Its never something Ive been shy about; Ive always been an audiophile. Music and games have always been intrinsically linked, and Ive always had a strong passion for a great soundtracks. This is a passion Ive always enjoyed and to this day most of my music library remains to be soundtracks Ive collected over the years.
Music and games are like are like Apples and Pie, when alone they are great, mixed together, they become awesome. Whether it is a complete soundtrack or just that one moment in the game where the music and gameplay collide in perfect harmony, the best soundtracks always grab you and elevate the game to a whole new experience.
Getting the soundtrack right in a game is a critical process. The music must ebb and flow with the on screen action in cut-scenes, the background music whilst you are playing must reflect the situation and not become a distraction. Music is the perfect companion of games, and has been for some time. It is an art which captures a moment and when done right can completely immerse.
There are so many stand out points in gaming soundtracks, the tear jerking Aries theme in Final Fantasy 7, the music as you complete a level in Super Mario Bro, the music as you complete a view point in Assassins Creed and even that level up sound you hear in Call of Duty. All of these are well known sounds to many gamers. And the list goes on.
There is of course more to music in games than just the 10-20 seconds of memorable sounds. Many games have officially licensed soundtracks. The Fifa soccer series of games often has licensed tracks from all over the world; in fact I have discovered many great tracks just by hearing it in the game. Very rarely though do licensed soundtracks have that same effect on the game that you get from a specially written score. Trailers are more often than not however designed to bring the two types of Music together.
If I said Woodkid Iron, I can be safe in the knowledge that there are only a handful of people in a group would know instantly where Im going with this. Now if I say the music that accompanied the Assassins Creed Revelations trailer, everyone should be thinking of the same song. And that is the power of music and games combined. The song was a perfect fit for the trailer but is still a licensed song from an artist and not especially created for the franchise.
But trailers have a different place in the mixture of music and games. They are often used in a completely different way and as great as the Assassins Creed trailer was that song during gameplay would have been severely out of place.
There arent many places where a licensed song during a game with deep story has worked; to my mind there is one definitive attempt at this but beyond that Im a little blurry. Breaking Benjamin licensed a song to Bungie for use in Halo 2. I still remember the song today and the moment first hearing it in game. The song was instrumental in the game but still had a great effect on the moment and complemented that scene brilliantly. There is that Leona Lewis song in Final Fantasy 13, but for all our sakes can we just ignore that one?
The last licensed song I can remember affecting me as greatly that Halo scene was the introduction to Borderlands. A game that couldnt have picked a better song, the attitude of the song fitted perfectly and still today whenever I fire the game up I always sit through the introduction. It would seem licensed songs certainly have a good place in games and I hope that there will be many more times for us to experience such great combinations. But the best soundtracks have always been purpose built.
There have been so many great soundtracks to games that it would take a lifetime to list and discuss them all. From the Zelda melody to Metal Gear Sold 3: Snake eaters intro there are certainly some really awe inspiring soundtracks out there. The Most recent soundtrack to amaze me has been Guild Wars 2, an incredible soundtrack that seems to define an epic experience. (note the use of the word seems there, I have only seen and heard Guild Wars 2, not played)
Game soundtracks were once like the games themselves were, 8 bit marvels that completely capture you and hold you in a moment. To this day I still listen to awesome soundtracks like those found in the original Metal Gear games. I have friends who actively seek out 8-bit game mixes or even 8 bit remixes of todays soundtracks. But as time has gone on we have seen soundtracks become less of an endless albeit brilliant piece of background music, with composers developing them into fully formed and more movie styled art forms with soundtracks often driving the emotion of the game.
Some of my personal favourite soundtracks include the soundtracks to Journey, Bioshock, Assassins Creed and ultimately Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Many of the games I love the soundtracks to I havent even played, but nevertheless the music itself is nothing short of incredible and powerful. A well written score can stand alone and still work exactly how the composer intended.
Soundtracks that you see in todays modern military shooters are just as crucial as the smallest sounds you hear when sneaking around in Deus Ex or roaming the mountains of Skyrim. In fact playing over some of the action set pieces in Call of Duty with the music off completely changes the experience even though when you are playing the game that particular piece of music may not be the first thing you notice. Soundtracks have a way of becoming embedded in a particular scene and even though you never listen out for that particular track in some games you would certainly notice it is missing.
A perfect soundtrack for me is one that captures the games messages and feeling and just brings it to life. The best examples I feel are the soundtracks from Assassins Creed and Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Ive mentioned both in this and that is for a reason. The games have incredible soundtracks. Both Michael McCann and Jesper Kyd have an incredible way of composing music that makes the game feel so alive and real. If these composers want you to care about an event or a character, or simply want you to feel any emotion in a game they can do so at will. Where sometimes the voice acting and animations may fail the music certainly makes up for.
But that certainly isnt where the list of brilliant composers stops, for further listening I suggest:
Harry Greggson-Williams Metal Gear Solid
Michael Mcann Deus Ex: Human Revolution
Jeremy Soule Skyrim
Austin Wintory Journey, Flower
Garry Schyman - Bioshock
With that I end the musical adventure, to summarise music in a single paragraph is a gargantuan task and therefore Im not going to. Im simply going to say that the next time you hear a song (whether licensed or not) in a game, enjoy it. There is so much great music in the gaming world that I encourage everyone to explore and listen to as much as possible. Let the music take you further and make your experience a brilliant one.