There was a time when music and video games had very little in common. Early console games were played to the sound of blips, beeps and other computer-generated noises aimed at adding an extra dimension to games. But things soon progressed.
Later, companies like Nintendo started adding their own theme tunes to games, a practice that culminated in classic soundtracks for titles such as 1988’s Megaman 2, released on the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) and 1995’s Chrono Trigger, released on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES).
Later, video games became split between those that relied on their own theme tunes such as the spectacular The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, released on the N64 in 1998 and those that licenced music from genuine recording artists.
Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, released in 2002, is a great example of a game that used popular music to great effect. During gameplay, a lot of time is spent inside cars where players can tune in to nine different radio stations covering different genres including hip hop, pop, disco, heavy rock, Latin, new wave and talk radio. The concept allows players to make the game more personal to them. INXS, Bryan Adams, Iron Maiden, The Cult, Kate Bush, Roxy Music, Frankie Goes to Hollywood and Blondie are just some of the artists featured on this GTA soundtrack.
In 2010, Red Dead Redemption went down the route of scoring the game as if it were a film. As players take time to explore the spectacular surroundings of the game’s Wild West frontier setting, they do so to a soundtrack that draws heavily from the spaghetti westerns of the 1960s and 70s. The game is one of a long list that has adopted this scoring approach.
Some games have gone further than just featuring fancy soundtracks, with many using music as the key theme of the title. Most people have enjoyed a game of Guitar Hero at some point, whether the original or one of the branded spin-offs endorsed by the likes of Aerosmith or Van Halen. The Beatles: Rock Band is another title centred on real-life musicians.
Video slots fans are not left out and also get a chance to enjoy the music and visual themes of their favourite artists. The online casino Genesis was launched last year and lets players rock out to the songs of Motorhead, Jimi Hendrix or Guns n’ Roses on their self-titled games while trying to match pay-lines and win prizes.
The best game music of all-time
Choosing the best standalone music for a game is difficult. Away from the licenced tracks, game music composition has become an art form in itself. Perhaps the best proponent of the genre was David Wise and his K. Rool Returns soundtrack for the 1995 SNES game Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest.
The game followed one of the most popular titles of all time but did so in spectacular fashion, and the soundtrack represented the era better than any that had come before. There were beautiful strings, rhythmic brass and amazing ambient tunes such as ‘Stickerbrush Symphony’ and ‘Forest Interlude’ that inspired a generation of DJs and dance music producers including Canada’s Ryan Hemsworth. Who'd have thought the Kong family would have such influence on modern dance culture?
It now remains to be seen where the music takes the games industry next - and vice versa.