Play Stuff Blog

Video Game Sing Along, Anyone?  

It's only natural that ICHEG be located in Rochester, a city with universities and colleges that attract students and academics from across the globe. One evening, while reminiscing with a few of them about childhood memories, a student from Portugal recalled the numerous occasions when he skipped religious studies to go to the arcade with change his mother had given him for an after-school snack. He would slip the coins into the slot of the Contra arcade game like he was feeding it communion. He loved the way the mechanical, fast-paced sounds burst from the screen. His recollection inspired a Turkish student among us to hum Koji Kondo’s 1985 Super Mario Bros.’ musical score and smile. Despite our cultural differences, we shared a love of video-game music.

Koichi Sugiyama

Koichi Sugiyama from GiantBomb

Before the mid to late 1980s, hardware and software limitations made it difficult to incorporate memorable music into video games. But by 1986, gamers could purchase Koichi Sugiyama’s Live CD of compositions performed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra for Square Enix’s game, Dragon Quest. Today, publishers of video games are releasing their most popular soundtracks in United Kingdom and America too. Takeharu Ishimoto’s soundtrack to The World Ends with You is an excellent example.

Takeharu Ishimoto combined rock, hip hop, electronic, and vocals to illustrate life in a Tokyo shopping district, and the album’s popularity earned the soundtrack a nomination for the Best Original Score for a Nintendo DS game. Nearly a year after a Japanese iTunes version of the album appeared in 2007, fans could buy it internationally—though it omitted four tracks unique to the original.

Today, video-game-music composers in one country are often influenced by the work of composers in others.  Final Fantasy’s lead composer, Nobuo Uematsu, says he finds inspiration in the instruments used by Elton John. Radiohead and Franz Ferdinand— both bands from the United Kingdom—contributed music to the soundtrack for FIFA Football 2004. And gamers and non-gamers alike are humming Norway’s Datarock. The band is recognized world-wide for its song “Fa-Fa-Fa,” which is featured on the fourth-generation iPod Nano commercial, as well as on NHL 08, FIFA 08, NBA Live 08, and the iPhone/iPod Touch game Tap, Tap Revenge 3. Plus, The Sims’ video team has created an exclusive video for the hit song. In an interview with Popchix, the band said EA’s record label, Artwerk, “is unbelievably good to us, and they certainly made us available for vast numbers of listeners.” This unique relationship is yet another example of the international impact of video games—artists of various backgrounds collaborating through a common artistic medium.

Trent Reznor, Quake

Quake album cover

American rockers from Washington State to Tennessee are composing outstanding video game songs too. A personal favorite of mine is Trent Reznor’s adrenaline-pumping music produced for id Software’s 1996 first-person shooter, Quake. I also like the aggressive beats of FIFA Football 2004’s lead track, Kings of Leon’s “Red Morning Light.” The sci-fi nerds in my life were psyched to discover Bear McCready, the composer well-renowned for his work on Battlestar Galactica, composed the soundtrack for Capcom’s 2010 game Dark Void. And I suspect that many of you—like my CHEGhead friends Jon-Paul Dyson and Eric Wheeler—have enjoyed ICHEG advisor Tommy Tallarico’s Video Games Live concerts in Western New York and around the globe.

Next time “Smooth Criminal” is played at your local bar, try to find out if the person next to you is reminiscing about popping to the beats or remembering what it is like to flip off their hats and beat the suit-wearing Mobster’s of Sega’s 1990 game Moonwalker. I’m sure no matter who you end up talking with or where they are from, you will find a common video-game-music memory.