Jukebox Heroes: How Elite: Dangerous’ music put me into a mild coma

    
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You know what gets me righteously angry? I shall tell you. I shall tell you, and then you shall share in my anger, you will. What gets me angry is when I get tremendously excited because a new MMO is actually doing a soundtrack release with a whopping 86 tracks across three discs… and then that soundtrack turns out to be about as exciting to listen to as the old dial-up modem noises. I had to drink so much coffee to make it through this score, you have no idea.

Seriously, Elite: Dangerous, you had 86 tracks and pretty much all of them are completely forgettable synthesized noise? I know that “space” usually equals “ambient synth” for soundtracks, but I had hopes that there would be more than a small handful of tracks worth my time. This was — by far — duller than EVE, and I am not the world’s biggest EVE Online soundtrack fan.

Maybe I’m being too harsh. After all, it’s often unfair to decouple a soundtrack from the game and not understand it in its proper context. Then again, other MMO scores have made the transition to a solo listening experience with aplomb, so why not this one?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RiFPx1m3luU

1. Blaze Your Own Trail

Elite’s best track is, unsurprisingly, its title theme. At least here we have what is lacking in so much of the rest of the score: melody, action, and an exciting build-up to a strong finish. Just by listening to this, you can imagine all sorts of epic space confrontations, rescues, and discoveries taking place. I only mourn that it’s too short for its own good.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3UZiNPfGqsk

2. Combat — Low Intensity — Engagement — Section 4

Coming in as a clear leader for the “Worst Track Names Ever” award, Elite: Dangerous takes a rather sterile, organized approach to its soundtrack. Most of this OST is divided into three sections — exploration, combat, frameshift & starports — with subheaders in the track titles to offer differentiation.

Low intensity or not, I actually picked this out as the best of the combat tracks. After a scary opening, it settles into a trippy, exciting tune that has a great percussion and a sense of rising urgency. Really, I’m being stingy in my praise for Elite’s score, but this is a great example of a track that does a great job adding to the heat of combat. If the rest of the soundtrack had been more like this, we could’ve had a winner.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L-6sESMjlNY

3. Combat — Medium Intensity — Engagement — Section 6

Here’s the next level up of “intensity,” I suppose. To my ears, it sounds far more cinematic than the bulk of this soundtrack, although how well it works for a repeatable combat theme, I couldn’t tell you. I like how it’s swirling with emotions, including uncertainty and passion, ending on a cliffhanger of sorts.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=va010_fB27c

4. Menus

I’m weirdly attracted to menu themes in games, mostly because they can be fun little trippy tunes that are meant for extended play. The Elite: Dangerous menu theme has that mellow and quirky attitude that I enjoy with a dash of magic and wonder. At times I hear notes of Star Wars, while at others are fantasy influences. It’s actually, dare I say, beautiful.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7wvlzAAANSk

5. Frameshift & Starports — Frameshift Suite — First Movement — Andromeda

Nothing on the entire exploration CD got my attention, so I’m going to close out with a couple of picks from the frameshift suits. Andromeda is a tune that would do well as a planetarium score, with stars rotating and the wonders of the galaxy unfolding. It’s pretty without leaving a recognizable melody behind, merely content to create a river of ambient wonder down which we can float.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wkiQX3mfcFc

6. Frameshift & Starports — Frameshift Suite — Sixth Movement — Canes Venatici

The piano is the star of this track, delivering an X-Files-like vibe as it plays against trippy synth sounds as well as traditional instruments. I think the piano is perfect here because it’s so piercing and clear that it can provide a separate-but-equal path through a tune, both contrasting and complementing what’s going on in the busier background. I get eerie chills after listening to this one, but in a good way.

MMOs are meant to be heard as well as seen, and chances are that music ties your memories to these games more than you might realize. Every two weeks Jukebox Heroes listens through a game soundtrack and picks out the highlights to share and discuss. And if you like this column, then don’t miss the author’s MMO music podcast, Battle Bards!
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CastagereShaikura
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CastagereShaikura

I wish you guys would review the old mmo soundtrack from Earth & Beyond if you can find it. I still have it in my collection. Its one of my favorite mmo soundtracks.

Sundial_o7
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Sundial_o7

Don’t forget Steve Roach! Him and Rich are the masters of ambient (no offense to Eno either)… Some good newer artists arrived in the 2000s as well like ishq and Solar Fields (check out the whole Ultimae label while you are at it)
Disclaimer: I have an unhealthy obsession with ambient music.

C4de
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C4de

Elite’s sound design is one of my favorite aspects of the game. It’s not ‘stand out’ music like some games, but it’s excellent ambient music. There are times I’ve gone to frameshift JUST to listen to #6.
As for the list itself, I agree completely with each and every choice.

Rebel Engie
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Rebel Engie

Saerain 
I agree.
The original tracks are pretty tiresome, especially the one with the Klingon opera background and the clippety-clop horse hooves, but these new tracks are quite decent (especially this one is epic, when it kicks in sometimes in sector space).
I believe the original tracks were composed in line with the TOS-style music they had back in the 60s and 70s.

Quinnocent
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Quinnocent

I’m not sure I’d necessarily agree with the sentiment that this is bad or boring work.  I actually think it’s fairly well done.

Not every game OST track can be a Skyrim main theme.  In fact, very few should be.  Tracks like that are nice for including in cinematic sequences for marketing, but their usefulness tends to end there.  They usually don’t even make it into the start screen.  Tracks that are incredibly powerful and memorable tend to only make it into the game in an extremely watered-down form, and they might only ever get full play during brief in-game story events, if that.  They’re just too overpowering to use in any other way.  That kind of music is great for listening on Spotify, but it’s kinda lousy for game sound designers to include in core gameplay.
I’ve seen indie studios contract really awesome electronic albums that I genuinely enjoyed listening to.  The Natural Selection 2 and Airmech soundtracks are great examples.  I barely saw that music in those games, though, and rightfully so.  Something like this impresses me more.  It’s professional and useful, even if it doesn’t evoke the usual gamer giddiness that some title themes aim for.  Not that I’m saying it’s bad.  According to the artist’s web site, he had to go through a pitching process.  I’m assuming the developers were specifically looking for a restrained ambient soundtrack, and he delivered.  Not every game can be a Transistor or Bastion, with sound design front and center and ear-catching tracks playing full volume during core gameplay.  Games really have to be built for that.  What you want from /most/ tracks on a game’s OST is for the music to unobtrusively complement the gameplay, helping to set mood and tone without being distracting from the core activity, playing the game.

This is kinda the reason why a lot of game studios don’t release their full OST, or even their OST at all.  Lots of dev studios specifically redo their soundtracks in a more gamer friendly fashion before a downloadable release, usually more “epic” and less “boring.”

LordOfBread
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LordOfBread

you got it

LordOfBread
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LordOfBread

meh. music is okay for the comatose gameplay. game is shallow and unfinished, their best effort is in the marketing and conversion department. there are tons of better space games wonder why this still gets reports, it’s dead, from last year and not even an MMO. “Ascent the space game” is already a million times better than this

zoward
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zoward

This kind of reminds me of The Secret World’s soundtrack, in that it works as accompaniment to playing the game, but doesn’t really stand on its own.

melissamcdon
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melissamcdon

I got a chuckle over your experience here.   Sometimes reviewing is actual work, isn’t it?   :-)

SurrenStarr
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SurrenStarr

It’s like the age old joke in EVE Online when people often say “EVE has sound?”
The music and a fairly large selection of effects in Elite are so poor that a lot of people, just like in EVE, turn off the sound.

Oddly, outside of playing EVE I quite enjoy the soundtrack as it’s quite nice to have it playing on my phone while hiking… it sort of fits that aimlessly wandering through the countryside activity.

As said by http://www.livefyre.com/profile/72366537/, the X series seems to be one of the few space-themed games that do a pretty decent job on their soundtrack.

Smoe studios could do with outsourcing for their music; Carbon Based Lifeforms and Infected Mushroom are two artists that come to mind for creating spacey atmospheric music.
Alternatively… Frank Klepacki isn’t doing much at the moment, someone bring him in for some stellar music.