Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Game music, part 1

Games have music. Most of the game's climate is generated by audio; quality of playing also varies depending on it, so let's just say that music is a very important part of any game. It also plays almost exactly the same role in the movie industry, and even the same people start to create both.

Game and film music's role is primarily to create a background, set the viewer in proper mood, but sound is also a piece of artistic work. I require my game and movie music also to be good for listening separated from the product it is made for. Most fail at this task, as they become boring, often only thing they communicate is epicness and that makes them trivial.

Now while you read this post, you can listen to one of the best (my opinion, of course) game musics ever made, perfectly balancing being a background and a good listen. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you two samples of Heroes 2:

These are both taken from the CD soundtrack, but h2 had also midi tracks, as it came out in 1996, during the final days of the midi era - a beautiful period if you ask me. Sound cards and formats provided such little opportunities that the only thing that mattered was the music guy's creativity. There were better and worse composers back then, as there are now, but it was harder to just spam some epic-and-important-sounding crap, take the money and go home. You had to compose something, often very simple, but fitting to the environment. This is mostly my personal taste, but I like distinctive background music. Let's say I favour John Williams over Hans Zimmer as film music composers.

This has much to do with earlier games vs later games issue that I started to describe here. Earlier games are more crude and their music is simpler, but more distinctive, expressive. As for warcraft, w1 was immersed in the midi era, w3 in the 'epic' era and w2 somewhere between them, having the most noticeable music of them all. I've heard little WoW music and what I remember (stormwind) was really bad, it was the very example of mass production of 'epic' music.

But I know w3 music very well and let's set it as an example of another problem, which certainly was present throughout the whole history of computer gaming, but has arised to become a major issue in the 2000's. Everything must be special, great or tragic, good or evil, the whole world becomes Manichaean. If you find a castle, it's probably built on a volcano and lights at night, if you find a big tree, it's probably either talking or the Life Tree, if you find a tavern, it's probably some kind of Crescent Tavern of Moonlight and Forgotten Dreams.

Well, in Daggerfall (Morrowind's mighty predecessor, 1996) every tavern had it's own unique name, but they were just ordinary taverns (the same goes for shops and other places). They were run by merchants, not retired heroes or gods. This is an example of a solid shop/tavern music:

 As for Heroes of This and That (which I shall speak of in a separate post), h1 (1995) was released in midi age and had poor quality, not too distinctive music; h2 (1996) during early transistion age and was the best (also musicwise); h3 (1999) during late transition age and was far worse than h2 (it's music was only occasionally music, most of the time it was soundtrack, trying to get epic) and h4's music was (i think) mass produced with no idea whatsoever. I remember h5 as being everything that is wrong with the world (forced epicness as the main cause), so let's not bring that subject up.

Finally, have a look (and a listen) on Daggerfall trailer: it also tries to be epic, but is also listenable; it's not too epic (or maybe just a little too epic):

Sorry to elaborate, I hope it's been understandable enough. Opinions? Favourite and hated music?


  1. i think nintendo has great music in their games

  2. twilight princess has my favorite soundtrack...koji kondo.

  3. I think the soundtrack that stuck out the most was from FF7. I recently watched a "making of" video on YouTube for the soundtrack to Red Dead Redemption and was very, very impressed. I've been playing it for so long I had to turn it back on and go around the game and play a while only to listen to it change with the things I did. I know it's probably not the first game to do that but it's the first I've actually paid attention to like that.

  4. It's funny that you don't notice the good music, but you completely notice the bad ones while playing

  5. agreed, i think music is just as important as visuals in a game.

  6. macguyver theme song was pretty cool

  7. Megaman 2 had the best soundtrack ever.

    ~H. Coct

  8. Some game music is actually amazing. Sometimes I just hit the pause button and sit back and listen :)

  9. nobuo uematsu who did the final fantasy music is the best

  10. I've been really getting into current video game music. I think my favorite old school soundtrack was Dark Forces. It was the first game that I remember the music changing depending on what you were doing.