It's hard not to feel a little bit sorry for SimCity's menu music. The jaunty theme plays every time I start (or attempt to start) the game. It accompanies the loading window that precedes the game's proper main menu.
It's meant to be a lighthearted entrée to the game. And it would've been, if the dang thing worked. Unfortunately, if you're one of the many who have spent the past week blocked out of the game due to server failure, the menu music becomes the Official Theme Song For Feeling Inconvenienced And Annoyed.
The video above, which I recorded last night, shares a scenario familiar to anyone who's been trying to play SimCity over the past week. What's remarkable is that if you close your eyes and forget that you're staring at an annoying waiting screen, the music itself is quite nice. In fact, there are several possible pieces of music that can play — the game seems to select from a handful of tracks, just to change things up. Clearly, care has gone into this aspect of the experience.
The music Chris Tilton has written for SimCity serves a fascinating function in the game itself, and while I'm not sure I like all the ways it's been implemented (it often feels a bit crowded, and could breathe more), I like the compositions themselves quite a bit. Tilton uses a lot of the same whimsical, plunging arpeggios he's gotten so much mileage out of while writing music for Fringe, and effectively repurposes his favourite harmonic curlicues for a more atmospheric, versatile setting.
But the music, particularly the menu music, has been irrevocably marred by the company it keeps. As I lumber into my second week unable to play the game consistently (It sounds like the game has become vastly more playable for most, but I'm still kicked and locked out on a regular basis), the music has become a maddeningly cheery death-march. It's the video-game equivalent of Disneyland's "It's a Small World" theme, hounding me as I swallow my frustration and give the stupid thing one more, one more, one more try.
Menu music has a unique, fascinating role. It doesn't accompany action, or drama, or romance — it's just there to keep you company as you click through settings and control options. But it's a big part of a game's first impression, and if done well, it can be wonderful and iconic. Some menu compositions go on to become a game's most memorable music.
So it's a shame to see menu music this well-composed and aesthetically pleasing laid low by disastrous server problems. Kind of like the game itself, come to think of it.