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The Blending of Music and Games

Soulskill posted about 6 years ago | from the i-just-five-starred-halo dept.

Music 119

Gamasutra has an opinion piece by the 'father of music games,' Masaya Matsuura, who questions the evolution of video game music (or the lack thereof) as the industry's technological advancements give rise to the capability for greater complexity. "Most games these days seem to use gorgeous orchestral soundtracks. While these large-scale soundtracks may generally be lovely to listen to, if we really think about it, isn't it all a bit lacking in imagination? Thinking about it from a simplistic visual perspective, while films are basically just watched, games are interactive." He also discusses the predilection for games to encourage "competitive fun," as opposed to "cooperative fun." GameSetWatch has a related article which talks about how excellent musical scores can help to create an emotionally charged experience, rather than simply occupying one's mind for a time.

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Game music (5, Insightful)

Ethanol-fueled (1125189) | about 6 years ago | (#25293461)

Having the sprawling orchestral arrangements is nice, but as a video game music fetishist since the NES days I know that the songs big and small rely on catchy motifs to motivate the gamer and stick inside their head. You think the Minibosses [] gathered crowds by playing orchestra?

Many classic NES games have captivating, moody music - Wizards and Warriors' soundtrack is +1 underrated. Long-running series such as Final Fantasy and Castlevania have used some of the same titles and motifs throughout their entire series.

Re:Game music (5, Interesting)

FornaxChemica (968594) | about 6 years ago | (#25293705)

Being an enthusiast myself and listening right now to some chiptune music (NES, Castlevania, 3rd level) I couldn't agree more. Elaborate music, orchestral or not, is what obviously suits modern 3D games but this is hardly the best we've heard. Almost all the most famous catchy tunes come from the 8-bit era! Is there any contemporary game's music track as well-known as Mario or Zelda themes? I wouldn't think so.

Re:Game music (4, Insightful)

BorgAssimilator (1167391) | about 6 years ago | (#25293849)

Zelda definitely takes the cake. Being a big music enthusiast, I loved Ocarina of Time, and how the game was pretty much centered on the music played from this instrument. That Zelda game alone had wonderful music, in addition to the earlier releases. Final Fantasy also had a very good score.

However, that being said, even the newer releases of these games haven't lived up to the role that their predecessors have. We've (and by "we" I mean the game companies) obviously shifted importance away from this component. Apparently the grand majority of people don't care (or at least the game companies don't think they care) about the music in a game as much as the other content. I must be in the minority when I say music incorporation is just as important as, say, the graphical implementation.

Re:Game music (4, Interesting)

Alexandra Erenhart (880036) | about 6 years ago | (#25293937)

Heheh Zelda music has really evolved through all their games, but it always have the same catchy tune you hear in Legend of Zelda 1. You play that music anywhere and you'll see all the Zelda fans jump. Everybody recognize it. In Twilight Princess you can also hear it too, but way more elaborated. I miss it everytime they don't add it to the games. I missed it in ocarina of time, even though it had great music.

Games like that have their music as their representative icon. Not many games have that.

Re:Game music (1)

miro2 (222748) | about 6 years ago | (#25296411)

Two words:
Katamari Damacy

From an afficianado of techno music, I can say that the music in that game is great (so is the artwork), and definitely not orchestral. Just really appropriate to each stage and exciting.

Re:Game music (1)

electrictroy (912290) | about 6 years ago | (#25297181)

That game drives me nuts. I liked it at first, but after awhile the camera (a downfall of many games) became frustrating. I eventually sold the game since I was sick of fighting the camera.

As for music:

A lot of the modern music tends to be "elevator" in quality. It serves as noise to fill the silence, rather than being a short "ditty" as appeared in the old cartridge-based games (N64, Genesis, NES, Atari, Coleco). Due to memory limitations, cartridge games had to use relatively-short pieces.

I think the move to CD improved the sound, thanks to direct recording of orchestras, but it also downgraded the memorability of music. I think it would help a lot if composers restrained themselves to limit compositions to 3 minutes or less, rather than stretch them into slow-paced elevator themes.

Re:Game music (1)

story645 (1278106) | about 6 years ago | (#25295147)

Apparently the grand majority of people don't care (or at least the game companies don't think they care) about the music in a game as much as the other content.

*shrugs* I'm not a big gamer, so might not mean anything but yeah, I never cared about the music. Even when I like it, I've gotten annoyed after a while and tend to mute it and throw an mp3 instead (if I'm not at home and have something in the background.) I also do a lot of my gaming on my psp during a car ride, where I have to listen to other people talking. It wouldn't phase me if a lot of kids playing on gameboys/dses/psps are in the same boat.

Genre also matters. I like a lot of fighting and racing games, where the level is over fast and the music's good for mood, but changes too fast for there to be much impact. GTA music stands out as being cool 'cause it's weaved in through the radio.

Re:Game music (1)

YourExperiment (1081089) | about 6 years ago | (#25297671)

Zelda definitely takes the cake.

Yes, but the cake is a lie.

How can we have a discussion about video game music where no-one has mentioned Portal? Possibly the best use of music in a game ever.

Re:Game music (1)

CrazyJim1 (809850) | about 6 years ago | (#25296467)

Castlevania 1's music is great. Castlevania 1 it is a game that if you become good at, you can really flow through the levels. There is something cerebral about great music mixed with great game play. It makes you feel like you're living in a music video or something.

Re:Game music (3, Interesting)

clockwise_music (594832) | about 6 years ago | (#25293993)

I think that a lot of this has got to do with the general decline of the quality of pop music. People now expect to hear rubbishy 3 minute bubblegum crap on the radio that has the emotional impact of a wet lettuce. As a result, our general experience of music has been relegated to "background sounds".

The latest game that I remember with great music was Doom. Those tracks rocked. (Mainly because they were based on classic heavy metal tracks. ) But then when I eventually moved onto newer games (Tomb Raider, Deus Ex) the soundtrack was just a bit of a yawn. I can't even remember if Doom 3 had any music and what it was like.

As any experienced gamer can tell you, great music can make a really big difference to a game. But generally it's regarded as something to slot into the game at the last minute. There are notable exceptions of course - a new Wii game called De Blob [] was designed ground up with the music in mind. It'll make a big difference.

BTW - if you really want some good rockin' music for your game, get in contact with me :) (Some of my music is up here [] and here [] . And I've done some music for the Angry Nintendo Nerd so some of you guys might have already heard my stuff without even knowing :)

Re:Game music (4, Interesting)

Kell Bengal (711123) | about 6 years ago | (#25294047)

I dispute that the original Deus Ex lacked a good sound track. The music was created for the game and well reflects the mood the game designers were trying to convey. Also, if you look inside some of the track data there are some subversive narky comments from the composer.

Re:Game music (1)

cayenne8 (626475) | about 6 years ago | (#25294495)

"think that a lot of this has got to do with the general decline of the quality of pop music. People now expect to hear rubbishy 3 minute bubblegum crap on the radio that has the emotional impact of a wet lettuce. As a result, our general experience of music has been relegated to "background sounds"."

Well, I think the Guitar Hero and Rock Star games are showcasing some fantastic music.

Of course..those tunes are from Aerosmith, AC/DC...Foghat....etc.

Re:Game music (1, Offtopic)

Neil Sausage (633803) | about 6 years ago | (#25295269)

I think that a lot of this has got to do with the general decline of the quality of pop music. People now expect to hear rubbishy 3 minute bubblegum crap on the radio that has the emotional impact of a wet lettuce.

Really? Do you really want to make an non-anonymous comment claiming that pop from the time of NES - mid-to-late 80s - wasn't as crappy as today and had a more positive emotional impact? I think #1s isn't the best measure - I'd rather see overall sales, as well as the singles charts - but because it's the first thing that turned up, let's look at some of the gems of '89:

  • Repeat Offender - Richard Marx
  • Hangin' Tough - New Kids on the Block
  • Girl You Know It's True - Milli Vanilli
  • Forever Your Girl - Paula Adbul
  • Dr. Feelgood - Motley Crue

Funny enough, those were consecutive #1 albums.

There were a lot of good pop albums made back then, but there are also a bunch of good ones made today. I've heard people dismiss the 80s as a shitty decade for music, others dismiss the 70s, others dismiss the current batch of music - whether it was in the 90s or now - and frankly their point has always been for shit. There's always good pop music being made, you just have to keep listening.

Re:Game music (1)

Neil Sausage (633803) | about 6 years ago | (#25295401)

Damn, six years of waiting to comment and I forget to put quotes around the first two sentences. I should have gotten more sleep and hired a better trainer before posting.

Re:Game music (1)

EdelFactor19 (732765) | about 6 years ago | (#25295471)

i think you have Doom confused with Quake, which had industrial metal type music by trent reznor on it. not many noticed but the game could be put into your cd player, audio starts at track 2 so dont try to play track 1... go try it and thank me later.

other than that I look to square.. first game i ever downloaded the music from? secret of mana. second was chrono trigger. xenosaga started strong but faded more into jpop as the series went on (for music).

music totally can make a game tho esp if its varied. after playing several rounds of mario kart i cant stand to listen to it anymore and throw on my own music instead.

Re:Game music (1)

bickerdyke (670000) | about 6 years ago | (#25297095)

i think you have Doom confused with Quake, which had industrial metal type music by trent reznor on it. not many noticed but the game could be put into your cd player, audio starts at track 2 so dont try to play track 1... go try it and thank me later.

Worked too for "The 7th guest". Also a great soundtrack.

Re:Game music (1)

Dekker3D (989692) | about 6 years ago | (#25296719)

hmm, you mentioned doom and it made me think of red alert's rock too... the hell march is one of those songs i still play once in a while, just for nostalgia's sake.

nobody's mentioned red alert yet, but it fits right with the likes of doom and.... yeh, doom. right?

Re:Game music (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25296899)

Haha, yeah doom did have pretty gripping music but i'll have to disagree, Final Fantasy 7 had some of the most beautiful and emotional music in a game ever IMHO, yeh there is alot of orchestral stuff but the impact is far better than any of the tosh we hear today.

Take the track 'One Winged Angel' for example that tune still stands out for me as the culmination of many hours getting into the best story line in a game ever and 'Aeries Theme' still makes that lump appear in my throat *sigh* good times man, good times!

Re:Game music (1)

miro f (944325) | about 6 years ago | (#25297687)

thank you for mentioning De Blob! When I first read the article title, I thought it was a review for this game. A perfect blend of Music and Gaming if ever I've seen one.

I found myself painting all the buildings different colours just to make music =)

Castlevania (3, Interesting)

Spy der Mann (805235) | about 6 years ago | (#25294209)

For me, the Castlevania games (especially Symphony of the Night) are excellent at combining background art, character design and background music.

Example: SOTN library stage [] . Here's a fan playing "Dance of Pales" on his synth [] .

What can I say? With Castlevania, the music becomes part of the game and contributes to the suspension of disbelief.

Re:Game music (1)

OmegaMan03 (1206022) | about 6 years ago | (#25294659)

I think one of the primary reasons, is due to the small ROM available, you get a limited amount of music that has to loop a lot, so this one small little loop better be good or it gets really annoying fast. Music is very neglected nowadays, its gets completely drowned out by the sfx and voice acting. Final Fantasy(s) and Zelda just wouldn't even be close to the classics they are without their very original and creative soundtracks.

Re:Game music (1)

KDR_11k (778916) | about 6 years ago | (#25296597)

I think it's also that they have a very strong primary "voice" to the songs while most songs that aren't chiptunes have less difference between the main voice and the rest. I think this is where I should use terms like polyphony and homophony but I'm not sure how to apply them here.

Re:Game music (1)

zobier (585066) | about 6 years ago | (#25295049)

Yeah, there's definitely some good game music out there already.
As to OP's suggestion of "cooperative fun" games; Little Big Planet [] looks pretty cool.
I dig the soundtrack on the demo too.

Re:Game music (1)

iplayfast (166447) | about 6 years ago | (#25295953)

Well as a counter example Civ 4 and it's brethern have great music from all periods of the civilization which more or less matches the period your civilization is at.

It also has music from the country whenever a countries leader talks to you. (I especially like Portugal's).

I've actually found myself playing more just to hear the music at times.

Re:Game music (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25297503)

Imo there are 3 main reasons why the music of the old days were more catchy:
1. they were a lot shorter
2. there were a lot less themes per game
3. they were a lot more simple

It is like comparing Mozart to an advertisment jingle or a football chant.

A new kind of problem (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25293479)

Well, it is not often that "gorgeous orchestral soundtracks" are thought of as a problem. Imagine how difficult some of the legal battles could be if one used popular music in a game -- unless it is a band like Radiohead

Re:A new kind of problem (1)

NuclearError (1256172) | about 6 years ago | (#25294151)

You're right - that's exactly why Guitar Hero never took off.

Re:A new kind of problem (1)

TheSambassador (1134253) | about 6 years ago | (#25294159)

Movies have real-life-music soundtracks (not designed for the movie) all the time. Granted, they have to pay for the rights, but the artists also get the exposure. I think that incorporating those in current games might be a kinda cool step.

Nothing wrong with orchestral (4, Interesting)

RogueyWon (735973) | about 6 years ago | (#25293485)

Hmm... the Gamasutra article struck me as a little pretentious, but maybe that's just because I actually like big orchestral scores for games. Some of my favorites include:

Wing Commander: Yeah, it was low quality midis, but at the time, it was jaw-dropping. It felt like you were playing a Star Wars movie on your PC and the soundtrack was a huge part of that. From the intro sequence, with the theme that was more than a little reminiscent of the ST:TNG theme, through to the battle music and the Kilrathi theme (also used for fun in Ultima 7), the music in the first 2 games was awesome. Who can forget the cheesy-but-classic "scramble" music that played before every mission?

Star Control 2: Each of the many alien races in the game had its own music and this played a huge part in setting the atmosphere for every encounter. The Ur-Quan and Yehat music, in particular, have stayed in my mind to this day as examples of great videogame music.

X-Wing: The Lucasarts I-Muse system which changed the soundtrack to reflect the progress of the battle was revolutionary. The audio cues from the music would directly influence your battle tactics. You knew that a few bars of the Imperial March meant that trouble was headed your way.

Pretty much anything Final Fantasy: Ok, perhaps the soundtracks haven't been universally stellar, but pretty much every Final Fantasy game has had a few tracks worthy of real notice. FF6's Overworld theme, FF7's Cosmo Canyon theme (and, of course, One Winged Angel), FF10's "To Zanarkand" and FF11's Memoria de la Stono all stand out as some of the best pieces of video game music ever.

Super Smash Brothers Brawl: The fantastic main theme, which is used appropriately throughout the story-campaign, does a great job in adding a touch of gravitas to what could otherwise be a rather lightweight story.

Re:Nothing wrong with orchestral (1)

Ethanol-fueled (1125189) | about 6 years ago | (#25293653)

Final Fantasy game has had a few tracks worthy of real notice. FF6's Overworld theme, FF7's Cosmo Canyon theme

FF6's World of Ruin overworld theme had a fast, urgent beat but perfectly set the mood of that point of the story. The World of balance overworld song was just corny, kinda like The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly sphagetti-western theme.

And Cosmo Canyon?! That's another kitschy spaghetti-western rendering of Native-American tribal music.

But, one usually can't go wrong with FF2 and FF6(American)!

Re:Nothing wrong with orchestral (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25295005)

That's funny. I played FF7 a few times. I read "cosmo-canyon" and could not remember what the theme was. When I read your description, it immeadiately came into my head -- must be a pretty good description.

Other examples (1)

BPPG (1181851) | about 6 years ago | (#25293667)

Braid: Simple, pleasant music-box style music, which would change in tempo and direction as you move back and forth in time. Really awesome.

Super Mario RPG: Huge variety, I liked how some characters tend to have their own theme. Some music related puzzles, and they do a good job of pronouncing perfect silence during some of the more intensive puzzles (omitting music is sometimes the best way to use it).

Music Catch [] : A great game with a nice melody, the gameplay forces you to actively listen to the music, in anticipation. Really a great example of how games could better use music. Really check it out.

Wario Ware: This pretty much goes for any version of Wario Ware, especially where music-related puzzles are concerned.

Re:Other examples (1)

prockcore (543967) | about 6 years ago | (#25294361)

Braid: Simple, pleasant music-box style music, which would change in tempo and direction as you move back and forth in time. Really awesome.

I was hoping someone would mention braid. Brilliant cello music.. and very trippy when you were going backwards in time, the music was playing backwards.

Re:Nothing wrong with orchestral (4, Informative)

DittoBox (978894) | about 6 years ago | (#25293891)

I agree whole-heatedly. A few others that are a bit more modern than the one's you've listed are great too. The Elder Scrolls series, particularly Morrowind and Oblivion both have incredible scores. Assassin's Creed was great too, in that the music and visual appearance of a given city reflected the culture and mood of that city.

An interesting note about the Call of Duty series of games was made by one of the composers. He stated that the feel of COD4 (set in modern times) was quite different from the sweeping scores of the previous games in that COD4 contained more electronic elements and used electric guitars. The effect he said was to remove or lessen the feeling that this was the ultimate fight between good and evil and replace it with a more vague feeling of relativity. He compared the music to Black Hawk Down or the Bourne series of films that depicted a slightly less "pure" war.

Re:Nothing wrong with orchestral (1)

im_thatoneguy (819432) | about 6 years ago | (#25294333)

Here here.

Another great recent example is Guild Wars.

Whenever I hear the soundtrack I immediately get sucked into the world.

Every great game I've ever played is rooted in my brain through its sound track.

My ring tone is the title song from Warcraft III

Re:Nothing wrong with orchestral (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25295313)

I still think that the opera scene in Final Fantasy VI is a high-water-mark in gaming in general.

In case your memory needs to be refreshed, here it is in its original 16-bit glory:

Part I []

Part II []

Part III []

The GBA translation [] (words match up better with the music)

And the live version:

Part I []

Part II []

Re:Nothing wrong with orchestral (2, Interesting)

jagdish (981925) | about 6 years ago | (#25295627)

Some of the music by Microsoft Games is superbly made, like the Age of Empires/Mythology series, Rise of Nations and even Halo. Its either a freak coincidence or, unlikely as it may sound, they must have someone good up there in charge of the music. Valve and Nintendo are also pretty good with their music. Rockstar mostly uses licensed tracks for their games, but their selection is superb.

Re:Nothing wrong with orchestral (1)

cmdotter (1274534) | about 6 years ago | (#25296115)

Way back when DirectMusic was first released (mid '90's sometime) I loved it. As a game dev and musician I had access to a low latency system that could play rich, textured music that suited what was physically happening on screen.

Let me explain further. The game was one of the first 3D of the Command and Conquer style. When your base was under attack, I could blend in (programmatically) more sounds (drums, bass) that had been pre-recorded to work with the current 'song'. I would also then adjust the tempo by about 10 beats a minute.

The result was increased gamer heart rate, simply because I was positively reinforcing what the gamer was seeing onscreen

As the game action died down (the two forces stopped fighting), I would also gradually bring down the 'level' of sound.

Too bad 3D sound was only just taking off then. I would have done much much more. As it was I was limited to very primitive doppler effects of projects as they whizzed by.

The reason it didn't take off? Mainly because gamers like to play their own music on top of the games rather than shipping what was originally scored.

Re:Nothing wrong with orchestral (1)

TheLink (130905) | about 6 years ago | (#25297783)

"which changed the soundtrack to reflect the progress of the battle was revolutionary"

Has there been a comic book superhero power like that? Where you always hear background music that's appropriate to the immediate/potential situation.

Something like "spider sense" but probably not as specific (and works for romantic and comedy situations too ;) ).

Dynamic Audio (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25293529)

I haven't read the article yet, however I agree that video game music could be more interesting. A classic example is Super Mario 64, where the music changed dynamically with one's environment.

Redbook audio is nice, but some of my all-time favorite video game music came from cartridge-based games:
Mega Man 2, Super Castlevania IV, Crystalis, Super Mario World, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. ... Just a thought.

Re:Dynamic Audio (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25293741)

Now having read the article, I'm actually somewhat disappointed by it. I was hoping for an article talking about new video game music technologies, maybe even emergent music styles.

However, the Gamasutra article was a bit thin in specific ideas. And the Civilization IV article was little more than the author gushing about how great the music was.

To repeat my point in the parent comment, I feel very strongly about dynamic music. This is potentially one of the most powerful mechanisms in video game music.

I'll be honest - I haven't been following games nearly as much as I did when I was younger, however, my understanding has ben than interactive audio isn't nearly as widespread as it could be. Please correct me if I'm wrong.

I would personally love a game that makes me feel like there's a whole band or orchestra interpreting my actions/environments in the video game world, and not just idly playing a song vaguely connected to my in-game actions.

Re:Dynamic Audio (2, Insightful)

cbreaker (561297) | about 6 years ago | (#25293929)

Well then you should read the article because it's more about "music games" like Guitar Hero instead of music IN games.

Music in games has always been good or bad, and I think the same is true now. Not all Nintendo or c64 games had great music, just as not all new games do.

I think this is an example of "nostalgia" more than actual truth.

Simple reason (3, Insightful)

Korbeau (913903) | about 6 years ago | (#25293557)

Chicks always get bored when I score high on expert at Guitar Heroes III and leave before I finish a song.

But whenever I clumsily play what looks like a love ballad dedicated to them while being drunk on my cheap guitar with rusty chords, they always stay for the end :)

Re:Simple reason (1)

SecondHand (883047) | about 6 years ago | (#25297283)

What was your scientific method for this research? Did you use two distinct groups of chicks, the "Guitar Hero chicks" vs "rusty guitar chicks". Were both groups randomly picked from the subject group? How big was the subject group, anyway? What exactly did you measure? Did you postulate a hypothesis for why they prefer the rusty guitar over the plastic toy? Please clarify urgently. I want to go buy a guitar but I'm not sure which one to choose.

Warcraft II had the BEST music ever for video game (1)

Eugenia Loli (250395) | about 6 years ago | (#25293573)

The Warcraft II (Tides of Darkness) music from 1995 was the best music ever written for any video game. When the new Warcraft versions came out, I was really disappointed that the music did not have the depth and melody and uplifting of that version.

I looked at Youtube a few months ago, and there are A LOT of people who have the exact same opinion as well. I really wish someone could license that music and create a proper classical album out of it (the original was lower-quality electronically-created audio you see).

Check here for more info on how to download the music [] (from what I can gather, Blizzard released the music free of charge, legally).

Re:Warcraft II had the BEST music ever for video g (1)

cbreaker (561297) | about 6 years ago | (#25293943)

Bah. The Ultima series had excellent music (And Ultima 9, while the game could have been better, the music was incredible) and StarCraft was among my favorite music of any games.

This article is about music games, not music IN games, however. Meaning - the game is about the music (eg. Guitar Hero.)

Bill Brown's Gaming Music Scores (1)

GeigerBC (1056332) | about 6 years ago | (#25293623)

I always thought Bill Brown and his work on the Rainbow Six and Ghost Recon series was excellent. It seems he's also worked on Quake, C&C Generals, and RTCW. []

A mixed bag, as ever (1)

mccalli (323026) | about 6 years ago | (#25293651)

There has always been good and bad music in games. I grew up with the Commodore 64 -it has writers who heavily influenced the way I play keyboards and write music today. People like Rob Hubbard, Martin Galway, Chris Abbot...great stuff. Ed Bogas' Psi 5 Trading Company music which changed according to the game's events has also stuck in my mind.

However, it had utter dross too. Complete, total and redemptionless trash. Then, of course, was the stuff in-between - the average, take it or leave stuff which was neither genius nor risible. I suspect most tracks fall into this category. I suspect they still do on modern systems. I suspect they will do on systems in the future - the reason most stuff is just average these days is because that's pretty much what average means.

Orchestral scores - nothing wrong with them per se. Take a look at Super Mario Galaxy for a game where the music really does add to the experience, and that's pretty much all orchestral. Then again, I was always a fan of Rez (original, not had the chances to play Rez HD) and that took a very different approach to music - the blurb made clear that the Trance-style music was an integral part of the game's experience, and that if you played as if it were a straight shooter-on-rails then you were missing the point.

At some point, Wii Music or whatever it's going to be callde will come out. That's the preview they showed on first unveiling the Wii, where Miyamoto conducted a virtual orchestra using the Wiimote. Surely that is an innovative use of music in a game?

I've rambled a bit but the overall point I was making is this: all systems of all eras had stand-out music (yes, even the one-beep Spectrum. Manic Miner anyone?). All systems also had junk. And all systems primarily had tracks that were, well, rather average. The rule holds true today and I fully expect it to hold true tomorrow.


Re:A mixed bag, as ever (1)

cbreaker (561297) | about 6 years ago | (#25293979)

Aww come on, if you're going to mentio Rob Hubbard and company, you can't omit The Fat Man.

This article was about music games, not music IN games.

Re: C64, etc. (1)

TaoPhoenix (980487) | about 6 years ago | (#25296701)

I discovered Overclock Remix, the site for people doing modern interpretations of older tunes. It's my number one source for work music.

planescape: torment (1)

circletimessquare (444983) | about 6 years ago | (#25293703)

it's an old game from around 2000. the score was excellent, music mood and game setting were complementary. but most memorably, whenever you encountered an enemy or engaged in combat, the score would effortlessly change theme to something more edgy and dramatic, and then effortlessly change theme back again when aggressions subsided. it was as if you were scoring the music for an action movie in real time []

Re:planescape: torment (1)

Tink2000 (524407) | about 6 years ago | (#25293991)

Jedi Knight 2 did the same thing (change when fighting, but oh so subtle).
I've had several people ask me if I was watching a Star Wars movie when I was actually just playing JK2.

The old stuff was better (3, Insightful)

Daetrin (576516) | about 6 years ago | (#25293751)

Perhaps i'm just showing my age, but i think the older and simpler music had a much bigger impact than the music from newer games, even leaving aside the cases where they're not using licensed music.

The music needs to fit the scene for which it is being played, and outside of games specifically designed as "music games" i think that's all the interaction that's necessary. The music needs to be relatively simple and somewhat repetitive. Once you've gone beyond a certain level of complexity either you're not noticing the added complexity anymore, or you're paying more attention to the music than you are to the game.

Of course a certain level of complexity is good. I don't really look back on the "music" from the Atari 2600 with great fondness. However as the ability to play more complex music in games has increased there was a point where my interest peaked and then began a general decline. I think the peak for me was around the days of Final Fantasy 6. After that the music of games in general made less and less of an impression on me. I very much enjoyed Final Fantasy 10, and the music for it was well done and pleasant to listen to, but very rarely do i get a desire to go back and listen to it again, and in fact unlike a lot of previous games i have difficulty "replaying" most of the music in my head. On the other hand more recent music from the Advance Wars music has stuck with me much more because it was constrained by the format to be simpler and more repetitive.

Of course one could argue that being complex and varied enough that the songs don't etch themselves into your brain is a good thing, but from my perspective i'm going to get more enjoyment out of the music if i remember it fondly later, especially if it's paired with memories of a particularly fun game.

Re:The old stuff was better (1)

Scoth (879800) | about 6 years ago | (#25295045)

One game that always stuck with me for excellent music was a kid's game on Atari 8-bit called Tonk in the Land of the Buddy Bots. The general gameplay was similar to Zelda - top down view moving around, though minus swords. The general layout was an approx 15x10 grid with a mountain in the far north, the Big Bad's castle in the far south, and a river through the middle. When your guy was at the peak of the mountain, all that played was a simple two-part motif. A couple screens down, a bass line is added in with slightly ominous overtones. A screen away from either side of the river is a complex four-part harmony with a fleshed out version of the main theme and the bass line. A couple screens from the castle, the ominous bass line dominates with only a hint of the original motif, and at the castle is nothing but the bass line. Likewise with the river, at the west side of it is a simple one-part lilting melody, which gets more complex as you near the waterfall to the east. Any vintage game music fan owes it to themselves to check it out. Level 4 is still quite a challenge even for an adult.

It was such a simple and well-done evolution, I never understood why so few games did anything like that and used the same music for the entire overworld.

Re:The old stuff was better (1)

AnEducatedNegro (1372687) | about 6 years ago | (#25295071)

half-life 2.

Re:The old stuff was better (1)

engun (1234934) | about 6 years ago | (#25295075)

Personally, I think things have just evolved to match the capabilities of modern hardware. Games are more like movies now, immersive, interactive. And just like movies, some have good soundtracks, and some, well..

Admittedly, old games did have simple catchy tunes which I too associate with "fun". Stuff from the 80s/90s that made an impression on me as being very suitable to the game + immediately come to mind were Budokan, Legend of Kyrandia and Prince of Persia.

But then, what they had to work with back then wasn't really anything much. Mainly FM synthesis or later the Sound Blaster. I remember being grateful for real sound on the pc speaker when I didn't have a sound card.

Of course, after the sound blaster came along, there was still the problem that audio compression algorithms weren't that great. The MOD and other tracker formats like S3M/XM did a good job filling in, and I'm still blown away by that music from 2nd Reality. It wasn't a game but boy, was it an experience.

Now, with stuff being in MP3 and OGG and what not, all CD quality audio, there's a lot more control over the kind of experience you can deliver. Personally, I think games have just moved with the times. The epic scores in Final Fantasy for example.

Other soundtracks I was blown away/had very emotionally charged experiences with: Max Payne 2 (The noir style pervaded everything, including the music and they even had a janitor whistling the main theme in one scene. Just beautiful and cinematic. A real experience.) I could say the same for American McGee's Alice, Beyond Good and Evil and a few others.

So personally, I don't think game soundtracks are universally bad/good. Just like movies, there's the rare gem where everything comes together perfectly. And just like movies, most just suck.

Re:The old stuff was better (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25296075)

No One Lives Forever 1 and 2 weren't "music games" but had excellent music that was even interactive based on the level as well as the situation. For example, when your character was noticed by the bad guys, the music would change to a more frantic-sounding version of the same basic tune.

Re:The old stuff was better (1)

Kashgarinn (1036758) | about 6 years ago | (#25297693)

INaBE (I'm not a brain expert), but..

People can listen to a tune once, and be neutral to it, but when they hear it again and again, they warm up to it, or start to hate it, as in the emotional connection takes a while to develop.

You can most often instantly realize whether music is well made or not, even if you're not sure if you like it or not, give it a chance, listen to it again, and you might discover that you like it.

Emotionally charged experience... (1)

pdxp (1213906) | about 6 years ago | (#25293799)

My best in-game music experience that had a significant emotional impact was from Resident Evil 2, which changed the intensity of the music based on what was happening. Things pop out and the music gets really intense... just like a good suspense flick. That is, to me, one of the best examples of how game music can be interactive.

Consider WoW on the other hand... the only thing that happens to the music is a track change when you enter different zones. After 100 hours, you want to tear your ears off.

Wing Commander, the original (1)

jd (1658) | about 6 years ago | (#25293813)

That had a decent sound-track that could exploit devices like the Roland LAPC-1. X-Wing could use the LAPC-1 for the music and a Soundblaster for the sound effects, which was even more impressive. But, yes, those did use sound in a very basic way.

Frontier: First Encounters was a bit more sophisticated - the music was selected by type of scenario (so if you suddenly got into a fight, the music would change accordingly, likewise with docking at a space-station, and so on). In fact, First Encounters (although buggy) was one of the best games I've ever encountered (pardon the pun) when it comes to the use of incidental music, because it was genuinely incidental music in the way a TV program was, not chamber music/muzak. (Even Elite, the game that spawned Frontier and First Encounters, had a limited concept of incidental music, playing The Blue Danube when you had an active docking computer provided you were not attacking or being attacked at the time.)

I think that it is to games like First Encounters that game writers should look - genuine incidental music that fits the scene, rather than a one-type-fits-all. This would meet the objection as described. Music that, although not interactive, fitted the interaction. (Though god only knows what you'd use as music for MMORG cybering.)

Depends on Developer and Audience (1)

jaguth (1067484) | about 6 years ago | (#25293927)

Blending music and games depends on the eye and ear of the beholder. Developers will choose what they think blends best for their game. Gamers will, obviously, enjoy games they believe have been blended well.

Some Non-Orchestra game music I really like are from the classics such as Mega Man, Castlevania, and *gasp* that one song in Bubble Bobble that repeats continuously.

Some Orchestra game music I really like are from Final Fantasy 6 & 7.

And possibly my favorite at the moment is old 50's music, such as "How much is that doggy in the window" in Bioshock; it just makes the atmosphere 3 times as creepy, and i love it.

Pffff, who cares about music in games (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25294033)

The sound the shotgun and the monsters make is more important. What is it that makes me find Doom I, Doom II, and many simple Flash Games, better than many modern games? Not the music in any case.

What if the music was dynamically changing? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25294057)

I think there is room for some exploration into games where the music more directly reflects how you are playing and what your situation is. There has already been some clever arcade games where music is developed as you play and they use that as a main aspect of the game, though i'm too lazy to make an account here, let alone figure out what the names of those games are.

I have this idea where a game would change into specific chord progressions and tempos, with an underlying motif depending on how you play (like if it were an rpg like game where you had choice between different character paths)

If someone were dying, it would have a somber type tone and slow tempo, but if you in the middle of action, it would speed up and get intense like, and if you were on the verge of dying, it would speed up even more so and develope a twisted, distonal melody.

In a way, the music could vary in so many ways for player, providing a unique experience., It all sounds neat to me, but don't ask me how to make it all actually work out good, that's for the pro's to do.

Re:What if the music was dynamically changing? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25294587)

iMuse is already patented, sorry.

xwing had it (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25294115)

The first xwing game had music fiotting to the situation.
That was 15 years ago.
Not much has changed since then.

Father of games music? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25294167)

The first thing I thought of was:
Frank Klepacki
Westwood Studios

My everday playlist still includes the Dune 2 soundtrack

Sorry but he's wrong. (2, Insightful)

syousef (465911) | about 6 years ago | (#25294195)

I've gone from watching games evolve from now recognised as awful but revolutionary at the time synthesized junk on tiny laughable speakers to incredibly epic wonderful scene setting thematic music that adds to the atmosphere of the game. I like to imagine what Captain Goodnight and the Islands of Fear or Karateka would sound like if the score was created with today's equipment.

I remember marvelling at my first sound blaster (plus 1 speed CD-ROM which I got criticized for buying by a friend because it was extravagant). I remember trying it out against an AWE32 years later and thinking "How could I have liked that". I remember trying my SBLive with surround sound speakers for the first time and loving it because it left the AWE32 in the dust. I remember my first taste of my latest sound card and Logitech X-530 speakers for $68 and thinking "sure I could do better than this, but why would I spend thousands for such a small game when this is so awesome". If one thing has gotten better in computing, it's music. Whining about it is about the silliest thing I can think of.

Re:Sorry but he's wrong. (1)

Panseh (1072370) | about 6 years ago | (#25295615)

The article never says game music of old is better than current offerings.

His concern is that actual music games are relying on licensed music from famous artists. As part of the music game industry, he believes, for its continued growth, that musicians must be more intimately involved in the game making process.

In actuality the article only briefly covers actual music in games, talking more about what is fun about video games and how he believes interactivity and cooperation should be a big part of it.

Re:Sorry but he's wrong. (1)

sznupi (719324) | about 6 years ago | (#25296601)

"Best of both worlds" worked great in Homeworld - custom music score, depending on the situation, surely made by people within the team...but at the same time they used Adagio for Strings...which was simply perfect.

Re:Sorry but he's wrong. (1)

sznupi (719324) | about 6 years ago | (#25296619)

Too bad we had almost a decade when basically nothing was improving (and there was even some setback for a few years, before X-Fi showed up)...right after Creative killed Aureal... :/

I'm not sure I understand the complaint. (3, Insightful)

argent (18001) | about 6 years ago | (#25294217)

Is the problem that the music sounds like a film score? I don't see the point of complaining about this, if you prefer beeps and boops instead of violins and pianos, that's legitimate, but it seems to have little to do with the fact that it's a game... those beeps and boops weren't about it being a game, they were about the limitations in the hardware. Different games have different music, just as different films have different music.

Is the problem that the music doesn't react to the actions in the game? But it does! Characters have themes, and the background music tends to reflect the most important character, it changes as you progress in the game, it changes as you enter different modes and areas.

Is the problem that the music isn't controlled somehow by the player? OK, I can see things that could be done. you select a theme for your character, and have the game generate some kind of algorithmic background music depending on the characters themes. You could have the player use musical cues to make actions happen (I had hoped that Ocarina of Time would do this, rather than have the music simply be a gimmick that you didn't actually have to learn). But you can do all these things without losing the lush orchestral scores.

So what exactly is the complaint?

Re:I'm not sure I understand the complaint. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25295207)

I believe the complaint is mainly that the music isn't interactive, like the rest of the game is. Basically, when we hit CD-quality audio in the mid 90's, not a lot has changed. Sure, we've got surround sound and even some fancy effects for things like echoes and such, but that's about it and that's more for realism than anything else.
That puts music on a par with films - you don't interact, you just listen as you play the game. Hell, why do you think both the 360 and PS3 (to an extent) allow you to play your OWN music? Because generally, the music in a game isn't needed or necessary so you may as well listen to something you like rather than whatever the ONE sound guy on the game (Which is more often than not a programmer who's hobby is making music - I'm serious) likes.
I suppose he has a point, dynamic music hasn't really taken off much. I remember System Shock 2 doing it brilliantly and I don't think anything else has done it better since, most games simply don't bother. Look at C&C3 - it has "Dynamic" music and nobody cared for the soundtrack, whereas many /.ers here can probably name or hum a bunch of tracks from previous C&C games because it was simply good music, which gets us back to the main point - not a lot has evolved.

Re:I'm not sure I understand the complaint. (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25296139)

you could develop the music along the same lines of - for lack of a better word - genetics. As the fight progresses, have the music change from charged and exciting, through a major key and stacatto instrumentation with a well defined purcussion to a:

1) if the battle is going poorly, a more tense and minor key
2) if it's going well, a more triumphant mood.

Like AI, these would need specific triggers and imaginative branches in what happens.. If done well, you would recognize the primary themes from the soundtrack as seen through the context of the mise en scene. The music would give you auditory cues as to what's happening. For example:

As the battle hinges on the heroic actions of a specific character, the riffs and passages included would reflect that: playing that character's theme (or in the case of a nonspecific character, his/her race/faction theme).

In the same way that storytelling for games has changed (as a simplistic example, see the dialog system in neverwinter nights) where a composer must not compose a series of pieces of music, but work within a framework for building the final score - creating themes, purcussive passages, and bridges between the different possibilities.

This mode of thought in reference to soundtrack creation on the part of the composer (and to an extent, the performers whom are recorded) is fundamentally different to how film soundtracks are produced. It requires a certain amount of creativity and foresight that couples the composer and developer more tightly than they ever been in the past.

On another note entirely, I think the music in HL2 was fantastic. It wasn't as memorable as music in classic games, but it did its job brilliantly: it conveyed the situation and mood expertly. Few games can claim the same.

Orchestra Hero (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25294267)

Who needs Rock Band when can have Orchestra Hero. And if you thought the price of collecting all the band instruments before was high, it's going to take on a whole new level of expense with this one.

I'm excited, how about you?

AudioSurf! (2, Interesting)

the_greywolf (311406) | about 6 years ago | (#25294277)

I saw this game at PAX this year. It makes a game out of an audio visualization of any song in your collection.

It's a Steam game and it works (mostly) in Wine, too.

Forget music for games, get a game for your music!

OCReMix (3, Informative)

achenaar (934663) | about 6 years ago | (#25294313)

See for what can be done with old game tunes. The results are effing fabulous. Some of the contributors are having their works put into the new street fighter game. Great stuff.

Re:OCReMix (1)

bdcrazy (817679) | about 6 years ago | (#25295059)

Some of the stuff in that collection is simply fantastic. The Bubble Bobble Hillbilly Rodeo ReMix is simply hillarious! And from many who spent way too much time playing tetris, the Tetris Slavic Roots OC Remix song is loaded with hours of memories.

Re:OCReMix (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25296213)

Voices of the Lifesteam (an OCReMix album) is one of the best albums I've ever listened to. Just the first track alone, "Deliverance of the Heart" is absolutely beautiful. It has weaker moments, but overall the entire thing is an improvement on the original score of Final Fantasy VII.

If you believe that's possible.

Incoherent (2, Insightful)

dcollins (135727) | about 6 years ago | (#25294401)

When I read this interview last month, I put it down and said to myself, "Wow, I think I just experienced a cultural/translation divide with the Japanese. That was really incoherent."

The whole critique of "competitive fun as opposed to cooperative fun", etc., seemed really unproductive. There's a bunch of new made-up words in the article -- that's always a red flag for me.

From a game composer (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25294601)

As a working video game composer, I can say that this recent talk of "unimaginative" soundtracks often times has to do with the developers asking for very specific things of composers.

Here's how the process doesn't work: developer hires composer, composer says "here are some ideas I have in mind for your game." Developer says "great, let's hear it!" That's just not reality. Developers already have an idea of what they want, and if they want more of the same canned Hollywood action cue sound, that's what they'll get, because they're handing over the dough.

The solution to this problem? Developers need to become a little more intrepid and be willing to take risks on soundtracks, and trust the composer's intuition. If they keep playing it safe as they have been, then of course, these criticisms of soundtracks will continue.

One word... (1)

sortius_nod (1080919) | about 6 years ago | (#25294673)


Re:One word... (2, Informative)

altek (119814) | about 6 years ago | (#25296123)

Mod this up, Rez was awesome, and was exactly the sort of thing this post is talking about. []

Music has had a role in games for a long time (1)

sleeponthemic (1253494) | about 6 years ago | (#25294731)

All of us have cherished memories of games that have as much to do with the music as they have with the mechanics.

This isn't different now and it'll always be the same, some games have music absolutely intended for incidental ambience. Others have true "song" structure and often have legions of fans reminiscing, hearing them.

All of us feel emotionally hooked to this enough to be rabidly typing away our favourites in comments right now.

There were a lot of great games for music (faxanadu etc) in the NES era but Donkey Kong Country (1-2) really did it for me..

Musical Innovation (1)

wandering_ronin (1202463) | about 6 years ago | (#25295153)

In movies music changes and reacts to whats actually happening. Often games do similar things, changing with scripted events, instead of mindlessly looping the same 5 minute MP3.... However, one thing that I think games can really progress is the music changing to reflect how your playing. For instance, I'm currently play through de Blob on the Wii, and it's got really cool feature where as you earn points, random samples play, adding to the background music. Subsequent points scoring is like a band member performing a solo. At the start of each level you choose the 'music mood' e.g. funky, laid back etc. I think it works exceptionally well, adding that extra layer of interactivity within the game, but not being the focus of the game like say guitar heroes etc.

Re:Musical Innovation (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25295447)

Need for Speed III: Hot Pursuit dynamically changed the background music's tempo to match the speed at which you were driving. It was so subtle, yet without it I don't think the game would have been as good as it was. Now the songs in NFS games is just advertisements for bands (boo EA Trax).

One word: Tetris. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25295245)

In case you forgot...

Ha ha ha.

Music is *Disadvantage* to Gameplay (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25295533)

I hate it when games try to be realistic and make you listen for sound effects to be able to play (like most fps games you have to stalk your target through sound). Because then you can't use music since your at a disadvantage and it gets in the way. Its even common strategy for when the hyped up music kicks in for a sneak attacker to rush head on because they won't be heard. That is if the music hasn't already alerted the prey that they are there.

Dissertation on this... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25295559)

For more on this and Game Music's role and development you could have a look at this essay...

There's 2 Audio playlists there too.

If you have a spare 20 minutes or so.

Thanks :)

Licensed Music? (1)

jagdish (981925) | about 6 years ago | (#25295589)

The recent success of music games in the West has been based mostly on licensed music.

I disagree. That may be true for Guitar Hero and similar games, but I think the majority of games feature original music. Exceptions include games adapted from movies, which mostly feature the OST of the movie and karaoke type games.

Re:Licensed Music? (1)

Panseh (1072370) | about 6 years ago | (#25295655)

Note the distinction "music games" in what you quoted.

Waaaaaay back in the day... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 6 years ago | (#25296569)

On the Amiga (dodges a toaster) there was a game called Mind Walker in which the soundtrack was never exactly the same and had everything to do with the game's intensity. They got away with it using tempo, pitch and timbre variations of the sample loops being used in the sequence.

  I think it was an awesome achievement.

Re:Waaaaaay back in the day... (1)

Petrushka (815171) | about 6 years ago | (#25297175)

Soundtrack based on intensity of action goes back a lot further than that! Ballblazer [] (1984), one of the early great Lucasfilm (as it was then) games, had an in-game percussion-like soundtrack -- I say "percussion-like", as it consisted of beeps and boops, at least in the Atari 800 version that I played -- which varied in tempo and texture according to what was going on in the game. (It also had title music that was partially generated from random numbers, but that's a separate matter.) It had superb sound, and remains one of my favourite soundtracks.

Wii Music (1)

KDR_11k (778916) | about 6 years ago | (#25296853)

He's talking so much about how music is about creative expression and games should be less about competition and more about cooperation, I wonder what he thinks about Wii Music? That game removes all competition, removes even the idea of winning or losing, it's practically a computer assisted instrument where the computer takes care of all the mechanical things like playing the right notes and finding harmonies and the player adds his personal touch, changing the style of the music and such without worrying about which keys to hit on the instrument or which notes would cause a dissonance. There's no obstacles to overcome, no computer to judge you by rigid standards.

Sauerbraten (1)

brahmix (858155) | about 6 years ago | (#25297007)

...Rocks :-) The sound track is just awesome... if you like Metal, and you should if you like blowing sh!t up :-D

Re:Sauerbraten (1)

Daimanta (1140543) | about 6 years ago | (#25297467)

lol, I play Sauerbraten but I am not a lover of metal. So I turn the sound of completely and turn on some harpsichord or organ music. It prevents be from being frustrated when I get killed a lot. Somehow I find it harmonious.

Five words (1)

Ignacio (1465) | about 6 years ago | (#25297223)

The World Ends With You []

Of course, the music needs to match the game. Otherwise, it may as well just be white noise.

Indie Games for Indie Music (1)

leedsj (1346127) | about 6 years ago | (#25297607)

There's an indie band in the UK called Tin Man ( who have started writing games instead of music promos for their songs, because they're geeks and that's the cheapest option. Could this be the future?
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