Why sound is so important to video games.
There’s always that debate about video games being called art. Some say it’s not art but a form of entertainment. Let’s put it like this: do you think music, drawing, writing and acting is art? Well, in that case one must admit that video games are one big blend of art on its own. Not to mention that is one of the most profitable out there.
So in order to put us all in tune, let’s all agree with the following statement: Games are entertainment art.
A game can look great, have a great story and even be extremely fun but if the music and sound effects are not in key with the gameplay it can ruin it completely and make it look cheap.
Music and sound effects in games are what tells our brain that what we are seeing makes sense, thus the immersion is inevitable.
Imagine you open a door in a game and the sound of the lever sounds like a car honk instead. That would be as off-putting as if it had no sound at all.
That goes with music too. Imagine a Star Wars game with music by Nirvana instead of John Williams. Exactly. You can’t even picture it, and that’s perfect.
In order to avoid those situations professional foley artists and musicians are hired to help games reach the next level.
Let’s make some noise
Sound design is a very interesting subject in games. You might think that it’s easy and they just drop whatever cartoony sound available without thought, but you can’t be further from the truth. Designing sounds for a character is as important as the character itself. Take Mario’s coin sound or Sonic’s ring sound for example. The blue hedgehog and famous plumber pick coins and rings more than a hundred times per level. That means those sounds need to be extremely well designed not to be annoying for players.
Casino games are a good example of good sound design. The music needs to be in the background and pass unnoticed while the sound effects need to virtually take the player to a casino and create an atmosphere where they feel comfortable to play. Incorrect sound design would be extremely distracting.
Same thing applies to online slots. Sound designers need to put a lot of effort in order to maintain the player interested and motivated to keep playing, resembling a real slot machine. At 888, for example, you’ll find online slots that will replicate the mechanical sound of a real machine. You will also find licensed themes that use voice samples and music from movies which are shown to accompany the visual effects; definitely a great place to enjoy online slots.
The Sound of Music
Back in 1996, the consecrated musician and now Oscar winner Trent Reznor from Nine Inch nails composed music for the game Quake. And a great job he did.
The atmosphere was intriguing, claustrophobic and bluntly dark. It helped the game succeed and set a new benchmark for first person shooters.
Sometimes instead of having music composed for games developers choose licensing songs, which in some cases does the job even better. Popular game series like Gran Turismo and Tony Hawk’s pro skater are very well known for this. The downside is that after several years, licenses expire, and the game has to be taken down from online stores since they are not profitable enough for companies to justify buying the song licenses back.
Licensing music sometimes leads to controversy, of course. A funny story is the one told by composer Rik Schaffer, who did the music for Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines. Developers wanted to license Angel by Massive attack for the main menu. Since the band was reluctant to give the song away, Rik was asked to recreate the tune’s vibe almost borderline with plagiarism. That said, it’s undeniable that the song fits the menu perfectly. Aside from the intro song (which is still good) the rest of the tunes in-game are incredible.
Rumor has it that Michael Jackson composed music for Sonic 3 and then he backed out of the project due to the Genesis hardware limitations. Some of his songs ended on his History album. Unfortunately, some of his music remained in the final game release too without crediting MJ and now, though it has never been confirmed, the game is suffering from licensing issues and it’s usually missing in Sega compilations.
Around 2010 there was a huge wave of indie developers releasing masterpieces with low budgets and small dev teams. This whole trend would not have been as successful had it not been backed by ascending music producers to accompany the games with their songs.
Given the small teams and resources, these indie developers rely on pixel art or more old-school looking aesthetics. What these games lacked in graphics was compensated in style, gameplay mechanics and, of course, fantastic music.
A good example is Fez, which was released in 2012 on Xbox 360, and later ported to several consoles and even mobile phones. The game has a very simplistic aesthetic and was carried away by music created by Disasterpeace.
Another who won media appraise was Bastion. It featured hand-drawn animation sprites and the fantastic trip-hop music by Darren Korb.
Leaving low budget games a side. Most story driven AAA titles rely on orchestral music to reach the audience, but there are exceptions like Doom (2016) that features death metal blended with ambient music and growling vocals.
Give them voice
Now let's talk about voices in video games. Even the NES had a few voices, and they were terrible due to cartridge limitations. It wasn’t until the PlayStation One era that giving voice to video games became popular. Some were embarrassing and others were incredible for the time like Soul reaver: legacy of Kain, voiced by Tony Jay among others.
Jack Black has his own featured game Brutal legend. He gave life to the main character who is even based on his appearance.
There are some unexpected appearances in games like Liam Neeson playing the role of your father in Fallout 3. Bethesda tried to keep the character as close as Neeson as possible in manners, behaviors and traits.
Sound effects and music in games can turn an average game into a good one and a good one into a masterpiece. Sound effects, at times, may go unnoticed and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It means that they make sense and sound natural to our brain. Music is just the cherry on top of the cake, and what delicious desserts games make!
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