Home » Entertainment » From 8 Bit to Orchestral: The Evolution of Video Game Music

When people think of the 1990’s, one thing they don’t remember it favourably for is the music. I certainly don’t. It’s hard to argue that the decade that followed the hairspray and synth dominated 80’s was musically more memorable.

Yes, there were bands like Nirvana, Oasis, Boyzone, Take That and, of course, the Spice Girls, but I beg you to divert your eyes (and ears) from the charts and, instead, point those flaps on the sides of your head towards the world of video game music.

Remember when characters had themes?  When I was a kid (a distant memory, but one with a gaming soundtrack) Sonic the Hedgehog, Mario, Zelda, Zool, Dynamite Heady, Bubsy; they all had their own themes or intro music that was instantly recognisable. These themes are still engrained in my head today. I often find myself whistling them while cooking.

So what’s happened?

As with most things, the technology involved in making games has evolved to the point where it would be foolish not to take advantage of it.  Now, there are some fantastic games out there – we all know them, we all love them – but if we were asked to hum any of the in-game music, it would be considerably harder than trying to hum, say, the music from “Launch Base Zone” from Sonic 3 on the Sega Mega Drive.

Is this a bad thing?

No, I wouldn’t say that it is. Just like one flavour of ice cream isn’t bad compared to another. A direct influence from the world of cinema has brought in more creative story lines and believable characters that we can emotionally connect with through better writing and exceptional voice casting. To accompany this we’ve got better graphics. Characters are looking better and better. Look at the recent Final Fantasy games and the Uncharted series. Take a peek at the trailer for the new Tomb Raider game. Things are looking shinier than a bald man’s head in a cooking oil factory.

We need the music to match the quality of the visuals. That lone man in a studio hunched over a keyboard putting together an 8-bit soundtrack while drowning his insides with can after can of Vanilla Coke (man, I miss that stuff) and trying to keep a Tamagotchi alive, has been replaced by an orchestra and a full production team. We’ve got fully fledged, respected musicians playing on the soundtracks of games: Steve Vai played the incredible guitar theme on Halo 2, for example. An incredible, dynamic piece of work that gears you up for manning a Scorpion tank and knocking a few rounds into a Wraith…followed by the obligatory corpse hump.

As with films, the music adds to the emotion. We need this emotion now that we have better stories and better characters. These things go hand in hand. Next time you’re watching a horror film and that dumb ass character you’ve been shouting at not to go upstairs begins to go upstairs, close your eyes – if you haven’t already – and focus on the music. Now open your eyes again, imagine the scene without the music. Would it be as scary? In most cases, the answer would be “No”. Music creates tension, it creates drama, and in some cases it can firmly lodge a lump in your throat that you have to force back down again lest you want your friends to see you cry.

It’s fun to imagine what games from my generation would be like if they were scored differently. Of course, it wouldn’t work as well – or at least, I personally don’t think so – and would be claimed as blasphemy by those loyal to their youth and the memories inherent therein. It’s only a matter of time until – if it hasn’t happened already – games like Gears of War and Elderscrolls V: Skyrim turn up on Youtube with 8-bit soundtracks for our own little piece of nostalgia and novelty.

Post Submitted by Martin
(Here is where we’d usually put links to his site/blog/social media but he has none of the above so guess you’ll never find him).

Featured image from JD Hankcock

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