Video game music is a big deal. It’s not all beeps and balalaikas anymore.
God of War wins Best Music and sweeps the board at Bafta Games Awards 2019
The Bafta Games Awards took place at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London last night, hosted by Dara O’Briain. God of War was the big winner of the night, winning five awards including Best Game and the Performer award. The other games nominated for Best Music included Far Cry 5, Celeste and Florence, a puzzle game about two people falling in love – which went on to win the Mobile Game category.
Music for saving the world: Sarah Schachner and the soundtrack of video games
With experience throughout different entertainment mediums under her belt, Schachner has felt natural restrictions of composing music for film and television. Due to their inherent structure, the straightforward progression of storytelling doesn’t present the necessary room to experiment as much as a composer might desire. This is where the possibilities began to open up. In the fluid universe of a video game, there’s more space to grow. New galaxies to explore, aliens to encounter and reasons to spark an audience’s imagination beyond what they see every day. On a personal level, Schachner says, that’s what she has experienced in games.
Meet the record label turning video game soundtracks into super-cool vinyl
It’s not often artists like Weezer and Courtney Love are mentioned in the same breath as Hollow Knight, Darkest Dungeon and Nuclear Throne. For Ghost Ramp, a boutique record label based in Southern California, representing video games soundtracks alongside traditional music is a typical day at the office.
James Hannigan on video game music: is it art?
And what of those games that are open-ended, allowing players to create their own stories or scenarios? Sims, strategy and open world games, for example. Somehow, composers working on those need to create music that emotionally engages but also remains flexible enough to feel as boundless in scope as the game itself. Music like this is rarely composed to picture or synched with visual events and, at times, there is a sense that it lingers in the air, belongs to locations or emanates from the environment. It can feel like part of the very fabric of a game’s reality.
Here, Mark Savage takes a deep dive into how it began 40 years ago and what’s behind the blockbuster game soundtracks of today.
It’s a world away from the simplistic bleeps of 1980s arcade machines, but these epic, multi-layered, orchestral scores are fulfilling the same function as the chiptune sounds of 30-plus years ago. They’re there to guide, prompt and steer the player. Repeated themes help you organise and make sense of the game world. And psychologically, things like key and tempo can even affect the way the player perceives time. Done right, the marriage of music and gameplay can induce a level of immersion that’s impossible in other forms of entertainment.
Video game soundtracks are often compared to movie music, but they’re designed very differently.
Taken to its most complex extreme, horizontal resequencing takes a grab-bag of musical components and puts them together like Tetris blocks as you play, creating an entirely unpredictable, dynamic score. Glam-prog-ambient-techno genius Brian Eno took just that approach with The Shuffler – a piece of software that created a constantly mutating score for 2007’s ambitious-yet-flawed evolution adventure Spore.
A more recent application came in Hello Games’ space adventure, No Man’s Sky, which was released in 2016 for the PlayStation 4. An astounding technological feat, the on-screen game algorithmically generates everything that exists in its vast, freeform universe. Plants, planets, alien lifeforms and environments are all randomised, with a theoretical 18 quintillion worlds for the player to visit and, perhaps, conquer.
The music is no less ambitious. Created by Sheffield math-rock band 65daysofstatic, it’s a progressive, experimental suite of songs that changes every time it’s played… with almost infinite variations.