The digital entertainment industry is growing. This also increases the demand for music in video games. How is video game music different from music in movies? Learn more on the topic here:
Video game music includes any musical composition used in a video game. You can use music composed especially for the game, or you can use existing songs as the soundtrack.
History of Video Game Music
The history of video game music began in the 1970s, and like film music, it has come a long way. Technological influence also plays a role here, as video games have been a digital product from the beginning.
1970s: First Notes
In 1972, the first sounds were heard in computer games. Atari introduces Pong – an electronic table tennis ball. Along with the minimalist look, the sound design stands out and should set the stage for the video game’s music to come. Three tones are essential to provide auditory feedback to the player. Here is an example:
The mid-1970s saw the development of sound chips, which led to better sound and music production. Most famously, the four-note music of “Space Invaders” in 1978 – which ushered in the 8-bit era.
1980s: The first game soundtracks
One of the earliest and most famous video game music is the tune from the 1984 puzzle game Tetris. Composed by British composer Wally Beben, at 26 minutes it was probably the longest SID (Sound Interface Device) composition of its time.
Over the next few years, video game music became increasingly important, thereby contributing significantly to the gaming experience. This is how popular game music was created, such as “Super Mario Bros” in 1985 or “The Legend of Zelda” in 1986.
1990s to Present: Music as Identity
Beginning in the 90s, video game music became increasingly complex, following the pattern of film music. For this reason, so-called triple-A games today have original soundtracks, often recorded by large orchestras, thus aiding computer game recognition.
Best video game songs
In what follows, I want to present my personal top three video game songs/soundtracks in recent gaming history. If you also have a favorite game soundtrack, please let me know in the comments.
Mass Effect 3: Opening Song
Released in 2012, Mass Effect 3 opened with a touching prologue. The opening track shines with its catchy melody and grand tension, mixing the voices of the Reaper (the game’s great threat) with atmospheric piano and orchestra. Featured on the Mass Effect 3 soundtrack, with contributions from multiple composers, including Sasha Dikicyan and Sam Hulick.
The main musical theme of “Skyrim” is also a formative soundtrack. Released in 2011, the game has sold a total of 30 million copies by 2016, making it possibly one of the most successful video games of all time. Here’s an excerpt from the theme song “Dovakin”, composed by Jeremy Soule and sung by Sabina Zweiacker:
Gothic 3: Soundtrack
One of my favorite games is the Gothic series from German developer Piranha Bytes. The soundtrack to “Gothic 3”, composed by Kai Rosenkranz, is excellent. To me, this is a masterpiece of video game music, especially in terms of dynamics and variety. Here’s the making video:
make music for games
When making music for a video game, the same rules apply as for film music, tension must be built and emotion conveyed. It is a supporting element and must not appear too dominant.
Differences from film music
Film music and video game music are similar in that they both have the task of conveying emotions and feelings. They either reinforce an identification with a place or aurally represent a character or a situation. However, apart from the similarities mentioned, there are also differences:
video game music
- The performer has a direct influence on the progression of the music. He can affect how the music plays by interacting with the game environment. The length of the musical selection, as well as the drama of the musical means used will be affected.
- In video games, players have varying degrees of freedom to make decisions. He can control the game world/plot, which affects the music.
- Therefore, music in a video game must be able to respond dynamically and flexibly to the player’s interaction with its environment—video game music must adapt, or adapt.
- The audience of the film usually has no direct influence on the course of the music. It stays on watching.
- The viewer of the film is passive because the action of the film is linear and the process of the music is not affected.
- Film music doesn’t have to respond to audience interaction because the course of action is pre-fixed – the music is static because it follows the film script/film cut.
Video Game Music Production
How is video game music made? The composer faces a great challenge here, since he has to create music that should respond to an unpredictable course of action. He can use the following four tools:
- Created blocks have different lengths in their composition and thus can be combined with each other in any order.
- Create an intro that introduces a game sequence and prepares you for what’s to come (calm or dramatic).
- A loop is a short piece of music that repeats until the mood of the game changes. Whether the player takes 10 seconds or more to engage in combat has no effect on the cycle’s transmitted mood.
- Other techniques can be a recurring theme during gameplay. Also, the music as a whole can carry the tone given by the game developer.
How to Become a Video Game Composer
Of course, to become a video game composer, you need to have a passion for music. On the other hand, you need skill and understanding to create harmony and melody. Here are three key points for getting started with video game music:
Which music software is best for music production is a matter of personal preference. For example, Hans Zimmer mainly uses the DAW Cubase. Personally, I use FL Studio for movies and video games. Every music program has its strengths and weaknesses. Personal preference and what you want to do with them matters.
Self-marketing plays a vital role for musicians. In addition to an optimized website, you should also have representation on relevant social media channels. It is very important to understand your target group or fans and meet their needs. “What does your audience want?” Background information or insights into the composer’s day-to-day life are ideal. I recommend my article “Music Marketing”.
The best commercials are, of course, beautiful songs. I’ve created a subpage with Royalty Free Music where I offer a selection of songs that are free to listen to and download. I think of this playlist as tracks that I might commission.