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Music in classic and modern video games

posted by MusicallyInspired on - last edited - Viewed by 995 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
  • I think the height of terror was th N64 era.

  • You know, that's a good point. Even in games from the current generation that I really love, I'm kinda clueless as to what the music sounds like... whereas I can recall just about every track from Monkey Island or Quest for Glory or Final Fantasy 4 off the top of my head.

    The only game sound tracks that really left an impression on me recently that I can think of are Red Dead Redemption, L.A. Noire, and the Assassin's Creed games.

  • Silent Hill.

    /thread

    (but in all seriousness, some very interesting points there)

  • There are plenty of modern games with fantastic soundtracks. Portal, Whispered World, Dreamfall, S&M 2 and 3, Super Mario Galaxy, Professor Layton, Mirror's Edge, Metal Gear, Halo (especially "In Amber Clad"), and I'm sure plenty more if I thought about it.

    Has anyone here played "Superbrothers' Swords & Sworcery" ? Really fantastic game with a minimal narrative and a heavy emphasis on the music.

  • Again, nobody said that modern game soundtracks were bad. Just that the experience is different because of the shift in focus where voice is concerned.

    Never played it. Sounds interesting, though.

  • Something similar has happened with modern film soundtracks. In the past, composers were allowed to do a full-orchestral score that would catch the attention of the viewer and leave him humming the main theme as he left the cinema.
    Nowadays, fashion is to have "subtle" music in modern films. And this is something I don't personally enjoy very much, as I'm a fan of a score that explodes in your face. However, this is something completely normal: There's a period of alternative film scores, and then the orchestral robust ones return for some time, then the alternatives, and so on...

    And now, talking about video games... It certainly depends upon the game. Take for example the Medal of Honor series: It started with big heroic Copland-esque music, and now it has turn into something more electronic and modern. This is something that people say its because of the more "realistic" nature of the newer games, but I say nonsense... Morricone often says that if you can't hear the music, it's bad film music. And he has a point. What's the point of making music so subtle that the viewer can't hear it?

    But keeping with the Monkey Island series, to me all the games have terrific music. However, a lot of people have complained in the past that Tales isn't "catchy" enough compared to the other games, and while I don't agree with them, they say this because of a reason: The music is buried under sound effects. If you don't have a good ear or aren't paying attention, you'll barely notice it.
    This is something quite common with modern films too. When a composer does a big, masculine and robust orchestral score for a big action scene, the sound effects ultimately win and because of this the score gets mixed extremly low, and most people don't notice it.

    But as I said, it's simply a normal transition... I have a feeling that the era of big orchestral scores may be just coming back...

  • I loved Curses' music. I could whistle every tune from just about every scene in that game.

  • @ShaggE said: Silent Hill.

    /thread

    The music in Silent Hill sounds like a bunch of instruments grinding together.

    It's also one of the most atmosphere-inducing videogame music ever made.

    Also, I'm not a big Halo fan, since I've never really seen what's so great about it, but it's got one of the best theme music I've ever heard.

  • @Trenchfoot said: Something similar has happened with modern film soundtracks. In the past, composers were allowed to do a full-orchestral score that would catch the attention of the viewer and leave him humming the main theme as he left the cinema.
    Nowadays, fashion is to have "subtle" music in modern films. And this is something I don't personally enjoy very much, as I'm a fan of a score that explodes in your face. However, this is something completely normal: There's a period of alternative film scores, and then the orchestral robust ones return for some time, then the alternatives, and so on...

    And now, talking about video games... It certainly depends upon the game. Take for example the Medal of Honor series: It started with big heroic Copland-esque music, and now it has turn into something more electronic and modern. This is something that people say its because of the more "realistic" nature of the newer games, but I say nonsense... Morricone often says that if you can't hear the music, it's bad film music. And he has a point. What's the point of making music so subtle that the viewer can't hear it?

    But keeping with the Monkey Island series, to me all the games have terrific music. However, a lot of people have complained in the past that Tales isn't "catchy" enough compared to the other games, and while I don't agree with them, they say this because of a reason: The music is buried under sound effects. If you don't have a good ear or aren't paying attention, you'll barely notice it.
    This is something quite common with modern films too. When a composer does a big, masculine and robust orchestral score for a big action scene, the sound effects ultimately win and because of this the score gets mixed extremly low, and most people don't notice it.

    But as I said, it's simply a normal transition... I have a feeling that the era of big orchestral scores may be just coming back...

    I get your point. BTW, you still haven't done out requests for your piano versions of ToMI yet!

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    Vainamoinen Moderator

    I cannot agree much with the article - it was a very interesting read, though! ;)

    Take the work of John Williams, one of the most confident and iconic melodists in Hollywood. His most famous themes are instantly recognizable—Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T., Jurassic Park—but those themes never play while characters are speaking on-screen. They play during action sequences, or perhaps during the opening or closing credits. When it comes time for characters to talk, those sorts of strong themes fade away, replaced by broader, less intrusive chords—called "pads"—which allow actors' voices to be easily understood.

    This idea is presented as an indisputable fact in the article, while I see it more as a necessary tendency in movies. But movie composers also have the tendency to put most heart into the central scenes, and those might very well be scenes in which voices are heard. Interestingly, the writer contradicts himself with his examples. For example, the central Jurassic Park motif is indeed heard first while the protagonists are speaking.

    An idea the article does not even touch upon is the very individual feel of early VG music due to the brutal sound limitations of early computers and consoles: Very few sound channels, very few and bad-sounding "instruments", scarcely much memory reserved for the soundtrack. How do you cope with that as a composer? You rely on a very strong, repetitive and present melody or musical motif. For me, that is quite a defining thing in VG music.

    @Trenchfoot said: Something similar has happened with modern film soundtracks. In the past, composers were allowed to do a full-orchestral score that would catch the attention of the viewer and leave him humming the main theme as he left the cinema.
    Nowadays, fashion is to have "subtle" music in modern films. And this is something I don't personally enjoy very much, as I'm a fan of a score that explodes in your face. However, this is something completely normal: There's a period of alternative film scores, and then the orchestral robust ones return for some time, then the alternatives, and so on...

    I wouldn't call it "subtle". Hans Zimmer's present minimalist endeavors are hardly subtle, but they are also quite unhummable (is that a word?). Less motif seems to be a fashion, not something that is necessarily requested from modern composers. Granted, I was floored when Final Fantasy X suddenly switched to more "ambient" music, while I expected the exact opposite from Nobuo Uematsu.

    @Trenchfoot said: You know, that's a good point. Even in games from the current generation that I really love, I'm kinda clueless as to what the music sounds like... whereas I can recall just about every track from Monkey Island or Quest for Glory or Final Fantasy 4 off the top of my head.

    I do not agree, with all my heart, as a long-time VG music explorer, collector and buyer. Many of my most valued video game scores are from games I haven't even played; and there are even two CDs labelled "Video game music" where a corresponding game does not even exist.

    Before I start listing wonderful video game music through the ages, here's a final thought. If we assume that the arguments this article makes were 100% correct, we'd still have to expect ever "worse" movie scores, but not video game scores. That is because narrative scenes - which might constitute an entire movie - would get the less intrusive music, but gameplay/ scenes in which the player is in control, which should constitute most of a game, and TTG take heed, might receive the better, louder, more intrusive, more hummable tunes.

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