It’s hard to imagine The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past without the familiar overworld music, or Super Mario Bros. without its iconic theme song. You may even have set your ringtone to a tune from your favorite game. What can we say? There’s just something about video game music that plucks at the heartstrings.
That’s where Rainwave steps in. Rainwave is a streaming internet radio station that specializes in video game music. Logged in listeners may request and rate songs and actually vote for the next tune, which is a feature that sets Rainwave apart from other video game radio stations.
“The tagline we sort of jokingly toss around is, ‘Massively Multiplayer Winamp,’” says Robert McAuley. McAuley — a 27-year-old programmer known around the internet as LiquidRain — is the founder of Rainwave. “I hate using the words ‘social networks’ or ‘Web 2.0,’ but it’s democratic radio,” he adds.
The idea for Rainwave came to McAuley eight or nine years ago, back when a similar station called GamingFM was popular. McAuley spent some time combing through the website, trying to figure out what made it tick. He was annoyed that he had no idea when his song request would come on the air, and thought users should be able to pick what came next. He started working on Rainwave, and opened it to the public in 2007.
In 2008, he launched OCR Radio, which broadcasts tunes from OverClocked ReMix, a community for fan-made remixes of video game music. Previously, OCR Radio had been known by the name ormgas and maintained by a man known as Ravon. And most recently, in 2009, V-wave was launched, which plays chiptunes and music from indie video game bands.
Nowadays, during peak hours, upwards of 150 users are listening to Rainwave, OCR Radio and V-wave at any given moment. With 4,262 songs and 390 albums just on Rainwave — totaling about 202 hours of music — listeners have a wide range of options for whatever their gaming-music mood requires. Each song has been “cherry-picked” by either McAuley or music managers Ten19 or Vyzov, so only the best songs from an album are included — another feature that sets Rainwave apart, according to McAuley. And new music is added to Rainwave periodically.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the top 20 highest-rated albums are primarily 2D game soundtracks. Chrono Trigger is “far and away” the number one album on Rainwave, according to McAuley, and Final Fantasy VI, Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, Super Metroid, Secret of Mana and several others make up the rest of the list.
“You can pretty much just look at GameFAQs’ character battles and whoever winds up in the top five, take their games and that’s probably going to be the top five to 10 albums on Rainwave,” says McAuley.
Why so many 2D games? There are a few reasons, according to McAuley. “For some reason, we attract a large number of 20 to 30 year olds who all grew up playing Super Nintendo games,” he says. “So we’ve got the right demographic for it, we’ve got all the music on the air, there’s a heap of nostalgia with it and they’re excellently composed soundtracks, so it’s just all been coming together so they’re all at the top.”
McAuley himself is a fan of 2D games. “I was a huge fan of Sonic the Hedgehog. I can’t say I approve of any of his outings in the last decade, but the classic Genesis games were the best. That’s what I grew up on,” he says. “I was a SEGA kid.” The 2.5D title Nights into Dreams… was also a big part of his gaming history.
Recently, McAuley has been playing a lot of games from Xbox LIVE Arcade, PlayStation Network and Steam. “I thoroughly loved Splosion Man,” he says. “N+ as well. That’s the only game that’s killed me over a thousand times, I got an achievement for it, and I still liked the game.” He’s also enjoyed Shatter, the Worms series, the Phoenix Wright series, and the Castlevania series lately.
Not that McAuley spends all of his time gaming. As the founder of Rainwave, McAuley considers himself to be a “community manager” first and foremost. “I’m always looking after the forums, I’m always looking after the chatroom, I’m always looking after new users,” he says. “That’s a constant job.” When he’s not busy with that, he works on developing the next version of Rainwave, which goes by the code name R3, and McAuley hopes to launch it as soon as he works out the kinks. Folks who donate to Rainwave get to see a sneak preview of R3, which will feature improved song rotation and ratings calculation.
So the next time Frog’s theme from Chrono Trigger pops up on your iPod and you start rocking out, don’t feel self-conscious: There’s a whole community of like-minded folk on Rainwave.
“Stop on by,” says McAuley. “We’re friendly!”