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The Sound of Music in Games

A lot of gaming involves a lot of walking, action scene and repeat. While this sounds really dull, it isn't with the right music! While older games didn't have the technology to implement the sounds of today, most of them had at least some catchy tune. Who can resist the tune of Tetris?, or the nostalgic battle tune from the original Pokemon games? I could go on with this list, but you get the idea. In my opinion, a good sound track makes or breaks a (good) game. Amazing graphics won't be enough if there isn't some good sound behind it, no 'pew-pew sound' when you fire a rifle in any FPS.

Some games have a really big music team behind them, some only have one guy who searches the web for some nice tunes and anything in between. For example, one of my favorite game series out there, Halo. Every Halo game up to Halo: Reach (excl. Halo Wars) had music composed by Martin O'Donnell, a brilliant composer. Because they used the same composer for all those games all the music has the same feel to them, but with a different tone to them. This makes it so that the game is identifiable as a Halo Game, but you can tell the difference by the sound. However, when Halo 4 came out, I was a little worried. Some of you may now they’ve changed the team behind Halo from Halo 4 onwards, from Bungie to 343 Industries. This meant that the role of Martin O’Donnell was to be filled by someone else, which turned out to be Neil Davidge. While he chose a completely different sound than the previous installments, he did a good job. Halo 4 received some bad reviews from people who were expecting just another Halo, with the identifiable music behind it. When this turned out quite different, people were mad. But I think it was ok.

While a lot of people who play games also listen to music, they rarely are the type to listen to classical music. Tell them you love classical music and they most likely laugh at you. But when classical music is heard during a video game or a movie there is nothing wrong with it? Why is that? I would like to think that is because they immediately link it to the game/movie and not think of it as classical music, which it still is of course. Just because you link it to Batman, Star Wars or any other franchise doesn’t make it ‘good’ music. The people/person who composed those songs aren’t just random folk, most of them (if not all) have a big repertoire. Take John Williams for example, composer of many recognizable music. He composed movie music for Star Wars, Superman, Jurassic Park and many more. Someone with 5 Academy Awards, 4 Golden Globe Awards, 7 British Academy Film Awards and 21 Grammy Awards sure knows a thing or two about music!

John Williams

But this is all talking about the background music, what the about the sound effects from the game itself? There are those games that take stock-footage of a sound and just use that, but you can also record everything for your own purposes. While the last one seems more logical, it also is the most expensive; only the biggest franchises can afford this. By recording your own sounds, you have much more control over them. A gunshot sounds a lot different in a cave than it does outside; so is it for the cave itself, everything influences the sound. So if you know that during the campaign your hero will walk through a cave half-way filled with water, you can plan for that during the sound recordings. But of course, the more detailed you want the footage, the more expensive it gets.

A lot of sound effects are made by the computer nowadays, which gives the composer an previous unprecedented control over the sound. This also makes it a lot cheaper and quicker (no need to hire a gunmen with an arsenal of weapons) and can easily be altered after it was created. This has a downside though, the more options you give to someone, the harder it is to make a choice. But by having these choices, the change of another game sounding the same are slim-to-none.

In this article I talked about the music in games, not only the background music, but also the sound effects during the game. I’ve talked about composers of music and shed some light on the classical music genre by pointing out the obvious. While sound effects are mostly made with the computer nowadays, some good sound recordings never hurt.

Time is limited, so I haven’t even begun to talk about all the music in games. But I sure hope you though it was a good read and I am looking forward to your comments below. You have anything else you want me to talk about it, leave it there or email me.

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