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Music in Video Games

Article posted on 4/23/2020

I’ve been spending the last several weeks in isolation (like most people), and because I have no coworkers around me to inconvenience, this means taking off the headset and blasting my music of choice out of my computer speakers. 

What I listen to usually depends on what I’m writing (for example, I have a different set of music for writing stories than I do for writing, say, software press releases). While my tastes vary widely anywhere from metal to musicals, one musical genre in particular frequently seems to suit my workflow, and that is: video game soundtracks. 

There are, of course, a lot of elements that go into making a good game: graphics, story, gameplay, mechanics - the list goes on and on. For me, one of the most important elements to an immersive and engaging game experience is its music.

Music in video games is rarely about conscious consumption, either - it’s there to lift a moment to the forefront, make you feel something about it, but it isn’t supposed to scream “LISTEN TO ME!” and make you forget about everything else that’s going on. When you’re fighting a battle against an epic monster, the music should make you feel empowered and full of adrenaline. When something emotional is happening, the music should reflect that, making you feel that moment.

Something that fascinates me in particular is listening how music evolves and grows when a certain game has multiple installments spread out across years. Perhaps one of the best examples of this is the Final Fantasy series of video games.

Nobuo Uematsu, the composer for the majority of the series, composed his first score over 25 years ago. At the time, the technological capabilities of newly emerging game systems were extremely limited, relegating Uematsu to only simple sounds that he had to meticulously program himself. In an interview about how he got his start in game composing, Uematsu said, “The NES days were tough. I had to type in every little thing by myself, like for an 8th note in C, C8, for a 16th note in E, E16 and so on. I used a goto statement to repeat and such, and had to do that endlessly, so it was really tough.”

While there are a few songs in the Final Fantasy series that have remained consistent throughout the years, new developments in technology for games has seen each iteration grow and morph into something different and more mature. As more sound options became available, eventually full orchestral versions of songs were being placed into games, taking immersion to a level that no one used to think was possible.

A few years ago, Stardock released Star Control: Origins. If you’re not aware, the game was a reboot of an old franchise that released its first game in 1990 through publisher Accolade. When we purchased the license and began looking at making a new game, one of the first questions we tackled was: what do we do about the music? The songs from Star Control II, in particular, are so memorable for most anyone who played and loved the game, we had to make sure to capture that same energy into the new game.

We got in touch with Riku Nuottajärvi, who composed the original music for Star Control II. He remastered a few of his original themes and created several more, giving rich life to the huge Star Control universe while maintaining the spirit and the essence of the original games at the same time. 

Maybe when I get a chance, I can get in touch with Riku and ask him a little more about the process. I’d love to hear his thoughts about what it was like to revisit something so many years later and help contribute to such a fun project. If you’re interested in owning the Star Control: Origins original soundtrack for yourself, you can get it here.

What game soundtracks or songs have stuck with you the most? Share your favorites with me!