By Sam Coles:
We have come a long way in gaming with music and sounds, with the bleeps and boops from the late 70’s with the Atari 2600 to now where we have fully composed music by professional composers. Music can be more than a back drop to a game, it can reflect the environment and it can also be used to enhance the overall gameplay experience.
Music started to flourish back in the 80’s with video games, not due to their complexity but it was because of the fact we started to get catchy tunes with Pac-man, Donkey Kong, The Legend of Zelda and of course Super Mario Bros. It wasn’t until the early 90’s where we started to get more complex tracks with the Super Nintendo; I’m not mentioning the Mega Drive because no offense to the system its sound chip wasn’t great. Super Nintendo games started to try and emulating orchestral scores, with titles such as Castlevania IV, Final Fantasy VI and Secret of Mana just to name a few. They really captured the atmosphere those games where producing, from the dark halls of Dracula’s castle to deep forests of Secret of Mana.
There is a reason why people remember these tracks, it’s because they associate them with certain characters and environments, it wasn’t until the PlayStation and N64 where musical scores began to mature and catch up with the likes of films. When Final Fantasy VII came out, it opened with the iconic them as you see Aeris walking through the streets of Midgard where it starts off subtle then swoops into an epic musical score as you get an establishing shot of the city. Yes it is crude by today’s standards in terms of graphical fidelity, but most ignore that because they can shut their eyes and remember that moment when like they did when they first played it back in the late 90’s all because of the music. Even Zelda Ocarina of Time has the same effect, play the opening score from the title screen and tell someone to close their eyes, they will see Link galloping across Hyrule field.
Now we have music that is remembered because it builds atmosphere, let’s start off with Dark Souls a game that is both minimalistic with its story and soundtrack. Dark Souls is a good example of that less is more, because as you trudge through the world all you will hear is the crunching of the ground from underneath your feet, the tearing of flesh as you slash with your sword and the distant moans of tortured souls. The only time you hear music in Dark Souls is when you’re at your home base camp or boss fights, when you’re at your base camp you have this music that makes you feel secure but filled with dread at the same time as you know you’ll have to get back out there at some point. Music in boss fights are there to get your blood flowing as you see this towering monstrosity charging at you with its intention of turning you into giblets.
Now we have music that works with the gameplay, what I mean by this is it can move with the rhythm of combat or platforming. The best example of this is the musical score from 2016’s Doom written and composed by Mick Gordon. Mick Gordon didn’t want to just write a hardcore track, he wanted to write a score that would complement the game and would work in tandem rather than being background noise. Mick Gordon’s soundtrack would keep up with the speed and chaos of the soundtrack, where it would even sync up with the glory kill system where it would mute some instruments and then pick back up when the gameplay kicks in again. It’s a good example of music and gameplay working together, rather them being separate entities.
Overall the next time you’re playing a video game take the time to listen to the music and take in the atmosphere that the music co-exists with. Music is a very important aspect of video games, as it can add an extra layer of emotion, tension and even more to the gameplay and I love that developers are emphasising music more in games.