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The art of video game music

Molly Wood Dec 3, 2011

Video game music has come a long way since the days of Pac Man’s 8-bit boppy opening screen tune. Today’s games feature top composers creating ambitious scores that are built into the creative process of producing the game. We talk to Emily Reese, host of the Top Score podcast, which is dedicated to video game composition.

Emily is a host at Classical Minnesota Public Radio. She’s also a dedicated gamer so she pays special attention to the music of the games she plays. Modern game music, she says, is a whole new world. “Back in the day,” says Reese, “it was all 8-bit and 16-bit music, and now, they’re getting full orchestras and staffing studios and they’re recording at places like Skywalker Sound and Abbey Road. They’re putting money into making the music as good of an experience as the game playing experience is.”

Two games that Emily is playing, and listening to, this holiday season are “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3” and “Assassin’s Creed: Revelations.

“Modern Warfare 3” is the latest in the incredibly popular Call of Duty series, famous for its graphic, yet realistic, portrayals of wartime violence. Emily says, “This is music by Brian Tyler. He’s primarily a film composer but has written some really great music for this game. One of the things that Brian Tyler has done that I’ve noticed a lot of composers doing with these more or less over-the-top shooter games is he’s written a beautifully subdued score to just support the action as opposed to ‘here’s military trumpets and snare drums’. It’s much more subdued than that and pleasant to listen to while you’re going through what is obviously a traumatic game-play experience.”

As for “Assassin’s Creed: Revelations,” Emily is a big fan of both the games and the scores by Danish composer Jesper Kyd. “The really wonderful thing about the Assassin’s Creed games,” she says, “is that they’re actually science fiction games set in 2012, but you are experiencing the past, so you’re walking around in renaissance Italy. So he has this wonderful mixture of old sounds with new sounds.”

I asked Emily if these games stand alone as works of classical music or are they really just game components. “I think it very much depends on the game itself,” she says. “Some of these scores sound like they were ripped right from Carnegie Hall, they’re just so intricately written and these are classically trained musicians in a lot of cases. And then others make me want to go home and play.”

Also in this program, Olive is a new independent movie with a theatrical run and a big Hollywood name in the cast but it was filmed entirely with a phone.

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