I remember my older brother, Chris, and I used to wonder much it would cost to get a home version of Out Run ($4,000 was his best guess) - wishful thinking for a bunch of dorky teenagers with no money. But Chris was a hard worker and possessed much stronger musical talents than I did. During his junior year of high school, he worked for months washing dishes at a local restaurant to save up enough money to buy a rack-mounted Ensoniq Mirage Music Sequencer and Sampler and Roland MIDI Controller Keyboard. Once he figured out how to use all this music hardware, he taught himself one of Out Run's main soundtracks, "Magical Sound Shower," and programmed it into the sequencer. What he wouldn't give for videogame sheet music or an MP3 back in those days!
Today, Chris also lives a few short blocks from the ocean in Manhattan Beach, CA. If it wasn't for him, I never would've discovered the South Bay communities of Los Angeles or moved out here in the first place. Although we are both very busy with our respective jobs, when we get time to meet up, one of our favorite places to go is this Mexican restaurant in his neighborhood, Pancho's.
"'Magical Sound Shower' was hotter than a Cuban street fiesta," he tells me. We're seated in the basement dining room of Pancho's, a huge hall adorned with pastel murals, palm trees and year-round Christmas lights. It's a Friday night, it's crowded and a little loud, and he and I are seated at a table in the corner, sipping on blended "Naughty" Margaritas, our favorite.
"And the part where you get the wild steel drum solo? That part was the best! You could only get to that part if got close to the end and you played really well."
Most modern games rely on overt mechanisms to keep you playing - like cut-scenes, power-ups or in-game money - but Out Run employed a more subtle method. Its main soundtrack, comprised of three songs ("Splash Wave," "Magical Sound Shower" and "Passing Breeze"), was really like no other game music at the time, from the standpoints of both technical fidelity and style. It was this soundtrack that drove you to keep playing, to hear the best part, all the way at the end.
Very recently, I tracked down a copy of the North American Sega Ages compilation for Sega Saturn on eBay, containing pixel-perfect versions of Out Run and its arcade brethren, Space Harrier and After Burner II. Released for the North American market by now-defunct publisher Working Designs, the game comes with a foil-stamped instruction manual containing some interesting commentary from the composer, Hiro.
"I like the song called 'Passing Breeze' the best," says Hiro. "The melody that makes you feel sorrowful and the atmosphere, it is hard to explain how great this song is."
It's really interesting that Hiro would characterize "Passing Breeze" as "sorrowful" - if anything, I'd say that the song was peppy and light. But I think I understand what Hiro is trying to describe - "nostalgia" - a feeling that any fan of Sega, past or present, would understand and appreciate.