You might think that music played on the radio might be the last thing on a developer’s mind when they sit down and try to come up with a blockbuster game.
After all, it’s all about the action on screen, the storyline, even the protagonists and their enemies.
But, in actual fact, the soundtrack to the game gets almost as much attention as the visuals do.
To start to understand why, one only has to look to the other art form from which video gaming gets its inspiration, the movies. In these, the score is an essential element that both supports the action on screen and helps to guide the audience’s emotions and their reactions to what is unfolding before them. Replace the word “audience” with “players” and you’ll start to get the picture.
The early days of video game music
Of course, it wasn’t always this way. In the early days of video games both they and the music that accompanied them were far less sophisticated. With repetitive action and a distinctly two-dimensional design to the games, the accompanying music was much the same. That’s not to say that it didn’t serve a purpose, but it was used more like a theme tune to identify the game. One just has to remember the soundtracks to games like Super Mario and even the incessant but unmistakeable bleeping of Pac-Man to see this in action.
But now games are cinematic epics that are truly engrossing to play. If we consider Red Dead Redemption 2 as an example, it doesn’t just follow the typical tropes of a Western, it draws the player into being part of the action itself, and part of being able to lose yourself in that world is the soundtrack that is continuing in the background.
For anyone looking to create a game, it’s obviously very much a case of matching the genre of music to the game. Some suit large orchestral scores to meet the great swoop of the drama that’s unfolding, while others, like GTA 5, need a more gritty and urban feel and it’s getting this balance right that is so important.
How FIFA scores
One example that is very interesting to examine is the ever-popular FIFA series. With each version of the game there is almost as much speculation about who will feature on the playlist of songs to accompany the game as there is about which footballer will be its cover star for the year.
It also gets the rights to use tracks from some very big names including Stormzy, Dua Lipa and Tame Impala which gives a good idea of the budget that must be available. But this use of high-profile names has also given rise to an additional issue in this age of streaming games on the internet.
There is a risk that some users of sites like Twitch who show off their skills online could be in danger of infringing copyright. This is why EA Sports took the decision to add a feature that can turn the music off and keep players of the game out of trouble with the powers that be.
The orchestral sweep of COD
A very different kind of game, that takes an alternative approach, is Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. The game, which was released late in 2019, features a soundtrack created by composer Sarah Schachner helped by a producer best known for his work with Kanye West and Travis Scott, Mike Dean.
Because the action in the game takes place in various different places across the world, it’s not the straightforward orchestral and epic soundtrack you might expect. There are many elements that combine ethnic instruments with a hip-hop sensibility brought into play by Dean’s influence. There’s also extensive use of one of Schachner’s favourite electronic instruments, the Moog synthesiser, that adds texture and depth to the soundtrack.
When interviewed about the challenge for a composer of creating a soundtrack for a game like COD, she pointed out that the sheer amount of it was overwhelming. In the end, she had to create a full 210 minutes of original music, a huge undertaking by anyone and much more than even the longest movie might need.
Music while you play
One sector that has grown up virtually alongside video gaming is the online casino. In the early days the games were basic and the music rudimentary. But now this has changed and a great deal of time and effort go into making the music and soundtracks to accompany games, and slots in particular, an integral part of the playing experience.
Many slots are even themed around particular bands or artists, at Megaways Casino you’ll find a great range of Megaways slots as well as a wide selection of slot games based on famous artists like Guns ‘N’ Roses, Jimi Hendrix and Elvis.
Listening to music seems to be a good strategy because a ground-breaking study into the effect of music on online players by the University of Sheffield found that almost 60% of the respondents said that that it helped to create an atmosphere, with over 35% saying that the right kind of music could attract them to a particular game or area of the website.
So it all goes to show something that music professionals may have known all along. Compositions have the power to move and affect people in very many ways, and that having very best music is the key to success in very many fields, not simply in video gaming.