Music. From basic chiptunes to full orchestras, music has come to be a major defining part of the experience when playing video games. That wasn't always the case, though. Back in the days of Atari and CalecoVision, music was treated vastly differently than players are accustomed to, these days.
By Robert Marrujo:: Gamers of the era might have heard the occasional small medley or chime, but a soundtrack? Not so fast, people. It wasn't until Koji Kondo came along in 1985 and composed the soundtrack for Super Mario Bros. on NES that music really began to gain importance in video games as an element of design.
Kondo's marching orders were straightforward, though still challenging: create a tune that could play in a loop and not become irritating using NES's extremely limited sound capabilities. The Overworld Theme of Super Mario Bros. is one of the most iconic pieces of gaming music ever written, but its implementation was also a watershed moment in the industry.
Kondo didn't just craft a memorable song, he also added an entirely new element into game design. The tune heightened the action on-screen, starting off at a slower pace then quickly and subtly coming to compliment Mario's motions as he went from walking to running to slaughtering Goombas. Once the timer reached the last 100 ticks in a stage, suddenly the tempo kicked up to convey the need to urgently get to the goal before Mario met his demise.
Hard though it might be to believe, games simply didn't do things like that before Kondo and Super Mario Bros. It's something that's easy to take for granted now, but back in the day this was a major change for video game players and a huge part the identity of Super Mario as a character. Now soundtracks are an everyday thing, but they wouldn't be if not for the pioneering efforts of Nintendo.
With Binx Boomboox, we want to highlight some of the greatest video game music of all-time and, when we can, offer some insight into the people that made it. Koji Kondo is one of the more fascinating composers in the industry, and as you can maybe tell from what you just read, he has a big place in video game history. Check out this article about Andrew Schartmann's book Koji Kondo’s Super Mario Bros. Soundtrack (33 1/3) to learn more about the composer's impact. Heck, read the book while you're at it!
About Robert Marrujo: A Senior Editor for Nintendojo.com and an Editor for San Leandro News. A lifelong Bay Area resident, you can usually find him puttering around writing, drawing, or playing video games. Check him out on Instagram @robert_marrujo!