Sunday, April 28, 2013

My Gaming Audio History: Starmaster (1982)

Here's a game I remember my dad playing, probably because of his love of Star Wars and Star Trek, and one that he helped teach me to play: Activision's Starmaster for the Atari VCS.  Apparently, Starmaster was Activision's answer to Atari's earlier Star Raider (1979)-- a game I didn't know at all-- and after watching the game play, I agree: Starmaster and Star Raiders have many similarities.



Who created the audio experience?  Alan Miller is the game designer of Star Master and continues the trend of game designer as audio creator, as with all these Atari games I've played.

What is the audio experience?  Again, the outer space game on drone.  The sound of warping through space, your laser fire, enemy fire/comets, destroying or being hit by enemy fire, and touching the mother ship, which is also the same sound repeated three times when a critical ship system is damaged.

How does the audio draw you more deeply into the gaming experience?  The sound of warping through space has a feeling of acceleration as the pitch rises and the echo effect speeds up, mirroring the visual of the stars you pass by speeding up.  The same is true of comets you encounter and enemy fire.  What is it about the sound of docking with the mothership that makes you know it's good vs when it happens three times in a row indicating a damaged system?  The high pitched, glissando?  It's not far from the LoZ collecting a heart sound and has clearly become standard for a positive, healthy collection.

One huge difference between Starmaster and Combat, Barnstorming, Kaboom! is in that Starmaster has a definite ending once all the space.  Thus, one of the coolest things as I watched a playthrough of this game was hearing five notes of a tune that I always heard referred to colloquially as 2001: Space Odyssey.  These five tones are a part of the opening to a Richard Strauss piece, Also Sprach Zarathustra.  How cool that my video game music study has me learning something about classical music!  Although an internet search reveals that this tune is a well documented part in the game, I'm not sure I would have known this music when I was a kid and heard it.  I wonder if designer Alan Miller heard the music like so many as a part of Kubrick's 1968 film, 2001: Space Odyssey?  I'd love to learn more details about how he heard this piece and why he decided to incorporate it into the game.

Older classical music isn't generally under copyright restriction, so it was an easy way to incorporate good music into a game.  Also, with a very well known piece like this, there's immediate association of space travel, as well as nostalgia for many of the players who'd-- if they were interested in outer space-- perhaps had seen 2001: Space Odyssey a decade earlier.  This may not be the first instance of classical music being used in a game, but as far as my investigation of what I heard, this would have been the first opportunity for me to hear classical music from a game.

Watching this game reminded me to consider the relationship of game genre and audio.  That's a huge conversation that I need to consider a lot more, but I might as well get the idea rolling.  This game is the earliest First Person Shooter I played.