Chapter 4: Widespread Streaming Audio and the Move to Optical Discs

This chapter discusses the generation of video games beginning with the 32-bit consoles that contained the widespread use of streaming audio. We will see how composers gained more freedom from technological constraints, how responsiveness of sound to player actions improved, and how all of the advances in technology affected the general landscape of game music and sound. At this point, music was acknowledged to be a very important component of games, and opinions regarding its execution were developing. Unique styles of game music were also emerging. This was likely due to the fact that there were more video game studios in more diverse areas (we begin to see prominent video game development companies in many more locations besides Japan), and more genres of gameplay were becoming possible. Earlier Role-Playing Games, for example, all had distinctive stylistic traits in their soundtracks, but many of them were developed by the same company (Square) and a larger portion of them emerged from a very specific location (Japan). North American Role-Playing Games have a different style of game play, and thus, a different soundtrack paradigm. It is during this generation, therefore, that video game music undergoes a stylistic explosion; no longer can music be identified easily by its console or even by its genre. This is unprecedented; even with the diverse sounds available on the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis, for example, it is not difficult to identify which console a given soundtrack on either system comes from.

4.1 Sega Saturn: Background and Sound

The 32-bit Sega Saturn was released in Japan in 1994 and 1995 in North America, and used CD-ROMs as game storage media. Sega developed its own Sega Custom Sound Processor, which had the capacity for 32 channels of 16-bit, 44.1kHz (CD quality) sound. However, the Saturn was somewhat limited in ability to utilize its hardware capabilities because of its design, which resulted in restriction of some of its memory. This was also because developers of this time were not accustomed to coding for devices with this design. The system was notably able to connect to the Internet for online play, a feature that Sega retained in later consoles. Online gaming was not widespread at the time, but has since proven to be one of the most important developments in gaming. The Saturn was popular, but its popularity was dwarfed by the release of the PlayStation, which is unfortunate, especially given that the Saturn was in many ways possibly more advanced. The decline in popularity was exacerbated by the lack of third party support, although some of the exclusive releases for the system have garnered their own nostalgic following, and the system as a whole, like many other Sega systems, has its own retroactive fan community. Therefore, while the system was released to mixed reviews, it has appeal to the retro gaming community in particular.

4.2 Sega Saturn: Games, Composers, and Listening

4.2.1 Nights Into Dreams (1996), Various Composers

Nights Into Dreams is an action game that follows two teenagers who enter a dream world. The game was praised for its graphics, as well as the flight handling within the game. A three-composer team, consisting of Naofumi Hataya, Tomoko Sasaki, and Fumie Kumatani developed the soundtrack. The soundtrack begins with a title song that has cinematic orchestral sound, with sweeping melodic themes. This type of title song would become more and more common in video games. The cinematic sound in Nights Into Dreams is different than most of the music for the Sega Genesis. The gameplay music, however, retains the quick, upbeat, pop/rock-inspired, synthesized sound that Sega composers have executed well in the past. The example below titled NiGHTS is the theme of the game; pay close attention when listening to this piece to how the orchestration, thematic material, and overall sound compare to other music for Sega. The other two examples are derived from in-game play.


“Suburban Museum”
“Growing Wings” (from Twin Seeds Level)

4.2.2 Panzer Dragoon (1995), Yoshitaka Azuma

The first instalment of the Panzer Dragoon series was released in 1995, and is a rail shooter game (or shoot ‘em up) in which the player, along with other members of a team, rides a dragon and attempts to prevent a rival dragon from taking over. The dragon automatically progresses through the game and the player has a targeting reticle that they use to aim and shoot at enemies. The soundtrack, composed by Yoshitaka Azuma, reflects the gameplay of this genre and during this era: the music is fast-paced and upbeat, encouraging player engagement. It also carries stylistic traits of many other Sega games, including synthesized sounds and fast electronic beats. This high-energy music is likely a result of the gameplay, as rail shooters require the play to respond quickly and be constantly on alert and engaged. There are some rock and pop influences, especially present in the main theme. However, the soundtrack is clearly distinct from other Saturn titles, such as NiGHTS, even though the stylistic tendencies consistent with Sega systems and described above are present.


“Opening theme”
“Departed Spirit”

4.2.3 Virtua Fighter (1994), Takayuki Nakamura

Virtua Fighter was ported to the Saturn from an earlier arcade game. The game is part of a series of fighting games created by Sega, and has had many further ports, spin-offs, and sequels. Like other fighting games, gameplay involves two combatants attempting to defeat one another two to three times, which results in one player’s victory. The music in Virtua Fighter, like the other titles discussed for the Saturn, has heavy pop/rock influences, and very active beats. However, the structure of the soundtrack is quite different, since it consists only of several character themes. Unlike character themes in Role-Playing games, the themes in Virtua Fighter are not intended to evoke thematic and character development. They are instead intended to create player association between onscreen character and music while maintaining player engagement. This could also be a means of creating an analogue between the change of character and the change in sound (i.e., the characters and moves change, but not necessarily the gameplay and/or setting). In this sense, the music responds in the same manner as the visuals.

“Theme of Jacky”
“Theme of Akira”
“Theme of Kage”

4.3 PlayStation: Background and Sound Specifications

The PlayStation console was released in Japan in 1994 (1995 in North America), and was Sony’s first gaming console. The PlayStation was immensely successful, being eventually the first console to ship 100 million units.[1] Like the Sega Saturn, the PlayStation used CD-ROM storage for its games. Therefore the PlayStation is also capable of CD-quality audio, although it has fewer available sound channels than the Saturn, containing 24 in total. The PlayStation has an interesting background, as it was initially intended to be a joint venture between Sony and Nintendo: Nintendo signed a contract in 1986 with Sony to develop a CD-ROM add on to their SNES. This plan fell through, and Sony eventually developed the PlayStation as their project.[2] Interestingly, one of the primary employees involved in this project, Ken Kutaragi, was originally inspired to begin this project because he was “dismayed by the [NES’s] primitive sound effects” while watching his daughter play.[3] The PlayStation had excellent 3D graphics for its time, and was praised by Microsoft CEO Bill Gates, which is especially interesting since it was Microsoft who would eventually create one of Sony’s main competitors, the Xbox. The console targeted an older audience, with teens and young adults as their primary player base, in contrast to the tween and preteen player base of Sega and Nintendo. Another important development of the PlayStation was in its ability to play back audio CDs; this would be retained across future CD-ROM systems, and in the later consoles, DVD (and Blu-ray) playback was possible. The success of the PlayStation, therefore, likely contributed to the decline in cartridge use.

4.4 PlayStation: Games, Composers, and Listening

The PlayStation has a diverse game library, and as such, the music for the PlayStation is also incredibly diverse. With the emphasis on graphics in this generation of console games, movie sequences in games began to appear, also known as FMVs (Full Motion Videos). These sequences encouraged music of a more cinematic style, as the accompaniment to these FMVs was not intended to loop, and was scored to follow specific visual events, much as a film soundtrack would. The gameplay music retained a lot of qualities of the music for SNES games, and was very individual depending on the overall qualities and features of the game. Another important development in PlayStation music is the increased use of pre-recorded audio, especially for FMV sequences. Often full-length songs with heavy post-production would be played back during these movie sequences. This is a very important indication of the time and concern that was put into game music by this time, and the emphasis placed on making game music excellent and memorable. The release of CD game soundtracks also became more widespread and popular outside of Japan, especially for long Role-Playing Games such as Final Fantasy. Game music was developing a market in its own right, as a listening genre, no longer just background music.

PlayStation Listening:

Nobuo Uematsu: Final Fantasy VII, “Aerith’s Theme”
Nobuo Uematsu: Final Fantasy VII, “One-Winged Angel”
Michiru Yamane: Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, “Final Toccata”
Michiru Yamane: Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, “Requiem for the Gods”
Yasunori Mitsuda: Chrono Cross, “Time’s Scar”
Yasunori Mitsuda: Chrono Cross, “Time’s Grasslands”
Metal Gear Solid, “The Best is Yet To Come”
Metal Gear Solid, “Theme”

4.5 Nintendo 64: Background and Sound Specifications

The Nintendo 64 (N64) was released in 1996 in Japan, and boasted the most advanced processing technology of its generation. The Saturn and PlayStation only contained 32-bit processing, in contrast to Nintendo’s 64-bit. Unlike the other consoles of its generation, however, Nintendo continued to use cartridges, which restricted the game storage capabilities considerably. The console was praised for its 3D graphics and processor, but compared to the PlayStation in particular, was limited in its game library. Without the larger storage capabilities of CDs, Nintendo 64 games could not incorporate FMVs as much as PlayStation games. This was not a drawback in gaming necessarily, but it did influence the music; fewer FMVs resulted in fewer tracks synced to picture (which encouraged cinematic style), and more music influenced by earlier game music, especially in titles such as Mario or Zelda that had NES or SNES releases. There are some very important musical developments in N64 games, with games such as Donkey Kong 64 (1999) containing karaoke-style rap tracks, and Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (1998) including a musical instrument as a key gameplay feature (this will be discussed at length later).

4.6 Nintendo 64: Games, Composers, and Listening

A lot of the sound and compositional characteristics of the music for Nintendo 64 games remained similar to those of the SNES, especially regarding style, but with better quality and resolution of sound, and more of a focus on the interactive, early game-inspired style of music, rather than the cinematic. However, this generation made the importance of video game music and its effect on the listeners and appeal very apparent. Many of the popular games for Nintendo 64 were sequels or follow-ups to previously released Nintendo games, which is likely why the stylistic characteristics remained so similar. At this point, distinctions in music for different genres also became clear; music for RPGs, for example, would have very different qualities than music for side scrolling (now 3D) action games. Genre-specific music will be discussed in more detail later on in this text. Following is a discussion of selected N64 soundtracks.

4.6.1 Zelda series

Ocarina of Time is examined for a couple of important reasons: first, it is another instalment by Koji Kondo in the Zelda series, which has been discussed and encouraged for listening in previous chapters. Additionally, the game contains a musical element as a key focus in the game. The main character, Link, is given an Ocarina, which he uses to transport himself to different time periods that he has previously visited. The player initiates use of the ocarina, and then uses specific buttons to play melodies that Link has “learned” over the course of the gameplay. Accurate completion of melodies results in Link being able to transport himself. This is interesting not only because an interactive musical element is so integral to the game, but also because of the impact it has upon the soundtrack. Many of the tracks in Ocarina of Time feature the sound of the ocarina, especially as a solo or melodic instrument. The follow-up to Ocarina of Time, Majora’s Mask (2000) also included the use of the character’s ocarina as an integral gameplay component.


Ocarina of Time, “Title Theme”
Ocarina of Time, “Enter Ganandorf”
Ocarina of Time, Ocarina Melody: “Song of Time”
Ocarina of Time, “Lost Woods”
Majora’s Mask, “Title Demo”
Majora’s Mask, “Fencing Grounds”
Majora’s Mask, Ocarina Melody: “Awake Sonata”

4.6.2 Grant Kirkhope, Rare Studios

Grant Kirkhope was born in 1962, in Edinburgh, Scotland. He worked for Rare studios before eventually becoming a freelance composer, where some of his more notable titles included Donkey Kong 64 and Banjo Kazooie (1998). Kirkhope’s soundtracks are characteristically fast-paced, very rhythmically driven, and tend to use specific instruments to evoke a character idea or concept. In Banjo Kazooie, for example, Kirkhope integrates a synthesized banjo sound, and other bluegrass style music, quite extensively, while conga drums are used in Donkey Kong. Donkey Kong also opens with a rap song. This song, DK rap, contains a repetitive hook, and adds a lyric track during playback, allowing the player to learn the words of the song. The gameplay tracks are very stylistically similar to those of other Nintendo games that evolved from their side scrolling counterparts (such as Mario), and serve to both engage the player, and provide an environment and reference point, which, in the case of Donkey Kong, is the jungle. Listen for the similarities and differences between the Donkey Kong and Banjo Kazooie soundtracks. Both soundtracks are very similar in musical style, with unique instrumentation that is depicts elements each game’s setting.


Donkey Kong 64, “DK Rap”
Donkey Kong 64, “Monkey Smash”
Banjo Kazooie, “Spiral Mountain”
Banjo Kazooie, “Banjo Overture”

4.7 Conclusion, 32/64-bit

This generation contained a large advancement in the use of 3D (or pseudo-3D) graphics and gameplay, an indication and foreshadowing of the immersive aspect that would be so prominent in later generation games. The overall awareness of music’s importance in games increased, with higher production quality, professionally recorded songs added to soundtracks, and soundtracks being released on CD as their own entity. Stylistic characteristics continued to persist through the generation, as many of the composers for specific games remained the same and the developments in technology primarily allowed for more realistic sounding instruments and larger storage. The biggest development of this generation was the capability of using streaming audio. This made long, pre-recorded audio tracks quite widespread in games, especially alongside FMVs. Previous storage capabilities simply wouldn’t allow this, at least not at a sound quality that would be appropriate or pleasing to listen to. The same development can be seen in the visual domain of games at this time, as graphics improved and the FMV became prevalent throughout games, especially on the PlayStation. Streaming audio and the use of large pre-recorded audio pieces represent a means for scoring these sequences so that the music functions analogous to the visuals (linear songs alongside FMVs as opposed to looping media).

4.8 The next generation: DVD Optical Discs

The following generation saw primarily advancements in graphics, gameplay rendering, and sound quality. Part of this was due to advanced processing capabilities within the new consoles, but much was also due to the larger storage capabilities presented by the use of DVD optical disks. We will examine the PlayStation 2, the Xbox, the Nintendo GameCube and the Sega Dreamcast in this chapter. The PlayStation 2 and Xbox both opted for DVD-ROM as their storage method, while the GameCube and Dreamcast opted for mini-DVDs (GameCube), as well as mini CDs and a type of proprietary storage (Dreamcast). The GameCube and Dreamcast lagged considerably in success compared to the PlayStation 2 and the Xbox, and this use of different storage medium was a contributing factor, along with the lack of major third-party support for both consoles. Like a lot of consoles that had less popularity during their release, however, both the Dreamcast and the GameCube have generated retrospective interest, and many acknowledge that the Dreamcast especially, which was the first release of the four, was ahead of its time (like many other Sega consoles).

4.9 Nintendo GameCube

The Nintendo GameCube, released in 2001, represents Nintendo’s first venture into optical disc storage media, although the console uses a proprietary mini-DVD rather than standard DVD-ROMS, and therefore, does not support DVD playback. The GameCube also has limited online gameplay support. The most popular games for the GameCube were the in-house follow-ups and sequels to many earlier games (such as Mario and Zelda), but there were quite a few successful third-party games, especially in the action/RPG genres. The primary drawback of many GameCube games, compared to their Xbox and PlayStation 2 counterparts, remains the storage method: Nintendo mini DVDs store about 1.5 GB of data, compared to over 8GB of data possible on the DVD-ROMS that are used in the PS2 and XBox. This had an impact on both the quality of graphics as well as the scope of the games. The Nintendo GC, therefore, did not live up to the PS2 and Xbox in widespread popularity. Music for GameCube tends to be higher resolution and higher quality than music in N64, with genre-specific stylistic similarities.

4.9.1 Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker (2002)

Like Ocarina of Time, this game also involves direct interaction with a musical object as an integral component to the gameplay, although in this game this object is a baton called a Wind Waker, which the player has to use to conduct in the game. While the main character, Link, is conducting, music plays in rhythm with his conducting patterns. The soundtrack retains a lot of qualities of previous Zelda games, including lyrical, ubpeat melodies and heroic themes. Also notable is the amount of wind instruments used in the game, including flute-like instruments and bagpipes; which seem to have become a trademark for Zelda games. The Wind Waker takes place on a group of islands, which is a different setting than other Zelda games, and the music reflects this setting by including Celtic instruments, Mediterranean guitar, and castanet sounds (all sounds from island regions). This can also be observed in the titling of tracks, like “Pirates”.


“The Legendary Hero”
“Dragon Roost Island”

4.9.2 Baten Kaitos Origins (2006), Motoi Sakuraba

Baten Kaitos Origins is a Role-Playing Game that used a unique card storage system for character, equipment, and attack elements. The game was a follow-up to an earlier Baten Kaitos game, released in 2003, and both had soundtracks composed by Motoi Sakuraba. The game was released late in the life cycle of the GameCube, in 2006, and did get a warm reception from critics and players, although this was likely overshadowed by the release of the Wii console later that year. Like a lot of RPGs, Baten Kaitos Origins contained a pop ballad-style song that would be the main theme of the game, titled Le Ali Del Principio. The lyrics to this theme were written by Sakuraba’s wife, and the song was performed by his (then) 9-year old daughter.[4] There are several rock and pop influences throughout the game (such as in “Chaotic Dance 2”, see below), and even use of side effects alongside music (as in “Ruins”). General stylistic traits of music for RPGs of this era, including lengthy melodies, can also be observed in the soundtrack (“Hometown of the Past”).


“Le Ali Del Principio”
“Chaotic Dance 2”
“Hometown of the Past”

4.10 Sega Dreamcast

The Sega Dreamcast was the first release of its generation, hitting shelves in Japan in 1998, almost three years prior to the PS2. The Dreamcast was Sega’s final console. While not as successful as its generational counterparts, the Dreamcast was considered by many to be ahead of its time; it was actually the first console to contain a built-in modem, easing online play. The Dreamcast faltered because it attempted to lower costs at the expense of technical capabilities, a difficult decision when other consoles were opting for ever-increasing graphic realism.[5] The system also had limited third-party support, although many of the games that were released for the Dreamcast are gaining recognition in the present. Also, much like the GameCube, Sega opted for mini discs, and its own proprietary storage medium, the GD-ROM. These proprietary media were intended to restrict piracy, but had limited storage space, much like the GameCube discs (1GB for the Dreamcast’s GD-ROM). This also meant that the Dreamcast could not also function as a DVD player, a drawback shared by the GameCube. This was a desirable feature at the time, due to the high price of standalone DVD players.

4.10.1 Phantasy Star Online (2000), Hideaki Kobayashi and Fumie Kumatani

Phantasy Star Online represents one of the first console-based online multiplayer games, and the game features both online and offline modes of play. Phantasy Star Online is a Role-Playing Game that differs slightly from many others of its genre because it uses a real-time combat system, rather than a turn-based action-selection system. This means that the gameplay is much faster-paced and immediate, rather than involving selection of actions through a list of text. The player, as in many computer-based RPGs of the time, selects a type of character (based on fighting style) that can be customized in appearance and ability. The story of the game follows this character as they examine locations for a habitable place to relocate a civilization. The game was a substantial jump towards a completely new type of gameplay on consoles, and was immensely successful, eventually being ported to many other systems, including the GameCube and Xbox. This type of online gameplay was, until this point, primarily available on personal computers. Since the game has a science fictional and space-based setting, the soundtrack contains a lot of synthesized sounds, evoking futuristic, space-like environments. Additionally, the music becomes much more ambient and atmospheric in a lot of areas. This is perhaps in response to the type of gameplay expected of online games: generally longer (lasting weeks, months, or years, rather than a few days), and with more objects and actions to visually keep track of, especially when playing with a large group or at a high difficulty. Compare the qualities and style to the soundtracks we have explored for other RPGs, such as Final Fantasy, or Chrono Trigger. Some elements of this soundtrack are similar to the RPG genre, and some are different, and reflective of the online environment and the differing gameplay style.


Hideaki Kobayashi: “A Song for Eternal Story”
Hideaki Kobayashi: “Mother Earth of Dishonesty Part I”
Hideaki Kobayashi: “Growl, from the Depths of the Earth”
Fumie Kumatani: “Kink in the Wind and the Way, Part I”
Fumie Kumatani: “From Seeing the Rough Wave”
Fumie Kumatani: “Can Still See the Light”

4.11 PlayStation 2/Xbox

The PlayStation 2 and Xbox were the most popular systems of the DVD-ROM generation. I discuss them together for a couple of reasons: 1) they use the same storage medium, 2) many games were released on both (in addition to PC/Mac), and 3) the capability of the hardware is quite similar, leading to very similar quality in graphics and sound. The games library did differ somewhat for the consoles, and exclusive titles for the Xbox tended to be primarily first or third person shooters, while the PlayStation 2 exclusives were mostly third-person action games or RPGS. The PlayStation 2 outsold the Xbox worldwide, but the Xbox had several of its own games and technology that had quite an impact, which was influential to both gameplay and game sound. The most notable difference in sound technology was Xbox’s support of the Dolby Digital 5.1 system during interactive playback; previous systems were only capable of using Dolby Digital during cut scenes.[6] This contributed to the depth of high-action content games such as First Person Shooters available on the Xbox. Players need to be aware of enemies that are surrounding them in such games, and sound plays an important role in establishing event localisation cues. Therefore, interactive surround sound is valuable during FPS and other fast-paced games. While the interactive surround sound was primarily used for sound effects, it encouraged other development in interactive game sound, and games such as Halo (discussed at length later in this text) were extremely innovative in this regard.

4.11.1 Silent Hill Series, Akira Yamaoka

Silent Hill is a series consisting of several horror-themed games, the first of which was released in 1999 for the PlayStation. The game, which is set in a fictional American town, tried to evoke a more Hollywood-style environment in order to draw more North American gamers. Silent Hill (1999) is a psychological thriller, inspired by literature, unlike many of the zombie-themed horror games that are more overt and fast-paced, often incorporating elements such as jump scares. The gameplay type in Silent Hill is third-person action and involves a lot of puzzle-solving elements. The series uses a lot of symbolism in the games, a feature common to both literature and American psychological thriller films. This adds another layer to the game, although a subtle and understated one (especially during a period in which games are becoming increasingly more saturated with graphics and action). The music effectively sets this game, containing subdued themes, limited timbres and instruments, and delicate use of sound processing. Akira Yamaoka effectively illustrates the solitude and unsettling nature of these games.


Silent Hill, “Theme”
Silent Hill 2, “Laura’s Theme”
Silent Hill 2, “A World of Madness”
Silent Hill 3, “Heads No. 2”
Silent Hill 3, “Dance With the Night Wind”

4.11.2 God of War (2005), Various Composers

God of War was released for PlayStation 2 in 2005, and used ancient Greek mythology (a loose depiction thereof) as its setting and narrative. The third-person action game followed the story of Kratos, who attempts to avenge himself against Ares, the God of War, after he was tricked into killing his own family.[7] The gameplay involves hack-and-slash type combat, fast-paced action, and very lofty, titan-esque themes. The soundtrack adequately portrays this in scope, style, and sound team size – several composers worked on it, including Gerard K. Marino, Ron Fish, Winifred Phillips, Mike Reagan, Cris Velasco, Winnie Waldron, and Marcello De Francisci. The music in God of War uses Greek and Ancient Near Eastern-associated instruments to depict setting, and incorporated some melodies referencing ancient Greek music (especially in the use of chromatic half steps followed by larger musical leaps). There is also a heavy low brass, string, and choir presence throughout, giving the soundtrack a more cinematic and grandiose presence. Note that while the music is incredibly dense in its orchestration, it is actually not as fast-paced and energetic as some previous soundtracks for such action-oriented games. We will begin to see more frequently that as graphics and sound effects become more realistic, the music moves away from the hyper-rhythmic style so popular in early games.


“Kratos and the Sea”
“Splendor of Athens”
“End Title”

4.11.3 Final Fantasy XII (2006), Various Composers

Final Fantasy games are renowned for their lengthy and well-crafted soundtracks, and as we learned previously, Nobuo Uematsu remains one of the most popular composers of video game music. Final Fantasy XII marks the first instalment of the series with a soundtrack not composed by Uematsu, as he had departed Square to work independently at this time. A three-member team consisting of Hitoshi Sakimoto, Hayato Matsuo, and Masaharu Iwata composed the soundtrack, although Nobuo Uematsu made a contribution as well. Like other Final Fantasy soundtracks, it remains notable for its memorable themes and melodic content. Also like many other Japanese Role-Playing Games (J-RPGs), especially in the post-PlayStation era, it contains a full-length pop song, which often serves to help promote the game. This song, “Kiss Me Goodbye”, (English title) was performed by Angela Aki and composed by Nobuo Uematsu. It became a major hit in Japan, although it never saw similar pop chart success in North America. Hitoshi Sakimoto composed the majority of the soundtrack for the game, and noted how difficult it was to follow in Uematsu’s footsteps, opting out of extensive interaction with Uematsu while he was composing to avoid his music sounding too much like Uematsu’s.[8] The result was a soundtrack that retained some of the key qualities of J-RPG soundtracks, but that was substantially different than the previous Final Fantasy titles.


Hitoshi Sakimoto, “Theme of Final Fantasy XII
Taro Hakase and Yuji Toriyama, “Hope” (ending credits)
Nobuo Uematsu, “Kiss Me Goodbye”

4.11.3 Halo: Combat Evolved (2001), Martin O’Donnell and Michael Salvatori

Halo was perhaps one of the most influential of the Xbox-exclusive titles, eventually resulting in many sequels, spin-offs, and fan media, including both authorized novels and fan fiction. Halo was widely praised as being one of the best first-person shooter games available for a home console at that time. The game follows the story of John, or Spartan-117, a super soldier defending the planet from a race of aliens known as the Covenant.[9] Throughout the game, 117 receives instructions and feedback from an Artificial Intelligence (AI) companion, Cortana. The music was composed by Martin O’Donnell and Michael Salvatori. The Halo theme itself has also become iconic, consisting of a choir opening reminiscent of Gregorian chant, followed by the action packed drum and string sequence. Something very notable regarding the Halo soundtrack is the use, reuse, and repurposing of a singular theme throughout the game. Elements from the title theme recur in the music from every level, but the context is changed. O’Donnell achieves this by using techniques such as changing the instrumentation, the arrangement, or fragmenting components of the theme. This musical quality persists even in the Halo 2 soundtrack (and later sequels), and also has an impact on other games. This use of theme is discussed at length in section two of this text.


“Title Theme”
“Brothers in Arms”
“Perilous Journey”
“Covenant Dance”

4.12 Reception of Video Game Music

Game music during this time became more obviously important: more complete and individual soundtracks emerged during the 8-bit era and through the 16-bit era, and during the 32-bit era game soundtracks were regularly released on CD for individual purchase. Some of these soundtracks were so large in scope that they contained over one hundred tracks. This indicates that in this short period of time (only slightly over a decade), game music had progressed from being primarily implemented to lure arcade customers, to becoming a genre of music that could be listened to on its own outside of gameplay. By the early HD generation, there were several touring symphonic concerts dedicated to video game music, bands dedicated to remixing video game music, and many other such performance groups.

4.12.1 Video Game Music Performances

Video game music has become an important part of symphonic performance in the last decade and a half, and the reception of video game music in the concert hall is well documented.[10] Video game music symphonies tend to be extremely well attended, and this has generated discussion surrounding the importance of video game music concerts to the public interest, and as a result, the fiscal health, of many symphonies.[11] Audience participation and involvement tends to be different at video game music concerts as well. Traditional classical music concerts generally involve attendees dressing up semi-formally or formally, and sitting in the concert hall without talking, clapping, or otherwise interacting with the musicians until the ends of pieces. Attendees at video game concerts often dress up in the costume of their favourite character, contrary to the potentially restrictive formal wear one would wear to an opera. The audience is encouraged to clap and cheer during pieces, and some concerts even include active audience participation. This makes the concert a much more interactive experience than traditional symphony concerts, and perhaps more appealing to the younger generations that are so accustomed to interactive technology and media. Video game symphony performance became widespread and popular primarily during the 2000s, but there were a few video game music concerts that preceded this. The Orchestral Game Music Concerts began in 1991, and ran until 1996. These concerts occurred in Tokyo and included performances of music from various video games. Germany followed this in 2003 with Symphonische Spielemusikkonzert (Symphonic game music concerts), a series inspired by the Orchestral Game Music Concerts that would become the first of its kind outside of Japan. This concert was intentionally held alongside other game industry events, such as the Game Convention (GC), to encourage attendance. These early video game concerts, however, were geographically limited (Tokyo and Germany) and did not include touring or other widespread repeated performance. This would not occur until the mid-2000s, when several game music symphonies began, most of which now tour nationally or worldwide. Some of the more common video game symphonies include Final Fantasy: Distant Worlds, Play! A Video Game Symphony, and Video Games Live.

4.12.2 Remixes – OverClocked

There are also several bands dedicated to the remixing, covering, and re-working of video game music. This is influenced by the popularity of game music, and indicates that game music is an ideal genre to perform and remix. OverClocked, which was launched in 1999, provides a unique platform for users to experience remixes and reworkings of video game music. The website describes itself as an “organization dedicated to the appreciation and promotion of video game music as an art form”.[12] The works uploaded are called “ReMixes” (rather than re-mixes or covers) because the founder, David W. Lloyd, imagined them to be collections of reworkings and re-arrangements of existing game music, rather than alterations to master tracks (and therefore not truly remixes).[13] This website has resulted in the dissemination of a multitude of fan-made works, including more than 3000 ReMixes by more than 900 contributors. Lloyd’s intent was that the site would be a non-commercial platform, but contributor attribution is required, indicating the importance the site places on artistic integrity. Over 105 albums of these remixes have been released as of 2016.[14] Another interesting feature is the online community and forums, which provide a type of “peer review” platform, as users can comment on other ReMixes. The ReMixes are generally well received even among those in the game music industry, and many composers have praised the ReMixes of their works. Some video game composers have even contributed to the database, including Jeremy Soule, who provided a remix to Final Fantasy VI, and George Sanger, who in 2002 was the first industry game composer to provide a remix. Additionally, several ReMixers have gone on to working in the video game music industry, including Dain Olsen (Dance Dance Revolution), Jillian Aversa (Civiliation IV), Andrew Aversa (Monkey Island 2 Special Edition), Jimmy Hinson (Mass Effect 2), and Danny Baranowsky (Super Meat Boy). Therefore, OC Remix is not just an important display of the general public’s enthusiasm for game music; it has also provided a platform for independent musicians who have a passion for game music to be noticed.

4.13 Cinematic or Interactive?

During this period we also begin to see a divergence in aesthetics, however limited, between sound that is derived from cinematic styles and sound that retains “video game” sound – essentially, the qualities that made early game music unique and evolved from those traditions. Even in the High-definition (HD) consoles (which will be discussed later), composers had to decide between live instrumental sound and sampled (synthesized) sound, depending on how interactive they wanted the sound to be, or if they wanted to execute passages that are unplayable by live instruments. Because MIDI information does not contain any sound – only 1s and 0s that instruct the sound chip which sound to make, it is more adaptable to interactive input. Recorded audio still has the limitation that once the sound is played, it cannot be modified. Changes in speed and other sound properties are becoming more possible with technological advantages, however, and advancements continue to be made. The type of synthesized and interactive sound became an aesthetic that many composers sought after, and not merely because of technological limitations – potential had grown beyond those limitations and using such music was an aesthetic choice. There was also a trend emerging, however, in which video game music began to sound more like film music, or at least as if it was inspired by film music. One of the pioneering composers of the cinematic style of composition was the American composer Jeremy Soule.

4.13.1 Jeremy Soule and Legacy

Jeremy Soule was born in the Midwestern United States in 1975. He is one of the first extremely successful western composers of video game music, and one of the first American composers to contribute heavily to the Role-Playing Game genre.[15] Soule started working for Square in 1994 after sending a demo tape to both LucasArts and Square. He has substantial classical influences, including Debussy (harmony), Wagner (operas), and Mozart (form). Soule is primarily known for the Elder Scrolls series, and Guild Wars, although he has written the soundtracks to many titles and has a continuously prolific output. Jeremy Soule’s music reflects stylistic traits by other RPG composers such as Nobuo Uematsu, but has heavy cinematic influences, which are especially apparent in the thematic content and orchestration of his music.


 Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, Nerevar Rising
Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, Bright Spears, Dark Blood
Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, Shed Your Travails
Guild Wars II, Overture
Guild Wars II, Call of the Raven

4.14 Conclusion

While there were breakthroughs in technology during this generation, including the use of ROMs, more storage space, and faster processing, the music did not undergo any major transformations as large in scope as the change between the 8-bit and 16-bit generations, for example. The resolution of graphics evolved, and visuals became more realistic, therefore the advancement of sound was a logical course of action, leading to more pre-recorded music and orchestral instruments (live and sampled). Video game music became a listening medium in its own right during this generation; video game soundtracks began to be consistently released on CD or for download, and the video game orchestra developed and gained substantial popularity. Video game music was consistently performed at events, and game music stood a category in video game awards. Very distinct styles were emerging, and composers could now choose freely between pre-recorded audio and MIDI sounds for aesthetic preference, rather than as a result of technical limitations. The focus continued to be more immersive, realistic sound, which would continue to the next generation. However, as the sounds became more immersive, with some even generated live during gameplay, sound effects began to take precedence, and the memorable, catchy, melodies of the early games began to fade and give way to more cinematic sound or atmospheric sound in many cases. This will be explored more in the next section, as we begin to examine the high definition generation.

[1] “Playstation 2 Breaks Record as Fastest Computer Entertainment Platform to Reach Cumulative Shipment of 100 Million Units.” Online resource,, accessed May 6, 2017.

[2] Swearingen, Jake. “Great Intrapeneurs in Business History.” CBS News Online, updated Jun 17, 2008,, accessed May 6, 2017.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Sakuraba, Motoi. Baten Kaitos Origins OST, CD liner notes.

[5] McFerran, Damien. “Hardware Classics: Sega Dreamcast.” Nintendolife online, Apr 16, 2015,, accessed May 6, 2017.

[6] “The Xbox Video Game System from Microsoft to Feature Groundbreaking Dolby Interactive Content-Encoding Technology.” Online press release archival,, accessed May 6, 2017.

[7] God Of War, Sony Computer Entertainment, 2005.

[8] Interview with Hitoshi Sakimoto. Final Fantasy XII Collector’s Edition Bonus DVD (DVD). Tokyo: Square Enix. 2006.

[9] Halo: Combat Evolved, Bungie, 2001.

[10] see videos such as, which includes Nobuo Uematsu playing the flute, and this video,, titled “We Love Video Game Music”, accessed May 15, 2017.

[11] Needleman, Sarah E. “How Videogames are Saving the Symphony Orchestra.” The Wall Street Journal online, Oct 12, 2015,, accessed May 15, 2017.

[12] From the Overclocked remix website,, accessed May 15, 2017.

[13] Bandit, Cat. “To OC or Not to OC, That Is the ReMix”, Hyper, March 2014, pp. 6–10.

[14] See, accessed June 12, 2017.

[15] “Interview with Composer Jeremy Soule at Play! San Jose.” Music4games online archive, June 6, 2007,, accessed May 6, 2017.