8bit music, thou shall listen again

Music in video games has been somewhat a background form of art since the existence of video games came into being. The introduction of 8bit themes in the first video games as well as the weird sound effects that only managed to compliment the already repetitive (in most games of those early times) tunes were the step that would be taken by many musicians from that time onward.

Despite the evolution of virtual instruments and the constant development of amazingly well written string music that eventually led into the ambient genre, that serves most video games we know at the moment as background flavour, there was always that extra “bit” in our hearts that would love to hear an 8bit theme again play over and over while we crash our faces into spikes and walls in any kind of platformer game.

Shovel Knight

But why is that? Why do we feel the need to come back to the roots? Is it nostalgia? Is it catchy beats and rhythms?
No, explaining it might not be as simple as just saying yes or no to a little kid aching for another scoop of ice cream, instead we’ll follow a different route to find the answer. Let’s follow the “hype”.

The 8bit tunes you would hear in older games were there just because nothing of better quality could be put into the cartridges and of gigantic proportions cassettes that were used back then. It wasn’t a matter of having a fleshed out orchestra you could record ready for playing your compositions for a game, but more of a matter of how much space was left for the music in that game’s storage space. Heck, most games didn’t even have enough space for more than a couple stages back then, let alone more music.

As soon as things evolved though and Compact Discs were introduced, things went crazy. We saw tons of games with new forms of music and I would be lying if I said that even 5% of those games had any amount of 8bit music in them. That’s the “hype” ladies and gentlemen. People wanted something new, something exciting, and the inclusion of ambient music in games was something first seen and something extraordinary at the time. There was no reason to add funky beats again since there was so much room for more “sophisticated” music.

Tiny Barbarian

Time passes and people eventually get nostalgic and look in the past for those “good olde beats” they used to listen to when they were kids while playing on an arcane or on their DOS system. That love though, passes from one generation to another and thus 8bit music was brought back into the front lines. Indie games played a major role in the revival of 8bit music since the low budget game developing process as well as the simplicity of the games being developed just screamed for the accompaniment of some funky 8bit beats. Just to give that nostalgic feeling and get some attention as an “indie genre”.

It has come to the point though where most genres do not seek attention through any new kind of trend, everything seems to have its own place in the music world, be it dubstep or 8bit, the electronic music scene has for example established a pretty a good foundation where all new sub-genres can safely grow without the ambiguous criticism of every weird musician that decides he wants to try his hand at reviewing new music.

 Bit.Trip Beat

So overall, 8bit music has a place in our daily ventures through video games and music in general lately and has managed to seek its way through to fame even. With various artists getting recognized for amazing soundtracks that use 8bit (or even more, maybe 16bit, noone can tell the difference anyway) or even use combinations of 8bit with other genres.

Some notable examples would be the soundtrack of Faster Than Light, the amazing work of Protodome or even AquaKitty Electric Cafe. An exemplary and honorable mention of course goes to the whole series of Bit.Trip games that have thoroughly explored the boundaries of rhythmic gameplay in games through their amazingly well implemented 8bit tunes in every game.

-Constantine “Kelfecil” Christakis