What PC game soundtracks should be in my playlist? — Gary K.
Oh my goodness, I love telling people what music to listen to! But I don't because that's how you get no friends—and yet here we are and someone finally asked. This is so exciting.
First of all, I recommend you check out OCRemix—they're doing great work supporting (er, basically being) the video game music remix scene. There's a lot of console stuff (the popularity of chiptunes has grown a lot in the past 15 years, as I'm sure everyone is aware), but there are some great DOS remixes as well.
As for what I think you should be listening to: I won't be totally comprehensive here, but I have a lot of suggestions. Well, me and everyone else. My tastes alone wouldn't make for a very complete list, so I've asked the PC Gamer staff and everyone else I know to pitch in, and this is some of what we came up with (in an order I chose fairly haphazardly).
Thanks to everyone who made suggestions! Drop your favorites in the comments.
Composed by: M.O.O.N., Jasper Byrne, Scattle, Coconuts, El Huervo, Perturbator
Lots of sounds here, but I want to call particular attention to M.O.O.N.'s Hydrogen, which builds into hypno-skull-cracking-trance butter. Put it on toast. Scattle's Knock Knock does the same job, and Jasper Byrne's Miami is what I imagine runs through Ryan Gosling's head every time he stares into space and seems to forget what scene he's doing.
Composed by: SoulEye
This is, uh, hard low-bit, crunchy percussion and all, dirty, high-BPM chipstuff. Have a listen, and join me as I seek ever more creative language to describe these soundtracks.
Composed by: Lifeformed
Simple, cheerful snares smash along with cool, bright bloops and bells. Pro relaxation tunes.
Composed by: Darren Korb
I don't even have a silly description—this and Korb's Transistor soundtrack are just brilliant (though I prefer the Bastion soundtrack). Do listen.
Composed by: Ben Prunty
Full disclosure, I've met composer Ben Prunty a few times and I think he's a cool guy who is nice and makes great music—because he is and does. Space bells for life.
And if this gets you in the mood to float around in the abyss, try the Eve Online soundtrack as well.
Synths and chipsounds and guitar and things banging on other things, and it's all just brilliant.
Mass Effect series
Composed by: Jack Wall, Sam Hulick, Richard Jacques, David Kates, Sascha Dikiciyan (Sonic Mayhem), Cris Velasco
All three games in the Mass Effect series come with great music. I especially love the galaxy map theme—no doubt partially because I heard it loop five million times throughout multiple playthroughs.
Composed by: Kelly Bailey, Mike Morasky, Jonathan Coulton, The National
Jonathan Coulton's Portal credits song, Still Alive, did help spawn an unbearably long-running array of memes, but we can't fault it for that. Tired of it or not, I don't believe you if you tell me that last "still alive" doesn't get you. You can download both the Portal (if you own the game) and Portal 2 soundtracks for free.
Deus Ex series
Composed by: Alexander Brandon, Michiel van den Bos, Daniel Gardopee, Michael McCann
Max Payne series
Composed by: Kärtsy Hatakka, Kimmo Kajasto, Health
All of these soundtracks are great (and the original theme is an absolute classic), but I want to call special attention to Health's Max Payne 3 soundtrack, which I loved. I've also got to mention Poets of the Fall's Late Goodbye from Max Payne 2. Sniff.
Composed by: Jeff Briggs, Mark Cromer, Michael Curran, Christopher Tin, various
We'd be remiss not to mention Christopher Tin's Civilization IV theme, the first video game theme to win a Grammy.
Command & Conquer: Red Alert
Composed by: Frank Klepacki
Klepacki is a monster of the game music world. The Red Alert soundtrack is full of nutty military-industrial percussion and goofy-ass slap and wah bass, and I've never been able to get enough.
Composed by: Trent Reznor, Sonic Mayhem (plus Bill Brown, Rob Zombie, Jer Sypult)
The Quake (Trent Reznor) and Quake 2 (Sonic Mayhem) soundtracks are my two favorites in all of gaming, though I prefer the Q2 soundtrack (and never cared much for the Q3 tracks, though they're still good). Reznor's is great evil ambiance, but Sonic Mayhem (aka Sascha "Buzzfunk" Dikiciyan) crunched out a metal sound that's not so much scary as it is "Arrgh, I kill Strogg now!" Sonic Mayhem also did some of Mass Effect 3's best tracks.
Composed by: Robert Prince
This is our anthem. Listen to the theme every morning to ensure success in all your endeavors. Play it at your wedding. Play it at your funeral.
Even more music
There are a ton of game soundtracks worth recommending. Here are a few more, and I'm sure the commenters will shame me for not including whatever brilliant work I haven't included.
Fez — Disasterpeace's Fez soundtrack is fantastic. Listen and buy it here.
World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria — Just great. You can preview it on Blizzard's site and buy it on iTunes. Actually, let's just throw all of Blizzard's music in here (extra love to Warcraft II, which isn't on their site but does live right here on YouTube).
Sam and Max Hit the Road — It's all here.
Psychonauts — The full soundtrack is on Bandcamp.
Monkey Island series — The soundtracks have been ripped here. Sip some nostalgia.
Outlaws — Evan recommended this one for its "legit western guitar," noting that "there is even whistling."
Dune 2 — More masterful Klepacki work!
Total Annihilation — The perfect music for whatever exciting battle you're facing.