Just a quick post about one of the best soundtracks I’ve ever heard in a game. That said, Machinarium one of the best games I’ve played in years in terms of its art direction, animation, and general feeling of character. It’s suprisingly emotional for a game about cartoon robots, and the puzzles are wonderfully oblique after the adventure game tradition. I won’t rattle on about why I like the game. But the soundtrack…

I’m a musician myself, so it’s no suprise for you to learn that I’m a collector of game soundtracks. Last week I was reliving my final moments of Mass Effect 2 while driving to work, the week before I was – for some reason – driving to work with various mixes of  “Still Alive” from Mirror’s Edge on in my car. This week I will be engrossed in the ambience/folk/electronica/jazz of Tomáš Dvořák’s score for Machinarium.

It’s a score like this that makes me balk at Jonathan Blow’s comment that scores written for indie games are weaker. Perhaps it was from his own experience. From his blog:

I didn’t want to try and commission game musicians to make songs, especially with a very low audio budget — the result is just not the same emotionally, even if it’s a high quality song, because they aren’t invested in the same way. And even just a high-quality song is hard to get, because there are a lot of not-so-hot game musicians out there.

Of course Jonathan Blow operating in San Fransisco and Amanita being a Czech studio (allow me to drift off into a dreamland of cooky European artist types working for cigarettes and wine) could have something to do with it. Either way, Tomáš Dvořák (who also goes by Floex – which is handy since there are TWO Tomáš Dvořáks at Amanita, despite there only being about 10 people there!) has brought a wonderful new sound to game music. Listen to a few previews here, in particular Mr. Handagote, and The Glasshouse With The Butterfly. Beautiful. The music brings to life the dreary washed out world of the game, and taps into the perkyness of the character you play. The mix of natural acoustic instruments, and electonica are like aural signatures of the decayed world, and the out-of-date looking machinery. The general feeling of “world music” about the folky rythms only add to the feeling of a world alien to our own, without resorting to overbearing synths. It’s a masterclass in atmosphere, though it shouldn’t be suprising as Dvorak had his beginnings as a visual artist.

Also, I should add, the little robot meets a band.

I know it looks like a sax. It’s a clarinet.

Mike Dunbar