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From Tetris to Destiny: The extreme evolution of video game music

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The Fifth Annual North American Conference on Video Game Music is coming to Ann Arbor. As you’ll hear in the interview above, music has come a long way since Tetris or Mario Brothers.

Today, games such as Halo and Destiny include hours of lush arrangements.

To talk about video game music’s evolution and the upcoming conference, video game music expert Matthew Thompson joined Stateside today. He’s with the University of Michigan’s School of Music, Theatre, and Dance.

Listen to the full conversation above.

On why early videogame makers used music

“I think the bottom line is that they wanted it to draw the player in more deeply," he said. "They wanted to make the environment more immersive." 

"And one of the things my students who take my class every semester are amazed by – these early people with Pong and Tetris, as you mentioned, they wanted advanced music. The people who created Pong wanted cheers when you’re doing well and hisses and boos when you’re doing poorly. They just didn’t have the technological means at that time to develop that.”

On what early videogames were breakthroughs because of their music

“One of the first ones to come to mind has to be Space Invaders," he said.

"Space Invaders, if you’ve ever played it, as you kill the monsters, the game play speeds up. And at the same time, the music, which is just a simple ‘bump, bump, bump, bump,’ in the base also speeds up dramatically. So, because of the way that the game play and the audio were synced up, it caused a panic. It was supposed to mimic your heart beat as you played. And that really caused a craze.”

On what we’re hearing in videogames today

“These days it can be extremely advanced, so you can have a full orchestra with arrangements that, you know, take 100 players, a choir. And … if you think, particularly in the home era, where you’re playing Nintendo or Super Nintendo, you would be in a room or on a screen and there was one music that played," he said.

"These days, depending on how you’re interacting with things in the room and what direction you’re moving, the music might build in a certain way. Different instruments come in to make you feel like you’re going the right direction, or they might pull out of the mix. It’s very interactive. That’s one of the best things about game audio.”

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