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.
Without further ado, here’s the list!
Space Invaders (1978)
This is an absolute classic and icon of gaming. When Space Invaders launched in 1978 it was an instant hit and helped games be taken (a bit) more seriously. It’s simple menacing soundtrack of just a few repeating notes gets faster the closer the aliens get to the player. It’s terrifying and very effective, even if the idea might have been inspired from John Williams’ Jaws theme (1975).
While we’re talking classics, here’s another. By today’s standards you might not call this music adaptive per se. After you reach a certain point in the level, the music changes – simple as that. However in it’s time this was pretty revolutionary. Different music! In one level! Wow!
Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge (1991)
Come for the dancing monkeys, stay for the awesome adventure (and fantastic adaptive music). The music was realised with iMUSE, a MIDI based system, which allowed the music to tightly sync with the in-game action and seamlessly transition between cues.
The Operative: No One Lives Forever (2000)
A great example of an adaptive score by Guy Whitmore that actually had musical changes like increasing tempo when you’re in danger. Most of the cues in the soundtrack have six intensities and you can smoothly shift from any one of those to the others with a pre-composed transition. Each instrumental part in a cue has four or five variations which add to the diversity and novelty of the music. We love the 60s-style spy music too! Besides the music, the graphics and gameplay were quite impressive at the time.
You can’t have a list of great adaptive music without mentioning Spore. What an amazing vision for a game that I still play from time to time. The soundtrack, made in part by the legendary composer Brian Eno, was full of generative music produced with Pure Data. The music changes depending on whatever creature/vehicle you’re forming at the time, or even who many game saves you had!
Read Dead Redemption (2010)
What a game, and a masterclass in vertically layered adaptive music. To achieve this every piece of music produced was in the same tempo and key, so literally anything could be layered on anything else. You can’t beat it for truly feeling like an outlaw in the old west.
Remember Me (2013)
It’s such a shame that this game wasn’t more popular. For me the best thing about it is the reactive music during the fight scenes. Get a combo right and you’re rewarded with awesome music, get hit and the track breaks down. Love it!
No Man’s Sky (2016)
No matter what you think about the divisive gameplay, I don’t think anyone can deny what this game has done for adaptive and generative game soundtracks. How do you go about composing music for quintillions of procedurally generated planets? The work by 65daysofstatic and Paul Weir is truly astounding. The band went into the recording studio and recorded an entire album, which was then ripped apart and integrated into the game along with generative soundscapes from Weir for the different planet biomes. There’s loads of other procedural audio tricks in this game too, like the creature voices.
That’s it from us! What’s your favourite adaptive game soundtrack? We’ve missed a load of amazing game music out.