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The history of video game music is inextricably tied to the progress of games in general. As the graphics, and the stories evolve, the music evolves with it as well. The phrase “big things have small beginnings” could truly be applied to game music.  Starting off with extremely minimal sounds coming from games like Pong, or the chimes of slot machines, or even the minimal soundtracks found in Donkey Kong (arcade.) Video game music was always hindered by the limitations of the technology associated with game making in the early days (1950’s-1980’s.) As the technology progressed, so did the music. Once we got to the era of Koji Kondo, Yoko Shimomura, and Nobuo Uematsu, we were able to get more meaningful soundtracks with memorable melodies and harmonies.

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The most persistant music from video games comes from the era of 1980’s-early 2000’s of game music. There are composers today that are making extraordinary and memorable soundtracks as well. But music from the earlier era of gaming have had so much more time to incubate in our memories. Today’s entertainment industry is that of nostalgia. Most films today are reboots of earlier franchises, as well as comic book films (capitalizing on people’s nostalgia for comics.) This further illustrates that this is why game music has made such a big emergence in the last decade. Concert halls are becoming filled with people willing to pay to hear their favorite game music from Final Fantasy, Zelda, Mario, Donkey Kong, etc. I think this is a fantastic thing. People understand the huge part that game music has to play in their experience of gaming. It can effect a player’s attitude towards certain characters, it can enhance an emotional moment, it can make puzzle solving a bit less boring when you get stuck, and so much more.

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One thing that I feel like video game music has lost today is the ability to make melody driven themes that can really catch a player’s ear. Game music in earlier eras were able to make themes that just caught the listener’s ear and had them humming it long after playing. Today’s game music scores call for a different set of tools on the composer’s part. Bigger stories, and bigger in game worlds call for bigger orchestras and a bigger sound. This can totally add to how epic the scores can sound, but it also just makes most of them sound the same. One trend that has pervaded the world of film (and game) music is that most film scores just sound homogenous. One night I remember watching Beetlejuice (probably my favorite film) and thinking how absolutely unique that Danny Elfman’s score sounded. You could spot that score from a mile away. It had so much personality that it just could not be superimposed over anything else other than Beetlejuice. I feel that most scores in game and film today are easily interchangeable, and this is at the expense of originality.

This hesitation to sound completely unique makes sense. You don’t want to take a chance in today’s world of entertainment. It is hard to take a financial hit on your product. So much money goes into making games and films today that it is just not financially safe to venture off to experiment on your work.

Most game soundtracks today are hit or miss, and they also lack distinctly memorable sounds or melodies. Granted what i’m saying is a broad generalization, but it has definitely got merit. The only thing that most composers can do today is use as many interesting world instruments that they can find, or anything unusual that can add some color to their orchestral palette. When most soundtracks call for the same tools used by the composer like an orchestra, electric guitar, etc. The most they can do is experiment with electronic synth sounds, or rare instruments to stand out.

Ultimately my curiosity leads me to wonder where the world of video game music will be in the not so distant future. With VR and AR we have new opportunities to try different things with music. Although the advancement of technology affords us the ability to try these new things, we’ve also seen the change in our capacity to make memorable melodies and themes that will last. So in the next 15 years, what will the audience members filling the concert halls for game music be listening to?

 

 

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