Building a Supergiant Soundtrack (The music of Bastion & Transistor) | Game Score Fanfare


One thing I really love about the game Transistor
is this: [Red hums.] It has a button entirely dedicated to making
the main character Red hum along to the music playing in the background. For me this was
Tranquillity on demand, providing a moment of peace and mindfulness whenever I needed
it. Perhaps it’s a bit of a novelty feature, but it’s one that requires a lot of effort
to implement, as they had to record hummed versions of almost every song in the game.
This is just one example of how much the developers Supergiant value music in their games. The
scores for Transistor and its spiritual predecessor Bastion are both unique in their sound, clever
in their implementation and highly acclaimed. In this episode of Game Score Fanfare, I’m
going to explore how composer Darren Korb built these soundtracks, and why they are
so integral to the experience of the games. (RUCKS: Proper story’s supposed to start
at the beginning. Ain’t so simple with this one.)
Ignore that, we are starting from the beginning. Darren was childhood friends with one of the
co-founders of Supergiant Games Amir Rao, who asked him to do the music for their first
game. However, Darren wasn’t a composer; he was a rock musician. (“You Can Be The
Star” by Control Group plays.) Darren wasn’t trained in classical music
like so many other game composers are, so instead he decided to lean into his strengths
and embrace what made him unique. DARREN KORB: “My main background isn’t
really as a traditional composer, so I wasn’t as comfortable with developing repeating themes
and doing a lot of the traditional composing techniques that do that thing, that tie all
the music together. So I tried to get around that by creating a genre and hoping all the
music would kinda fit there.” For each soundtrack, Darren combines a few
different genres to invent a unique style for that game’s music. So for Bastion, he
set out to make “Acoustic Frontier Trip Hop.” What does that mean? Well, acoustic
is in the choice of non-electronic instruments such as ukuleles and acoustic guitars. Frontier
refers to frontier America, that Old West feel that is especially present around the
middle of the game. And Trip-Hop is an experimental electronic genre that is ambient and down-tempo
and has hip-hop beats. A great example of trip-hop is the song Teardrop by Massive Attack,
which was used as the title music for the TV show House. 
As for Transistor, Darren describes the music as “Old World Electronic Post Rock.” Old
World referring to the use of harps, accordions, and other medieval European instruments. Electronic
as opposed to acoustic, featuring a heavy use of synths. And post-rock, with its electric
guitars that focus more on textures and ambience, rather than riffs and melodies. Darren explores
these very specific styles with incredible depth, only rarely stepping outside of them
to give particular pieces an exotic flavour. This is why Supergiant’s games sound so
unlike any other. Darren can do this because music isn’t just
window dressing in Supergiant’s games; it’s a core part of the game’s identity, and
it’s created alongside of the art, writing and gameplay. Darren was brought into development
on Bastion unusually early for a composer – so early in fact, that before there were
most things in Bastion, there was music. In this early prototype of the game that looks nothing like the finished product, there was a track that ended up making it into the final
game. It’s the exact same audio file. This meant not only that music was important in defining the tone of the game early on, but they could create moments and ideas in the
game centred around music. [“Build That Wall” plays] One such moment is the Prosper Bluff level
of Bastion, in which you meet the character Zia. She is singing a song called Build That
Wall, which is an Ura war song. The Ura are an underground race of tunnelers, whereas
the above-ground Caelondians defend themselves massive city walls. The song is saying what’s
the point of building walls when the Ura can just dig a tunnel right underneath them. (“One
day that wall is gonna fall.”) As Zia sits in the centre of Prosper Bluff singing her
song, the level moves you closer and further away from her, and the music fades in and
out depending on your proximity to her. It’s a nice touch, but the level was actually built
with that idea in mind. There’s also a moment toward the end of
the game, so spoilers for a bit here. [“Mother, I’m Here” plays.] There’s another song called Mother, I’m Here, which
is about Micia, the goddess of loss and longing. The story goes that she gave away her heart
and replaced it with this, the star of Caelondia. So if Build That Wall is associated with the
Ura, Mother I’m Here is associated with Caelondia. The song plays in an incredibly
poignant moment that happens if you choose to rescue Zulf. Shortly after, at the very end of the game you are presented with two choices: You can use the Bastion to restore the world to a state before the Calamity happened, the apocalyptic event caused by the warring nations. Or you can evacuate your small party of survivors
and begin anew. Regardless of your choice, both options give a sense of hope for the
future, and a song plays over the credits that is called Setting Sail, Coming Home. [“Setting Sail, Coming Home” plays.] [It’s a mix of the two previously mentioned songs,
I can’t really type the lyrics out with any manner of success. Sorry.] Both Build That Wall and Mother I’m Here, the Ura song and the Caelondia song, are sung
simultaneously on top of each other in perfect unison. The harmony of these two songs together
represents the hope for harmony and peace between the Ura and Caelondia. It’s a remarkable
ending that leaves you a little speechless. After the success of these great vocal tracks
in Bastion, Supergiant decided to lean into the idea with their next game Transistor. They included a total of five songs with vocals all performed by Ashley Barrett, and they
made the protagonist Red a singer. This time around, Darren also focussed on creating a more dynamic and adaptive soundtrack. Music in Transistor is built around three
different channels, or stems: Vocals, percussion, and then the rest of the music. Whenever there
is music, all three of these channels are playing but some of them will be muted. So
while walking around, both the vocals and percussion channels are muted and the only
thing you hear is the music channel. Enter a battle and the percussion channel is unmuted,
and suddenly the same song has a sense of urgency to it. You can also pause battles
in Transistor and enter a turn-based planning mode, which will then show you your moves
in real-time. Enter this turn mode and the percussion cuts out, a filter is applied to
the music channel, and the vocals are turned on. The tension of the battle has been vacuumed
out and you’re given a place to catch your breath, and it feels like you’re inside
Red’s head as she hums along to the music and you plan her next move.
This was the origins of the hum button. At the beginning of this video I said it took
a lot of effort to implement such a novelty feature, but the truth is all the hard work
had already been done. The inclusion of the hum button was actually a rather impromptu
decision by the dev team, and was relatively easy to implement. This is only possible thanks
to the value Supergiant Games give to music in their games, and the talent of Darren Korb
to create music that is so capable of establishing a tone. I’d love to see other game developers
take notes from Supergiant Games and have a closer, more trusting relationship with
their composers. Supergiant’s upcoming game Pyre is meant
to have even more of an adaptive soundtrack, and personally I’m really excited about
it all. I tweeted at Darren asking if he has created a genre for the music of Pyre and
he responded saying “there’s a couple of different modes I’m working on this time.
70’s acoustic fantasy classic rock, among other things.” I can’t wait to see how
that turns out. Thank you for watching! Let me know if you
read the captions. 😉

95 thoughts on “Building a Supergiant Soundtrack (The music of Bastion & Transistor) | Game Score Fanfare

  • March 7, 2017 at 6:25 pm
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    Great job! Looking forward to more videos!

    Reply
  • March 7, 2017 at 6:32 pm
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    Awesome video, you have a new subscriber!

    Can't wait to hear the new Pyre OST

    Reply
  • March 7, 2017 at 6:38 pm
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    great now I have to replay both games again

    Reply
  • March 7, 2017 at 7:28 pm
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    Very interesting breakdown, I'm excited for what you do next in this series.

    One title I'm looking forward to specifically for its adaptive soundtrack is Them's Fighting Herds, a fighter which also involved the composer in its earliest stages and aims to score every match with different instruments depending on the chosen characters.

    Reply
  • March 7, 2017 at 9:03 pm
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    Amazing, I love Darren Korb!!

    Reply
  • March 7, 2017 at 9:16 pm
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    Very interesting and nicely done, keep it up ! 😀
    I suscribed 🙂

    Reply
  • March 7, 2017 at 11:31 pm
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    Really cool! Learned a lot of things I never even noticed. Not many game essayists talk about music so i'm looking forward to the next one.

    Reply
  • March 8, 2017 at 12:38 am
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    Great analysis, have subscribed!

    Reply
  • March 8, 2017 at 11:06 am
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    All the chills I felt when finishing Bastion just came back…
    Great analysis! I love what Transistor did with the music, guess I have to play it now. 🙂

    Reply
  • March 8, 2017 at 12:21 pm
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    very nicely covered, subscribed, can't wait for another video 🙂

    Reply
  • March 8, 2017 at 1:09 pm
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    Another game I think if when comes to adaptive (or "transitioning") soundtrack, is Metal Gear Rising Revengeance. This can convert pointless gameplay sequences like QTEs into an epic event, and elevated boss fights from great to Godlike.

    Reply
  • March 8, 2017 at 4:01 pm
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    Very interesting video. Looking forward to more.

    Reply
  • March 8, 2017 at 9:06 pm
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    Very fantastic! Can't wait to see what you've got coming next.

    Reply
  • March 9, 2017 at 4:13 am
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    Subbed instantly after I watched this. Please keep these going!

    Have you got any topics lined up for your next episodes?

    Reply
  • March 10, 2017 at 1:02 am
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    Thank you for creating this. I hope you also make a video about the Night in The Woods in the future.

    Reply
  • March 10, 2017 at 5:17 am
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    Super awesome video man! I always loved how integrated the soundtrack was to these games and this was a great breakdown on why.

    Reply
  • March 10, 2017 at 2:16 pm
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    Great video, Theres a few people I know who play games with the sound off. Which I think is a great lose.

    Reply
  • March 10, 2017 at 8:18 pm
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    Oh shit, this is fantastic stuff!
    You have a subscription, here's to hoping you get more views!
    Might I suggest in the future covering Martin O'donnel's work in Halo 1, 2, 3, and ODST and Reach? While all part of the same series, the difference and feel of the original trilogy, ODST, and Reach are astounding…while still being recognizable for their own merits.

    I read somewhere that Martins philosophy for the first iterations of the themes were using instruments to represent different aspects and emotions to the songs. You also have a lot of those delicious leitmotifs

    Reply
  • March 11, 2017 at 5:21 am
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    This is so great. Could you do an episode on Earthbound?

    Reply
  • March 11, 2017 at 1:21 pm
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    I love it when music is made to respond dynamically in video games. The first such implementation that I remember is Lucas Arts' iMUSE system, which would handle switching between songs and song variations in their adventure games (e.g. when you walked from one room to another, the system wouldn't just stop one song and play another, but it would locate a beat in the current song to play a transition that would seamlessly lead into the next piece.)

    Reply
  • March 11, 2017 at 3:05 pm
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    Nice work! Congrats!

    Reply
  • March 11, 2017 at 5:43 pm
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    Will you ever talk about bad video game music? And talk about why it is bad?

    Reply
  • March 11, 2017 at 11:55 pm
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    Awesome games, awesome devs, awesome video. <3

    Reply
  • March 14, 2017 at 7:20 am
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    And with one video, you earned yourself a subscriber… ^-^ I can't WAIT to see what more you create!!

    Reply
  • March 17, 2017 at 9:46 pm
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    Awesome analysis. Really makes me want to replay these games and experience the amazing music again.

    Reply
  • March 28, 2017 at 2:11 pm
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    Subscribed, I fucking love channel like these that mix music and games, plus it's the first time I hear so much about the music of those two games, and it's brilliant. Thanks for remind me of how good they are 😀

    Reply
  • March 31, 2017 at 2:05 am
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    I listen to video game scores almost every day and this is so very fascinating!

    Reply
  • April 4, 2017 at 8:36 pm
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    Great games, great soundtracks but most importantly great video!

    Keep it up 🙂

    P.S.: Mark Brown (GameMakers Toolkit) sent me

    Reply
  • April 28, 2017 at 9:55 pm
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    Great job, Mathew! 🙂

    Reply
  • May 24, 2017 at 3:19 pm
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    Great content, man! Really looking forward to more stuff from you! Keep it up!

    Reply
  • June 3, 2017 at 11:08 am
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    *thinks about how personal Red views her music when she is planning or taking a break
    *remembers how her voice was stolen with no warning on the very same night for no reason other than her own passion in such music landing her in the spotlight

    cRIES DEEPLY

    Reply
  • June 4, 2017 at 9:37 pm
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    WHAAAAT I never made the connection about "Mother, I'm Here" being connected to the goddess! WHOA! And I've played it 5 times now! :O 0_0

    Reply
  • June 12, 2017 at 7:35 am
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    Great video! Instant sub!
    I don't think thin build that call was about the Ura though… The Rippling Walls weren't built to keep the Ura out, they were built to keep wild beasts out…
    And besides, the Ura did dig up the Tazal Terminals, they just resided in them. It's true that the Ura out of the Terminals live in burrows, but I still don't think Build That Wall was about the Ura though…

    Reply
  • July 6, 2017 at 10:23 pm
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    Loving your videos, specially the insides in the interactive part of the music!

    Reply
  • July 19, 2017 at 11:47 am
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    The ending song isn't sung in unison, it's harmonious.
    Unison is using the same pitch across different voices 🙂

    Reply
  • July 21, 2017 at 2:25 am
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    best soundtracks of all time (not in a specified order)
    transitor
    life​ is strange
    shadow of the colossus

    Reply
  • July 22, 2017 at 2:22 pm
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    Great job! I'll following you ^_^

    Reply
  • July 22, 2017 at 6:05 pm
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    I always feen incredibly sad when listening to these soundtracks. Always give such a dire tone.

    Reply
  • July 23, 2017 at 3:50 am
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    yessss someone analyzing transister's music
    thank you!

    Reply
  • July 23, 2017 at 6:49 pm
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    great video about great games
    Spoilers and own thoughts
    For me the songs in Bastion Build that Wall and Mother im here are more tied to the singing persons

    For me Build that wall was more a caelondian lullaby especialy for kid.
    Work to build that Wall and this city and defend. Yes nothing is forever but then someone will build it anew.
    It is song by Zia a kind Ura Girl that lives with her father in Caelondia because her father betrayed the Ura.
    I dont think her father would tell her to destroy all of her enemys more he wanted to say whatever happen you could build always a new city

    For me is Mother im here a Song about Zulfs loneliness in Caelondia and a promise to come one day home back to his Mother

    Reply
  • July 23, 2017 at 7:16 pm
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    On point on the video! Really good. The only thing i missed was the concept of the Final Battle in Transistor, where the boss music in his Turn-mode focuses on the bass(line). The cool thing there is, that the music is overall pretty tens, but isolated, there are some really good-vibe basslines.

    Reply
  • July 24, 2017 at 11:51 am
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    Stumbled upon this after finishing "In The Flame" from Pyre – excellent, interesting analysis, looking forward to what you produce in the future!

    Reply
  • July 24, 2017 at 8:02 pm
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    The man is a genius 👏🏻

    Reply
  • July 25, 2017 at 12:33 am
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    Wow, great video. I actually learned alot from this video. I'm even more impressed by these soundtracks than I was before.

    Reply
  • July 25, 2017 at 5:32 am
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    I'm watching a video about the music damn it, you don't have to get me emotionally involved! || _ ||

    Reply
  • July 25, 2017 at 9:53 am
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    Supergiant Games is awesome for putting so much heart into their music. Can't wait for Pyre!

    Reply
  • July 26, 2017 at 1:26 am
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    The soundtrack for Pyre is nothing short from AMAZING, just sayin.

    Reply
  • July 27, 2017 at 10:09 pm
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    6:00 aaaaand dammit I'm crying again.

    Reply
  • July 28, 2017 at 6:12 pm
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    I think a better example for Transistor's music would've been the area where the song water wall was played. It was of those many moments where the music just flowed so perfectly from out of combat in combat and turn phase

    Reply
  • July 30, 2017 at 12:59 pm
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    Very good video ! I can't wait to see what you think about Pyre's music. I noticed something really interesting about it. As you said, in Transistor, we can hear variations of the songs depending on the situation (walk, fight, turn). In Pyre they pushed the thing even further. Each Triumvirate you encounter has its musical theme. The liberation Rite has its own too (Never to Return). But the amazing thing is that this song change and is merged with the musical theme of the triumvirate you are confronting. It is partically noticeable against triumvirate with a strong theme like the Dissidents one whose heavy electric guitar which denote completely with the calm and tragic ballad which is Never to Return.

    Reply
  • August 2, 2017 at 12:14 am
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    you should do a video for Pyre !!!

    Reply
  • August 18, 2017 at 9:58 pm
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    Would really love to see you revist this with Pyre. The mechanics of the ending song are incredible

    Reply
  • September 7, 2017 at 2:10 am
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    "I cant wait how that turns out". I will spoil Pyre: it has another song that puts a lump in your throat like the last two.

    Reply
  • September 9, 2017 at 11:44 am
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    please, do the same about pyre. its from supergiant (and darren, of course) too, and is the best one from supergiant games imo

    Reply
  • September 23, 2017 at 4:44 am
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    So I just binge watched every single video you have on this channel. What you are doing here is fascinating and incredibly well structured. Absolutely outstanding work. Would you like to come onto our podcast and talk about game music with us? If you're interested, hit me up on twitter (@mcbreest). Seriously I'm a huge fan! I have an incredible passion for music in games and this channel satisfies that in a way I've never found before. -Mike

    Reply
  • September 25, 2017 at 10:47 pm
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    Hm, is it confirmed either in-game or out-of-game that Zulf's song is about Micia?

    Reply
  • October 7, 2017 at 5:54 pm
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    These analysis videos are great! Played bastion ages ago but you just sold me on transistor

    Reply
  • October 10, 2017 at 5:52 pm
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    You got work to do now with Pyre 😀

    Reply
  • October 11, 2017 at 3:59 pm
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    I hope you do a video on Disasterpeace for his work on Fez and Hyper Light Drifter. Actually, I'd watch any video you make. Music in games has been a crucial part of my life and I'm very much enjoying your series.

    Reply
  • October 12, 2017 at 8:01 am
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    Bastion's ending left me somewhat speechless as well. I got goosebumps from Setting Sail, Coming Home. There's something about the tonality of that song that emotionally resonates with you.

    Reply
  • October 20, 2017 at 4:09 am
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    Great now I have to play bastion

    Reply
  • October 20, 2017 at 4:30 am
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    If only this video came out after Pyre did!

    Reply
  • October 20, 2017 at 4:35 am
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    SUCH a great video, instant sub.

    Reply
  • October 20, 2017 at 8:10 am
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    I just started watching this channel, and my gosh I will be so hype if or when a Pyre video comes out. 😀

    Reply
  • October 20, 2017 at 9:05 pm
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    What a great job by you and Supergiant. Thank you for bringing to light the efforts that go into a soundtrack/score. I will be picking up Transistor because of this vid

    Reply
  • October 22, 2017 at 1:38 am
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    So…

    Pyre video when?

    Reply
  • October 26, 2017 at 9:25 pm
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    I love your videos, hope you will gift us with a video of Pyre's soundtrack in the future!

    Reply
  • October 28, 2017 at 12:13 am
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    These games need physical releases. Now, please.

    Reply
  • October 30, 2017 at 12:25 am
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    YESSSSS. DARREN KORB IS AN IMMENSE INSPIRATION OF MINE

    Reply
  • November 1, 2017 at 3:49 pm
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    I love these soundtracks so much

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  • November 3, 2017 at 3:29 am
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    I just wish you had mention the part in bastion where rucks hums build that wall. Just rewatching that scene chills me to this day.

    Reply
  • November 21, 2017 at 5:11 am
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    Your breakdown is up there with Mark Brown with how you breakdown concepts

    Reply
  • December 7, 2017 at 6:59 pm
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    Adapting soundtrack in the start of the Transistor creates an amazing moment.

    Reply
  • December 13, 2017 at 11:45 am
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    The most memorable games that I record, are specific because of the songs. Funny how it works.
    One that come in to mind is the Command & Conquer series (before bought by the devil), which had an incredible soundtrack also (Red March). And the SNES RPG era… man those songs are so beautiful for a 16 bits console.

    Reply
  • December 13, 2017 at 2:45 pm
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    Wow, i never even noticed that the drums only appear during certain battle sections! Such a smooth transition, and great feature. And here I thought i couldn't appreciate the music in those games more than I do already)

    Reply
  • December 19, 2017 at 10:41 am
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    Bastion ending once again hits me like a brick.

    Reply
  • January 1, 2018 at 6:23 pm
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    Outstanding work! Not only did you give an extensive, accurate insight to the making of these games and soundtrack, but you brought this game dev to light in a time when AA developers are doing everything they can to suck the life and soul out of the industry.
    I will definitely check out these games.

    Reply
  • January 1, 2018 at 8:16 pm
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    Your videos are so inspiring that it's inspired me to start developing my own music rather than planning on hiring others to depend on them solely. I have a very strange musical background that isn't very reliable to be honest, but your videos have helped me build a bit of confident and gain more appreciation for the music I've heard in so many beautiful games

    Reply
  • February 2, 2018 at 7:27 am
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    Love the graphics on the transistor part on the end!

    Reply
  • February 16, 2018 at 1:37 am
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    I'm like the biggest darren korb fanboy ever. I love this.
    (also you should do a pyre video now 🙂 )

    Reply
  • March 5, 2018 at 6:27 pm
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    Beautiful video. Transistor is one of my top 20 games of all time. There is something really magical in there. Specially the music.

    Reply
  • March 16, 2018 at 3:06 pm
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    I never seen this channel till today. and I am a big fan on indie games and music. and I cant believe a jem like this channel existed. now I wonder what else I have missed.

    Reply
  • May 14, 2018 at 5:24 am
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    The song "Sandbox" is my go to calm down song. I have listened to it over 400 times. Darren Korb is amazing.

    Reply
  • May 27, 2018 at 12:12 am
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    Pyre turned out great!

    Reply
  • June 4, 2018 at 7:59 pm
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    I cried with the emotions that the final music of Bastion brings to me, omg, such a fantastic soundtrack! So much feels! And your analysis resonates with it in a perfect way, thank you for reminding me how awesome that game is!

    Reply
  • July 3, 2018 at 5:44 am
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    I literally bought all of SuperGiant's games after hearing the soundtracks. I love them so much. I appreciate this video a lot.

    Reply
  • July 15, 2018 at 12:08 pm
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    Frankly the music is better in these games than the games themselves, though you do a good job of outlining how well said music is integrated into the games.

    Reply
  • July 16, 2018 at 2:13 pm
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    Your channel is just amazing

    Reply
  • August 3, 2018 at 3:18 am
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    Supergiant is easily my favorite developer right now. Even if their games had a pretty set style they stick to so far with Jen Zee's art, Darren Korb's music and Greg Kasavin's writing. But what works works amazingly well. Korb does a fantastic job carrying the emotional impact of the scenes Kasavin writes and Zee's art brings the world building all together.

    Also still to this day I cannot hear Setting Sail, Coming Home without breaking into tears. The only other song to ever do that to me is Weight of the World from NieR:Automata.

    Reply
  • November 23, 2018 at 12:57 pm
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    I can't describe how I love the music in bastion and transistor, I'm still listening to their soundtracks on a regular basis

    Reply
  • December 17, 2018 at 10:48 pm
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    2018 here. Another great sound track of SGG….

    Reply
  • March 8, 2019 at 1:05 am
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    Happy anniversary!

    Reply
  • April 19, 2019 at 9:18 pm
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    I’m a HUGE fan of Darren Korb and Supergiant games, but I find it odd that the weakest of their soundtracks in my opinion, Transistor, is the one game that stars a musician as the main character. I wish the transistor soundtrack was a bit stronger.

    Reply
  • May 24, 2019 at 5:19 am
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    It feels weird that this is your first video uploaded on this channel. I've been subscribed since undertale but Transistor is one of my favorite games!
    You definitely deserve a lot more subscribers at this point.

    Reply
  • May 30, 2019 at 6:27 am
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    So this is why the music of Supergiant Games sound so unique!
    You, good sir, just earned another subscriber.

    Reply

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