If you’re really REALLY into games, chances are you’ve sat down and listened to game soundtracks—both old and new. Something about these tracks tend to soothe or invigorate. Maybe it’s just the memory of excitement or contentment that makes those silly little midi tracks so likeable.
Maybe it’s just that we have bad taste.
Whatever the reason—gamers like video game music—and there’s nothing wrong with that! So here’s my post on VG music, because more people should realize the skill of some of these composers and the ones who remix their songs.
I guess I should start at the basics. Back in the day, when video games were just getting their start, developers began to use computer chips to create their music. The computer code would be changed into analog soundwaves and out came the sound from the speakers. The sounds would generally be looped and used sparsely between levels, like Pacman. It eventually came to pass that, if any music was to be added to a video game, a programmer would have to be the one to code it in. This was unusual—mostly due to the fact that most programmers didn’t have any sort of musical talent.
This went on into the 80’s, when technology became more advanced and new methods came about. With the introduction of the Motorola 68000 CPU and Yamaha YM chips, the 8-bit sound was born. More tones of sound could be used, of up to 8 or more thanks to the new chips. By the mid-80’s, game composition saw a noticeable improvement as well, as more composers came on board with musical experience. Some of the first (and most notable) of these composers were: Koji Kondo (Super Mario Bros., and The Legend of Zelda), Nobuo Uematsu (Final Fantasy), Koichi Sugiyama (Dragon Quest), and Hirokazu Tanaka (Metroid and Kid Icarus).
These composers created long-lasting musical peices with limited resources, and still today you see the strength of their music in popular culture. As game systems evolved, so did the music, and really the rest is history. Some of the best VG music spawned from such consoles as the SNES and Sega Genesis. F-Zero, Chrono Trigger, Castlevania IV, and Street Fighter II each have their memorable themes thanks to the SNES digitalized sound. And of course, one cannot forget the masterful music of Sonic the Hedehog 2 (though just about each game from this series was beautifully done.)
And just how big has VG music become? Well, aside from the various concerts game music has spawned (Video Games Live, Play! A Video Game Symphony) and the various bands and performers dedicated to doing only VG covers, and the countless VG remixers both by renowned and unknown artists…well, yeah. I think it just speaks for itself. For a nice live performance, check out this Koji Kondo concert.
But touching onto the subject of VG bands—there really are rock bands dedicated only to performing VG covers. How many of you know the NESkimos? What about the Minibosses? The Advantage? Powerglove? Game Over? Well each of these rock bands have done songs from all manner of games, and they all kick ass in MANY directions. The Advantage does a rather groovy rendition of the second level of the NES Gremlin’s game, and the NESkimos do a terrific job of the Phatt Island theme from The Curse of Monkey Island: LeChuck’s Revenge. Powerglove has a next to godly rendition of the Tetris theme, and the Minibosses do an awesome job tearing up the songs from Super Mario Bros. 2. My favorite from Game Over has to be Cataclysmic Clash, featuring themes from Mega Man 3 with an awesome set of lyrics. Though everyone of these bands have songs that people can download on their sites, they’ve all got their own CD’s for fans to buy. I’d say they’re definetly worth it.
On the more orchestral side we have the Video Game Pianist, known the world over for his piano compositions and medley’s. His real name is Martin Leung and he’s been featured on MTV, Nintendo Power magazine, and various newspapers, networks, and radiostations in several different countries. He was first launched into stardom when a video was posted over the internet of him performing the legendary Super Mario Bros. theme blindfolded (along with a Mario medley.) His site (linked above) features some of his music, and if you’re into piano like I am, you’ll like it.
There’s also a new game music site mentioned in Leung’s news, where actual VG composers and gamers come together as a community. They’ve got a decent looking CD on sale called “Best of the Best: A Tribute To Game Music”, and features various celebrity composers doing songs from Silent Hill, Final Fantasy X, Duke Nukem, God of War, World of Warcraft, and Kingdom Hearts.
Jumping into the next venue of VG music, we have remixes—where hopeful VG composers hope to show their prowess with song whilst simultaneously paying tribute to the games they grew to love.
The biggest video game remix site on the net (that I know of) is OverClockedRemix.Org. It is essentially one giant community of gamers who love video game music—the population divided amongst those who actually play music and remix VG songs, and the ones who simply listen. Music from both old and new games are given a makeover as various artists set out to prove that VG music (in its own right) is an artistic art form (and it is). Submissions are open for any one who would like to contribute—but to filter out lower quality works, all submissions are first reviewed by a panel of judges (of course, all musicians.) Remixes do not necessarily mean only techno and its various subgenres, but rather, any rearrangement and change done to an original theme. Rock and orchestral remixes are popular, but of course, you’ve got your rave and trance remixes as well.
OCRemix also have their own podcast—where in one episode they managed to interview the game composer for the Halo series, Marty O’Donnel—and an online radio station too, where they play remixes from the site 24/7. As far as projects go, they’ve done a number of special musical tributes for games like Kirby, Chrono Trigger, and Donkey Kong. (the last two of which I downloaded myself)
Perhaps the greatest thing I love about video game music is how much nostalgia it strikes up. I realize that nostalgia can be a bit annoying and sappy at times, but it always makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside to remember the fun I had playing these games and hearing their music. It inspires you to be brave and injects a bit of youthful energy into your brain, y’see. Atleast, that’s my experience with VG music. Perhaps I’m just a silly romantic nerd.
But I’m sure these video game mascots can appreciate what I’m talking about:
Go Nights! Show Lara what you’re working with!
Actually, throughout OC ReMix’s history, we’ve had 3 submissions judges who have not been musicians (I’m currently one of them). One of them, Antonio Pizza, actually later went on learn how to make music under the guidance of Disco Dan and others in the community and later got a ReMix posted to OCR. (http://ocremix.org/remixer/discipleofthemix/)
VGDJ, OCR’s podcast, has since gone on hiatus, but I plan to eventually resurrect my own radio show, VG Frequency, as OCR’s new podcast in the near future.
Nonetheless, a nice read, and a good introduction to the VGM community. I’m glad to see someone like myself who likes to explore around the VGM community to see what diversity is out there. Thanks for enjoying OC ReMix, Amanda, and I hope you’re checking it out for new ReMixes!
Larry “Liontamer” Oji
Head Submissions Evaluator, OverClocked ReMix