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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
  • The article isn't saying that music composed in a more "ambient" way is worse, just that he doesn't prefer it. But there IS a clear difference. Once you realize this it's not really about defending it so much as it is about having differing tastes. There are fantastic soundtracks on both ends. For games I've both played and not played. I just happen to prefer one style over the other.

    And as to the Jurassic Park reference, they're not really having a whole conversation about anything, just a couple exclamations of wonder, that's it.

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    And we’re out of beta, we’re releasing on time
    So I’m glad I got burned, think of all the things we learned
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  • @DAISHI said: There are plenty of modern games with fantastic soundtracks. Portal

    I either agree with or haven't played with the other games you mentioned, but Portal?

    Does that even have any music besides the song at the end and the little Aperture Science ditty that plays on the radios?

  • @Scnew said: I either agree with or haven't played with the other games you mentioned, but Portal?

    Does that even have any music besides the song at the end and the little Aperture Science ditty that plays on the radios?

    Well actually I meant Portal 2 sorry :) Portal 1's is definitely more toward the ambient side but Portal 2 has a lot of strong themes, like Cave Johnson's in the Science cave.

  • @IsaacDavner said: Now these points of data make a beautiful line
    And we’re out of beta, we’re releasing on time
    So I’m glad I got burned, think of all the things we learned
    For the people who are still alive

    :guybrush:



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  • What i love about this article is that it's one of those things that just seems so obvious once you've read it. I've often wondered why i never seemed to notice the music much in movies or video games, without ever really thinking about it, but it just clicked while reading this guy.

    I'm one of those guys who could sing every theme from MI2 but never quite understood when someone said that CMI's soundtrack was just as great (not that i ever thought CMI's music was bad in any way, it just never really hooked me). I was watching some MI2:SE videos the other day to hear how the voices sounded and while i did enjoy them, i couldn't help but feel disapointed at the very same themes i've been in love with for so long. Part of it is certainly nostalgia for the old midi sound but the distracting side effect of the voice acting just seems obvious now.

    It's interesting that hit the road gets mentionned in the article... It's also among my short "best video game sountracks ever" list, but i remember that for some reasons the voices didn't work when i first played it (for years i thought the game didn't actually have any voiceovers)...

    The same thing happens in just about any song, actually. That's why no one's playing solos or fancy stuff while a singer's singing; it's not so much that you want the vocals to be heard clearly, it's that everyone is gonna focus on them anyway so you'd better not distract from them.


    Thanks for this great read anyway ;)

  • some games also do that on purpose. Like most RPGs. They have unmemorable music so you don't notice how little there is during the 50+ hours you play the game. For Example the Elderscrolls-series. Great main themes but the rest is remarkably unremarkable.

  • I actually think Oblivion's town music is pretty fantastic.

  • @der_ketzer said: some games also do that on purpose. Like most RPGs. They have unmemorable music so you don't notice how little there is during the 50+ hours you play the game. For Example the Elderscrolls-series. Great main themes but the rest is remarkably unremarkable.

    Not Arena or Daggerfall. Those games had great "forefront" soundtracks. Every game since then has certainly been very ambient, though. Well, besides Battlespire possibly.

  • While I do love old soundtracks a lot, there are many modern game soundtracks (with voice acting) that I also quite enjoy. Like the Starcraft II soundtrack, Age of Empires II soundtrack (okay...not exactly modern, but there was voice acting in it), Trine, Magicka...actually, I just realized that most of these have little speaking while the music is playing. Hmm...maybe there is something to this argument after all. Well... looks like some "research" must be done on the subject.

    -slinks off to computer-

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