The Composer’s New Role in Game Development
Hi and welcome again to a new audio blog post! Today’s post will be focusing on what makes game music special, and why I think we as composers should take advantage of these unique challenges we’re given.
Coming from a film scoring background, I’ve always been fascinated by how different music completely changes the meaning of a scene. On an emotional level, we are just helpless victims of what we hear, whether we like it or not. There’s so many ways a score can point out minute details in a story or a hidden emotion with unfailing precision- or just pump up adrenaline in an action flick.
First scene that comes to mind right now is the Batman’s entrance in Nolan’s second film, “the Dark Knight”. Notice how the brass builds up right before we finally see the real Batman for the first time!
As another proof of concept, have you ever watched these genre-shifting movie trailers on youtube? Probably the best one takes footage from “the Shining”, a terrifying horror classic, and turns it into a romantic comedy.
Sure, the editing helps in these cases, too, but it’s really the music that creates most of the illusion, we just instantly buy into the mood it sets.
So, it’s clear that music contributes greatly to the emotional depth of a medium like film, and this can be said also for games. Everyone has their favorite iconic themes in their heads, I guess- a game score functions like in film in these situations.
But there’s the element of interactivity and of sound as gameplay element that sets writing music for games apart. Interactivity is key because clearly, we can’t predict what the player will do, so we hopefully will try to write music that’s either adaptable or suitable for a variety of situations.
Sound as gameplay is the one thing that personally interests me the most. Music and sound can act as signals, steering the player into the right (or wrong!) direction. Finding the sacred meadow in Ocarina of Time has a nice example (skip to 0:48) of music showing the way- if you approach the wrong entrance, the music will fade out.
Silence is a great signal, too. Silent Hill has tons of soundless rooms. Oftentimes, it signals that there is no immediate danger- it gives you a break from the horror, so to speak. But obviously, this “habit” can be broken as well. Notice how long it takes the bloody tentacles (or whatever they are) to give actual sound feedback!
The sense of achievement that is so important to games can be heightened immensely by music. Just listen to how every sound fades out in Mario Galaxy when you finish a level, leaving only the fanfare to hit you on the head (start around 12:50). Bam!
For Tridek, I’m working on finding a way of integrating sound into the gameplay (thanks to PD for that!) keeping in mind that 1) this is a mobile game and 2) a trading card game.
This sure brings a set of challenges to the table. What can audio do given these circumstances? Can music be an integral part of such a game? How can audio heighten an experience like Tridek?
I believe that in order to find the answer, there needs to be more thinking about the actual mechanics of the game, rather than approaching the project only from an emotional/”filmish” standpoint. Even just thinking in straight music loops seems suboptimal. There are so many changes and states that take place while playing Tridek, that I would be crazy not to take advantage of them!
I envision a “new breed” of game composers as audio-centric game designers more than anything else. This might very well lead to more exciting and more “defined” music in the gaming world- music that goes one step further to completely integrate with the medium we’re working with- which, I don’t think I have to say this but here it comes, is incredibly different from film from about every possible aspect.
There’s no reason to omit the emotional side of music while also exploiting the unique opportunities that the medium gives us.