Let me fill you in on a little secret: I hate listening to the radio. I am honestly surprised that in our world of super accessible music, public radio has not died out as a media form. Outside of tuning in to NPR or a sports broadcast, I see no reason to waste your time listening to the same 15 minutes of overplayed crap interspersed between a barrage of obnoxious commercials and humorless DJs. It is due to my disdain of the radio that I have grown to rely on the magic of mix tapes to fill the silence.
Over the course of my life, I have made over 51 different CD mixes, all of which I have retained in some format. These discs of joy now serve as a catalog of my eclectic taste as it evolved from “music my parents enjoy” to “rebellious punk banter” to “heavy metal anger” to “whatever noise appeals to my aging ears.” Along the way, I have discovered that Nick Hornby was right; there is an exact science to the ebb and flow of a mix. One cannot just throw songs together on a compact disc and call it a day. The same delicate method should be applied when crafting the soundtrack to a rhythm game.
The common path of a rhythm game is to allow the player to unlock increasingly difficult bundles of songs as he/she completes a previous tier to satisfaction. In video game circles, this is a tried and true method of game progression. A player should not feel overwhelmed by the options, and the game difficulty should rise as the player’s skill increases over time. But the rhythm game is a special creature, a wonderful mix of music and game that should stand somewhere between the two media; a hybrid of forms with all of the joy and none of the fluff.
Since many of the newer rhythm games rely on previously released music for the soundtrack, it is difficult to establish the proper “mix tape flow” while offering the player enough content to remain engaged in the fantasy of being a rock/dance star. Older rhythm games often miss the flow by trying to fit the music around a story, or by limiting the soundtrack to one musical genre. But one strange little game came along in 2001 that managed to present an interesting plot with a solid soundtrack that makes for a great mix tape.
Gitaroo Man tells the story of U-1, a young boy who despite his best efforts to impress the opposite sex, is constantly berated by his peers and barely even noticed by his dream girl. The boy’s luck dramatically changes when he discovers that not only can his dog speak, his canine companion is actually a robot who is housing the Last Gitaroo, a musical artifact from a distant planet. The boy and his dog travel to the Planet Gitaroo and use the power of music to liberate the planet’s citizens from an evil tyrant. Within this very odd coming-of-age story lies the recipe for a perfect mix. Click along with the tracks and observe:
1st Track: Start off with some kind of an intro; a bit of a heads-up as to what sort of commitment the listener is getting into. A movie quote or piece of dialogue often works well.
2nd Track: Time to tap into the nostalgia fountain. Classic rock is great here – a catchy riff with memorable lyrics with which to sing along. This song should ease the listener into the mix.
3rd Track: Upbeat and fast paced music to get the blood pumping. A fun and odd song with high tempo, maybe some J-Pop or Euro-Techno; the sort of music to which one can exercise.
4th Track: Hmm, might have gone too far with the last track, time to scale things back a bit. Drop some funky jazz on the listener. A song with soul to calm the nerves.
5th Track: By now, they should be hooked, so toss in a throw-away song. Maybe some experimental house music or electronic reggae to mix things up. Chances are the listener will skip this track, so don’t agonize over the selection.
6th Track: The listener may be craving something deeper, more profound, so here comes the ballad. A wistful song, with the sort of vague emotion and ambiguous meaning that could be applied to any transitional period of life. Probably full of acoustic guitar.
7th Track: This should be the apex of the mix. A powerhouse song with a beat that will infect the listener’s every movement with a slight rhythm until he/she has no choice but to dance their heart out.
8th Track: Keep the dial on eleven as you drop in with a heavy metal powerhouse. Something over the top and filled with complexity that the listener will be left in awe of the raw talent on display.
9th Track: This may be the most difficult selection of the entire mix. You need to somehow tie together all of the emotion the listener has experienced, but present something new at the same time. Maybe a more empowered song from an earlier artist, to provide familiarity with a twist.
10th Track: The second to last song needs to be very intense; a sort of crescendo to the entire mix. Rapid guitar solos, rolling lyrics, maybe even overwhelming notes should be the focus of this track.
11th Track: The final track can be handled in two fashions. You can play a very wistful and emotive song to leave the listener in a contemplative mood. These sorts of songs are very dependent on the mood of the listener; end on a dour note and he/she may never want to hear the mix again. But if you close with a light-hearted tune, the kind of song that would be ideal at the end of a movie from the 90s, the listener will leave on a positive note, wanting to return to the mix for more joy in the future.
Now you know the secret recipe to creating the perfect mix tape. Go forth and spread the good news: you no longer have to suffer under the tyranny of public radio. Gitaroo Man has once again saved the day!
(Many thanks to Youtube user BeanyOne for these excellent Gitaroo Man videos.)