Music in the Mainstream Game

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I’m still alive. I know you were probably wondering about that, given how long it’s been since my most recent post. Well, yeah, still here. I’ve been fighting long work-weeks, the flu, and two other posts that are taking more time than I expected to finish properly, hence why you haven’t seen much life from me lately. But we’re going to change that right now! We’re back baby, yeah!

So here’s a topic I’ve been mulling over for a while: what exactly happened to video game music? At least in broad market AAA titles, a game’s music barely seems worth noticing. It wasn’t always this way. Whistle the first two bars of the Super Mario Bros. theme, and any gamer who’d even touched that game will be instantly brought back to to those memories. It’s a very distinct and memorable song, that perfectly captured the mood of World 1-1. And they did that using only a small selection of bleeps and blorps. Compare that to Skyrim, where outside of the main theme and its various remixes, they didn’t even bother giving most of their music melodies. Most of the background music is simply long chords. It’s basic, incredibly boring, and most of the time you’d probably have to be reminded that there was music playing in the first place. Skyrim is definitely the worst case I can think of right now, but other modern AAA games aren’t much better. Think of Mass Effect 3, where most of the music was an incredibly simple one- to two-bar melody played repeatedly over basic chords. There’s no progression, the song doesn’t lead anywhere, it’s just kind of there. And it’s seeming to me that most games aimed at hitting the mass-market are doing the same with their music. Think of a modern AAA title you’ve played. Can you even remember more than one song from the game? Music is one of the strongest weapons in a game developer’s arsenal towards guiding the player’s emotions, and the tools to implement music in games are better than they’ve ever been before. There are definitely great composers in the video game industry. Why is it then, that the titles that are getting the most attention are getting the worst music? I don’t know for sure, but I’ve got a few ideas under the cut.

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