By K.B. Gould
on 10.2.13
Photo by Rockstar

L
ast night I sat in the Church of St. John the Apostle and watched Grammy award winning musician Om’Mas Keith conduct GTA V score composers Tangerine Dream, Woody Jackson, The Alchemist, and Oh No — as well as an ensemble of backup musicians — through a performance of songs from the game. Behind them, a giant screen played slow-motion game footage, and recessed strobe lights cast an ethereal glow on icons and statues of Jesus.

It was epic.

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The sold-out event shows just how far video game music has come in the past few decades. Twenty years ago music was almost an afterthought; today, companies like Rockstar pay millions of dollars to professional musicians and licensing agencies. For GTA V, the musicians composed twenty hours of music for the game’s missions, and even more for the single-player and multiplayer modes. Rockstar also licensed over 240 songs to be shared between the game’s fifteen radio stations, and got several celebrities — Kenny Loggins for Los Santos Rock Radio, Flying Lotus for FlyLo FM, and Big Boi for Radio Los Santos — to DJ.

Two Other Immersive Worlds

Bioshock

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In August 2007 Irrational Games released BioShock, a first-person shooter that introduced gamers to the fictional city of Rapture. Constructed in the 1940s by business magnet Andrew Ryan, the underwater city served as a Utopia for society’s elite. Unfortunately, class distinctions grew, resulting in a war that turned the halcyon city into a breeding ground for maniacs and monsters. Brilliant use of sound and lighting convey the city’s recent descent into madness, and hidden audio recordings turn Rapture’s history into a treasure hunt. Visit at your own risk. $15

Borderlands

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Welcome to Pandora, a beautiful planet full of vast wilderness, rich minerals, and a whole host of creatures that want to eat your brains. To make matters worse, the Dahl Mining Corporation — which decided to abandon the planet after receiving threats from the Atlas Corporation — opened the gates of Pandora’s prison labor camps, releasing the prisoners to terrorize the populace. Enjoy exploring the immersive, artistically rendered open world, but try to stay alive. $30

Additionally, they invented several bands with names that could have been taken from a Wu-Tang Name Generator: Love Fist (a holdout from GTA III), Barbecue Spaceflight, Sorry Commode, Anguished Cornhole and Fatal Incursion, to name a few.

Even more than demonstrating advances in video game music, the event showed just how far video games have come in general. To produce GTA V, Rockstar spent $265 million dollars, putting it on par with some of Hollywood’s biggest blockbusters. Compare this to the $1-$4 million price tag of the average game produced in 2000. With this money, they created an entire virtual world, investing in things that most players, too caught up in the joys of stealing cars and shooting down helicopters, will ever fully recognize and appreciate. But the point is that they exist. If you want, you can call friends, change the shower temperature, play tennis, watch TV, or listen to 240 songs shared between 15 different radio stations.

I contend that the success of GTA V lies in its unprecedented attention to minutiae. By investing in small details like the score and the billboards, Rockstar created the most complete, most interactive virtual world to date. Consumers responded, buying over $1 billion worth of product in three days, making it the fastest selling entertainment product of all time.

In an age when many studios laud photorealism as the be-all-end-all goal of top-tier games, GTA V takes a different path. Sure, it looks good, but it also offers another reason for staying glued to the TV: not photorealism, but life realism, delivered through an interactive, meticulously built world in which everything has been handcrafted by artists, virtuosos and engineers. It heralds a new era of gaming, one in which the top studios will attract gamers by focusing on their interactions with the digital landscape — i.e., by creating more immersive worlds. The next generation of gaming consoles, coming out this holiday season, will help usher in that transition.

In other words, the future looks, feels, and sounds pretty sweet.

CHEERS, JEERS? We’d love to hear from you. Email the author at kgould [at] gearpatrol.com and let him know what you think. Thanks for reading.

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