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Get Your Hands off the Music
By Cyril Lachel     |   Posted on March 11, 2005   |   Episode 47 (Show Archive)  

   

Until Microsoft reveals what the next Xbox is going to look like, we're stuck showing you drawings of things that will never be!
As this current generation winds down gamers everywhere are starting to wonder what the future will bring. Sure the graphics will be better and we'll likely have WiFi enabled systems right out of the box, but what about the new ideas and concepts the console makers will be trying to push? These are the things that gamers are really going to be interested in, not how many polygons your system can push a second. So I ask you, where is the innovation?

According to J Allard, Microsoft's keynote speaker at this year's Game Developer's Conference, one big enhancement for the next Xbox (what he called the "Xenon") will come in the way of standardized menus and information, so you will always know what to expect and how to use the software. But it was something he said while explaining the standardized layout that perked my ears up.

"Music and custom soundtracks is one of the most popular features. We've spent a lot of research on this, one of the top features users cite as a reason they love their Xbox. But there's a disappointment factor as well and that is that it's not in every game. So in the next generation user interface on the next generation Xbox, in all games."


You have to admit, it would be funny (and kind of annoying) to see Def Jam Vendetta powered by a Backstreet Boys soundtrack!
All games? You mean to tell me that every single game on the "Xenon" is going to feature changeable music? You must be kidding me!! Now don't get me wrong, when it comes to customizable soundtracks I'm a big, big fan. I much prefer listening to my own tunes while driving through the streets of Project Gotham Racing 2 or running for a touchdown in a football game. When it comes to some games J Allard is right on the money, customizable soundtracks is where it's at.

But what works in sports games, fighters, and racing titles doesn't work for every genre, namely adventure games. Certain companies spend time and effort actually making their soundtracks work for the game, to emphasize a key moment or make you feel a certain way about your surroundings. Can you imagine how different a game like Resident Evil 4 would have been had you been able to substitute the chilling score with your collection of Linkin Park albums? Somehow I doubt playing through Knights of the Old Republic with the music replaced by 2 Pac's Greatest Hits would give it that epic feeling you look for in a Star Wars game.


I would rather have the game yelling out personal insults about me, my friends and family than hear a soundtrack full of Lindsay Lohan songs!
But beyond the fact that this model doesn't work for all genres, it also creates problems for the game developer, the record company, and the musicians themselves. Lately companies like Electronic Arts have taken in-game music to a whole new level by teaming up with record companies who enjoy the exposure for their bands. This set up, while not perfect, has worked to everybody's advantage and can only be hurt if users are encouraged to insert their own music. There are a lot of young bands who have found their way into video games merely as a promotional tool, much like if they were to get their song into an advertisement or a movie or TV show. This market isn't seen by the public, but we will see a difference in the standard soundtrack if everybody plans on changing their music as soon as they get the game home.

So why do this at all? J Allard suggested that this is what gamers want who live in this, gulp, "remix generation". Hey, I want my games to pay me for beating them, but that's just not in the cards. Sometimes you have to take the power away from the game players and let the storyteller do his thing, and that doesn't mean changing the songs in Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater to your favorite Kenny G songs.

Sure there are times when the music doesn't matter, but ask any film maker, music is not interchangeable! It might not matter to you what you're listening to when you're blowing people away in Halo 2, but that's just not the case in all games. Anybody who thinks that their music is better than what you can get out of a video game has clearly not played any part of Katamari Damacy.

So I beg of you Microsoft, allow us to change costumes, to change control set ups, to change the difficulty ... but leave the customizable music up to the game developer. There is a reason people get paid good money to put music to video games, and those people shouldn't be out of a job just because you need to listen to 50 Cent in every game you buy.
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