5 indie game soundtracks you may not know are awesome

Oct 26, 2012

I have an interest in video game music, from the bleeps and bloops of the C64’s SID chip to the huge, orchestral scores of today’s triple-A titles. Today, I’m going to pretend I actually know something about music and list a few of my favorite indie game soundtracks. Here they go, in no particular order:

Minecraft

Minecraft is widely known for its addicting gameplay and its limitless worlds. I bought Minecraft near the end of 2010 for about $13, and to this day it’s probably the game I’ve played for the longest amount of time. Set up a multiplayer server, get a few friends together on Skype and build some impressive structures or go adventuring in the huge, randomly generated worlds – its great fun. Beware though, with your friends talking you might miss another of Minecraft’s best features – the music.

German independent artist Daniel Rosenfeld, better known as C418, created a calming, beautiful score that plays only four times each in-game day. It’s very discrete and generally brought me a sense of wonder every time it was cued, and it’s a real pleasure outside of the game too.

Above is one of my favorite tracks from the game. Listen to the gentle, almost cautious piano, in time accompanied by sweeping and plucked strings. It’s beautiful! Other notable tracks might be Living Mice, with its slowly building instrumentation that finally explodes, or Cat, which is an electronic, energetic break from the otherwise calm mood of the majority of tracks.

Minecraft – Volume Alpha is a 24-track album containing both released and previously unreleased material. It can be downloaded for $3.99 directly from C418’s Bandcamp page. Check out his other stuff too, there’s quite a lot of diversity there.

Samorost 2

You might know the small Czech studio Amanita Design for their successful 2009 point-and-click adventure game Machinarium. Before working on Machinarium, Amanita Design released a short flash game on their website called Samorost, and followed it up with the sequel Samorost 2, featuring a longer quest and a great soundtrack to go with it.

Composer and clarinetist Tomáš Dvóřak (who is also behind the music of Machinarium) crafted quite an atypical soundtrack for this game, blending acoustic and electronic instrumentation with atmospheric sounds such as wind, water and metal. It all works very well at creating an distinct soundscape that can be everything from cheery to cold and threatening.

An example of what I would probably call “cold and threatening” is the above track, Lesik. In Samorost 2, this track plays in a darkened forest, and the dark tone of the main melody as well as the sounds of birds and nature is very fitting for that. Another example of a dark track is Šnekoun which plays in one of the first levels. It’s not all this cold, however, as tracks like Tuleni and Samorost Outro I and II are energetic to downright happy.

The entire soundtrack can be downloaded for any price you want at Tomáš Dvóřak’s Bandcamp page. I can also recommend his 2001 album Pocustone which contains some similar musical styles.

Fez

You’ve probably heard of Fez, the 2D-but-wait-it’s-also-3D platformer spending 5 years in development and turning out to be awesome. It’s been covered in countless articles, interviews and even a documentary, and while it’s got satisfying platforming and mind-boggling puzzles, its soundtrack is, like it’s art, quite retro and complements the experience greatly.

Disasterpeace, real name Rich Vreeland, has apparently spent a very long time composing it, and it pays off. The entire thing is an electronic blend of chiptune-inspired music from days of yore and a more recent sound, and it makes for an adventurous experience, having a lot of calm, atmospheric tracks and some more upbeat ones.

Flow is essentially Fez’s sewer level music. It starts slow but soon becomes one of the most upbeat and catchy tracks the game has to offer. Other great tracks include the main theme Adventure, the excellently calming ambiance of Beacon and Forgotten, and the robotic droning of Progress.

The 26-track album is available from the Disasterpeace Bandcamp page for $7, though a few tracks are free.

Knytt/Knytt Stories

Knytt might be a little more obscure than the other games on this list. It’s a freeware platformer from 2006 by Swedish game designer Nicklas “Nifflas” Nygren and features a huge open world, very simplistic gameplay and a peculiar soundtrack.

Most of the time, Knytt’s only sounds are the footsteps of the protagonist and the ambiance of the environment. Every so often though, as you enter new parts of the world, a short theme plays, primarily created by Nifflas himself along with a few contributors, and usually lasting only 10-30 seconds each. Genre-wise, it’s primarily acoustic or electronic ambiance, mixed with a few rhythmic electronic pieces, and they’re great at setting the tone for their environment and the mysterious world of Knytt in general.

Most tracks are short but have several variations based on the same theme. For instance, Infinite Depths has 4.

These very short tracks stand in contrast to the soundtrack of Knytt Stories, a sequel to Knytt I feel I should mention, also developed and partly scored by Nifflas. Unlike the first one, which consists a single adventure, Knytt Stories was designed specifically to allow community-developed levels. Because of this, Stories only comes packaged with a single level, after which you can download and add a large number of extra adventures. By default, Knytt Stories includes some great tracks, generally about 1-2 minutes each.

The above track, Before Our Eyes by Finnish musician D Fast, is one of the highlights from the game, along with Summit by Kevin “Gopher” Chow and Parmi les Automates by Yann “Nurykabe” van der Cruyssen.

Compared to the other soundtracks I’ve mentioned, these two are kind of complicated to get hold of. The entire soundtrack for Knytt is available for free on this website, which also has a bunch of other Nifflas music.

As for Knytt Stories, the easiest way to get all its music is probably to download the game (it’s free) and look in the Data/Music folder, though the Nurykabe tracks are available from his site as well.

Black Mesa

Though Black Mesa is only a mod, being a fan remake of the original Half-Life, its composer Joel Nielsen has created something that I feel is actually better than Kelly Bailey’s original Half-Life soundtrack.

The Black Mesa soundtrack consists of both deeply moving themes with piano and strings, action-packed rock tracks with heavy percussion and electric guitars, and ominous ambient industrial music that captures the atmosphere of the Black Mesa Research Facility very well.

I have to show two tracks here to emphasize the diversity of this soundtrack, and how well both styles hold up. First, there’s the Black Mesa main theme, a slow and rather mournful track, and then, there’s one of Black Mesa’s many action tracks, this one from the Surface Tension chapter. When I emerged from inside of the facility, my jaw dropped at how well this track complemented the difficult but awesome fight on the cliff wall.

The entire soundtrack for Black Mesa is available for free at the official website, with the option to support the composer if you choose.

So those are some of my favorite indie game soundtracks. Honorable mentions for this list go to Machinarium, another soundtrack by Tomáš Dvóřak, Bastion by Darren Korb, and Trine by Ari Pulkkinen.

This post ended up being much longer than I intended it to be, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to shorten it down now. If you made it to the end in one piece, I applaud your effort, and also, what the hell are you doing here?