Friday, July 29, 2011

Survey: VGTropes -- Results! (Part II)

A month or so ago, I posted Part I of the results for this survey from last summer. And now, here's Part II! For some more details about the survey itself, please consult one of the previous two posts, but I'll go straight into the results in this post.

I feel obliged to note, however, that significantly fewer people made it to Part II of the survey as compared to Part I. That's what I get for distributing the test in two parts, I guess. Heh heh. Anyway, here we go:

Mystery Track #11:

Show survey results!

Mystery Track #11: Icecap (Sonic 3): Ice/Snow

Here's a bit of interesting trivia that most people don't know about Sonic 3: there is indisputable proof that Michael Jackson was originally slated to work on the soundtrack. Mr. Jackson's music was dropped shortly after his scandals went public (showing that people can never truly separate work from personal life), but remnants of his music persisted in the soundtrack. Ice Cap Zone, one of the most popular songs from Sonic's music history, was one track that contained such remnants. Here are the survey results. (Again, as shown below, the most popular answer for each track is highlighted in bold, and the "correct" answer in italics. An answer in both italics and bold means exactly what you think it does.)

Tropical: 0/14 (0.0%)
Fire: 2/14 (14.3%)
Water: 4/14 (28.6%)
Ice/Snow: 6/14 (42.9%)
Space/Tech: 2/14 (14.3%)

If I'm being honest with myself and accounting for the bias introduced by people knowing the track, "Ice/Snow" barely, if at all, triumphs over "Water," the closest runner-up. Due to some people not leaving comments, I've only a few to scavenge through:
"The tinkly parts of it sound more icy to me."
"It's the echoey bits again. The use of tinkling sounds."
"droplet sounds in the background :D"
This appears to be a track whose deciding factor for ice was mostly based on timbre, although interestingly, a few responses were swung in favor of "Space/Tech" for the same reason. The reasons for the runner-up "Water" were more widespread:
"That clave-like upper part makes me think tropical, or water now that I hear those arpeggios. All the tambres are well-rounded volume-wise."
"The dut-dut-da-dut-dut-dut and doodle-oodle-doodle-oodle-doodle sound wet to me."
"I think of water tracks with softer beats and more flowing than hard"
"The tremulous background melody reminds me of water"
I thought the comment about the soft beats was interesting, since I did notice a similar trend in some water levels myself. Here's the track in its original context.

On to track #12!

Mystery Track #12:

Show survey results!

Mystery Track #12: Diamond Dust (Sonic 3D Blast, Saturn): Ice/Snow

Sega Saturn version by Richard Jacques, again. I'm skipping right to the results for this one:

Tropical: 1/14 (7.1%)
Fire: 0/14 (0.0%)
Water: 1/14 (7.1%)
Ice/Snow: 12/14 (85.7%)
Space/Tech: 0/14 (0.0%)

Because I kind of find this humorous, I want to go through most of the comments for this one:
"The jingle bells in the background remind me of winter. Definitely ice."
"The 'sleighbell' sounds from the very beginning immediately give this a snowy, icy, winter feel. Sounds like Christmas even."
"Bells indicate holiday-ish and falling snow haha"
"OK THIS IS TOTALLY A SNOW LEVEL. It's got the classic 'snow' music effect. I will not accept being wrong here."
"Sleigh bells. Tinkle tinkle. Snow!"
"sleigh bells and other things that sound like ice crystals"
"It has bells, and sounds like christmas"
"You better not be screwing around. Sleigh bells?! The bell gliss was pretty obvious. Even the tight piano chords."
"The 'sleighbell' sounds from the very beginning immediately give this a snowy, icy, winter feel. Sounds like Christmas even."
"This one definitely sounds icy to me (I hope it's not one of your tricky ones!)... very majestic. I can almost hear how beautifully crafted this level is from the music."
"the snow sound in the background (like in christmas songs)"
Let this be a lesson to any potential video game composers: if you want people to immediately associate your music with snow, put some damn sleigh bells in it. Here's the context (though I think the music is much more well-crafted than the level itself; sorry, second-to-last-comment-guy):

On to track #13!

Mystery Track #13:

Show survey results!

Mystery Track #13: Green Grove (Sonic 3D Blast, Genesis): Tropical

Although some may recognize this theme as that of Windy Valley from the Dreamcast game Sonic Adventure, this track in fact debuted as Green Grove Zone with the Genesis version of Sonic 3D Blast. I'm not sure why Sega decided to reuse this theme for Sonic Adventure; maybe the composer got lazy. The responses were pretty biased in favor of "tropical" here:

Tropical: 11/14 (78.6%)
Fire: 0/14 (0.0%)
Water: 1/14 (7.1%)
Ice/Snow: 0/14 (0.0%)
Space/Tech: 2/14 (14.3%)

Despite the prevalence of "tropical," the comments themselves were not particularly cohesive. Many respondents confessed to uncertainty or guessing, and there were a number of creative gems like "Sonic bunnies!" and "sounds like Sonic is sun bathing :P and then birds poop on him a little." The strongest trend I could detect was that the track was upbeat or had a happy feeling to it:
"It's whimsical and upbeat... but not water-y oddly enough."
"island beat (chill feeling)"
"The opening bass line make me think tropical. The track is very colorful, almost like a carnival."
"It makes me think of outside for some reason."
"The music is bright and happy - reminds me of a sunny day on the beach."
And as for the people who didn't identify a particular musical element to justify their answer, perhaps it was elimination of the other four answer choices? I believe that tropical themes tend to me more diverse than the other level types, so process of elimination is an entirely logical justification. Here's the original context of the music:

On to track #14!

Mystery Track #14:

Show survey results!

Mystery Track #14: Hot Crater (Sonic Advance 2): Fire

By far the best track in Sonic Advance 2, in my opinion. (Shameless self-plug: check out my remix here!) With the possible additional exception of the Egg Utopia music, I feel that the rest of the rather bland music in this game tends to blur together. The weaksauce GBA sound card certainly doesn't help, either. Anyway:

Tropical: 1/14 (7.1%)
Fire: 6/14 (42.9%)
Water: 0/14 (0.0%)
Ice/Snow: 0/14 (0.0%)
Space/Tech: 7/14 (50.0%)

I rather figured that this track would offer some confusion in favor of "space/tech"; the bassline and overall feel is pretty darn techno-y. Indeed, many survey participants pointed out this fact for justification of the "space/tech" trope:
"techno ish"
"Hello techno!"
"Intense, rapid beats. Makes me think of the future."
"lots of electronic sounds/beeping"
"It's got kind of a noisy machine effect. It's got a sort of crackling electric quality to it."
"The static-y staccato notes and whispy melodies have an extremely spacey feel to them."
The comments for the fire-trope people were significantly more scattered, though a number attributed their choice to a fast pace. Here are the "fire" replies.
"fast and techy with high hat kind of driving action"
"Short, repetitive beats make it seem like you could have fire spouting up"
"Chased by a fire monster!!"
"This gives a very unwelcome, enemy-like feel that would be like fire."
"The bass has to be fire or space, and I'm leaning towards fire because of the chromaticism in the melody, but the beat is so techno."
I think the last comment captures the ambivalence of this track quite nicely. Let's see it in action:

On to track #15!

Mystery Track #15:

Show survey results!

Mystery Track #15: Isolated Island (Knuckles' Chaotix): Tropical

Knuckles' Chaotix was a unique Sonic game, to say the least. Released for the obscure Sega 32x add-on to the Genesis, the game featured such perks as a (soon-to-be-forgotten) new set of characters, a theme park setting, team-based cooperative play, Ring-based special abilities, and the possibility to hit negative Ring counts. Here are the results for this track:

Tropical: 4/14 (28.6%)
Fire: 1/14 (7.1%)
Water: 5/14 (35.7%)
Ice/Snow: 4/14 (28.6%)
Space/Tech: 0/14 (0.0%)

I admit that this track may have been somewhat ambiguous too. If I hadn't already known the soundtrack, I would probably have guessed "ice/snow" due to the cold, echoey synths in the accompaniment. Some felt the same way:
"Faint background tinkles. It reminds me of a snowy village"
"The medium-pitched line prevalent throughout this song feels "cold" like ice and reminds me of ice-skating in winter."
"That sharp ping noise sounds like ice, but the echo in the melody sounds like water. Hmm, chimes. Very jazzy, too."
The stronger "water" comments attributed their choice to the track's timbre as well, though the reasons weren't quite so precise:
"sounds like there are waves in the background"
"I feel like I'm floating, medium tempo"
"Kind of happy. The voices you're using sound aquatic."
"Aquatic feeling."
Finally, the "tropical" people felt that the upbeat, cheerful nature of the track was the deciding factor.
"catch, upbeat"
"can I have some margaritas prease? :P"
"Again, this is upbeat and joyful. Reminds me of a sunny day at the beach."
"This is the kind of music I associate with the tropics (in a non-shooter game anyways)"
Overall, I think any of the three choices could be argued for, regardless of the track's original intent. Here's the gameplay footage.

On to track #16!

Mystery Track #16:

Show survey results!

Mystery Track #16: Meteor Base (Sonic Rivals): Space/Tech

In all honesty, I shouldn't have put this track up. I know nothing of Sonic Rivals or Meteor Base, only read up on the game and the fact that it was a space level. Nor does this track really represent the kind of music I'm aiming to produce (music more suited for a two-dimensional side-scrolling platform game). What's done is done, though; results:

Tropical: 0/14 (0.0%)
Fire: 6/14 (42.9%)
Water: 0/14 (0.0%)
Ice/Snow: 0/14 (0.0%)
Space/Tech: 8/14 (57.1%)

Seems like "fire" and "space/tech" are the two most commonly interchanged level tropes, although due to a poor differentiation on my end or an inherent similarity is yet to be determined. The "fire" people noted an intensity or urgency in this track:
"edgy, intense, guitar riff"
"Futurish, but I feel more like I'm escaping a smokey place."
"Kind of a rocky, hard sounding. Like you'd be battling a boss on a mountain/volcano"
"The quick drumbeats and urgent melody make me think of fire"
"It's pretty intense and heavy, as fire levels tend to be. It's definitely got a fast, hard rock feel to it, which works well with fire areas."
Those who opted for the "space/tech" trope mentioned lasers. Also, techno sounds and a heavy rock feel, but mostly lasers.
"heavy rock sounds with lots of percussion and high pitched techno sounds"
"Shit's goin down! Robots! Lazers! Oh fuck!"
"lazer beams"
"feels like HUGE space monster is about to crush me into pieces and all I could do is shoot 'pew pew pew'"
"That intro was pretty mechanical. Sounds like boss music. Oh, those little background noises that change "formants" sound like space."
"Feels like we're coming under attack with this one. We're being shot at? It feels spacey and tech because of the mish-mash of uninterpretable sounds throughout."
Unfortunately, I wasn't able to track down a video for this one, but here's the track with at least a static background of the level:

On to track #17!

Mystery Track #17:

Show survey results!

Mystery Track #17: Palmtree Panic (Sonic CD): Tropical

The Japanese version of Sonic CD has one of my all-time favorite video game soundtracks, sporting four different variations for each level theme (present, past, good future, and bad future). I felt that this Palmtree Panic (Past) theme would be a pretty typical "tropical" theme. The survey results appear to corroborate my hypothesis.

Tropical: 11/14 (78.6%)
Fire: 0/14 (0.0%)
Water: 2/14 (14.3%)
Ice/Snow: 1/14 (7.1%)
Space/Tech: 0/14 (0.0%)

No one thought this one was "space/tech"? Really? Heh. Most "tropical" respondents noted the Caribbean-esque percussion, steel drums, and woodwind melodies as defining characteristics:
"Sounds caribbean, and the know"
"Distinctive drum beat and a melody that could be played on a steel drum"
"The steel drum-esque nature of much of the song, and the lackadasical approach makes me lean towards tropical."
"feels like steel drums again...the background beats are beaches"
"The combination of reedy tones and something that sounds like a steel drum make me think of the beach"
"The melody in the foreground sounds very carefree and beachy. Almost sounds like steel drums in places, which definitely remind me of the beach."
And kudos to whomever submitted this awesome, specific response:
"Ooh, very exotic. The syncopation makes me think tropical. Those descending harmonies sound tropical, too."
Below is the context clip; ignore the random temporal shifts in the gameplay, if you would.

On to track #18!

Mystery Track #18:

Show survey results!

Mystery Track #18: Volcano Valley (Sonic 3D Blast, Genesis): Fire

But wait, you ask, hadn't we already encountered Volcano Valley from Sonic 3D Blast back in Part I? Indeed we did, but (as mentioned before), there are two versions of Sonic 3D Blast. The previous Volcano Valley track was from the Saturn version, and this is from the Genesis version. Good, pure fire levels in Sonic are surprisingly difficult to come across.

Tropical: 0/14 (0.0%)
Fire: 4/14 (28.6%)
Water: 2/14 (14.3%)
Ice/Snow: 1/14 (7.1%)
Space/Tech: 7/14 (50.0%)

Among the prevalent "space/tech" answers, the most common comment pointed out the echoing, hollow nature of the synths, evoking a feeling of deep space. Personally, my concept of "space/tech" levels resemble more the fast-paced, Sonic-y outer space fortress-type levels, but I could definitely see this music being used for a darker, space-exploring type of level.
"sounds hollow and echoey"
"echo in the melody makes it sound like space"
"Echo-ey and hollow sounding. Deepspace exploration"
"The vibratto notes make me think of a techy setting"
Here's what the "fire" people had to say. Not quite as collective in their reasoning, but very specific. :)
"This feels factoryish/underground, but I'm again feeling the 'furnace' concept again."
"The rising theme in the baseline almost invokes rising heatwaves. It sounds hostile and firey."
"Those open fifths in the bass remind me of fire, as well as the vibrato in the melody. For some reason the harshness of some fire tracks could also be like tech. I think that groovy bass line and the up-slides make it more like fire."
Here's some good ol' Sega Genesis footage.

On to track #19!

Mystery Track #19:

Show survey results!

Mystery Track #19: Lava Reef (Sonic & Knuckles): Fire

Ah, Sonic 3 & Knuckles. Good times. The answers for this one were pretty even, except for "ice/snow" -- evidently there weren't enough sleigh bells or something. :P Here are the precise results:

Tropical: 3/14 (21.4%)
Fire: 4/14 (28.6%)
Water: 4/14 (28.6%)
Ice/Snow: 0/14 (0.0%)
Space/Tech: 3/14 (21.4%)

Perhaps it's fitting that a level called "Lava Reef" would evoke "fire" and "water" most of all. The "tropical" and "space/tech" answers are pretty scattered, so I won't talk about those. Those who chose "water" indicated a flowy, tinkly characteristic:
"Pretty generic. The bass line is hard, but maybe those arpeggios indicate water."
"Seems akin to the themes I thought were underwater. The layering of background tinkles and (marimbas?) sound aquatic."
"The flowing nature of this song makes me think of water"
Honestly, the "fire" comments were pretty scattered too, but I'll include some here for the sake of completeness.
"sounds minor and tragic"
"The fast tempo is saying "fire" to me here. Don't know where it's from though."
Here's a rather impressive speed run showing this music in context. The level itself is significantly more "fire" than "water," but I think the composer did a clever job in incorporating elements of both, intentionally or not.

On to track #20!

Mystery Track #20:

Show survey results!

Mystery Track #20: Tidal Tempest (Sonic CD): Water

At last, this survey comes to a close on this little number from Sonic CD, a nice water cave level. Here are the results:

Tropical: 0/14 (0.0%)
Fire: 0/14 (0.0%)
Water: 4/14 (28.6%)
Ice/Snow: 9/14 (64.3%)
Space/Tech: 1/14 (7.1%)

Initially, I was surprised that there weren't more "water" responses (since, you know, there's water running in the background of the track), but now I can definitely hear the "ice cave" response that many offered -- particularly with those high, loosely pitched synths.
"The haunting background sounds kind of icy to me."
"Rushing water, mournful echoes of the wind. It sounds like an icy cavern."
"high pitches sound like ice crystals"
"hollow cave sounds...perhaps an ice cave?"
"The hollow background noises that almost seem to echo make me think of an icy cavernous space."
"What sounds like breath noises to me seems like water dripping in an icy cave."
Those who chose "water" noted the echoes as well, likening them to a submarine.
"hollow echoey background sounds make it sound like in a submarine"
"Underwater sounds. Kind of like submarine radar pings"
"Those airy hits make me think of vastness. It could apply to space, water, even ice. The swing beat makes me think more organic, so I'll go with water."
Let's see what this level looks like, shall we? Again, ignore the time travel, please.

That's all of the individual questions, folks. Join me below as I (attempt to) look at some general trends throughout the entire survey. That's right, both parts!


To perform this pseudo-analysis (by no means in any way scientific), I first compiled all of the responses and sorted them by the participants' answer, regardless of whether the answer was "correct" or "incorrect." I then read through the responses for each particular trope to see if there were any general trends. The entire, extremely lengthy spreadsheet is here, but I've tried to distill the information a bit below.

Tropical Trope

"Tropical" levels in Sonic games all tend to be pretty homogeneous; nearly all such levels contain lots of trees, a sunny sky, a large body of water somewhere in the general vicinity, and (often) a checkerboard level palette. The levels chosen for this survey all fit perfectly into this level trope; perhaps it's no surprise that people tended to be right on the money with their answers, for the most part. The only level that seemed to confuse people was Isolated Island; though I don't think there was anything abnormal about the level itself, the music itself tended to be a little "colder" than tropical themes tend to be. Nonetheless, there were some common characteristics identified by our survey takers:

-Caribbean/Latin elements
-Upbeat tempo/a groove
-Laid-back, relaxed feeling

Fire Trope

"Fire" levels in Sonic games tend to be fairly diverse. Although there are a few typical "volcano" levels, most fire levels tend to be combinations with other tropes: for example, fire/cave, fire/factory, fire/castle, and the like. I'd say that of the four fire levels in this survey, Hot Crater is the sole level that doesn't fit neatly into the fire level stereotypes, being more of a fire/factory level. Interestingly, it was Lava Reef that threw people for a loop the most; I'll admit that the music doesn't necessarily immediately evoke the typical feel of a fire level. Here are a few commonly identified patterns across all "fire" answers, though:

-Intensity, heaviness
-Epic or majestic feel
-Repetitive beats or bassline
-Fast tempo

Water Trope

"Water" levels in Sonic games don't usually stick to the typical "ocean level" conventions; in fact, that type of level is pretty rare in Sonic games. Like fire levels, water levels tend to be combined with some other trope, the most frequent being water/factory and water/cave. The water levels that appeared in this survey mirrored this diversity, including a water/factory level (Tidal Plant), a water/cave level (Tidal Tempest), a water/tropical level (Aquatic Ruin), and a water/I'm-not-sure-what-the-other-trope-should-be-but-there-is-definitely-one level (Hydrocity). Of all the tropes, the answers were most ambiguous for "water," and even for the two tracks where the "correct answer" did win out, the victory was by no means a blowout. While Tidal Plant and Aquatic Ruin drew a varied response from participants, Hydrocity and (especially) Tidal Tempest seemed to strongly evoke other tropes. Generalizations were hard to identify for this one, but here's a try:

-Legato, fluid, flowing lines
-Echoing, muted, or wahwah voices
-"Aquatic" feeling (not sure what that means, really)

Ice/Snow Trope

"Ice/Snow" levels in Sonic games are fairly standard, taking place in some ice cap or frozen mountain; there have only been a few instances where liberties have been taken with this stereotype. Most ice level themes tend to be pretty easy to identify (for instance, check out this one from Kirby or this one from Donkey Kong; the sleigh bells tend to give them away), so I purposely chose a few less easily-recognizable tracks. Seems like this worked, as the newer, more upbeat feel of Holoska and the overtly festive nature of Ice Paradise didn't evoke "ice/snow" as strongly as it did some other tropes. Below are some of the most common responses:

-Bells, sleigh bells or chimes (the obvious one)
-Tinkly or echoing synths
-Jazzy/tight chords

Space/Tech Trope

"Space/Tech" levels in Sonic games are a recurring theme. Typically representing the ultimate or penultimate level in a game, the level is typically set aboard a giant technological fortress in outer space (hence both the "space" and "tech" parts) and usually named "Death Egg" or something else related to the poultry product. As there's a massive amount of variety within this trope, the music tends to be pretty recognizable; thus, "space/tech" holds the honor of being the only trope where participants were "correct" for all four tracks. However, it also holds the honor of being the trope most frequently (incorrectly) attributed to; seems like people definitely have strong ideas of what "space/tech" should sound like. Fire levels, in particular, seemed the most often interchanged with space/tech. Here are some common descriptors of "space/tech" characteristics:

-Techno beats
-Beepy, robotic, or digital synths
-Rapid arpeggios
-Upbeat, fast tempo
-Laser beams/other sci-fi noises

And with that, we can finally draw to a close this project that's been in progress for very nearly a year. Despite my lack of motivation at times, I've enjoyed running this survey, reading through everyone's answers, and gleaning whatever information I've managed to find in the process. Many thanks to everyone who took the survey or helped me along the way, and I hope you've enjoyed this as well! :)

Until next time,


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