By Eric Pankoke updated on 05/15/2009
I have been gaming since the early 80s, and one thing that hasn't changed in all those years is the impact music has on a game. I couldn't begin to tell you the high score I got on Tetris for the Gameboy, but I'm certain I could hum a few bars of the music. And who could froget the instrumentals that played in the background of Super Mario Brothers? I've played some games that have been less than stellar, but I still remember the experience because of the music. So why would a developer NOT want to have music in their game?
The main reason, I believe, is that as you get into open platforms that allow the masses to write software for little or no cost, you start getting much smaller teams that are often comprised of folks with no musical talent. They can't afford to pay someone to write music, many of them don't have friends who can write a tune or two, and they don't want to use public domain music in their games (I guess they're afraid someone might recognize it). This lack of noise in games first started to become a widespread issue in PocketPC games, where I often heard the excuse "this has to work on smartphones too, and they don't have the ability to play both music and sound effects". Well, I say you should give me the option of which one to pick then. Now, with the advent of the iDevice that allows you to play music from your digital library while a piece of software is running, the developers use the excuse "I'm just letting you pick from a wide array of soundtracks that fit your listening desires". The problem here is two-fold. First of all, none of my music might fit the mood of the game. Second, in a case like mine, I only have one album on my device (River Of Dreams), and I personally don't want that blaring every time I play a game. As far as I'm concerned, playing something from my iTunes collection should be an alternative, not the only option.
A case in point (and actually part of the impetus for writing this post) are the games of Shen Mansell. The first one I played and reviewed was Upsi Runner, and the truth is I wasn't a fan of the game anyway, but it really stuck out that there was no music in the game. Personally I felt it was more noticable due to the lack of high activity in the game, but whatever the case it was obvious that there were no tunes. When his second game, Upsi Runner, came out, I was hoping that, among other improvements from attempt number one, that there would be music. No such luck. On the plus side, I actually enjoyed the game play of Upsi Looper, so at least it had that going over Upsi Runner. I really wanted there to be musc, though, and once again I criticized that oversight in my review. Now I'm not sure if Shen had a sudden change of heart or if he was just tired of my "complaining", but either way he eventually released an update for Upsi Looper that included music. You know what? I actually enjoy the game even more now!
Now that's not to say the music was a perfect addition. While I really like both the songs that are now included in the game, I'm not sure they quite fit the mood of the game. However, they definitely fit the retro feel of the game, and they are both pretty good, so I can live with the fact that I can't necessarily picture them matching the game play. I'm just glad I can finally listen to some ear candy while I'm trying to loop my enemies into submission. As of the writing of this blog post Shen's latest game, Gum Drops, doesn't have any music either. However, I believe I read somewhere that music was coming in an update, and I can't wait to see what he'll have to offer this time around. If it's anything like the graphics and game play of his games, it will just keep getting better each time around.