I was just listening to the Magnetic Fields’ album Distortion, and it reminded me of the greatest musical experience I’ve ever encountered in a computer game – the ‘Still Alive‘ song from Valve’s Portal. This prompted me to investigate whether the Magnetic Fields had written the Portal song, but the identity of the actual songwriter was actually quite a pleasant surprise…
Portal – Taking Computer Music Songs To A New Level
This game is without doubt the most original, intelligent and thought-provoking game I’ve played since my teenage days with the Atari ST. It is essentially a first-person 3D puzzle solving game based around a sort of teleportation gun; the character development is witty, engaging and convincing, and the gameplay is absorbing.
The Portal song is the perfect ending to an already outstanding production; I must say that I’ve never been so emotionally affected by the ending of a computer game before. It’s hard to say much about it without slipping in a few spoilers, but suffice to say that it’s sung from the point of view of one of the main characters and is funny, catchy and strangely touching.
Actually, it’s probably best to not listen to it until you’ve played the game, as a lot of its impact is bound up with the completion of the Portal experience, but if you want to, here it is:
So Who Wrote The Portal Song – “Still Alive”?
Well, it wasn’t the Magnetic Fields, but it was someone who I’ve written about previously on this blog. The author of this unique video game ditty is none other than Johnathan Coulton, who gained widespread Web buzz when he blogged his challenge of writing and recording a new song every week. However, he’s obviously not just a purveyor of fine marketing ideas – he can pen a good tune too.
You can read his account of the Portal song on his blog, which includes the lyrics and chords for the song (be warned – don’t read the lyrics if you haven’t played the game yet). The MTV multiplayer blog discusses whether this is the greatest computer game song of all time, and finds very little competition; computer game music is usually instrumental, but perhaps in the future we will see more actual songwriting (with lyrics) appearing in games. Sims The Musical, anyone?