Video game music is often taken for granted, yet its impact can be heard across other media and genres; from classic compositions on old-school gaming consoles to the soundtracks of blockbuster video games. In this article, we’ll explore the history and cultural impact of video game music, from its formative years to the present day. We’ll see what makes a video game score unique and how these pieces of music have come to shape the gaming industry as we know it.
1. What is Video Game Music?
Video game music is the soundscape that makes up the audio experience for a video game. It can take the form of pre-composed background music, created or improvised by the gamer, and ambient soundtracks. Depending on the type of game, the audio can be either integrated into the overall game progress or presented as a separate track.
- Background Music – background music is composed to go along with the look and feel of the game. Usually composed before the game is released, it can range from upbeat tunes, wordless melodies, and relaxing music.
- Improvised Music – some games feature the ability for the gamer to improvise with the soundtrack or instruments. This could be an entirely separate track or a part of the score.
- Ambient Sounds – some games incorporate environmental sounds such as birdsong, waves, wind, and more.
Video game music is composed to create an immersive experience for the gamer, to add a sense of anticipation, danger, or relaxation to the gaming environment. Depending on the situation and mood of the game, the music can also be used to inspire the player’s tactics and strategies.
2. The Power of Video Game Music
Video game music is a hugely underrated part of any game, yet the effects it has on how we interact with the game cannot be overlooked. Whether used as background music, plot development, world-building, or a tool for immersive gameplay, virtually any game player can tell you how powerful the music of a game can be.
Video game music has a way of continually impressing us with its combination of stirring themes and unique sound effects. Think of any classic or recent game and chances are the soundtrack is one of the first aspects of the game you remember after playing it. From the 8-bit version of the classic Super Mario Brothers to the exploration of Hyrule in The Legend of Zelda, video game music has a way of staying with gamers for years after playing the game.
Not only can video game music serve as a memorable track for the game, but it also provides unique benefits to actual gameplay. In battle situations, faster-paced music can pump up the player and make them more charged for a fight. On the other hand, exploring a huge world might require slower, more dreamy music to make the player feel as if they are in a unique environment. Additionally, in certain situations the music serves as a tool letting the player know which direction they should go, or when literally an enemy is nearby.
Unlock Your Adventure
From classics such as Super Mario Brothers, Sonic, and Metroid to modern favorites like The Last of Us, Uncharted, and Assassins Creed, video game music has a way of amplifying the experience of playing any of these games. Whether you are looking for a series of stirring piano tunes or the melodic backing of a cult classic, the music in video games is just as crucial to unlocking the adventure as the core gameplay.
3. How Has Video Game Music Evolved?
The history of video game music is a fascinating one. It has evolved from barely-there jingles to fully orchestrated masterpieces, each new generation of consoles bringing with it greater potential for musical expression.
8-bit era: The great grandfather of video game music was the 8-bit era of the late 70s and early 80s. The primitive technology only allowed for basic melodies, simple chord progressions, and a limited range of sounds. Despite the technological limitations, there was still plenty of creativity involved in squeezing the most out of the little hardware:
- Many companies developed their own custom sound chips to emulate the sound of real instruments.
- The tunes, although repetitive, were quite memorable.
- The limited space of the 8-bit cartridge meant that composers had to be mindful of how much music they wrote.
16-bit era: Things got much better with the 16-bit gaming revolution of the late 80s and early 90s. The improved sound hardware allowed for samples of real instruments, larger scores, and richer melodies.
- The console CDs and cartridges could now store much more music.
- The soundtracks were more interactive and adaptive.
- Many famous composers got their starts in this era, ranging from the jazzy tunes of Koji Kondo on the original Super Mario Bros. to Nobuo Uematsu’s sweeping orchestral scores in Final Fantasy.
Modern Era: With the advent of 3D gaming in the late 90s and early 2000s, soundtracks have become increasingly complex and detailed. Thanks to more powerful hardware and advanced music software such as VSTs, composers can now create fully orchestrated soundtracks with relative ease.
- The size of scores is much larger.
- It’s easy to create and mix realistic-sounding samples of instruments.
- The interactivity between music and player actions has increased dramatically.
4. Crafting a Video Game Score
Creating a good video game score can be both a challenging and rewarding endeavor for any musician. It takes an understanding of both video game development and musical composition to craft something that will resonate with gamers. Here are some tips on crafting a great score for your video game:
- Be true to the game’s genre and story. Consider the vibe of your game, the music it needs, and how the score can convey the story’s emotions.
- Choose an appropriate style of music. Game scores range from subtle track to bombastic scores, so make sure to align the style of music with the overall game feel.
- Develop a distinct sound. As the composer, you need to develop a distinctive sound that should fit the game’s theme.
- Record and mix When going through the recording, editing and mixing process, aim for the best overall sound quality.
- Tweak and refine. Unlike other traditional musical pieces, the musical score for video games is constantly refined and reworked throughout the whole development process.
At the end of the day, creating a memorable score for your project is the sign of true craftsmanship. It takes time, practice, and patience to perfect, but the end result is worth it.
5. Examining the Cultural Significance of Video Game Music
Video game music has become much more than just background noise. It has evolved to become an integral part of the gaming experience, with composers looking to create music that enhances the gaming experience. To understand the cultural significance of video game music, one can look at a few key aspects.
- Authenticity: Video game music is typically designed to feel authentic and create an immersive atmosphere. Composers look to capture the essence of a game through their music, often by using traditional instruments from the game’s culture. They also use various themes, motifs, and musical patterns to add depth.
- Cultural Connectivity: As video games become more popular, the music within the games often reflects the cultures in which the titles are created. Games like Legend of Zelda and Age of Empires feature music that reflects the era and region in which the game is set. This helps create a connection between gamers and the game’s setting.
- Lasting Impact: Popular video games have been known to have soundtracks that live on long after the game has finished. Music like the Super Mario Theme and Tetris Theme are instantly recognizable and can leave an impression on a player for years to come.
Overall, video game music has become an important part of the gaming experience, offering an opportunity for players to immerse themselves in the culture and atmosphere of the game. As video games continue to evolve, the music within the games will only become more important in creating an unforgettable gaming experience.
6. Video Game Music Going Forward
Video game music has come a long way since its inception in the ’70s. It has been used to influence and soothe audiences, build unique moods, and create compelling stories. As we move forward, this beloved soundscape will continue to evolve.
Changes to Genres and Style
- More live orchestra pieces used in-game
- Hybridization of musical styles from different cultural and musical genres
- Greater emphasis on emotional storytelling techniques
It’s likely we will see a lot more traditional and modern musical pieces juxtaposed throughout video games, as developers experiment with a wide range of different styles. Music can dramatically increase the player’s immersion and create engaging game experiences, so it’s safe to say that its role in games will likely remain significant.
Employing Artistic Freedoms
We’ll also start to see more innovative score pieces as composers are given greater artistic freedoms. Combinative compositions of traditional music and modern elements, rhythmic shifting of instruments, and sound design integration with themes also look set to become popular music techniques.
As the quality of gaming soundtracks continues to increase, the fans will have a lot to look forward to. Through audio experimentation, video game music is being taken to new heights and we can expect times of great innovation and growth going forward.
In conclusion, it is undeniable that video game music has made a tremendous impact on the world we live in today. It has defined the soundtrack of our lives and will continue to do so in the future. Whether it’s iconic themes from classic titles or the catchy jingles of today, video game music has and will make its mark on our culture and be remembered for generations to come.