Video Game Music

Packman, Double Dragon, Tetris, ... these games were the first to hit the market once the computer took over the public's consciousness. Simple, downright hideously looking and consisting of a couple of buttons to get the job done. Now video games are movies, cinematic stories that confuse the player with reality. Why do we feel fear when we play a scary video game? As if we would get hurt in the process?! All that has got to do with the basic fact that video games are becoming rich visual spectacles, containing qualities that are still difficult to obtain in a movie. Because in games anything is possible. Considering the visual process, musically it could not stay behind. Or how else can you explain how video game music has become the orchestral competitor of film music?

Question, is it important that video games receive original strong music? Well let’s reverse that question! How important are video games nowadays? The answer is pretty big, considering it is now one of the biggest selling markets on the planet. To think alone of the countless millions Grand Theft Auto IV acquired in the first couple of weeks and you’ll understand how much weight games are holding nowadays. GTA IV didn’t contain an original background score but songs (multiple chosen effective songs). Also a game (just like most movies) cannot work without music. Music is the binding tool that connects the visual with the emotional, creating thereby a stirring effect that moves the person seeing/playing it. Therefore the games of today have made investments in not only the visual compartment, but also the musical. The simple reason more and more renowned composers are scoring video games nowadays (Howard Shore, John Debney, Harry Gregson-Williams) is an example of that. In reverse the game music is respected for its achievements, if not, popular film composer Michael Giacchino and rising star Christopher Lennertz never would have received their chance in Hollywood. So you see, there is no stopping how the eyes are fixed on the video game community.

Now, we have said the magic name, Michael Giacchino. He is perhaps now one of the most important names in the composing business. Years ago he started to write music in something as meaningless as for video games. Yet now that weight in determination catapulted him to his award winning and respected status he has achieved today. That is not to say he is the founder of the success game music is having today, but he is a reason to think so. Consider also the fact anything is possible in games and you receive endless boundaries that are limitless for developing ideas in. Medal of Honour, his most well-known game music still stands today as his most thematic work in his career. The endless subthemes he wrote, the countless rhythm variations he unleashed, it was all striking at the time of writing. Why it remains his most thematic work is easy to explain. Boundaries! Because there are none. He could pick any sound and make it his, he could create any theme and use it frequently, he didn’t have to score it frame per frame to make sure it matched on screen. It was just a timeframe he could write to, 5 or 8 minutes where he could use the time to develop his personal ideas in. The results are what they are today, mesmerizing film music.

His music for Call of Duty was a step in the direction in how he would score his movies/series. Still thematic but set to boundaries. He made it less thematic and more gritty and rhythmic, so that he could present his music in a more frame by frame method. Not surprisingly, Call of Duty created the leap towards LOST, because a lot of ideas or instrumental choices soon made their way into LOST's consciousness. Or how Michael Giacchino presents his most known television music today. It is however cool to know that he still composes for games nowadays, no matter the downright hectic schedule he must cope with in Hollywoodmania.

Christopher Lennertz and Tommy Tallarico are other names now. Christopher Lennertz is known for his MOH music, as his James Bond and Gun score, while Tommy Tallarico is the co-founder of Video Games Live. Alongside the Play concerts (a collaboration between Arnie Roth and Jason Paul) the results are what they are today. Year by year the concerts receives recognition and acclaim, fans love it because it is essentially games they hear (and not film or classical music). On top of that, the concerts draw attention because they go back to the beginning and finish with the present. You can hear the tune of Tetris and Warcraft in the same opening minutes. It shows how video game music is becoming a popular phenomenon. Their success receives a following in other countries as well, surprising young audiences year by year. On itself it shows that the youth of tomorrow still wants to hear orchestral music, but it must be for something cool such as for games, and not something geeky such as for movies.

Music for games wasn obviously not composed by these three gentlemen alone. The names that have composed for games are endless and I don’t know where to begin and end. Truth is that so much good music is coming out, you have to follow it as closely as you would do film music. Miss a couple and you may have missed a winner. Because there is a gigantic market out there to conquer. That market has names such as Nobuo Uematsu (the man who made Final Fantasy musically famous), Jeremy Soule (one of the busiest video game composers who shared ideas for the Harry Potter games and countless others). Or what about Outcast by Lennie Moore. Alongside the MOH scores, Outcast is probably one of the finest on the market, a fantastical orchestral fantasy ride where themes, development and emotion is of the utmost importance. Furthermore, more and more labels attract an audience through releasing game music as well as other music. Unknown as well as more recognisable titles appeared on the market. There is a market and just like film music, labels are fleshing out CD releases to keep this market occupied and profitable.

Just like film music, video game music is for a specific audience. An audience that is younger, bigger in numbers and easier to spread their interest. Film lovers cherish the idea they can relive the emotions without having to see it on screen. Game aficionados adore they can bring back the fond memories of a game with a single cue, track, CD. It is a market that just has seen the light of day, so the possibilities are for now endless.

My humble conclusion is that it is important to invest time in video game music. Because I have heard too much good music to realize how losing boundaries can often heighten melodic pleasure. Forget bleep bleep and midi tones, embrace the orchestral grandeur of boundaries that know no boundaries, video game music that knows no end.

Thomas Glorieux - 15/11/2008