Video game music has become part of our cultural heritage. The bleeps and blips of early sound chips are celebrated in chiptune culture, while the familiar computerized rhythms of Super Mario Bros. and the almost oriental sounding Tetris soundtrack, with its anxiety-producing increase in speed, have been endlessly parodied, sampled, covered, and re-rearranged within the remix culture of the web. Their simple sounds are fondly remembered, but one thing they’re not is realistic. In the modern video game era that emulates realism, even as the story lines are ever more elaborate, the sounds strive for authenticity. So we get the agonizing screams of war, the patter of rain, or the noises of a bustling city added to the mood music. But, what would happen if you overlay these realistic sounds on those old 8-bit games, with their blocky graphics and crude coloring?
Step up sound designer Jake “virt” Kaufman, who’s taken on the noble challenge of adding realistic sounds to those iconic games, making for some absurd results. Maybe it’s the unrealistic graphics or the original scores etched in our memories, but the juxtaposition of realism and 8-bit games sounds daft. Just watch the showreel above, with games from Pac-Man to Contra given a realistic soundtrack overhaul and try not to laugh.
Along with those he’s also reworked the Super Mario Bros. soundtrack which originally sounded like this:
It now comes across sounding like this:
Great fun. But is also shows you how important the soundtrack was in immersing you in those digital worlds. While the above remastered games sound great, they also sound odd, breaking the illusion and leaving you unable to suspend your disbelief. Even though the sounds are real, when paired with an abstracted environment they create a surreal effect, perhaps highlighting the very reason we play these games—to thwart seriousness with play. You definitely couldn’t play these games with the same engagement while cartoon characters moaned every time they got hit or fell over—it would be far too jarring. And hilarious. Kind of like a Monty Python sketch. Reality, there’s no place for you here.