Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Video Game Music

Have you ever played Sonic the Hedgehog 2 on a white iPhone 4 with the breeze of one of the five Great Lakes blowing through your hair? I have, but this isn't a tech blog and I haven't read Apple's Terms of Service.

Today we're actually talking about the music that soundtracks our favorite video games. So if you've ever hit Pause in the middle of a game just to sit in front of a glowing TV screen listening with your ears while giving your button-mashing fingers a break, read on.

Sonic turns 20 tomorrow so, in honor, M-OM is presenting this introduction to the game's soundtrack and the minds behind it including Michael Jackson, who would later have a connection to Sonic 3 (post coming soon).

Sonic 2 was a best-selling action/adventure game for the Sega Genesis. Rivaling Nintendo's star plumber, Sonic was like a cocaine-paced version of Super Mario. Released in November of 1992, the game brought manufacture SEGA's market share up 50% within six months. It was fun as hell and visually dazzling for that console's era of 16-bit pixelations and uninspired side-scrollers.

Adding to its luster was its soundtrack: eight glorious levels of computerized and repeated loops that eerily mimicked the upbeat and bouncy pop, soul and New Wave music of the time. Composed by first-time 16-bit musician Masato Nakamura, the Atari computers used to make the music only allowed for four sounds to be played at once. "I had a sound limitation and I had to make it work anyway," said Nakamura in an interview.

Although this was Nakamura's first foray into video game music, he was already making waves as a bassist in Dreams Come True, a j-pop band who would go on to sell 50 million records worldwide.

"I wanted Sonic to come across as cinematic," Nakamura continued. "I wanted melodies that the player would hum along with as they were playing, dramatic music for when the scenes were intense, climactic music for when bosses would show up and then tie it all together with an uplifting theme for the end credits. That was what I knew I wanted it all to be like. Nowadays, RPGs use this sort of musical technique a lot, but at the time, action games like Sonic didn't."

With the first two games under his belt, Nakamura left the series soon thereafter, but the music lives on years later. In 2003 Akon remixed ending theme, "Sweet Dream," for a PS3/Xbox release.

The sounds may have been cheesy, but the arrangements were addicting. My favorite level music is below. Post yours in the comments and download Sonic 2 for your Mac/PC here.

...or you could just get an iPhone.