Brief thoughts on the evolution of video game music

Here’s a little known fact about me: I LOVE video games. Even though I couldn’t really play them growing up, I was always fascinated by the graphics, the storytelling, and yes, the music (I can hum the Super Mario theme to this day). Now, with amazing games like The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Destiny, Dragon Age: Inquisition, Mass Effect Andromeda and more, we have fully realized environments that look like something straight out of a live action movie. And the scores for these games put some film scores to absolute shame.

To get an idea of just how much video game music has evolved, let’s see some examples of early game soundtracks.

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These first three themes come from the 1980s and have a distinctly electronic sound to them. That’s because they’re what is known as “8-bit music” or “chiptunes” and are produced by the sound chips found within early gaming systems. There are many more examples than these three, but I thought I would start with some of the bigger names: the start-up music for Pac-Man; the immortal main theme from Super Mario Bros. and the main theme of the original Legend of Zelda.

Pac-Man Start Up Theme (1980)

Super Mario Bros. Main Theme & Overworld (1985)

The Legend of Zelda Main Theme (1986)

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Fast forward a decade and video game music has already made huge strides forward. By the end of the decade, video game music is decidely less electronic, with many scores being almost purely orchestral. For the 1990s I decided to choose examples from Final Fantasy IV, Diablo and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

Final Fantasy IV Main Theme (1991)

Diablo Main Theme (1996)

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time Main Theme (1998)

Destiny_box_art

Now in the 2000s and into the 2010s, video game music has become fully realized as in-depth orchestral scores, often requiring full orchestras and choirs to record. Some amazing examples can be found in the main theme of Dragon Age: Origins, Destiny and “The Trials” from Halo 5: Guardians.

Dragon Age: Origins Main Theme (2009)

Destiny Main Theme (2014)

Halo 5: Guardians “The Trials” (2015)

Of course there’s a lot more to the evolution of video game music than this, I just wanted to provide some examples that give a broad idea of how the music has changed over the decades. Hopefully as the summer goes on I can get more in depth with different video game series. But for now, I hope you enjoy these selections.

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