Wednesday, 20 May 2009

How game music has lost its charm

Once upon a time, games were generally recognisable at a distance from their charming 8-bit bleeping and the simple chirps making relatively complex melodies with very few resources to work with. A bit like what would happen if Bear Grylls was a composer.

Nowadays however, games are getting harder to tell apart from movies or day trips to Afghanistan and I feel like this is taking away some of the charm. Of course, you would expect that with near life like pictures and physics, near life like noises and music would not be far behind. Metal Gear Solid 4 would not be the same if you had a monotone grind for every pixel that you snuck forward, or if Gears of War’s mighty roaring chainsaw bayonet screams were replaced with a high pitched tickle.

Even though this is the case though, the simplicity of music in games from yesteryear has definitely etched itself as the standard gaming noise. For example, play a sound of Mario jumping in Super Mario Galaxy, and apart from his optimistic yell from exerting effort, there is just the dull thud of his feet impacting. Compare this with a game like Super Mario Bros 3, and each jump has a delightfully high pitched “whooooom” noise to it which makes it instantly recognisable as a jump from a game, as opposed to a scramble of feet from something, somewhere.

I am not saying that games should not have the sounds that they do now, nor do I not appreciate being able to hear the altering screams of pain when individual limbs are shot off. It just seems that the games of today have lost their charm a bit.

One of the last games that I can remember that completely charmed the pants off of me with its music was Banjo Kazooie on the Nintendo 64. The opening song was brilliantly done, and whilst not quite as retro as what I am really referring to, the system still had the limitations of not being pitch perfect and cinematic with sound, which seems to be the bench mark today.

I am yet to come across a game that has been released in the last few years that has charmed me in quite the same way. Of course I have not played every game released lately so there could possibly be something, but possibly not very mainstream.

However, whilst not a commercial game, Gang Garrison 2, the 8-bit de-make of Team Fortress 2 comes complete with a sound track to match the blocky un-touch which sounds amazing. Check it out.

The word that has been used more than any other in this post has been ‘charm’ and variations of it. I really do like a lot of game music, but as much as I can commando roll with a plastic gun and enjoy the scores of MGS4, it fails to touch me. It fails to capture my heart and head, and make me think of the cheeping and beeping machines that made gaming what it is today.

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