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Music in classic and modern video games

posted by MusicallyInspired on - last edited - Viewed by 1.1K users

http://kotaku.com/5821655/why-video-games-with-silent-heroes-had-the-best-soundtracks

I found this very interesting. It marks the very difference I've been trying to nail down in why I prefer classic game soundtracks to new game soundtracks: classic games had no voice acting. The article points out that games with voice acting cause the brain to focus on the words instead of the music and there's "not enough bandwidth" for our brains to process both voice acting and an interesting soundtrack. The soundtrack takes a backseat to the speech because that's naturally what our brains focus on. This is also why Hollywood movies and video games with a cinematic flow tone down the music for when characters are talking and leave the lead melodies to areas without talking and intro/credits sequences.

This is exactly why I prefer the soundtracks of old and I didn't even realize it: speechless games. Even the soundtracks from LA's games experienced without speech are far more engaging (the music, not necessarily the game). It's a very interesting difference. In the article the author links to two YouTube videos from FFVII, both of a sequence with text and engaging music (yeah, that's most of the game, but you know). One version was the original game presentation and the other with voice acting. The point was to show just how much more effective the music is when there's nothing else to listen to, and it's remarkably true! Maybe you guys understood this difference already, but I've never thought of it that way before. Perhaps that's why I always preferred KQ2+ without voices and why I never found TSL's or Telltale's game soundtracks particularly memorable or striking (though done extremely well). Though I really enjoyed Puzzle Agent's themes....particularly the puzzle themes, because there's no dialogue!

You know, in light of this I really think it'd be great to play a game solely based on gameplay with a rich soundtrack and no dialogue at all. Speech nor text. Just music telling the story. That would be an interesting experience and a fun exercise to score as well. I'll have to do that before I die sometime...

32 Comments - Linear Discussion: Classic Style
  • A music maker, brilliant. Truly brilliant. Thank you.

    What I like? Doom I , II. Final Fantasy VII, VIII. Simon the Sorcerer.

    Thanks for sharing, music maker.

  • Now I understand why you didn't think that the Curse of Monkey Island soundtrack wasn't notable!

    It works the other way around too, actually. When the Monty Python team showed the Holy Grail, they noted that people didn't laugh at their jokes while music was playing in the background. So they made sure that there was no music playing whenever a funny or an important line was said. (Except for the shruberry line, that is.)

    I sometimes actually do manage to enjoy soundtracks while they are played along with text, a notable example being Hardtack and Trenchfoot's theme from Tales of Monkey Island. (This might be because of the music's rather strong nature, so it was as loud as the voice acting.) But the example in the article managed to prove the point very well.

    I now think that Nintendo actually noticed it many years ago, as I don't know of one game they made with full voice acting. Also, when the characters do say something, their lines are often hated by the fans. ('Listen!')
    Thank you for sharing this with us, MusicallyInspired!

  • I disagree. And there is one big reason for it:

    Deus Ex.

  • There is not one humable theme in Deus Ex. It's all ambient (except for the title theme). Doesn't mean it isn't good, my point is that it's not truly memorable....just that you remember it was good. It did its job and did it well. But that job was not to have memorable themes.

    Of course, this article is from the point of view that his opinion is that games with memorable soundtracks have better soundtracks than games with excellent ambient soundtracks. It doesn't mean one or the other is horrible or absent of taste, it just means he (and I) preferred the former. I love the music in Myst and the Portal games, for instance, but there's nothing really you can hum besides the Myst main theme and Still Alive/Want You Gone. And I still prefer the soundtracks of Space Quest and The Secret of Monkey Island to them.

    The video Tredlow linked above explains that side of it well.

  • @MusicallyInspired said: There is not one humable theme in Deus Ex. It's all ambient (except for the title theme). Doesn't mean it isn't good, my point is that it's not truly memorable....just that you remember it was good. It did its job and did it well. But that job was not to have memorable themes.


    I have played that game so many times. Yes the main theme is very strong but I can hum a lot of the other music in that game too.
    Deus Ex just has both. And it took a long time until another score even got close to that. I just bought that score in the last steam sale. And I bought the super meat boy soundtrack 2 Disc set last year. That one was brilliant too.

  • I think it depends on the individual as well as the game. I mean I found that Alan Wake had such an awesome soundtrack (both ambient and vocal) that I had to get it so I could listen to it outside of the game.

  • Well, I remember that The Curse of Monkey Island has a soundtrack that is almost diminished by the song called "A Pirate I Was Meant to Be", which has singing too! Weird!

  • It's called your mental sketchpad. You've got a limited audio and limited visual processing capability. It's the reason why powerpoints fail to communicate ideas when both text and identical verbal instructions are given, and why verbal communications with associated pictures actually communicate the idea better. We're actually working on a long term project with researchers at Berkley right now concerning human processing.

    Music is for moments. Words interfere with those. When dialogue is being spoken music should usually take a backseat, with some exceptions.

    This is actually very pertinent to the current field of online education.

  • 8-bit music can be infinitely more terrifying than orchestral music. Hands down.

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