When I attended art school, and sat in HTML 101 on my first day, my professor came in and had us all go to a website. It was some charity site with a yellow charity ribbon on it. And instantly, at full blast, we got a midi file that started playing that old standard at us, “Tie a yellow ribbon round the old oak tree...”
“Okay.” he told us. “Just sit there and listen and watch for a minute.”
We did. The music ground into our brains. I can still hear it.
After a minute, he says. “Okay. Hands up who wants to turn the music off?” EVERY hand in the classroom shoots into the air. “Too bad. The author of this site didn’t include a volume control or a stop button for the music. In the future when you start making websites, don’t do this. Welcome to HTML 101.”
As I sit, 18 years later, it is still the most memorable lesson I ever learned in art school.
I also remember getting Final Fantasy 7 that year. I got it with my very own PS1 on the same day. With a nice Alps Interactive controller (A red special edition coz red goes fastah!) I played it all morning while my ex fought off a knife wielding maniac across town and kicked his ass. (it was a strange time in my life.) And eventually I got to Gold Saucer...
Yeah. I can hear the groans. And then... I got to Chocobo Racing. And this was a whole year before that fateful HTML class, but I learned that lesson from Nobuo Uematsu and Squaresoft on the neon strewn miniature golf-course-like Chocobo Race Track.
For those of you unfamiliar, in 1997, horse racing games and breeding games were a big thing. So Squaresoft, never missing a chance to cash in on a fad, put a fairly intricate mini-game into Final Fantasy 7. One where you had to raise and breed ‘chocobos’. The ubiquitous riding bird you get when you want to cross the overland maps faster. The theme for travelling by Chocobo is one of those things that carry over from game to game in Final Fantasy too. All sorts of iterations of it have been done. From majestic, to quirky, to jazzy... And while it did annoy me a little, like an earworm will, I could usually blow it out of my head with some other song.
Final Fantasy 7 however... used some Hee-Haw Fake Bluegrass Duelling Banjos kind of thing. I didn’t like the chocobo theme in the first place. I especially didn’t like it played through some hillbilly pain filter. But there was a problem.
“Why didn’t you just turn down the television?” I hear you say. GOOD QUESTION!
There was a mechanic to the racing minigame where you had to be able to hear your chocobo while racing. If it started to audibly complain or ‘wark’ at you, you knew you were pushing it too hard and needed to back off a little. Let him rest up for another sprint. If you wanted to win your race, you HAD to be able to hear it. You could not turn it down. But they didn’t give you a seperate slider in the controls to turn down the volume of the background music.
So... for a solid month. Alternating Chocobo Music, and just to punch in the piss-off when you didn’t win, out you go into the gold saucer music again. Where you had to walk allll the way over to the chocobo races and register and race again. Which on the average took between 50 and 70 seconds. I counted. What the hell else did I have to do while trying to ignore the damn Gold Saucer music? Later, I learned to find where my TV’s remote control was so i could at least mute that before the race began, and then unmute it again for the race.
In a word, Squaresoft... DON’T DO THAT TO US AGAIN. Even the simplest of website flash game developers know that they need to give you the option to turn off the music. PROBABLY because of Final Fantasy 7, now that I think of it. Cos if I have to sit through a solid month of the Gold Saucer/Hillbilly Chocobo One-Two Punch again... well, I won’t. I won’t buy the game. If I buy it and have to sit through that crap again, I’ll have to do something I’ll regret to poor Nobuo Uematsu. And Squaresoft’s entire board of directors... I think it would go a little something like this.
“Good evening gentlemen. I trust you are sitting comfortably? The chains, wrist and thumb cuffs ought to be helping you in that regard. Now I have heard that it’s your intention to release a remake of Final Fantasy 7. A game that you are understandably proud of. Especially its soundtrack. And why wouldn’t you be? You have orchestra concerts over here in Japan dedicated to the good Mr. Uematsu’s work. No need to clap. I know you know what I’m talking about.”
“That said... You will note that you are all wearing earphones that have been duct-taped to your head. And yes, that should hurt pretty badly when you remove it from your cheeks and hair. We can’t have you tossing your head back and forth in an effort to dislodge them can we? In any case, they are all connected to this laptop here. In this laptop there are two of Mr. Uematsu’s compositions. These are not from any of his laudable concerts, but are in fact the midi music files from the original game from the Playstation One. As this is obviously the prelude to an extended torture session, I’m sure you can guess which two. If you need a hint... well, you can see that I’m speaking to you through a microphone. Allow me to sing you the song of your people for a moment...”
“DAT-DAT-DAA, DA-DA-DAT DAH-DAH! DAT-DAT-DAA, DA-DA-DAT DAH-DAH! DAT-DAT-DAA, DA-DA-DAT DAH-DAH! DAT-DAT-DAA, DA-DA-DAT DAH-DAH! DAT-DAT-DAA, DA-DA-DAT DAH-DAH! DAT-DAT-DAA, DA-DA-DAT DAH-DAH! DAT-DAT-DAA, DA-DA-DAT DAH-DAH! DAT-DAT-DAA, DA-DA-DAT DAH-DAH! DAT-DAT-DAA, DA-DA-DAT DAH-DAH! DAT-DAT-DAA, DA-DA-DAT DAH-DAH! DAT-DAT-DAA, DA-DA-DAT DAH-DAH! DAT-DAT-DAA, DA-DA-DAT DAH-DAH! DAT-DAT-DAA, DA-DA-DAT DAH-DAH! DAT-DAT-DAA, DA-DA-DAT DAH-DAH! DAT-DAT-DAA, DA-DA-DAT DAH-DAH! DAT-DAT-DAA, DA-DA-DAT DAH-DAH!”
“Yes... that was unpleasant wasn’t it? Now if you can imagine having to listen to that music on and off for a solid month, you may begin to imagine how peeved I am with you. So you will be listening to the Gold Saucer Theme, alternated with the Hillbilly Chocobo Racing theme for a straight 48 hours. There will be no bathroom breaks. You will all get a hot pocket every 8 hours. It will be cheese and broccoli. You will get a cup of warm flat diet pepsi with this hotpocket. The volume will be all the way up. The lights will be out. In the center of your boardroom table here, you will see a volume control. Within reach, but inaccessable to you. It will be the only thing visible in the room since I’m putting a spotlight over it. The ballgags are a courtesy measure to the other people in the building. No one will be coming to answer your screams for help. I hear a few muffled ones now as a matter of fact in anticipation of this necessary lesson.”
“And as you flail, in that 40th hour, in your own excrement, flopsweat and pain. Firm in the knowledge that there will be another 8 hours of this to go before I come back, drug you to sleep and let you free to seek whatever necessary counselling and medical attention you may need when you wake. Ears still ringing with that treble hiss, and the music ground into your brains like it was for your players, I want you to remember. Include a volume control for your BGM this time. Never fail to do it again. The next psychopath who finds you may not be as kind as I am about to be. Shall we begin?” *PLAY*