Music In Video Games


Throughout the history of the video game industry, there has been many
changes concerning music in video games. Music in video games progressed
greatly within the life of the industry from 1972 to the present. These
progressions can be seen as improvements in quality which includes an increase
in the number of output channels, an increase in song length, a great
improvement in the quality of timbres, and also a general shift from non-
programmatic music to programmatic music which fits a game. If one takes a
close look, one can see that all of these improvements are either directly or
indirectly resulting from improvements in the technology which is used to
produce video game music. These improvements in technology include the increase
of the number of bits of a Sound Central Processing, the increase of Audio
Random-Access-Memory, the switch from the use of frequency modulation to digital
sampling, and the use of compact discs for playing music during a game. By
closely examining the contribution of the preceding technological advancements,
one can see that technology has indeed caused great improvements for music in
the video game industry.
The first technological enhancement which greatly enhanced the quality of
music in video games is the number of bits which a sound Central Processing Unit
(CPU) has. The sound CPU is a component in a video game system which controls
every single sound which a system produces. This, then, obviously includes
music. Specifically, the CPU controls what sounds are to be played at what time,
their volume and dynamics, and each sound\'s length and rhythm. In a sense, the
sound CPU acts as a conductor who has absolute control over every single
instrument in his orchestra. The increase of the number of bits serves to
improve music quality by increasing the number of channels of sound which can be
played at the same time. This will just be like increasing the number of
instruments in an orchestra. As in the romantic period, an increase in the
number of instruments can lead to a richer and more varied blend of sounds which
can be used to cause effects of drama and human emotions during game play. This
increase in emotional portrayal can also be seen as the first step towards the
rise of programmatic music in video games.
Another technological improvement in the industry which improved the
quality of music in video games was the increase in the amount of Audio Random-
Access-Memory (ARAM). The ARAM is a memory storage area which performs two main
functions. The first of its functions is to store data concerning the layout of
a song. This data contains information such as which voices will be played at
what time, specifications concerning a song\'s rhythm, dynamics and structure,
and any other information which is used by the sound CPU when it produces sounds.
When compared to music in the mainstream musical industry, the ARAM can be seen
as the musical score which musicians read in order to gain the information to
play a song. Since the ARAM stores a song\'s structure, increasing the size of
the ARAM will obviously have a profound effect on the overall length and the
variations in structure of a particular song. The result is that an increase in
ARAM will yield songs which are longer and contain more variations within its
structure. These changes are particularly important in video games since "a
monotonous melody which repeats every few seconds can lead to boredom and even
frustration in a player."1 Therefore, video game programmers are now becoming
more and more aware that programming long varying songs can keep a player from
becoming bored and switch to another game. Thus, this partially increases a
player\'s liking of a particular game.
The other function of the ARAM is to store information which defines the
timbres in a song. Sound, like many other things which occur in nature,
actually consists of waves which travel through a medium and then hit our
eardrums, causing them to vibrate and sending messages to our brain which is
interpreted as sounds. Like all the other waves in nature, sound waves can be
mathematically defined as a set of equations. Mathematical equations are
exactly the way in which a video game system stores its sounds. The sound wave
equations are used to define the timbres in a song. Through a process called
frequency modulation synthesis (FM synthesis), programmers define timbre by
creating and working with wave equations from scratch. Similarly to the
increase in the length of a song, an increased ARAM can also be used