As gaming matured into the medium we know today endless onlookers have gawked at the improvements in graphics, felt the increasingly snappy gameplay mechanics and bore witness to the fantastic storytelling that the medium has come to offer. But one fact that is often left in the dust is a true appreciation for video game music. Of course, we all have some of our favourite themes rolling around in our head, but rarely do we consider how video game music has progressed over the past 50 years.
That's what we're going to jump into today, by looking at some of the most memorable moments in video game music history.
1. Space Invaders (1978)
The most obvious place to start is with a "first". Tomohiro Nishikado's Space Invaders, released by Taito in 1978 is considered the first game to use a continuous background soundtrack. Although it was basic, the looping four-note dun-dun-dan-dan score added so much energy to Space Invaders. What's more is that the score slowly ramped up its tempo adding to the tension.
Interestingly, this ramp up of speed isn't hard coded into the game. Instead, the early processor which ran Space Invaders was only capable of rendering at a certain speed-but as each ship was destroyed that render speed could increase due to the fewer pixels rendered. This means that both the spaceships and the score sped up due to hardware, not software.
This link between hardware and software is one that recurs throughout gaming history, especially with regards to music!
2. Super Mario Bros. (1985)
While Space Invaders has an iconic theme, you' be hard pressed to hum it for more than a moment. But in the mid-80s Koji Kondo composed the "Overworld Theme" for Super Mario Bros.-a theme which is still to this day the most iconic in all of gaming. Seriously, I can hear it playing in your head as you read this-I know it's playing in mine.
The C-major score featuring a swung rhythm with some delectable syncopation has remained a staple of the Mario series ever since and proved to the world that video game music could be just as catchy as the best pop music-if not more so!
3. Donkey Kong Country (1994)
David Wise's score for Donkey Kong Country is one of the most legendary in all of gaming. Play Aquatic Ambience to a crowd of gamers and you're likely to get a standing ovation.
The wonder being David Wise's compositions was in displaying quite how much nuance gaming scores could achieve with incredibly limited hardware.
Released on the SNES, Wise had an 8-bit CPU, 16-bit DSP ad a mere 64KB of SRAM to work his magic on. And, we must remember, that in this incredibly limited storage and processor, Donkey Kong Country had to fit all of its sound-not just the music.
Wise drew inspiration from the, then, new technologies of waveform sequencing. Using this, you would snip up a sound wave into its smallest components to use them as samples which you could modulate, change the pitch/speed of and adjust the volume. This allowed the music to become very diverse without taking up much memory at all.
In taking on this novel approach, Wise had shown that composers could achieve a lot with even the most limited materials-shifting video game music away from the chiptune of yesteryear and towards something that really incorporated the plethora of musical language.
4. Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2 (2000)
While not the first game to use only licensed music, Pro Skater 2 is by far one of the most memorable. The game includes a time-capsule of '90s skater tunes from punk to pop, immersing you in the vibe of the game unbelievably well.
Following in its footsteps, most sports games since have used purely licensed music to place their games securely within the moment of which they release.
5. Black & White (2001)
While licensed music can cost companies incredible amounts, Lionhead Studios had an innovative idea with the game Black & White-why not let player make their own soundtrack?
In the game players could throughput audio tracks from their own playlists, which would even illicit some in-game reactions from the player, such as dancing or laughing.
This mode of allowing players to create their own soundtrack was solidified by the Grand Theft Auto series, but has slowly been phased out of being a mainstay in gaming.
6. Fable (2005)
While the Fable score is rightfully known as the work of Russell Shaw, one of the most notable facts about it is that it pulled in the collaboration of incredibly prolific Hollywood composer Danny Elfman. Assisting on the main theme of the game, reprising his role in the soundtrack for the second game, Elfman's inclusion signalled that Hollywood was finally ready to share its talents with the gaming industry.
Of course, up to this point there had been plenty of film-based games, but the music of games was still notably separate. This moment, along with those that followed, helped to tie the music of the two media closer together.
7. Journey (2012)
By 2012, adaptive music had been around for a long time. In fact, Konami's Frogger introduced the idea of adaptive music way back in 1981.
Journey, however, chose to enhance the possibilities of adaptive music. While Journey's lush score, composed by Austin Wintory, adapts to your actions within the vast, awe-inspiring world the most impressive part of its adaptability comes through the game's online component.
Throughout Journey players can come across others by chance thanks to its online component. When they do, they gain in-game bonuses like being able to replenish each other's jump in order to move faster and more freely around the world. However, as players come together something more subtle happens in the soundtrack-new instruments are incorporated. This helps to reinforce the wholesome togetherness which sits at the centre of Journey as one of its central themes.
Journey continually reminds creators that adaptive music doesn't only have the ability to make players aware of different game-states, but also to build up the emotional impact of the experience as a whole-solidifying a game's score as an essential and interactive component of the gaming experience.
The history of gaming is one accompanied by a rich history of a unique style of music. As we've seen, this history is diverse; including moments of technological innovation, genre experimentation and interdisciplinary collaboration. I don't know about you, but I can't wait to see what innovations the next decade of video game music will bring.
Speaking of innovation, if you're looking to springboard yourself to the forefront of your favourite online title, head on over to Eldorado.gg. There you can get your hands on in-game currencies, hard to obtain items, boosting and even fresh new accounts. Whether you're into Rocket Leage, Path of Exile, PUBG, Brawl Stars or any other online titlea be sure to get ahead with ElDorado.gg.