Recognizing 2018's Video Game Music

Recognizing 2018's Video Game Music

Posted by Kris Randazzo on Jan 2nd 2019

As you probably know (if you’re reading this) I host the Stone age Gamer Podcast. But what you may not know is that I also host another video game podcast called WaveBack. It’s focused on video game music, which just so happens to be a real passion of mine. 90% of all the music I listen to on a daily basis comes from video games. So WaveBack is a real passion project for me. It’s been running for a little over 4 years now, and this year I wanted to do something special.

Video game music is so unbelievably important to the overall experience of playing games. Whether you’re playing a simple puzzler like Tetris, a colorful platformer like Mario, or a gritty action title like God of War, there’s always music involved, and for me a game’s music can very easily make or break a game. This year, as evident by last week’s ridiculously long post on the topic, I’ve played an unbelievable number of great video games, and many of them had some really, and I do mean really, great music. At first I wanted to give a best soundtrack award during the SAGJGLDs, but after about 2 minutes of thinking about it, it was obvious that that wasn’t going to be nearly enough.

What I decided to do was host a full on awards show episode on WaveBack and give all the video game music released in 2018 the recognition it deserves. The First Annual WaveBack Awards will go live January 21st 2019, and I’m hoping it’s going to be as special as I think it can be.

Now, me being me, I knew this was going to be a massive undertaking. But I wanted to do it right. I didn’t want to just concentrate on my favorite songs, I wanted to try to come to some sort of professional consensus on what the best music of the year was, and that was going to take some time. And a lot of research.

The first thing I needed to do was come up with a process. If I was going to be fair about the whole thing, I’d have to take as many games into consideration as possible. I’d also need a team of judges to weigh in so the awards weren’t based solely on my personal bias. Of course, making these judges listen to the full soundtracks of every game released in 2018 is an unreasonable request. So I had to try and come up with something more fair. 

What I decided had to be done was for me to listen to it all myself first. I looked through a list of every game released in 2018, updating it throughout the year as new games released and other new games came to my attention. Between YouTube, official sites, and pretty much any avenue I could get my hands on, I listened to every game I thought had even a remote chance of having something worth considering in it for an award. Then I listened to all of it again. Hundreds upon hundreds of songs. An absurd number of hours of video game music. Some of it was great. Some of it was awful. A lot of it was really boring. But I took note of anything that struck me as interesting in any way at all. Any song that struck me in any flavor of positive manner, I added to the list of songs up for consideration. Once I had that massive list compiled, I would send the songs over to my panel of judges to determine the actual nominees, 5 per category. But before I could do that, I needed to come up with the categories!

I settled on 10 different categories. Well, technically 9. After learning about Super Smash Bros. Ultimate’s soundtrack, I decided that game was just going to live in its own little world. The Smash Bros. Ultimate Award for being Smash Bros. Ultimate would go to Smash Bros. Ultimate. With over 900 tracks, new and old, there’s just no good way to quantify it against everything else out there. It wins its own award, and is disqualified from everything else. The other nine awards are Best Menu Music, Best Game Opener (like a level 1 theme, or equivalent), Best Stage/Area Music, Best Cinematic/Event Music, Best Shop Music, Best Boss Music, Best Soundtrack from a Remaster or Remake, and finally Best Original song and Best Original Soundtrack. Once I had those all figured out and chose all the songs up for consideration, I sent them to my judges.

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So who are these judges? I’m glad you asked! I wanted to choose people who not only would agree to listen to a metric ton of music, but people whose opinions I respect, and people whose perspectives and musical tastes are different not only from mine, but from one another. First, I had to go with my WaveBack co-host Matt Raimo. I obviously respect his taste in music because he’s my co-host. But he’s also far more into heavy metal than I am, and really likes spooky music and horror. Then we have Dan Ryan, my SAG co-host. Dan is not only one of my favorite people, but he has a very impressive knowledge and appreciation for rap and hip hop that is very much outside my wheelhouse. Next on the list is Vicky Pinero. Vicky used to be my co-host on WaveBack for more than a year before our schedules just couldn’t make the show work anymore. She has a great ear for music, and brought some games up on the show that I never would have listened to otherwise. Next is Mike Sheridan. Mike used to be a regular on SAG with me and Dan, and he happens to be a heavy metal musician with a considerable appreciation for chiptunes.  Then we have Jonathan Robert. He hosts an X-Men podcast on Geekade, and is one of the biggest Mega Man fans I’ve ever met (besides myself). He also has an affinity for JRPG soundtracks. Finally we have Robert Ferguson, AKA Ferg. Ferg is the host of the Atari 2600 Game by Game Podcast, and also a tremendous music fan. He has a wealth of Beatles knowledge, and knows a heck of a lot more about classic rock than I ever will.

I sent these giant lists of songs to all of these nice people so they could whittle them down to 5 nominees a piece. Each of their nominees count as one vote towards a final nomination. Once I get all their votes together, the 5 songs in each category with the most votes will become the official final nominees. Matt and myself will then choose the winners together from those lists.

The games up for consideration include (but weren’t limited to) Valkyria Chronicles 4, Donut County, Red Dead Redemption II, Fallout 76, Save Me Mr. Tako, Pokemon Let’s Go!, Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom,Mega Man 11, Graveyard Keeper, Octopath Traveler, Dead Cells, Hollow Knight, God of War, Spider-Man, Minit, Fe, Dandara, Super Mario Party, Shadow of the Tomb Raider, Dragon Ball Fighter Z, Ni no Kuni II, Sea of Thieves, Mario Tennis Aces, Splatoon 2: Octo Expansion, Mario + Rabbids DK Adventure, Starlink, Guacamelee 2, Soul Calibur VI, Light Fall, Into the Breach, Overcooked 2, Nintendo Labo, Captain Toad, Shadow of the Colossus, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, Katamari Damacy Reroll, Lumines Remastered, Pokemon Let’s Go, The World Ends With You Final Remix, Lumines Remastered, Celeste, and Xenoblade Chronicles 2: Torna.

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I listened to the entire soundtracks for every one of these games, and pulled consideration options from almost all of them. In the interest of maintaining my sanity, I decided to look at this from a console perspective, effectively avoiding the PC market entirely. Involving Steam alone would have made this undertaking far more astronomical than I could have ever hoped to handle. It also allowed me to consider games like Hollow Knight that came out on PC prior to 2018. If their console debut was in 2018, they were up for consideration. There were a few oddities though, that I feel I should explain. First was Blossom Tales. That game came out in late December of 2017 for Switch, its console debut. I allowed it to be up for consideration because, well, I wanted to. There wasn’t a 2017 awards show, and I thought it was close enough to 2018 to count. I allowed myself exactly one exception, and I used it on Blossom Tales. Then there was Tetris Effect. I simply could not find the game’s full soundtrack before my cutoff date to get music to the judges. All I could find was the soundtrack sampler, but I didn’t think it was fair to judge the game based on an incomplete soundtrack. I’m sure there were other games I missed, and not including a big musical game like Tetris Effect is kind of a big deal, but this is my first attempt at this, so I’m giving myself some leeway. WaveBack doesn’t have very many listeners anyway.

So there you have it. I’m very interested to see how this all pans out, and if it feels worth the effort once it’s all said and done. If you’re a fan of video game music, I encourage you to check out the podcast, and in particular this episode. It’s going to be one to remember.