Of pong in 1972 at Ring of Elden in 2022, video game music has come a long way.
Early game consoles only sang unique tones generated in their circuitry. Such was the classic sound of pongthe world’s first commercial video game: blips that come and go as with each virtual paddle stroke.
As technology advanced, so did the sonic possibilities. Composers in the 1980s had up to four channels of monophonic sound, and they looked to choral and baroque writing techniques to bring those channels to life. Many iconic themes were born during this decade, such as Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zeldaand Final Fantasyto name a few.
In the 1990s, game scores evolved from expertly crafted bleeps and bloops to more complex synthesized sounds, as well as emulations of real instruments, giving rise to beloved classics like sonic the hedgehog and grave robber. Soon after, composers were able to incorporate recordings of live musicians, and by the time the 2000s rolled around, a playing score could sound like almost anything the composer could imagine. Gregorian chants for HaloHollywood orchestras for Batman, Argentinian guitars for The last of us: nothing was forbidden in the world of video games.
To celebrate the launch of this year’s Classic 100: Music for the Screen on ABC Classic, Meena Shamaly takes you on a historic tour of video games, tracing their musical evolution through half a century – from humble (but awe-inspiring) beginnings to of unlimited expression in modern times.