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  • Writer's pictureKelsey Le Roux

How Video Game Music is Bringing Orchestral Scores to New Ears

Updated: Mar 23, 2023

Video games have been around for several decades, and with the advancement of technology, they have become more immersive and realistic than ever before. With better graphics, gameplay mechanics, and storytelling, video games have evolved into an art form that rivals other mediums like film and literature.


Video game music (VGM) has come a long way from its early beginnings. It has grown to become a vital part of the video game industry, and in recent years, it has gained significant popularity among gamers and non-gamers alike.


History

The history of video game music dates back to the early days of arcade gaming in the 1970s. In those days, video game soundtracks were often simplistic, consisting of a handful of beeps and bloops that would repeat over and over again.


As video games evolved and became more sophisticated, so did their music. In the 1980s, games like Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda introduced catchy and memorable themes still recognized and beloved by gamers today.


By the 1990s, video game music had become a proper art form. One of the earliest examples of orchestral music in a video game was the soundtrack for Final Fantasy VI, released in 1994. The game composer, Nobuo Uematsu, used a live orchestra to record the music.


The use of orchestral music in video games has become more common. Today, many VGM composers work with full orchestras to create soundtracks on par with those found in Hollywood movies. The music is often recorded in high-quality studios, and game composers work tirelessly to create a unique soundtrack that enhances the gaming experience.


With the epic scores of games like The Last of Us and God of War Ragnarök, video game music continues to push the boundaries of what is possible in interactive entertainment.



Reasons for popularity

Versatility

Another reason for the popularity of VGM is its versatility. There are few limitations on what VGM can be. As such, the scores can stretch in genre from epic full orchestral scores to electronic beats and encompass everything between. The diversity of VGM means that there is something for everyone, and it's not uncommon for people who may not be gamers to enjoy the music on its own merits.


Accessibility

One reason for the rise in popularity of VGM is its accessibility. Many gamers hear video game soundtracks while they play, but the music can also be enjoyed separately on streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music. Many video game soundtracks are available on these platforms, and they are often organized by game, making it easy for fans to find the music they want to listen to.


Live concerts and tours

Video game concerts and tours have become more common in recent years. These concerts feature live performances of VGM by orchestras and other musical groups, bringing the music to fans who may not have been exposed to it otherwise. For instance, The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra performed various pieces of VGM at “PlayStation in Concert” in 2018, such as the main theme from The Last of Us, God Of War and Uncharted.



Musician paging through sheet music at a Cinemagic Scoring recording session
Sheet music at a Cinemagic Scoring recording session


Interactivity


One of the unique aspects of VGM is its interactivity. Unlike traditional film or TV scores, video game music is designed to adapt to the player's actions. Interactive music is achieved through sophisticated software and programming, allowing the game to react to the player's movements in real time, creating a truly immersive and dynamic experience.


For example, the music might be slow and calming if a player is exploring a peaceful environment. But the music will become more intense and dramatic if the player encounters an enemy or enters a high-stakes situation.


This interactivity enhances the player's experience and provides new opportunities for composers to flex their creative muscles. Composers must create great music and ensure it can adapt and change seamlessly depending on the player's actions.


In addition, interactive music can have a profound emotional impact on the player. By reacting to the player's actions, the music can create a sense of tension, excitement, or relaxation that would be impossible to achieve with a traditional, linear score.


Moreover, interactive music can also create a sense of agency for the player, making them feel like they have a tangible impact on the game world. By changing the music in response to the player's actions, the game can make the player feel like they are an active participant in the game's story and world.


VGM Awards

In recent years, video game music has started to receive recognition at major award shows, with some award shows even creating dedicated categories for video game scores.


The Game Awards, one of the most famous video game award shows, has been including a Best Score/Music category since 2014. This category recognizes the best original score or soundtrack created specifically for a video game. Previous winners have included titles such as NieR: Automata, Red Dead Redemption 2, and Doom Eternal.


In addition to receiving recognition at dedicated video game award shows, video game music has also been recognized at more mainstream award shows. This year The Grammys added a specific category for Video game music – this year won by Stephanie Economou for Assassins Creed: Dawn of Ragnarök.


These awards not only validate the artistry and skill involved in creating video game music, but they also help bring orchestral music to new audiences. By recognizing video game scores alongside traditional film and television scores, award shows are helping to break down the barriers that have historically separated video game music from other forms of orchestral music.


Video game music has come a long way from its humble beginnings, now bringing orchestral scores to new ears. Its accessibility, versatility, and emotional impact have made it a popular form of music among gamers and non-gamers alike. As the world of video games continues to evolve, so will its music, and we can expect to see even more impressive and awe-inspiring scores in the future.


To enhance your video game music, contact Cinemagic Scoring today for a quote for a recording session.


 

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