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Techniques and Styles of Video Game Music 68

MarkN writes "Video game music has come to represent much more than just the beeps and boops of early video games that often got muted out of annoyance. It's a genre that stands on its own, stylistically and musically. It necessarily differs from typical soundtrack fare in a few important ways — it's written to accompany an activity rather than meant to be listened to passively, it is often required to loop and extend indefinitely, and it has the potential to be adaptive and respond to player feedback. In this article, I talk about some of the techniques used to make game music effective within its constraints and with all of its potential, and discuss how different styles and musical techniques can relate to the gameplay."
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Techniques and Styles of Video Game Music

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  • Pinball games with Bsmt2000 sound and the mid 80's / 90's games had good midi based music where real good.

    Chris Granner and Brian Schmidt did real good work with the sound on the games they did the sound work for.


  • by elynnia ( 815633 ) on Monday December 01, 2008 @11:39PM (#25955089)
    I thought this was a reasonably sound article, but it neglected something that I always found interesting about game soundtracks: namely, the correlation between the musical styles used and the game's country of origin.

    For instance, Final Fantasy and Myst both feature orchestral soundtracks but the composing techniques used do vary, leading to different effects being created. The tendency seems to be that Japanese games feature melodic tunes for every scene/stage/level whereas Western games tend to use more ambient compositions.

    Would someone with more knowledge in the area care to elaborate?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Panseh ( 1072370 )

      For an exploration type game such as Myst, or free-roaming American RPGs, there is no real set plot or characters aside from your own. These games feature ambient music (minimalistic) that set the mood and tension for cities and dungeons, but they also do not stand out enough to distract gamers from their immersion in exploration.

      In addition to exploration aspects, Japanese RPGs feature wide casts of recurring, developed characters important to a fairly linear plot. Having recognizable themes (melodies) for

    • Oh, so true, so true, my friend!

      Take the marvellous music of Tetris - it is impossible to express it in other terms than it's Russian-ness!

      It has this particular ... uhm... aire of a Diaghileff dance with tints of Mussorgsky expressed authenticly by the unexplicable broad Russian soul of a Solzhenytsin. It sparks the image of Vrubel's Seated Demon in my mind. I wonder if I'm the only one.

      Art academics is the cancer that is eating culture. imho. I wish they left games alone but they're befuddling th

  • Rez? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Lorigo ( 1421739 )
    I'm surprised nothing from Tetsuya Mizuguchi is mentioned in the article. He produced/concepted Rez, Lumines and Every Extend Extra among others. These games heavily intertwine gameplay into sound and music. Often times the player not only affects the music being played, but 'creates' some of it. When you lock-on to targets in Rez, sometimes it syncs up with the beat, which creates majestic results.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Petrushka ( 815171 )

      I've been a big fan of adaptive game music ever since I realised it existed. The big leap, for me, was Monkey Island 2, where the background music in the starting town would gradually change mood and instrumentation depending on which house you walked into. In 1991, the effect was stunning. The tune was simple and unchallenging -- there's an mp3 arrangement here []: the track is "04 Woodtick" -- but it was the adaptation that was the amazing thing. It was particularly important then because the music was prett

      • Re:Rez? (Score:4, Interesting)

        by poot_rootbeer ( 188613 ) on Tuesday December 02, 2008 @10:20AM (#25958893)

        a little thought reminds me that adaptive music goes back at least as far as Ballblazer in 1984-85

        "Pitfall II" (1984) also used adaptive music; the soundtrack started off energetic, would switch to a gloomier minor-key version when you got hit and were sent back to a savepoint, and would return to heroic after picking up a prize. The original Atari 2600 version also may have been the first game cartridge to include its own custom audio chip; music was so important to that title that the extra hardware costs were justified, even as the market crash was beginning.

  • Tin Drum studios i think? I cant believe I remember that, haven't played that game in years. It was a techno soundtrack but very ambient-like in most cases, was the classic didnt notice it much until you started humming out the beats later on.

  • For anyone who is at least a fan of video game music, I highly suggest attending a Video Games Live concert. I'm going to one in January and it should be awesome. I'm not the biggest fan of video game music, but mostly I'm going for the experience that the VGL guys create with the videos in the background and such.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by VickiM ( 920888 )

      I went to one a few years ago at GenCon and found the host to be a prick, personifying all the bad stereotypes of a "hardcore gamer." I left feeling a little embarrassed about the whole thing. It didn't really compare to Dear Friends with regards to tone, which unfortuantely had a short run.

      The music, though, was great. If they've adressed the host problems, I'd love to go again some time and take a few friends.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        I went to one a few years ago at GenCon and found the host to be a prick, personifying all the bad stereotypes of a "hardcore gamer."

        Funny, I find him to personify all the bad stereotypes of a "self-congratulatory putz".

        The only credential Tommy Tallarico can claim that qualifies him for his role as a curator video game music is that he was the first to have the idea. (His sound design work on classic game titles like "Cool Spot" and "Color A Dinosaur" certainly doesn't suffice.)

        His inclusion of his own wo

  • The music that plays in the menu when you first start the game up is important for setting the tone of the game. The music for the game Mafia was absolutely masterful at this.
  • I think that Aliens Vs. Predator for PC, despite having static tracks that cycled at random (at least specific tracks depending on what race you were playing as) had some of the most fitting game music ever. it was very true to style the movies and made you feel like you were really taking part in a movie of your own. Halflife did it a different way, instead of music throughout, certain shorter tracks would trigger at certain parts throughout the game, also giving it a more cinematic experience. Serious Sam
    • Also i cant forget the Phoenix Wright games for their very good soundtrack. I dont think anyone who has played them can ever forget the good feeling you get when suddenly you hear the high intensity action sound of the Cornered them from the first game. I dont think the games would have been nearly as climactic if it hadnt been for that song to let you know that you really had your opposition on the ropes...
    • by Jim Hall ( 2985 )

      I thought Shadow of the Colossus for PS2 did dynamic music extremely well. As you wandered around, you got a certain type of music. As you spotted a colossus, the music shifted. And when you entered "combat" with the colossus, the music became much more tense.

      A level that demonstrates this perfectly is the level with the flying colossus in the desert. You come down to the plains, the music is almost calming. As you watch the colossus appear and fly around you, the music definitely changes to build anticipat

      • I know what you are talking about and agree. The controls of that game were a little lacking at times, and it could get a little repetative, but overall it was a pretty decent game with music that worked well for it.
  • They have a whole section about dynamic music in TFA, but fail to mention full dynamic systems like LucasArt's iMUSE [].

    Yes, OK it's nice that Mario Kart Wii's music gets muted when you're underground.

    But at the same time, LucasArt's adventure games have been able to assemble musical score on-the-fly based on the combination of a several pre-written pieces and a set of conditions based on current status.
    These doesn't use as much a "musical score" or a pre-written "music" as they mix freely a large quantity of

    • I don't know if this is an example of the LucasArts iMuse or not, but my seminal video game music experience as far as dynamic music goes was the x-wing games that Lucas Arts put out. It had music that would change based on the context of the game, for exmaple, if new imperials showed up it would transition to the imperial theme. It was the first time I was really aware of the music as a tool to understanding what was going on in the game. It was a great way to be aware of reinforcements showing up for the
  • Both Anarchy Online and EvE Online had such evocative music that I found myself listening to it offline, even after I no longer subscribed. The music actually got me to resubscribe to Anarchy Online for a while just because I loved the atmosphere it evoked.

    I've heard some good game music before but only these two made me think I needed to add their soundtracks to my library.

  • The author is stating the obvious and making superfluous categorisations. All the 9 pages could well be fit in one or two paragraphs - in one slashdot post if you wish.

    Though his style is admittedly admirable. What he lacks contentwise he makes up with literary style.

  • I'm a composer, myself, and a game soundtrack enthusiast, and one thing I've noticed time and time again is the drastic differences in philosophy between Japanese and western game soundtracks.

    Japanese composers tend to approach scoring from a more stylized approach, more akin to opera or broadway musicals. The technique of giving each character and element its own unique theme was first pioneered by Wagner back in the 1860s, but it has become a staple of dramatic scoring and often used for "epic" film sound

  • Sonic games often had some great music to play to. Especially in later games such as Sonic Adventure, it often sets the tone for final bosses.

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