Video games are a multi-sensory experience - that’s probably why it is so immersive. It may not be obvious at first glance, but music plays a huge part in the success of a video game and has become as important as movie soundtracks. Already in the 90's, games like Silent Hill or Grand Theft Auto became loved and famous not only because of their gameplay or their storyline, but also thanks to their soundtracks. For millions of people, video games have been a way to discover new bands or to immerse themselves musical genres they would not otherwise have been interested in.
Music is particularly powerful to create atmospheres, tell an epic story about fantastic imaginary worlds. Discovering music while immersed in a game you love - often alone, in the dark - is a unique, extremely engaging and memorable experience.
Nowadays, game soundtracks are fully part of the gamers' universe and imagination, and video game companies are aware of this and give more and more importance to it. But it still hasn't been the same. This week and next week, let us take you on a tour through the history and current events of video game music.
It was in the 70's that the first arcade machines were equipped with speakers - originally to draw the attention of visitors to this new activity. The first game to be equipped with sound was the famous Pong, which marked the beginning of music in video games. These little "beeps", which seem simplistic to us today, were in fact a real revolution: they announced the arrival of music as a tool for creating atmosphere in this emerging leisure activity.
In the 1980s, technical progress made it possible to store slightly more elaborate music - but just slightly. The 8-bit and then 16-bit music had to be memorable and pleasant despite hundreds of repetitions - the technical limitations did not allow for long and diversified pieces. It was therefore necessary to create atmospheres with very few notes, and the first composers were studying closely the work of J.S. Bach to fuel their creativity and design these very simple, but not simplistic, motifs.
In the mid-1980s Nintendo recruited its first official composer, K?ji Kond?. The music of games like Mario Bros or Zelda became famous at that time - being almost as successful as the games themselves. It was also K?ji Kond? who organized the very first concert combining classical music and video games in Tokyo. A true composer and conductor, he is a key figure in video game music.
In the 1990s, the arrival of CDs and the democratization of PCs and consoles allowed games to incorporate the sounds of real instruments. The video game industry therefore needed composers capable of enriching the increasingly elaborate fantasy worlds of video games with sound atmospheres that were equally elaborate.
It was once again in Japan that Konami's artist Michiru Yamane created the famous music for Castlevania: Symphony of the Night in 1997. A graduate of one of the most prestigious music academies in Japan, she composed 44 pieces for this innovative exploration video game and its baroque, fantastic and slightly offbeat universe. The composer's influences are eclectic and bold - ranging from metal to classical music, with occasional detours into pop and jazz.
Considered one of the best video game soundtracks of all time, this timeless music has lost none of its power today.
But it is the Legend of Zelda series that marks a true revolution in video game music - by integrating the player's participation right into its soundtrack. The music of this part is inspired by themes already used in A Link to the Past and in the original version of Legend of Zelda. The world of Hyrule acquires here a more modern aspect, but still familiar for the series' regulars.
But the soundtrack of the 1998 Ocarina of Time game - composed like the rest of the music in the series by K?ji Kond? - is no longer just there to create an atmosphere - it is now an integral part of the gameplay itself. To progress through the story, you literally have to play an instrument, the title's ocarina, to unlock entire sections of the story, progress through the quest sequence, discover secrets, and even cast spells.
In 2012, the video game music industry received its first major award: composer Austin Wintory won a Grammy Award for Best Soundtrack for the music of the game Journey.
For such a recent art form, this is an extraordinary recognition.
Next week, join us to discover some particularly memorable soundtracks, as well as new practices, which could well revolutionize the video game industry and the world of music.