Prog music and games have a lot in common. At heart both are about exploration and experimentation. They’re both about finding new ways to tell epic stories and pushing the limits of what is possible.
And they’ve both got more than their fair share of capes and dragons.
Some games, however, even have music that would blow your mind and make prog pioneers like Rush or Genesis proud. Here are five moments where the spirit of prog infused game soundtracks for the better…
5. The Diablo Series
The Diablo series is all about the eternal battle between heaven and hell. What’s more epic than that, right? Well, while players are busy slaying endless hordes of hell’s minions there is a soundtrack hiding there in the background that swings between subtle and stunning. Diablo’s music is really the unsung hero of the series, breathing fiendish life into a game that could easily have turned out to be mechanically repetitive.
Wandering around New Tristram in Diablo III is a particular joy. The music channels Peter Gabriel and Genesis with some eerie similarities to the opening of Nursery Cryme to help build the dark and brooding atmosphere of a town that has been ravaged by evil just holding its breath for the next assault.
4. Sonic Adventure
Sonic Adventure has a much more joyful approach to game music, but who says prog has to be introspective? Such a fast and colourful game needed a soundtrack to match and SEGA chose to do this with some insanely impressive shredding.
Sonic Adventure’s soundtrack draws on the more hopeful side of 1990s Dream Theater (think the opening to Innocence Faded from 1994’s Awake album) flitting between shredding guitar runs and cheery keyboard lines to build the perfect musical accompaniment to Sonic’s high-speed shenanigans.
The music is by Sega’s in-house composer Jun Senoue (and the mainman in Crush 40) and a host of collaborators.
- No Man's Sky: How We Made The Music by 65daysofstatic
- Hello Games receive death threats after No Man's Sky delay
- How I got Lemmy into No Man's Sky
- No Man's Sky makes its own music with the help of mathematics
3. The Metroid Prime Trilogy
The locations in all three of Retro Studios’ amazing Metroid Prime games would be nothing without the right soundtrack behind them. All three games tell players as much about each location with the game’s score as they do with visuals.
The volcanic Magmoor Caverns have a deep and coursing soundtrack that echoes the magma coursing through every chamber. The icy Phendrana Rifts soundtrack is more wispy and ethereal, representing the cold and wind blasting throughout. It’s Jean-MichelJarre-meets-Tubular Bells and imbues the game’s worlds with a magical eerie quality.
2. The Mass Effect Trilogy
Mass Effect’s music is epic. Again the soundtrack is synth-laden but while Metroid’s music helps cement the themes behind each of the game’s regions, Mass Effect’s music is more about setting the tone for the whole game. It perfectly describes a galaxy in turmoil and the immense sacrifices that Shepard and the team must make in order to save it three times over.
There’s a kind of intensity that runs through the entire soundtrack that adds to the gravity of the life-threatening situations that players repeatedly find themselves in. It’s breathtaking at times, providing contrast to the game’s action when the going gets tough and inducing a more serene mood when exploring the galaxy. It’s like if Vangelis had a baby with Brian Eno.
1. No Man’s Sky
It may be yet another sci-fi game on the list but No Man’s Sky is a different beast altogether. Makers Hello Games worked very closely with post-rock outfit 65daysofstatic to create the perfect soundscapes for their colossal procedurally-generated space exploration adventure. The band worked with audio director Peter Weir to build up a massive pool of music and tweak the coding of the music system so that the game could provide the right music for any occasion that the procedurally-generated universe would throw up.
The result is a stunning melding of music and technology. No Man’s Sky’s soundtrack is every bit a unique experience as the game’s environments. No two players will have the same experience and at times it feels closer to being at a live performance than it does listening to a record. This is the very cutting edge of prog-game awesomeness.