Games are alive with the sound of music.
Music as Communicator -- "Pavlovian Response"
There is a point at which sound effects and music converge: small motifs blend with a few notes or chords, and these motifs communicate important information. Listen to the first few seconds of this:
This little major-third warble haunts the Gears of War series and is immediately evocative. Bulletstorm's victory gong is a good one, using a short guitar crunch to signal the end of battle. There are longer themes used to this end, however. How about this:
It's possibly the most famous victory theme of all. Just hearing it says to me, "You just triumphed once again over those that would vanquish you." More recently, Rift has used music to great effect to get your heart pumping. Consider:
Here's one of my favorite battle themes of all time, causing me to whip around and see if there's a rollerrat lurking behind me:
Massively multiplayer online games (and other genres) frequently use music to communicate that you have entered a particular area. World of Warcraft is particularly good at this:
Final Fantasy XIV is not:
Part of the problem here is the matter of notes versus rests. In FFXIV, the music plays nonstop and never gets a chance to breathe. In composition class, one of the first things you learn is that rests are as important as notes. Just as a maze of cookie-cutter forest corridors is visually tedious, so too does this music wear on you in time. It retains the same time signature, the same key, and the same instrumentation from beginning to end. There is no tonal variety, which is emphasized by the fact that the music never stops as long as you are in the Gridania forest. WOW's music is more immediately evocative, more varied within a single composition, and it gives your ears respite because it does not continually play. Another thing you learn early in orchestration class: go easy on the oboes and English horns. Excess reeds are another reason this music gets so wearisome, so quickly.
Perhaps the height of music as communicator is found in games in which music and sound effects are one and the same, exemplified by Everyday Shooter, the recent Bit.Trip games, and this outstanding game:
The power in all of this music comes from its consistency. Tunes and even a few notes are always associated with a particular action, event, character, or emotional state. This association gives it power. It's similar to how hearing a particular song or smelling a particular scent can stir up old feelings in the blink of an eye. Gears of War without the satisfying "Gears of Warble" (as my coworker Chris Watters so affectionately refers to it) may not feel the same--at the very least, the warble is a recognizable part of that franchise's identity.
A problem I had with Fallout 3's music was the choice of where to put it. They put some great classic WWII/Cold War era music in there and it fit wonderfully but it never served a purpose in enhancing emotion. The article's author said it was music for music's sake and I agree. The score wasn't anything to get in a fuss over either. It was there. That's about it. HOWEVER, the menu music is INSANE! It's an epic score fueled by dynamics (different volume levels) and a driving rhythmic section. The minor key gives a sense of regret, yet triumph. It's truly a masterpiece. Does it show up in actual gameplay? NO! THAT WOULD MAKE TOO MUCH SENSE! Imagine the final line being delivered... "War... War never changes" BOOM! Enter the menu music at full blast, giving the player (who just beat the game) a sense of triumph. How freaking cool would that be? Oh well... I'm just a nerd/musician raging over something that I felt could have REALLY worked. Thumbs up if you agree/appreciate what I said. Thumbs down if not. Thanks! PS: link to the menu music I mentioned. Find a stereo with some serious power or some wicked headphones. It's the least you could do. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E4dTDG3bCEw&list=FL_nNUkpfPPYOyPZ2v21iCSA&index=31
Earliest examples of exemplary execution of a musical score for me was in Diablo. The string sequence in Tristram is haunting and invigorating in equal measures. Still gets my heartbeat racing when I listen to it.
FFVI has one of the best sound tracks ever!  That game would not be the same without that amazing soundtrack.
I'm a big fan of videogame soundtracks but...VanOrd completely ignores the point of Totilo's extremely well writen article and decides to go off on his own rant about how he loves videogame soundtracks because he obviously feels like this run of the mill rambling is something we never thought of before. This article is junk and I can't believe gamespot would publish it on their esteemed...or once esteemed site. Everyone click on the link and read Totilo's article. Your brain demands it.
@Hisairness2345 I know I am late--but I am confused as to what your problem actually is with the article? If you have any actual evidence as to how this article is junk, I am happy to respond, and to hear a different point of view. I did not at all misunderstand Totilo's point, though I decided to use it as a jumping-off point to discuss the ways in which music has power.
I would be interested in hearing a point of view with a specific argument as opposed to general claims of "junk" and "rambling."
That's pretty sweet that you replied to my post. TBH, I was going through an "anti-gamespot" phase at the time. I really miss Greg Kasavin. Anywho, when I read over the Totilo writing, it seemed like he was saying how music in games matters and that he can't fathom why anyone would want to play games on mute.
The only point I really disagreed with was the point about how music in World of Warcraft doesn't loop while it does in FF14. FF14 has an amazing soundtrack...I'm sure you know, I watched your review. I actually don't enjoy today's games as much because there's no music half the time. Like Skyrim has an awesome soundtrack but you're mostly just walking around without it. But Super Mario Galaxy is awesome because it has great music and you always hear it.
Anywho, I'm pretty much past my "anti-gamespot" phase and I think I've moved onto an "anti-IGN" phase. I'm a lot less of a troll nowadays though lol. Kevin I enjoy your reviews, keep it up.
To address Apathetic_Prick's comments and the Kotaku article, I would say that neither of you are incorrect in saying that audio isn't essential. But then... neither are visuals or storyline. I don't want to sound like some unglued art nut, but let's not forget that game production is an art form and that art's essential pieces are decided by the creator alone. Saying that audio isn't essential to a game is on par with saying that paint isn't essential to Michelangelo's statue of David. Of course it's not, because the artist created exactly what he meant to create and it didn't need paint. But could you imagine the "Mona Lisa" without paint? All the sensations that producers use in a game are merely tools used to construct an interactive world around an audience. If they don't think audio is necessary to do that, then it is not. If they do, then it is. It's like a blind person walking into the Sistine Chapel and hearing the echoes off the walls, smelling the incense, feeling the pews and saying "this is a church". They're not wrong, but they're missing a huge part of the experience that the artist wanted to portray. Same thing with a game. Yes, you can still press buttons and kill things with the sound off, but are you really getting the full experience of the world that the producer has created? As a side note: I personally think that the audio in DeadSpace was f***ing awesome.
Mechwarrior II: I still have the soundtrack to the game, and just listening to it instantly pulls me back to solo missions in the early dawn, running a Mad Dog across the desert hard rock or through a shallow stream bed, engaging multiple targets, and beginning the dance of to maneuver into a kill. Unforgettable.
Aalso to add to points I was just thinking about: for Fallout 3, I found that the radio and some of the quiet ambience tunes completely set the mood (but the fight scene music just sucked, it was just not pleasant listening to it). I thought that they even tried to do something similar to what grand theft auto does with its radio(though this one doesn?t have ambience tracks), in the sense that the radio makes the world feel more alive as it doesn?t care about you mostly. Just because you?re in a crazy firefight in some unknown place doen?t mean they?ll be playing some bombastic music to set the mood and just because you?ve had a bad day doesn?t mean they?ll stop the comedy shows, heck the fact that you can even turn off the radio if you feel it doesn?t go with what?s happening to you somewhat like in real life immersed me.) Also I forgot about rythm games where music is usually such a big help in playing the game that I just have it on mostly, or different chimes a game can make to tell you of what's going on(though that is more a sound more than music).
Interesting, I think a middle ground is needed for this as the Kotaku article actually showed that music in a game can be beautiful and help convey the mood. I actually do think that good music is not a necessity for a good game (though bad music can ruin it, even when I can turn off the music by itself it still) but I also believe this article has shown how music can have a very positive effect on a game. For me it's what "mode" I'm in when playing: when I want to get immersed in the world or see how the tracks are) I usually have music on, but when I just want to have some fun, free roaming and replaying levels forgetting about the story, I don't mind having the music off really. In fact I agree with him in the sense that re-listening to soundtracks can also get annoying(just like re-watching cutscenes) like for example if I go level grinding in a turn based rpg I usually have it off because re-hearing the battle theme can get tiring. I also don't have any sounds on at times when I'm playing a portable game in a car ride because I've heard it before, I usually just want a quick game or it's not that good so it's not worth pulling up headphones to listen too. Basically music to me in games is like over the top blood and gore, super advanced graphics, cool art styles and deep stories, you DON'T need (well usually) them to create a good game but they can add much to the game when done right and set the mood and I enjoy the use and disuse of music (sometimes having the music OFF can be quite powerful) in games as some games even have some of my memorable soudtracks. I don't know if anyone else feels the same, music is a "device" and like n movie or poetry one doesn't need to use all devices, but they can elevate a work, however in games rules are a bit different thanks to their freedom and flexibility.
As interesting as Kotaku's article is, it isn't "technically right", it's 100% right; audio is non-essential for games or TV. Closed captioning is proof of this. So give credit where it's due; don't denigrate your competition, it makes you look cheap. You just have a counterpoint, and that's all right, too. But there was a point in which you were flat-out wrong - that being the soundtrack for Fallout 3. This has already been pointed out, but I'm going to hammer it home again: See, Fallout 3 (and New Vegas) have a soundtrack composed of two parts. The first is the ambient music that wonderfully defines the environment. Then you have the '50's (and in the case of New Vegs, some 60's) music which perfectly juxtaposes against the bleak wasteland, and you clearly don't understand why music from that time period was chosen. So I'll tell you: The 50's and 60's are considered the North American Golden Age - it's a complete polar switch. It serves as a reminder that if you thought it was great, you weren't really there as it's the attitudes of the 50's that put the world where it is in the Fallout canon. As a point in your article, I think that that was both a lost opportunity and seriously squandered effort. That said, I thought the rest of the article was okay, although it might have benefited from some more historical material, like Megaman 2 because while it's something like 22 or 23 years old, the soundtrack is still considered great today.
Most of Final Fantasy, all of Half-Lifes and Portals, Metroid (Primes especially), Super Mario and Crush 40 who did Sonic the hedgehog's Tunes. These have the best music from video/computer games in my opinion. May have missed some other games though. There aren't any games I've played that stand to mind that have terrible music I guess but I know there have been some, easier to forget haha. Also I love the games that let you play around with music from other amazing games there have been like Dissidia and Brawl for example (along with the characters, items etc obviously; that's what makes them fun).
@russian_takeout Most of the music in Fallout 3 went unnoticed to my ears. Not that it was bad; it's just that I couldn't tell if I was listening to music or atmospheric noises.
The best soundtrack I've ever come across was that of Brutal Legend, they couldnt have made that better for the setting and style of the game. Also games like Banjo Kazooie and Donkey Kong 64 both had great (if slightly similar) soundtracks that are still immediately recognisable
Great piece Kevin. Many of the points addressed here are entirely accurate. It's interesting how naturally a lot of the choices as to what fits or doesn't fit is based on personal tastes, and yet some music can derive the same emotional response from a large number of people. Looking deeper may reveal we all have more in common than we think.
@ colossus235890 - You're right. Halo's soundtracks have always been awesome. Definitely considered "musical scores" in the most positive light. However, you pointed out a truth, that they are becoming repetitive. The composer is a genius so let him do his thing.
who ever mentioned as fallout 3 sountrack a failure, should cut his ears off. in fallout 3, music made a huge impact on the game. not to mention comics art. both made the game have a personality, not just run and gun. i dont thing any other music would suit beter than 30's songs. also try playing some middle eastern shooter, and not having middle eastern beat to it.
Music "always" matters in a video game. It sets the tone, forms the atmosphere, alerts you if incoming enemies, etc. Imagine playing Resident Evil without that creepy sound of a zombie breaking past a door! Music inspires us and excites us, it is a very important component of the game. Not as critical as characters or plot, but almost as charming as the visuals. A great game is defined by well put together components, bad or no music will weaken that link. I've been gaming for over ten years and I can tell you it sure as hell matters.
I love the Jack and Jill song in Fallout 3. LSS fever. Music matters because, in simple words, completes the wonder of something. In whatever form of entertainment that it is you like -- may it be movies, a TV shows, or just listening to raindrops (I entertain myself just by looking at it) -- there is music. I have to agree with the Mario song. It is unforgettable. I have my own version of favorite in-game music recently posted in my blog. Kindly visit it if you have time. http://theoldtrees.blogspot.com/2011/04/thought-about-in-game-music.html
Kingdom hearts had a great soundtrack. In the end of Kingdom Hearts (after you defeat the final boss) The music (Combined with the emotional ending) pushed me "lump in my throat" to Sobbing. Music narrates the mood the game sets. I do love a great video game soundtrack.
Shadow of the colossus' musical score is the best I have experienced. It built up the tension as you grew closer to the next colossus with spikes in the ambient string orchestra and when you finally began battle it made it so epic and unforgettable. Seriously you have to hear it to believe it (and I'm not just being a silly Fan-boy) look up the first colossus' theme (youtube) and have a listen it will make your spine tingle.
Music and sound effects bring out the richness of the games and set the mood at a certain point and time in a game. The first computers I played games did not have sound cards in them they were an extra. What a difference when I first played Master of Orion with sound.
I am surprised no one ever mentioned the Mechwarrior series. Personally, I think this is the best ever musical score for a computer (video) game. It is so explosive at times and yet so tranquil on occasions. Grim Fandango's off beat jazzy / mexican style score was also very "exceptionnel" - as the french would say. Another very interesting score was the cello variations in Max Payne (can''t remember if the original or the sequel). Also, very beautiful music accompanied the Longest Journey series. I have copied all above and often listen in the car or at work when I stay late and I am alone in the office.
My favorite is most definitely from Beyond Good & Evil. Just about 30 seconds into the game, you're served with a short but peaceful simplistic music, and when the alien arrives, it turns into adrenaline-pumped battle theme.. must be seen to be appreciated!
Music is crucial in single-player. What's a character thinking? Music can tell you that. In multiplayer however you want to get the music out of the way. Sound effects are part of the gameplay but music is an emotional thing and multiplayer is usually no place for that.
"I offer up Fallout 3 as an example of a game that did not leverage music to its advantage. An excellent game, no doubt, but the soundtrack did it no favors. Its symphonic swooning and light musical accompaniment didn't fit its postapocalyptic vision." Thats what made the whole experience bizarre and damn funny. The irony og slaughtering deformed figures over cheerful music was delightful.
What the heck was wrong with Avatar's soundtrack? For better or worse, I thought it matched the movie perfectly.
I am a huge Rock 'n' Roll fan and i love all music in general, but i will say this: the Ar tonelico 2 soundtrack is easily one of the best collections of music i have ever heard...period...throughout ANY genre of music. The whole Ar tonelico OST collection for that matter. All i can say is in game music adds to the experience for me, and i'd be miffed if companies decided to remove soundtracks...unless they allowed for us to use music on our HDD in game. Even then i'd still stress i'd prefer the in game music. It may be non essential to some....but some doesn't equal all.
Plain and simple: music can easily make or break a game... some say to just mute it if the music isn't good but come on, we need sounds.