Friday, February 15, 2002

The Nintendo 64 console was released in 1996, although I didn't buy one for myself until 2001. Although it boasted exceptionally improved graphics and sound, it really didn't have much to offer over the SNES in the music department. Soundtracks written for the N64 were very reminiscent of the old MIDI tunes on the PC, with decent but unspectacular sound patches. Because this was the last console system I bought, I don't know where music stands on the other major consoles, like the Dreamcast, Playstation line, xBox, and GameCube.

Meanwhile back on the PC, game music tended to fall into two major categories: traditional scores and ambient music. With ambient music, composers try to create an uninvolved composition with sound effects and minor musical effects that don't steal attention from the onscreen action. Much like movie scores, these soundtracks couldn't be whistled and emphasized a feeling rather than a melody.

The first major game to eschew a traditional musical score was Myst in 1995, known as "the game that killed the adventure genre". Music was virtually nonexistent, and most locations in the game were supported only by the occasional sound effect or white noise. Although its lasting appeal is questionable, it can't be argued that Myst reached a good portion of mainstream computer users (mostly through promotions and tie-ins). This set a bad precedent; apparently games didn't need much music to be a commercial success.

Following the success of its Doom series, id software decided to entrust the music of its next hit game, Quake (1996), to Trent Reznor of nine inch nails. This was mostly a marketing gimmick, and resulted in a forgettable array of unmusical "atmosphere music". Almost every shooter game since then has avoided real music religiously.

The most recent game to improve sound effects at the expense of music was Black and White in 2000. After a brief chorus in the introduction of the game, the vast majority of levels play out with only the ambient sounds of the world. In fact, it's even possible to remove the game CD in mid-game and play your own music instead. It seems as if video games have come full circle from their sound-effects-only ancestors...

The games that did continue to use traditional musical styles have shown little of the ingenuity found in soundtracks of the early 90s. Wizardry 8, just released in 2002, has a soundtrack of fantasy music clichés (MP3, 281KB). Luckily, the soundtrack is stored as MP3 files, so you can replace the particularly bad tunes with some of your own. Return to Wolftenstein, the first-person shooter game released in December of last year, uses a soundtrack of battle-themed songs that could be the movie soundtrack to any B-movie about war and/or zombies.

Of course, there's always exceptions to the rules. Blizzard Entertainment, for example, has consistently maintained a high level of quality in its musical output, from its bestselling Diablo series to the electronically orchestrated soundtrack of 1998's Starcraft. The Diablo series uses a mix of ambient and tuneful music. Although much of its underground music is ambient, other tunes like the theme from Tristram are hauntingly memorable (MP3, 1.1MB), and continue to appear on lists of musical favourites.

Out of Norway came The Longest Journey in 2000. This adventure game was unique because it was mostly a one-man effort, from design to music, and because it was just as good as any effort by an established game company. The soundtrack, which is also available as a massive MP3 download, is a mix of standard fantasy fare and modern styles, with a strong European tencho-dance influence (MP3, 453KB).

Tomorrow: The Future of Game Music and Related Links

tagged as music, games | permalink | 0 comments


Previous Post: Untitled Post


Next Post: Untitled Post

 

You are currently viewing a single post from the annals of URI! Zone history. The entire URI! Zone is © 1996 - 2020 by Brian Uri!. Please see the About page for further information.

Jump to Top
Jump to the Front Page

BIRTHDAYS
BLOGLOG
03/25
12/11

OLD POSTS
Old News Years J F M A M J
J A S O N D
J F M A M J
J A S O N D
J F M A M J
J A S O N D
J F M A M J
J A S O N D
J F M A M J
J A S O N D
J F M A M J
J A S O N D
J F M A M J
J A S O N D
J F M A M J
J A S O N D
J F M A M J
J A S O N D
J F M A M J
J A S O N D
J F M A M J
J A S O N D
J F M A M J
J A S O N D
J F M A M J
J A S O N D
J F M A M J
J A S O N D
J F M A M J
J A S O N D
J F M A M J
J A S O N D
J F M A M J
J A S O N D
J F M A M J
J A S O N D
J F M A M J
J A S O N D
J F M A M J
J A S O N D
visitors since November 2003