Welcome to Morning Music, Kotaku’s daily hangout for folks who love video games and the cool-arse sounds they make. Today we’re listening to the Atari Jaguar game that sounded like a rave at a llama ranch, Jeff Minter’s psychedelic retro update Tempest 2000.
Since 1994’s ill-fated Atari Jaguar was billed as a 64-bit Interactive Multimedia System, it sure was strange how a bunch of its games, including 3D shooter pack-in Cybermorph, had next to no music. Jag players often found themselves playing their fancy new high-tech video games accompanied by nothing but sound effects. Maybe this was due to low developer buy-in, the expensive cost of cartridge ROM, lack of spare CPU power, or the Jaguar’s rather barebones, DIY approach to sound generation? Probably all of these, and other reasons besides.
But one game famously pushed against that tide and made its reputation on not just cutting-edge, LSD-inspired visuals, but a thumpin’, no-compromises techno soundtrack to match. That was 1994’s Tempest 2000 (playlist / longplay / VGMdb), and it sounded like this:
Atari / iamspider (YouTube) [This first track didn’t make it into the final Jag game, actually!]
Techno, in my Jaguar? It’s more likely than you think. And that’s probably thanks to the game being the brainchild of Jeff Minter, noted ungulate lover, chemical enthusiast, and eccentric game programmer. Minter — who would later supply visuals for a NIN video — was no stranger to the pulsing beats of EDM, so why not use them to complement a psychedelic update of Dave Theurer’s 1980 vector-graphics arcade hit Tempest on a brand-new console from Atari?
It all sounds very unlikely, but that’s what happened! Why not indeed.
Tempest 2000 turned out to be the closest the Jaguar ever got to a critical success, so despite not really grokking how it actually played, I duly purchased a copy on recommendation from all the magazines. Turns out, it was not really my thing: I am not much of a Tempest fan! But the game’s face-melting A/V spectacle was enough to delay that realisation for a while, and the energetic, sample-heavy soundtrack helped keep me coming back for more. (Ah, so this was that “techno” I’d read so much about…)
In truth I wasn’t very good at the game, which can seem very lengthy when you’re not that interested in sliding around the rim of a wireframe web taking potshots at wiggly clumps of polygons. As a result, I have just a few of the game’s half a dozen or so tracks seared into my brain. In addition, the soundtrack album that’s the basis for today’s playlist features another six tracks that didn’t make it into the Jag release, apparently due to cartridge size constraints. Guess I was wrong to say no compromises; all those impressively clear samples didn’t come cheaply.
Atari / iamspider (YouTube)
The first area’s “Mind’s Eye” feels like the obvious classic to me, complete with its memorable “Television is the retina of the mind’s eye” sample, a slight misquote of a great line from David Cronenberg’s 1983 body-horror fest Videodrome. I’d never heard anything so intense coming out of a Genesis or SNES, that’s for sure. The bonus stage track “Glide Control” stood out too, the soothing accompaniment to a relaxing interlude floating along the surface of a cosmic Jovian river. You know, as one does.
Nostalgia picks aside, Tempest 2000’s music is an interesting sampling of early-mid ‘90s video game electronica, of about the same vintage as, say, that famous Mortal Kombat track that got played everywhere for a few years. It’s definitely evocative of its time! Music credits go to Imagitec Design’s Ian Howe, Alastair Lindsay, Kevin Saville, and Julian Hodgson, who apparently also composed for Minter’s Defender 2000, which, having realised the Jag had no clothes, I skipped out on. Here’s a sample of that game’s music in action, if you’re curious like I was.
That’s a wrap for today’s Morning Music! Is television really the retina of the mind’s eye? (Scarier, is Facebook?) Maybe it doesn’t really matter if the phrase just sounds cool, which it does. How you doing? Let’s catch up in the comments. See ya tomorrow!