A Brief History of Music in Video Games

The music for video games finds its births on November 29, 1972. That day is installs the first arcade machine of a video game known as PONG, created by Atari, in the United States. This was the first interactive audio-visual entertainment machine to reproduce sounds. Prior to this date no video game had the technical capabilities to reproduce music or digital sound.

With the arrival of the Atari 2600, and thanks to the technological advances of the time, video game cartridges now allowed limited audio playback. The cartridges containing the video game came with a chip installed that allowed them to reproduce, no longer a single sound like PONG, but 3 independent sounds.

By the mid-80's, and after a crisis in the industry, Nintendo and SEGA would arrive and with them the audio system would be improved. With the development of the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES), a better version of the original Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), and the Sega Genesis, not only did the cartridges still include an audio chip with 3 different audio channels, but now consoles came with their own audio chip that allowed the use of 5 additional channels for audio and sound effects. During this time the soundtracks for the most iconic video games of all times were composed, as were the music of: The Legend of Zelda, Super Mario Bros., Sonic the Hedgehog, Castelvania, Final Fantasy, among many others. Although technology advanced, limited capabilities were still a thing among this machines, and this forced composers to compose simple music, with a clear melody and a unique identity; features and attributes that are still the basis for the composition of soundtracks for current games.

Since the development of video games in CD's, the composition of music for this medium has become a professional task. The high-capacity information storage and high-quality audio of CD's has led to the composition of musical pieces and soundtracks which can be compared to those in Films and Television, for their quality, complexity and use of diverse types of music and formats. In addition to this, the services of platforms such as Steam have helped developers include more high-quality music, sound effects and soundtracks in their products since these are stored in servers which allows them to have more space to store digital information. At the same time the evolution of the audio chips installed in the new hardwares/consoles have help enrich the quality of audio in games.

Finally, the evolution of music in video games is tie to the evolution of video game's hardware. Today the task of composing music for a video game has the same prestige as the making of music for feature films/movies or Television shows, and many movie composers have collaborated recently with major video game companies to compose soundtracks for their games.