What happened to game music?

What happened to game music?

In the Monday Musings I try to talk about the stuff that’s happening in the world of Game Development, from interesting game releases, to interesting technology, and game business happenings.

Okay folks, I discovered a cool mystery: Somewhere, at some point, something happened to game music! Honestly, let me explain. Back in the 90s when systems like the Amiga, Atari ST and then consoles like SNES, Megadrive and soundcards for PC’s were a thing, the music in games really became a THING it launched careers for game musicians and even club DJ’s !  Games came with very whistle-able and memorable sound-tracks. Tunes that really stuck with you after playing the game.

But somewhere, as games became bigger and more movie-like, the game music changed from these stand alone tunes to music scores that covered the whole game and were one big continuous epic piece played by orchestra’s (or made to sound like for games with smaller budgets) without ever taking the main stage of the game.

Memorable scenes

I love adventure games, inspired by the Indiana Jones movies, I even made my own game here and there like Meganoid:Grandpa’s Chronicles! And I also play almost any such game that is out there.

I’m currently playing Shadow of the the Tomb Raider, and I love all these rebooted Tomb Raider games! The adventure, the cinematics, and some scenes of each game is memorable. I can still remember running around the snow mountains in the previous Tomb Raider game, I can still memorize a boat chase in the first Uncharted, or the epic fights in the first God of War. The visual spectacle of those games really grabbed my attention and are part of me coming back to play such games.

But I strangely can not remember the music! There was nothing standing out in those tunes. Okay, that’s not completely true, the guitar melodies in The Last of Us are amazing, or at least, I remember I thought they were amazing. I honestly can’t recall how they went!

Game music seems to have taken a step back to being “additional” and helping to build the visual scene and suspense. But it’s not memorable anymore.

The classic hits

There is a huge contrast between these epic soundtracks and the classic “game tunes” and I use that term with all the respect I have for those tunes! I love those tunes, if I hear the first couple of bass-sounds from a game like Turrican, I fully remember the sound track for the game. If I hear an Ou-Ou-Outrun speech sample, the C64 version of that Outrun 2 soundtrack is completely back in my head.

Or what about : Your gun floating dead-center in front of you on the screen, in a dark room with bones and technology around you, a lit-hallway at the back, a growling/hissing sound of demons coming at you, guitars playing, drums beating in an adlib-like way.. and YEAH! there we go! That should trigger that Doom E1M1 tune hiding in your brain.

Every time I have to update or test some of my older games like Gunslugs or Heroes of Loot or Neoteria, the catchy tunes written by Gavin are etched in my brain and I’ll be humming them all day long again! I remember back in the day that I told him I wanted arcade like 90’s game tunes (and these games were made in 2011-2013 ish) and he came up with perfect little looping tunes with some chiptune inspirations in them. I can recall each and everyone of those!

And sure, games were different back in the day, games were more focussed on being a short bite-sized arcade like experience at home. So they didn’t really call for epic movie like scores. The visuals weren’t epic, the stories were (often) not present, so it certainly was easier for music to stand out.

It’s also VERY possible that, perhaps, we simply had less games? So we replayed games, and we spent more time in certain games to keep hearing those tunes thumping in our ears on repeat? I’m just not sure what happened, but all games I play now have a very low, background and supportive music score, far from memorable.


That’s really the Monday musing that was bouncing around my head for a few days now. I’m simply not sure what happened to Game music? and also not sure if I like it, or if I miss it, or if it’s perhaps a natural evolution of game media.  Luckily there are still some racing games that come with game tunes (if they avoid the whole “radio” and “DJ” setup in those games) and certain indie games still have lovely little game tunes happening.

Right now I’m working on Heroes of Loot: Gauntlet of Power, and I decided to really focus on it becoming a classic Arcade like game, so I’m talking to my musician to come up with some catchy tunes that stick in your head after you quit the game!  Something that sticks around as much as the Gunslugs tunes did, and drives the player on their way deeper into the dungeons.

We got the first tune done, and it’s a pretty catchy one, so there will be a few more created and added to the next demo release, so hopefully by the time the game goes live, you’ll be able to whistle the tunes in your sleep!

So have you ran into any memorable game tunes lately? Any specific game which music is still lingering around in your head? Let me know! Hop on the discord and come talk about it :)


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