Saturday, November 24, 2012

Surveying Literature: Video Game Documentaries

I spent this holiday weekend watching several documentaries about video games.  As far as I know at this point, there's not a video documentary about video game music, although there is that NPR story on the Evolution of Game Music.  Watching documentaries about video games provides a good window into various topics, for instance: players, companies, designers, and game development history.  I consulted some online lists here and here, and I also checked with the DVD library at UM.

Rise of the Video Game

A 5 part documentary by Discovery Channel available at the time of writing on YouTube.  While not focused directly on the music, there are a few needle in a haystack moments for a music scholar.  Black and White is a game I don't know at all but involves scenes with singing.  I'll be checking out more about this.  Also interesting to hear Al Alcorn talk about developing the audio for Pong.  He was asked to create crowds that reacted by either cheering or booing and hissing depending on how the player is doing.  However, having no memory for sounds he just "poked around" with an audio amplifier until he found what he was looking for.  Cool to see the Halo developers filter the original audio to sound as if it is coming from a helmet mic.  Also loved that the documentary makers cited The Legend of Zelda's "intricate gameplay and dramatic musical score" as reasons for its success.

Chasing Ghosts: Beyond the Arcade

Chasing Ghosts is available via Hulu.  It offers very little attention to music or game creation and instead focuses on arcade champions and the arcade environment during the late 70s and early 80s.  Interesting to hear Walter Day sing and play his guitar again as he does in The King of Kong.  According to the credits, he performs six numbers in the film, but not in totality.  At the very end of the film, one of the interviewers says that the name of the documentary should be "Coins Detected in Pocket."  This line is an example from Beserk of how arcade games "called out" to passing players.  You can hear it in the last 5 seconds of this video. 

Game Over: Gender, Race, and Violence in Video Games

While this doesn't have much discussion of musical material it is interesting to keep in mind that most game designers are men and that the target audience for games is also largely white male.

Blizzard Retrospective

Blizzard created a 20th anniversary video.  I love the Diablo series and have seen World of Warcraft.  I remember when a trial disc came with South Park season 10 DVDs-- Make Love Not Warcraft is one of my favorite episodes in the entire history of the show.  Although, being in graduate school when this came out, I was afraid I couldn't give up as much of my life as I thought I would if I installed it on my computer.  This film has a very different feel from the other documentaries, the least of which is being produced and focused on a company.  Of musical interest was their discussion early in the documentary about developing Rock n' Roll Racing that was the first game to use rock and roll music.

What are your favorite game documentaries and do they incorporate more focus on the music/audio than these? 

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