(Topic ID: 249630)

Does anyone else feel like modern pinball music and sound is lacking?

By mystman12

10 months ago

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  • 58 posts
  • 42 Pinsiders participating
  • Latest reply 10 months ago by jonnyo
  • Topic is favorited by 1 Pinsider


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Topic poll

“How do you feel about the sound packages in most pins released today?”

  • I think they're fantastic, I love today's pinball soundtracks! 31 votes
  • I think they're pretty good overall, on par with what we've heard in the past. 11 votes
  • I think they're pretty average, but they get the job done. 15 votes
  • I think they're pretty disappointing, and could definitely be a lot better. 15 votes
  • I think they're absolutely horrible and hate them!!! 3 votes

(75 votes)

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#1 10 months ago

There's a TLDR and a link to a great blog post by composer Brian Schmidt on the importance of sound integration in pinball at the end of this post

Maybe it's just me, but I've always found it much harder to get into modern pins than a lot of the older games from the 80s and 90s. I've kind of wondered why for a while, but I think I've finally figured it out. It's the music and sound design. I realized that most modern pinball machines seem to have pretty average sound packages compared to a lot of what was being made a few decades ago. Does anyone else feel this way? For example, while I often find myself bobbing my head and humming along to the music on my Mousin' Around, the music in many modern games just becomes background noise that I don't really notice. Now, I don't think this is due to a lack of effort from the composers and sound designers in pinball today, but I feel like the things that make for good pinball music were kind of forgotten at some point. I'm not a musician, so I don't really know much terminology or music theory, but I'm going to try and offer some constructive criticisms on what I think is lacking in most modern pinball sound packages and how I feel things can be improved. With pinball rules, designs, animations and technology all being the best it's ever been, I would love nothing more to see music and sound be the best it's ever been as well.

Also, to be clear, I'm not referring to the audio quality or fidelity here. Obviously today's pins have much higher *quality* audio, but that doesn't necessarily mean the music and sound design is better.

1. First off, I think the biggest problem I've noticed is that a lot of modern pins aren't given soundtracks that *fit* pinball.
Look at Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit for example. LotR has a low quality audio system where the music is MIDI and callouts are fuzzy, while the Hobbit has a really nice modern audio system with an epic orchestral score by Two Steps from Hell... And yet, LotR has (In my opinion) the better pinball sound package. Emphasis on "pinball," because objectively speaking, yes, I think The Hobbit probably has a better score, but it doesn't really matter how much better it is if it doesn't work for pinball. The Hobbit's often slow, orchestral music doesn't fit the constant flow of pinball, and the lack of a clear melody on most tracks makes all the modes kind of meld together. I love getting one of the few modes with unique music because suddenly it feels like I've actually done something to change the state of the game.

Meanwhile, Lord of the Rings, despite the dated technology, has the more satisfying and more memorable sound package. Chris Granner has an incredible understanding of what makes good pinball music, and LotR is a great example. He took the film soundtrack, and created new pieces of music based on the iconic melodies of the film, ensuring each track remained fairly up-beat while also making sure each track fit the intensity of whatever mode it went with. Whenever you start a mode in LotR, the entire mood of the game changes to reflect that, but the music always fits the constant flow of pinball.

The same complaint applies to games like Stern Star Trek, Stern Star Wars and even the new Jurassic Park from what I've seen and heard. I don't want to listen to the Star Wars theme or the Jurassic Park theme while I play pinball. They're great pieces of music for sure, but they weren't written for a fast paced game like pinball. Some recent games that I do think have good pinball music are Total Nuclear Annihilation, Wizard of Oz, Ghostbusters, and I can't really knock any of Stern's band pins either considering you couldn't really do those soundtracks differently and rock music fits pinball pretty well.

2. Another thing I've noticed is that many modern games don't really do much to ramp up excitement.
I was just playing ACDC on The Pinball Arcade, and suddenly I started a multiball mode, and there was no build-up, the music didn't change, it just started multiball. If you start something like multiball, that should be exciting! It shouldn't just start with someone saying "Something multiball!" Then there are some games that try to ramp up excitement, but just don't do it that well. I think Dialed In! is a good example of this. The way multiball starts in that game is just kind of... meh. You shoot the phone, then a guy thanks you for using D.I.E (Something like that, I can't remember exactly what he says and I can't find any videos without someone talking over the game or skipping the multiball start), then you get an animation of some monorails travelling at fairly normal speeds with the text "multiball" coming on-screen, and then as the balls come out you hear a low-voice say "Now you're dialed in!" but at this point it doesn't really add much since the balls have already been released. Compared to a similar multiball start sequence like the one in Whirlwind, there's very little suspense or buildup. I think Dialed In's multiball start would be a lot more exciting with a few simple changes. Ditch the guy who answers the phone, or at least make him say something funny or exciting. When you shoot the phone, stop the music. Show a cutscene of the monorails going berserk and speeding up due to the phone's chaos, and play the "Now you're dialed in!" clip during this cutscene. Play some music or a rising tone to raise the excitement as the monorails speed up, kind of similar to the Addam's Family multiball start. Once the "dialed in" quote is complete, cut to a shot outside the subway station, and make the game silent for a few short moments. Then, have the monorails come flying out of the tunnel one-by-one in sync with the balls being launched onto the playfield. I think a sequence like that would be a lot more exciting than what we have now (I haven't played a DI in a while, so if updates have improved this, my apologies. Also, if anyone a JJP is reading this... Feel free to use the idea. ).

On a similar note, why do so many games do nothing more than just a "Jackpot!" callout when getting jackpots? It would be nice if we could getting something new that is as iconic as Rudy screaming or Gimli's jackpot callouts in LotR ("Double jackpot one! Double jackpot two! Double jackpot three!" The way he says these lines, the way he counts up, it never gets old!).

Some other recent games that I feel suffer from not having much excitement or buildup are The Hobbit, Batman 66, Black Knight: Sword of Rage and Stern Star Wars. Some recent games that I think do a good job at this are Stern Star Trek, Metallica, and Wizard of Oz.

3. Many modern games have sound design that doesn't feel connected to the game or the music.
I was watching some Black Knight: Sword of Rage gameplay, and one thing that stuck out to me like a sore thumb was how some of the sound effects sound completely out of place. Here you have this super loud heavy metal music, but then I noticed a lot of accomplishments in the game are accompanied by short trumpet motifs which completely clash with all the other audio in the game. The music doesn't stop, and the pitch of these motifs doesn't change to match the music, so you end up with the soundtrack and these motifs fighting each other. It doesn't sound *horrible*, but it doesn't sound good either. I think they should have scrapped the trumpets for something else.

On the same topic, modern games hardly, if ever, have anything synced to the music in any way. Like, something as simple as having the inserts blink to the rhythm of the music would go a long way. Even if it's something you've never really noticed, I can guarantee you it's improved the feel of any game you've played that has a feature like this (Black Knight 2000 and Mousin' Around have stuff like this, to name a few games. A lot of Data East games will blink the GI in time to the music, an effect that I love). You would think a feature like that would be a priority on the band themed games, but nope, even on those games everything on the display and the playfield feels completely disconnected from the music. I think it would be worth it if someone at JJP or Stern took the time to create a tool allowing games to perform actions in sync with the music. It's not as easy as it was on System 11 and Whitestar, but it's certainly not impossible as I've seen similar things done in modern video games that use pre-recorded music (Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze comes to mind).

The ultimate example of this done right, I think, has to be Black Knight 2000. Brian Schmidt wrote a blog post on Gamasutra a few years back detailing a lot of what went into that game's sound package. They pushed System 11 to its limits, and it's clear that a ton of care and passion went into making it sound as good as possible. While I certainly don't expect every game to be a masterpiece of sound design, I would really like to see music and sound in pinball pushed to the limits again, with more passion and more attention to detail. Here's a link to the blog post, it's definitely worth a read: https://www.gamasutra.com/blogs/BrianSchmidt/20141104/229404/Interactive_Audio_in_Black_Knight_2000_The_Importance_of_Integration.php

Getting a jackpot on Twilight Zone makes me feel like the coolest person in the room. Getting multiball in Diner makes me want to dance. Getting a jackpot in Mary Shelly's Frankenstein makes me want to cradle the balls for a minute so I can hum along with the music. Getting multiball in Space Station makes my heart start pounding because of how intense and exciting the sound and music is. Starting a hurry up in Medieval Madness makes me feel that I *really* need to hurry up. Getting a jackpot in Rollergames makes me laugh my butt off, and getting a jackpot in Red and Ted's Roadshow makes me want to sing along, and I *hate* country music! I really wish some of the new games today could give me some of those feelings.

I could go on, but I think it's safe to say I've rambled long enough. Maybe I'm the only pinhead who cares this much about music, but I would love to see people here discuss it more. Every time a new game is revealed, everyone speculates and discusses the rules, the playfield design, the art and animations, but barely anyone ever brings up sound and music, despite that being just as, if not more, important than some of those other things.

TLDR: I feel like pinball music and sound design in general has gone downhill in the past decade or so. A lot of modern games seem to have soundtracks that don't make any sense for pinball (The Hobbit, Star Wars) and as a result the music becomes background noise more than anything. Pinball music should, generally speaking, be upbeat and driven by melody to fit the non-stop action of the game. A good example of this is Lord of the Rings which, while somewhat held back by the limited technology it uses, still makes for a fantastic pinball experience. I also feel like there's a general lack of excitement in many modern games, with very little build-up for things like multiballs and very little celebration for things like jackpots (ACDC, Dialed In!). When are we going to get new iconic moments like the Addams Family multiball start or Rudy screaming when you get a jackpot? Finally, modern pins have very little, if any, music and sound integration. Games like Metallica should have stuff synced to the rhythm of the music, because you know, it's a game celebrating music! Even something as simple as having the inserts flash in time to the music would go a long way towards making it feel more like part of the game. Check out this article by Brian Schmidt about Black Knight 2000's audio to see why audio integration is so important: https://www.gamasutra.com/blogs/BrianSchmidt/20141104/229404/Interactive_Audio_in_Black_Knight_2000_The_Importance_of_Integration.php

Anyone else have any thoughts on this? Do you feel satisfied with the sound packages in today's games, or would you like to see them improved as well?

Regardless of whether you agree or not, take some time to appreciate the music from your pinball machines! Some really talented people worked hard to create some great tunes for these games, new and old, and you might just notice some new details in the audio you never caught before.

#3 10 months ago
Quoted from Crile1:

I admit, I did not read your entire post. But Hobbit, JJPOTC, and SW are phenomenal. Much more than just the opening theme. ACNC also has an amazing original soundtrack along with Rock songs. Ever heard of David Theil? They guy is amazing with sound. Play an older pin and hear the same sounds drone on and on (Black Hole anyone?). So, in a nutshell, I wholeheartedly disagree and with increased competition, music and sounds will likely only get better.
PS: I sold my LOTR in favor of Hobbit. Both great games, but Hobbit has the total immersive sound and video package. Gold standard in my opinion. 33 modes plus 4 wizard modes each with unique music packages.

I'll admit I haven't played *all* of the latest games, specifically games that aren't Stern or JJP, so maybe I've just missed the games with the best soundtracks! I'll have to check out ACNC when I see one.

As for David Thiel, I've looked up his list of games and if I'm being honest, very few do much for in terms of sound. He's talented for sure, I'm not saying anyone in the industry isn't. I think, like I mentioned in my OP, a lot of it just doesn't really seem to fit pinball that well.

As for older pins, I'm not referring to stuff that old! Once you get to something like Pin*Bot though, you start finding tons of great music. Taxi, Space Station, Funhouse, Whirlwind, Whitewater, Addams Family, Theatre of Magic, World Cup Soccer, Medieval Madness, are just a few games from that era that all have fantastic pinball sound packages, and I feel most modern pins haven't even come close to sounding as good as those.

Glad to hear you enjoy it though!

#27 10 months ago
Quoted from frolic:

I think Deadpool has an amazing sound package and it’s from a new team.

I haven't actually played Deadpool yet, the theme is kind of a turnoff for me, but I've heard a lot of great things about it!

Quoted from shovelhed:

Sorry, Thiel is the best in the business redo your research, why dont you play some real pinball instead of watching pinball on you tube

I mean, I go to league every week and get to play pins dating from the 50s to the 2010s. Not sure how that isn't real pinball.
Again, not saying Thiel isn't talented, but at least for me, I've never played a game he's worked on and felt it had a standout sound package, except for maybe Tron. It's been a while since I played one, but I remember it being pretty good.

Quoted from BigalzPinz:

The issue isn’t sound quality ? Seriously ? Not sure what pins you have played but a Pin with great sound quality makes all the difference... guess it’s my personal preference

Oh yeah, better audio quality can definitely improve things, I think it would be really cool to be able to upgrade the audio on Lord of the Rings for example, but *only* if the upgrade consisted of orchestrated versions of Chris Granner's soundtrack and only if it contained the original recordings of the callouts Elijah Wood and John Rhys-Davies did for the game. Pretty much all the sound effects would need to be the same as well (Don't replace the VUK "pew-pew-pew!" with something more "realistic sounding" or anything like that). If you just slapped the Lord of the Rings soundtrack on the game, sure you'd be getting higher quality audio, but you'd also be getting all the slow moments of the film score while you're playing a multiball mode for example. That doesn't work. The film score is the better music in and of itself for sure, but pinball music it isn't.

#51 10 months ago
Quoted from EalaDubhSidhe:

Interesting you mention 80s and 90s pins in particular as the keyword is 'effort'. Chris Granner and David Thiel still put that effort in, as they both go back to the AY or DAC days when less was more in encouraging creativity and richness of sound, and still follow the same principles. FM synth from a Yamaha YM-2151 has a particular kind of punch when it's composed with properly (see BK2K) and is capable of a great deal more than artificially mimicking real instruments (see Pin*Bot). I've heard the PinSound versions of both Getaway and Twilight Zone, and while the music tracks used are the same, the style just leaves me cold - I don't feel the punch anymore. Maybe part of the problem is the same as other media music; film, TV or video game scores that don't have memorable leitmotifs and sound like the same bombastic over-orchestrated mulch.

Yeah, that's a good point. While I still feel like the average DCS sound package was way better than the average today, the System 11 and WPC 98 soundtracks are the only pinball soundtracks I like enough to have in my music library (Also X-Files). I can appreciate all types of music, but FM Synth is a sound that I really like, and feels right at home in pinball.

Quoted from Isochronic_Frost:

Just look at a game that is totally, CRIMINALLY underrated. Data East’s Torpedo Alley had one of the greatest integrations of lights and sounds! It was peak 80’s cheese in ‘89. I searched for years to get that game because of the amazing integration of lights, sound and music for that game. It’s relatively unknown but I heard a beautiful example was available to play at Pintastic.
Here’s a good video of Keith Elwin absolutely blowing one up.
Even watching the GOAT play this game there’s still so much to do and with LEDs the game shines like a modern pin!

Wow, I've never seen a good video of this game before, but that is pretty awesome sounding! I love the jackpot sequence. I remember getting to play this a little bit at Pinfest a few years ago, but the volume was so low I couldn't hear anything.

Quoted from orangegsx:

I like all pins for what they are... but
I really prefer older games with original compositions, and system 11s are probably my favorite. The sound quality is a bit corny, as it should be. Everything you hit has a unique sound so you don’t have to look up to display to know what is going on in the game.

The other day I took the glass off of my Mousin' Around and started hitting switches to see if anything changed with the music. Sure enough, the MOUSE TRAP target sounds, the multiplier rollover sounds, and the outlane rollover sounds all change in pitch to properly harmonize with the music. I'll bet you pretty much any system 11 will have at least a few cool details in the sound like that. One of those things that most players will probably never notice, but still makes the experience that much more cohesive.

Quoted from konjurer:

I think the modern stuff is getting pretty good. I really like the music Matt Kern is doing for API. Good stuff in both Houdini and Oktoberfest.

See, those tracks are well made for sure, but I still have some of the same issues with them that I have with a lot of other modern stuff. Mainly, there's really no melody in either of them (At least the ones he has on his Soundcloud). They don't really have much personality, and they lack any sort of driving force. Within minutes I'll have forgotten what they sounded like.

Also, to be clear, I don't necessarily dislike any of the games I've complained about. Once I take the time to learn the rules of one of those games and am able to start strategizing and playing well, I can *really* enjoy playing. Good music and sound just makes that process more enjoyable and interesting. If I'm somewhere like Flippers though, I tend to go back to the games with better sound the most. Last time I was there, after putting a few games on the newest stuff I ended up putting most of my time on Tales of the Arabian Nights. Great music, great sound design, and even some nice music integration (The end of ball bonus sequence on TotAN is fantastic with how the lights sync and move around with the sound!).

#56 10 months ago
Quoted from maglar:

Let me tell you about a game I love, that had audio that was grating to me. Data Easts Jurassic Park. While I will say that the sound system was fine, most Data Easts sound was annoying. We are living in a brave new world of pinball audio, and now you can change the audio to be whatever you want. I just installed a PinWoofer Powered Super Kit, and a Pinsound board into my Jurassic Park machine and I love it. Here is a short video of the sound quality of this system.
I can't explain how great this system sounds. All of the speaker and amplifier upgrades are from PinWoofer. I am running an 8" sub in the cabinet and 5 1/4" speakers in the head. Since I am also running a Color DMD, my 12V line was being pulled a little to low so for power I am using a Mean Well RD-125B power supply and one of PinWoofers Dc to DC Buck converters. 100 Watts of clean power sounds amazing.
Sorry about the crazy flipper action. I asked someone to play that had never really played pinball before just so I could get the video.

This is actually a perfect example of how great audio *quality* doesn't necessarily make for a great *sound package*.

If you enjoy playing the game with that, then that's totally fine, but that sounded *horrible* to me, haha. Way too much noise at once with audio clips playing for way too long, music that doesn't fit the gameplay, poor music transitions, and you lose certain effects you get with the normal soundtrack. See the GI blinking? A lot of that is timed to the rhythm of the music, but when you replace the soundtrack, you completely lose the effect and it just becomes random blinking. At 1:07 your multiball restart started, but instead of some intense music playing, letting you know you need to hurry up, it started playing slow, orchestral music from the film. Compare this to the track that's supposed to play: https://1drv.ms/u/s!Ajq7oQLp1JsOlLJsWr7lZ_HDwmNSpQ?e=pD15HT Is it better than the Jurassic Park film soundtrack? Heck no! But at least it gets the player in the proper mood for the mode, and in any sort of game, that's generally more important. It starts ominous, and as your timer approaches 0, more instruments come in to increase the intensity (To be fair though, I do feel like Jurassic Park is one of Brian Schmidts weaker Data East soundtracks. This isn't the best example of a hurry-up tune.). If PinSound has saved the game for you, and you find the Data East sounds to be more annoying than your current setup, that's awesome!.. I just don't see how it's possible anyone could find that PinSound setup *less* annoying than the original sounds.

Quoted from jackd104:

A theory: of the multitude of pins released in the golden age of pinball, only a handful of the very greats stand out in the imagination today, and those had amazing sound a music along with all other aspects of their design. Today, one tends to compare every new game to those few greats. Consider that back then a lot of stinkers were also made that had bad sound and music.

That's definitely a good point, but at the same time I can point out way more games from the 90s with great sound packages than I can from the 2010s, even accounting for the fact that there were more games made in the 90s. Similarly, I can point out more games from the 2010s with sound packages I don't care for than I can from the 90s. In the 90s, bad sound packages tended to be annoying more than anything, but I'll take slightly annoying over boring any day.

Quoted from SLAMT1LT:

Nothing wrong with the audio on any recent game I've played. David Thiel's work on Alien was incredible and the Ghostbusters audio guy, amazing. The only issue I have is terrible voice acting, especially American actors trying to do a British accent....have Stern ever heard of Fiverr? Hundreds of British voice actors ready and waiting to take your call including myself.

Actually, Ghostbusters' sound package is one I really like overall. One of the few new games in recent years that I've walked up to and instantly started enjoying, and I have no familiarity with Ghostbusters whatsoever. Haven't played Alien, but there's no way I won't try it if I ever see one!

I definitely agree on the voice acting too. Why does it seem like the people doing pinball callouts barely get excited anymore?

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