There is something special about NieR: Automata. Developed by Platinum Games and released in 2017, NieR: Automata is a sequel to the cult classic game NieR (Cavia, 2010). Set thousands of years in the future, NieR: Automata is an action role playing game where the player takes control of androids 2B, 9S and A2. Their aim is to rid the earth of alien machines and pave the way for the last humans, who have settled on the moon, to return to earth. Keichii Okabe, the composer for NieR/NieR: Automata and the Drakengard series, uses adaptive music rescored from previous games with aims to induce emotions within the player-character connection.
The famous entrepreneur Ray Kurzweil predicted that by 2029 brains will merge with machines, making people smarter than ever. Even if most of the time we don’t realise it, machines and artificial intelligence (AI) are already extending our capabilities. Think of the last time you visited a website in a language you can’t speak. I would guess you understood its content anyway, thanks to the decent translation provided by Google. What about the last time you asked an AI assistant (Siri, Alexa, Cortana etc.) to find information for you?
In this blog post series, I outline how AI can augment human composers. In particular, I’ll touch on the techniques and the opportunities that AI opens to games composers for adaptive music. (If you don’t know what adaptive music is, have a look at this post I wrote a few months ago for a brief introduction). This first post is going to prepare the field, discussing some of the limitations composers face when working with adaptive music.
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!
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: Nakatomi Plaza, Shivers and Shogo. Next, you can read the content of our great chat.
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.