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Beep: A Documentary History of Game Sound (Review)

Beep: A Documentary History of Game Sound (Review)

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beep-movie

The Beep Movie was officially released on September 30, 2016. I’ve watched the film, which is just short of two hours and a wonderful examination of the history of sound in video games. This includes a look at how music and sound design evolved from the penny arcade era to the modern era of gaming today.

Although I been writing for Original Sound Version for close to two years I still consider myself a bit of a N00b when it comes to game audio. Most of my game audio experiences have come from playing games, and listening to soundtracks. Until now, I did not have a decent understanding of the behind the scenes of the game audio world and Beep pulls back the curtain for its viewers. Read on to hear my full review of the film and the Blu-ray release.

I first watched Beep on Vimeo after winning an early access screening copy through Beep‘s official twitter account @GameSoundDoc. I had already pre-ordered the Blu-ray but was eager to see the film as soon as possible. The film takes viewers through the early days of game sound, first examining how it all began with penny arcades, and pinball machines that didn’t necessarily have dedicated audio hardware. For me it was intriguing to hear how those game creators used internal mechanisms to create a sort of soundtrack.  I have taken some shots of the Blu-ray on my TV so you can see the menu chapters.

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From there, Beep gradually it works its way up to the console era, advancements in computer technology/hardware and memory storage in the CD-ROM where high fidelity soundtracks became possible.

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It is interesting to hear composers like Nobuo Uematsu speak about the early days of composing for the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), and how he approached the music to Final Fantasy. You’ll also here the composers reflect on the constraints of composing due to memory limitations, and how they were also able to use this to their advantage.

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As the film progresses, you’ll hear from more composers reflecting on games that changed how they approached their compositions. I also found that at times it was a trip down memory lane because I have played and experienced the audio of many games featured in the film. You’ll also step away from music to look at areas like voice over, and sound design which are critical to the game audio experience.

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The creators of Beep conducted several interviews with numerous composers. The hardest part of making a film like this is deciding on who to include and who to cut. Wilbert Roget II only appears very briefly in the film, as do other composers but you can see more of them in the additional three featurettes including on the Blu-ray or as part of the digital download. You can also view additional interview content on the Beep website through Webisodes, many are free and some can still be unlocked with sponsorship. It’s worth checking back every so often to see if anything has been unlocked. You can also purchase an exhaustive copy of the full interviews in eBook form the book addition is also supplemented with interviews conducted by Video Game Music Online.

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The film also takes a look at how the popularity of game music has spawned concerts, chiptune artists, and concludes with a look to the future of game audio with the rise of virtual environments. Overall, I found the film to flow well and cover all the bases for game audio. If like me you’re mostly experienced game audio from playing games, you will enjoy this look at how it all began and the behind the scenes of the industry.
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I have also included a couple shots of the Blu-ray cover. It’s a great design, my only minor complaint with it is that the spine is solid orange with no label, and the back cover of the Blu-ray is labelled as a 2 DVD set. Hence my sigh of relief upon finding the Blu-ray disc below inside.

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You can also see a brief shot of the menu below and note that the film includes subtitles in Spanish, French, and German.

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I also included a shot of the three special featurettes below. Of the three featurettes, I think my favorite was “Industry Tips”. In this segment composers talk about how they got their jobs in the game audio industry.

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The film’s director, Karen Collins is also author of one of the leading books on the history of game audio, Game Sound: An Introduction to the History, Theory, and Practice of Video Game Music and Sound Design.

Beep is essential viewing for video game and music fans alike. The film is also in my opinion an incredible creative feat as it resulted in film that is a wonderful overview of the world of game audio with relatively small kickstarter campaign. I sincerely hope it inspires other filmmakers to pursue documentaries in game audio.

The music for the film was also expertly composed Leonard J Paul who you may know as he scored the music to the documentary The Corporation and the indie game Retro City Rampage. The soundtrack has some wonderful chip melodies that complement the visuals in the film. The website Designing Music Now has an extensive interview with the composer, and a direct link to the composer’s Beep Webisode here.

I also briefly exchanged emails with the director about whether the film would appear on Netflix, and they don’t currently have plans to do so. You can purchase a digital copy of Beep online for $5 CAD which is about $4US.  The Blu-ray and DVD versions have the exact same video quality and contents of the digital version and you can purchase them at Storming the Base.

Did you watch Beep yet? What did you think of the film?

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