This is the second installment in guest blogger Frank Klepacki’s series on music production. Today Frank continues his discussion of the evolution of game music technology. If you missed Part 1, you can read it here.
Rapid improvements over the years of new sound cards and more powerful computers shifted the focus to software mixing over hardware mixing – ASIO eventually becoming a new standard. Just as we were getting used to the idea of resampled WAV files for music playback in games, the MP3 format came along and changed everything.
MP3s were significantly smaller in size but still retained higher quality sound than down-sampled WAVs. This was such a win for video game development, because space is always something we fight for. As video games continued to increase in quality of art, audio and the engines that run them, multiple-CD releases became common. But the cost of adding an additional disc, say to accommodate the size of WAV files, could be significant. So MP3s, OGGs and other similar file compression formats became the go-tos for music, as well as all other audio content in games, moving forward in the 2000s.
With that established, budgets for video-game development also began to increase as computers and consoles got faster, hard drives got larger, amounts of RAM expanded and consoles (e.g., PlayStation 2 and Xbox) essentially developed into small computers. It became more common to see live orchestras being used in final production of video game music, and the quality of synthesized music was as good as anything else being produced. Game music was as professional sounding as anything else, and was here to stay.
Ironically, while all this was happening, there was also a market for handheld portable game devices, such as the Nintendo Gameboy and Sega Game Gear, which kept to the audio limitations of the older systems and consoles we began with. So to work on any of those titles, composers would have to revert back to the approaches used in the past, despite the higher quality that could be achieved in the present. Eventually, higher-quality audio playback would make its way to handhelds as well, with systems like the PlayStation Portable.
For more than the last decade, the quality of game music has kept pace with all other media forms. Video game soundtracks continue to gain in popularity, and have cemented their place among stand-alone soundtrack releases. They can be appreciated in their full, uncompressed glory or digitally downloaded through any preferred digital vendor. There is even a record label, Sumthing Else Music Works, that is well known for specializing in video game soundtrack releases, and a touring symphony concert series, “Video Games Live,” that features performances of the greatest hits of game soundtracks. There are entire communities of people who remix their favorite game music, and come up with their own original music for mods of their favorite games.
So the next time someone says they are enjoying a video game soundtrack, before you make the age-old, stereotypical assumption, think again– the music may very well fit seamlessly in your playlist, next to your favorite band or epic movie soundtrack.
In Frank’s next installment he’ll explain what it means to be a music producer. Look for that post in the near future!
Frank Klepacki is an award-winning composer for video games and television for such titles as Command & Conquer, Star Wars: Empire at War, and MMA sports programs such as Ultimate Fighting Championship and Inside MMA. He resides as audio director for Petroglyph, in addition to being a recording artist, touring performer, and producer. For more info, visit www.frankklepacki.com