Evolution of Music in Video Games

The Gaming Industry has risen to be one of the most profitable forms of entertainment on the planet currently. While the likes of Netflix and other entertainment platforms show shock at that, it is not very difficult to understand why it has done so. Games are easy to access and easy to play. Unlike most movies (until the pandemic at least), you don’t need to
go to a movie theatre to have access to those games. You have access to those games 24/7, and most games nowadays have a graphical output that can put reality to shame.

But despite the immense monetary value put into game production, and the news and pomp surrounding game development, one aspect of video games overlooked on a universal basis is the music that is made for them.

At the time video games gained popularity with the release of arcade systems like Pong, which utilized small sounds during certain actions, to insinuate, for example, that a shot was
made. With the development of better audio systems, ones better than the extremely inconvenient cassette system, the integration of music and audio into video games could truly add to what was until then only an auditory experience.

The Early Days

 

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Pac-Man (1980) utilized a version of what we could call music, but it was looped and monophonic so that it does not take more effort than necessary. The first game to use a continuous soundtrack in the game itself was Tomohiro Nishikado’s Space Invaders,
released in 1978. It had 4 bass notes repeating in a loop, although it was dynamic, increasing the pace the better the player was performing.

 

The mid-to-late 1980s saw improvements in software, both for production and for storage of game music. Most music at this time usually had a maximum of 4 notes, as game systems still did not have the capabilities to play full-fledged soundtracks. But even in this period,
composers like Koji Kondo (Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda), David Wise (Donkey Kong Country), and Nobuo Uematsu (Final Fantasy), managed to make stellar music, the
likes of which are referenced and listened to even today. The rise of genuinely good soundtracks in video games led to cassettes being sold exclusively with only game
soundtracks, leading western record companies like Sierra to make copies themselves.

A Paradigm Shift

 

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The 1990s and the early 2000s also saw developments in video game music, due to the technological advancements achieved, such as the use of CDs and DVDs, which allowed for larger files and games to be used. Music changed, from the 4-notes used in Nintendo’s early gaming systems, to actual soundtracks being used, and with the rise of industry-shaking games like Halo, with bands like Breaking Benjamin making music for it, and World of Warcraft placing as much detail into their soundtracks as they did the art and lore of the game itself. The production of music in games changed as rapidly as studio development for the rest of the game. Gone were the times when there would be only one game designer, along with one composer, and a single team of maybe ten people working together to build a game. There were now teams, whose sole purpose was to concentrate and work on one part of a game, with a few hundred people now working full-time to release a functioning game.

And that was mirrored in the music. Once only a single composer was given charge of making the music, whereas now entire opera groups, and many different rock bands would make single tracks for the game, and where they would have to work meticulously with game designers to make songs that work just well with what is happening in the game.

 

 

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Grand Theft Auto, one of the best-selling video game franchises of all time, included entire radios, with their genres of music, with actual voice lines given to fictional RJs who talked
about the next song. Ranging from classical music to hip-hop and more, it signified just how much more music had a place in games, from providing a catchy beat to now being used as an actual world-building mechanic too.

Games like EA’s FIFA and others now also license tracks just to provide playlists during the game. From making their music, it is now highly feasible that you listen to some quality
Drake, or Kendrick when you’re on your gaming mode, which is brilliant on its own.

Some Standouts

Of course, it is not at all possible to list some of the best music produced for video games. There are just too many, and each entry that is not listed is an injustice by itself. And I shall list not the song, but the game the tracks contain. Here we go:

  • Doom 2016: Mick Gordon is somewhat of a legend among those who’ve listened to him,
    and listening to him here, especially while playing Doom is a treat to behold. A certain
    commenter on one of his videos once said, “Listening to this track makes me feel like I can level the Sun”. And that is the essence of it. Just good, hard heavy metal that makes you feel like a Berserker, able to destroy everything and anything in its path. Listen to
    “BFG Division” if you’re just starting.
  • Dark Souls 3: FromSoft has always had a bit of a cult following, for the so esteemed difficulty of games like the first Dark Souls. In the discussions around their games and how difficult there are, one thing everyone will agree on is the quality of music the game provides. The only time you listen to tracks is during boss fights, and most of them are good enough to make you search for the tracks, while dying to the same boss over and over and over again, until the tunes are memorized in your head.
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  • I would also like to reference BloodBorne, which is personally a better game than the
    aforementioned, although DS3 has better music, and is only lesser
    than BloodBorne by a very slim margin. “Slave Knight Gael” is a must-listen-to track, and is brilliant as a piece of music on its own.
  • Civilization 6: There is only one track I can recommend in this game, although the rest are very good too. Of course, I’m referring to the track “Baba Yetu”, which was the first video-game track to have won a Grammy. Do listen to it and the rest of the soundtrack.
  • Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1-4: Any track from any of these songs is good enough. The sheer variety and class they have with rock, punk, and metal music are worth sifting for.

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