Investigating a Retro Gaming Mystery
A version of this story appears at my game industry shop talk site, CodeWritePlay.
I was talking shop with a close friend recently about OST composition (he’s an extraordinary musician, producer, and almost certainly one of my studio’s future composers) when he brought up a desire to compose a game soundtrack he would really enjoy listening to, even when he’s not playing the game. It’s a noble goal, and in fact, it immediately made me think of Extreme Paintbrawl (Head Games/Creative Carnage, 1998): a game most agree is greatly inferior to its own music.
Though Extreme Paintbrawl never ran correctly on my dad’s PC, I’m comfortable with IGN’s assessment that it’s not fun. It’s described around the web as a two-week Duke Nukem 3D mod project that was not finished at release time, and the general consensus is that it didn’t do anything new, fun, or well.
But then, there was the soundtrack…
Despite the game never running correctly, I never threw out the disc; I think it’s in my basement to this day, meaning it’s moved with me something like five times over nearly 20 years. That’s because Extreme Paintbrawl had one of the most fascinating soundtracks I’d heard as of the late 90s, and this was a time when many game discs, particularly for PC or PlayStation, could go straight into your CD player for your listening enjoyment. While other kids were listening to Will Smith and Britney Spears, I was listening to this frenetic clash of MIDI rock, metal, jazz, classical, and indeed barnyard animal sounds. Over time I developed many questions about exactly what I was listening to.
This week, I went digging for answers.
The Tale of Todd Duane
Upon visiting Wikipedia where things are learned, I discovered that the credited composer was one “Todd Duane, who sent his demo tracks to Head Games.” This hints at an uplifting story of breaking into the industry for one lucky unknown who would go on to create untouchable tracks for his first project, unworthy though it may have been. Today I discovered this version of the story is misleading, or at least tragically incomplete.
It was with great interest that I revisited the half-dozen tracks on YouTube, smiling to myself as I browsed the comments of strangers who couldn’t decide between them whether they were listening to the work of a genius or a madman. I was surprised when one user commented that they couldn’t believe this was all on iTunes. I wasn’t able to verify this by searching for Extreme Paintbrawl or anything else related to the game’s soundtrack, but it seemed like an odd detail to be completely wrong about, so I kept running searches. That’s when a question first occurred to me.
Did they just slap real music into this game?
An Apple Music search for Todd Duane eventually led me to his album, Omnipresent, which had a track name I’d recognized from the YouTube comments. Sure enough, the album opened with my favorite track from the game.
Extreme Paintbrawl, released in October 1998, apparently featured about half of the Omnipresent album that had been released the previous June. Even considering the game’s unusual development schedule, I’d never heard of anything like this before.
Searching for more info on Duane and the Omnipresent album led me to an interview with The Instrumental Guitarist where he sheds interesting light on the project.
Duane: That CD was mainly recorded while I was living in Vienna, Austria and teaching guitar at the American Institute of Music. It was actually just a phase of demo’s I had been writing while still trying to get a Shrapnel Record deal. The music was darker, more progressive and more minor based than my previous “California demos”. And I had a keyboard now as well.
So we’re left to fill in a much smaller gap, as Duane probably wisely left out details about handing over a unique collection of his tracks to be shipped with a game many feel was an abomination, but it looks a lot like Head Games picked him up while he was “shopping around” his work. Sadly, his ambitious work didn’t keep Extreme Paintbrawl from receiving several of the worst review scores ever released online.
The Extreme Paintbrawl series would defy all logic and return with follow-ups Extreme Paintbrawl 2 and (apparently) Extreme Paintbrawl 4, though it would do so without Todd Duane.
Duane’s career progressed nicely, including the release of a 2002 album, Eccentricity, teaching private lessons in the twin cities area, and live performances with his band, Common Ground.