Revisiting The Music of Epyx’s Summer Games 1, 2 and Winter Games

Continuing our look and listen to the retro chiptunes for old gaming systems that inspired a million gamers and acted as the soundtrack to the first generation of digital children. This week’s piece focuses on the multi-sport delights of Epyx’s Summer Games, Summer Games II and Winter Games that set the tone, both musically and athletically for the Commodore 64’s army of armchair athletes.

Let the Games begin…

Nowadays most sports games come with a roster of big-name tracks to help act as part of the atmosphere. NBA, NFL and FIFA Soccer all come with a hefty roster of rock, rap and pop songs, largely thanks to the space of DVD storage or digital downloads to huge HD. But in the 8-bit days, music could take a few kilobytes at most.

Even with that limitation, Summer Games still packed inspiring tunes into its tiny storage, with an epic opening anthem to get everyone in the mood for the frantic joystick waggling ahead. The absolutely not-Olympic flame (since there was no license) was lit, and we were off to the races with cleverly animated characters pushing themselves to new world records across many sports. Tape owners had to load them one-by-one, but disk owners could smugly sit back and wait for each sport to load.

Then, there were national anthems (everyone loves the Italian anthem, right?) to make you feel proud of your efforts, plus a range of intermission tunes to inspire, including the German hymn Oh Tannenbaum. Randy Glover, Bob Vieira and Chris Grigg among others have credits for the music. Each finding just the right depth of tone to help put players in the game, even though most characters were just a handful of sprites.

The series of games, each selling around a quarter of a million on the C64, were soon ported across most systems into the 16-bit era, landing on the Atari 2600, Atari 7800, Atari 8-bit family, and Sega Master System. Amiga and Atari ST versions (as compilations). Whatever version you played, the C64’s SID chip hit the spot with tones that are ingrained on the memory.

Here’s a long play video featuring both the Summer Games activities to cast your mind back to with tunes including Mouret’s Fanfare-Rondeau (Trumpet Fanfare) to help set the tone.   

And here’s one for Winter Games, featuring the Canadian anthem. It borrowed the same opening tunes, but added a few new numbers along the way as athletes flung themselves down the slopes. In the ice skating, music is an essential part of the performance and we get to salco and loop to the tune of Blue Danube, which was also the docking music from Elite.

The Amiga likely has the finest renditions of the tunes, but for whatever reasons, the graphics aren’t that much improved over the C64 edition. Even so, there’s nothing more fun than watching a ski jumper plummet off the end of the ramp, as in this Amiga long-play.

About Randy Glover

Musicians didn’t stray far in the 8-bit days and Randy is only credited with Epyx titles including his first work, Jumpman, along with the Games titles. There’s a recent interview with him here if you want to find out more about his career.

About Chris Grigg

California Games was one of Chris Grigg’s first compositions at Epyx, which he followed up with DOS and Amiga soundtracks for the likes of Maniac Mansion, Impossible Mission and 4×4 Off Road Racing. He moved up in the world to do sound design at Pixar and now works as part of the MIDI Manufacturers’ Association on the Technical Standards Board.

About Bob Vieira

Bob was another musician who stuck pretty close to home, but at least broke out into other areas with sound effects credits for the Jurassic Park and Gremlins video games, as well as working on the story of Diablo II at Blizzard.

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