EPISODE X: Video Game Music

Max & Nicky discuss the evolution of video game music and why they prefer 8-bit and 16-bit video game music to most modern day vgm scores. With special guest Brent Weinbach.

Intro and Outro Music
Written, mixed, and produced by Nicky Weinbach

Note: While recording this episode, we misspoke a few times. At one point, Nicky mentions “8 bytes”, but he meant to say “8 bits”. (There are actually 8 bits in a byte.) At another point, Max mentions the score to the film Re-Animator¬†and says that its music is synthesized. In fact, the score is a mishmosh of real symphonic and electronic synthesized sounds. Finally, Nicky mistakenly says that Stephen Foster composed “Home On the Range”. The actual composer was Daniel E. Kelley with lyrics by Brewster M. Higley.

3 thoughts on “SPLITTING HAIRS

  1. Let me preface this by saying that I don’t care nearly as much about music in video games as you do.

    The 8 and 16 bit game soundtracks that you bring up are great, but I do think that your definition of what is real video game music is a bit limited. You’re focusing on games, mostly Japanese, mostly on Nintendo consoles from 1988 to 1995. There’s a lot more to video games, than that, and some of them have really great soundtracks. For retro stuff, Sim City 2000’s soundtrack is amazing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DDQY3zGEbQU. (my favorite two tracks start at around 2:00).

    Also, I think that a game’s style of music needs to match the content of the game. I’m playing Skyrim right now and its soundtrack is atmospheric, which I know isn’t your cup of tea, but it fits the mood and art of the game. I don’t know if you’ve played Skyrim, but its this expansive RPG set in a wintery mountain range. There’s moments when you climb to the top of a mountain and look out a frozen sea or an aurora and this contemplative choral music begins. Really beautiful. The Starfox theme or a lot of this other bombastic SNES era music would be really ridiculous in this context.

    That being said, I do at times miss the older, really in your face, epic video game music. I’m also playing through Final Fantasy VII right now, which I want to do a full debrief and review on with you guys later, and the music in it is really some of the best I’ve ever heard in a game. The Shinra music: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mgrBL0z2bg8&list=PLF9C9663CB23F0C77&index=9, this reggae-ish vibe when they go into the slums: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rpcKNiDBQjE&list=PLF9C9663CB23F0C77&index=15, this surf rock thing when they catch a Chocobo: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UofHbVbQPBg&index=30&list=PLF9C9663CB23F0C77. Nobuo Uematsu is great.

    Thought I’d throw in my favorite intro music to any videogame: Baldur’s Gate II: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i38_6oNPE24. Could that theme be a part of anything other than an old school RPG? It just makes you want to go on a fun adventure…

    • I think you’re missing the point, here, Steve: our argument is there once was an actual genre of video game music during those 8-bit and 16-bit era which was created out of the limitations the composers were faced with when writing the music. VGM scores had a very unique sound, and that sound is lost now, partially because there aren’t these limitations anymore. Thus, a lot of the vgm scores, today, sound like movie music or New Age music or something else entirely, but definitely not video game music. You argue for the score to Skyrim, yet, if you heard that score out of the context of a video game, you wouldn’t think twice that it was ever written for a video game. It would just sound like regular atmosphere music. Also, I think we talked about some games from Sega Genesis and Master System like Outrun (one of the best vgm soundtracks) and Ecco the Dolphin. Genesis has some of the best video game music out there. We also did talk about vgm scores post-16-bit era, and how we do like some of it like the stuff from Wario Land Shake It and Shovel Knight. But, even with Wario Land Shake It, that music doesn’t sound quite like the vgm scores from the 8-bit and 16-bit era because it doesn’t have the sound limitations the composers back then had. I reiterate: there’s a unique sound that was born out of those 8-bit limitations and reached a climax during the 16-bit era. That genre of music was really great, but only still exists through composers like Virt (Jake Kauffman) of Shovel Knight who have an appreciation for that great genre of music. -Nicky

    • Also, we talk about more Japanese composers of retro games because there were very few Western vgm composers during the 8-bit and 16-bit era in general…although I did mention Tim Follen in this episode who did the music for the Pictionary video game and that’s really good. Also, in general, the Japanese were way better composers than Western composers during the 8-bit and 16-bit era, and that’s why we focus on them. Watch this video in full: https://youtu.be/7A0SbGmnrXg This is actually an orchestrated version of this: https://youtu.be/J3ej58BlDwM And what about this from FFIV: https://youtu.be/l8PBB5Oixlk (this might be in the top 3 vgm tracks of all time) Can you honestly say that Sim City 2000 soundtrack holds up to these masterpieces? Again, Nobuo Uematso is a genius.

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