By Sharon White
When one thinks of video games, what is the first thing that comes to mind? Graphics, sound, etc., but certainly not music. Because of the major technological advance within the 10 years, video games and music is something that now walks hand in hand. The more complicated and realistic, the better the music will be.
In the early days of videogames, music played no great part when it came to playing a game. Sounds were used simply to illustrate actions. Take for example Pong, one of the original commercially available computer games, developed in the 1950's. It comprised of two 'bats' represented on screen as rectangles and a ball. The object was to play a kind of tennis game, while bleeps represented the ball hitting the bat. The game was basic but it caught the imagination of players around the globe. In 1972 the Magnavox Odyssey was released in the US, the first games console ever made. However it was a completely silent machine. It was not until Atari released the Atari Video Computer System in 1977 that sounds really made impact upon games. These were still only very basic sound effects though.
What came next could be described as the beginnings of video game music. Space Invaders, a basic arcade game arrived with a menacing tune set to put fear into its players. The tune actually became more frantic as the 'Invaders' came closer to their goal, while the player tries to destroy them. This had the effect of raising the blood pressure and heart rate of its players, absorbing them fully into this world. The game was phenomenally successful due to the fact it was the first interactive audiovisual game that made its players feel an adrenalin rush.
Over the next 10 years, games were to become more sophisticated along with their sound tracks. Through the eighties, well known games such as Pacman, Donkey Kong and Tetris all arrived with unique soundtracks played through low-tech sound processors. Individual composers, such as Shigeru Myamoto, creator of music for the Zelda series of games, became recognised through their work on games, and in 1989 Michael Jackson saw the potential video games had for promoting music, releasing his own title, Moonwalk. It featured synthesised versions of Billie Jean and Beat It. He was to pave the way for many artists who have contributed to computer games in more recent times.
It is indisputable that since the release of the Playstation, Sony has dominated the games industry, with Nintendo lagging behind. The newest console from Sony, the Playstation 2 does everything the PSX did, but with much improved graphics and sound, and a DVD player. It can be connected to the net for online gaming and web browsing. This machine is a true multimedia system. Nintendo has caught up slightly with the game cube, and Microsoft has made their entrance with the X-Box, both offering high quality sound and visuals. Sony's success can be put down to the fact they applied quality music and video to their games from the start.
With CD quality sound now commonplace on consoles, the music within a game is no longer limited to synthesized sounds. This allows the game environment to become more atmospheric. This also means well known music can be placed within a game. When Sony released the play station, it was not long before they released their groundbreaking title, Wipeout. This game was a high energy racing game, accompanied by a fast and thrilling soundtrack featuring such artists as the Chemical Brothers, Orbital and Leftfield. Within the game it was possible to select the track you wished to be heard as you raced through winding tunnels and over vast canyons. The music in this game was possibly more important than the game itself, and indeed the soundtrack was released as an album. This illustrated the soundtracks importance within a game, akin to film music, and paved the way for musicians' involvement in the games industry. The follow up titles in this series also involved acts such as Prodigy, Underworld and in the most recent version, DJ Sasha. A host of acts have appeared on games since. Mogwai created the soundtrack for Actua Ice Hockey 2 and Ash earned ?600,000 in royalties for their track on Gran Turismo. Grand Theft Auto is known for its in game radio stations, and Grand Theft Auto 4: Vice City, Interactive eighties themed version of the game boasts several selectable radio stations with a variety of artists from the Eighties including Gary Newman and Blondie Again the soundtrack to this game will be released as an album. So it seems that, as the case is with a good film, the soundtrack to a game provides as much of the experience as any graphics.
The music industry is set to benefit from this relatively new medium. Artists being heard on games are able to promote their music directly at their target audience, 18-25 year olds, while collecting royalties from the sale of the game. The artist's appearance also works as promotion for the game, meaning the two industries work well together. Music is also significant as far as determining the quality of a game. The soundtrack plays a very important role; similar to the way it works in film. However, there are of course, major differences between games and film In fact it seems the music within a game is more important than it is in film, interacting with the players reactions and completing the full experience.
Over the next few years, consoles such as the Playstation 2 will start to integrate more in homes, becoming as common as items like video players or stereos. This new entertainment system encompassing audio-visual playing with multimedia capabilities will replace the need for such items. It is important therefore the music industry keeps up with this medium in order to continue benefiting from it.