Video game music has evolved, it’s crazy to think the music of the first video game Pong was a few shallow pings and the occasional beep. After playing Jet Set Radio a game with an absolutely terrific soundtrack I started to think how music in video games affects how we play the game and has evolved over the years and how it has produced some of the most iconic melodies.As a younger game I’ve only begun to realise just what kind of impact a video game soundtrack can have not only on the game and it’s value in terms of playability and enjoyability but also on the player.
You can’t talk about iconic video game melodies without discussing the 8-bit era. I think we all a sentimental feeling towards the wonderful 8-bit sounds of chiptune. It’s the reason bands like ‘Anamanaguchi’ and artists like ‘Nullsleep’ exist and make music from the sounds of a machine that’s 20 years old. There’s the nostalgic value but also the simplicity of the sounds make it so strangely endearing. Whether it’s Megaman 2’s upbeat and heart pumping soundtrack, or the extremely recognisable themes of Zelda and Mario just to mention a few, we all have a certain nostalgia for the simple music of that time that produced some of the most recognisable and catchy tunes ever with such limited music supplies. This older style could even be argued to be a genre. Many of the composers from this era still make music in games today such as Koji Kondo the genius behind the music behind Zelda and Mario still composes music for Nintendo and is the musical mind behind the absolutely beautiful Mario Galaxy score.
We have definitely come a long way since then with games today with full orchestral scores and actual well known artists making music for games. What’s even more exciting is that because of advances in technology the music can change and cross-fade as we do different things in the game. This is done extremely well in games like Banjo Kazooie (RIP) where the music fades in and out into other songs smoothly and effortlessly without the player even noticing the change.
Unfortunately it seems some times that video game music isn’t appreciated as much as it should be and I’ve even heard fellow gamers dismiss all video game music as fundamentally bad.
Perhaps I as a person whose music library half consists of video game music may be biased but music in video games has too broad of a selection to be put down as just simple bleeps and bloops that humming and squeak in the background. The growth of video games now means there is a track to suit every mood possible. Of course it seems sometimes these days we get a lot of generic and forgettable soundtracks and some people would argue that video game music has deteriorated and that only retro music is memorable but some of the most creative video game melodies were created recently such as in Rayman Origins, Bastion, Halo, Metal Gear Solid the list goes on and are staples in the playlists of any gamer today afterall who could go without listening to this little ditty for more than a week:
Of course there are tunes that don’t stick with you but does that mean those songs that you don’t remember from games bad? Well no, not necessarily if that tune suited that moment in the game and added to the overall atmosphere of that game at that time then no it is certainly a good thing. A prime example of this would be from one of my favorite games Silent Hill 2 which didn’t particularly have an extremely memorable soundtrack but the ambient music suited and created the atmosphere in that game making it a terrifying experience.
Music has also become a more important aspect to the game with rhythm games such as the Rhythm Heaven series, Dance Dance Revolution and Guitar Hero ad inspiring people to get more into music. And now licensed soundtracks have become more common and introducing people to amazing music. Even fully licensed soundtracks of songs that would be in the charts appear in the games alike Tony Hawk Pro Skater 2.
The music in video games can totally change your perspective of a game and make bigger impact if done right making that mediocre game a memorable one.
[Words, Ross Flynn]
Editor-in-Chief, part-time super villain and hoarder of cats. If you can’t find me writing, I’m probably in the kitchen!