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History Of Video Game Music Explored 109

Thanks to GameSpot for its feature discussing the history of video game music as an artform, as they point out: "Once an afterthought in terms of game design and overall pop-culture consciousness, video game music is now a legitimate industry of its own." The feature goes on to chart game sound from 1972's Pong ("The sonar-blip sound that's generated as a digital ball is batted back and forth is the first true video game sound effect"), through the 1980s and Tetris ("...millions of glassy-eyed players endure endless loops of vaguely martial Russian Muzak playing in their heads"), right up to new titles such as Frequency ("notable in that it reduces visuals to a near-abstract level... and provides a gameplay experience that is primarily aural.")
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History Of Video Game Music Explored

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  • by AtariAmarok ( 451306 ) on Monday March 29, 2004 @06:36PM (#8708441)
    Don't forget video games that are initially inspired by music, such as Mike Oldfield's new "Maestro" [] exploration game.
  • Frank Klepacki (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Frank Klepacki, who did the music on the Command & Conquer series of games (amongst others) is a genius. I love his music and think it's a great shame he hasn't released more stuff.
  • by metroid composite ( 710698 ) on Monday March 29, 2004 @06:41PM (#8708487) Homepage Journal
    Some of my favourite pieces of music are from NES games. Don't get me wrong, more tracks and more musical instruments offers higher potential, but the NES music that was good really hammered down a tune which I often couldn't get out of my head. And I will say outright (as I am playing both presently) that Final Fantasy 6 (III) has much better music than Metroid Prime (despite the fact that I do like Prime's music too...).
    • For me, the SNES generation of music is the best by far. Final Fantasy 6, Super Mario World, Super Metroid, A Link to the Past, just for a few games...

      By the way, here's an interesting essay I found a while back: Video game music: not just kid stuff []
    • by Kethinov ( 636034 ) on Monday March 29, 2004 @08:01PM (#8709256) Homepage Journal
      All the Final Fantasies, and many other RPGs, have excellent music. I classify it as "RPG music" which in my view far surpasses regular video game music classification. Comparing FF6 to Tetris is like comparing Mozart to trendy-MTV-of-the-day imho.
      • comparing a game from 1988 with one as modern (losely used, of course) is like comparing a fetus to a supermodel (in 2 decades, is hall be compaing the supermodel to a sexbot cyborg assassin, don't worry)
      • by Pxtl ( 151020 ) on Monday March 29, 2004 @10:19PM (#8710203) Homepage
        That's only because for a while, they were unique in attempting epic, classical soundtracks. Those days are long gone. Besides, the Megaman games have always easily had as good music as the Final Fantasy games. Ditto StarFox. Its just you notice it more in Final Fantasy because the game has so much quiet wandering time.

        Then CD audio came and since then any game can have awesome music. IMHO, my award for best orchestral soundtrack goes not to the myriad ff games but to Total Annihilation.
        • TA has a fantastic soundtrack which they nudge around to suit the action in the game. However the final fantasy orchestral soundtracks (IE, not the ones used in the game) are amazing. Check out the FFVII orchestral soundtrack, it's amazing. (Points to anyone who figures out how to hack its use into FFVII PC, too) :)
  • Star Control II (Score:5, Interesting)

    by NanoGator ( 522640 ) on Monday March 29, 2004 @06:59PM (#8708707) Homepage Journal
    Anybody who played SCII back in the DOS days instantly knows the contribution they brought to the table. The music was all done using '.mod', and it was pretty damn cool. Not bad given it came on what, 3 floppies?

    I imagine Amiga users wouldn't be so enthralled by it, but .MOD was so much better than .MIDI.
    • Re:Star Control II (Score:2, Informative)

      by Leffe ( 686621 )
      The remixes in the new version are pretty nice too ,) []
      • Re:Star Control II (Score:4, Interesting)

        by NanoGator ( 522640 ) on Monday March 29, 2004 @08:46PM (#8709616) Homepage Journal
        "The remixes in the new version are pretty nice too ,)"

        Ah yes, the 3DO music. When SC2 was ported to the 3DO, they redid the music using CD audio. Did an awesome job, if you ask me. They also added CG rendered full-motion video to the intro and ending. It was a pleasant upgrade from the Dos version. I was fortunate enough to be one of the 3 people that had a 3DO so I could play that game!

        You know, to this day, I still can't get over how tasteful the 3DO port of that game was. It's not all that often a game is updated and good sense is used about which pieces to update and which to leave as it was.
        • One of my friends was one of the other two people who owned a 3DO. I was too young at the time to really comprehend anything, though. We mostly did the one-on-one skirmishes (forget what they're called. =P)

          Now we just need to find the last person who owned a 3DO and see if they had the game too. =D
    • Re:Star Control II (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Deraj DeZine ( 726641 ) on Monday March 29, 2004 @07:45PM (#8709109)
      The MOD format is essentially the same idea as MIDI except that the samples are customizable and distributed along with the song. Other than that and a few miscellaneous features, there is no reason why MIDIs should not sound as good as MODs.

      Of course, that's just theoretical. In real life, MIDI samples are hideous synthesizer-derived aural abominations. I blame Creative Labs.
      • Re:Star Control II (Score:3, Insightful)

        by NanoGator ( 522640 )
        "Other than that and a few miscellaneous features, there is no reason why MIDIs should not sound as good as MODs."

        Well you pretty much nailed the difference between them. .MODs carry along all they need to make the song sound right, .MIDIs are dependent on the playback hardware for how they're interpreted. Kinda like the difference between HTML and .PDF. Heh.
      • Re:Star Control II (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Jerf ( 17166 )
        You should hear Star Wars: Tie Fighter or X-Wing on a real synthesizor. I had a Korg X-5, which you'd know if you heard it (its bigger brother with the identical sound module was quite popular for a while).

        Believe me, even the latest versions of timidity aren't even in the ballpark. Not even close. And I'm talking a now 10-year old synth.

        It wasn't until Grandia 2 on the DreamCast that I heard video game music that was comparable that (AFAIK) wasn't streamed off of a CD. Even FFX's music isn't as good as T
      • I thought mods were just step-time music (like early drum machines), or has that been changed?

        Do they support proper filters? Straight PCM playback is rather limiting I would have thought.

    • Absolutly. Especially amusing when you realise that the music was not hired - it was done as a contest. Very successful approach. Speaking of MOO (in your sig), MOO2 had the same sort of thing RPG's had - endless downtime staring at screens. As such, it had similarly excellent music.

      Disappointed nobody mentioned Descent ][. First major, popular game to use CD audio (beating Quake by a matter of weeks, I think). Oddly enough, the one track by a nameable musician (Skinny Puppy's Ogre) was awful.
    • .mod files came from the Amiga and the first soundblaster card took over this format (so they immediately had a lot of music (from amiga) available they could play).

      The compressed samples are in the module itself, the quality mostly depends on the quality of the sampling, and only a bit of the program/hardware which plays it.
      So your mod file on pc could sound better on the amiga if the pc had a lousy soundcard.. or the same if they used lousy samples.

      Midi doesn't include samples but uses hardware-based sa
    • Ah yes. The Big Red Card. For .mod and friends, nothing was better back in the early 90s. It was one of the first consumer level wavetable synthesis cards, and simply blew the FM-based SoundBlaster and Adlib cards out of the water. There was simply no comparison. Of course, there were lots of compatibility issues, and the SB emulation was a real pain in the ass to use, if it worked at all, but the games that supported it sounded incredible. I wonder where my stash of mods and s3ms went...

      The demo sce
    • My PC speaker never sounded so good. Good old Starcon2.
  • by evil-osm ( 203438 ) on Monday March 29, 2004 @07:14PM (#8708852)
    I always found Ultima music to be top notch, mind you it required a decent midi enabled soundcard (Roland MT32), which was one of the best midi cards out there. Music has a huge potential to make or break the game, if the music is too repetative the player turns it off (if possible), same if it is too annoying. Turning off the sound is also not an option (you would them miss out on all the snd efx). A game without music that suits the setting can really ruin the experience as well.

    Looking through the article, it reminds me how some of the games did such an amazing job on the music with the technology that it had at the time.

    Good job folks
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Ultima IV and Ultima V in particular had awesome music. I think the music stands the test of time better than the games themselves. You can get midi files for the Ultimas here []. Check out the Ultima IV remake [] project too.
    • I couldn't agree with you more. To this day, I still refuse to turn off the music/sound when playing Super Mario Bros. It is also interesting how players react to certain musical queues. In games such as Super Mario Bros, Bubble Bobble, Puzzle Bobble (and probably thousands of other examples), when little time is left to complete a stage, the music increases in tempo, which causes the player to panic and subtly affects their gameplay.
    • Ultima VII has an incredible musical score! I had a SoundBlaster with (TurtleBeach?) WAV table synthesis daughter board at the time. Not quite the Roland MT32, but sounded great.

      The score was so well composed that it could transition based on game events. That happends a lot in games today, but it enhanced the gameplay immeasurably at the time. The whole mood of different towns and caves was set by the score.

      The Exult [] project has Ogg-encoded music from the game, as generated by the Roland MT32. When I pla
    • I always found Ultima music to be top notch, mind you it required a decent midi enabled soundcard (Roland MT32), which was one of the best midi cards out there.

      Noticeably was. Ultima VII music through TiMidity (in Exult) sounds far better than the MT-32 version in my opinion. Even playing the MIDI files with the bundled crappy 8-meg GM soundfont on SoundBlaster Live sounds better. (And with a custom sound bank, the music sounds just plain mighty...)

      MT-32 might have been great at the time (maybe, maybe

  • Obligatory Link (Score:5, Informative)

    by Gothic_Walrus ( 692125 ) on Monday March 29, 2004 @07:14PM (#8708854) Journal
    No discussion of video game music is complete without a link to OC Remix [], a site that hosts thousands of remixes of video game songs.

    See? Video game music is an art form!

  • by Nice2Cats ( 557310 ) on Monday March 29, 2004 @07:24PM (#8708938)
    If ever there were a marriage made in hell (and we mean that in a good way), it has to be Quake plus Nine Inch Nails.

    That game with that music was so spooky, it made me want wet my pants. Nothing, not even Half Life has come close to that feeling of running around in a place where I shouldn't be with the ammo counter way down and monsters just around the next corner, for sure, and that music that you just couldn't get out of your head...

    I could have been born in a different age, but then growing up with id Software has been a real kick.

    • My first experience playing Quake left me in awe. It had turned out that the CD wasn't even in the tray. There was an old Front 242 disc inside, and Quake loaded the disc up and began playing various tracks. I had been playing using the ReaperBot then, and Front 242's "Manhunter" was selected for play alot!

      I used to own Commander Keen back when games and anti-virus apps like Solomon were sold in small envelope-like paper containers. I've always had an appreciation for id Software. I think my favorites ov
    • Check out the Super Mario Bros. remix [] of "Closer".
  • Audio Games (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Nomihn0 ( 739701 ) on Monday March 29, 2004 @07:42PM (#8709086)
    I'd have to say that the best videogame "music" is in the games for the blind. Music has served only an aesthetic purpose in game development up until fairly recently when it began to be used as the primary output device in games for the disabled.
    One recent example is Terraformers [], a game playable by both the sighted and the blind.
    An archive of audio games can be found at this []site
  • I'd have to give this "award" to Tempest 2000 []. On the Atari Jaguar, this non-stop game plays a very addictive techno soundtrack underneath the entire game.

    Also of note is Rayman []. Although the background music isn't that spectacular, the game does have some incredibly surreal music-oriented background scenery.

    Another game worth mention is Zoop []. This game's background music will get lodged in your head and you'll find yourself humming it for a week if you're not careful. This game is worth tracking do

    • What game really got music stuck in my head (besides M.U.L.E.) was Master of the Lamp on the C64. Now there was a catchy tune. I can still hum the tune for traveling to the djinn's to hit the gongs. Fun and sometimes frustrating game.

      The one Amiga game, besides the obvious games from Pysgnosis, was "7 Gates of Jambala." The 3rd level, or so, the music got really strange, but in a catchy way. ...I miss those old games. :) Time to fire up the emulator....

  • No Minibosses? (Score:2, Informative)

    by RustyTaco ( 301580 )
    The article forgot to mention the Minibosses []. Tisk tisk.

    - RustyTaco
  • Toejam and Earl Theme Song []
    Your two favorite funky space aliens sure got to jam with some fine funk in their video game. Video game music cannot be truly experienced without giving this game a play.
  • Don't forget the funky theme song from Sega's "Space Harrier". Recently I found a remix version on a Japanese CD. Also, the samba-like lively music from the "Fantasy Zone" series of games... Opa Opa theme!
  • I always liked these Star Wars games for dynamic music (songs change as you play). Even MIDI was dynamic back then.
    • Those were great, but I think Total Annihilation did it even better. Amazing original orchestral scores for building, exploring, attacking, defending, and you could even customize it with your own music for the different moments in the game. That game was truly ahead of its time, even when it came to music.
  • Many a tune from those games were composed by the amazing Dave Wise []. If you look hard on ebay, you can find the promotional DKC soundtrack Nintendo put out some time ago. Otherwise, you have to do with rips from the game, or remixes.

    DKC is what got me into liking trance/jungle. It was that good.
  • Chrono Cross (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Q-Mont ( 761460 ) on Monday March 29, 2004 @08:44PM (#8709601)
    I remember seeing a preview for Chrono Cross before it came out. It was playing the song "Scars of Time" with various cutscenes from the game. I thought that it was one of the better songs that I've heard for a video game. I went on to buy the game and subsequently the soundtrack. While the game sits on my shelf now, I still find myself listening to the soundtrack on a regular basis. It's definitely my favorite game soundtrack overall.
    • Re:Chrono Cross (Score:3, Informative)

      by Bagels ( 676159 )
      It's by a guy called Yasunori Mitsuda... he also did the music for much of Chrono Trigger (along with Nobuo Uematsu, who's already been mentioned), Xenogears, and Xenosaga. Awesome stuff - my favorites are "On the Banks of a Dream" from the Chrono Cross soundtrack, "Melkaba" from Xenogears, and pretty much any of the overworld themes from Chrono Trigger ("Memories of Green," "Enhasa").
      • My favorite song in Chrono Trigger is definitely Frog's theme, can't remember if it has another name. But a close second is Dance With Death, IMO the best music in any battle in any game, with only the Atma Weapon music from FF6 coming close.

        Just personal opinion, of course, and subject to the omissions of my stupid memory.
        • Re:Chrono Cross (Score:3, Informative)

          The only other name I've heard for "Frog's Theme" is "Kaeru's Theme", Kaeru being the Japanese name of the character.
        • Frog Theme is my favorite too. For some reason it sounds "exactly" like the theme somg of an amphibian knight should. Heroic and froggy at the same time.

          Magus battle theme would be second. No matter how many times I play the game (not game+), it's still a tough battle, and the music fits perfectly.
  • by jvmatthe ( 116058 ) on Monday March 29, 2004 @09:16PM (#8709809) Homepage
    I skimmed the article yesterday, so maybe I missed it, but I didn't see anything about the venerable Commodore 64. Any 30-something who was a Commodore user knows that that personal computer was often less of a productivity machine and more of a game playing machine. Along with those games came some GREAT music, including my favorite of all time, Capcom's Commando [] with music by Rob Hubbard. There were many more, including Skate or Die, California Games, and Ghosts 'n' Goblins.

    With its advanced SID chip for making sounds and music, the Commodore 64 was an incredible machine for video game music. It's nearly criminal that it was left out.

  • All I see about them is the obvious mention of Bemani games. What about Castlevania, Contra, etc.? Surely GameSpot must've written an entire page about them, but it got lost. That would explain it.

    • Konami benefits from having one of the most respected and successful music/sound teams in the industry. And, indeed, they've cranked out hit after hit: Castlevania, Contra, Suikoden, Gradius, etc. are all recognized for their soundtracks.
  • since, following this comment [], i didn't manage to snag any answers as the the whereabouts of interplay's online mp3 collection that they were serving up here [], i'd like to ask again: any ideas why they took it down? are the mp3s available anywhere else? it had the soundtracks to many classics including the baldur's gate series, fallout, planescape torment...
  • While Tetris was mentioned, I don't recall anything about The New Tetris and Tetrisphere, both with excellent background music. Neil D. Voss is arguably my favorite video game composer, because his tunes are enjoyable on their own, without the wave of nostalgia bubbling up from the first bars of a classic title getting all in the way.
  • by Nefarious_Hat ( 766485 ) on Monday March 29, 2004 @10:16PM (#8710195)
    I'm dismayed by the omission of Rez from this list. It's understandable, considering the lack of publicity the game has gotten. If you want to learn more about it, here's Gamespy's review
    • ps2/
    P.S. Please forgive not hyperlinking it, as I'm new to the whole HTML deal.
  • I can't believe they left out Jeremy Soule. I still listen to the Total Annihilation soundtrack constantly, and his works from Icewind Dale and Dungeon Siege were beautiful.. It's a real oversight to not even mention him in an article on music in games...
  • by DarkFencer ( 260473 ) on Monday March 29, 2004 @11:43PM (#8710728)
    No discussion about game music should ignore the incredible composer Jeremy Soule. He doesn't get nearly as much attention as Nobuo Uematsu (sp?) of Final Fantasy fame, but is just as good IMHO.

    Some of his credits include:
    Icewind Dale (my favorite of his)
    Morrowind (my second favorite of his)
    Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic
    Neverwinter Nights
    Unreal II
    Dungeon Siege
    and many more.

    If you haven't heard his work, check his website: []
    • Icewind Dale (my favorite of his)

      Do you own the soundtrack? I've got a glitch in the first track (a few seconds in) which is very irritating. :-(

      Wanted to know if I'm alone. It looks like a manufacturing problem because it's there on the all new CD and there isn't a visible error on it.

  • Now I'm really curious. . .

    Was I one of the few poor souls out there with a TI 99? Going through the history there at Game Spot, it looks like it follows the history mentioning the Odyessy (sp?) and Odyessy II, but it failed to mention the TI 99, and I'm not exactly sure where the TI falls in as far as its equipment goes, but I remember my TI had what they called a "Voice Modulator Box" which was an add-on (sounds familiar to the articles description of the Odyssey II). Anybody know any of the history o

  • A good place to go if you want to sample some VGM is GFF []. Some may remember Gamingforce Audio, a game-music site based on free net drive storage accounts from which people could download full game soundtracks. The Audio project is gone, but GFF is still around and for those who register and log in, there's a forum where people post information on FTP servers they run, 95% of which are brimming with game soundtracks.

    I do urge you, though, to buy the soundtracks if you like what you hear from GFF. Game so
  • by Q-Mont ( 761460 )
    I Don't know how many have heard it (probably lots) but there was a concert put on by the Tokyo Philharmonic on 2/20/2002. They performed a wonderful mix of songs from the early Final Fantasy games all the way to songs from FFX. It is a fantastic concert []. To hear your favorite songs from some great video games performed by a full orchestra is incredible.
  • by Euro ( 40585 )
    Since nobody seems to have mentioned it yet, Kohina [] is a net radio that broadcasts true old school videogame tunes. The active playlist [] is not overly large , but quality, not quantity is the order of the day. Lots of Commodore 64 classics from Hubbard, Galway, Daglish et al, but also lots of really kicking arcade tunes and music from obscure Japanese console games. Great stuff for listening while writing code!
  • Bill Brown is the composer of a lot of music in games and movies.
    He wrote/created some of the music for Rainbow Six 3 and for C&C: Generals.
    You can legally download some tracks here.
  • Don't forget about all the great stuff done on the C64 and other home computers like the Amiga or Atari. Last Ninja, Commando, Turrican and others had such great music that I'd load the game and let the computer run without playing just to listen to the music. Tune in to Nectarine [] to hear game and demo music!
  • They need to check their facts a little better. The article claims that Nintendo created and released the SongBoy adapter for the Gameboy [].

    It was in fact made by a third party [] and resulted in a lawsuit [] and settlement [].
  • this N.E.S. game had some of my favorite video game music as a kid, the river level especially had a great tune... anyone else ever play this?
  • I probably should check if it's up before posting the url, since it's down as much as it's up, but it has a pretty extensive collection of music ripped directly from SNES ROMs, and a few plugins to play them with different players. also has music archives from old video games.

    It's pretty impressive the kind of sound quality some of the SNES and Genesis games managed to squeeze out of such meager hardware. My personal favorites are Tales of Phantasia and Chrono Trigger.
  • Video Game Music Composers receive far less recognition than they deserve. It's good to see that general American culture is beginning to recognize the musical contributions of video game music composers, whose works sometimes remain hidden from the musically interested public. Finally, the pieces that gamers have enjoyed for years are beginning to spread. With the Video Game Music Concert that will take place in downtown Los Angeles this May in the brand new Walt Disney Concert Hall performed by the LA Ph
  • Has nobody mentioned the wonderful mood music that George "Fat Man" and the rest of Team Fat [] created for 7th Guest, 11th Hour, and Wing Commander, not to mention the various Putt-Putt titles? Apparently they're now doing movie soundtracks and casino audio.
  • No one ever did game music better than Psygnosis.

    They are to video games what the Coen Brothers are to movies. Both produce greatness with the occasional so-so thrown in but the music is exemplary.

    In my opinion no one applies music to film better than the Coens and no one applied/composed music better for games than Psygnosis (R.I.P.)
  • by maody ( 597054 )
    Mechwarrior 2 Soundtrack. Imho the best game music ever since. I am still using this 10 year old masterpiece when getting bored by actual shooter game soundtracks. I wish the composer Jeehun Hwang would do a remake with tracks in full single length using actual music technology and a real orchestra.

COMPASS [for the CDC-6000 series] is the sort of assembler one expects from a corporation whose president codes in octal. -- J.N. Gray