Music in video games is about much more than having something on in the background. Like in film, VGM sets a tone, reflects a game’s theme and can add the final shine to an already polished experience. It’s a difficult element to get right, but when done well, music can elevate a game from good to great. From obvious inspiration to new horizons, the new state of VGM is more exciting than ever, and it’s only getting better.
When we think of VGM, some music that instantly comes to mind is the retro tracks in titles like Super Mario Bros or Tetris. While catchy, the early nature of this music doesn’t properly relate to how far the industry has come. In the modern day, for example, legendary film composer Hans Zimmer worked on the music for Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. This is essentially the top tier in terms of musical excellence, and it’s just one illustration of the effort put into game soundtracks.
Some of the more common and easily understood ways to implement high-quality music into games are to integrate radio stations with game systems. The GTA series has long been famous for this, with each of their titles since GTA3 on the PS2 featuring existing music to fit the game’s eras and themes. Vice City, for example, leaned heavily on the hits of the ’80s, utilizing artists like Rob Stewart and Michael Jackson.
Forza Horizon added similar functionality, and in a more accessible way since driving is constant in this title. As some of the most popular game series ever, there’s a cooperative effect with the music in these games, where music can make the games more popular, and the games likewise boost the visibility of the artists.
Outside of the AAA market, smaller developers have also made great strides in pushing the musical envelope. Since most of these titles aren’t going to invest the huge amount needed for official music licenses, they tend to go with their own internally developed soundtracks. This kind of music has been surging in popularity with indies, but more established mobile and Mac game developers have been taking a similar route.
Mac is especially interesting here because although the platform is already immensely popular in many forms of entertainment and work, it’s traditionally lacking in the gaming space. A new generation of free Mac games has bucked this trend in the last decade, with many multi-platform titles supported on a range of desktop and mobile devices. Since these titles are built on cutting-edge tech, they’ve been optimized for the best quality sound, which is often found on Mac systems.
Few video games can achieve their full potential without the right music, and no matter the platform, this concept continues to be proven true. From big-budget Hollywood-style blockbusters to indie titles, Mac games, and everything in between, music can make or break the experience. For theme, tone, relaxation, or getting your heart racing, achieving the best is a complicated act, but with the market already having come so far, the framework for the future of music in gaming has already been set.