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The Evolution Of Video Game Music

There once was a time when video games were filled with crunchy 8-bit beeps and tones that were extremely poor imitations at recreating real world sounds and instruments. Video game arcades were filled with repetitive, simple sounding tone based music that had the power to annoy. This primitive sound track was very much an accompaniment, sometimes an afterthought and didn’t really add anything to the playing experience.

Spin on a few years and we saw the introduction of sample based music – still crunchy 8-bit audio, but actual recorded sounds. This was a game changer – literally. Still to this day, I think that Xenon II megablast on the Commodore Amiga was groundbreaking in this respect…as well as being very memorable. With music provided by Bomb the Bass and alien voice samples actually in game – this was finally audio that enhanced the experience and added an extra dimension to the game world.

As PC’s and video game consoles have evolved generation after generation, so have the games themselves. As game worlds expand creating more depth and detail in each new generation, the audio also becomes more refined adding greater realism and involving atmospheres.

Now that video games are more widely accepted as a mainstream form of entertainment – not just reserved for geeks, the budgets have rocketed skywards.
The biggest game franchises now have budgets on the same scale as the biggest Hollywood blockbuster movies – and often make far more money in return. This huge increase in budget brings with it the opportunity to produce fully scored orchestral soundtracks.

Because of the technical nature of video games – it is also triggering a fusion in musical styles. This now applies to both video games and film. Musical scores now combine classical orchestral sections along with hard sounding, bass injected synths and dance style drum beats. Almost a grown up version of Dubstep – this has generated a whole new genre of music commonly referred to as Epic Music.

With the launch of the Playstation series of consoles, we saw a shift in the way that some games used music – or put another way, how music saw games. For a period, games were built around musical artists & were used to promote music. One notable example of this could be Chemical Brothers – their first biggest success was partly due to the wide exposure they received from cult space racer, Wipeout. While this may not quite be the case now, the music in games is viewed with just as much, if not more importance.

Video game musical scores are now available to buy in any record shop on the high street – or to listen to on demand through a streaming service. As I type here I am currently listening to the Call of Duty: Ghosts soundtrack which more than stands up to being listened to on its own, away from its original intended context.

I doubt the scores sell especially well – nor can I imagine that in the grand scheme of things that they generate much income. But it is very interesting to see how something that was once an afterthought is now a very important part of the gaming experience.

As we slower progress through more and more generations of game consoles, I find it hard to predict where things will go in the future. While the music itself can’t really progress much further. It is possible that the way that it integrates with game play develops further…I look forward to the day when the pace and style of moves that my character performs on screen are actively mimicked by an interactive score.