (like most MMOs I’m sure) serves you up enough hours of play to make the in-game music far more familiar to you than any of its title themes. Usually it’s the title theme which sets your emotional compass when you launch a game, and the title theme of a new game in an RPG series can put you right back in the world even before you’ve started playing. But in EVE the function of the title themes is almost cursory compared with the homeliness of the synth pad-driven background tunes. The vast majority of the visual elements in the game today have undergone some kind of change since I started playing two years ago, but the music has not. It welcomes you back into the universe while you’re adjusting to other things, subtly going about the business of holding the whole game together.

Strangely, there’s far less music fatigue than I’d expect. The tunes are full of melodies and harmonic variations, so the game’s creators seem not to have attempted to avoid fatigue too hard. Perhaps familiarity breeds contempt only to a certain point, beyond which familiarity is a comfortable state of equilibrium. I could never say the music doesn’t get boring, and it’s hardly mistakable for Koji Jondo or Jeremy Soule, but it accompanies you through tough learning curves and space battles and somehow earns its place. Though the universe of EVE can be a dangerous place to fly, it always sounds a little bit like home.