Monday, December 12, 2011

Taking Video Game Music Seriously

Many of us, especially my own generation, have grown up from an early age with video games in our lives. When I was 7, my purple game Gameboy Color was the most important thing I owned, the day I first bought it was one of the fondest memories of my childhood. It didn't take long for my save game of Pokemon Red to reach triple digits, and the same could be said for Pokemon Silver after that. A lot of kids my age would have almost identical stories. Playing Pokemon wasn't just a fad to us, it was something we all did, many of us continuing to do so years after. Pokemon was always a very simple game. Not the flashiest graphics, or the most engaging story, just irresistibly charming. Many of us to this day could probably recite most, if not all, of the original 151 Pokemon, and every piece of music from that game is ingrained in our minds like a 100 year old nursery rhyme. Nintendo are known masters of this, as the same could easily be said for Mario or Zelda. Not long after we started forming memories, these songs were filling our hearts and minds.

Since those NES classics began, Japan has always been the king of memorable video game music. The Final Fantasy franchise, most notably Final Fantasy VII, has always been known for this. Anyone with fond memories of the series will tell you this, as the the games emotional resonance is reliant on it. Long time Final Fantasy composer Nobuo Uematsu has built an enormous following out of his work with the series, making him one of the most revered Japanese composers in recent history, to many Japanese he is a household name, and even had a rather successful prog band, The Black Mages, based solely around his Final Fantasy compositions. Sadly, it's not easy to say the same thing about western Video Game music. While it certainly has its share of great pieces and talented composers, it never gets the same kind of pull and reverence that Japanese work gets. Jeremy Soule, arguably western video games most noteworthy composer, who's work spans from The Elder Scrolls games, most recently Skyrim, to Guild Wars to Pajama Sam, is still quite far from the recognition of Film composers like John Williams of Danny Elfman.

A common problem with video game music is its inability to stand on its own two legs outside of a video game context. It seems as though things are changing in recent times and the current boom in independent games. A popular iOS title Sword & Sworcery is a very good example of this, where the games composer, Jim Guthrie altered and remixed the games soundtrack in order to make a complete and cohesive album, releasing it through his Bandcamp, complete with a very limited vinyl run. A similar story comes from Supergiant Games indie release Bastion, which effectively used a dynamic narrator and soundtrack, was also a recognized release that garnered much praise outside of the game it was made for. Tomáš Dvořák, composer of many Amanita Design games including indie treasure Machinarium, finds reasonable success under the moniker Floex and his cult electronic hit Porcustone.

However, the most notable of these would have to be C418 and his work with Mojang's million seller hit Minecraft, which currently has 18 million registered users and 4 million copies sold.

These recent success in the video game music scene, while still comparatively small, are certainly a sign of things to come. Successful and recognized video game music is becoming more and more commonplace as the years go by. I for one will be keeping open ears, there's certainly a lot here to enjoy.

No comments:

Post a Comment