We’re always thinking of great examples of game soundtracks here at Melodrive HQ. We decided to come up with our own personal list of the best-of-the-best when it comes to adaptive music in games.
If you’re not sure what we mean when we say ‘adaptive music’, you should check out one of our previous posts, where we talked about the idea in some detail. TL;DR, adaptive music is dynamic and ever-changing. It reacts to the player and the game to intensify the immersion and emotion in the game, and (hopefully) improves their experience.
By the way, this list is just in chronological order and by no means ranks the games.
Last month, I had the honour of interviewing game composer Guy Whitmore. We shared ideas on video game music with a specific focus on the use of adaptive techniques in video games. He shared some great insights on the future of music making in video games. Guy has been around in the video games industry for more than 20 years. He has specialised in adaptive music. You can say he’s an adaptive music evangelist and educator! For a quick introduction on adaptive music, check this post I wrote some time ago. Guy worked as an audio director and a composer for big companies like Electronic Arts and Microsoft but also as a freelancer. He’s the author of notable game scores like Die Hard: NakatomiPlaza, Shivers and Shogo. Next, you can read the content of our great chat.
We stopped in sunny LA at Quincy Jones’ office to meet up with the incredible Jacob Collier and discuss musical bluffs, rhythmic cadences and mind mappings.
Before diving into our Q&A, Jacob and I had a wonderful talk about the future of technology in music. We found that our visions to be surprisingly aligned. Jacob is a man consumed by the mapping of emotion to different musical components. He said that he has always experienced and explored harmonies in a very emotional way–feeling out the different chords based almost purely on his personal perception. At Melodrive, one of our main tenets is to bridge the gap between computers and musical emotion.
Ever wanted to do more with the music or SFX in your game? Maybe you want to go beyond triggering audio clips with basic effects towards infinite variations of explosions or gunfire? Maybe your player characters are robots and you want to vocode the player’s microphone input? Perhaps you want complete playable instruments within your game, or unique melodies composed for each user-generated character a la Spore?
If so, then using Pure Data (Pd for short) may be just what you need. Sure, you can do a lot of these things using FMOD and Wwise, but Pd makes the process so simple and elegant, and best of all: it’s free. If this sounds like your cup of tea, then read on!
It might seem a like simple process, but picking the right music genre for a game soundtrack is a challenging task. The musical styles are almost infinite: free jazz, fusion, epic rock, late romantic, Gregorian, gypsy folk; to list just a few options available. Should you use a traditional classical orchestral style for your new RPG game or should you try an unexpected solution like trance music? As we know, music can make or break a game and the genre plays a major part in the process. In this article, I’ll give you some guidelines, inspired by the great book A Composer’s Guide to Game Musicwritten by Winfred Phillips, on how to pick a music genre for your game that will (hopefully) resonate with your players. Before delving into this, let’s have a short detour on game genres, which, as we’ll see, are deeply intertwined with music genres.
The first step to create a good score for a game is to conceptualise the music. Music conceptualisation can be compared to sketching the blueprint for a building. Before you get into the details of how to decorate the rooms of the building, you need to decide how many floors there are, the size of each floor and the number of rooms. Similarly, music conceptualisation is necessary to set the stylistic, creative and functional goals of the music before the composer starts working on the actual notes. Consider conceptualisation as a high-level music planning activity.
In this post I’m going to analyse the pros and cons of some of the strategies available to get music for video games, and help you decide which might be the best for you.
We all know that music is particularly important for video games. A soundtrack sets the overall tone of the game and it shapes the experience of a player without them really noticing it. Music can also provide clues about the situation the player is in and make a game stand out from the crowd. Think of the Skyrim main theme for example… you probably just need the initial three drum hits to recognise the game. That’s great branding!
This week, I had the opportunity to see a unique musical act in Mannheim, Germany. Specifically, the one-man show put together by up-and-coming jazz phenom, Jacob Collier. Jacob Collier, for those that don’t know, gained notoriety through his creation of multi-part YouTube videos for which he not only composes original and creative arrangements of classic songs, but also plays every instrument in the mix. His style is characterised by extensive use of vocal layering/a cappella arrangements, versatile and extensive re-harmonisations, polyrhythms and metric modulations, all rooted in jazz/funk style inspired by the hit composers of previous decades (Stevie Wonder, Herbie Hancock, Michael Jackson, the Beatles, etc.).
When we listen to a melody, we’re usually able to understand if it sounds good or bad after just a few notes are played. The underlying cognitive processing employed to arrive at such an assessment – although extremely sophisticated – is carried out on an almost unconscious level. It all feels so natural that we don’t realise how many simultaneous elements are contributing to the overall experience. Indeed, a melody is a complex musical construct that involves many musical domains at once. There is pitch content involved, obviously. But a melody also comprises note durations, rhythmic and metrical elements, accents, structural relationships between the different subsets of the melody, articulations and dynamics.
We may not be aware of it, but most music that we’re used to listen to is linear. Linear music has a beginning, a development and an ending that sound exactly the same every time we listen to it. The soundtrack of a movie, the songs of Bob Dylan and a Mozart’s symphony are all examples of linear music. Linear music works great if it’s used for concert music or as musical background for fixed media. Every time we watch Star Wars, for instance, the sequence of events occurring on screen are always the same. No matter how much we would like it to be different, (40-year-old spoiler alert) Obi-Wan Kenobi is going to be killed by Darth Vader! The fixed structure of a movie is great for the composer who has to write the soundtrack, because he or she can create musical cues that are specifically tailored to the on-screen images on a moment-by-moment basis. When the cannons of the Millennium Falcon hit the ships of the Empire, for example, the explosions can be underlined by the music and the overall excitement of the moment can be captured and enhanced by the soundtrack.