What does a modern videogame sound like?

Bill Loguidice's picture

Namco's Ms. Pac-Man/Galaga Anniversary Arcade MachineNamco's Ms. Pac-Man/Galaga Anniversary Arcade MachineIt's presently 9:52PM EST here in New Jersey and I'm watching the All-Star Game home run derby in hi-def on ESPN HD. Normally I wouldn't watch such a thing, but I'm a huge Mets fan and David Wright, the Mets third baseman, is presently leading. In any case, while watching it, an interesting Taco Bell commercial came on, which is part of their somewhat tiresome "Good to Go" Crunch Wrap Supreme campaign. This particular commercial was interesting for the simple fact that it did kind of the pet peeve of classic game enthusiasts everywhere - it showed someone playing a modern console, but featured classic gaming sound effects.

Now, brushing aside the fact that the young man was portrayed as something of an aimless loser playing videogames (it is after all meant as a joke, so we do need to lighten up in that regard), the setup is as follows. The guy's parents walk in with the food while he has a generic PS2, possibly Xbox, third party controller (wired) in his hands that he's madly clicking away (another nod to arcade machines of the past!) on while what sounds like "Asteroids" sound effects are going on. As soon as he stops touching the controller it apparently magically pauses the game and he begins eating the apparent food of the gods. Commercially stuff transpires and the kid's bags are packed and he's out the door. What sound effect plays? What sounds like the dying sequence in "Pac-Man" (or is it "Ms. Pac-Man"?). Ah, the classics...

So anyway, this goes back to something we've discussed several times before here at Armchair Arcade, the idea of abstraction. Classic games had more abstract graphics and more abstract sounds, which ironically lend themselves to easy identification. Modern games certainly look and sound better than games of the past for the most part, but by sound alone, they're certainly not uniquely identifiable since they, like the visuals, tend to mimick "real life", which raises the question of what does a modern videogame sound like? Apparently to the less clever or the uninformed or the desperate commerical creators hoping to establish the obvious, exactly like our favorites of the past. It kind of makes you think that that "videogame fad" really had more legs than even we have come to realize...

(By the way, at least the commercial didn't go for my ultimate pet peeve of a needle being ripped off of a playing record. That simply has to be the most cliche'd sound effect ever, and in today's world one of the more ironically irrelevant. I've heard that sound used to indicate a hard or suprising stop in so many out-of-place ways, it's not even funny.)


Matt Barton
Matt Barton's picture
Joined: 01/16/2006
Deep Thoughts

You're definitely right on the money with this one. I just had a roommate at a conference who had a habit of staying up all night playing World of Warcraft. Even though I haven't ever played the game (and had my eyes closed trying to sleep while he was playing it), I knew he was playing a videogame. The sounds tended to be very repetitive--even more repetitive than you'd hear in a movie of the same type. But you're precisely right--there is no mistaking those Pac-Man sounds. If you hear them, you know for sure it's supposed to be a videogame. On the other hand, if you hear someone playing the latest Final Fantasy, you might think they're watching a show or even listening to the radio.

I used to think that it was really uncreative to try so hard in videogames to mimic TV and movies. If I want to watch a movie, I'll watch one--I don't need the equivalent of a movie in 15-minute increments of game cutscenes. However, now I'm more of a mind that these blends can be creative if done artistically and with common sense.

But, in the end, I find that listening to classic SIDs or even Amiga mods evokes more feeling in me than any old modern remix. Why anyone would want to buy a symphonic version of an old 16-bit Final Fantasy soundtrack eludes me.


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