By Isael Vega
Music and Video Games
Music and video games are no strangers to each other. Music is constantly incorporated into video games in one way or another. Video game trailers often use music to set the tone. Music is utilized in video games as the soundtrack. Plenty of games such as the Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater series and Grand Theft Auto feature a wide variety of music. Video games also make use of music as a gameplay component.
There was a time when living rooms were filled with plastic instruments due to the popularity of Guitar Hero and Rock Band. This synergy between the two industries has introduced fans of both sides to new media. Music in video games exposes the audience to new and old artists. Those familiar with the music may have their interest peaked when it’s used in a trailer.
While music’s inclusion in video games can be an artistic choice, it can also be a marketing opportunity for artists. Electronic Art’s (EA) worldwide executive and president of music, Steve Schnur, tells The Guardian how video games have helped the music industry thrive. Schnur’s team is in charge of working on soundtracks for games such as FIFA and Need for Speed.
The soundtrack for FIFA is worked on a year in advanced to “define the season.” Schnur states, “Any given song in Fifa 19 – whether it’s a new track by an established act or the debut of an unknown artist – will be heard around the world nearly 1bn times.” Artists have benefited from having their music licensed to video games through the exposure or in the case of Aerosmith, lots of royalties from Guitar Hero.
This combination of media has allowed both industries to be successful and has paved the way for the creative freedom of music and video games. A lot of video game trailers and moments are more memorable because of their music choice. In honor of the late Chester Bennington, I wanted to celebrate music and video games. I have put together a playlist of over 40 (check it out) uses of music in video games. There is a variety of video game intros, trailers, soundtracks, and commercials that feature music. Below I will discuss some of my favorite and the more creative ones out there (in no particular order).
Forza Motorsport 4 E3 Trailer – Kanye West “Power”
Kanye’s “Power” has been attached to a few different trailers including movies and other video games. It has been used in the Wolf of Wall Street and Saban’s Power Rangers of all things. The Forza trailer is basic overall as it mostly highlights the cars with pre-rendered models and shows off “in-game” footage but the editing is on point. A lot of these trailers for racing games focus on the exotic and supercars for brand awareness. It shows how much of a platform racing games have become for the car industry.
Borderlands 2 Wimoweh Trailer – “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”
“The Lion Sleeps Tonight” first recorded by South African musician Solomon Linda has also been used in other media such as The Lion King. Movies often use cheery music to contrast violent scenes. Here, Borderlands 2 makes use of that trope by showing off the vibrant, chaotic world of Pandora with over a “bazillion” guns and what is has to offer. It’s a more relaxing trailer compared to the dubstep heavy “Doomsday” trailer. The Borderlands series in general has made great use of music in their trailers.
Gears of War Trailer – Gary Jules and Michael Andrews “Mad World”
Gears of War was one of Microsoft’s biggest exclusives on the Xbox right next to the Halo franchise. The trailer for Gears of War featured a cover of the Tears for Fears song “Mad World” by Gary Jules and Michael Andrews. Although the trailer for the second game is also great, this trailer showed the power of marketing. Jules and Andrews’ version of the song was number 1 on iTunes after the trailer aired. The song became closely associated with the Gears franchise. It returned as an Easter egg in one the game’s multiplayer maps and the instrumental is played during a tear-jerking, iconic scene in Gears of War 3 (no spoilers).
World Cup 98 Intro – Chumbawamba “Tubthumper”
The 1998 FIFA World Cup was France’s second time hosting the tournament. The mascot for the tournament was a rooster named Footix that looks like Woody Woodpecker. His colors are only coincidental as they are supposed to reflect the country’s national colors. This little guy made his way into the intro for the first official World Cup game developed by EA Sports. When it comes to any sport, no other song comes closer to embodying that when you get knocked down, you get up again than Chumbawamba’s “Tubthumper.” The FIFA games never fail to have at least one catchy song and it’s why they are pioneers in soundtracks.
Mercenaries 2: World in Flames – “Oh No You Didn’t”
The marketing campaign for Mercenaries 2: World in Flames featured an original song by the Wojahn Bros titled “Oh No You Didn’t.” Returning to the trope of violence and cheery music, this trailer did that exact thing. Although the game wasn’t well received, the video above does an excellent job of showing the “making of” these TV spots from the animation side. Video game trailers can vary from live action to animated or a combination of the two. It’s interesting to watch the process go from the storyboard stage, animation and effect tests to the final product on TV.
Fallout 76 Official Live Action Trailer – The Beach Boys “Wouldn’t It Be Nice”
This is a rare example where a trailer for a game is arguably better than the game itself. Fallout 76 had a rough launch trying to maintain its servers and a handful of other problems but its trailer promised a much happier experience. This trailer made use of live action and CGI along with the cheery song “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” by The Beach Boys. The people behind the trailer actually put together a colorful, creative package. Video game trailers are capable of more than just showing upscaled “in-game” footage and that was perfectly demonstrated here.
Dead Space E3 Trailer – “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”
Dead Space is a survival-horror game set in space. The song “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” is a lullaby with lyrics from a poem by Jane Taylor. The song choice here offers a great deal of juxtaposition between night time lullaby and horror in space. It is a great example of a video game trailer using a song to enhance the atmosphere and set the mood. The song is initially inviting despite its grainy tone but quickly becomes distorted with rapid jump cuts of intense horror. The lack of any other sound besides the music and score really makes you feel like you’re alone up there.
Grand Theft Auto V Radio Stations – Various Artists
Grand Theft Auto V (GTA V) featured one of the most extensive soundtracks of any previous GTA game. The GTA games use music as part of their in-game radio stations. GTA V featured 16 stations with over 441 licensed songs. The stations are meant to reflect the diverse community of Southern California with stations ranging from Rock, Hip-Hop, Modern Rap, Pop, Electronic, Reggae, R&B, and even Mexican music. Most of the stations are hosted by real-world artists such as the FlyLo FM station hosted by Flying Lotus. A few new songs were also added in subsequent releases and an entire new station, Frank Ocean’s very own blonded Los Santos 97.8 FM.
Mortal Kombat 11 Trailer – 21 Savage “Immortal”
Hip-Hop and rap don’t get a lot of love when it comes to trailers. The guys behind Mortal Kombat, NetherRealm Studios have a good track record of using Hip-Hop/Rap in their trailers. They did it first with the Mortal Kombat X trailer featuring an original track by Wiz Khalifa “Can’t Be Stopped” and kept that combo going in the Mortal Kombat 11 trailer with 21 Savage’s original track “Immortal.” It’s a nice change of pace and other trailers should incorporate Hip-Hop/Rap more often. While both trailers are hype-inducing, the Mortal Kombat 11 trailer does a better job of having the music flow with the fighting.
Dante’s Inferno: Hell Awaits Trailer – Bill Withers “Ain’t No Sunshine”
The Dante’s Inferno trailer was beautifully animated by Blur Studio. Blur is a visual effects company known for its work in trailers, CGI in movies such as Deadpool, and other animated works. For those unfamiliar with the Divine Comedy, the video game Dante’s Inferno is loosely based on the first part, Inferno. The song choice of Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine” could have not been any more perfect for a game where you dive into the nine circles of Hell to save your lover’s soul.
Titanfall 2 Encore Trailer – Jay-Z & Linkin Park “Numb/Encore”
Titanfall was developed by Respawn Entertainment, a collection of people who have previously worked on major first person shooters (FPS) such as Medal of Honor and Call of Duty. Although Titanfall 2 was a critical success, it didn’t perform well financially. Most of the blame falls on the game’s publisher EA for releasing Titanfall 2 in between their own Battlefield 1 release and competitor, Activison’s Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare. Regardless, Titanfall 2 is a great game and the trailer showcased its high-energy gameplay through the use of Jay-Z & Linkin Park’s “Numb/Encore.”
Celebrating Music and Video Games
Music and video games are two of my favorite types of media. Video games allow people to escape harsh realities into fantasy worlds where you can be anyone or do anything. Video games have gone from just being a new form of entertainment to a new medium where interactive stories and adventures can be explored.
Music on the other hand allows people to express how they feel and music itself has become a platform for the voiceless. Artists such as Kanye West use music as a medium to address issues of racism, classism, and consumerism. Music and video games can both be seen as mere entertainment. The people behind them are the ones who push the medium into new boundaries and show what media is capable of producing.
I just wanted to take a moment on Bennington’s birthday to appreciate all the music in my life and all the contributions from musicians around the world to any media. A life without the creative freedom of music and video games would be rather dull, so thank you.
Rest in Peace, Chester Bennington, you beautiful angel