Video game music has evolved rapidly in recent years.
From the single bit tone sounds of the early 1980s games, we have moved to the present dramatic “film score” video game soundtracks that would challenge the most seasoned composer.
Music is an essential part of the modern gaming experience and fundamental to enhance the talented storytelling, art, programming and all other aspects of game development to create an amazing and immersive world for the gamer.
Tracking the journey through gaming music history to the present day is a really interesting one.
The sounds and music from video games can jolt our memories and bring us to a nostalgic and happy place.
I asked my editor to document, from his experience and research, his musical gaming journey from the early 1980s to the present day.
Here is what he has to say – he has picked some gaming gems! 🎮 💖
The 1970s – The Adventure Begins!
We have come a long way in video game development over the years and the music of video games has been evolving rapidly through the decades.
You could argue that it all started from the 1970’s era of silent games which progressed to the “tic toc” music and sound effects of classic early games like PONG launched in 1972.
The makers of PONG varied the sound and timing of a single “beep” tone to differ between the ball bouncing, getting hit by the player’s paddle and when the player scores a point.
This might seem simple to today’s video game developers and could even be done in an afternoon by an average tech geek, however this was revolutionary for the time.
The 1980s – A Classic Era of Video Games
The 1980s brought with it the arcade era and one of the most famous games of all time – PAC-MAN
This is an unforgettable classic video game. We hear the sounds of pac-man “eating dots” and pac-man “dying” with blinking sound effects that are easily recognizable and memorable.
Have a listen:
SUPER MARIO BROS
In my opinion, this is the first true video game musical masterpiece!
The sound design and video game theme music of Super Mario Bros, set a new benchmark and was a revolution for the time.
There are constant music changes according to the on-screen action of players and was one of the earlier games to do this well.
The sound design develops in the gameplay and punctuates the characters immunity, power-up wearing off, killing enemies or dying. In other words, we see music fully synced to gameplay.
With the Super Mario Bros. soundtrack, video game sound design begins to move in a new direction for the era.
Have a listen to the original theme below and take a trip down memory lane 🙂
LISTEN TO SUPER MARIO BROS. THEME MUSIC
This is an all-time favourite for many – Donkey Kong by Shigeru Miyamoto.
Can you believe that these great sound effects and music was created on a small electronic keyboard!
The Donkey Kong had a winning music formula that lodged itself in the brain cells of an entire generation.
LISTEN TO DONKEY KONG THEME MUSIC
The game soundtrack to Tetris is addictive! If you have ever played the original, you will remember it.
This video game soundtrack is also a work of genius combining the puzzle game’s enduring appeal with a perfect melody that gets stuck in your head for days!
Certainly a classic..have a listen below.
(PS – it can take a second for Amazon Music to wake up and stream)
LISTEN TO TETRIS THEME MUSIC
The 1990s – Let’s Take it Up A Notch!
As well as technological advancements, the video game soundtrack evolved and advanced rapidly. The 90s era of gaming gave us some absolut classic video games!
This is a timeless action & adventure game and one of the old-time greats.
The game includes notable music tunes at different situations happening in the game, not allowing the player to lose their focus!
We really see music beginning to integrate with the story of the video game. Video game soundstracks are getting more complex and engagin.
Music is serving various functions, from solving puzzles to getting access to new zones and altering the player to an enemies proximity
All action is punctuated beautifully with simple and perfect music tunes.
SONIC THE HEDGEHOG
Officially the best selling and the leading video game of the 1990s, for many, the Sonic the Hedhodge soundtrack is their theme tune to the 90s!
The music of this classic game is instantly identifiable to the old school players, whether it is the sound of coins collection or coin splitting or the speeding sound of sonic.
This game led a new era in sound design.
FINAL FANTASY IV
Video game music and soundtracks hit a new high with Final Fantasy VI in the ’90s.
Uematsu established his music brilliance in this soundtrack and fueled the increasing obsession and skill of video game music.
Character-specific melodies occur throughout gameplay, and the absolute variety of styles employed is audacious.
Therefore, in my opinion, it was the all-time greatest video game soundtracks of the ’90s.
1994 – The PlayStation Revolution
Playstation was first released in December 1994 and was one of the first video game consoles.
It took the gaming experience to the next new level, providing high-quality games in CD- format.
Games like Tekken-3 and Resident Evil took centre stage, not just because of the quality of the game but it really focused on the music and video game soundtrack as well giving an amazing immersive experience.
As the era of the 2000s started, PlayStation 2 hit the market in March 2000 with a 128-bit CPU home video game.
This new technology marked a distinctive shift in the industry and the games were just not games anymore – they turned into detailed stories with film-drama-action-suspense and more.
Playstation Model, via wikipedia.org/wiki/PlayStation_(console)
The 2000s – The Music in Video Games Seriously “Levels Up!”
From this point on, we see the foundations of our modern games. Visual graphics still have a long way to go in this era, but the video game music and soundtrack hits a new level
GRAND THEFT AUTO
This is classified as an “action-adventure” game which is still on the top of most gamers list and is improving with every update.
As regards music in video games, Grand Theft Auto set a new benchmark.
This was the first time we saw an “in-game radio” that could be tuned to 11 different stations playing more than 150 tracks of music.
In addition, a talk radio station was introduced.
The songs on the radio stations mostly originated in the early 1990s.
The game’s music released the official soundtrack: Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas Official Soundtrack.
Along with this unique musical soundtrack, the game sound effects were also taken to a new level as the music was designed for fighting, bike or car travelling, snatching and almost everything else!
WWE – NO MERCY
This was the first professional wrestling game of 2000 in which the animations were customized and each player had their own theme music.
Signature gameplay styles were captivating for the time and animations, moves, music and quality has been exponentially increasing to this day.
The realistic depictions of the fighting styles for each wrestler, music & numerous moves was the best so far in this era.
This is a multiplayer battle game which created a great fighting experience for the era.
One of the key contributors to the great fight scenes were the sounds effects of loading a gun, firing a gun and team interaction.
The music of this game is done in such an exceptional way that if you turn off the volume you cannot enjoy and feel the gaming experience to the fullest.
Counter Strike, via steampowered.com
Tomb Raider is an action-adventure game based on the character of Lara Croft, who travels around the world searching for lost artefacts and saving dangerous tombs and ruins.
Gameplay generally focuses on the exploration of environments, solving puzzles, navigating hostile environments filled with traps, and fighting enemies.
Each plot of the game is synchronized with an adventurous music theme which keeps the gamers focused. This is a classic game soundtrack with a complex and dramatic score.
This world-class video game of footballers with world-famous football teams introduced a series of FIFA for PlayStation which has seen significant enhancements and gameplay innovation in their visual effects, high-quality sound effects and commentary.
Most importantly, the sound design of the roaring crowd in the game gets the player excited and therefore, really feeling immersed in the world.
The enhanced game-play animations and sound effects used by the makers bring the game of football into your home like never before.
2006 – PlayStation 3
When PlayStation III was released by Sony in 2006, the quality of games and its music reached a new height.
Games like “Grand Theft Auto V”, “Call of Duty 4”, “Yakuza”, “Dragon Ball”, “Demons Soul”, “Destiny” and many more became famous not just because of the gaming experience they provided but also because of their animations, story-telling, music and sound effects.
There are 1442 games for PlayStation 3; here are my favourites video game music soundtracks from this console.
PlayStation 3, via wikipedia.org/wiki/PlayStation_3
RED DEAD REDEMPTION
This is an action-adventure game released for play-station III. The game is played from a third-person perspective.
This game received worldwide critical acclaim for its visuals, dynamically-generated music, voice-acting, game-play, and story.
The video game music soundtrack reacts regularly according to the player’s decisions. Considered by many as the greatest video games of its time.
RESIDENT EVIL 7
This is a survial horror video game.
Just like a composer of horror music will score dramatic and terrifying music, similarly, the music composers of this soundtrack also use these same techniques.
With a full cinematic and orchestral film score, the player is kept on edge and terrified!
The dramatic and dynamic strings keep you fully imerssed in the tense atmosphere.
Sony has already announced the release of play-station 5 in late 2020.
It is anticipated that this will advance video game music and the use of sound effects in video games even further.
Will we see further advancements in impressive sound features such as adaptive triggers, haptic feedback, built-in mic and dual sense controllers?
It will be interesting to see what the creative masters of this world bring to us video game music lovers.
PlayStation 5, via www.playstation.com
We have seen a major evolution in video game music from the original single tone PAC-Man game of the early 80s to the full cinematic orchestral scores of modern games such as Skyrim and more.
Concurrently, alternative technology in the video game market is developing such as VR (Virtual Reality), which will add a further twist to video game soundtracks and video game music.
Let’s see what these new technologies bring to the table and what music gems are offered up for us video game music lovers.
Do you have a favourite video music soundtrack? Please let me know in the comments below!
Louise Byrne is a UK based Music Producer who writes & produces music for filmmakers, video games & content creators.
Her music has been used globally by major broadcasting houses & brands such as MTV, Discovery Channel, Discovery Science Channel, The History Channel, Fox Sports, VISA, BBC, NBC Sports & many more.
Disclaimer: This blog is intended as a guide only for educational and informational purposes. It is not legal advice. The content contained in this article is not legal advice or a legal opinion on any specific matter or matters.