Music and sound design in video games isn’t something you probably think about very much or take notice of when playing Fifa on your Xbox. But recently, metal legends Iron Maiden have released a free to play 8-bit video game, based on the Nintendo classic Donkey Kong, on their website to promote their new album The Book of Souls. Even as a marketing move, this isn’t as unusual as you might think, music and video games can actually work together beautifully.
Video games stand next to the film industry nowadays for offering the public an immersive, cinematic experience. You certainly notice film soundtracks, you probably have some on your iTunes. Sound is used to create a certain tone or to immerse us in an on-screen world, both music and diegetic sound help us to suspend our disbelief. It’s no different in a game, in fact it could be said that its more important to get the sound right, nobody will play something that they can’t get into. Developers want us to spend our time and money on their product, they want us to lose ourselves in the world they’ve created and they know that the right music is one step closer to achieving that.
“Professional Video Game Composer is an actual job title now”
Music in video games has come a long way, from the original 8-bit era and synthesised scores of Pac-Man and Tetris to modern-day, operatic blockbusters like Call of Duty and Assassin’s Creed. Rockstar Games, developer of the Grand Theft Auto series, is a master at using sound to capture a particular moment in time or feel of a place, just like the a director of a film would. The soundtracks to the GTA games are fantastic and evoke particular phases of American culture, whether that’s the neon haze of the 80s set Vice City, the gangland hip-hop and rap of San Andreas or the post-modern mash up that is GTA V. Like films, the songs chosen for each in-game radio station ground the player in that particular era.
Soundtracks for video games are not always filled with licensed songs however, the hugely popular sci-fi series Halo would be nothing without its now-iconic score by composer Martin O’Donnell. To players, the haunting score for the original Halo: Combat Evolved is as recognisable as the Star Wars theme, the music is as much a part of the experience as the visuals or the gameplay and has defined the series since 2001. Another series that features a brilliantly immersive game world and score is The Elder Scrolls. Professional Video Game Composer – which is an actual job title now – Jeremy Soule, has been described as the ‘John Williams of video game music’ and has created award-winning orchestral scores for The Elder Scrolls that are grand enough to rival any Hollywood film. Utilising a full symphonic orchestra, Soule’s soundtracks are so well received that they have been performed live in concert all over the world and have even been nominated for a BAFTA.
“music and video games have a complicated relationship, but the two crossover more than you would expect”
Suddenly video game music seems to have come a long way since the days of Donkey Kong! Music and video games have a complicated relationship, but the two crossover more than you would expect. Experimental electronica artist Oneohtrix Point Never combines video game visuals with his music and Skrillex’s massive shows use video game clips and characters on a huge screen in sync with his beats and drops. Electronica and the digital world of video games go hand in hand, Daft Punk’s critically acclaimed Alive tour had the appearance of a real-world video game.
Next time you find yourself in front of your Playstation, just stop and listen to the music that’s in the background of your game, you might be surprised just how good some these scores are. Unless you’re playing Fifa. That’ll just be digital crowd shouting.