Video Game Soundtracks

Mar 28 / New & News

It may not have seemed like it at the time, but on November 29, 1972, the world of gaming changed forever. That was the date that the video game Pong was introduced by Atari and gamers around the world went from the board game table to the video screen. Pong didn't come with a soundtrack but it did come with sound effects for hitting and missing the ball, all of which were engineered from a studio keyboard, just like sound effects today.

A decade later what is known as the third generation of video games or "8-Bit" systems such as the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) were launched and video game soundtracks got a lot more interesting. It started with basic games like Tetris but really broke through with Mario Bros. and the beloved soundtracks that gamers from the 3rd Gen era still know today by heart. Music composers of the era used an 'Arpeggiator' which synthesized notes into a pattern and then changed that pattern with a simple keystroke.

A decade later we were into the '90s and as techno music was becoming more mainstream in popular music, so it was making it's way into popular video games of the era. Japanese composers like Yuzo Koshiro and Koji Kondo used the Sony Mega Drive software to produce hits for such games as Streets of Rage and the latest MB series, Super Mario Bros. These tracks brought high energy pulse-pounding beats to action-oriented games that still weren't sophisticated enough to develop serious storylines.

Turning into the 21st century, next-gen technology from Sony Playstation and Microsoft XBox brought the first real Role Playing Games (RPGs) to the forefront. These games had serious storylines and demanded a soundtrack to match the complexity of the story. Dolby Digital software enabled those soundtracks to come to life in games such as Halo, with emotionally complex music that changed it's tune as the storyline evolved.

And finally we are into the 2010s, where the latest iterations of Final Fantasy and the Dark Souls series have taken video game soundtracks to another level.

To give an example of what we can do at SoundSuite, we've taken the current game 'League of Legends' which actually doesn't have much of a soundtrack to it, and re-composed the entire soundtrack including all of the sound effects to build it up and make it more powerful and emotionally resonant.

We started with the drums by using a plug-in from Native Instruments called 'Damage' and used them to create a driving baseline that speaks to the warriors-and-wizards combat action of the game. From there we added ambience, meaning background sounds such as a heavy wind that kept up with the intensity of the action. You feel these sounds more than you hear them, but it keeps the background more full and exciting.

We also wanted to bring in some sounds that were in keeping with the fantasy element so we added a Celtic Harp and also some voices. The voices come from a program called Shevannai and they are literally speaking/singing in Elvish language. On top of all that we re-imagined the sound effects, everything from swords clashing to spells being cast to the grunts of warriors.

Finally as we mastered the track, we used a gentle acoustic equalization. This may seem contrary to the pounding drums and action sequence, but it really separated the music from the sound effects beautifully so that the music doesn't fully take over the game and remains in the background from the sounds of action. We tried over 30 EQ settings and even we were a bit surprised that this one worked the best, but sometimes you just have to trust your ears.

This is just a short clip and ultimately a game would have several different types of music sequences as the storyline evolves, but hopefully this gives you a sense of what we can do and how we think about video game music.

We are now working with Twitch and YouTube streamers on cost-effective custom soundtrack music for their gameplay and "lobby music" that helps to promote their individual brand. If you're interested in taking your gaming brand to the next level, just give us a shout and we would love to chat with you.

Until then, Keep Creating!

-Jamie & Eli


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