"As you my Know my use of Celtic music is extremely simple and short. however there is something about it that will remain in your mind for a long, long time" Nobuo Uematsu
Music is definitely one of the most sublime forms of language and art; it is the language of feelings, which are transmitted from the simplest sounds -like the birdsong at dawn- to more complex compositions such as today´s bigger symphony concerts.
Its power is huge. When I say this, I do not mean that it will make us fly through the skies like a comet (Well maybe it will! but not literally) Music has enormous power because it produces a series of irreplaceable emotions.
Music can move us, motivate us, join us, teach us, shock us, rejoice us, sadden us... it is capable to make us live unique moments of tension, such as the sounds produced when seeing an horror movie, or intense moments of happiness and nostalgia, when transporting us to the time of our lives when we fell in love with that special person.
And its because music, unlike other art forms, accompanies us at all times. While working, while we are driving the car or while walking down the street, and what to say about parties!
Given its importance to our lives, there is no doubt about the importance of including it in other forms of art such as films or video games. However, although the music in films managed to adopt a parallel level of importance after its incorporation by the year 1890, the role of music in videogames would take a little longer to emerge, starting with a secondary role, restricted and subject to the power and costs of the hardware of each generation.
From Computer Chip Music to Original Soundtracks
In the 70's when the videogame began to flourish as entertainment, music was stored on physical media such as cassettes and vinyl discs analogically. These components were expensive and prone to failure under constant use, making them unsuitable for use in the arcades of that time. For this reason, a more economical method of having music in a video game was sought, hence replacing it through the use of digital media, using a microprocessor to generate specific digital codes converting analog waves into electrical impulses sent to a loudspeaker, thus generating sound effects.
Despite that, the sounds resulting from this method were monophonic, cyclical and therefore quite limited, for example, when Nolan Bushnell created Pong in 1972, the sound was reduced to a peculiar "beep" that accompanied every bounce of the "ball" on the vertical lines. Even In this case though, the sound was just an accessory and the hardware of that time did not allow to dream of something like music.
However, as microprocessors improved and its costs fell, these would be incorporated to new generations of arcades and home consoles, like the Famicom (known as the NES in America and Europe) in 1983. These facts, in conjunction with the development of the MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) would result in the launch of a wave of games with a highly remarkable quality of music compositions by the middle 80s, standing out among the composers of that era figures like Koji Kondo (Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda), Hirokazu Tanaka (Metroid), Nobuo Uematsu (Final Fantasy), among others of equal importance.
However, the biggest jump would not come until the introduction of the optical media, which has allowed incorporating completely pre-recorded music, high quality sound and allowed the reduction of storage costs that had previously been a concern, thus allowing developing musical compositions using different instruments, resulting in the outstanding soundtracks of today.
Music, a cornerstone in videogames
"Child of Eden takes the rythm games concept to a differebt level "
In this way, music has been gaining leadership in videogames, way beyond its support functions. Thus, even some music compositions become more famous than the same title for which they were designed, since they enjoy a quality comparable even to that of any commercial album released for sale publicly.In fact, it is possible to distinguish an entire musical genre derived from it, as significant as any we are used to hearing on the radio, and that becomes more important with each day, due to the widely growth of video games as a form of entertainment.
This fact has expanded so much that the music is arguably one of the most important aspects when valuing a video game, even at the level of the story, the gameplay, the graphics, and others.
More important in the recent years, videogames -known in its general form as rythm games- in which music has become the most important and central theme have been developed. Exponents such as Dance Dance Revolution, Guitar Hero, Rock Band, Dance Central, Child of Eden, Final Fantasy Theatryhtm, to name a few, are key signs of the expansion in terms of the importance of music in a videogame, creating even an specific gender for this purpose.
And it is that today more than ever, the music is no longer a filler for a game that seems to be empty, but a connection point for all that a videogame tries to create. Music not only gives you something to listen to while you play, but when expressed correctly, it is capable of creating an emotional connection to the game that cannot be replicated through any other way.
The music Transports you - Invites you
Who doesnt remember the moments of his/her childhood jumping and stomping goombas when hearing to the current (or past) remixes of the Koji Kondo song of Mario Bros? Or perhaps, the frustration felt at the simple sound heard when Pac-Man was eaten by one of those creepy colored ghosts! Or even more, the sadness felt at the moment of Aeriths dead in Final Fantasy VII. This is mainly because one of the music´s main features is its ability to transport our subconscious to a place within our deepest memories, our dreams and our deepest fears or even to places beyond our imagination.
The dissonant chords and rapid rise and fall of music tones in games like Dead Space, Resident Evil or Silent Hill put our nerves to the edge; while the sound of the gentle breeze of air mixed with the sound of people whispering, make us feel as if we were walking alongside Ezio Auditore in Venice.
Even games like those developed by Rockstar, have imposed a standard for open world games set in the twentieth century, implementing songs related to each particular time throughout the journey . For example, in GTA Vice City, which had as its main inspiration Scarface" from Brian De Palma, we enjoy of a great collection of the 80s; in Mafia II, based in epics gangster film like The Godfather, it was classic blues and rock'n'roll of the 50s; for LA Noire, which was inspired in the novels of James Ellroy and the classic and modern black cinema (from The Maltese Falcon to LA Confidential trough Chinatown ') we have a fine selection of classic jazz. Listening to the radio in any of the game´s cars makes you drench of the musical culture of those years, helping to get further into the story you are told.
There are in other examples, melodies so pure and refined that from the very opening screen invite you to listen to the song completely. Games like Kingdom Hearts and Final Fantasy, among others, are clear examples of games where the music takes you to dream and experience emotions, without even starting the game.
Furthermore, its the power that the music has to stay in our subconscious long after we turned off the console or computer, which today gives us an extra incentive to continue playing a videogame. This creates a greater need and a bigger responsibility for developers to create a good soundtrack to accompany a video game, knowing that as opposed to a film in which the music should support along the 2 hours (more or less) that a movie a lasts, the music for a video game should be able to attract us for the 10, 20 or 100 hours that our adventure lasts. This is a very hard challenge because while music can bring complacent memories about a game and give it an extended re-playability, it may in the same way; take us away from a video game, despite its excellent graphics or story.
In the same way, music too must adjust to the different genres and different eras to which we are to be taken, thus creating different and more complex needs to fulfill. For example, a melodic composition could not fit very well in an FPS game set in a war background such as Call of Duty or Battlefield, while at the same time, an action soundtrack joined by the sounds of explosions and gunfire could not engage much with a game like Pikmin.
The impact and popularity of the videogame music in the last 30 years has been such that today it has a strong representation of followers and composers, even in the absence of video games. Even melodies and themes from 20 years ago are still reused in the new generation of video games (for example the main theme of The Legend of Zelda).This has generated a growing popularity that has been translated in videogame soundtracks being sold in physical and (now) in digital formats, outside from the video game itself.
In the same way, the popularity of videogames music has allowed the development of live concerts, performed by acclaimed composers in the world of video games such as: Koichi Sugiyama (Dragon Quest) Yoko Kanno (Nobunaga's Ambition), Nobuo Uematsu (Final Fantasy ), Keiichi Suzuki (EarthBound), Akira Yamaoka (Silent Hill), among others. The success of these performances in Japan was such that in August of 2003 and for the first time outside of Japan, a video game music concert was performed by a live orchestra, the Czech National Symphony Orchestra at the Symphonic Game Music Concert held in Germany. This event was held as as the official opening of one of the largest videogame conventions in Europe, the GC Games Convention.
This would open the possibility for other initiatives such as the "Video Games Live" or "Play! A Video Game Symphony to embark in tours around the world including a wide variety of videogame music, which ranged from classics like Pong to titles like Metal Gear Solid and Halo.
In Perfect Harmony (Conclusion).
"Music should fit the game one hundred percent, it must respond to the emotional and physical needs of the player, of course, take the immersion to new heights, to another level." (Steve Schnur - Worldwide Executive, Music and Music Marketing for EA)
Upon reaching this point, we can agree that music is one of the most important aspects when developing a game. From its earliest beginnings with simple sound effects to the amazing soundtracks that are developed today, the videogame music has evolved alongside the technology of consoles and computers and videogames themselves and despite having been created as an complement to visual images and gameplay, today its an essential aspect for creating lasting bonds between gamers and videogames.
As in a film, the music in a video game has the important task to help in highlighting the different emotions that the developers want to create in us and thus when the music and the sound effects are well developed, the soundtrack can greatly improve the overall experience in a videogame.
However, the true harmony of a game will come from knowing how to use music as a form of connection between each of the components involved in a videogame. It should be able to make us spend moments of tension when investigating a deserted mansion, motivate us to run as fast as possible when we are racing in car competition and invite us to dream and continue our adventure in a fantasy world, even after having spent hundreds of hours on it.