Friday, September 25, 2015

Special Stage

No way! Josh and Emily discover a continue marker on the way to episode 10 and warp into a Special Stage! Instead of playing track selections they decide to spend this unusual episode discussing childhood gaming memories, gaming accomplishments, and how VGM soundtracks factor into their daily lives. Whether or not this is worth tuning in for is up to the listeners, but remember that you're free to leave this episode at any time. It's only a bonus stage, after all!

Click above to listen or subscribe.  Click below for the usual direct download.


Suggest a Track   Email Us

The background tunes in this episode were:
Game Track Title Composer(s)
Sonic 3 Special Stage Brad Buxer, Cirocco Jones, Geoff Grace, Michael Jackson, Sachio Ogawa, Tatsuyuki Maeda, Tomonori Sawada, Jun Senoue
Super Mario World Bonus Game Koji Kondo
Castelian Bonus Stage Theme David Whittaker
Wai Wai World 2:
SOS!! Parsley Jō
Bonus Stage Yūichi Sakakura, Kenichi Matsubara, Satoko Minami
ResQ 3D Bonus Section Matt Furniss, Shaun Hollingworth
Donkey Kong Country Bonus Room Blitz David Wise
Space Harrier Battle Field (Bonus Theme) Hiroshi Miyauchi, Tokuhiko Uwabo
Fido Dido Bonus Rounds 1 & 2 David Dundas, Matt Furniss
Violinist of Hameln Bonus Stage Y. Mori
Pilot Wings Bonus Game Soyo Oka
Cool Spot Bonus Level Tommy Tallarico
The Smurfs' Nightmare Bonus Time! Alberto José González
Phalanx Bonus Stage S. Yamaguchi
Jaws Bonus Scene Shinichi Sakamoto
Magical Quest 3: Starring Mickey & Donald Bonus Game Mari Yamaguchi
Snake Rattle 'n' Roll Bonus Stage David Wise
Bomberman II Bonus Stage Jun Chikuma
Sonic the Hedgehog Special Stage Masato Nakamura

We'll be back to our usual format next week. See you then at The VGM Jukebox!


  1. guys, I'm really happy that this podcast exists. I got deep into Legacy Music Hour fandom both because of the music and because of the personalities of Brent and Rob so when they announced they were stopping and later just slowing down the podcast, I totally got where they were coming from but I was sad just because their voices would be in my ears less. This podcast is really scratching that same itch. I hope you keep it up. If I can help in any way let me know!

  2. I've really been digging your show, and share the same sentiments Kenny posted above. This Special Stage episode was a lot more interesting than I was expecting, honestly! I found it easy to relate to, and you touched on some neat points I've never heard discussed before. Particularly, the appeal of video game music as almost existing in a vacuum, and how that facilitates appreciating it in a purely musical way.
    And my ears completely lit up when you discussed that MP3 player! I had no idea such a thing exists, and I want one. What is the name of this gizmo/firmware? Thanks, and keep up the great work!

    1. Hey Jim! The firmware is called Rockbox, and you can learn all about it (and download it) here: http://www.rockbox.org/

      The short story is that Rockbox is firmware that boots before your device's default operating system does. Once installed, it will provide you with greatly expanded functionality -- such as the ability to play many chiptune file types directly. There are a variety of devices that Rockbox works with, so you can pick your favorite (or repurpose one that's been sitting at the bottom of a drawer somewhere).

      I bought an 8GB SanDisk Sansa Clip+ player on the cheap and stuck a 32GB micro SD card in it. All of my chiptune files live on the micro SD. That card has roughly 6000 soundtracks on it, and -- get ready for this -- this has only used up ONE THIRD of its maximum storage capacity.

      It kinda makes me feel like a mad scientist. Truly this is the glorious future we've all dreamed of!

      Have fun with it, and thanks for the nice comments!

  3. Also interested in how you can get non-mp3 vgm files to play on an mp3 player!

    Loved the point on music being appreciated in cultural context. That makes a ton of sense and made me reevaluate the feeling I get when I listen to video game soundtracks. Even when I have never played a game I'm listening to, I feel more than a sense of nostalgia. Not immediately knowing the composer and not thinking of the compositions as a part of a traditional album make the listening experience really unique. There comes a point where I stop thinking of these pieces as part of a video game and just enjoy for musicality and technical skill. Andrew Schartmann talks about what constitutes an album re: video game soundtracks in his 33 1/3 entry on Koji Kondo's Super Mario Bros. soundtrack. I highly recommend that book.

    I had a similar experience making up words to music I heard in video games. I don't think I really started doing it until the N64 days. Mario 64's Bob-Omb Battlefield to be exact, the final section before it loops back. The horns play a little riff at about 0:55 where I found myself singing, "They don't care/they don't care/they don't care/they don't care/they don't care/they don't care/not one f*cking bit/nooo!"

    Also, the "Tall" VGM Karaoke is the best, imo.

    1. Andy, your Bomb-Omb Battlefield lyrics are fantastic. I love that track. I'm listening to it right now for the full experience and grinning so much my face kinda hurts.

      If you look above at my comment to The Fast Jim I went into a bit more detail on it, but the firmware I was talking about is called Rockbox. Check it out here: http://www.rockbox.org/

      If you try it, I hope you enjoy it!

  4. I also share Kenny's sentiments. Keep up the good work! That Jaws track is great.

    1. I forgot to reply to this, Mega Matt! Thanks for the encouragement.

      And I know, right? That Jaws track came out of nowhere!

  5. Greetings Josh, and Emily! I just started listening, and have caught up on all the episodes so far. Great show! I love the format. Pretending to be in a bar, and playing music from a jukebox is great. Honestly, it sounds pretty corny on paper, but it works, and it's so much fun to listen to this way :)
    Brent's plug from the Legacy Music Hour sent me this way. Looks like I'll be staying! I'm also a big fan of VGMpire, and I encourage all the listeners to check it out.

    Emily, I can surely relate to the embarrassment, and second guessing that goes along with listening to VGM in public. I loaded up my cars MP3 player with VGM, and then felt really awkward about it. "Should I admit this to others?" Modern VGM is really easy to win people over with, but the chip based stuff can get you some funny looks.
    I also enjoyed hearing about the Sega memories. Always nice to hear another Genesis fan out there. The first time I played Sonic, it was in a department store. It was shear bliss, until my mom was done shopping.

    To comment on prices of old games, are you guys aware of flashcarts? They are the cure for people like us. That is, not wanting to use emulation, but not wanting to pay out the nose for carts. http://shop.retrogate.com has these for sale. Stone Age Gamer has them as well. RetroUSB has their own brand as well. I have one for my SNES, and Genesis. I don't shop for game carts anymore, and I get to play on real hardware!

    One last question: Is computer game music allowed on the show?

    Later guys!

    1. Oh, it's totally corny in reality too, Nick. I'm just glad you enjoy it as much as we do. :)

      Despite the occasional feelings of embarrassment, I do harbor the dream that one day someone in the car next to me at a stoplight will brighten with recognition and shout, "HEY!! IS THAT MEGA MAN?!?"

      And yes, computer music is allowed!

    2. "Despite the occasional feelings of embarrassment, I do harbor the dream that one day someone in the car next to me at a stoplight will brighten with recognition and shout, "HEY!! IS THAT MEGA MAN?!?"

      EXACTLY. I roll my windows down at stop lights for that same reason.

  6. So maybe this is the page where the community introduces themselves and shares their first gaming memory. My first gaming memory was from the very early 80's. We were visiting my Harley-riding uncle; I remember walking into the living room and seeing him smoking like a chimney, drinking cheap beer and playing Asteroids and Yar's Revenge on the Atari 2600. I ended up with that Atari; to this day, Kaboom and Yar's Revenge remain two of my favorite all-time games. You all should try Yar's Revenge. It's a simple game but it gets so incredibly intense.

    My second videogame memory of note is going to a theater where my grandma worked as a custodian. The theater was closed so I got to play games for free while she cleaned. I remember playing the original Sprint, which was in black and white. They also had the original Star Wars game, which used line vector graphics.

    We also owned a Commodore 64 and an Intellivision. The C64 used the same controller port as the 2600, the Sega Master System, and the Genesis, so we'd use an SMS pad to play Summer Games. The distance race on that game required you to alternate left and right very quickly, and I remember rubbing the skin off my thumb a few times before I realized that running a ball-point pen over the d-pad worked a lot better(and saved my thumb!). Man, we'd get cramped hands from playing that game.

    The Intellivision was a lot more fun. Its graphics were quite a bit better than the Atari, and it had a positively bizarre controller that had a circular pad at the bottom, 2 stiff rubber buttons on each side, and a numeric pad in the middle that had a slot where you'd slide graphic overlays in that were specific to each game. There was a game called Utopia that my brother and I would play that was probably one of the earliest civilization-type sims.

    Being a weird kid, I tried to persuade my dad to buy us a Sega Master System for Christmas, instead of a NES. This would have been late '87. The deal at the time was that it came with Hang-On/Safari Hunt, plus the maze game that was built into the BIOS, plus a voucher for a free game, which happened to be Double Dragon, which as Josh pointed out, was better than the NES version. In spite of much flicker, it was 2-player simultaneous, whereas the NES version was only 1 player.

    I was in a mall around Christmas of '88(I think), when I saw the Video Game Buyer's Guide, which was what ended up becoming EGM. Among the amazing wonders I saw in the magazine was coverage of the upcoming Japanese systems, including a weird sit-down system(I think it was the FM-Townes Marty), the SuperGrafx, and the Sega Mega Drive. I remember being blown away by pictures of Baseball, Super Hang On, Space Harrier II, but especially The Super Shinobi, which of course eventually came out here as Revenge of Shinobi. When the Genesis came out the following year, I literally saved every penny I found/earned for something like 9 months. I remember my heart pounding out of my throat as I walked into the Kay Bee Toy & Hobby and asked for a Genesis.

    I guess that's about it for now. Josh and Emily, I love the show, and I love the communal nature of it. Keep up the good work!

    1. I liked the flicker in Double Dragon for one particular thing. If you make Billy and Jimmy stand in exactly the same spot, I remember getting a purplish looking dragon boy, but I think it was purple because of the rapid switching between red and blue. Does anybody else remember that?

    2. My SMS Double Dragon memory is that when my friend Darwin Fong would come over, we’d play Rambo and Double Dragon. Darwin was always better than me at anything involving motor coordination and twitch reflexes, whether it was physical games like soccer, tennis or basketball, or Videogames like Contra, Super Spike Vball, and especially Street Fighter II. And his big brother was a little better still. Anyway, Darwin was not only good but also very competitive and a little mischievous. He could always handle himself against the bad guys, so he would make it more interesting by “accidentally” hitting my guy whenever he felt like it…throwing the barrel just a little too far, or whipping a whole cluster of bad guys when I was in the middle. It frustrated me to no end, but if I tried retaliating, he’d win anyway, so I usually just put up with it.

      Once during one of these DD sessions, I was in a particularly foul mood, and I lost it and punched him square in the jaw. In an instant he leapt up with his fist cocked and I knew he was going to pound the crap out of me. I put my hands up and hollered “I’m sorry” as fast as I could, knowing full well that I deserved his wrath. He stood there stroking his jaw for a few seconds, glaring at me, then silently sat back down and continued to play. He did lay off the cheap shots for a week or two.

    3. Hee hee! Your friend should be thankful you didn't throw an actual barrel.

      I wonder what it was like if you two ever got to the end of the game and HAD to whale on each other. If you did, I hope you won!

    4. This comment has been removed by the author.


    5. Nathan DanielsDecember 18, 2015 at 5:50 AM

      I forgot to mention that I do remember the purple Double Dragon thing. I did mess around with that on occasion. And Emily, I never won. We used to play the computer at Street Fighter II in the arcades, and he'd play first round, and I'd get second. That way, if I lost, he'd still be able to pull out a victory in the third. He was always better at any twitch games than I was; he was the second best at SFII in the city, as far as I knew(only his brother was better). Maybe that's why I always liked adventure and RPG's so much. :)

  7. Oh, a few things about the episode:
    Yuzo Koshiro pops up in iTunes because he has 8 or 9 albums up there: The original Actraiser soundtrack, as well as a PC-88 version(He composed all his soundtracks on the PC-88 and ported them to the different systems that way), the 3 Streets of Rage Games, the Super Shinobi, Story of Thor and a few others.

    Josh, I'm not sure I'd agree that videogame music is more pure than other music because of any cultural vacuum; it has its own culture. People who generally don't like video game music feel that way because they don't enjoy the electronic sounds of gaming music. We all enjoy it because we've grown up with it; we accept it for what it is. That's a culture of sorts. A lot of older folk who don't like game music often enjoy arranged VGM soundtracks, usually because it's in a container they can accept.
    And not related to the show, but my dad was the local Donkey Kong, JR. champ. He was also really good at Pooyan, Tron and Frogger.

    1. You're right that VGM does not exist in a cultural vacuum, and I agree that you are making a cultural statement by listening to it. I will say that there is still a difference, which is that the composers themselves don't seem to be conveying any cultural information in their tracks. The compositions themselves often seem to exist outside of identity politics.

      And even as I write that, though, I realize that this is not one hundred percent accurate. Road Rash and the like do seem like they're trying to align themselves with 90s alternative or something like that.

      I'm also wrong in failing to recognize any sort of culture that existed among the composers. The composers must have felt the need to respond to the work of their peers, and so there must have been a sub-culture, even if it was a really small one, and one that was unseen by almost everybody.

      But, yeah, you're totally right.

    2. This is a fascinating topic I've seen discussed on both the LMH and the VGMpire boards; it's a parallel conversation to discussing the characteristic traits of Western and Japanese game music.

      I think the degree to which composers relayed cultural information in game music increased linearly over time, beginning with the advent of music in games in the early 80's, through the 16-bit early 90's, and was pretty much a foregone conclusion by the time CD-based systems, specifically the PSX and Saturn, take over.

      There are two main reasons for this linear pattern: As time passed, composers collectively learned how to produce more intricate and realistic music for each system(realistic meaning that it was more recognizable as being a certain style, i.e. Rock or jazz, and so on). The other reason is that new systems came out, with their successive improvements in sound architecture. This enabled game music to better emulate music outside of the gaming world.

      As an example of reason #1, compare early NES games like Ice Climber or Super Mario Bros. with later games like TMNT 3 or Super Mario 3. Whereas the earlier NES music carries little information other than notes and their duration, later NES music more clearly employs sounds and samples that often mimic real-world instruments.

      Listening to VGM podcasts like LMH or VGM Jukebox, I've noticed that the later the music falls on the timeline of VGM history, the more I hear comments about what a particular track sounds like. Songs are described in terms of styles; LMH has done numerous episodes thematically arranged around a particular style, like "Elevator Music" or Rock, and the like. These songs clearly reflect a musical style by the instrument choices, as well as the way the tracks are composed.

      It's also true that composers have influences, and that they reflect these influences in their music. Consider Nobuo Uematsu, Tim Follin and Yuzo Koshiro. Uematsu sounds like John Williams meets disco, and given that his major influences are Elton John and Prog bands, one can see that influence in the Final Fantasy series....particularly in the more rousing tracks. Tim Follin cites Prog Rock as a major influence, and almost all his music carries that stamp. Consider Plok's Acrylik, which I recently played back-to-back with an Emerson, Lake & Palmer track to a coworker fan of ELP--he didn't even bat an eye. And Yuzo Koshiro has composed soundtracks that are textbook examples of various styles: The Bare Knuckle series each tackles a certain style of electronica, and Super Adventure Island is straight early 90's pop reggae and RnB. Actraiser switches between Baroque chamber music in the overhead scenes, and Romantic-neoclassical-early 20th century epic film score music in the action scenes. The Oasis/Thor games also sport the musical styles of the epic Hollywood films of the 20's and 30's.

    3. (part 2)
      Speaking more directly to whether or not cultural information is expressed in game music(and this ties in to your observation about Road Rash), Western game music has tended to follow trends of Western pop and Japanese game music has tended to follow trends of Japanese pop. Most 8-32bit Western game music tends to start with a bass or drum loop, and repeats the loops while adding a layer or two of additional music at a time, at some point coming to a melody(but not necessarily). This follows Western pop's tendency to rely on basslines and drums over melody, and to progress via layers of the same loop, as opposed to changing melodic phrases. You're also correct about Road Rash; EA games of the Genesis era and beyond have directly mirrored the prevailing trends of pop music....and when CD-based systems came out, they just skipped the middle man and hired pop artists to make their music for them.

      Japanese game music has also followed trends of Japanese pop music. J-pop tends to be a lot more melody-driven, and often changes motifs when switching between a verse, bridge, or chorus. Japanese game compositions tended to do the same thing. I've also noticed how Japanese games tend to have melody lines that are a step higher, which seems to reflect how J-pop's female leads often sing pretty dang high. Conversely, Western games' melodies are often lower and either mimic a low, screeching guitar solo or a melody line in a male register.

      Prominent examples of cultural information in game music can be found in any ninja game. Seriously, Legend of the Mystical Ninja, Shinobi(arcade), and Revenge of Shinobi perfectly blend traditional Japanese motifs with the pop music of the day.

      That's not to say that game music is only a product of its environment; there are elements of game composition that certainly derive only from games. Typical Japanese 8-bit games had song loops that were around 45 seconds in length(about twice that for the 16-bit era). This was because they had to conserve memory. This influenced composition in that the composer had to get the track moving right away, and provide a lot of variety in a short amount of time. That's why Japanese tracks tend to switch the melody's instruments every few measures. I don't know why, but Western tracks have tended to be much longer, Giving them time to build intensity through repetition(which I personally find a little boring). Tim Follin, Matt Furniss, and Alberto Jose Gonzales are fantastic exceptions to my stereotype....I'm sure there are others but they probably didn't work at EA.

      There is a third phenomenon affecting game composition, and that is that like all art forms, life eventually ends up imitating art. This is almost like a feedback loop; consider the popularity of chiptune music, as well as pop music over the last few years that mimics 8-bit sounds. This has coincided with the popularization of retro-style game music, such as that of Mega Man 10, Shovel Knight, and all those pixel art iOS games.

      My favorite non-music example of this is that in the last decade, football telecasts have developed an elaborate camera pulley system to ape the over-the-shoulder quarterback shot that John Madden Football popularized. Additionally, sports broadcasts of all types put markers and symbols onscreen to identify players the same way that sports games have been doing since the beginning.

    4. I thought the observation that western tracks often start with a drum and bass loop was really interesting! I'm going to have to keep an ear out for that. I'm inclined to say that the focus on melody has more to do with the restrictions of programming music for 8-bit systems like the NES, in that a composer didn't have enough to work with to *not* craft a super tight composition... and yet I can think of several NES games off the bat that are exceptions to this. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comes to mind, because that title screen has the most amazing VGM drum fill intro OF ALL TIME.

      Here's a thought, though, going off the Ninja Turtles example. If a soundtrack is composed by a Japanese musician but is for a game with a western "feel," those composers do often deliberately use a rock style as a cultural nod -- just like how a lot of specifically Japanese-themed levels have tunes that sound like traditional Japanese music, regardless of the nationality of who's composing them. That's how we wind up with Ninja Turtles games with Japanese composers... creating western-evocative music for a western story... that centers itself on Japanese culture. *universe implodes* But my point is, there may be a "cultural nod" aspect to these compositions that we westerners don't pick up on as much, because that particular style sounds less unusual to us and is less associated with specific lifestyles or philosophies.

      I'm wondering too if the melody-focus might also have a lot to do with the fact that the NES was specifically for kids and families. Rock music is associated with a certain edginess, and Nintendo was not going for edginess in the 80s. The composer for Gimmick!, Masashi Kageyama, even mentioned in an interview that he was deliberately trying to compose the most beautiful music possible for the sake of the children he knew would be playing his game. And since the NES made such a splash and is often what people think of when they think of VGM in general, perhaps we forget how the company's kid-centered angle might have influenced the music.

      And here's another thought. It is definitely true that western compositions focus on the "rock band" setup and often approach things as if guitars and such are playing them. I've often wondered if the focus on melody in Japanese compositions has to do with (what I perceive to be) the relative historical absence of guitar culture and (what I perceive to be) the greater reverence for piano music. If true I believe this could also be an argument for why J-pop is so catchy, as you pointed out yourself!

      In short, you should write a research paper on all of this and publish it in some scholarly journals, Nathan. You know we'd all read the heck out of it if you did.