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Music in Gaming

Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker

by Damon Bradshaw
Oct 02,2002

 

Music In Gaming

Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker

I have to admit that I'm biased. The Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker soundtrack is one of my favorite CDs. It's got the perfect combination of the things that I find enjoyable in a musical experience. I really enjoy neoclassical music, electro-industrial elements mixed together with classical symphonic, but beyond the style of the actual sound of the music, the movements have tension, an epic feeling, appropriate scenic and choreographic elements, a thematic drive that really vaults the listener (and watcher) into what's going on in the movie.

In other words, it makes perfect music for gaming.

I think most importantly, the reason that it could make such good game music, is that it's fairly generic. The Batman Beyond Main Title (the descending sequence that's prevalent in the animated series opening, a creative visual treat that is over all too soon) recurs in a few places, but unlike Elfman's Batman Movie/TAS theme, it's not quite as easily recognizable.

Aside from a few melancholy symphonic tracks and an occasional character motif (which are quite good, and could even serve a game scene well), the BB:RotJ soundtrack is pure action, quite reflective of the series, which I found enjoyable in its few seasons. If you aren't familiar with the series, I won't burden you with a clumsy summary; there are plenty of websites that can fill you in quite nicely.

Obviously, this sort of music is going to suit a cyberpunk or futuristic game well, because of the electronic and industrial style. Gotham City in the Batman Beyond world is very gritty and industrial, and the composer has captured the theme perfectly.

This soundtrack was composed by Kristopher Carter, a member of Shirley Walker's music team (whose name you may recognize from past Batman animated series soundtracks). I am slightly curious why she had nothing to do (apparently) with this album, but I am by no means complaining about the end result.

The production values on the soundtrack are outstanding. Listen for some cool stereo effects in the synth lines and sample looping, and the orchestra blends perfectly with the electronic sequencing. (Incidentally, the orchestra is made up of members of the American Federation of Musicians, Local 47 [Los Angeles], "the finest film score musicians in the world," or so the album jacket tells me.)

Carter even throws in a few allusions to previous incarnations of Batman music. Listen for some "WHAM!" and "POW!" horn hits. Nelson Riddle would be proud.

There are 14 tracks on this CD. They are named for action that is taking place during the corresponding scene. As such, the names may contain phrases that could spoil the movie for you if you haven't seen it (much like the "Qui-Gon's Noble End" fiasco from the Phantom Menace soundtrack). Read ahead at your own risk, but honestly, it's really nothing that you couldn't figure out for yourself, I mean, usually the good guys do win, right?

* 1. Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker (Main Title) [2:10] This track is maybe too short for use in gaming. It's very main title-y (and has a cool opening credit sequence in the movie), and has the Batman Beyond theme, although souped up a bit. I love the wailing guitar, and the horn sequence toward the end of the track really gives the whole piece some powerful classical kick. It's quintessential "badass" music; the slow tempo and dirty bassline make it what I like to call "strut music," for obvious reasons.

Most of the tracks on the CD are in the order that they appear in the movie, except for this one, and the second one...

* 2. Industrial Heist [3:48] The heist scene kicks off the movie with a bang. This track definitely has some "set on loop" potential for games.

It starts with a sort of sneaky tension, and about 1:10 in Batman shows up to kick some tail with an obvious thematic shift. From there it goes into back and forth rock 'em sock 'em action, alternating between symphonic and electronic parts. (Listen for a BLAM! horn hit at around 2:50) The track climaxes with a tumultuous variation on the Main Title, where Batman swan dives and free falls down a big hole in the floor. It's cooler than it sounds.

Despite the first minute or so being a bit laid-back, the driving tempo and crunchy guitar makes Track 2 ripe for fight scenes, and indeed that's exactly what the composer had in mind.

* 3. Meet The Joker [2:47] This is a seriously tense mood piece with lots of industrial noise and spooky, airy synth. About halfway through, it changes gears a bit, into gritty slow 'n' low "needless exposition/Listen to my demented ramblings" music that is perfect for The Joker to pace to. It is also pretty short, and may be good for setting some dark mood or reverse choreography, but otherwise probably won't be appropriate for much, game-wise.

* 4. Joker Crashes Bruce's Party [1:19] Again, a very short track, but it moves right along, and could be a good "set on loop" track for butt-kicking scenes in your game. It is consistent and generic, other than a quick recap of the Main Title in the intro.

* 5. Terry Relieved of Duty [1:54] To me, Batman, in every form, has been about a sense of duty. From the campy 60s West & Ward series, to Frank Miller's Dark Knight interpretation, to all the Animated Series' (and yes, even the live-action movies), Batman is driven by a tortured sense of duty.

This track is a heart-wrenching manifestation of that duty. It is all minor orchestra, with some elements of hope thrown in with a tremendous brass solo about halfway through. (What instrument is that? Someone help me out!)

You'd need a very specific type of scene to get some good game use out of this piece, but it's possible. It'd be a good track to have handy if you ever came upon an appropriate moment in your game, otherwise, just enjoy the pretty music.

* 6. Nightclub Fight/Terry Rescues Bruce [4:39] This is by far one of my favorite tracks. It's the longest on the CD, and plays out as a sort of mini-symphony, with completely separate thematic movements.

It starts with an interestingly syncopated metal piece, punctuated with some gnarly electric drill screams and short bumpy synth interludes. Good fare for a fight or action scene. At 2:20 the tone of the piece totally changes into tense, panicked, "worry music," with a very cool orchestral line following along. Just after 3:00, the worry climaxes into a crestfallen orchestral sequence.

The changes in theme make this track perfect for reverse choreography. They are deliberate and abrupt, and cues should pop out like sore thumbs. Listen to this one a few times, and see what sort of action sequence you can come up with.

* 7. A Trap For Tim [1:26] This one is an exposition accompaniment for the start of a very cool flashback scene. It starts with a mournful reference to Elfman's Batman theme, then goes into Robin's theme from the Animated Series, followed by some tense "frantic searching" music, to end on a cliffhanger. A neat little orchestral piece, but probably too short and jumpy for use in a game.

* 8. Joker Family Portrait [2:05] Boy, this track is... interesting. It starts off with a 50s sounding "Welcome to our beautiful showroom floor!" theme, complete with pizzicato strings and fanfare-ish horn. It flows into the Joker's theme played by a mellow muted trumpet, but at 1:20, gets just plain freaky! Dissonant, screechy guitars and disturbing synth... It's totally Joker, and totally appropriate. For those of you who know the movie, there is a startling revelation in this scene.

It may be appropriate for staging something with some reverse choreography. Listen and see.

* 9. Arkham Mayhem [331] This is another all-around useful track, except for the last 30 seconds or so, which get melancholy and mournful.

The first minute builds slowly with some menacing symphonic elements vaguely reminiscent of the Throne Room theme from Return of the Jedi. At 1:00 it changes into some good epic sounding "clashing with the evil baddie" music. This continues until the ending part, which pooters out into sadness.

Aside from the end, this track definitely has some "set on loop" potential.

* 10. Batman Defeats the Jokerz [1:36] Short, but non-stop, guitar heavy, drum heavy, thrash-the-bad-guys music that's perfect for a fight scene. Set this one on loop and let your players kick some tail.

* 11. Joker Meets His End (Again) [4:21] More great fight scene music. At 1:25, the tone changes from guitar driven "buttkicking" music to good old fashioned, quintessential movie climax accompaniment. It does have a few thematic changes, which could make it a good track for reverse choreography, but personally, I think that this one will amaze you with its gestalt. Turn it on and watch the changes match up with your action. Perfect for a final fight scene in your game.

* 12. Healing Old Wounds [2:03] This is a touching piece that wraps up the movie nicely. The scene it accompanies has what I think is one of the coolest lines from a movie, ever, spoken by Bruce Wayne.

The track really has an "I'm alright, you're alright, we're all safe now, the bad stuff is over, let's all go home" feel, which could make it good for a denouement scene in your game.

The last 20 seconds throws you into a hope-filled "I'm still a badass" recap of the Main Title theme, with the Miller-esque scene of Bats crouching atop a skyscraper, overlooking Gotham City with fierce determination; a perfect ending to a good movie.

* 13. Crash [3:26] This is a collaborative effort between Mephisto Odyssey and Static X, and, interestingly enough, is not the same mix that appears in the movie. Listen carefully during the dance club scene for a more electronic, dance-y version. Also, it's different than the track on the Mephisto Odyssey album, "The Deep Red Connection," and the very cool music video, which has piano instead of guitar, some more samples, and isn't quite as fast.

I like this version better. Static X is one of my favorite music groups, and Wayne's voice combined with the programming genius of Mephisto Odyssey's Mikeal Johnston make for a pretty darn cool track. I think the guitar here is by Koichi Fukada (at least that's him in the video); Static X's ex-guitarist/programmer.

My one question... "Hope she don't crash"? Who was writing these lyrics and where did they go to grammar school? Regardless, it's a good song.

* 14. Batman Beyond: Return of The Joker (End Title) [3:02] This is a slightly longer version of the Main Title, with guitarist Kenny Wayne Shepherd playing the lead line. I don't know much about the guy, but I gotta say this: he can move those fingers.

I don't like this version quite as well as the Main Title, because much of the horn line has been mixed out, to make room for KWS and his angst-y solo. However, without the horn line, you can hear some more of the electronic synth line that accompanies the bass (perhaps it's not present in the Main Title version?), the sort of thing that you don't really notice when it's playing, but you would notice if it wasn't there. That is the kind of attention to detail that makes me love this soundtrack so much. You could definitely do worse than to buy this CD, even if you're not going to use it for gaming.

Next time, I'll be back to talk about the Conan movie music and its composer, Basil Poledouris. In the meantime, I'd love to hear about your gaming experiences with any of the Batman soundtracks and any successes you've had or interesting ideas you may have to enhance the use of music in gaming. Drop me a line at Damonicus@NOSPAMexcite.com, or just post in the forum below. Game on.

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