Replay and Respawn: A Glance at Soundtracks in Gaming
May 28, 2018 UDOU TEAM
I always had an affinity for gaming since I was a kid. I would hang out at arcade shops for hours at a time, and during our early childhood years, my parents got me and my siblings our very first console—my affinity only grew deeper.
Growing up whilst having an older brother, I was always the couch adviser (that’s how I like to call it) absorbing everything my brother can’t. Small details like the hidden shortcuts and other in-game royalties, but the most amazing one would be the soundtrack—
How it changes in every level, in every dungeon and incredibly more in boss fights where these usual over-the-top orchestra plays in as you desperately use your wits and all that you’ve learned so far to defeat the boss. It’s fun and dramatic at first until you die several times and that same music plays 42 times now.
A Glance on Early Video Game Music—Chiptunes
It wasn’t until the late 70’s that video games became a popular entertainment medium. Arcade shops did spread like wildfire back in the day and music stored on physical medium in analog waveforms such as compact cassettes and phonograph records for safekeeping. One method of having music in a video game was to use digital means, where a specific computer chip would change electrical impulses from computer code into analog sound waves on the fly for output on a speaker. Sound effects for the games were also generated in this fashion. Thus. Chiptunes were born.
Chiptunes or 8-bit music made an impact as it fills the silence in arcade halls, or even in early personal console games. It combines simple melodic styles with more complex patterns or traditional music styles, and became the most popular sound of the first video games and became the backbone of the modern game soundtracks we know today.
Creating an Immersive Game Component
Since then music in video games became a major component of world-building and capturing an immersive player experience. I mean who could forget the legendary fanfare that plays after every successful battle in Final Fantasy.
Or the Underwater Theme in the original Super Mario Bros.
Music in video-games began to grow into an art form. Several composers actually took pride in making them. As the generation and technology constantly evolves, so did video games and their soundtracks. With all of that Video Game Music became a genre of its own.
Game Music—A Genre
Many games for the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) and other early game consoles feature a similar style of musical composition that is sometimes described as the “video game genre.” Some aspects of this style continue to influence certain music today, though gamers do not associate many modern game soundtracks with the older style.
- Pieces designed to repeat indefinitely, rather than having an arranged ending or fading out.
- Pieces lacking lyrics, those that play over gameplay sounds.
- Limited polyphony.
But since the dawn of technology, game soundtracks became more and more complex, with the proponents more or less staying the same. Take for instance the soundtrack of the newest God of War for example:
It has pieces designed to repeat indefinitely, rather than having an arranged ending or even a fade out and pieces that do lack lyrics and is only playing over gameplay sounds. This is tailored to create momentum and drama, and is also more or less generated for emotional moments when you as the player trigger a specific cutscene.
Video Game Music have gone as far as having mainstream music included in the mix. This is evident on sports games and majorly in Racing Games.
This is used to create an experience tailor-fitted for the moment along with some of your favorite music.
Final Notes (see what I did there? No? Okay.)
Music in Video Games had come a long-way since its inception, but I think Video Games in general are still in its early stages as an entertainment medium. But, it’ll definitely continue to evolve into a more complex and tightly-knit medium along with its soundtrack and music. What it has now, does not only create an immersive experience but also creates a momentum with drama and conflict, it actually helps us to visualize more what plot (characters, story, etc.) we are seeing on screen.
It kinda is like film isn’t it? And I have a theory that video games are the future of films. But that’s a story for another time.
You finish this article? Aren’t you a sweetheart? For that, I reward you with my top five favorite gaming soundtracks. I’m such a good person aren’t I?
1. Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 and 5
2. Need For Speed: Underground II and Most Wanted
4. Hotline Miami 2
5. Watch Dogs 2
Get in to the discussion and share your favorite music below!