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Liontamer

"Has Video Game Music Lost Its Way?"

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Origins was spectacular, too, although I think a case could be made for Legends being the better soundtrack.

I haven't played Legends, but Origins has these:

(the harmonies here... amazing)

If Legends has a better soundtrack then... WOW.

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I'd say Rayman Origins/Legends are exception to the rules... high budget 2D platformers aren't the norm, but I am thankful that Ubi did something nobody else was brave enough to do :)

Just dropping these by because why not?

SOTC:

SMG2:

SM3DW:

Its too bad all games couldn't sound like these tracks... but yeah you can do a full orchestra and not be completely forgettable. Just doesn't seem to happen in most modern AAA games these days.

More examples: RE1/RE2 have some of the most creepiest memorable music. RE5/6, among being failures in many ways, have almost no memorable music (RE4 also lacked a little in this dept, but not as much as RE5/6).

Dark Souls (currently playing) almost has no music. Good game, but back in the day King's Field (same dev) had such incredibly creepy & memorable music.

So most of the time games these days just have ambient sounds / silence, and no music. And when they do have music, its so generic its hard to remember anything about it, like it wasn't even there. Not all cases are this way, but it seems to be the norm for AAA games.

Edited by Crowbar Man

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You should play BioShock :tomatoface:

Haha. I get you. I played the demo. Pretty cool and I don't know why I haven't bought since it is only like 5 bucks now.

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Video games of late don't captivate the audiences as the music once did, with rare exceptions abound. I think part of this is that we became so enthralled with our experiences playing older titles that not only do we get absorbed into the story but when the music matches the moment, it becomes memorable.

Take the juggernaut Skyrim for example: With the exception of few tracks, the game was mostly ambient and really didn't strive to set atmosphere so much with music as it did location and sound - a natural piece. You explore the caves and can faintly hear the whooshing of wind from the opening and further in slight echoes, but when traveling it becomes tedious because you really have nothing to accompany you on the journey except one or two musical tracks that become boring quick.

Flip over to Fallout: New Vegas. I'm not one for utilizing the Pip-Boy except for the usual but one day I turned on the radio and traveled the Mojave while listening to some of the game's radio pieces and well, it certainly broke up the repetition of rocky outcrops by making me want to shuffle my character about to the beat of some swing music.

But a lot of games now seem to make the score an after thought to the overall experience. As if they looked at what they had and went, "Oh, crap. Might want to throw generic track six in there, and sprinkle interlude 2 into track seven later on after it for that one scene."

I've been more impressed with indie title music (granted, haven't play many indies) mainly because I think they're attempting to stand out among the market contenders.

Some games I own that I enjoy the soundtracks of are El Shaddai, Eternal Sonata, Lost Odyssey, Xenoblade Chronicles and a few older titles on previous generation systems like Final Fantasy XII, Suikoden V, and etc etc.

Are their tracks on those soundtracks that come off generic? Of course. It's next to impossible to make all the tracks as memorable as some indie titles, but it's also hard to make stand out tracks as the a whole games soundtrack.

With how pushed developers are to make games, I think they rush the music department to make tracks just to throw them in with little consideration to tone or even if it aids the game beyond taking up in the place of silence.

Enjoy atmosphere, sure, but memorable music also can be just as powerful as a silent scene of grand visual splendor.

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I agree with the sentiment that a lot of modern games pander to the Hollywood style too often, but this doesn't indicate a shift in quality so much as style. Take a look at Masashi Hamauzu's soundtrack for Final Fantasy XIII. He had a real orchestra at his disposal, and his score was appropriate for such a cinematic game. I found a lot of faults with the game itself, but I have no complaints about the soundtrack. Hamauzu managed to make something fresh while still hearkening back to Uematsu's iconic themes.

Look at this part of FF13's "The Promise" and compare it to this part in FF4's Prelude. The motivic link is vague, but it's that echo of great themes that makes the soundtrack sound like Final Fantasy while staying fresh at the same time.

A more obvious connection would be FF4's Prologue compared to FF13's Opening. The theme in FF13 has a similar contour, and it's a little "faster" due to rhythmic diminution. But instead of just being a rehash, it has its own identity that is more adapted to the sci-fi setting of FF13.

Of course, there are so many moments in Uematsu's soundtracks that are just straight-up magical. This was certainly in part due to the limitations of the hardware. Uematsu's strength is said to be his melodies, but I'd argue that it also has to do with the unique voice-leading he finds for the middle voices in his music. Just listen to the strings in this piece. The melody is really simple, hovering on one note and staying within the same scale. But the strings in the middle drive the melody into interesting harmonic areas.

I understand many recent games have downright bland soundtracks. For all the technology available, we should be seeing more interesting music in games. But my point in making the comparison between FF4 and FF13 is that some composers are exploring the capabilities of the medium. In the case of FFXIII, there's the mix of electronic, electric, and orchestral instrumentation in most battle themes. There's the melancholy in Will to Fight that is a haunting parallel to FFX's Someday the Dream Will End. There's the fantastic articulation of the solo violin in A Brief Respite. Not to mention the jazzy character theme for Sazh.

No matter what technology humans are given to work with, a few of them will find ways to produce amazing art with it. It seems like there are a lot more forgettable soundtracks now than in the past, but that's because we tend to forget about the forgettable soundtracks that were made a couple decades ago.

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Of course old school game music is catchy/memorable. It can't not be catchy, because trying to do subtle and/or environmental music in a chiptune/lo-fi context ranges from difficult to disastrous. If you're going to have old-school music at all, it has to be catchy and melody oriented because anything else will be unpleasant to listen to for any length of time. The catchiness is a hardware limitation. We have now overcome that hardware limitation and are no longer forced to use catchy music where other types of music are actually more appropriate.

Edited by Moseph

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Frankly, I think the difference is that music is less catchy, memorable melody-focused than it was when the instruments and audio tools were far less advanced. I don't think "catchy" is always synonymous with "good." In terms of mood-setting and kick-ass sound design, I think games are in many ways better than ever (I would cite Deus Ex HR as a good example). The first 2 Fallout games in the mid nineties have some of the most interesting and memorable music/sound design ever, IMO, and there isn't a single "hum-able" melody throughout. Games are able to focus more on incidental music and sound design now, because they actually have effective tools to do so. They can set the mood far effectively than the Uematsu soundtracks that are apparently still considered the definition of quality. On the NES, your sound design was a noise channel. Now there is FMOD and Wwise to make engrossing, reactive soundscapes.

In short, no, game music has not lost its way. It just isn't doing exactly the same things it was on 90's consoles.

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My response to instances of sharing the article:

If you don't think game music is melodic or memorable anymore, you really just don't play a lot of games and as a result you don't really know what you're talking about.

Also, most people are forgetting that the game market is saturated A.F.

Just because everyone and their grandma is making video games doesn't mean people aren't making games with good music anymore. There's just a lot of different kinds next to them because: more games need more composers, more composers means more opportunities for different approaches to game music. Also means more people who didn't compose back in the 80s and 90s for games so they don't enforce such a horizontal emphasis in their music. It doesn't make it bad or forgettable music, and if it does to you, you don't know how to appreciate music to its fullest and your opinions are naive. Pointing out what the guy in the article said, it summed up to "music without a catchy melody is forgettable". Which is just... hilarious.

And honestly, when people complain that sometimes game parts don't have music, they're forgetting that sometimes silence is the best music. For example, if you have a strong melody during a really intense, suspenseful moment in a narrative, it will actually detract from the scene and destroy it. I just watched a movie last night, called The Raid. There is almost no music or background sound design of any kind, and that design choice makes it possibly the most incredibly edge-of-your-seat suspenseful movie I've ever seen.

We have now overcome that hardware limitation and are no longer forced to use catchy music where other types of music are actually more appropriate.

Agreed, to reiterate: catchy music is inappropriate in a lot of contexts.

Edited by Neblix

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yeah i don't agree with this at all.

Mirror's Edge

, though 2 and one are also awesome (shoutouts to BGC)

, though I could accept if someone thought this was too 'epic score'-y. It's very memorable to me. Great game too even though the 'fans' wanted the 'real thing.'

Honestly, I think music in games has become a more subtle part of the gaming experience, and I think that's okay. It might even be a good thing. The same way some movies draw on popular music to make a point while some use scores, some games feature music that's important and meant to be noticed, and some games feature music that's ambient and relative to that exact moment in time.

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Also, I am really depressed no one has mentioned Paper Mario 3DS's soundtrack.

It's all live jazz, with plenty of really catchy melodies with great accompaniment and performance too.

Also, Kingdoms of Amalur is pretty great. Sounds a bit Howard Shore, Lord of the Rings style, done by Grant Kirkhope.

Edited by Neblix

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Also, I am really depressed no one has mentioned Paper Mario 3DS's soundtrack.

It's all live jazz, with plenty of really catchy melodies with great accompaniment and performance too.

Also, Kingdoms of Amalur is pretty great. Sounds a bit Howard Shore, Lord of the Rings style, done by Grant Kirkhope.

I really liked sticker star, but I'll be honest the music didn't stick with me that heavily. It was good though. Fun game too - maybe I'll go through that again in the near future.

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I disagree with the OP, honestly. Some of the best music I've ever heard comes from modern games like Skyrim, Okami, and Bastion. Even the newest Pokemon games have great music.

Of course, these games are ones with good art direction, so perhaps that has something to do with it, too. You really think a game that already looks drab as hell like CoD would have great music to go with it...?

The games I mentioned in the first paragraph have a distinct "feel" to them, and the music is very important in that, I think. If anything, the problem the article mentions isn't the music - the music is a symptom of the disease, that "mainstream" games have gotten more generic over the years.

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I really liked sticker star, but I'll be honest the music didn't stick with me that heavily. It was good though. Fun game too - maybe I'll go through that again in the near future.

How does that NOT STICK?! That is as melodic and catchy as Mario music gets.

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I saw this, and I've seen a lot of discussion about it, and I'm glad it has been brought up here. The obvious answer is "No", but a lot of people are really missing the point as to why this might not seem like the case.

The simple answer is: music in games is not as important anymore. It certainly is important still; Studios spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to get top of the line, full-orchestra scores and they're great!

Obvious examples are things like the World of WarCraft, Assassin's Creed, Halo, God of War, Metal Gear Solid series (serieses?).

So we obviously have hugely melodic scores even still, so why don't they stick out as much as older, classic score?

  1. Older games have less songs. Super Mario Bros 1 had like...5 songs? Castlevania has maybe 8-10. Super Nintendo saw slightly bigger soundtracks, and then we got into soundtracks like Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasies, but even then you had boss battles, town music, world map music that you heard OVER and OVER again. Now I know what you might be thinking: But "Dancing Mad" only played once and you remember it note-for-note! Well of course you do. It's a great song and it BROKE the habit of hearing the same boss fight song over and over, so it made it stick out even more.
  2. Older games have shorter songs. Seriously songs for older soundtracks were like 1-2 minutes tops and repeated endlessly. Any song with half a melody that repeated that frequently would get stuck in your head. Even pop songs you don't like get stuck in your head after you hear them enough times on the radio. Even now Backstreet Boys and *NSync songs you hate come on and you know all the words. It's conditioning.
  3. More technology means better staging. Classic games did not have much to set the mood besides music. We didn't have spoken dialogue, camera angles, lighting, allll kinds of stuff to distract you away from the music. Classic games practically relied on the music to set the scene, now a days we don't have to.
  4. Music is, a lot of times, background. Related to above, music isn't supposed to be the emphasis. The scene is supposed to be the emphasis. The experience. There reason older video game soundtracks stick out so much is because music was a bigger part of the experience. It doesn't always make sense to do that anymore.
  5. You were in the stages of early development. Just like you can remember your Kindergarten teacher's name better than you can your 8th grade science teacher. The same reason it was easier for you to learn anything back-in-the-day. You brain was just better back then. You were at the peak of your alertness and your brain was absorbing information like crazy. You're not anymore.
  6. You're over-saturated. Seriously, how many Steam games do you have now versus how many NES and SNES games? How many times did you replay Disney's Aladdin? And how many times have you replayed BioShock or Borderlands?

So we're dealing with a lot of factors, here. Sure technological limitations made composers focus more on melodic content, but so say that composers today are less melodic is both insulting and ignorant.

tl;dr rose-colored glasses, nostalgia, better directing, etc, etc.

Wasn't Christopher Tin nominated for this too? And won? Or it might have just been for one song so maybe not.

Either way, I can't disagree more with this.

Christopher Tin won a Grammy for Baba Yetu in the "Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocalist(s)" category. Even though it was originally composed for a Civilization IV, making it the first video game composition to win a Grammy, it was recognized as also being part of his "Calling All Dawns" album (which also won the Grammy for Best Classical Crossover Album). Journey's soundtrack was the first complete soundtrack to be acknowledged by the Grammys.

Edited by Ramaniscence

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I think it's always a bad idea to generalize on such a large scale. We're talking about hundreds and hundreds of games here.

I do believe though that popular modern games with high budget tend to have generic music. I think comparing these games' music with old games' music is just like comparing apples with... with... elephants. You can't compare 8-bit chiptunes with a full-fledged orchestra. With 8-bit chiptune, you pretty much have no other choice than to make memorable and catchy tunes, because of this genre's technical limitations. When you have a whole orchestra at your disposal, it's the opposite problem. This genre's limitation in my opinion is that there are no limitations. Making "catchy" and "memorable" orchestral music is one damn hard challenge if you ask me, but I think it's much more easily appropriate than chiptunes for building atmospheres and specific moods. I'm not saying it's impossible, though. For instance, I think Super Mario Galaxy's music is a good example of how big scaled orchestral music can be used in a more "old-school game music" way.

The bottom line for me is that I think it's pointless to say that game music is "turning bad". Not only is the whole subject very subjective, but there are TONS of games out there. Generalizing that much sounds very biased to me.

Edited by DaMonz
typo

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I think Super Mario Galaxy's music is a good example of how big scaled orchestral music can be used in a more "old-school game music" way.

Reminds of this:

Mario -

Tchaikovsky -

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Older games have less songs. Super Mario Bros 1 had like...5 songs? Castlevania has maybe 8-10. Super Nintendo saw slightly bigger soundtracks, and then we got into soundtracks like Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasies, but even then you had boss battles, town music, world map music that you heard OVER and OVER again. Now I know what you might be thinking: But "Dancing Mad" only played once and you remember it note-for-note! Well of course you do. It's a great song and it BROKE the habit of hearing the same boss fight song over and over, so it made it stick out even more.

This isn't necessarily a bad thing. Part of having limited memory means you have to make choices about what is good enough to spend that memory on, now you have Nintendo making 5 variations of like every theme in Skyward Sword simply because they can. The lack of memory restrictions nowadays doesn't just influence composition, it's also a form of quality control that has been removed. I think this is actually more of the issue some people have, there's still tons of good game music being made, but it's rare to see something like DKC2 or Super Metroid where just about every track absolutely nails it

Super Metroid is also a good counter IMO to the notion that creepier or tense atmospheres should emphasize music less, at least for me anyway, that game draws me into zebes way better than the more minimalist soundscapes of somewhere like dark aether. Even just in Echoes you get the juxtaposition, torvus bog and sanctuary fortress are the two locations that most people come away the most impressed with, both places that also have some of the better music in the game(not being all purple also probably helps though...)

Edited by liquid wind

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The whole people blaming things on nostalgia always bugs me. What does that have to do with me loving certain soundtracks NOW? How is it "Just nostalgia" when there are certain game soundtracks released these days that are amazing, but most are just falling flat and unmemorable?

Also a lot of quotes about "hardware limitations" forcing people to be creative.. well yeah thats true maybe. But hardware limitations have been lifting slowly every generation, we didn't go from 8bit to full orchestra overnight. There have been amazing soundtracks released every generation, including this one. There are just a lot more generic/ambient ones made Vs interesting ones. A lot of the large old school franchises have also lost most of their classic catchy melodic or atmospheric feel in favor of this ambient movie style or just plain silence nonsense. Its just really uninteresting.

Heck, outside of game music I'll listen to classical music, which is often memorable and "catchy" while being full orchestra etc. It really just boils down to the talents of the composers, and just think we have a lot of "make it sound pretty/passable enough" composers floating around Vs "Make it sound amazing" composers.

If you don't think game music is melodic or memorable anymore, you really just don't play a lot of games and as a result you don't really know what you're talking about.

I dunno, I play a lot of games and I pretty much only listen to game music & game related music... doesn't mean I know what I'm talking about but per se but :/

It is probably more of a taste thing, wouldn't you say?

silence is the best music

No, not really? Silence is the opposite of music. I'm not going to buy an OST of silence.

Edited by Crowbar Man

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The whole people blaming things on nostalgia always bugs me. What does that have to do with me loving certain soundtracks NOW? How is it "Just nostalgia" when there are certain game soundtracks released these days that are amazing, but most are just falling flat and unmemorable?

Your nostalgic favor for strongly homophonic music prompts you to dismiss music of other texture as "forgettable".

Also a lot of quotes about "hardware limitations" forcing people to be creative.. well yeah thats true maybe. But hardware limitations have been lifting slowly every generation, we didn't go from 8bit to full orchestra overnight. There have been amazing soundtracks released every generation, including this one. There are just a lot more generic/ambient ones made Vs interesting ones. A lot of the large old school franchises have also lost most of their classic catchy melodic or atmospheric feel in favor of this ambient movie style or just plain silence nonsense. Its just really uninteresting.

Heck, outside of game music I'll listen to classical music, which is often memorable and "catchy" while being full orchestra etc. It really just boils down to the talents of the composers, and just think we have a lot of "make it sound pretty/passable enough" composers floating around Vs "Make it sound amazing" composers.

All you're doing is showing lack of understanding on the role of audio in a moving picture. See past posts by Rama, Derrit, Moseph, etc.

Though I will agree that there are subpar composers in game audio, just as there also were way back when.

I dunno, I play a lot of games and I pretty much only listen to game music & game related music... doesn't mean I know what I'm talking about but per se but :/

It is probably more of a taste thing, wouldn't you say?

No, personal taste doesn't allow you to dismiss something as generic simply because it is not texturally homophonic.

No, not really? Silence is the opposite of music. I'm not going to buy an OST of silence.

You completely missed the point of what I was saying. I know this because you took what I said so completely literally that you didn't even bother thinking about what I said.

Sound design is an art form. It is not a copout or lazy subset of music composition. It is a separate art form in its entirety, and judging good sound design (which games only started having AFTER hardware limitations were lifted) by principles of homophonic music is like judging a fish on its ability to climb a tree.

Edited by Neblix

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That was a good video, the only problem when he compares past and present is:

A) I don't have any problem with the way the music sounds in the past (8bit)

B) The music he picked to show "present" music is also amazing music (Halo, MGS, etc) but we don't get stuff like that very much anymore. :/

Your nostalgic favor for strongly homophonic music prompts you to dismiss music of other texture as "forgettable".

Well, I don't pretend to understand music theory or what not, but I would have to say MOST people like songs that have harmony/melody/etc. I don't think that has much to do with nostalgia.

Sound design is an art form. It is not a copout or lazy subset of music composition. It is a separate art form in its entirety, and judging good sound design (which games only started having AFTER hardware limitations were lifted) by principles of homophonic music is like judging a fish on its ability to climb a tree.

Well, this is about music, not necessarily about sound design. I don't think anybody can argue that games don't sound really great these days.

Edited by Crowbar Man

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That was a good video, the only problem when he compares past and present is:

B) The music he picked to show "present" music is also amazing music (Halo, MGS, etc) but we don't get stuff like that very much anymore. :/

Obvious troll bait, and I'm not going to be the only person with a rebuttal, but:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DeHjfXYBVak

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EXv8JVbqwao

But hey everyone has their own opinion, and that's fine.

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