My gaming days ended with Asteroids and Ms. Pac Man, so I have missed the nearly 40 years of advances in video games since then. Scores for video games have also become big business, and I seem to have missed that boat as well. So it is with great surprise and delight that my first exposure to video game music is a winner.
Wataru Hokoyama has composed a score for the PlayStation 3 wildlife photography game, AFRIKA, which contains music rarely heard in Hollywood films these days–acoustic, full-bodied orchestral music with nary an electronic instrument in sight. Like the African plain, Hokoyama’s memorable themes reach as far as the eye can see.
The long-lined theme for “Savanna” begins with a quiet French horn call before awakening in the winds. As what I can only perceive as the African morning comes to life, the strings take up the memorable theme before it soars out over the expanse of the African plain, in my mind’s eye broken only by the occasional umbrella thorn tree and a fleeting cheetah.
Marimba, drums, and other percussion instruments give tracks like “Base Camp,” “Masai,” and “Hatari” the proper African flavor. With its loping accompaniment and tuba/oboe/bassoon theme, “Okapi” reminds me of music that would be equally at home with the Jawas as under the African sun. And the pulse-racing “Safari,” with its constantly running undercurrent of triplets and its rousing theme, weaves through the winds, strings, and brass, like a herd of gazelles galloping across the African plane.
At the 2008 Hollywood Music Awards, AFRIKA won Hokoyama the award for Best Video Game Score. He was also nominated for Best Original Score for a Video Game or Interactive Media by the International Film Music Critics Association. The Game Audio Network Guild presented him with the Rookie of the Year Award as well as Music of the Year and Best Original Instrumental.
The AFRIKA game first appeared in Japan in August 2008 and will finally arrive in the U.S. next month, though in a slightly modified form. I may have to invest in a PS3 just to hear how Hokoyama’s magnificent score fits what I’ve seen of those gorgeous images.
If I ever go on safari, it will be Hokoyama’s music I hear ringing in my ear. Now give this man a big, fat Hollywood paycheck and a feature film worthy of his talents.