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Video game music - a brief history with some shameless nostalgia 23.10.17

There are certain passages of music from visual media that transcend their origin. The picture-perfect works of Ennio Morricone, John Williams or John Barry are as famous as the film icons they score. Many of us knew the Imperial March from The Empire Strikes Back before we had seen the film. The most famous scores, themes or soundtracks do as much to elicit that hard-hitting nostalgia we feel as the source material itself.

For the generations that grew up with gaming, this transcendence has also happened for video games. Entire Youtube channels with millions of views are dedicated to video game soundtracks, gaming YouTubers bastardise the famous and catchy ditties as their own theme tunes and the music-makers, once unknown to the public, are now like rockstars.

Seachange of the 90’s

However, the huge social media followings, the travelling of the globe performing orchestral renditions of their famous creations and the publicity are relatively new to the video-game music world despite the obvious genius of video game music composers of yore. Most of this can be chalked down to the technological shortcomings of audio in gaming until the advent of the CD-ROM. The adoption of the medium placed over an hour of recordable music (or more with some loss in quality) in the capable hands of the composer.

Some of the earlier CD-ROM titles to shine and make famous their composers were on the Sony PlayStation (1994). Games like Tomb Raider (composed by Nathan McCree) and Resident Evil (Mamoru Samuragochi) were among the first titles to truly exploit the new-found lack of limitations and show a wider public what a game soundtrack could be.

 

WipEout is credited as bringing video games “out of the bedroom and into the club” with its perfect marriage of high-speed futuristic racing with techno and trance fresh from the mind of CoLD SToRAGE aka Tim Wright of Lemmings soundtrack fame. In Europe, WipEout’s soundtrack featured bonus tracks from The Chemical Brothers, Leftfield and Orbital, enhancing the profile within this territory.

 

At this point in time, the games industry had already been tinkering with licensed music and the gap between movie and game audio was closing forever. Directors of games blended the fertile minds of composers with the ready-made feelings of a pop classic - just like they had been doing on celluloid for a half-century.

There were others which needed no bespoke music but took advantage of the CD-ROM by cramming its soundtrack with licensed music to match the vibe of the game.

Nowadays, it’s hard to imagine a mainstream sports game without painfully upbeat rock and inert hip-hop. Impossible to fathom driving in an open world without a radio simulated by splicing up the game’s licensed music playlist.

Rockstar of the video game music world

For many game directors, conductors now carry the larger part of the score outside of the types of genre that crave licensed music. The most famous of which is a Galway native and Trinity College Dublin graduate.

Eimear Noone was famously told she didn’t have a chance to be a leading conductor as she was “young, Irish and female”. After letting her passion for music and raw talent loose to break many a glass ceiling, she conducted at the National Concert Hall, led the Royal Philharmonic and proved that notion to be very wrong.

Noone broke into video game soundtracks accidentally, having worked on the Metal Gear Solid track ‘The Best Is Yet To Come’ not knowing what it was at first. ‘The Best Is Yet To Come’ is sung as Gaeilge and plays at the very end of what is considered one of the best games of all time - not a bad start in the video games industry.

Eimear would be away from video games for five years before her classical music training was required for MMORPG ‘World of Warcraft’. The game would go on to become the most-played paid online game for almost a decade.

 

During the WoW sessions, Noone truly saw the the power of music in video games for the first time and when given the opportunity to work again for Blizzard, she jumped at the chance. Conducting the scores to Starcraft II and its expansions, which started to release in 2010. The real-time strategy sequels would become smash-hits, their music again lauded.

Eimear Noone, the classical composer and conductor was becoming more and more famous for her video game work. When Nintendo looked to bring the music of The Legend of Zelda to the orchestral floor to celebrate its 25th anniversary in 2011, Noone was first on the list. Bringing the fondly remembered NES chiptunes to life inspired Noone to create Dublin’s IDIG Video Game Music Festival with husband, Craig Stuart Garfinkle. She then created a Celtic fusion with the Zelda series soundtracks in the soon-to-be-released ‘Songs of Zelda: The Celtic Link’, recorded with DIT’s own Irish Traditional Music Ensemble.

PlayersXpo 2017: Eimear Noone and iDIG Music Festival announced to celebrate retro video game music live  

Bringing it all home again

PlayersXpo is lucky to have Eimear and Craig as panelists to discuss their illustrious careers in music and video games. The Saturday and Sunday of Xpo both finish with an exclusive celebration of games music history.

Saturday hosts a performance of ‘Songs of Zelda: The Celtic Link’ to celebrate the world launch of the album. ‘The Celtic Link’ has been over two years in the making after smashing its Kickstarter goal and now the Irish public can be there to witness one of Ireland’s most celebrated daughters come home to share our musical heritage through the globally-adored sounds of Zelda.

Sunday sees Noone, Garfinkle and the IDIG music festival host the Irish premier of Retro Games Live - a set of orchestral renditions of the greatest music to ever appear in video games played alive conducted by the Queen of video games music herself.

PlayersXpo, Ireland’s ULTIMATE gaming event is taking over The Convention Centre, Dublin on the 28th & 29th of October! Get your tickets here.