How The Music Of 'The Adventure Zone' Ropes You In

How The Music Of 'The Adventure Zone' Ropes You In

From video games to podcasts, chiptunes never seem to die.

With the boom of video game creation in the 1980s came a surge of new music made entirely with old computer and gaming consoles known as "chiptunes." Those chirpy, electronic classics have developed from early arcade games like Space Invaders and Gameboy's Pokémon battle themes to modern synthpop and electronic music. As video games have advanced in technology and storytelling capabilities, though, this genre has become a rarity as the industry begins to lean on orchestral, cinematic soundtracks. Even so, the chiptune and electronic genres are still associated with video games, a fact that has led to some interesting developments in music composition for not only games, but everything from movies to, perhaps most effectively, podcasts.

Though certain music genres obviously lend themselves to certain stories, a few select storytellers have discovered the surprisingly effective technique of combining classic video game music with acoustic instruments. The strong ties chiptunes and electronic music have with video games encourage listeners to understand those sounds as fantastical, animated, and vibrant, while acoustic instruments, whether or not they are actually played in the song or are mimicked by the computer, sound grounded in reality. Combining these contrasting styles can result in sound that can be comforting, unsettling, and everything in between.

Though this use of conflicting styles has been around for years, it was brought further into the limelight with video games like Undertale. The popular 2015 RPG was praised for its soundtrack, which combined chiptune with a medley of genres to create a game fueled by nostalgia. Its chiptunes mimic standard video game battle themes, jazz, and breaking news stingers while acoustic instruments, mainly piano, accompany the chiptune in moments that the game needs to make an impact, whether that be establishing a safe haven in "Ruins" or evoking Asgore's sadness and reluctance to fight during the final battle in the bridge of "ASGORE." Though the acoustic instruments and electronic chiptune rarely play at the same time, composer Toby Fox's decision to use both lends the soundtrack heart and excitement.


This technique goes beyond video games, though. As chiptune has evolved with the creation of more advanced music technology, the combination of classic video game sounds with instrumentals has infiltrated everything from pop music to film soundtracks. Of all of its newest uses, though, it seems to have found a home most easily in podcasts. Music in podcasts is as much or more a part of the art as video game and film soundtracks, simply because it is a strictly auditory medium, so every sound counts that much more. In response to the weight music can add to a podcast, two of the most popular podcast creators of recent years have turned to the mixture of electronic and acoustic music. Joseph Fink's podcasts, Welcome to Night Vale and Alice Isn't Dead, both feature soundtracks by Disparition, who uses "electronic and acoustic instruments [...] fed by natural and unnatural sources. When used as intended, elements of this material may cause disintegration of categorical boundaries. Some processes are irreversible." Disparition's use of these two genres takes both of these soundtracks into the uncanny valley, right where these podcasts need to be in order to work.

The internet's other favorite podcasters, the McElroys, have also introduced this style of music to their storytelling. The Adventure Zone, an Actual Play Dungeons and Dragons podcast featuring the three brothers of My Brother, My Brother and Me and their dad, Clint, just finished its first campaign, the back half of which was accompanied by a soundtrack composed by the youngest of the brothers, Griffin. Though most of the music used in the show has transcended the name "chiptune" at this point, it is undoubtedly inspired by it and finds its beginnings in the same humble place. Using a Rock Band 3 controller, a cheap MIDI converter, and Garageband, Griffin started composing toward the end of the show's third arc in anticipation of the music he knew he wanted to incorporate into the fourth. The resulting initial soundtrack is mainly ambient music composed of 8-bit and electronic sounds. "I’m thinking of them less like theme songs, and more like radio stingers," he wrote in a Tumblr post after first introducing the music to the show. "I should mention that I have no idea what I’m doing and if everyone hates them I will immediately stop doing them, because I am an adult baby."

Obviously, everyone did not hate them, because they soon became an integral part of the show. As the next arc's soundtrack maneuvered between original melodies, Garageband loops, and vocaloids, a good portion drew from classic video game music. That's not entirely surprising, considering Griffin is a founding editor and Senior Video Producer at Polygon, Vox's gaming brand. When Griffin posted the song "See You Later" on Tumblr, he even wrote, "There’s some Secret of Mana and Super Mario World pianos in there, and I think Earthbound bass?" Chiptunes and electronic music naturally suggest new worlds, make-believe, and interactive stories because of their roots in video games, but the fact that the boys are literally playing a role-playing game on its own makes the decision to make the music sound like classic video game music seem like a straight line.

The thing is, Griffin never seems to want to stick to a single style. Within the same narrative arc, songs constantly flow between acoustic and electronic. Even "Oh Hey, It's Hodge Podge!," the most chirpy of the "Crystal Kingdom" arc's songs and possibly of the entire show, becomes a mixture of the two by the end. This blurred line between electronic and acoustic is exactly why the music of The Adventure Zone succeeds, though. Though every other composer obviously adds to their respective stories by finding a balance between these two styles, the line is not so blurred or essential that Undertale could not function if it was solely chiptune or Alice Isn't Dead couldn't without electronic. Moments in The Adventure Zone that are crafted with songs that span both genres like "Voidfish (Duet)," "The Purple Worm," and "Arms Outstretched," though, simply would not work in the same way if the music was not an amalgam of electronic and acoustic sounds. The duet between the Voidfish's electronic singing and Johann's harp just before the "Crystal Kingdom" arc begins actually put a lump in my throat once Johann sped up the Voidfish's song and turned it into something shocking and beautiful. "The Purple Worm" takes the acoustic drawl that so perfectly matched the ambience of the "Eleventh Hour" arc and cuts the bass with electronic beats and loops that back the arc's absurd conclusion. The entire "Suffering Game" album flits back and forth between chiptunes like "The Felicity Winds," ambient sounds like "The Wheel," acoustic tracks like "Battle Axe Proficiency," and club beats like "Wonderland - Round 1, 2 & 3," so when "Arms Outstretched" took each of those styles to form the music for the arc's climax it became one of the podcast's most moving moments.

Podcasts on their own are an interactive medium. The fact that they are an audio-only platform means that the audience must invest some of their own imagination as they listen. Video games by definition require audience interaction, too. In combining the implicit interactive nature of video games with the grounded, real-world attachment that comes with acoustic instruments like piano, harp, guitar, and drums, Griffin is able to back the podcast with music that inherently lends itself to getting the audience involved, provokes inventive, creative thought, and invites real emotion.

Cover Image Credit: read.macmillan.com

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It's only in our Darkness, that we see ourselves shine.

Those who fear the darkness have no idea what they can do.

When I look back... on the life I’ve had... I can honestly say, "I have lived"...
Rage has rocked my very core, Love has touched my soul, I’ve been lost and I’ve been found.
Faced my fear, and cried till dawn. I’ve rushed on the passion of life.
Both given and taken of life. Listened to the preaching’s of all, while looking for mine...
I’ve cried at the voices only heard in the silence... felt shivers in my soul while looking into the abyss.
Hung my head low, and held it high... I’ve run, and I’ve fought countless meaniless battles, of heart, flesh and soul.
I’ve frolicked in the mist with my demons, and felt the touch of angels.
I’ve spent years in prisons of mind and men. I’ve played the many hands life has had to offer...
It was never about win or lose; it was how I played the hand...
My dreams are all the same... to walk alone in the nightmares and smile...
Not all my lessons were learnt in the darkness, and the light... not always true.
My scars, tell not stories of my life, or the battles fought, but whisper my fears...
Though... I long for the for the love only my soul can feel, to float in a dream above my sorrow.
Some days there is no difference between what’s real and what’s not, and I don’t judge or care...
My soul is old, beneath my flesh. My mind a child. My heart just an echo in the tunnels of time...
All I really know... is my darkness, the kindest friend I’ve ever known...
Now I sit and ponder... do I want to go another round...?
How many more songs have I got left to sing ... and who cares to hear what I have to say.
When tears roll down my cheeks, it’s only the darkness weeping, that I might go.
I am no fool, a joker, a sinner, never a saint.
But I will take this time to heal my battered soul.
To prepare for battle, one more fight...
Not for victory or glory... vanity was never my flaw...
But I think... just to befriend the light as I did my darkness...
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20 Disney Channel Original Movies That You HAD To See As Soon As It Came Out

You know you still have a soft spot for #11.

My friends and I were having a movie night and like many other movie nights before we couldn't decide on what we should watch. We scrolled through Netflix for what seemed like forever until I remembered that I had some Disney Channel Original Movies through an app my Dad set up. This opened up a whole new ball game because we all grew up watching these movies. I got to the app and started looking at all of them.

My friends and I were reminiscing about the movies we had seen when we were younger.

To people that may not know, a Disney Channel Original Movie (or DCOM for short), is a movie that was aired on Disney Channel and was not ever in a theater. Here is a list of the top DCOMs.

1. "Double Teamed" (2002)



Who doesn't love twin girl athletes originally wanting to do different things but both ending up playing basketball?

2. "Right On Track" (2003)

A sister movie where they are trying to be better than each other at racing. There's nothing wrong with some sibling competition is there?

3. "Quints" (2000)

After this movie, I was definitely glad I didn't have any younger siblings, especially not five.

4. "Cadet Kelly" (2002)

Cadet Kelly wanted me to join a military school; however, I know I definitely wouldn't have survived.

5. "Pixel Perfect" (2004)

Making a robot girl that is practically perfect? Yes, please! This movie also inspired me to want to learn how to do a one-handed cartwheel, which I did.

6. "The Cheetah Girls" (2003)

Every young girl and her friends would sing along to these songs and pretend to be them. And let's be real, the other two weren't as amazing as the first, especially after Raven, left.

7. "The Zenon Trilogy" (1999, 2001 & 2004)

Who didn't want to live in space after watching these movies?

8. "You Wish!" (2003)

I definitely know I wanted to wish on a lucky coin that I didn't have any siblings, but after this movie, I'm very glad I never did in case it actually came true.

9. "Starstruck" (2010)

It's every girl's dream to fall in love with a dreamy poster, and the song "Something About the Sunshine" is so catchy, and I have it on a Spotify playlist and have no regrets about jamming to it in the car.

10. "Twitches/Twitches Too" (2005 & 2007)

I definitely wanted a twin that was also a witch after watches these movies.

11. "High School Musical 1 and 2" (2006 & 2007)

These don't need explaining. If you haven't seen them or at least heard about them, then you probably live under a rock. I just wish high school was really like this. Also, "High School Musical 3" was also amazing but did not make the list because it was technically not a DCOM since it was released in theaters.

12. "Lemonade Mouth" (2011)

This one is pretty new, but it made me want to get detention to potentially meet my future bandmates even though I have no musical abilities.

13. "Gotta Kick It Up!" (2002)

If this movie didn't have you shouting "Si se Puede!" then you didn't appreciate it enough.

14. "Get A Clue" (2002)

This made me want to be a spy more than I already wanted to be one as a child. Solving crimes with your best friends sounded like a very great time.

15. "Smart House" (1999)

Winning a house that could talk to you and listen to what you told it? Seems like a dream come true, until the house gets a little too attached.

16. "Eddie's Million Dollar Cook-Off" (2003)

Baseball or cooking? Waiting to see what Eddie chose was a nail-biter.

17. "Camp Rock 1 & 2" (2008 & 2010)

A movie with songs that made you get up and dance and want to go to summer camp.

18. "Descendants 1 & 2" (2015 & 2017)

These movies are really new so, not many people that are over the age of 10 have heard of them, but I thoroughly enjoyed them. They have really catchy songs even if they are pretty cheesy.

19. "Jump In!" (2007)

Who doesn't love Corbin Bleu jumping rope?

20. "Stuck In The Suburbs" (2004)

Another movie where a teenager gets befriends a dreamy pop star. Come on why couldn't that happen in real life? I'd totally be down to be best friends with Justin Bieber. DCOMs will always have a special place in my heart.

Cover Image Credit: YouTube

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