Quality Video Game Music Scores, Considering the Standards Set, and Personal Reflections

Author: Daniel DeCastro - daniel@decastromusic.com
With Additional Annotations by Mike Newman - newman@vgmusic.com
May 14, 2007


In this thesis, I will discuss several things which will then segue into a non-exhaustive 4 hour presentation of works from games of both eastern and western cultures.

  1. The current day standards in game music for the purpose of gaining a clearer understanding of what makes for good game scoring versus poor game scoring.
  2. I will provide some personal insight regarding how and why game music should be considered an area of critical analysis.
  3. Criteria for musical judgment of the pieces selected for presentation which includes testament to the diversity of game music, educational value of game music via capturing the interests of younger generations in the various musical genres found in games, Inspiration, the power of referential contexts, addressing critique of game music, and the latest developments in participation by the academic community, major musicians and orchestras involved.
  4. Video Game genres and the different musical approaches in each.
  5. A brief overview of some eastern composers, their contributions and samples of their works.
  6. Reflections on certain experiences regarding game music both in and out of academia, the way those experiences have impacted me, and certain suggestions to aid those interested in game scoring to take into consideration.
  7. Meta-Critique.

Note: The DVD which accompanies the paper titled "Main DVD" should be ready to play the chapters referred to when indicated in the thesis by an asterisk. The DVD titled "2nd DVD" contains material from western composers, the influence of Dr. Dinu Ghezzo in games, and my own musical samples in the respective folders.

Table of Contents

  1. Quality Video Game Music Scores, Personal Reflections, and Considering the Standards Set.
  2. Game Genres.
  3. Inspiration.
  4. Criteria for musical judgment.
  5. Criteria for quality works established.
  6. Poor Game Scoring.
  7. Different Types of Game Scoring Approaches.
  8. Early History of Game Music.
  9. Relevant History of Game Music to my Topic.
  10. Overview of Eastern Game Composers and Relevant Material.
  11. Similarities between game music and respected faculty at NYU.
  12. Personal Collection of Works.
  13. Meta Critique.
  14. Citations.
  15. Sources Cited.
  16. Video Sources.
Supplemental Material:
  1. Main DVD
  2. 2nd DVD
  3. Game Genres Document.

Quality Video Game Music Scores, Personal Reflections, and Considering the Standards Set.

Interested professors, laymen, students, and aspiring game music composers alike should attain a thorough, if not a general understanding about the possibilities, challenges, quality, reception, approaches, diversity, and evolution of video game music scoring if one is to aid, and encourage oneself or the student in music performance/composition for a well prepared career in game audio, or even outside of it. I believe even those who are not interested in game scoring should consider it because it may very well challenge one to think twice about one's preconceived notions, and in my experience I've witnessed many misstatements. Without such understanding, negative, misleading, and inaccurate notions would surface as has been the case both in and out of academia, from claims of game music being the "bastard cousin of film music" [1], to claims of game music being simplistic and uninteresting non-concert music, coupled with the missed opportunity to experience the works of highly talented, knowledgeable, and eclectic composers from which a wealth of musical information could be gained and applied both in and out of games. Insight into the various game genres, both educational and recreational, would be important in distinguishing between those games which are geared towards mature content, and those for all ages for those who are concerned with the ethics of gaming. Also, insight on how games provide musical inspiration, and how each game genre requires different musical approaches which pose different obstacles and challenges for a composer is important. Ultimately, I must demonstrate works and information I've come across after having compiled over 3000 hours of Video Game Music mp3's, listened through it all for works which satisfy my criteria, and gathered information on respected names/ensembles which have been involved in the game scoring process whether licensed or from scratch. Recently, significant barriers have been breached such as the inclusion of game music in an academic setting as was the case at Yale University on March 31st 2007 as the first major university to host a Game Music concert [2]. After reviewing my examples, I think that one can begin fruitful and informed discourse on effective game scoring, based on the standards witnessed, to aid aspiring composers, make improvements to my criteria, and enjoy a young and diverse musical world.

Game Genres

Attached separately to this paper, there is a comprehensive overview of various game genres. I can personally confirm the accuracy of this overview via references in the "Handbook of Computer Game Studies" by MIT Press, and my own personal experience. *Please read the document "Game Genres".


Inspiration from games for compositional purposes will be touched upon throughout my rundown of criteria for judging quality of game music. Also, track 3 of DVD contains an interview with the composer of the game "Lair" in which he briefly touches upon what inspires him. Many interviews have been done with composers regarding their inspiration and often times, attitudes towards the game content differ whether it be of a more serious or playful nature. Given my experience with games, I would imagine that inspiration would be no different than a film composer's inspiration, an opera composer's affinity with their chosen subject, or a concert composer's. I'm very interested in the philosophical implications within the storylines of certain games, and coupled with a rich imaginary world, it would be very inspiring to me.

Criteria for musical judgment

My criteria for determining an effective game music score will be its potential or ability to do the following things:

1) Demonstrate the importance, and application, of a well rounded musical education at all levels, both formal and informal in one's respective musical language and beyond.

It is important to demonstrate intelligent and mature decision making skills when approaching a game as game scores can be highly demanding on a composer just as it is so for film or concert music. With critique of game music coming from both camps, game composers who are passionate about reaching out to all audiences should also consider the standards of those camps as well. I believe we can all learn from one another to create quality works and see how far one's musical language can go. Gamers appear from all walks of life, so tastes can be very demanding and varied.

2) Demonstrate exceptional technical application of various musical techniques such as film scoring, concert arranging, and adaptive music techniques.

The composer should ideally be able to apply various techniques. In brief, there are computer generated, and live movie cutscenes in which a film scoring approach can be very effective. Game genres like first person shooters can make use of an adaptive approach as these games are most dependent on ambience and gestures throughout the interactive portions of the game. RPG's or "Role Playing Games", and adventure games make use mostly of film and looping techniques due to their frequent cutscenes, fast paced battles, and exploration nature. Historical simulation games can be treated no differently musically as one would approach a score to a History Channel Documentary.

3) Demonstrate the eclectic nature of game scoring such that it's potential in reaching out to audiences of all sorts is realized. This includes cultural awareness, and experimentation in putting works of varying genres together i.e. Hip-Hop with Classical, Avant-Garde with Rock, World music, experimental, etc.

American Composer John Adams has contributions to game music in Sid Meyer's "Civilization IV" for the PC platform. Such experimentation with game audio was very successful in representing the 20th century portion of this historical simulation game. If John Adam's music can work successfully in a game, any music can. I can imagine NYU faculty and experimental electronic composer Robert Rowe's music working in a game, and I've even found works very similar to those which are presented by NYU Music Composition Director, Dr. Dinu Ghezzo, during composer's forum showcases. Such is the eclectic nature of game scoring, and as the "Eclectic Method" of NYU Music Chairman Dr. Lawrence Ferrara suggests [3], separating oneself from the natural attitude or cultural biases can result in more productive discourse regarding music, whether in or out of games. Such experiments are not common however, and some hold that they can be quite risky to sales [4], nevertheless, they exist and this alone establishes video games as a legitimate experimental venue.

In another bracket of experimental nature, composers frequently combine genres of different natures like hip-hop with classical, world music with classical, ambient music with rock just to name a few, and although this has been done outside of games, such combinations attempt to fuse cultures together and I believe this serves a positive social function. This can be seen as an experiment in that we can see how games, through music and mutual enjoyment of them from people of all social backgrounds, can bring people together via effective contextualization of such music in a game world. As a result, elements from such music become familiar and more enjoyable when exposed to the individual genres outside of the game.

4) Demonstrate the power of game music as a teaching tool for young audiences and as a means to interest youth in music of all sorts by virtue of the visually referential power of games through discourse regarding the music theory of these works by trained and insightful faculty in university settings.

Arguments towards game music have been made as a means to debase it as music which "Stands Alone" such as the following:

"You can't enjoy the work without visuals."

I think this statement fails to consider a few things. The video game world is an astoundingly rich venue of imagination, new ideas/concepts, and technological innovation. When I hear music from a game, I don't associate the music I hear with imagery per say, but rather with the progressive state of the art world of technology, historical time periods through the use of musical genres of antiquity and the world, philosophical introspection through some rich dialogue in scenes from games like "Star Ocean 3" for instance where an atheist character has a conversation with a friend about why he visits the church for it's beauty and art; the problem of evil is a very common theme. Such things are very well capable of inspiring majesty in one's music in no different a manner than a concert composer would conceptualize their own works. Veteran and famed game composer Nobuo Uematsu has expressed disagreement with similar attitudes such as those who think that game music is simply background music.

In contrast however, I do think that game worlds can add a different layer of reference which may either amplify or diminish the quality of a musical work. When the Berlin wall was taken down, Leonard Bernstein had conducted Beethoven's 9th symphony near the site, and it most certainly gave an added reference and appreciation for the work. In much the same way, game music both stands alone and is complimented by the worlds which have given rise to those works, but where it is complimented by the game worlds, it can play a very interesting role. For persons who are oriented towards a specific cultural identity and are thus geared towards particular musical genres more so than others, game worlds can provide a musical reference they wouldn't otherwise have which can contribute to the appreciation of that musical genre outside of the game. For instance, the music of the game "Castlevania" is a combination of orchestral classical and progressive rock music with a baroque influence. If persons exposed to this music were initially geared towards some other genre, and were never really exposed to the work of Bach per say, this listener may very well end up appreciating Bach even more with the added reference of Transylvanian culture and atmosphere found in the game. After all, the composer from the Castlevania series does make plenty of Bach references, and I think this is one of many examples where music can enhance musical appreciation given that the music has interested the gaming population enough to do so.

As for my personal experience with game music, being an avid science connoisseur, I take great interest in science fiction and am highly influenced in my tastes by the work of Jules Verne. It has been documented that Jules Verne was the first to conceive of the elevator through his science fiction works. We were looking into the future through his works, and I like to think too that we may very well be looking into the future through the works of many video games. This Onto-Historical perspective lends richness to the experience of the music that is otherwise outside of the game for which the music was written. They are notions which can be applied when listening to a work by Beethoven, and even without such notions, having separated ourselves from the "Epoche" or "Natural Attitude" (One's personal Biases), we are still exposed to a rich, actively engaging sound with rhythms, melodies, harmonies, gestures, and styles from human beings around the world.

It worries me that I see people complaining about how they are listening to an electronic version of orchestral music. This musical "Uncanny Valley" [5] effect is common in critics of game music, from comments about it's missing a "Human" element to comments about how some game music is unplayable by human beings, and therefore not true music. One should note that the composers are sometimes limited by budget or data limitations such that they are forced to write using digitally sampled sound libraries to reproduce a live orchestral or instrumental sound. If time or budget allows, live arrangements are made of the music, and the MIDI mockups are often written out with this in mind. To address the critique, it is not because all game composers wish to replace a live orchestra, however, some do experiment with music that is not playable by human beings, but in no different a sense than a work by Edgard Varese, a highly respected composer. They have subjected themselves to equal amounts of scrutiny for trying new things, and I believe they ought to be respected for it. The consistency of translation from MIDI to live instrumentation has been demonstrated through and through, enough so to give credit to the composer's real world awareness of live instrumental pedagogy.

Given this fact, orchestration and knowledge of instruments is essential, and most certainly, one can gain knowledge about the process of writing for MIDI via game music while at the same time being aware of how it will sound like when played live. The book, "The Guide to MIDI Orchestration" was written by Paul Gilreath to aid MIDI composers, and he references game composers to his work as well. As one who has never had formal musical training, or even self musical training up until age 19, MIDI finally allowed me the means to express myself musically and gave me the ability to write music without pen and paper. The quality of my music was no different than one who would write with pen and paper, and I wrote my first symphonic work in 40 hours using the MIDI sequencer, Cakewalk 8.0. The work has expression, dynamic variance, is idiomatic to the instruments, but would be very difficult to perform. Nevertheless, according to professors and colleagues in both NYU and Queensborough Community College, I was told that I had written a quality work, and yet it was inspired wholly by game music in both writing process and stylistic influences. I attained substantial scholarships at NYU via my work and academic performance, so the opinions are pretty serious. If the world of game music managed to aid me in my educational and musical success, I can imagine the potential it can have for others.

The statement "I don't like it because it does not sound human" is also worrisome to me. Such a statement can lead to a slew of problems. This is because in most cases, no computer writes the music; it is ultimately a human being making the decisions in the composition process. And even if a computer did write it, the computer is still a product of human hands. In the end, I think this is a cultural bias and I worry that it will result in talent being left unrecognized. It has been the case that when one hears a live performance of a work which was originally written for three sine waves in a MIDI synthesizer, one would never think it came from a game. In this sense, my experience with game music exposes a fundamental bias in human judgment, and how surprisingly common it is amongst people who've never heard game music. I've been very impressed by MIDI mockups in the past, but I am always sure to make note that it sounds several times better when performed by fantastic live musicians. Having listened to all the live arrangements of Dragon Quest scores performed by the London Philharmonic has more than confirmed this to me.

A better perspective would be to see a game composer as one would see a Baroque harpsichord composer. The harpsichord was a dynamically leveled instrument, as it is the case with MIDI where often times composers deal with a dynamically level composing environment. Both the harpsichord and the synthesizer are the product of high level feats of human engineering. I like writing in MIDI because if I can get something that sounds good from it, I know I'm creating a fantastic live work. In a sense, writing with MIDI forces me to write high quality works as a result. All the notes in my chord, as I'm composing, are equally balanced, so I get the truest possible picture of which notes take precedence and stand out to the listener.

The issues I've brought up here should demonstrate the power of game music to challenge conventional notions and perhaps change the way we look at MIDI music. Hopefully the examples I've chosen will also result in academic recognition and discourse regarding the content of the music itself, and the way we see MIDI mockups as a "Black and White" snapshot of the picture, and not as a trivial and useless artifact.

5) Demonstrate ability to work effectively both in and outside of games regardless of the live or MIDI electronic format of the music, and via various arrangements of works into live-concert format from game music's electronic MIDI counterparts.

The most powerful point I can make regarding this criteria is the enormous participation by elite musical community. Here are but a few Orchestras involved in the performance of game music, and note that this list is non-exhaustive:

London Philharmonic
London Session Orchestra
Warsaw Philharmonic
Hungary Philharmonic
Tokyo Radio Orchestra
Tokyo Philharmonic
LA Symphony Orchestra
Seattle Symphony Orchestra
Moscow International Symphonic Orchestra
World Festival Symphony Orchestra
Yale Symphony Orchestra (Graduate Level)
FILM harmonic Orchestra Prague
Prague Symphony Orchestra
Czech Philharmonic
Prague Radio Symphony
Czech National Symphony Orchestra
Edmonton Symphony Orchestra

Orchestras all around the world perform game music to sold out concerts and bring together people from all backgrounds. They also bring to life the environment /story of the game and give it a human feel. This way, emotive qualities are not so alien to the viewer from the computer generated characters, which are often times seen as "Inhuman". It is strange that although this is an actual concern, cartoons are really no different, yet we do not consider cartoons as "Inhuman". Nevertheless, some insight into this comes from the following article found on an Indiana.edu webpage link:

"Japanese roboticist Masahiro Mori has an answer. According to what he calls the "Uncanny Valley" theory, the more human-looking a machine becomes, the more people are drawn to it. For example, a robot that has arms and legs and can talk but clearly looks like a machine is typically embraced as a scientific wonder. But at the point when a robot looks and acts almost human but not quite, people are repulsed and the approval rating plummets. The sudden dip is called the Uncanny Valley because something that comes across as an off-kilter version of humanity is, well, uncanny. It's profoundly disturbing when something blurs the line between human and non-human. Imagine a perfectly human-looking face that suddenly grimaces or smiles in a non-human way. Or recall, if you will, Arnold Schwarzenegger's Terminator character with part of its skin burned off, revealing the metallic parts beneath. Spooky. Due to the Uncanny Valley theory most roboticists have shied away from making artificial limbs and other robotic devices that look too "real." But there are some daring exceptions. For example, an inventor named David Hanson has ignored the taboo by creating a robot replica of his girlfriend's head. Using skin-like material and small facial motors, Hanson's head is able to mimic human expressions with amazing accuracy. Despite Dr. Mori's warning, reaction to the head has been positive. Perhaps when androids really do look and act human, they can avoid the uncanny valley." [6]

Game developers have an extremely difficult time modeling characters to look appealing to the public. But good music can certainly give an added depth to the characters, environments, and storylines found in games. Reference to past themes can help, such as the ideas of Wagner to represent heroism/battles, fused with the rhythmic propulsion of progressive rock percussive ideas, and the introspective and personal nature of the works of Bartok and Ligeti as a means to summon a sense of complexity and contempt in a character. Experimental works can fit well to games oriented towards capturing historical human development in arts and culture as has been the case in games like Civilization 4 for the PC platform. These are just but a few ways in which one can add depth to a game. The personal language of a composer can be allowed to shine as well and the freedom of expression that a game allows can very well result in this. Such was the case for Hitoshi Sakimoto in the game "Vagrant Story". He has acknowledged the personal nature of that work in past interviews [7].

6) Demonstrate ability to trigger emotive responses like tears, heart racing, and goose bumps or galvanic skin response, and ability to be intellectually stimulating/actively engaging via diverse harmonic pull, surprising modulations, motor rhythms, and well crafted melody.

An important emotional response to art happens to be one which is often found in cases where persons have ended up pursuing involvement in music for the rest of their lives; tingles, chills, goosebumps, technically termed Galvanic Skin Response. One of the subjects in a study of autobiographical memories recalls experiencing GSR as early as age 7, which was part of the subject's list of significant events that led to a lifelong and established passion for music (Sloboda, "Exploring the Musical Mind" pg 203). My own personal experience with music also confirms this, however, when I speak of such reactions to peers within the academic community, I have been wrought with critique when using such a reaction to justify my tastes. Some have even offensively suggested that GSR is a pleasure response which is triggered in the same area of the brain that narcotics and other unhealthy mind degrading substances stimulate during their active states in one's body to debase it as reason for musical enjoyment.

"Pleasure music" is a term that is seemingly looked down upon for certain reasons, and it is a bias I fear to be unjustified, misleading, and discouraging to those like myself who love to listen to and seek musical works which produce this pleasurable emotional response. It is also contrary to my philosophical position of "Secular Humanism", whose concerns are centered around a primary concern with fulfillment, growth, and creativity for both the individual and humankind in general while enhancing human well being in the process. The music I realize to be effective in producing this response happen to be works of fine technical skill, artistry, and craftsmanship, no more lacking in resourcefulness, knowledge of music, and sociological awareness than that of other contemporary composers, hence another reason why I am baffled when such critiques are made by certain professors or colleagues. Given this, that any musical work of any sort of quality be looked down upon in light of the fact that persons may attain this same response from work of far "Lesser" quality (According to critics) serves to impede understanding about why people attain such experiences whether the reasons be sociologically, or biologically out of their control.

To demonstrate that there are those who exist that would shun the idea of art for pleasure, I have taken a look at the "Journal of Consciousness Studies Vol. 7, 8/9 2000" and found an essay critiquing the work of Drs. V.S. Ramachandran and Dr. W. Hirstein in their essay "The Science of Art: A Neurological Theory of Aesthetic Experience". In her response to their work, one by the pseudonym "Donnya Wheelwell", explicitly titles her essay, "Against the Reduction of Art to Galvanic Skin Response", in which she adds as a footnote that her response has been opposed by agencies too numerous to mention, yet pleads that her rhetorical exaggeration not distract them from her main line of argument. I would like to once and for all contribute to utterly refute such a position on the basis that those who would take such a position would ask of those like myself to literally throw themselves to the mercy of an authoritarian approach to art which religiously accepts an abstract as an actual concrete form of "Intellectual" pursuit. I am of the position that art should not be seen as a science which can find cures for cancer, as a language that communicates literal messages, or as a math that can build rockets, but simply as a form of entertainment that creates emotional satisfaction in others that they may enjoy life, and appreciate the beauty it has to offer in the hopes that such an appreciation would serve to motivate people to live healthier, brighter, and fulfilling lives.

"Great art is generally taken to express the most refined sensibilities and highest aspirations of humanity. Its value is that it lifts us above our mundane concerns with livelihood, family, status, reproduction, friends, and the pursuit of superficial pleasures, though of course, great art may also serve to contextualize such concerns. In view of this traditional social role for art, it is offensively arrogant to try to reduce it to some simple empirical measurement, such as Galvanic Skin Response."(Donnya Wheelwell, JOCS Vol.7 No.8 pg 37)

Donnya Wheelwell seems to have given art a "Traditional Role" that it must play and I see no basis for it. This is authoritarianism at its peak and there are many like her that I've encountered throughout my life in and out of academia. She fails to realize that to explain something in terms of its interacting components does not mean that you "Explain it away". This is formally known as the fallacy of Ontological Reductionism: the idea that everything that exists can be explained as the interactions of a small number of simple things (Ramachandran, pg 73, JOCS vol.6 1999). I fear that people like Donnya believe that once science finds out the mystery behind something, it loses value to them, but such is not the case for me even though science has discovered the workings behind GSR and why it may occur. This is simply because to me, there are endless venues and outlets for me to experience peak experiences from art. Sergei Rachmaninoff once said, "Music is enough for a lifetime, but a lifetime is not enough for music." I adhere to this statement and posit that Donnya Wheelwell is a "stabile" who may not be aware that unlike her, there are those to whom such experiences are highly satisfying.

Another author from the Journal of Consciousness Studies, Ruth Wallen, also had a similar critique:

"Towards the end of their paper, the authors describe an experimental test measuring the galvanic skin response. Again, in this limited context, their work might be meaningful. However, I am perturbed that the example seems to privilege unconscious response. They observe that a patient with damage to the inferotemporal cortex who can't consciously recognize their mother still registers a higher Skin Conductance Rate to her face than to that of strangers. Perhaps this may be of solace to the patient's mother, but this does not seem to affect the patient's conduct in their daily life. I am interested in the viewer's conscious, lived experience of an artwork" (Ruth Wallen, JOCS Vol. 6, 1999 pg.70)

Another misled statement in obvious lieu of the fact that there are individuals whose galvanic skin response played a role in making life altering decisions about their careers in music. Ruth Wallen is faculty from the Dept of Communication, UCSD. For me, galvanic skin response is not just a physical occurrence, but rather, something that is always accompanied by a rush of mental imagery, colors, memories, and emotions which overwhelm my senses. GSR is erroneously looked at as simple skin conductance given this fact. I have not yet been overwhelmed by such sensory feedback without experiencing GSR. The statements I make have found their place in the studies conducted by Antonio Damasio, V.S Ramachandran and W. Hirstein.

In the book, "The Feeling of What Happens" by Antonio Damasio, he speaks about the "Proto Self", that is, the subconscious brain where all involuntary functions (Breathing, heart beat, skin conductance, tears) take place. Ruth Wallen seems to have qualms with using this primitive but highly important area for consciousness, according to Damasio, as a basis for a favored course of emotional analysis, and follows up by saying that she is interested in "the viewer's *conscious*, lived experience of artwork." This is a conflicted statement as Damasio points out that our "Unconsciousness" is indeed intimately tied into consciousness, so to make such a comment does not follow with what empirical data has shown. Galvanic skin response is a highly valid form of measuring emotions as it represents the emotional state of the individual (Demasio).

Antonio Damasio talks about brain maps, that is areas of the brain dedicated to certain body parts, and potential environmental changes which occur as a result of a person's interaction with the world. R & H also talk about brain maps in their work dedicated to certain areas of perceptions such as depth, color, dimension, etc. They begin by claiming that art has an aspect of intensive appeal if it produces heightened activity in a single dimension of these maps through either the "Peak Shift" principle, or through "Grouping", i.e. Gestalt principles.

I can attain peak experiences from works that some critics are not too fond of such as "Pop" music, yet, I can also attain the same response from a work like Prokofiev's 1st violin concerto; a work accepted by Stravinsky himself as one of Prokofiev's finest works in light of the fact that Stravinsky didn't much like Prokofiev's music. Yet, we still have some in educated circles who would think that the reason people like "Pop" music as opposed to music in the style of Prokofiev's, Schoenberg's, Ligeti's, or Penderecki's is because they "Lack education" about it, and while this may be true, I certainly don't lack education about it and yet I'm not the most emotionally receptive to that music. We also have those who would call works "simplistic" and "bad copies" of pre-existing composer's works. Such comments create massive confusion and can mislead and degrade the quality of institutionalized musical education for those who disagree and happen to attain peak emotional experiences from this "simplistic" and "bad copy" music. As John Sloboda has pointed out, people have been shown to become disinterested in music due to negative reinforcement in academic settings, and such comments are indeed negative to some students. Institutions advertise themselves based on their faculty, and when faculty are lauded to such a degree, their status through the eyes of the student can be rather high such that any comments made by the faculty are not easily taken with a grain of salt.

One example was a presentation I gave to a certain professor and colleagues. I presented a work by a Video Game music composer named Masashi Hamauzu from the game "Final Fantasy X" (Decisive Battle for piano solo, piano collections version), which happened to have a Ravel and Debussy influence. I wanted to make the point that one can make good use of the knowledge attained in music school via utilizing the harmonic language of these two composers that have been taught in Universities for nearly a century towards this career. To me, it was a very lovely, memorable, and elegant use of harmony, melody, rhythm, and accessible piano technique. It is also amazing to me that a piece like this is simple enough such that a larger degree of pianists can play the work. As a late bloomer in piano, I was always bothered by the fact that due to my lack of skill, I could not play the Ravel "Rigaudon" from "Le tombeau de Couperin". Then finally, along comes this piece that sounds fantastic on it's own and very much in line with the harmonic, melodic, and rhythmic content I sought after as in the ravel piano work. If a music teacher is truly concerned about seeing people like myself attain an education such that I would take up a respectable hobby like piano, the fact that I found something which stimulates further interest in me should be embraced wholly, especially if that work possesses material in it that embraces and utilizes the ideas taught at universities in a manner that was accessible to me. I still question why I received such a harsh reaction from my presentation, and I hope that my thesis will change this. It's almost as if I were being made to accept their way of becoming interested in something, and I find this rather disturbing.

As a young kid, I grew up with video games, and my mother used to take me to the arcades whenever she could. We lived in Houston Texas from 1982-1990, and my mother would spend all of the free time she had with me by reading to me, showing me music, and expanding her record collection, which I would sift through and listen to as a child. She had everything from Mozart and Bach, to Genesis and Vangelis. I was also exposed to the music of Japanese game composers for a majority of the time as a result during a critical stage of my mental development at age 6. Being exposed to games as a young Spanish speaking bi-lingual child allowed me to familiarize myself with myriad worlds of imagination, technology, culture, and music as the Japanese composers embraced many different elements of, western jazz, pop, and classical music, and fused them together to create game music. Video games were the digital Jules Vernes ("Paris in the 20th Century") of the 20th century as many of these games sparked my interest in mythology literature, philosophy, technology, and history in a way that nothing else could, even after watching PBS on TV daily a few years before. It sparked a positive expectation in me about the future state of technology and humanity as I was fascinated by the idea of flying spacecraft and hovering cars. Jules Verne was the first author in history to come up with the idea of an elevator before it had ever been invented as I had learned from PBS during a program about his works one day. I merely took that idea, applied it to the content of sci-fi video games, and it allowed me to put myself in the imaginary future, a fine awe inspiring emotionally peaked experience I attained from doing this.

I didn't play games because it was "cool", or because I wanted to be part of a sociological crowd; I played them because I had a genuine and natural passion for them. I ask again why this is such a bad thing as it was my mother that helped me to bring out as much about my passions as possible; it was she who introduced me to the eclectic method of analysis, and Dr. Ferrara who confirmed it to me in his book, "Philosophy and the Analysis of Music: Bridges to Musical Sound, Form, and Reference". I was also never bothered by the quality of the 8-bit sine, triangle, and sawtooth audio waves reproduced as melody, harmony, and rhythm within these arcade machines; they were actually very pleasing to me and a testament to the technological accomplishments humans had managed to reach at the time, as video game hardware is no intellectually simple feat to develop by any means necessary, and requires intensive and difficult education in electronics and mathematics.

Daniel Tammet is an autistic savant gifted with a facility for mathematics problems, sequence memory, and natural language learning. He was born with congenital childhood epilepsy, and Tammet is unique in how specific and detailed his mental imagery of numbers is. He claims that in his mind, each number, up to 10,000, has its own unique shape and feel, and he can "sense" whether a number is prime or composite and "see" results of calculations as landscapes in his mind. Renowned scientist, Dr. V.S. Ramachandran, tested Tammet to see if this was true. Through measurement of galvanic skin response a.k.a. "Goosebumps", Ramachandran found that Tammet did indeed attain peak emotional experiences from being exposed to abstract patterns in numbers. To Tammet, there is simply something "beautiful" about a certain number, or sequence of numbers which have no readily practical/concrete value. This insight from Dr. Ramachandran can aid in stimulating discourse regarding the nature of how profoundly personal certain emotional experiences can be, and that it can reveal how much one enjoys certain things should not be overlooked. One can readily apply this means of gathering data towards how one reacts towards music, and to add further credibility to the GSR method, I've done research on the positive effects of galvanic skin response.

Before I get into the benefits, I would like to show that our minds are set up in such a way that such experiences are out of our control simply by looking at the nature of how the brain works to produce such responses. I'd like to add that not everyone is aware of having experienced GSR as a question asked in NYU's Psychology of Music class asking us how many have experienced GSR resulted in about only 75% of the class raising their hands. MIT's "Galvactivator" website at http://www.media.mit.edu/galvactivator/faq.html makes this clear:

"Experimental evidence suggests that certain groups of individuals have signature patterns of electrodermal baseline activity. Everyone has an individual baseline, but some people tend to have skin conductivity signals that vary relatively little when they are at rest and not being stimulated by either external events or internal thoughts. This category of individuals is often referred to as stabiles.

Alternatively, some people have lots of skin conductivity responses, even when at rest and when not in the presence of external stimuli; individuals with this pattern are referred to as labiles. Initial attempts to correlate these two physiological predispositions with personality style have been encouraging."

According to V.S. Ramachandran and William Hirstein, GSR is a product of a "Peak Shift" principle as I understand it based on his work in the "Journal to Consciousness Studies" essay titled "Art and the Brain" (JOCS, Volume 6. 1999). Peak shift principles are well known in animal discrimination learning. If a rat is taught to discriminate a square from a rectangle of a 3:2 aspect ratio, and rewarded for the rectangle, it will soon learn to respond more frequently to the rectangle. Paradoxically however, the rat's response to a rectangle that is even longer and skinnier by an aspect ratio of 4:1 is greater than it was to the original prototype on which it was trained. The result implies the rat is learning not a prototype, but a rule, i.e. rectangularity. They claim that music involves generating peak shifts in certain primitive, passionate primate vocalizations such as a separation cry, and that the emotional response to such sounds may be hard wired in our brains.

Ethologists have long known that a seagull chick will beg for food by pecking at its mother's beak. Remarkably, it will peck just as vigorously at a disembodied beak with no mother attached or even a brown stick with a red dot at the end (the gull's beak has a vivid red spot near the tip). What is even more remarkable is that a very long stick with three red stripes is even more effective in eliciting pecks than the original beak even though it looks nothing like a beak to a human observer.

R & H show gestalt grouping as an example of how certain images are more "Stable" than others, and as a result, more pleasing to view as they require less processing by the organism amongst its visual centers. The same analogy can be directed at harmony via the fact that through harmonic principles, a C major chord can be perceived as emerging from a single object; the fundamental or root of the chord, which already possesses in it the notes of this chord as opposed to dissonant intervals which are not readily perceivable as belonging to one object, but to several (JOCS vol.6, 1999 pg 23). This demonstrates support for there being a natural tendency for visual and auditory processing, and may explain why so many find *heavily* atonal music to be "unnatural" in light of the claims that very few fans of the genre make. I have put emphasis on the word "heavily" because R & H make it clear that every now and then, pleasing effects are produced by violating this principle in reasonable ways. For instance, there is a Picasso nude in which the improbability of the arm's outline exactly coinciding with that of the torso grabs the viewer's attention and is arguably attractive. Of course, more study needs to be done on this, but at least there is data that supports claims in this case. After much criticism from panelists of the JOCS, R & H make the following comments about GSR as a viable measuring tool in their work:

"Nevertheless, one could argue that without this dimension of pleasure and or arousal, there is no art. That is to say, it is a necessary but not sufficient condition for art. And it so happens that the galvanic skin response provides a convenient and reliable index of arousal. As such, it provides one measure of response to art, but certainly not a complete measure" (JOCS vol.6, 1999 pg.74)

Having laid out the basis for their essay, R & H use Galvanic Skin Response as a direct measurement of people's emotional responses to art works. This seems more reasonable given the findings of the John Sloboda book, "Exploring the Musical Mind". In it, one can see that the most common emotional response towards music is "Shivers", also known as "Goosebumps". Goosebumps also have the most structural music features related to their occurrence. There is conflicting research in the Sloboda book ("Exploring the Musical Mind", pg. 325) however with regards to the table about what people seek in music. At the very top of this list is that people seek "reminders of past events", but in my own experience, reminders of past events are part of intense galvanic skin response experiences. Even when recalling memories, people recall having attained "chills" as part of their significant past experiences, so I find this study faulty and would not easily include it as part of data to justify the relevance of GSR. This is also potentially a result of persons not readily being conscious of all of their feelings.

In the Book, "A feeling of what happens", author Antonio Damasio speaks about the way that people seek happiness and avoidance of unpleasant emotions for the most part. This does not entail simply fear of snakes or sexual pleasure by any means necessary. We are not always conscious of all of our feelings and much to suggest that we are often unaware. Given this, it would explain why there are perhaps those who would not readily acknowledge peak emotional experiences like tears, heart racing, and especially goosebumps, as a product of our aesthetic experience such that we would all seek such feelings in art. I have learned that art can very much be sought as a form of "intellectual" stimulus, or other purposes as in the case of Daniel Tammet's experience with numbers. People are also unaware that Galvanic Skin Response occurs at all; V & R show this via the fact that Skin Conductance measurements become apparent when an individual looks at their mother's face for instance, or to things which we attribute significant relationships to. I certainly had no idea that this was the case, but now, I understand exactly what they mean; I do feel a difference in my skin when I see my mother, but very minutely.

Abstracts such as music would be difficult for me to see as a substitute for "intellectual" stimulation that is not already provided via concretely applicable extracurricular practices like science, philosophy, and the like. Claims of intellectual satisfaction gained from music are often of a very subjective nature coupled with a vague sense of what "intellectual" aspect they are referring to, and its potential cognitive benefits which is why I'd much rather use GSR as a more accurate means of distinguishing between good or bad. Musical works like those of George Ligeti, Kristoph Penderecki, or other highly tension and chaos oriented composers usually have a fan base which consists of persons who hold such views. Classicists concerned with form and tradition of the 1st Vienna school of music (Beethoven, Mozart, and Haydn) also had similar views at one point. This is considered the "Apollonian" approach to music.

Emotions (Dionysian) are to me the most practical purpose for art, and I believe that it is important to acknowledge the potentials from such an approach. However, paradoxically enough, there are those who have claimed to attain GSR from apollonian approaches, namely one from the faculty of NYU, the late educator and composer Ron Mazurek. While I respect and encourage the Apollonian approach, I do not know of any scientific evidence which suggests that there is music which stimulates intellectual growth, and this is further supported by many peer publications clearly discrediting the "Mozart Effect", namely the article published by Marina Krakovsky in February of 2005 [8]. Instead of the Mozart Effect propaganda, more research should be done for composers in determining how music can influence the development of an individual's personal musical language. For certain, it has been my experience as a composer that listening to a lot of music, namely what I deem to be of high quality, has provided me with a greater palette of expression and a finer inner hearing for details of orchestration and musical material.

The physiology of peak emotional experiences possesses interesting health Benefits. Aside from goosebumps, heart racing is also of particular interest. This is measured by "heart rate variability" or "HRV" for short. According to the American Journal of Cardiology (1995; 76(14):1089-1093, positive emotions lead to alterations in sympathovagal balance that may be beneficial to the treatment of hypertension. Such emotions are of a positive nature and lead to increased heart rate. While emotions like anger also result in increased heart rate, the electrical frequency variables which constitute the drive of the heart beat consist of properties which result in stress inducing changes in the body contrasting the effects of positive emotions.

Tears are another physiological emotional reaction which can be seen as indicative of positive and negative emotions. Of course, one's interpretation of these emotions via tears can be seen as another individual's strong connection to art which could perhaps spark interest in others seeking potential works which result in such an intense emotional reaction. The response is usually in tandem with experiences described by religious figures throughout history, so perhaps such an experience connects people with their relative religious figures of influence to a greater degree. This too can be seen as positive to the life experience of one who experiences tears from a work of art; perhaps the divinity reflected through the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, or Mozart's Requiem (Both tonal composers).

All of the above reactions are usually accompanied by a release of adrenaline. According to George A. Bubenik, a physiologist and professor of zoology at the University of Guelph in Ontario, in an entry to Scientificamerican.com titled "Why do humans get "goosebumps" when they are cold or under the circumstances", answers questions about these reactions and explains that all of the above discussed emotional are accompanied by release of a stress hormone known as adrenaline. Epinephrine is the technical term used for adrenalin, and it does in fact play a role in short term stress reduction. Based on this information, one can conclude that the above emotional reactions do indeed result in stress relief.

The above musings should best serve to see how I developed an *emotional* attachment to music, and how I approach it and seek pleasure from it. It is no surprise that my favorite composers also happen to have been avid gamers in their youths who are also highly technologically savvy, coupled with great musical ability. Dr. Robert Rowe once mentioned in Psychology of Music class that people are known to get emotionally attached to technology if they have had interaction with it during their youth, so it is no surprise that my world of aesthetic preference is so highly centered around that which technology has produced. MIT Press has published a book called the "Handbook of Computer Game Studies" which serves to address the various ethical and psychological concerns of Video Gaming, and it supports the ideas of games as a new method of information exchange thus tying it in with sciences like technology and philosophy, coupled with business according to NYU faculty Professor Douglass Peikoff (pg 415, "Handbook of Computer Game Studies"). Ultimately, judging music based on my own response to GSR is something I've chosen to adopt for now as I believe there is legitimate merit to it.

7) Demonstrate potential for job opportunities for artists of all backgrounds in creating works which can be performed live, as one characteristic of game music is that it cannot always be performed live.

Games incorporate within them live orchestras/musicians and other live professionals which have enhanced gaming to an astonishing degree. Given the heavy interest and experimental potential of games, I believe that any game audio work which provides opportunity for persons of diverse backgrounds is a positive contributor to the state of human affairs. The composers of the games should have written works that are indeed performable by live orchestras in most cases, and the works I've chosen to recognize here are those which take into account idiomatic limitations and considerations towards musicians.

8) Demonstrate potential for replay value and long lasting influence.

Judgment here is based on my personal experience, observations made in the standards of quality at an academic setting, observations amongst persons who've expressed their opinions on the internet, critique of my own work, preferences voiced by professors/colleagues at both NYU and Queensborough Community College, and observations made amongst panel judges in major music related financial grants based on redistribution of payola monies entrusted to Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors from work done by New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer in 2005.

9) Potential to attract older audiences who may not be aware of the music in games.

Video game music usually has musical influence from works of Musical Masters of composition like Miles Davis, Wagner, John Williams, Ravel, Debussy, Rachmaninoff, Bartok, The Beatles, and many others. This is only natural as many of the composers are trained formally or brought up in a diverse musical setting. Such influences should appeal to older audiences as some of their all time favorite composers are successfully integrated into their own musical languages such that a referential connection can be made to a different time period.

Criteria for Quality Works Established

While all of the following criteria will not necessarily be met by the samples I present, it is a starting point that I believe can be developed over time. On the issue of the intellectual gains from the music I present, I'd like to make clear that I in no way endorse the Mozart Effect, but instead suggest an intelligent awareness of musical material in game music such that it aids one's own musical language in preparation for some of the expectations of the composer, and the possibility of a game director's request to improve upon the standards of the game music to enhance the game play experience. Also, up till now, extensive work has been done chronicling the history of game music. This history also includes the desire of certain game directors to focus on musical quality and create a rich and diverse musical score which can appeal to many different audiences. In my presentation however, since I am aware that the history of game music frequently addresses works like Super Mario Brothers, Zelda, and Final Fantasy, I'd like to take a different turn as I fear that although such works are excellent examples, they may not be taken seriously by certain individuals in the high tiers of academia. It should be noted that game scores can be anywhere between 10 minutes to 5 hours in length. Notable scores of such extreme length are Final Fantasy 12, Okami, and Star Ocean 3. Long scores are becoming more prevalent lately.

I've come to realize my criteria during my education and my personal experience since age 6 with video games, experience from working with music grant panel judges at Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors' New York State Music Fund, extensive criticism from colleagues and faculty at NYU (4 Years), Queensborough Community College (3 Years), internet gaming forums, and the profound impact it has had on my own musical appreciation and development. I myself was never formally trained in music up until age 19, and I had no knowledge of instruments of any sort at all, yet game music has been most helpful in shaping my ear and understanding of the knowledge needed to prepare myself for entry into the music field, however, informed input from professional music theorists could shed even more light on the subject of game music as it is very difficult to learn on your own especially when one does not have the natural gifts of composers like Yoko Kanno or Koichi Sugiyama. Hopefully my criteria, and the examples chosen based on them will help to give aspiring game audio musicians a good idea of what's out there and what is to be expected of them and allow professional/aspiring music theorists to recognize the game music category as a source of talent worthy of further analysis. I believe that game music provides excellent examples of genre fusion, harmonic pull, motor rhythms, and surprising key changes all in short time periods (2-3 minutes on average) within mostly sectional structures. Ideally, musicians should aim to surpass and reshape those standards to make the game play experience something extraordinary to others as it has been for me.

Poor game scoring

This section on poor game scoring is quite difficult to tackle. One simply never knows why a poor score may come to surface, whether it be due to budgeting issues, or short production schedule, it is hard to tell. Nevertheless, if the producer of a game cares about the quality of the sound, they should know to give ample time for music production, otherwise, they are responsible for the outcome of a musical score, and if they are aware of what results in a poorly written score, I do not believe there is any excuse on their part. I believe composers should be allowed to take a good amount of time on a score within reason. I am reluctant towards providing examples of "Poor" scores because I am unaware of the consequences which led to the end product. Also, many poor scores take place before the year 1986, and are probably not suitable demonstrable works due to the enormous amounts of limits imposed on the composers by the audio hardware of the day. It would be unfair to bash the work of the composers in this case. The following list however proposes a general guideline of what would make for poor game scoring. It is subject to development and is non-exhaustive.

Criteria for work examples to be in the category of poor game scoring are as follows:

1) Sounds excessively derivative, cliché, or plagiarized more so than say Brahms musically quoting Beethoven in his symphonies.

2) Sounds incomplete i.e. the work creates a tendency to keep going when it does not.

3) Sounds excessively repetitive to the point of annoyance as the result of little to no variance of one's music throughout the individual piece or the full score of a game.

4) Short overall score where the same music is used in many areas or all areas in the game with exceptions for budgeting issues, data storage limits in console games (that is games not played on a dedicated machine like a Playstation, or a Nintendo as opposed to a PC or a Macintosh which allows for greater data storage and versatility), and if the single idea used is effective and suitable to the task, although it is very rare that this is the case.

5) Unstable and open sound due to major counterpoint errors like Parallel 8ves and 5th, or Hidden 8ves and 5ths which have not been appropriately treated by dissonances or compensated for by engaging material such as in Rock Power Chords or consistency with such tonalities as found in the work "Sunken Cathedral" by Claude Debussy.

6) Poor performances of works in games by live musicians.

7) Works which do not sync up with the visuals during cut-scenes (in game computer graphic movies no different from those found in film)

Different Types of Game Scoring Approaches


Being the earliest technique used, and considering that most game music uses this technique, it must be noted that these loops must have the potential to keep the listener engaged and interested for long periods of time. Loops can be anywhere from 10 seconds to 5 minutes in length. This is an enormous challenge considering the standards set, and one must make sure that upon looping a work, there is little ambiguity; it must sound not so perfect that it takes away from the humanness, but complete in that it remains fresh and stable upon multiple hearings. After all, game composers are dealing with fictional and graphically animated characters; they should aim to make the worlds and characters as life-like as possible. The loops are characterized as being "Section Based" works in which case we are taking a different approach as we would in film music. This technique has a notorious early history as resulting in poor quality, much of which is due to the data limits/restrictions, and limited musicianship during the days of early game consoles with few musically trained game composers. I believe that looping will be an integral technique for the remainder of game audio history as it forces the composer to write tightly packed quality material with impressions, melodies, and harmonies which can be arranged and altered outside of games [9].

*On track 1 of the DVD, veteran composer Hitoshi Sakimoto discusses briefly the difference between game music and film music.


There are many scores which are arranged for live concert or instrumental format, sometimes even arranged using better samples which were initially written as looped or un-looped MIDI files, and these still qualify as video game music in that the majority of the material used for the game remains intact or is inspired by the game material. Original Soundtracks are released using either complete loops in which the piece is repeated twice and faded out shortly after the repeat, or completely reworked with additional motivic/cadential development, stylistic changes, and re-instrumentation/orchestration. This in turn attributes a concert-type quality to the music. Arrangements are done either by the composer themselves or as a collaboration with other composers.

Adaptive or Interactive Audio and Music

Adaptive or Interactive audio and music is characterized by sound effects (audio) or music which is directly altered by a player's actions. This technique can be identified in several ways:

1) By randomly generated musical gestures or sound effect gestures upon a character's arrival to a certain point in the game where there is mostly musical ambiance as in the case of "First Person Shooter" games which require a more atmospheric/ambient approach more so than other gaming genres.

2) By identifying a musical piece in which new material can be morphed into it at any given moment thus changing the mood whilst maintaining flow (Aleatoric and extended techniques would be effective musical tools for this).

3) By being able to control the pace at which the music progresses via interactivity as in the case of the "Wii Orchestra" by Nintendo, and the game "Rez" by Sega.

Adaptive audio is notably one of the latest and most promising trends in game audio development. It is touted by game audio professionals as the future of game music, even suggesting that adaptive audio will replace standard looping and cut-scene scoring techniques. Personally, I am not too keen on the stand alone quality of adaptive audio, and those who champion it claim it is geared towards the actual game play experience with more emphasis on sound design and the player's interactive experience. According to Jean Luc Cohen, professor of game audio at NYU's Steinhardt School, and sound designer on the famed PC platform First Person Shooter game "Doom 3", adaptive audio is the future of game music. Hopefully the standards of adaptive audio musical quality will one day surpass the quality of the loops/film techniques found in games, and perhaps provide the possibility of arrangement techniques to work outside of games as well although I see this as an extremely difficult challenge. I believe that arrangements can give players who are not just fans of a game but also fans of game music a complete introspective and retrospective gaming experience. Nevertheless, certain game genres may be better off utilizing this technique than others, especially the FPS genre.

*On track 2 of the DVD, Audio staffs from the game "God of War 2" discuss briefly the difference between game music and film music. The clip also touches upon how they "Adapt" the music to the game.

*On the last track of the DVD titled "Adaptive Audio/Music", there are examples of this technique.

Film Scoring

During the In-Game cut scenes, film techniques are usually employed in which case, knowing how to score a film is helpful. It is unknown what majority of game cut scenes are adapted to the music or vice versa, but some works have been extremely impressive such that it made me question whether or not this was the case. Tommy Tallarico, game composer and co-director of "Video Games Live!" gave a game concert with the Yale Symphony Orchestra in which they performed a work by veteran game composer of the Final Fantasy series, Nobuo Uematsu. This work was "Liberi Fatali", a work written for the intro movie cut-scene (It should also be noted that game play is not occurring during the cut scenes although there are some exceptions). He mentioned to the crowd that Square-Enix, owner of the Final Fantasy franchise, did not allow video footage of the game to be set to the performance at which point the crowd booed Square-Enix, however, Mr. Tallarico told the audience, "But this piece doesn't need the video, so without further wait, Liberi Fatali!". So the performance commenced without the video footage, and whether or not it stood alone to any in the audience would make for a good debate. Personally, I believe it does stand alone as the work is reminiscent of Carl Orff's "Carmina Burana".

Operatic Approach

The use of Leitmotifs to represent certain characters and certain events in a game is not uncommon. In fact, directors of epic games like "Lair" for the Playstation 3 would look to bring the game an added level of depth and emotion by incorporating such techniques. Arias have also found their way into games, from the aria by composer Yoko Shimumura in the game "Parasite Eve" (1998) for the Playstation, to the "Aria Di Mezzo" (1994) from Final Fantasy 6 by composer Nobuo Uematsu just to name a few. They were not the finest examples of operatic arias, but they exist. Veteran game composer Yoko Kanno has written an exceptional aria in the past, but it was not for a video game, it was for a Japanese "Anime" or animation film. It can be argued however that the Anime approach to scoring is no different to that of game scoring. The vocal work found in the online game "Ragnarok 2", scored by Kanno, is a testament to her vocal abilities, and to write an aria for a game can be a fantastic idea.

*On Track 3 of the DVD, the team behind the game "Lair" discusses the operatic approach, and the inspiration a composer attains when writing a score.

Sound Effects

The sound effects in a game add an extra layer of sound that contributes to the replay value in the game score. They can range from Foley sound design, character voice-overs, soundscapes as in the case of games like "Heroes of Might and Magic 3", to musical gestures or "Mickey Mousing" techniques [10]. The sound effects complete the game play experience and constitute part of the total audio package upon playing the complete game product.

Early History of Game Music

Extensive work on the history of game music is available on the net from a dedicated video game music sites which hosts tens of thousands of MIDI files for analytical purposes [11], but I'd like to focus on how that history posed challenges to composers from the early days to the present, as well as a major update on the academic reception of game music and the major names in the music industry coupled with major orchestras involved. This information is not exhaustive as video game music boasts an enormous library of music, of which I've listened to and chronicled over 3000 hours of since the year 1986, with the majority of the listening done in preparation for this thesis at the start of 2005.

"... the history of game music. began with the arcade games of the late 70s. The very first video games (or video game precursors, at least) -- Tennis for Two, created by engineer William Higinbotham at Brookhaven National Laboratory in 1958, and MIT student Steve Russell's Spacewar created in 1963 -- had no sound at all. In 1972, Pong, a simulation of ping pong, debuted as the first game to feature sound, the "sonar-blip" of the ball ricocheting off the paddles. The first real soundtrack seems to be found in Space Invaders, which arrived in America from Japan in 1978, wherein rows of aliens march down the screen, eventually reaching Earth unless the player can shoot them down first; the game had no music, but rather a steady pulse that would accelerate as the invaders got closer [the first instance of interactive or "adaptive sound"] . this game seems to feature the first instance of non-diegetic sound (in film, this refers to "background music amplifying the mood of the scene and/or explicating dramatic developments and aspects of character"). It is not until the early 80's that actual music began to appear in video games; Pac-Man (1980) is cited as a particularly popular example by Gamespot's Brief Timeline of Video Game Music, written in 2001: "The opening ditty is one of just a few video game melodies to seriously penetrate the pop-culture superconscious." Though the music in Pac-Man plays only briefly from time to time (at the start of the game and during between-level cutscenes -- which may be the first use of cutscenes in video games) [12], it can still be considered the first instance of melody used to complement the mood of a game. The bouncy, playful sound of the "opening ditty" masks the challenging nature of the gameplay, luring in would-be arcade gamers nearby and involving the player more closely with Pac-Man's fantasy world, and since the music is always brief, there is little chance of it distracting or annoying the player. Most early games did not feature continuous musical soundtracks due to the memory and sound output limitations of early arcade and home gaming machines; melodies could be composed of no more than a few lines of synthesized notes with monaural (non-stereo) sound and little or no harmony, so any attempt to create a sustainable soundtrack was an exercise in excruciating repetition--some games of the mid-80s fell prey to just this sort of trap: "Audio, especially game audio, is a powerful weapon. When used properly, it has the power to involve, immerse, elevate, and reward. It has the power to excite. It can make an artificial world appear to be deeper, older, and much more complex and complete than it actually is. But when misused, audio reveals its most awesome and deadly power--the power to annoy." [13] [14]

Relevant History of Game Music to my Topic

My work will begin by demonstrating the work of composer Koichi Sugiyama. In 1986, he was the first ever to arrange his work on the 8-bit game console, Nintendo Entertainment System (A.K.A. Famicom in Japan). It was done for live classical orchestra with the London Philharmonic Orchestra in the CD "Dragon Quest I Symphonic Suite" [15]. It is quite clear that he was thinking for orchestra when writing his game score, and what makes it all the more interesting is that the Nintendo system only had a polyphony of 4 simultaneous monaural sounds at once, and this posed several challenges to a composer, almost like a string quartet [16]. I will focus first on eastern composers as they were the first to truly propel the quality of game music and make full use of the possibilities in game consoles after 1986. I will list the composers in order, and the game for which the music was written, the section in the game where the original music is found, and whether the music in the presentation is an arrangement or in-game audio.

I will then segue into the works of western composers as they too have contributed significantly to the standards and techniques found in game audio. For instance, the Playstation game "The Lost World: Jurrassic Park" was the first game ever to feature a complete live orchestra score. The eastern game "Sakura Taisen" for the Sega Saturn was actually the first game to feature live orchestra, just not throughout the whole game. Nevertheless, both make enormous improvements in game music's evolution.

Some videos set to the music are accurate to the original musical situation one would encounter when playing the actual game, however exceptions will be noted. Where alternative footage is used, similarity to the original scenario is maintained as much as possible via keeping the music with the original game franchise in question i.e. Dragon Quest 6 Music set to footage from Dragon Quest 7. Also, for the sake of demonstrating potential musical usage outside of the original context, certain liberties have been taken where noted. The music of each composer that is presented is by no means a full picture of their talent. Works of similar quality, if not more so, exist aside from these works, so it is advised that one does not consider these works the only existing quality works of each composers. Finally, the video footage should only be referenced to give a general picture about the content to which the music was written to, but it should also be noted that the music can fit in many different instances effectively whether it be in a different scenario within the game or outside of the game and in concert. Although certain footage may be in sync with the music, it is not always the case and can actually degrade the listening experience. Where possible, it is advised to take separate listens both with the footage and without.

Overview of Eastern Game Composers and Relevant Material

Koichi Sugiyama

*Go to track 4 of DVD: "Koichi Sugiyama"

Koichi Sugiyama is the father of quality game music. His contributions to game music are unparalleled. He managed to bring in some of the best musicians in the world to interpret his scores, most notably the London Philharmonic. As of May 2007, he is 76 years old and has scored for various mediums including Film music, and Commercials in Japan. He has created chamber music versions of his game works for Brass Quintet, String Quartet, and Solo Piano, as well as Brass Band, Wind Ensemble and Symphony Orchestra. In his most recent work, Dragon Quest 8 for Playstation 2, a full orchestra is implemented throughout the game. This was not previously possible in any of the other Dragon Quest installments due to data limitations. He is also responsible for establishing game music as a concert medium since 1986. Presented works are as follows:

  1. Dragon Quest 2 (1987): "Endless World" Original Version (Nintendo signal processor)-Used in the "Overworld" section of an RPG. Actual in-game sound usage footage.
  2. Dragon Quest 2 (1987): "Endless World" Arranged Version (London Philharmonic Recording) Used in the "Overworld" section of an RPG. Alternative similar footage.
  3. Dragon Quest 7 (2000): "Triumphal Return" Arranged Version (London Philharmonic Recording) Used upon completion of the final stage of this RPG. Alternative similar footage, and out of game alternative footage.
  4. Dragon Quest 6 (1995): "Brave Fight" Arranged Version (London Philharmonic Recording) Used upon battle with final enemy of this RPG. Out of game alternative footage.

Yoko Kanno

*Go to track 5 of DVD: "Yoko Kanno"

She is perhaps the first known female game composer as early as 1986 beginning with the historical simulation game "Romance of the Three Kingdoms". She is considered one of the finest and most diverse composers in the world effective at every genre she writes. From Pop to Contemporary Classical, she has practically done it all. Primarily recognized as a Japanese Anime composer, she has collaborated with some of the top musicians in the world including the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.

  1. Cowboy Bebop (2005): "Clutch" Version unknown (The Seatbelts). Usage unknown. Action game. Out of game alternative footage.
  2. Uncharted Waters 2 (1994): "Catalina" Arranged version (A.T. Gouppe). Used to represent in-game Spanish character "Catalina Erantzo". Simulation/CRPG. Out of game alternative footage.
  3. Uncharted Waters 2 (1994): "The Chase" Arranged Version (A.T. Gouppe). Used to represent ship chase scene in the "Misty Port" section of the game. Simulation/CRPG. Alternative similar footage.
  4. Ragnarok 2 (2007): "Intro Theme" In Game Version (Various Musicians). Used during the title screen of the game before starting it where vivid game cinematics may be taking place. MMORPG. Alternative similar footage.

Nobuo Uematsu

*Go to track 6 of DVD: Nobuo Uematsu

Mr. Uematsu is without question the most famous video game composer to date, having been the veteran composer for the world recognized "Final Fantasy" franchise. A well versed composer in myriad genres and styles of writing, he has been instrumental in increasing awareness of game music and giving live game concerts throughout the world most notably at the Gewandhaus in Leipzig Germany. Having done a tour throughout the United States in both orchestra and progressive rock style concerts, Mr. Uematsu has drawn sold out crowds. It should be noted that he like many other game composers did not know anything about the game scoring process. Now that we do know something about it, his contributions can make it easier for us to get a better understanding about how to approach game scoring.

  1. Final Fantasy 7: Advent Children (2005): "Divinity 2" In film version (Various Musicians). Used during the battle between Cloud Strife and Behemoth. Game to CGI Movie. Actual in-film footage. Note: Although this is a sequel film about the events that occur after the game Final Fantasy 7 for the Playstation, it is no different a musical example as one would find in a CGI cut-scene in the game. Uematsu's style and approach remains the same in both cases.

Hitoshi Sakimoto

*Go to track 7 of DVD: Hitoshi Sakimoto

Hitoshi Sakimoto is a composer that I consider to be one of the greatest composers of the 21st century. His sound is always fresh and modern, and his music is some of the finest in terms of orchestration with Dr. Justin Dello Joio, resident composer and graduate of the Juilliard School, having once commented that it was good. Sakimoto's sense of harmonic pull and motor rhythms is stellar with much to offer to the game music canon. Dr. Deniz Hughes has noted that the quality of harmonic pull based on the examples she's heard from what I've shown her of Sakimoto, is no different in quality from what one would expect to find in film music.

  1. Final Fantasy 12 (2006): "Opening Movie"-Theme of Final Fantasy 12 (Various Musicians both live and sampled). Used during the intro movie upon starting a new game in this RPG. Actual in-game footage.
  2. Final Fantasy 12 (2006): "Phon Coast"(Sampled Instruments) Used during the "Phon Coast" section of the game in this RPG. Actual in-game footage.
  3. Final Fantasy 12 (2006): "The Dalmasca Eastersand" (Sampled Instruments) Used during the "Dalmasca Eastersand" section of the game in this RPG. Actual in-game footage.
  4. Final Fantasy 12 (2006): "The Mosphorian Highwaste" (Sampled Instruments) Used during the "Mosphorian Highwaste" section of the game in this RPG. Actual in-game footage.
  5. Final Fantasy 12 (2006): "Boss Battle" (Sampled Instruments) Used during a fight between in game enemy bosses in this RPG. Actual and similar in-game footage.
  6. Final Fantasy 12 (2006): "Giza Plains" (Sampled Instruments) Used during the "Giza Plains" section of the game in this RPG. Actual in-game footage.
  7. Radiant Silvergun (1998): "Debris" (Sampled Instruments) Used during the "Debris" stage of the game of this Vertical scrolling shooter/Manic shooter game. Actual in-game footage layered with alternative footage.
  8. Vagrant Story (2000): "Ifrit" (Sampled Instruments) Used during the fight with the enemy boss character "Ifrit" in this RPG. Actual and alternative in-game footage.
  9. Vagrant Story (2000): "Awakening" (Sampled Instruments) Used during a scene in the "Keep" portion of the game in this RPG. Actual and alternative in-game footage.
  10. Vagrant Story (2000): "A Meeting" (Sampled Instruments) Used in the "Meeting" section of the game. Alternative in-game footage.
  11. Vagrant Story (2000): "Staff Roll" (Live orchestra, various musicians) Used in the end credits section of the game. Actual in-game footage.

2nd half of the DVD

At this point, the first hour of my DVD presentation should have finished. There is another hour left, but I will not describe the works. One should have already established a general idea of game music and how it is used in game. The rest of the DVD will show the names of the composers and footage used in a similar manner to the first hour. Also, this DVD contains examples from eastern composers only. There is a separate 2 hour CD of works from western composers. I have made sure that the information about the year, game title, composers, and other information were embedded onto the files. Footage from western games is far more graphic than footage from eastern games, and I did not want to offend too much, so I felt more comfortable sticking with eastern game footage and works. This is not to suggest that I prefer one sort of geography over another. Both have merits but in some ways, they are very different. I will now speak about the examples chosen for the "Adaptive Audio" portion of the DVD.

*Go to track 8 (2nd Half) of DVD

Adaptive Audio/Music Revisited

*After track 8 is finished, go to final track (Adaptive Audio) on DVD

At the start of the Adaptive Audio portion of the DVD, a work by composer Koji Kondo, famed composer of the Super Mario Brothers theme and the Zelda series, is presented and conducted using the new "Wii mote" by Nintendo mastermind and creator of the aforementioned series, Shigeru Miyamoto. This is an example of Adaptive Music in that the player controls the changes of the music via their actions in the game.

The second example comes from composers Jean-Luc Cohen (Professor at NYU Steinhardt) and Trent Reznor in the game "Doom 3", a first person shooter game. This is an example of Adaptive Audio in that there is an ambient musical undercurrent throughout the game play to which random sounds are generated based on the actions and progress of the player.

The third example is from the game "Rez" in which a techno work is played throughout with certain musical percussive gestures and tempo changes are triggered based on the progress of the player; another example of Adaptive Music.

Finally, in one of the best examples of adaptive music yet, you have the Playstation 3 game "Flow", with compositions and sound design by former NYU student and colleague Austin Wintory. During my first semester at NYU, I gave a presentation to the students about game music and I chose to use a work composed by Austin Wintory because I felt it had the potential to work in a game. Lo and behold, he is now scoring games in the highest tiers of the gaming world. In this work, the music is of an ethereal quality with gestures, and impressions by means of harmony and brief melodic swirls triggered by the actions of the player. This is impressive use of Aleatoric technique in that all the gestures and sounds triggered blend in with the musical work while maintaining continual flow and cohesion throughout.

Similarities Between Game Music and Respected Faculty at NYU

During my years at NYU, exposure to the tastes and works of Dr. Dinu Ghezzo, director of the music composition department throughout my years there, has demonstrated to our program works of his preference and of his own. In having listened to my entire 3000 hour collection of game music, I encountered works which used ideas and styles I was exposed to by him. In an effort to further make the case for diversity in games, I have decided to include these works in the folder "Dinu Ghezzo's Video Game Influence" in the 2nd DVD I've submitted. The details of the relationship between Dr. Ghezzo's work are in the filenames of the mp3's selected.

Personal Collection of Works

To demonstrate the profound influence game music has had on my own musical development, I have provided samples of my work, and a multimedia presentation in the folder "Daniel DeCastro Samples" of the 2nd DVD.

Meta Critique

Ultimately, this paper is based on a desire to see game scoring standards met or improved upon via notions that, although shared by some others, are perhaps subjective. Why I would choose to champion game music as a tenable venue for musical improvement may not be the greatest idea to some due to ethical concerns regarding the violent content of games and the lack of educational merit they hold. While attempts have been made to incorporate educational elements in games, it has yet to be seen as truly effective, although the integration of games like Reader Rabbit, Math Blaster, Leap Frog products, and Oregon Trail in educational institutions have no doubt been instrumental in a child's academic development. However, games are certainly no replacement for human educational instruction. Indeed, the findings published at MIT Press deal with the sociological and psychological effects on a person with regards to violent content, and the findings seem to suggest that negative occurrences attributed to games have more to do with sociological and parental factors than with the games themselves. Even though most games are seen as entertainment, I have seen themes in certain game storylines which can provoke some interesting and mature philosophical discussions regarding the state of technology, culture, the debate on the existence of god, political debate, evolution, and other taboo subjects. To me, this makes it more educational than some may think.

The "Handbook of Computer Game Studies" did not talk about the musical potential in games the same way I've done here. What this paper may contribute to overall game studies is a mystery to me, but I can't allow the profound impact that I believe this music has had on my own personal development go unnoticed. Even composer Hitoshi Sakimoto has said: "I am what a kid who grows up playing video games becomes, so remember that when raising your children" [17]. Sakimoto is without question regarded as a talented composer, but perhaps both he and I are misled. Nevertheless, I hope that one can see the influence of game music in my own musical language as it is presented in the DVD included with this paper while taking into consideration my history of music training.

There is then the philosophical issue of elitism in my paper as I fear people who read this paper may critique the fact that I focused on classical and orchestral works found in games, and how I champion those works to be the best more so than I do works which are not of an orchestral nature. I am writing this paper as a classical composition music major and must therefore cater more to the expectations of this department than on anything it may consider to be of a more simplistic nature. Even the works presented here may very well be regarded as simplistic and unworthy of attention as I've even incorporated into the presentation genres that aren't classically oriented like Progressive Rock, and Pop. This is not to suggest that I am dismissive of works like those found in the Zelda franchise, Grand Theft Auto licensed music, Pop music, Hip-Hop, Techno, Progressive Rock, or any other genre of music. I am an avid fan of many works within those categories one can find in games, even of the more experimental works by composers like Mamoru Samuragoch from the Biohazard (Resident Evil) series, or Matt Uelman from the Diablo series. Sadly, I do not think my sources and citations were as substantial as I would've liked as I did not have ample time to accommodate the paper with as many as I intended to.

It was a goal of mine to find more experimental works along the lines of composers like Dr. Dinu Ghezzo or Dr. Robert Rowe (The former director of NYU's music department and the current one respectively), and I believe that I have. These are after all highly knowledgeable and credible individuals who hold influence which can very well determine the state of the academic curriculums in academia; they happen to be influential to game music. These are very promising finds as these examples have also been used in some highly successful games like the "Megaman" series and "Diablo" series. Given the surging interest in game music, major orchestra and academic (Yale, USC) participation, and the participation of such musical giants as John Adams, Howard Shore, Michael Nyman, Koichi Sugiyama, Yoko Kanno, and many others, I am fortunately not just speaking of myself here; these facts mean that one can expect to see more students like myself in academia for years to come. The names listed above will no doubt be a major influence to many. I also fear I may have focused too much on one composer in my presentation, Hitoshi Sakimoto, but I wanted to give an idea of how much quality music goes into a single game.

Therefore, this paper urges those uninformed institutions to be more sensitive and understanding about the profoundly beautiful world of gaming, its music, and the influence it can have on one's musical language. I for one am extremely open to all sorts of music, as I hope one can gather from this paper and I simply encourage nurturing freedom of thought. I think myself to be a decent example of an eclectic mind, but as is suggested by my 6th criteria for selection of quality works, there are factors that are beyond my control, and goosebumps kick in for me based on the way most game music and music outside of games with a similar structure and content are constructed which may not be the case for works which I am told I should be more "Open Minded" about. I should not be asked to throw out my criteria for judgment on an emotive level because research shows that such emotive reactions can be positive to your health; I can't imagine one would want me to rid myself of positive health benefits. As I see this to be a legitimate reason to prefer some pieces over others, I am also aware that people get goosebumps from works which I do not. Hopefully more research will be done to confirm the validity of people who claim to get goosebumps from certain types of music, as I believe and hope that such findings will result in a change in the current day canonical structure and curriculum of music academia.

I took liberty to find some examples which were similar to works presented by Dr. Ghezzo for NYU composer's forums in the past such as "Yael Acher Yaelmix" for flute and DJ, "Romanian Christmas Chant", and his work "Edes Anyam". They are presented in the CD and I hope he appreciates that I've been a big fan of these works through the referential experiences I've had hearing them. If I were a game director, I would love to commission a work by Dinu Ghezzo or Robert Rowe for a video game, even though they may or may not accept, but for sure, I think if such a thing ever came to fruition, it would not only be an added historical chapter to game music, but it would mean a step forward in gaining understanding about just how open minded a game music fan can be. The age and experience gap between me, my peers, and professors may also be a downside as they may very well find influences and similarities to the pre-existing works of classical masters such that they may claim one is better off sticking to critical analysis of the already existing canon of classical composers. To that I say, regardless of whether or not this is true, game music has had a profound influence on me and many others.

I seem to appeal to authority in certain areas by demonstrating the respected names which have been involved in the game audio process, and I fear it may seem a bit imposing on the reader. Nevertheless, these facts should be taken into consideration as the people and groups mentioned consist of some of the finest musicians in the world with some of the finest tastes that I myself would humbly cede to.

My final critique of myself will be that I'm afraid I may not have written an exhaustive thesis, as the topic changed late into the semester, but I do believe I've done something brave here, yet it should not be taken as complete; it is not. There remain a multitude of great examples which may not fall subject to scrutiny that I did not include in the presentation. Works here should not be seen as the only existing great examples by any means, and if there is concern of "sameness" in the music presented, it is not my fault as again such a thesis requires more time and there were last minute changes recommended by Dr. Lawrence Ferrara. It is very difficult to cater to the tastes of complex minds, and I tried my best to do so here. Hopefully bringing to the forefront certain issues I've encountered at NYU, an institution for which I am thankful enough to have let me do a thesis on game music, and one where I've encountered a significant amount of aid and critique in my work by both colleagues and professors, will result in certain considerations towards game audio. A talented composer and colleague of mine who was once a student here at NYU, Austin Wintory, has recently scored the game "Flow" for the Playstation 3, and he was excited about it after having spoken to him on the phone and reading an interview from his webpage. He is a very intelligent and musically knowledgeable individual whom any institution should be proud of. Also a gamer himself, he is first and foremost a film music fan and he has brought to the table his knowledge of film music, and of classical music, to aid him in his compositional process. I have learned a lot from observing his game work, but perhaps one day insight can be gained from him by students and professors alike.


[1] Dell, Patrick. Rev. of Final Fantasy 10 Piano Collections Album. Altpop. 11/24/2003. Reviewer Patrick Dell notes this circulating opinion of game music. http://www.altpop.com/stc/reviews/ff10pc.htm

[2] Reinstein, Gila, "Video Games Live", 27 March 2007. http://www.videogameslive.com/index.php?story=85

[3] Ferrara, Lawrence. "Philosophy and the Analysis of Music: Bridges to Musical Sound, Form, and Reference". Greenwood Press (November 30, 1991)

[4] Pidkameny, Eric. "Levels of Sound" VGmusic.com. 2002. http://www.vgmusic.com/information/vgpaper2.html#history

[5] Mori, Masahiro. "Dr. Mori's Uncanny Valley". http://amos.indiana.edu/library/scripts/valley.html

[6] Mori, Masahiro. "Dr. Mori's Uncanny Valley". http://amos.indiana.edu/library/scripts/valley.html

[7] Sakimoto, Hitoshi. "Hitoshi Sakimoto Interview" Sakimoto: I basically like my latest works the most, but Vagrant Story is very impressive because I remember composing the project free-willingly. http://palgn.com.au/article.php?id=5761

[8] Krakovsky, Marina. Ed. "Discredited "Mozart Effect" Remains Music to American Ears. Feb. 2005. http://news-service.stanford.edu/news/2005/february2/mozart-020205.html

[9] Belinkie, Matthew. Ed. "Video game music: not just kid stuff". 15 December 1999, matthew.belinkie@yale.edu. http://www.vgmusic.com/vgpaper.shtml

[10] Whalen, Zack. Ed. "Play Along - An Approach to Videogame Music. November 2004. http://www.gamestudies.org/0401/whalen

[11] Pidkameny, Eric. "Levels of Sound" VGmusic.com. 2002. http://www.vgmusic.com/information/vgpaper2.html#history

[12] I.C.When. Ed. Donald A. Thomas, Jr. 21 Jan. 2002. 9 May 2002. 408 Osprey Lakes Circle, Chuluota, FL 32766-6655 phone (407) 304-6421 datj@icwhen.com. Editor of an online game museum at www.icwhen.com

[13] I.C.When. Ed. Donald A. Thomas, Jr. 21 Jan. 2002. 9 May 2002. 408 Osprey Lakes Circle, Chuluota, FL 32766-6655 phone (407) 304-6421 datj@icwhen.com. Editor of an online game museum at www.icwhen.com

[14] Pidkameny, Eric. "Levels of Sound" VGmusic.com. 2002. http://www.vgmusic.com/information/vgpaper2.html#history

[15] www.rpgfan.com. "Soundtracks". http://rpgfan.com/soundtracks/dq-best1/

[16] Belinkie, Matthew. Ed. "Video game music: not just kid stuff". 15 December 1999, matthew.belinkie@yale.edu. http://www.vgmusic.com/vgpaper.shtml

[17] Sakimoto, Hitoshi. Bio. www.cocoebiz.com

Sources Cited

Sloboda, John. "Exploring the Musical Mind". 2005. Oxford Press

Verne, Jules. "Paris in the 20th Century" 1863

Rowe, Robert. "Psychology of Music" 2006. NYU academic course professor.

Tiller, Dr. William http://www.heartmath.org/ihm-action/press-room/press-releases/ajc-release12.html

Ramachandran, Dr. Vilyanur S. "Art and the Brain", Journal of Consciousness Studies vol.6, 1999

Zeki, Semir "Art and the Brain", Journal of Consciousness Studies vol.6, 1999

Demasio, Antonio "A feeling of what happens". 1999. Harcourt Inc.

Video Sources



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