Video Game Audio 104. Arcade Sounds Of The 1980s.

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This is part IV of my article series on video game sound. If you haven’t already, I recommend you start with Part I: Video Game Audio 101. Fiction or Interface. An Introduction.

I briefly explained the first computer sound effects and melodies in part III of this series.

Now we’ve reached the 1980s when video game sound really took off in arcade machines, home consoles, and personal computers such as the Commodore 64.

This article is about arcade machines.

One major technological change that led to video game sound getting more advanced in the 1980s was that developers began using multiple sound chips in a single arcade machine.

The extra sound chips were mostly used to create more advanced sound effects. But it also meant that music could play simultaneously with those effects.

The game was licensed and published in the US by Midway in 1981.

While Space Invaders already had a four-tone loop, it could be argued that it is in-between music and effect.

1980 was the year when music entered the arcade machines

But in 1980, three games were released with music: RALLY-X, CARNIVAL, and – most importantly – Pac-Man.

RALLY-X is a car strategy game. You might argue it’s the original ancestor of the GTA series. It was released by the Japanese video game company Namco.

RALLY-X had music – an annoying background melody that kept repeating over and over. And over!

Here’s a video where you can see and hear the original game.

The next game, CARNIVAL, was released by Gremlin / SEGA. It is a shoot-the-ducks or shoot-the-bear game we know from fun fairs.

The music in CARNIVAL is a loop of the waltz Over The Waves (circa 1889) by Mexican composer Juventino Rosas:

The game was quite popular and later got released on the home consoles Atari 2600, ColecoVision, and Intellivision.

The third game was Pac-Man, which Namco also released.

Pac-Man is just as popular today as it was then. The iconic hungry cheese has almost become synonymous with video games.

Pac-Man’s influence on popular culture

Pac-Man is important for several reasons.

First is the sound in the game.

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The music that plays before each game round is so iconic and catchy. This made gamers as well as other video game designers and composers realize the importance of catchy tunes in games.

The cute wagga-wagga sounds Pac-Man makes when he munches his way through the rows of white pills have become just as iconic as the graphics.

Pac-Man was also the first game to include cutscenes, i.e., short linear “movie” sequences between the different levels.

Pac-Man became a stable in popular gaming culture, and many musicians have paid tribute to the game.

Fx, in 1982 Weird Al Yankovic made a parody of the Beatles’ song Taxman (1966), where he sang Pac-Man instead.

Another example is the song Pac-Man Fever (1982) from the album shared the same name by Buckner & Garcia:

The song Pac-Man Fever was released as a single, reaching number 9 on the Billboard Hot 100 list.

It also earned a gold record for over one million sold copies. In 2008, it had sold over 2.5 million copies worldwide.

It was re-released in 2015 in an updated version called Pac-Man Fever (Eat ’em up). It was by the same producers who made the Pac-Man fan film in 2012.

Another example of how Pac-Man has influenced musicians is the EP Pac-Man from 1992, released by Aphex Twin.

It’s also worth noting that Aphex Twin used the alias Power Pill on this release.

Of course, Pac-Man and his frenemies – the four ghosts Blinky, Pinky, Inky, and Clyde – have also appeared in numerous movies, including the animated movie Wreck-It Ralph by Walt Disney Pictures from 2012.

We also see Ms. Pac-Man, one of the many clones and spin-offs created because of the original game’s success.

Wreck-It Ralph and the second movie Ralph Breaks the Internet (2018), are highly recommended for anyone who loves classic video game characters from the golden arcade games era.

Another type of video game machine didn’t have it as easy: home gaming consoles, which I’ll cover in the next article.


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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Jan has played video games since the early 1980s. He loves getting immersed in video games as a way to take his mind off stuff when the outside world gets too scary. A lifelong gamer, the big interest led to a job as a lecturer on game sound at the University of Copenhagen and several written articles on video games for magazines.

Read more on the About Page.