Games On Vinyl: Too Much, Too Soon

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Summer of 2010 was an interesting time.  People were still excited for a mysterious new Metroid game titled Other:M, and the buzz around Kinect seemed almost never ending, a buzz that would lead to a massive early adoption that November. But the summer of 2010 also saw one of the more curious game releases of the last generation.

It was a movie tie-in created by Ubisoft. And with a recent catalog of Beowulf: The game, Surf’s Up, and James Cameron’s Avatar: The Game, it could have been easy to assume that this particular game would be bad almost upon arrival….But it wasn’t. Instead this game was created with an amount of love and care that went beyond the original movie. It in fact told the complete plot of the original source material with an eerie attention to detail. Minor inclusions and Easter eggs that only the most hardcore of hardcore fans would recognize. Ubisoft had infact made one of the greatest beat’em up RPGs and one of the best movie tie-in games of all time as a $15 budget title. I am of course referring to Scott Pilgrim VS The World: The Game for Xbox Live and PSN.

Though the game itself is now lost to the great server of time(I coined that term here first folks!) but one aspect of it still remains hot in the heart of gaming discussion, the soundtrack. Composed by chiptune band Anamanaguchi, the soundtrack has a fantastic mix of real instruments and chiptune sound from a modded gameboy.  The feelings of rock, techno, punk, and metal all collide together to create one of the more fresh soundtracks in gaming, and it still stands out as unique seven years later. This soundtrack was so popular on itunes that it got a physical CD release, even though the game was download only.

The soundtrack would reach the height of it’s popularity in 2014, when it received a limited run vinyl pressing for that year’s national record store day. It sold out almost instantly, and today it demands a hefty price on Amazon and eBay. The record itself is nothing special apart from being a neat translucent lime green.  As a record collector, I intentionally leave my copy on top of my turn table as a conversation starter and as a devotion to my love of the game and the original comic that inspired it.

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Scott Pilgrim on vinyl in 2014 was a cool novelty. Video game records were few and far between, in fact, the only other one I can recall existing at that time was an Australian Dreamcast record that was released as part of a promo to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the console. Games on record seemed like something that probably wouldn’t take off. This concept could not have been more wrong.

It’s been only three years since the Scott Pilgrim release and now it seems like a new video game record gets announced and released every day. Games like Pokemon, Mega Man, Castlevania, Earthbound, Super Mario Bros,  The Legend of Zelda, Killer Instinct, Sonic Mania, and even more recently(though admittedly more appropriately) Cuphead have all seen a vinyl release and many more are on the way. Some of these being officially licensed, and others not so much.

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Now there are two main problems with pressing a video game soundtrack to vinyl. One that requires a small amount of education on vinyl records, and the other being simple and relate able to anyone who’s avidly a part of gaming culture.

Let’s get the harder one out of the way first. Vinyl records are different than CD and MP3  formats because they are entirely analog recordings. The actual soundwaves of the audio get etched into hot vinyl, causing it to replay when spun quickly with a cold needle pressing down. This provides listeners with a near flawless reproduction of the song exactly as it was recorded in the studio, and also is the reason for the pops, cracks, skipping, and pleasing scratch sounds that records are infamous for making. The sound of an analog recording being played back by an analog format is considered by many audiophiles to be the purest form of music playback, and is the biggest reason for records staying around where other formats such as tapes and CDs have faded away.

Yet when it comes to most modern music, there is an issue with pressing them to record. As technology improved, music started being recorded digitally. This gave way to the new and unique sounds we can produce that were impossible back in the day as well as making the recording and editing process much easier. But a digitally recorded or produced song can never sound any different when pressed to vinyl, that is simply playing a digital recording in an obsolete analog format. When people play a record by a band like M83 or Daft Punk, they usually have already invested in a great set of speakers, which is why they believe they are hearing a difference in quality, though outside of potential pops and cracks, you are getting the same sound. Video game soundtracks are almost entirely recorded and produced digitally. Especially where games from the 8 and 16bit era are concerned. These midi files being pressed to vinyl does nothing for them except making them fatter and more cumbersome to store, you would get the same effect by playing the mp3 or OST disc from a good set of speakers. This ultimately makes 99% of video game soundtracks pointless to own on vinyl other than as a pure collector’s piece. And seeing as a good majority of gamers don’t even own a turntable, it’s likely that these mainly sell for such, but that also leads us into our second problem.

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It’s no secret to anyone that gamers love to collect things. Boxes, manuals, strategy guides, plush toys, high end figurines, shirts, glasses, posters, you name it and gamers collect it. Companies like Think Geek solely rely on this habit of ours. But whenever you see these items becoming hot, you instantly see an over saturation of it. Once Funko Pop figures became a hit, we saw a million knock offs of it. When Loot Crate started to see success, we saw a bunch of nerd related subscription boxes hit the market. When random, gacha style bags with a mini figure inside started getting popular, every Gamestop on the planet became littered with them. This over saturation always seems to make an originally fun product seem intrusive, and this always seems to happen overnight. And unfortunately, this is now happening to video game records.

What once seemed as a simple item for those who were both a fan of video games and a record enthusiast to enjoy has quickly become the new limited edition artbook. Almost every indie game seems to announced a vinyl soundtrack release to help boost sales, and I see a new vinyl release getting advertised on facebook almost every time I log on. What’s worse is that a lot of the time we see large groups of people arguing for a physical release of the game in question, only to be denied that, yet a vinyl edition of the soundtrack shows up.

Sonic Mania is especially guilty of this. Here was a highly anticipated game that was part of an intentionally household known series that did not get a physical retail copy despite getting a collector’s edition statue AND a release on vinyl. This was not only a slap in the face to the fans, it also destroyed the excuse that fear of low sales prevent a physical release. There is simply no way that a game disc(or cart) costs more than a plastic statue that comes with a gold ring, or a multi-disc vinyl pressing.

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We are currently in a spot where people are still amazed by the release of popular soundtracks on vinyl, amazed enough to overlook facts like Sonic Mania and Cuphead lacking physical release, but what will happen once every game gets the vinyl release? Will unsold, unwanted records take the spot of the dusty funko figures of that one character nobody liked from the obscure tv show that few people watched? Or will they litter bargain bins and trash cans like the millions of Prima guides that people seem to ignore as they print into eternal nothingness? Only time will tell, but this over saturation of the collector’s market is definitely happening in too high of a volume at way to fast of a pace. Unfortunately I can only see an impending crash occurring that will cause a few independent printing housed to close down. And as a vinyl fan, that idea hurts me deeply.