RSNO: Video Games Live
As the RSNO prepares to play a concert of music from videogames in Glasgow, Dave Cook looks at the history of game soundtracks
Last year in the UK, videogames overtook the music industry in terms of money made and it looks like the film industry could be next. But today’s gaming technology is working in tandem with these industries in interesting new ways, making cut-scenes increasingly cinematic and soundtracks more atmospheric. Music in particular, has been used as a gameplay tool as opposed to an accompanying feature.
But who could have foretold, as Mario Brothers creator Shigeru Miyamoto was putting his now iconic 8-bit soundtrack into his game, just how big an influence music in games would have on pop culture? Back in the early 80s, music in games was embedded in chipsets incorporating said consoles’ technology to produce various pitches of blips and bleeps that sound distinctively primitive by today’s standards.
However, these songs were composed nonetheless, from the madcap preamble that preceded a game of Pac-Man to the insanely infectious main theme from The Legend of Zelda on NES, and each composer had a vision of how these tunes should sound. Incidentally, both of these songs have stood the test of time and are used in modern incarnations of each series.
The 16-bit war between Sega and Nintendo circa 1992 was crammed full of releases boasting superb soundtracks, from Sega’s dab-hand with multi-layered techno beats à la Sonic the Hedgehog 2 and Streets of Rage, to Nintendo’s penchant for the cute and catchy. This was something of a golden age in composition, with many of these tracks being parodied, covered or remixed by droves of fan websites and bands (Google and ye shall find). Over the years the trend would continue and a whole new level of orchestrated music scores and licensed soundtracks have become possible thanks to the advances in technology.
So here we are in 2008 with a very special gaming event about to hit the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall. The brainchild of composer Tommy Tallarico, who has worked on such fantastic series as Prince of Persia and Splinter Cell, Video Games Live is something of an orchestrated cover gig devoted to delivering classical renditions of classic video game tunes past and present.
‘We really had two goals in mind with Video Games Live,’ says Tallarico. ‘Our first was to prove to the world how significant video games have become and how culturally and artistically relevant they are. They are pieces of art. VGL isn’t just about the music, but about all the other elements of games, visuals, art, special effects, characters, interactivity, storyline.’
With the help of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Tallarico will be belting out music from such legendary scores as Final Fantasy, Outrun and Halo, all set against the backdrop of a state of the art, synchronised light show. Tallarico concludes: ‘If Beethoven were alive today, he’d be a videogame composer.’
Now that would have been interesting.
RSNO: Video Games Live, Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow, Thu 26 Jun.
Top 5 videogame soundtracks
Halo As this series goes on, it may divide fans like there’s no tomorrow, but the soundtrack has always remained consistent. The uplifting main theme with guitar licks from Steve Vai and booming bass drums suits the hectic war-torn setting of earth and really gets you in the mood to do some planet-saving. (Bungie), Xbox, 2001.
Super Mario World Like riding a bicycle, no one who shared time with this revolutionary platformer forgets the main theme. It has a twee, happy-go-lucky charm that is synonymous with Nintendo and has spurred on many fans to create videos of their own versions. (Nintendo), SNES, 1992.
Streets of Rage 2 Yuzo Koshiro and Motohiro Kawashi served up a fitting soundtrack for gamers whilst they cleaned up the streets by teaching no-good street punks a lesson. Hard hitting, thumping bass and zinging electronic samples got the adrenaline pumping and created a massive online remix community at the same time. (Sega), Mega Drive, 1992.
Super Smash Bros Melee This soundtrack, as performed by an orchestra hand-picked by Nintendo, features classical renditions of all of the developer’s best-loved franchises including Starfox, Kirby, Metroid, Legend of Zelda and let’s not forget a certain plumber. Each of these rousing tunes warms the heart – a retro fan’s dream. ((Nintendo/Hal Laboratories), Gamecube, 2001.
Final Fantasy VII Nobuo Uemetsu’s emotion-inducing score is a thing of legend in gaming lore. Each of the 60 or so tunes on the soundtrack fits the scenes they accompany perfectly and none are more iconic than the epic final battle song ‘One Winged Angel’ which has been covered countless times but never bettered. (Squaresoft), PlayStation, 1997.