There are many aspects to creating a video game, such as graphics and gameplay. However, one aspect that is often overlooked but crucial to any game is producing great music. Sounds such as background music, character themes, or exhilarating battle audio helps complete the gaming experience.
History of video game music
During the 50s and 60s, video games didn’t include music. Games back then were created using unique and exclusive hardware. This meant that only a handful of people, mostly programmers, were the only ones who could play them. In short, games were quite simple in nature and more of a concept.
However, by the early 70s, the video game industry became commercialized, and arcade video games started to boom. Some of the greatest hits of this time were Pong and Computer Space. These games actually introduced sound effects to be part of video games. Space Invaders, a shoot ’em up video game from 1978, actually incorporated 8-bit or chiptunes to the approach of the enemies, which added to tense moments when playing the game. It was one of the reasons why the game is part of the most iconic video games in history.
As the video game industry evolved throughout the years, so did the technology to create better in-game music and soundtrack that accompanied it. A great example would be the release of the Nintendo Entertainment System in the mid-80s. People got to experience plenty of household video game franchises such as The Legend of Zelda and Super Mario Bros. that are still very popular today. For these games, what contributed to their fame was not just the games’ designs, it was also the soundtrack. These two were composed by none other than Koji Kondo. His music is still celebrated even today, with the most recent evidence in The Super Mario Bros. Movie.
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Then came the 1990s which brought about a change in video games with the transition to 3D graphics. Video game composers and sound designers started to have more creativity in creating music as the quality and style became more sophisticated. One prominent composer that comes to mind is Nobuo Uematsu with his work for the Final Fantasy series, including the iconic “One-Winged Angel” for Final Fantasy VII. Fast forward to today, gaming music is considered to be pivotal to our gaming experience. It has even penetrated into mainstream consciousness, like how wrestling superstar Kenny Omega named his finisher One-Winged Angel.
Heightening gaming experiences
Music is important in video games because it adds to the emotion and atmosphere as you play the game. Depending on how good the music is, it can make or break your gaming experience and improve immersion throughout your playthrough. The use of different music depending on the stage of the game can also add a unique touch. Video game music often also helps gamers have a deeper connection to the game and create lasting memories.
Consider playing the classic horror game, Resident Evil 3 and its intro “The Last Escape” by Masami Ueda. It not only hypes you up before playing the game, but it also adds suspense once the zombies destroy everyone in the cutscene. Further into the game, the song “Nemesis” changes the mood of the game from creepy to a straight-up chase situation.
Another great and recent example would be Doom (2016) and Doom Eternal. Both games’ soundtracks were composed by Mick Gordon. As you fight demons in each level while listening to the intense background music, you cannot help but want to keep going as the adrenaline fills you up the more you progress through the game.
Utilizing licensed music
Today, video games can include licensed music on their soundtracks. There are a variety of use cases that developers can employ to actually improve their games. Using well-known licensed music can help generate buzz and hype for the game. This is especially helpful when marketing it to attract a larger audience.
One example is Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: The Game. The 2010 comic-turned-game employs the chiptune band Anamanaguchi for its music and gained much praise. With the recent announcement of Scott Pilgrim The Anime, they are also bringing back Anamanaguchi. This brings in more hype for those who are already fans of the franchise, especially the game’s music. It can also potentially introduce the game to newcomers who may want more of the chiptune beat.
We’ve already discussed how music improves the gaming experience. Grand Theft Auto is one series that makes extensive use of licensed music as it includes a radio feature. Apart from that, it strengthens the video game’s theme. Playing a sports game such as any of the NBA 2K series, the majority of the licensed music used is what popular basketball players actually listen to before a game. This can help to increase immersion and get hyped as gamers listen to the same music as the NBA players.
YouTube: A Brief History of Music in Video Games
Photo credits: The feature image has been taken by Luciano De Polo. The image in the body of the article has been taken by Kuba Bożanowski.
Sources: Callum Altimas (TheSportster) / John DiLillo (Netflix)