This topic was already explored in The Musical Box #10, but since I’ve received a lot of e-mails regarding tempo changes, I decided to write an article that highlight different approaches to dynamic tempo changes.
Game: Super Mario Bros.
Platform: Nintendo Entertainment System
Composer: Koji Kondo
Game: Street Fighter 2
Composers: Yoko Shimomura and Isao Abe
Most of the time, changing the speed of the music raises the tension of the player. In Super Mario Bros., the objective of the tempo change is to tell players that only 100 seconds, a very short time, remains to complete the level. While in Street Fighter 2, the change in the music’s pace indicates that your life energy is almost depleted.
These two games are radically different, but they share a common challenge regarding the music transition. Since the change from the normal to the fast version of the music occurs in real-time, it’s surprisingly difficult to connect the end of the normal version with the start of the fast one. It’s highly unlikely that a single method of transition would behave consistently in every possible situation.
To solve that issue, both games used a similar approach: they simply interrupted the normal version and started a fast one. The difference is that in SMB, there is a short musical piece known as “stinger” that connects both songs, making the transition a little bit smoother. This is actually the exact same solution used in Mario games to this day.
The difference between Battletoads, Super Mario Bros. and Street Fighter 2 is that in Battletoads the normal music gains speed gradually, while in SMB and SF2, another piece of music is inserted. To understand why developers rarely use gradual bpm transitions, please check out The Musical Box #10.
Watch the video below to see the music speed transition in Street Fighter 2 and Super Mario Bros. You can also click here to download a high quality version of the video.
It’s really impressive to see how developers cared about coherence between gameplay and music at such an early stage in the videogame industry. They saw the opportunity to increase the tension of the player, and they implemented creative solutions to achieve it. This is the beauty of creating music for videogames, it’s not only about the aesthetic, it’s about the combination of aesthetics and functionality.
Special thanks: Gilliard Lopes, Rafael Kuhnen, Fernando Secco, and Sandro Tomasetti.