Monday, April 29, 2013

My Gaming Audio History: Megamania (1982)

Activision's Megamania for the Atari is the third and final game on my list of games I played that shares my birth year, 1982.  I've got just one more Atari game that I played on my list, and then I'm moving on to the NES with a few PC and arcade games sprinkled in as I move into my gaming childhood.  This is a game I remember my mom playing a lot and being good at.  It's basically Space Invaders with different looking aliens (irons, cookies) onscreen.  Of course, who doesn't love the Star Trek like ship?  Though this game has no real ending, even if you reach 999,999 points, I remember being able to beat at least one screen of everything, and in my own mind, that constituted a win if I circled back to the first screen of enemies again.

This is also the second game on the list by Steve Cartwright.  Having a second game by the same creator made me think: I definitely expected game audio to evolve through time as the technologies do.  However, I think in large part I'd discounted the fact that composers also develop along their careers and also come into their own as well.  Here's a reading from the Digital Press Online that discusses the games Steve Cartwright created.  Really interesting to read how disappointed he was when a sound effect was left off of a Playstation release of Megamania.

Who created the audio experience?  Steve Cartwright.  Another of these games from the era where the game designer was responsible for everything.

What is the audio experience?  Again, this game begins with silence and ends the same way, usually when you die-- or apparently when the gamer reaches 999,999 points.  Otherwise, this game uses only sound effects, no music: there's the sound of your energy bar filling up, the sound of it depleting at the end of each screen as your score goes up, the sound of laser fire, the sound of your ship being incinerated, and the sound of destroying an enemy ship.  This is the first Atari game not to have that sort of "game on" droning loop in the background.  It does strike my ear as a bit odd that you can just be sitting in silence waiting for the opportunity to strike the enemy.  I pretty much just fired my laser constantly, so I really never heard silence except for when I was dead.

How does the audio experience draw the player more deeply into the game?  Since the game is silent without weapons fire, I think that's all the more incentive to fire your laser all the time!  Basically any audio sound other than your death has to start with you firing at the aliens, so it's all the more incentive to hear your laser firing non-stop.  I was surprised to remember that there's no sound for "game on" and feeling the effect that has on gameplay.

Watching several different playthroughs of the game reminded me that-- at least as far as a game audio scholar-- I need to see imperfect playthroughs.  There are plenty of playthroughs posted of games where gamers never die or make any wrong moves, sailing through the games perfectly.  This leaves out certain sounds and music that might only play when the gamer loses.  I encountered the same problem when I was studying what music I heard as I bred a Gold Chocobo in FF7.  Since I never lost a race as I played it researching for this blog, I didn't ever hear the Gold Saucer Tango of Tears.

Megamania is the first game on my list that I know of to use popular musicians to help promote it, as you can see in this commercial for it featuring The Tubes.  It's always interesting to think about synergy across music mediums, and this commercial shows what was happening in popular music in the early 80s: the start of MTV and music videos.  I love the way game sound effects are incorporated into the audio of the commercial!  I also have learned how Activision split with Atari in part because the game designers didn't feel they received enough credit for creating their games.  Thus, the shout out to Steve Cartwright in the commercial.

Up next...  My last Atari game.... and one that changed gaming history.

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