My Favourite Game

US mu­si­cian Thun­der­cat on the per­ma­nence of Mor­tal Kom­bat

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Stephen Bruner is an Amer­i­can multi­genre bass gui­tarist, pro­ducer and singer work­ing un­der the alias Thun­der­cat. An ac­claimed col­lab­o­ra­tor and ses­sion mu­si­cian, he has re­leased three solo albums to date, most no­tably 2017’s ac­claimed Drunk. Span­ning 23 songs in just un­der an hour, it cov­ers a whole range of themes, one of which is an ob­vi­ous love of videogames.

Do you re­mem­ber when you first got ex­cited about videogames? It had to be be­tween Nin­tendo and Sega Ge­n­e­sis, but I feel like the ac­tual mo­ment for me was Sonic The Hedge­hog, be­cause it was so fast and so fluid, and the mu­sic… yeah, Sonic The Hedge­hog was def­i­nitely, like, the kick-off of videogames.

So game mu­sic was an early in­flu­ence for you? I grew up in a mu­si­cal fam­ily, but games have def­i­nitely in­flu­enced my mu­si­cal cre­ativ­ity. Ev­ery­thing would al­ways be son­i­cally pro­cessed a lot of the time for me: I would hear things and it was like they’d go through a dif­fer­ent set of ears, I guess. But specif­i­cally with the com­poser Masato Naka­mura, who was be­hind the sound­track for Sonic The Hedge­hog – as soon as you heard the ti­tle song, it was just a bit bet­ter and cra­zier. It had that Prince vibe to it. It sounds like the B sec­tion of Let’s Go Crazy!

Clearly, mu­sic from the 16bit era made its mark on you. Do you feel the same way with mod­ern game mu­sic? I feel like a lot of it is a bit of a cop-out. It sounds like some­body just started up Able­ton and let the demo play and then de­cided that would be a record­ing for a videogame. But there are def­i­nitely games where you can still no­tice the mu­sic is out­stand­ing. For in­stance, the com­po­si­tion in Breath Of The Wild – I’m play­ing it again, I just started over – hear­ing the dif­fer­ent sounds on piano, the moods, the tex­tures that are created with the mu­sic in the game, it’s just so beau­ti­ful. It re­minds me of what it was like when I was a kid, of the time when I first heard Sonic The Hedge­hog.

Does your rev­er­ence for clas­sic game mu­sic ap­ply to hard­ware and soft­ware? Are you a col­lec­tor? No, I’m with the new times. I’m happy about the idea of be­ing able to down­load [new games], though I’m not so happy about in-game pur­chas­ing (laughs). I feel like I’ve made it a point in my whole en­tire life, it’s kind of like eat­ing for me: what­ever’s new, you have to try it. I ac­tu­ally got turned on to PC gam­ing by Fly­ing Lo­tus, and it changed my life. I didn’t know how PC would fit into this world where I’m al­ready shelling out all this money to play all these dif­fer­ent con­soles, but the minute I pur­chased an MSI Ti­tan, it was life-chang­ing. I was like, ‘Oh, I can do all of it on this one lap­top.’

What’s your gam­ing set-up when you’re on tour? De­pend­ing on how long I’m go­ing out, I’ll take my PS4 and my PC, and I’ll take the Nin­tendo Switch with me. I’ll just con­nect it wher­ever I’m at, con­nect to the Wi-Fi and have it set up for peo­ple to play. If there’s a new game out, I’ll down­load it and spend some time with it while I’m out on tour.

Your song Friend Zone makes ref­er­ences to Mor­tal Kom­bat and Di­ablo. What’s their sig­nif­i­cance to you? Well, if you’ve had a chance to play Di­ablo, then you know the story! I feel like Mor­tal Kom­bat is a con­sis­tent thing in life, from the time it be­gan. Those games are just epics. Mor­tal Kom­bat X and XL, they’re just, like, on an­other level. I feel like it’s one of the more out­stand­ing things be­cause of how long it’s been go­ing. It’s al­ways funny be­cause when­ever some­one sits down and plays with me or Fly­ing Lo­tus, they get their feel­ings hurt be­cause they’re like, ‘What the heck, why are you so good?’ And I say, ‘I’ve been play­ing Mor­tal Kom­bat for 20 years, man!’ (laughs)

Sounds like Mor­tal Kom­bat’s your num­ber one, then. My favourite game of all time, that I re­ally feel like hasn’t got­ten jus­tice on any new sys­tem, is a PS1 game called Tenchu: Stealth As­sas­sins – I think it was Tenchu 2, to be spe­cific. That, for the ages, is still one of the cold­est games ever. It had a bit of that Metal Gear Solid feel, a bit of that Syphon Fil­ter feel, a kind of a preS­plin­ter Cell feel, and it was just about be­ing a crazy ninja. It was in­sane.

“I ac­tu­ally got turned on to PC gam­ing by Fly­ing Lo­tus, and it changed my life”

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