Saturday, 30 March 2013

Elements of Game Technology, pt 2: Sound For Games

Ever since gaming has made the leap from a static medium to an interactive one, sound has been included as a way to generate moods and reinforce each games identity as a whole, from the beeps and midi tones of Space Invaders and Tetris, all the way up to fully orchestrated epics and vocal arrangements for games such as Halo and Final Fantasy.
Musical arrangements in games have always been used effectively to enhance the mood of the certain level, or situation you are in at the time in the game: From an epic orchestral score to accompany you as you take part in a large scale battle, to the more light hearted and catchy beats used in a puzzle game, practically every genre has been covered in the history of video game music, some more prominent than others. 

Its not only musical scores that have been utilised in video games, but also effects and audio environments that create living worlds, that are both unique and rich in atmosphere. Sounds help create an ambience of a game your investing yourself in, and lends believability to Characters, Vehicles, Creatures and even how inanimate objects sound when interacted with: if a sword you were holding hit off an enemies shield and didn't react in a realistic fashion the effect would be ruined and jarring to the player. With shoot-em-ups a lot of attention to detail is spent on how each gun sounds and feels, with research being done with the real life equivalents to get the effect of using each weapon as authentic as possible, and to distinguish each weapon from each other, to the extent that take on characteristics of their own. On top of a full soundtrack to accompany it, each game in today's generation will have a complete and vast sound library for everything in the game, from gunshots to the creak of a door opening, its all relevant and important to the end product. 
Noises and sounds have a great effect on the player when a game relies heavily on ambience and mood to effect your playing through it.... as an example  games in the survival horror genre have made use of sounds and noises to great effect to disturb and scare the player, even with the absence of any visible danger on the screen. The sound of a distant creak, or something scraping along a metal surface can enhance the scare factor, and plays on peoples ability to let their imagination do the work for them, in filling in the blanks as to what actually makes them scared. 

Video Game composers have risen to prominence in today's industry, with games hiring talent who work across movies and other big budget mediums. U.S Composer Michael Giacchino who worked on the soundtracks for the Medal of Honour game series, has gone on to create scores for the Television show Lost, as well as movies 'The Incredible's  and 'Star trek'. Not only a personal preference of my own, but Japanese composers in particular were the first that seemed to be Lauded for their work in video games with Japan being the first countries to release full game soundtracks as stand alone CD's, as well as host full concerts dedicated to game music. Koichi Sugiyama (Dragon Quest) and Nobuo Uematsu (Final Fantasy) are a few of the key figures in  composing game music, and definitely contributed it to the rise of it in the west. Uematsu himself is often referred to as the 'Father of Video game Music' and has done many world tours, often alongside Grammy award winning composer Arnie Roth. 

Interview With Nobuo Uematsu

My personal key moments in gaming audio:

Sonic The Hedgehog ~
My introduction to games as one of the most awesome mediums i had ever stumbled into.... everything from each stages music, to the tinkle of the rings when you'd collect them, the jumping noise, the 'BWOWMP' of the springs when you jump off them, and the way the music speeds up when you get the shoes that make you faster and obviously the 'invincibility' music.... there's literally so much audibly that these games throws at you, making the whole experience feel even more enjoyable than just the game play. 

There are too many examples of audio from these games that stood out for me, and completed my experience in playing them growing up.... but the fact that all original 151 pokemon had their own individual cries contributed to each one having their own character. The piece I chose there I chose because for a chiptune, it really does convey the creepy and sad town its for.... quite impressive to do in my opinion for a a gameboy game.  

Final Fantasy ~
A massive influence on me in general, though the music is something that sets the series apart. Nothing captures the sense of a large scale adventure than the music for this series. 

Kingdom Hearts ~
Incredibly emotional and impactful, considering its a game series that is apart of the Disney universe. This piece in particular is one of my favourite compositions of all time. 

Chrono Cross ~
The first game soundtrack i listened in it entirety, and still one of my favourites. Very few other soundtracks evoke such a sense of loneliness, and the surreal nature of other worlds.

Silent Hill 2 ~
An amazing musical accompaniment to a game that relies heavily on silence (hohoho) and mood setting noises to create ambience and fear in the player so effectively.... the music reflects the haunting nature of the game perfectly.  

Digital Devil Saga 2 ~
A piece of music from quiet an obscure Japanese RPG, that regardless of weather you've played the game or not gives a great sense of an apocalyptic and prelude to a climactic battle about to take place. The best examples of music are able to set the scene for you, regardless of weather you have the visuals in front of you, and the soundtrack for this game is no exception.

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