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.