Guest Writer: Hopes For A Custom Soundtrack

It would seem that Monday’s day of guest content was an inspiration to some, and before the day was out I’d received even more guest articles. This entry from Bodachi discusses custom soundtracks for games and how they can be improved.

Custom soundtracks are something that I personally love. The soundtracks for some games can get a bit repetitive after a while, particularly with a game I’ve invested way too much time in like Gran Turismo 5.

I’m looking at this from a PS3 owner’s perspective; I have little bit of experience using custom soundtracks on the 360, although the few time I’ve used them on Microsoft’s console I found them much better. One thing was great was being able to play songs straight from my PSP without having to copy over music to the hard drive. However, I do feel that there are some potential improvements and issues that apply to both the PS3 and 360.

For most games custom soundtracks are just an extra bullet point to add to a list of features. On the PS3 you just scroll over to your music on the in-game XMB and select a song from your own music. This sounds simple enough, but the problem with this in some games is your own music doesn’t always match the games audio. Even on the lowest volume setting your custom soundtrack will over power any voice work or sound effects in the game, making it hard to hear what’s going on.

[drop]Another issue is how inconsistent the implementation of custom soundtracks can be. Obviously the support on PS3 varies game to game, but on both the PS3 and the 360 I’ve found the way custom soundtracks are handled during cut-scenes can be frustrating. Whilst there are games that will pause your music selection when a cut-scene is playing, it doesn’t seem to be standard across games and you can be left straining your ears whilst trying to make sense of the scene.

Fortunately there are games that put some effort into their support for the feature. I’ll use three games as my examples; Burnout Paradise, Gran Turismo 5 and Wipeout HD. These games let you select the custom soundtracks as you would with any other game to support the feature, but then they significantly build upon the core functionality.

For example Gran Turismo 5 will let you only play it in the races if you want, something that it seems more games should pick up on. Burnout Paradise has the option to skip through the songs the same way you can with the game’s soundtrack, making it feel vastly more integrated into the game. This is such a simple touch but really does integrate them into the game more.

Finally, Wipeout HD applies effects to the music when you’re in a tunnel and when you’re low on health the music will go quiet. However, Wipeout HD features another concept that’s probably the one of the best uses of a custom soundtrack in a game. I’m talking about the Zone mode, where the track becomes a music visualiser. Although there are a few other games (mostly on PC) that let you import custom tracks in similar ways, it’s a nice addition to Wipeout.

[drop2]Obviously custom soundtracks are better suited to certain games, sports and racing titles already tend to have a licensed soundtrack rather then a score made for it; you’re not really going to lose much if you switch to a custom soundtrack. However, when I’m playing something like Uncharted 3 for the first time I will be listening to the magnificent soundtrack. The thing is, when I’m playing through the game for the second time on crushing I’m not going to be as invested in the game’s story or atmosphere. Having a custom soundtrack here would be nice, and perhaps setting it up as an unlockable for some games after you’ve completed would work well.

Another cool feature would be something that featured in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas but only on the original Xbox (and possibly the PC version). The game would pull songs at random from your hard-drive and use it on the in-game radio. It would even insert the fictional advertisements that Rockstar had created for the title.

While it would be nice to have custom soundtracks implemented in more games, most people don’t tend to use it or maybe don’t even know it’s there. Even of those who do, there’s the question of just how many take up their PS3’s hard-drive space with music. It’s understandable that developers don’t want to devote time and resources to a feature only a small portion of players will ever use.

However, I’ll keep hoping that more games add it to their feature list. I mean it’s nice to dream.

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21 Comments

  1. i love custom soundtracks, thats partly why I’m looking into getting a set of turtle beach px5’s since you can stream music to them via Bluetooth whilst you play and still here the game in a similer way to how in game bgm works, that and finally being able to use a mic for the uncharted meets!

  2. I’d love to be able to control music while playing a pc game, you can do that with a keyboard but its just a gaming one by Raaazer but I’m not sure if it would be on any common types?

    It’ll be great to see something like foobar2000 working with that, its memory is way lower than the most popular media players.

    • Practically any keyboard has multimedia keys nowadays, isn’t it?

  3. I’m not a big fan of custom soundtracks really, I used to use the frankly outstanding capabilities to do so on Wipeout, but then deleted the tracks due to lack of space, I find the original sound track is much better anyway, as is the case with most games. I might use custom a bit more, but my now old PS3 is full up with game data and saves. I’m more likely just to mute a game and put music on in the room if I’m honest.

    • I find my self doing that quite often with podcasts. As they are too long to play in game most of the time. And no way of resuming half through if I want to switch games.

      • I’ve actually put my WipEout soundtrack CDs on a bunch of other games – WipEout HD for one.

        Life imitating art?

  4. Totally agree with you

  5. Beat Hazard Ultra, although centered around custom soundtrack anyway, implemented it well and is fun!

    • It is alright though not very different between songs. Audiosurf on PC a brilliant game which varies a lot between songs.

  6. I have only got a bit of music of my HDD so don’t use custom soundtracks often. Could never figure out how to even do it on GT5. Used it on FIFA which I like and is easy. I can only see sports games having them as my own music in an action/adventure game would ruin the experience in my opinion.

  7. Some games lend themselves to custom soundtracks better than others. However, every multiplayer game should have the ability, which I find very enjoyable.

    Sony seem to have wised up to the idea, too, with the PS Vita having enough RAM to deal with this. That’s the main issue, really, RAM. GT5 lets you have either voice chat or custom music for this reason, and you have to take into account that people will want to be able to play music files that are at high bit rates and also very long. If you want a podcast in the background, they’re often 30-50MB in size, and a high quality movement from a symphony can easily hit 20MB too. That’s far bigger than your average frame buffer, and it all has to be accommodated. It’s 10MB chunk of RAM that can’t be used for other things, so has to really be mandated by the manufacturers that this memory is off limits to devs.

    • I thought the reason you can’t have voice chat and custom soundtrack online on gt5 was the fact they’re not licensed to broadcast music they don’t have a license to.

  8. I love the idea of custom sound tracks. But I totally agree it’s better suited to certain types of game. Wish I could’ve used it in Fallout 3. 100+ hours of gaming with a 3 hour soundtrack :/

    The other issue is: Why should I need to put the music on to the device I’m using? It’s 2012 ffs, can’t I just select my prefered music location on the network when I initially set up the console then never have to worry about it again?

    • I don’t even put the radio on in Fallout now, heard it all. I tend to turn it off and just load itunes up on my laptop.

    • Ugh RPGs are brilliant with your own music, I remember the day I discovered that Sacred 2 support music playback and was able to play Yngwie Malmsteen and Joe Satriani, so much awesome instrumental genius and er.. singing. Ended up playing for hours.

  9. I had a special playlist for ploughing through arcade mode on Super Stardust, and after a two hour session I’d have heard the same songs a few times over. Now when I hear those tracks it conjures up awesome memories of one of my favourite games on PS3.

    Also love the tunnel effect on Wipeout, or even better, when the the bass drops out on a big jump.

  10. This is where PC gaming wins, there is always the ability to just turn the music slider down and boot up itunes/winamp.

    Playing Beethovens Fifth while your full complement of Knights are charging straight for some fool Nords makes Mount & Blade that much more epic.

    I do love the custom soundtracks in GT5 but I wished they could be played constantly not stop and start when in the menus.

    • Very true, iTunes + Minecraft = Happiness.

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