Games and Music: The Soundtrack of the Game

A few days ago, I started thinking about the music in my favourite video games. What started as a brief post on the subject grew to what I'm hoping will be a short series on the interconnection between video games and music.

Music has always been a part of video games, from the earliest bloops and beeps, right through to today's sweeping cinematic scores. As we've replayed level after level, so too have we listened to the same game sounds again and again. I'll bet that most of the readers of this blog still have the Mario or Tetris songs stuck in their head. These were simply, and partly so memorable because there was only so much music that could fit onto a game cartridge before it got in the way of memory needed to play the game.

As technology improved, so did the music. I remember liking the soundtrack to the original Wipeout game almost more than the actual game. Wipeout XL one-upped this by having a soundtrack with music by The Chemical Brothers, Daft Punk and Orbital.

That's why it comes as no surprise to read that games are still turning to some heavy-hitters when it comes to recording soundtracks. Apparently, the new Medal of Honor game was scored by the guy that did Iron Man while my go-to favourite, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, was scored by Hans Zimmer (peep those stats!).

Not surprisingly, Wikipedia is a great resource on this subject and even identifies game music as a genre with the following typical characteristics:

-Pieces designed to loop endlessly

-Pieces lacking lyrics, and designed to be played over game sounds

-Limited polyphony (though this last one probably more applicable to old-style video game music due to the limitations of the systems)

NPR has an excellent article and accompanying audio piece about the subject of video game soundtracks, and suggests that one of the goals of the first video game soundtracks, Space Invaders, was designed to get the users heart rate to increase as the game progressed. I think this line of thinking can certainly be seen in today's games, with their atmospheric soundtracks.

What do you think about the music in video games? Do you have a favorite video game song? Is there one that is particularly stuck in your head?


PS: If you're looking for that classic video game tune, you can probably find it at

A Few Quick Book Reviews

dsc01404 (Note: I originally wrote this post back in March, while I was on vacation, but forgot about it in my drafts and just got around to finishing it now.)

One of the things I like most about vacations is that there is plenty of time to get away from the computer and just sit down and read a few books. In the spirit of Darren Barefoot's Capsule Movie Reviews, I'm giving you a few quick reviews of some books that I've recently read.

Charles Stross — Halting State

One of the reasons I like science fiction so much is because of the prescient way it has of looking at the future. Although Halting State was written in 2007, the main plot involving the theft of some virtual goods in exchange for real world cash is remarkably similar to the recent events that transpired around thousands being stolen from EVE Online. Halting State earns a 7/10 from me. It loses one point on my scale because the Scottish accents of the main characters were written phonetically, and that always frustrates me.

Allen Steele — Coyote

This book was actually terrible for a number of reasons. For one, I had a hard time believing that anyone could plan a colonization expedition so poorly, both in terms of equipment and personnel. I know that it is fiction, and that a perfectly planned mission wouldn't have had the same sense of drama, but you would think that the author would at least ensure his colonists remembered to bring proper shelter on their mission.

For the most part, I found that that this book was trying to be a tale of exploring a new world and founding a new socio-political system, but it came across as entirely too Yankee-centric and derivative of the far-superior Mars trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson. I'm rating this one 3/10.

Neal Stephenson — Anathem

Neal Stephenson is a master storyteller and his latest novel, Anathem, is further proof of this. Without revealing too much (just read it!), the book is about a world with a society of monks who live in seclusion from the rest of society and technology in order not to be influenced by what they call the "saecular" world. Like all of his books, it goes a lot deeper than this, and I really don't want to say more for fear of spoiling a beautifully written story. 9/10

Steven Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner —  Freakonomics

This is one of those books that I always felt I should read, so when I found a copy I gave it a shot. I was sorely disappointed, and although I realize that they did some interesting studies and that it was well written, it didn't really teach me anything except that "there is a hidden side of everything". 5/10

Iain M. Banks — Matter and Look To Windward

I'm throwing these books into a double review, because they are both part of Ian M. Banks's series of books set in the "Culture" universe. The Culture is a galactic race of post-humans that live for hundreds of years, live in an utopian society essentially free from worry, and travel the stars in enormous ships or orbital colonies housing hundreds of billions of people. The main characters are the sentient minds of the ships in which the humans live just as often as they are humans, but this isn't one of those "robots are taking over" stories. Rather, the action takes place on the edges of the Culture society where they interact with (and try to direct the development of) societies and alien races less evolved. Despite the enormous scope of these settings, Banks focuses on a few characters. The books are filled with big, huge ideas as well as human-scale drama, and make for a great read. The entire series of Culture books by Banks gets a solid 8/10 from me.

Yeah, I read a lot of sci-fi. Any other good book recommendations for me? Summer is the time to get some reading in.