When discussing the success of a video game one would outline the obvious aspects such the gameplay and visuals. However music is equally as important as it helps create the atmosphere and mood of a game. As in film and television, music in video games also helps identify the game and the characters within it. In recent times music in video games has drastically changed due to technological advances. Therefore, it is questionable if ‘Video Game’ can still be defined as a genre of music.
The change in technology in video games is reflected in its music. An example of change in music from a series of games on different systems is Nintendo’s Legend of Zelda. Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) featured the first in the franchise called ‘The Legend of Zelda’ (1986). The classic 8-bit soundtrack created the epic feel well known in Legend of Zelda games. At the time of release, no other game’s world was this large in scale and the music helped emphasise the size of the adventure. The game’s main theme tune is something every video gamer would be familiar with. Composer Koji Kondo has ‘re-used’ this theme tune in other Legend of Zelda games in order to maintain the identity of the series.
Nintendo’s second console, Super NES (SNES), featured ‘The Legend of Zelda: A Link To The Past’ (1991). This game featured a 16-bit audio soundtrack with 8 channels of sound. Although this game’s music sounded very different from the previous, it followed the same role of setting the epic feel to the game. The technological advances in this system allowed the game to have more areas and worlds to explore, which in turn expanded the opportunity for the quantity and variety of music used. The different music in each area would help create a distinct atmosphere from the rest. An example of this is the forest area. When entering the forest, the music would change which helps to ensure that the player will know they are in a different area. Another example is when entering the dark world where evil has spread across the land. The music in the dark world helps add to the wickedness in the atmosphere. The change in music from the normal world to the dark world tells the player that things have changed in the game’s story.
The Nintendo 64 (N64) took video game music to the next level delivering 16-bit audio with 64 channels of sound. ‘The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time’ (1998) revolutionised music in games. Not only did it feature an amazing soundtrack but also it involved ‘music-making’ in the gameplay. Link, the game’s protagonist, uses a magical ocarina to play songs to aid his quest. The player would need to play the songs themselves by learning a sequence of buttons on the controller. Different songs would create different happenings depending on where they were in the game and what song they had played. This feature blended gameplay and music together revolutionising gaming. In the ‘Lost Woods’ of this game, the music is used to aid the player in a maze. The music’s melody fades away when you are heading in the wrong direction, and fades in when you are going on the right path. This is another example of blending music with gameplay.
The file size of a video game cartridge always limited what could be contained in a video game. Musically, this meant that the theme tunes and background music was programmed. However this changed with the use of compact discs (CD), digital versatile discs (DVD) and Blu-ray discs. Most current releases of video games feature pre-recorded music. This now means that video game audio has no limitations. Any type of song can be used for a video game, using different genre of music rather than sounding alike.
An example of a pre-recorded soundtrack is ‘Super Mario Galaxy’ (2007) for Nintendo Wii. An orchestra had recorded most of the soundtrack. A large quantity of the soundtrack falls into the genre of classical music. Comparing this soundtrack to the original ‘Super Mario Bros.’ (1985) for NES shows how far music for games have come. Composer Koji Kondo uses the same techniques in delivering both games’ soundtracks. He created ‘catchy’ tunes that everyone will associate with the Mario character.
Konami’s future release of ‘Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of The Patriots’ (2008) will feature uncompressed audio. Sony’s Playstation 3 (PS3) uses Blu-ray disks for its video games. The file size of a Blu-ray disk is substantial compared to older formats. This allows games like ‘Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of The Patriots’ to contain big file types for content as well as audio.
Video games systems such as PS3 and Microsoft’s Xbox 360 feature digital audio. These systems are capable of outputting 5.1 digital surround sound, adding more to the atmosphere when playing video games. Most video games of today contain dialogue, lyrics and sound effects similar to those in film and television.
In the early days of video gaming, the soundtracks of games sounded similar. If you compare two different NES games their soundtracks will sound very similar. With the technology of big storage, soundtracks of games can sound entirely different. If you compare two different PS3 games, their soundtracks will most likely sound different (unless similar games, i.e. ‘Call of Duty’ and ‘Medal of Honour’ will have similar soundtracks due to the fact they both are set during World War II). Most games now use pre-recorded soundtracks and therefore falling into the genre of the type of game rather than ‘Video Game.’ Video game soundtracks can be from genres in popular culture like rock, hip-hop, classical and techno.
Nevertheless, in cases such as ‘Super Mario Galaxy,’ Koji Kondo decided to keep his work the same as before, creating a soundtrack that would identify a character or game. Although sounding different by ear, the structures of the songs in the soundtrack are similar to that of his older work on the NES, SNES and N64. Although the ‘Super Mario Galaxy’ soundtrack falls into the classical genre this type of soundtrack can still be classed as ‘Video Game.’