Listening to the Game – A Brief History of Game Audio

One of the things I keep mentioning in the context of game design is the role of sound. Go to any games arcade, and one of the first things you’ll notice is that it’s an attack on all your senses.

Audio can play an important part in manipulating the emotions of the player – and their engagement with the game – as well as providing feedback when a particular action has occurred – or equally as a warning about something that is about to happen.

Today, many games consoles have part of their hardware dedicated to managing the sound – even surround sound in some cases. But high quality audio production was not always the order of the day!

Read A History of Video Game Music (GameSpot). As you do so, see if you can use the article to answer the following questions – or at least act as the starting point for a wider search that will turn up the answers!

  1. The Grammy Awards are best known as music industry awards. To what extent are game soundtracks eligible for recognition in the Awards? Is there a category for game soundtracks in the awards?
  2. How was sound used to create tension in Space Invaders? (Unfortunately, the links to the audio clips no longer appear to work. If you can find copies of sound files for any of the games mentioned, please comment back here with a link. If you want to share your own recordings, DivShare is one place to share them from (it’s not quite ‘YouTube for audio clips’, but then, is anywhere?).
  3. what is claimed to be “the first stand-alone audio soundtrack in the video game industry”? And just what is a “stand-alone video-game audio soundtrack”? ;-)
  4. when did stero sound start to appear in video games?
  5. to what extent was sound supported in the original GameBoy? How does this compare with audio supported in the current generation of handheld consoles (such as the Sony PSP, or Nintendo DS Lite?)
  6. when did sports titles first start to use continuous “play-by-play” commentary? What exactly is continuous “play-by-play” commentary anyway?;-)
  7. how did games from the late 1990s start to use music as an important part of the actual gameplay or game mechanic?

If you are maintaining your own timeline of notable events in game and interactive media history, why not add some important dates in the history of in-game audio to it? (You might also like to refer to the alternative game audio timeline given in the first part of Adaptive Audio: A report by Alexander Brandon.)

If you have access to IEEE Explore, for example through you local library, this paper provides an interesting technical history of game audio: Video Game Console Audio: Evolution and Future Trends, K Chang et al., Computer Graphics, Imaging and Visualisation (CGIV ’07) 2007 pp. 97-102, 2007 (doi:10.1109/CGIV.2007.87).

For more general reading, try Game Sound Design at


7 Responses to “Listening to the Game – A Brief History of Game Audio”

  1. 1 GameJobHunter April 12, 2008 at 10:20 pm

    I would say the two most memorable audio from video games are the music from Super Mario Bros and Zelda:Ocarina of Time. The games coming flashing back to me when I hear the music. Video game music could become just as big as movie soundtracks in the future. With the ever increasing popularity of games, it’s only a matter of time.

    Andy Williams
    GameJobHunter, Inc.

    Get a video game job at

  2. 2 Tony Hirst April 12, 2008 at 11:46 pm

    Having a quick search around for MIDI files for game soundtracks, I came across the Game Music Themes, ( ), which acts as an archive site for game MIDI files, as well as sheet music for game themes.

    Most computers today are capable of playing MIDI files through the web browser (if yours doesn’t, then try downloading and installing QuickTime), which means you should be able to listen to your favourite game’s soundtrack through your browser, if you can find the game title on the Game Music Themes website.

    If you have a few minutes spare, why not see if your favourite game soundtrack is listed there, and post a link back here to the soundtrack with a few lines about makes the soundtrack so special…

  3. 3 Tony Hirst April 13, 2008 at 4:55 pm

    Picking up on Andy’s cunningly disguised link to GameJobHunter ;-), the music from Zelda: Ocarina of Time, is the subject of what looks likely to be a series of posts about the scoring and composition of music for that game on the Cruise Elroy blog. here’s the first post: “Music in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, part one” [ ]

    The post embeds audio clips from the game. If you’re musically trained (I’m not!), does that post (and any that follow it in the series) seem to make sense?

  4. 4 Rebecca April 13, 2008 at 6:31 pm

    You can play Space Invaders here
    The sound effects seem authentic to me.

  5. 5 Doug Clow April 14, 2008 at 9:03 am

    “it’s an attack on all your senses”

    Indeed – but one of the main advantages of home gaming over the arcade version is that you miss out on the assault on your sense of smell :-)

  6. 6 Rebecca April 14, 2008 at 8:53 pm

    But can Space Invaders be truly authentic if you can’t smell the stale beer soaked into the floor?

  1. 1 Producing Game Audio « Digital Worlds - Interactive Media and Game Design Trackback on April 14, 2008 at 4:03 pm

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