Virtual Insanities: Custom Soundtracks and Their Influence on Racing Behaviour

Here are some notes on what happened this week in gaming before we start with the actual subject of this column :

-How could they do this to me? Nintendo Power wrote in their magazine that the silver coins challenge in Diddy Kong Racing DS had been removed to make place for an all-new touch screen balloon-popping mini-game. I went out and bought the game anyway, but not without a bit of sadness in my eyes. When I actually started the adventure mode, there it was! My silver coins challenge was alive and well, but as an unlockable! I would like not to thank Nintendo Power for making me uselessly angry. Not that I’m nerdy enough to actually get mad about video games, but you know what I mean. Maybe a tad disappointed.

-Wii’s Virtual Console could turn out to be a real money muncher. I have been able to keep compulsive buying at bay for the moment, mostly with my still-plugged SNES and N64, but a lot of the games they put on there are pretty attractive for two reasons:

a) Nostalgia
b) Solid gameplay

The first category is for games like Urban Champion. I remember fighting back and forth using nothing but punches in the first game for what seemed like hours. My brother and I would laugh at the falling flower pots and the open manholes, but nowadays, it gets boring after about a minute and a half. The second category is for Super Mario 64 or A Link to the Past. Even after all these years, when you start them, you just can’t stop. The only conclusion to this is that Nintendo is going to make a lot of money. Nostalgia is always a big seller, or otherwise you wouldn’t be seeing kids going around in t-shirts with characters from “Transformers” on them. Solid gameplay will always be in. All that’s left to do is to be wise about your Virtual Console expenses. You can only play so many games of Baseball before it gets dull.

Test: Custom Soundtracks and Its Influence on Racing Behaviour

When I finally finished The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, I was wondering what game to go for next. With Excite Truck and Red Steel sitting on my shelf, I went for the game with a bit more story. Turns out that Red Steel, while not being awesome or anything, is still decent. I’ve had quite a bit of fun with it, but once I was done, Excite Truck really surprised me. You can read Widro’s review of it here.

One of the main selling points for the game, at least for me, was the inclusion of custom soundtracks. Having owned nothing but Nintendo consoles, this was a first for me. However, instead of simply putting all of my favorite songs on my SD card, I decided to dabble in different genres, just to see what it would be like to race to different sounds in the background. Indeed, some songs felt more right than others, while some simply felt out of place. Here are my conclusions.

Music to Bang Your Head To

To the suggestion of my friends, I included some classic metal/hard rock songs. The choices were “Overkill” by Motorhead, “Walk” by Pantera and “Paranoid” by Black Sabbath. Just as I expected, the songs are perfect to get that rush of adrenaline at the start of a course. You really feel pumped, ready to take on anything, but it doesn’t really work out that way.

Instead of focusing on getting the requisite stars to win the race, I screamed the lyrics like a madman, banged my head and spent the entire race smashing into everything, from other cars to trees and walls. Turns out that while that kind of music is incredibly effective to channel that hidden aggressiveness, it’s not nearly as good when it comes to focus and finishing first. Still I had a great time, but if you want to unlock everything, metal isn’t the way to go.

However, listening to that kind of music made me feel like kicking someone in the face, which would be perfect for any wrestling game, or better yet, a good round of Street Fighter 2 on the Virtual Console. It’s just a shame we’ll probably never see Killer Instinct released on that service. Damn, that game ruled, and nothing can be as fun as spiking someone through the chest with an ice pick as Glacius while “Crazy Train” plays.

Music to Bang Your Head To, But Slower

Even though rock failed the test, I did learn that a good guitar riff makes you want to go really fast. It gives you that feeling that makes you want to take on the entire world. Instead of banging my head, maybe punk and grunge would leave me a bit more focused on the action while providing some of that much needed boost in aggressiveness. The candidates were “I Wanna Riot” by Rancid and Sublime, “Liar” by Rollins Band and “Welcome to Paradise” by Green Day.

Yup, just as I thought, I still felt like kicking someone’s face in, although more slowly. The refrain from “Liar” is perfect to get that kind of attitude going. However, “I Wanna Riot” left me jumping on my seat, which is not great for motion-based control. That trumpet rhythm can be really infectious. However, the biggest surprise was Green Day. It looks like pop-punk has the power to make you wide awake without providing the violent feelings that Pantera seems to create in me. I managed to get through that Finland course that I otherwise couldn’t. Thank you, Billy Joe.

Up to now, Green Day seems to be a big winner. I know it’s not really “in” these days, mostly because of that “The Saints Are Coming” song with U2, but hey, it works.

Gangsta Stuff

Rap and Hip-Hop seems to be real popular in video games these days. Madden, NFL Street and the NBA games have rappers all over the soundtrack. If everybody is doing it, there’s got to be a reason, right?

Apparently, Excite Truck is NOT a game suited for the Hip-Hop culture. Once again using suggestions from my friends, I had “Wicked” by Ice Cube, “Gin and Juice” by Snoop Dogg and “How I Could Just Kill a Man” by Cypress Hill. While all the tracks were fine to listen to by themselves, my big truck felt like it belonged in a brand new edition of “Pimp My Ride” instead of racing in Fiji.

Later on, I tried the same music on my computer while playing GTA: San Andreas. Just as I thought, it felt more natural. Here’s your lesson. Rap and Hip-Hop will not help you win at Excite Truck. However, it’s perfect when CJ is riding a BMX.

What About Techno Music?

I remember listening non-stop to Prodigy, Chemical Brothers and Daft Punk during college to keep me awake during late night sessions of programming. Maybe it could have the same effect on a good run through Canada with a Razor truck.

Looks like I was right. “Breathe” by Prodigy makes you want to go real fast. That’s what caffeine would be like if it was a sound. “Robot Rock” by Daft Punk was perfect. No distracting lyrics to sing through, simply a great beat to race to. I didn’t even bother with The Chemical Brothers, because the first two songs were enough to finish getting my “S” grades on the Gold Cup.

I also tested techno music with other games. It was perfect while playing some Star Wars Battlefront 2 online. Something about shooting Stormtroopers while screaming “PSYCHO! SOMATIC ADDICT INSANE” just feels right. Just for fun, I also tried it while playing Animal Crossing Wild World. It was better than the awfully cute background music, and I really felt like taking a shovel to Tom Nook’s head for bothering me with the mortgage. This has to be in the Wii version.

Feel Like Making Love

Well, it looked like nothing could beat techno music. I thought I could continue the experiment, just for fun, so I loaded my SD card with some Barry White, Marvin Gaye and Leonard Cohen. Trust me when I say that Excite Truck never played so… sexy. The music didn’t really make a difference, but I really wanted a truck editor to outfit these babies with some velvet-covered seats and fuzzy dice hung to the mirror. I was left without any meaningful result, but somehow, it still felt right. Maybe I’m just a sick, sick person, but I now feel like every monster truck game should have “Sexual Healing” as part of its soundtrack.

Call Him Mr. Vain

With nothing else to do, I continued searching for random songs on my computer when I found some early-mid 90’s euro dance stuff: “Mr. Vain”, “Scatman” and “Be My Lover”. I know I said that techno music looked like it was the perfect music to race to, but euro dance is a late entry and a surprise winner. I couldn’t really tell why Excite Truck played better with Scatman John singing “patapatapa piiiiii papapa toto” in the background, but it did. Fortunately, I think I could analyze it enough to provide a satisfying answer.

For some reason, euro dance seems to have a hypnotizing power on people. When it plays at parties, people can’t help but shake their ass. They don’t really want to, but they do. Yet, even though they feel like climbing on the speakers, they don’t, because nobody has really danced to that kind of music since 1996. That’s exactly what happened when I played Excite Truck. You feel like jumping everywhere, but you have enough pride to stay still. After all, you don’t want to be seen moving your hips to that “Cotton Eye Joe” song. The result is a gamer that has enough energy to have his senses at their peak, yet calm enough to be in total control of them.

Gamers, it’s time to dust off those old “Much Music Presents Dance Mix 94” CD’s. “I Like to Move It” indeed.

In Closing

As if you didn’t already know, please note that the above test has no real scientific value. The songs and the game were only tested on one subject: me. In the end, it all comes down to what you prefer. I am not one to judge, so if Abba or Roxette is what makes you feel like driving a big truck through mud and snow, it’s fine with me. I’d really like to know what you guys listen to when you have the custom soundtrack option on a game, so you can leave your feedback by using the button at the bottom of this post, or by visiting the official Inside Pulse forums.

Let’s finish this with some hype for the next edition of “Virtual Insanities”. We have all heard different stories about Wii-related injuries and people trying to get back in shape by simply playing Wii sports. I will try to make everything clear once and for all. Next week, I will be interviewing a real medical student to know what really could happen when you play with your Wii. Stay tuned.