My Favourite Game
US musician Thundercat on the permanence of Mortal Kombat
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”