Hello! In this new series, we’re going to be discussing music in the development of video games. Whether you’re a budding composer, a game developer, or simply a game enthusiast; professional or a hobbyist, I’m hoping that you can take away something with each article and implement it into your own practice.
From chiptune to the hugely cinematic music of today’s composers, I thought it would be great to talk about the Top 5 video game composers of the past and present at first. Of course, I can’t really claim that these are THE top 5 composers, so I’m putting forward my favourite 5.
5. MARTIN O’DONNELL/MICHAEL SALVATORI
Okay, I know having two composers in the number five slot might be seen as cheating, but they’re the duo that work on the Halo games! It would be hard not to include the best-selling video game soundtrack of all time in this list. Did you know that Bungie did not really release their original video game music before Halo? The music was so insanely popular that fans requested they allowed them to listen to the music outside of the game, when they’re studying, working out and more, giving the whole idea of video game music a new dimension. Whatever you think of the Halo games, I think we can all agree that the music is recognisable and epic. It fits the game amazingly well, and functions exactly how you would want for a game of that calibre.
To note: The score was one of the first the feature a full orchestra and choir. Technological limitations prior to the Halo series meant that music this program-intensive in nature was simply not possible on their scale. With this, they pioneered ‘dynamic scoring’, where the music develops based on character’s actions and the events of the game. It develops simultaneously with the mood.
4. JESPER KYD
Responsible for the music of Assassin’s Creed, Jesper is one of my favourite video games composers. He’s a master of imitation and incorporating different styles into his work but keeping it modern and relevant to our times, hence why we see him adapting so well to Renaissance music of Middle Ages Italy, ethnic styles of Egypt, and more. He also wrote the music for Hitman and The Adventures of Batman and Robin, in which he captured the essence of Danny Elfman’s film score for Batman perfectly. He did this on an old Nintendo NES too, which only had three channels on which he could compose. Insane!
3. MICHAEL GIACCHINO
It’s not uncommon for Hollywood based composers to enter into the gaming world, and Giacchino, who is arguably making his way at becoming this generation’s John Williams, found his start on the Medal of Honour series. The composer for Up, The Incredibles, Lost and more got his start creating the music for The Lost World: Jurassic Park, one of the first to include live musicians and an orchestra, and subsequently got the job on Medal of Honour after a chance meeting with Steven Spielberg.
The Medal of Honour series arguably set the standard for War/Period games of this nature to come. Taking inspiration from John Williams, Hans Zimmer and more, he created something that feels truly patriotic wherever the player is from, and captures the intensity of how it may have felt in that situation.
2. NOBUO UEMATSU
Would it really be a Top 5 list without a mention of Nobuo Uematsu? The Final Fantasy composer’s work is so intertwined with the Classical world, that as a Composition graduate, it is hard to ignore. It’s crazy to think that a theme once written for 8-Bit systems, has now gone onto being performed in concert halls around the world. His technique is second to none, and Uematsu has said that the main theme in particular felt the easiest to write because it was as if it represented his personality, and that he had therefore injected his personality into the game. This attitude is something that I hope to include in my work also.
1. KOJI KONDO
Of course Koji Kondo, composer for two of the most influential video games in history, Super Mario Bros and Legend of Zelda, should be on this list. The two games are influential in more than just the music, they influenced the experience of gameplay, pushing technology to the limits as they designed new ways of exploring. I don’t think anybody has come as close to being part of the cultural zeitgeist as Kondo; the first three notes of the Mario theme are known ubiquitously. He essentially popularised 8-bit music, simply as a result of it being the only means with which to compose. It is amazing how creative results can be with a limitation placed upon yourself. If you’re about to create, whether it’s game development, writing, music creation; self-impose limits and see what you can come up with. I guarantee you’ll surprise yourself!
Have a listen to a Spotify playlist I made below featuring composers from this post: