Vinyl Records, CDs, DVDs, Blu-rays

Creative Packaging

by Admin

Games Without Frontiers


During the early 80s home computing boom, flexi discs full of data were briefly all the rage, and Frank Sidebottom, the Thompson Twins and the Stranglers made their way to the ZX Spectrum

From the 1970s until the early 1980s, vinyl records were explored as a means of storing computer data – including video games. Some magazines packed flexi disc inserts into their pages, that could be fed into home computers from an ordinary turntable, magically manifesting a game on screen. There was a coming together of a game developer, a magazine and a pop act that marked the beginning of the intersection between the music and games industries.

The Thompson Twins Adventure Game came cover-mounted on a 1984 issue of the beloved magazine Computer & Video Games, the first UK magazine devoted to games. Almost everyone involved in the project – a promotional item linked to the release of the single Doctor Doctor – admits the game was imperfect. It was a weird text adventure with incidental visuals, in which the members of the Thompson Twins had to locate the ingredients of a potion to be made by the song’s eponymous medic. The idea was that readers could load the disc from a turntable linked directly to a Spectrum, or copy the audio on to a cassette, which could then be used to load the game on a Spectrum or Commodore. Getting the recording level right could take multiple attempts, as users experimented with audio settings, and some of the disks got damaged as they dangled exposed on the cover.

The earliest documented effort to put games on to vinyl actually came earlier, from US electronics company RCA, which in the early 1970s experimented with vinyl records as a data storage format, and is believed to have used games to prototype the format internally. At least one example survives, in storage at the Sarnoff Collection technology museum. Meanwhile, Atari Archive curator and game historian Kevin Bunch identified an RCA internal memo at the Hagley Library and Museum listing records as a data format dated 2 July 1973. RCA had been working since the 1960s on “capacitance electronic discs” – a vinyl-like, stylus-read video format that ultimately lost out to the brief reign of the LaserDisc.

It was the rise of home computing in the 1980s, and the boom in computing magazines that went with it, that opened the doors for flexi disc games to go public. They let magazines put the code in the grooves of records, freeing up valuable pages from “type-in programs” – hundreds of lines of printed code for the reader to painstakingly type out and run on a computer. That’s what game vinyls were at a fundamental level: a program sheet of code stored as binary data in a record, readable by an ordinary stylus.

The first published data vinyl was given away with the September 1978 issue of Interface Age magazine, which coined the term “floppy ROM” for it. On its A side was a dress pattern, readable by an Apple II computer. A year later, Dutch magazine Elektor released a version of the board game Mastermind as a floppy ROM, followed by other disks containing the likes of Battleships and Four-in-a-Row.

Soon after, floppy ROMs reached the UK. A 1982 issue of Your Computer magazine debuted a single-sided flexi disc containing Othello for the Sinclair ZX81. According to an article in that issue of the magazine, the team working out how to cut the master for the disk did so between takes of a Tight Fit record at Pye Records’ London recording studio.

At that point musicians, publishers and game-makers became fascinated with the idea of distributing games with music, whether on vinyl or audio cassette, which was the format games were most commonly stored on at the time. In 1983, Shakin Stevens’ confused his fans by including a track titled The Shaky Game for the Sinclair ZX Spectrum 48k on the UK cassette edition of his album The Bop Won’t Stop. The following year, the Stranglers’ keyboardist Dave Greenfield coded his own game, Aural Quest, supported by developer Mike Turner. It was featured as a bonus track on the cassette version of the band’s album Aural Sculpture. Meanwhile, when Ocean Software released its Frankie Goes to Hollywood game on the ZX Spectrum, it came with an exclusive live audio recording of Relax.

In 1983, one artist released a quite remarkable 7” single. Chris Sievey, who would go on to be known as Frank Sidebottom, was both a passionate coder and a synth-pop performer. His single Camouflage packed its B-side with ZX81 programs, including a self-coded rudimentary graphical music video for the song, a sci-fi railway game called Flying Train, and an alternative version titled LT. The video was perhaps the standout, and is billed as “The World’s First Computer Promo”. … a music video for the ZX81 coded by Chris Sievey, AKA Frank Sidebottom, on the B-side of his 1983 single Camouflage.

Also of note was ex-Buzzcock Pete Shelley’s 1985 solo LP XL-1, which included a computer promo video for the entire album in its grooves.

In the early 1980s, games being launched on vinyl seemed the stuff of science fiction, now it seems utterly anachronistic. However, some four decades later, we are seeing Stormzy cut a video in Watch Dogs Legion, Diplo appear in FIFA 21, the Block by Block West festival, and playful rave outfits such as Crush Radio mixing video games and banging donks on Twitch. Meanwhile, lavish heavyweight vinyl releases of game soundtracks have become common, with a considerable number of labels focused on committing game music to wax. The Thompson Twins Adventure Game was a pioneering moment in the relationship between games and music: it showed what was possible, even if it was far from easy to actually play.

Over the past three decades or so, it’s the music that soundtracks video games which has reached cinematic heights . That has been particularly evident through the curation of orchestrated performances of some of the gaming world’s best original sound tracks (OST), such as the renowned touring orchestra known as the Symphony of the Goddesses. This massive undertaking employs dozens of talented musicians, who recreate the songs heard throughout the Legend of Zelda series into movements accompanied by footage from those same games. So, for example, when they perform the legendary (no pun) “Hyrule Field,” you’ll see Link traversing the field in its many incarnations. And you’ll do so alongside hundreds of other Zelda fanatics, as these shows often sell out or come damn near close to it.

This is all to say that video game soundtracks are most definitely a “thing”.  Hiroshi Kawaguchi’s chill beats from Out Run got stuck in your brain all summer while you couldn’t help but get hype fighting bad guys to Yuzo Koshiro’s Streets of Rage bangers. And what of the pure joy of Grant Kirkhope’s Banjo-Kazooie tunes? These OSTs and others have found a new life not just on YouTube but on vinyl, as merch purveyors such as Mondo and iam8bit realized that nostalgia sells.

It’s not just nostalgia, though, because there are plenty of modern soundtracks that deserve love, too. Hell, there are plenty of soundtracks from the past 30 years or so, but here is a top 10, released on vinyl -

  1. Yuzo Koshiro: Streets of Rage (1 or 2)

  2. Koji Kondo: The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

  3. Gustavo Santaolalla: The Last of Us

  4. Grant Kirkhope: Banjo-Kazooie

  5. Hiroshi “Hiro” Kawaguchi: Out Run

  6. 65daysofstatic: No Man’s Sky

  7. Nobuo Uematsu: Final Fantasy VII

  8. Jake Kaufman: Shovel Knight

  9. Kenichi Matsubara & Satoe Terashima: Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest

10. Disasterpeace: Hyper Light Drifter

In the 70’s and 80’s, the UK was such a fertile and inventive playground for video games at a time when the music industry was also very inventive, part of a revolution that was going to bring change in the world. And here we are today, we are seeing Stormzy cut a video in Watch Dogs Legion, Diplo appear in FIFA 21, the Block by Block West festival, and playful rave outfits such as Crush Radio mixing video games and banging donks on Twitch. Meanwhile, lavish heavyweight vinyl releases of game soundtracks have become common, with a considerable number of labels focused on committing game music to wax. The Thompson Twins Adventure Game was a pioneering moment in the relationship between games and music: it showed what was possible, even if it was far from easy to actually play.

 

Adapted from blogs by Will Freeman and Andrew Martin 

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