Saturday, June 9, 2012

Portal 2 Soundtrack!

Well it's been a really long time since I've posted on this blog. I will finish my analysis of Final Fantasy VI later but I want to make occasional one part interjections in between the multiple part "series" that I will be posting.

So Portal 2. Excellent game. Really improving all aspects of the first game including the music. Mike Morasky did a great job with composing the score, especially at the more cinematic moments (which the sequel has plenty more of than the original.)

Recently I downloaded the soundtrack. It is completely free on Portal 2's official website. I would recommend getting it. click on this link to download it for yourself: Download Portal 2 Soundtrack

Many of the tracks make for excellent workout music. It's very techno and therefore has great driving energy from all the rhythm and repitition. I am more unfamiliar with techno music than I should be and so I can't make a good comparison of how this compares to most techno music but I found it to have some really nice and original electronic sounds and for the majority of the time it avoided getting too repetitive.

The Main Characters Chell and GLaDOS (as a potato)

Like I said, there are more cinematic moments in Portal 2. They are typically used to indicate major turning points that add variety in the game. And these important cinematic turning points are always excellently highlighted in the music.

I think that the best example of this is the track "Don't Do It" which also happens to be played at probably the most dramatic change in the game. Spoiler alert: about halfway through the game, you confront GLaDOS after unarming her neurotoxin and turrets. you are able to replace her with Wheatley. This gives Wheatley control of the entire testing facility which quickly goes to his head. You soon discover from GLaDOS (who is now in a potato battery) that Wheatley was programmed to be the dumbest moron in existence and you are responsible for putting in charge of the facility. 

During all the events of this scene, The music continues to build both in tempo, texture, and dynamics following changes in the action very precisely. The grove set up by the repeated note pattern that comes in about a 1:34 on the track and brings lots of excitement. Then a syncopated ostinato (groups of 8th notes being 3+3+3+3+2+2) that is found on multiple occasions in the game. it's first statement in this track starts to play at 1:53 and works very nicely played against the repeated note figure. These ideas along with sythesized orchestral sounds (which have mainly been absent up from the score until now) make for a very exciting track.

This is a reduction of one of the most exciting textures in the whole game at 2:16 into the track "Don't Do It." The ostinato is in the bass. the texture so simple yet so effective in making this moment in the game a memorable one.

One thing I am fascinated by in newer video games is when an interactive cut scene is going on and the music changes at important hit points but those hit points are dictated by a player's action. The challenge of the music being interactive with the player in the story seems so full of potential but also of programing nightmares. I think "Don't Do It" a solid example of this kind of interplay done right I hope to see more of it in the future of video game music.

Alright, moving on to other tracks. "An Accent Beyond," which plays earlier in the game when Wheatley frees you from testing, is another big turning point and the excitement of breaking out is really captured in the powerful bass figure. later on the syncopated ostinato figure from "Don't Do It" comes back but this time changing pitch on each beat. This ostinato is one of the main motives that unifies the whole score. Later an unpredictable rhythmic oscillation between two notes helps give a frantic and unplanned feel to the whole chase sequence.

"The Part Where He Kills You" fits the mood of it's scene so perfectly. starting out with an eerie atmospheric tone to give the situation a feeling of tension to indicate that you have to be very hesitant and careful in your action. Then once you escape, the tense situation the music kicks into action. This indicates that even more is at stake now that you have actually witnessed Wheatley's attempt to kill you. 

There are times during the typical testing areas that the music can get a little repetitive. However, there are many good tracks for this portion of the game. Some of the better testing area music includes "I Saw a Deer Today," "15 Acres of Broken Glass," "You Will Be Perfect" 

In the cue "(defun botsbuildbots () (botsbuildbots))", you can hear the influence from the Final Fantasy series. Not that Nobuo Uematsu owns the rights to the "arppegiating up and down over several octaves" figure, but the association is so strong it's hard to avoid comparison. Still it's fun to listen to and Morasky has his own take on the idea.

Wheatley and GLaDOS during the scene where "Don't Do It" Plays

The humor that Portal is famous for occasionally spills over into the music. "Machiavellian Bach," with it's bizarre juxtaposition of harpsichord and electronics, is played over the intercom in the testing facility by Wheatley to prove that he is well educated and NOT A MORON. This hilarious moment is made even better when GLaDOS acknowledges the music by saying "Ohhh, now he's playing classical music."

During your final interaction with GLaDOS, I absolutely love how the music fluctuates along with the AI's dramatic mood swing from the attitude of "Best friends forever!" to "I hate you. Get out of my face" in the cue "Caroline Deleted."

Now I'm going to take a brief moment to rant about the story. I'm justifying this on the loose premise that this is a blog about music that accompanies stories, so therefore it is not off topic to talk about the story (even without the music.) To me, the game's story really leaves you craving more! Mainly more answers. You feel like you are discovering so much about Caroline, Cave Johnson, and the history of Aperture Science. Yet all this knowledge leads to little payoff. It is sort of brilliant how anticlimactic the whole Caroline plot point was at the end (GLaDOS just deletes her) but no matter how brilliant it is, it almost makes the player feel cheated. The whole plot seemed to be leading up to some big reveal like "Caroline was Chell's mother" or something like that but that moment never really arrives. The fact that GLaDOS just deletes Caroline causes for a lot of ambiguity at the stories end. Don't get me wrong. The writing for the game is great! the writers really use subtlety and the whole "less is more" concept to the advantage of the game. I know that these writing devices are all ways to make people continue to play there games. Still.... I wanna know more!!!!!!!!!

Getting back to the music, let's talk about music for the end of the game. The Fat Turret singing Italian Opera ("Turret Wife Serenade") is quite humorous but also might be significant to understanding the sort of odd ending. Here is a link to a really good youtube video explaining the a well thought-out opinion (with a lot of logic and validity to it) that explains how the Fat Turret might have some actually significance to the plot. It also brings up many other good points. Watch it!

Here's a link to the A Cappella sheet music for the Turret Wife Serenade just because I think it's hilarious.

Hmmm.... The ending credits song for Portal 2 is no "Still Alive." But what did you expect? There was no way to fallow up the success of the original Jonathan Coultan contribution to the series. However, "Want You Gone" actually seems to fit well with the bittersweet ending of Chell and GLaDOS parting ways just as "Still Alive" fits well with the sarcastic happiness of GLaDOS being killed.

Okay well that's probably enough for now. I know there's way more to talk about. The soundtrack is really long (it's divided into three parts when you download it) and it's hard to talk about it all but I wanted to just share a few personal highlights. More Posts to come soon (I hope!)