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Techniques and Styles of Video Game Music

Soulskill posted more than 5 years ago | from the badap-bop-boodop-beep!-boop! dept.

Music 68

MarkN writes "Video game music has come to represent much more than just the beeps and boops of early video games that often got muted out of annoyance. It's a genre that stands on its own, stylistically and musically. It necessarily differs from typical soundtrack fare in a few important ways — it's written to accompany an activity rather than meant to be listened to passively, it is often required to loop and extend indefinitely, and it has the potential to be adaptive and respond to player feedback. In this article, I talk about some of the techniques used to make game music effective within its constraints and with all of its potential, and discuss how different styles and musical techniques can relate to the gameplay."

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Overrated: same as all other music (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25954999)

It's the same as any other music, meant to accompany entertainment. Orchestral, techno, ambient, there is no difference. Get over it.

Re:Overrated: same as all other music (4, Insightful)

Cocoa Radix (983980) | more than 5 years ago | (#25955173)

I don't mean to be so brusque, but that's a really stupid statement. I've studied music seriously for some time now, and I truly believe that the music that's been composed for films and games comprises the deepest, most complex, and most intellectual music that's been written since the last remaining important "Classical" (really late-Romantic or Contemporary) composers died roughly sixty years ago.

That's not to say that all game and film music is brilliant -- far from it. Ambient music is often dull or lacks individuality, and techno music is really just mindlessly repetitive (most techno songs are one measure of music repeated hundreds of times with new sounds added in at fairly regular intervals).

The challenge that composers for games and films face is that their music must be memorable and enjoyable without being overly intrusive. I've heard it said that the best film/game music is that which you don't really actively pay attention to while watching/playing, but find yourself humming later on. I agree with this.

I'd urge you to listen to some of the great soundtracks out there. For film, anything by John Williams (Star Wars, Schindler's List, Harry Potter I-III) or Howard Shore (Lord of the Rings) should show you what extremely high-quality film music sounds like. As far as games go, Koji Kondo is obviously an extremely popular name, but some of the lesser-known composers, in my opinion, offer a deeper musical experience. Koichi Sugiyama (Dragon Quest) uses a lot of very unique harmonies and harmonic progressions, which gives his music an extremely individual sound; Ko Otani (Shadow of the Colossus) can use an orchestra to create any number of believable atmospheres without being "ambient" in the slightest.

All of this music works perfectly both in-game/in-film and out. And that's what makes it more than mere "entertainment accompaniment."

Re:Overrated: same as all other music (1)

644bd346996 (1012333) | more than 5 years ago | (#25955559)

I think the transition from Classical to soundtrack music was a bit more gradual than your first paragraph implies. Guys like Gershwin, Bernstein, and Copland wrote pieces for both the concert hall and the cinema, before people like John Williams came along. There was good symphonic music in both venues for many decades before the best composers stopped writing standalone pieces.

Re:Overrated: same as all other music (-1, Troll)

PC and Sony Fanboy (1248258) | more than 5 years ago | (#25955885)

Wtf? Great composers and you forgot nobuo... what sort of music studying, slashdot reading, apple fanboi genius bar man do you think you are?

Re:Overrated: same as all other music (1)

Khyber (864651) | more than 5 years ago | (#25956967)

Hint: Most slashdot users NEVER PLAYED most anything Final Fantasy, and thus wouldn't know jack about Uematsu Nobuo, who while good doesn't compare to Meguro Masashi for pure emotion in the music.

Re:Overrated: same as all other music (1)

Cocoa Radix (983980) | more than 5 years ago | (#25958139)

I didn't forget Nobuo; he's one of my favorite, and, indeed, one of the best video game music composers. I was trying to give the names of a couple of lesser-known composers because I'd imagine that the majority of gamers know a lot of Final Fantasy music pretty well, whereas not so many would know, say, Dragon Quest.

Re:Overrated: same as all other music (4, Interesting)

darknb (1193867) | more than 5 years ago | (#25955997)

I don't mean to be so brusque, but that's a really stupid statement.

You shouldn't toss rocks in glass houses, you've made several uninformed statement yourself.

Ambient music is often dull or lacks individuality, and techno music is really just mindlessly repetitive (most techno songs are onemeasure of music repeated hundreds of times with new sounds added in at fairly regular intervals).

You've generalized two very deep and very excellent genres of pop music by focusing on their shittiest output. Techno at its best is about subtle variation, as the track cycles through each repetition it alters itself and the enjoyment comes from the focus on the clever details.

The challenge that composers for games and films face is that their music must be memorable and enjoyable without being overly intrusive. I've heard it said that the best film/game music is that which you don't really actively pay attention to while watching/playing, but find yourself humming later on.../p>

Ko Otani (Shadow of the Colossus) can use an orchestra to create any number of belvable atmospheres without being "ambient" in the slightest.

This is where your Classical* bias shines most clearly, because you have stated that the best quality of film/game soundtracks is the balance between enjoyability and unintrusiveness. This is the exact definition of the Pop genre of Ambient Music. I will quote now from the wikipedia article on Brian Eno, because this it can easily be verified as true.

Brian Eno is generally credited with coining the term "ambient music" in the mid-1970s to refer to music that, as he stated, can be either "actively listened to with attention or as easily ignored, depending on the choice of the listener", and that exists on the "cusp between melody and texture."

I highly recommend you pick up "Music for Airports" and enjoy the gorgeous ambient music you've been missing out on.

As for Video game soundtracks I would love to play a classic shooter ,in the style of R-type or Ikaruga, which employed a Techno soundtrack to alert you when ships or bullets were entering the screen. Rez and Audiosurfer are a good start, but the music is too much the main focus. What would be better would be to have the focus be on the game(play) whilst the music provides an ambient backdrop. This way you might find yourself falling into a groove as you play, without the game explicitly forcing you to play a 'rythm-based game'. A great example is "45:33" by LCD Soundsystem. Essentially its is a long (guess how long), ever changing Techno track designed to be listened to as you run. This way it regulates your periods of rest/effort by helping you develop a physical groove.

Re:Overrated: same as all other music (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25956057)

LCD Soundsystem produces house music, not techno.

It funny how people that claim to be knowledgeable about music refer to anything electronic with a beat as techno. I'm not saying you did this, but a couple other people did in their posts.

Personally I despise techno, but I love most trance and house genres.

Re:Overrated: same as all other music (1)

darknb (1193867) | more than 5 years ago | (#25956197)

Sorry, your right, it should read "House", but the difference largely comes from the genres they spawned, so I (sloppily) interchange them.

Re:Overrated: same as all other music (2, Insightful)

Cocoa Radix (983980) | more than 5 years ago | (#25958103)

I'm very interested in the difference between house, trance, techno, and all of those (sub?)genres that someone like myself would group together as "techno." Could you give me the names of a couple of artists who clearly display the idiosyncrasies of each genre? I'd like to hear them all to be able to make the distinction via listening, rather than via Wikipedia.

Re:Overrated: same as all other music (2, Informative)

Hatta (162192) | more than 5 years ago | (#25959383)

In Rock music, a band might have a fast song and a slow song and a song with funny timing all on the same album. In the electronic music world, these would all be considered different genres. The differences between these "genres" are so minute only the most dedicated fan can hear them. Mere mortals like us can't possibly be expected to. Just look at the self superiority the AC above seems to feel about correcting the genre of LCD Soundsystem.

Re:Overrated: same as all other music (1)

lupinstel (792700) | more than 5 years ago | (#25959991)

You can try Ishkur's Guide to Electronic Music.
http://techno.org/electronic-music-guide/music.swf [techno.org]
It is a bit old, but it has multiple samples of different genres, and it is pretty thorough.

Re:Overrated: same as all other music (1)

Hatta (162192) | more than 5 years ago | (#25959265)

Like there *IS* a difference. Seriously, how many genres do you people need? It all sounds alike anyway.

Seriously, the differences between genres in electronic music are about as big as the differences between songs for any good rock band. But hey, as long as you can dance to it, right?

Re:Overrated: same as all other music (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25962407)

I pity your ignorance and naivete.

Re:Overrated: same as all other music (1)

atomicthumbs (824207) | more than 5 years ago | (#25956593)

Pick up Biosphere's "Substrata" and Aphex Twin's "Selected Ambient Works Vol. II" as well. Those'll get you into ambient quick. :)

Re:Overrated: same as all other music (1)

Rayban (13436) | more than 5 years ago | (#25956627)

If you get into Aphex Twin, make sure you keep your copy of Windowlicker hidden at work. It tends to scare the coworkers...

Re:Overrated: same as all other music (1)

Cocoa Radix (983980) | more than 5 years ago | (#25958207)

darknb, you make a lot of good points. I just want to point out that I said that ambient music is OFTEN dull -- there is some ambient music that I very much like. Jeremy Soule, who did the music for the Guild Wars games, produced a largely ambient soundtrack, and I like it both in- and out-of-game.

Thanks for the suggestions of "Music for Airports" and "45:33"; I definitely will check them both out. I do admit fully to being hugely classically biased and just, on the whole, a giant music snob. But I am always looking to expand my musical horizons to include other good, intelligent music. (Oh, and I'm not the kind of Classical music lover who worships every single piece of music written before 1900 as a masterpiece -- I'll be the first to tell you that Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, or whoever had their off days and put out some pretty bad stuff.)

Re:Overrated: same as all other music (1)

poot_rootbeer (188613) | more than 5 years ago | (#25960423)

Brian Eno is generally credited with coining the term "ambient music" in the mid-1970s to refer to music that, as he stated, can be either "actively listened to with attention or as easily ignored, depending on the choice of the listener", and that exists on the "cusp between melody and texture."

The term may be from the mid-1970s, but the concept is much a half-century older. Erik Satie conceived the same thing as "furniture music" around 1917.

Re:Overrated: same as all other music (1)

DeskLazer (699263) | more than 5 years ago | (#25962251)

dude, music for airports is PHENOMENAL. glad to see people have a taste for this kind of stuff on here.

Re:Overrated: same as all other music (1)

bishiraver (707931) | more than 5 years ago | (#25959485)

Ambient music is often dull or lacks individuality

Really? I find Brian Eno's "Music for Airports" essential beauty. Its layered harmonies, simple progression, and pure tones exude a perfection of aesthetics. It is calming, shockingly beautiful, and all-together unique.

Re:Overrated: same as all other music (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25966819)

FYI, Kou Otani is better known for film/anime music. He also created the soundtrack of the anime Haibane Renmei, which is absolutely superb, and I don't know anyone who didn't like it, anime-head or not.
http://www.animenewsnetwork.com/sound-decision/2003-08-10 [animenewsnetwork.com]

Four words: (-1, Redundant)

Surreal Puppet (1408635) | more than 5 years ago | (#25955009)

Aerith's Theme from FFVII. To think that something so simple on a grand scale can lodge itself so deeply in the soul.

Re:Four words: (1)

moniker127 (1290002) | more than 5 years ago | (#25955157)

I'll see your FF7 and raise you one MYST. No game had EVER done audio as well as Myst, and I've been doubting that it would even be possible.

Re:Four words: (1)

psyclone (187154) | more than 5 years ago | (#25955499)

What about this game? [wilddivine.com] . It's an oldie, though slightly newer than Myst. The website is totally cheesy now, but the company used to be more bio-feedback hardware + game based, and less "feel goody". I think they even released some tools (OSS perhaps? was windows only if I remember) that would read and graph the input from their hardware. I joined the forums (which appear to be down now) and advocated for a hardware-only sale so others could write software for it -- they agreed on the forums, but never delivered. Anyway, supposedly people liked the music [wilddivine.com] .

Re:Four words: (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25956173)

The music in Myst sucked anus.

Re:Four words: (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25956943)

If it's as good as Myst's music, sign me up!

Re:Four words: (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25957773)

Ok. You can suck my anus tonight from 7:30 to 9:00.

Re:Four words: (1)

sexconker (1179573) | more than 5 years ago | (#25961033)

Myst is awesome, yes.
However, I'll just say that plenty of games have "done audio as well as Myst". A recent example would be Dead Space. Get that bitch in surround sound. It's a different direction, and it's about the audio, not the music (you said "audio"), but it's certainly one of the best I've ever heard.

There are tons more examples, but lists are lame.

Re:Four words: (1)

Cocoa Radix (983980) | more than 5 years ago | (#25955345)

A lot of that has to do with what's called being a "cantabile" melody. Cantabile is Italian for "singable," or "in a singing style." If you think about Aeris' theme, it's VERY easily singable, and the fact that it's such a well-written melody makes it extremely memorable, too. If you think about the opera tune from FFVI, it's equally singable and equally great.

On the other hand, some great melodies -- like the Super Mario Bros. theme, for example -- are just as memorable without being particularly singable. Try singing it to yourself. I think you'll notice that a lot of the beginning is somewhat difficult to sing perfectly, though it does it get easier as it goes on. If you play an instrument and have a decent ear, try figuring out Aeris' theme, and then try figuring out the SMB theme. I can guarantee that you'll figure out the notes of the former considerably faster.

Re:Four words: (1)

Doctor_Jest (688315) | more than 5 years ago | (#25956041)

Let's take the wayback machine quite a ways...

"Stones" from the Ultima series... :) Very simple, but digs in like an Alabama tick. I can still hear it if I even say "Stones".

On a more recent note... Total Annihilation's soundtrack was (and still is) epic.

Re:Four words: (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25958037)

And Aerith's theme sounds awfully like a variation on the theme in Epitaph from Final Fantasy VI (III).

Re:Four words: (1)

sexconker (1179573) | more than 5 years ago | (#25961069)

Sssssssssshhhhhhh.
Never point out to FF fans that all FF music is derivative of other FF music!

Re:Four words: (1)

sexconker (1179573) | more than 5 years ago | (#25960983)

Aeris. Her name is Aeris.

I don't care that you played the Japanese version, her name is Aeris.

It's not a translation issue, it's a pronunciation issue. This shit is up there with "magiks".

Re:Four words: (1)

Surreal Puppet (1408635) | more than 5 years ago | (#25961243)

I agree. However, the name of the song is indeed "Aerith's Theme".

Re:Four words: (1)

sexconker (1179573) | more than 5 years ago | (#25962489)

Only because the character's name is spelled "Aerith" in the Japanese version of the game and soundtrack. The soundtrack was produced in Japan, and the publisher (DigiCube) kept it like that either accidentally or intentionally as otaku fan service.

You might as well call it "ãããfãã®ãfãf¼ãfz".

Or you could look at the iTunes soundtrack list, published more recently without the baggage of needing to please gobs of insane fans, which correctly calls it "Aeris's Theme".

(Though, I say the extra "s" is bullshit, and it should be "Aeris' Theme". Grammarians are assholes who are incredibly inconsistent, and change their rules and preferences willy-nilly.)

http://vgmdb.net/album/3407 [vgmdb.net]

Re:Four words: (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25965947)

"Aeris's Theme" is the correct method since "Aeris" refers to a single person and not a group or collective.

Re:Four words: (1)

hanchan07 (1136953) | more than 5 years ago | (#25966165)

Actually in the Japanese version of the game, the manual says in romanized characters (thats english alphabet for those that dont know) it is spelled with a 'th' not an 's'. And this should prove that her name is infact Aerith not Aeris. The issue is the fact that the english translation chose to change the name. This is not an uncommon thing, as we see changes being made to characters names all the times in games (Tina = Terra; Mash = Sabin FFVI), (Vega = M. Bison Street Fighter II) I could go on...

Re:Four words: (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25967485)

Let's put it this way, if you aren't Japanese or don't live in Japan then the correct name is Aeris.

Pinball games with Bsmt2000 sound and the mid 80's (1)

Joe The Dragon (967727) | more than 5 years ago | (#25955065)

Pinball games with Bsmt2000 sound and the mid 80's / 90's games had good midi based music where real good.

Chris Granner and Brian Schmidt did real good work with the sound on the games they did the sound work for.

 

Different kinds of game music? (4, Insightful)

elynnia (815633) | more than 5 years ago | (#25955089)

I thought this was a reasonably sound article, but it neglected something that I always found interesting about game soundtracks: namely, the correlation between the musical styles used and the game's country of origin.

For instance, Final Fantasy and Myst both feature orchestral soundtracks but the composing techniques used do vary, leading to different effects being created. The tendency seems to be that Japanese games feature melodic tunes for every scene/stage/level whereas Western games tend to use more ambient compositions.

Would someone with more knowledge in the area care to elaborate?
Aly.

Re:Different kinds of game music? (3, Insightful)

Panseh (1072370) | more than 5 years ago | (#25956945)

For an exploration type game such as Myst, or free-roaming American RPGs, there is no real set plot or characters aside from your own. These games feature ambient music (minimalistic) that set the mood and tension for cities and dungeons, but they also do not stand out enough to distract gamers from their immersion in exploration.

In addition to exploration aspects, Japanese RPGs feature wide casts of recurring, developed characters important to a fairly linear plot. Having recognizable themes (melodies) for notable characters give them life and enhance the story telling aspect of these games.

Having said that, comparing Final Fantasy with Myst composition based on cultural influences is difficult. And alas, I'm not a hardcore gamer, so I can't name two games useful to compare for your inquiry.

National souls expressed in game design (1)

davlastor (1420139) | more than 5 years ago | (#25962851)

Oh, so true, so true, my friend!

Take the marvellous music of Tetris - it is impossible to express it in other terms than it's Russian-ness!

It has this particular ... uhm... aire of a Diaghileff dance with tints of Mussorgsky expressed authenticly by the unexplicable broad Russian soul of a Solzhenytsin. It sparks the image of Vrubel's Seated Demon in my mind. I wonder if I'm the only one.

Art academics is the cancer that is eating culture. imho. I wish they left games alone but they're befuddling them with Wagners and national characters and whatnot.

It's just a question of time untill those professors of game design will develop their own arcane vocabulary. How else would we know their work is serious business worth the salary?

Now, how about an arpeggiated dynamic piano anticipatory presentation factor for your next unit of gameplay? Would you like it Japanese? I can't really bring up the player-system-enthusiasm for even a sub-boss without a proper dynamic anticipatory musical accompaniment, especially if it's not Japanese. What I'm wondering at now is how this new wave of Japanese neo-post-existentionalism in game design will affect the french maitres.

Rez? (2, Interesting)

Lorigo (1421739) | more than 5 years ago | (#25955185)

I'm surprised nothing from Tetsuya Mizuguchi is mentioned in the article. He produced/concepted Rez, Lumines and Every Extend Extra among others. These games heavily intertwine gameplay into sound and music. Often times the player not only affects the music being played, but 'creates' some of it. When you lock-on to targets in Rez, sometimes it syncs up with the beat, which creates majestic results.

Re:Rez? (2, Informative)

Petrushka (815171) | more than 5 years ago | (#25957379)

I've been a big fan of adaptive game music ever since I realised it existed. The big leap, for me, was Monkey Island 2, where the background music in the starting town would gradually change mood and instrumentation depending on which house you walked into. In 1991, the effect was stunning. The tune was simple and unchallenging -- there's an mp3 arrangement here [scummbar.com] : the track is "04 Woodtick" -- but it was the adaptation that was the amazing thing. It was particularly important then because the music was pretty much the only audio component in the game: very little in the way of sound effects. (And, quite gratuitously, here's my favourite musical sequence [youtube.com] from the game.)

However, a little thought reminds me that adaptive music goes back at least as far as Ballblazer [youtube.com] in 1984-85 (game footage begins ca. 1:10; the first minute is what was displayed on screen while loading from floppy; note that the video and music appear to be captured from an Atari emulator that's going about 10% too fast). Not strictly music, I suppose: more like a semi-improvised percussion riff, that varied depending on whether the ball was loose or in one or the other player's possession -- but still.

Coincidence, that both games were Lucasfilm games? I wonder.

Re:Rez? (3, Interesting)

poot_rootbeer (188613) | more than 5 years ago | (#25958893)

a little thought reminds me that adaptive music goes back at least as far as Ballblazer in 1984-85

"Pitfall II" (1984) also used adaptive music; the soundtrack started off energetic, would switch to a gloomier minor-key version when you got hit and were sent back to a savepoint, and would return to heroic after picking up a prize. The original Atari 2600 version also may have been the first game cartridge to include its own custom audio chip; music was so important to that title that the extra hardware costs were justified, even as the market crash was beginning.

World of its own (1)

UbuntuniX (1126607) | more than 5 years ago | (#25955289)

Many games just wouldn't be the same without their soundtracks; the works of Hideki Naganuma [www.last.fm] and Frank Klepacki [www.last.fm] would be excellent examples.

Pax Imperia II (1)

DrugCheese (266151) | more than 5 years ago | (#25955339)

Tin Drum studios i think? I cant believe I remember that, haven't played that game in years. It was a techno soundtrack but very ambient-like in most cases, was the classic didnt notice it much until you started humming out the beats later on.

Video Games Live brings it to a whole new level (1, Interesting)

Iced_Eagle (1276052) | more than 5 years ago | (#25955371)

For anyone who is at least a fan of video game music, I highly suggest attending a Video Games Live concert. I'm going to one in January and it should be awesome. I'm not the biggest fan of video game music, but mostly I'm going for the experience that the VGL guys create with the videos in the background and such.

Re:Video Games Live brings it to a whole new level (2, Informative)

VickiM (920888) | more than 5 years ago | (#25959737)

I went to one a few years ago at GenCon and found the host to be a prick, personifying all the bad stereotypes of a "hardcore gamer." I left feeling a little embarrassed about the whole thing. It didn't really compare to Dear Friends with regards to tone, which unfortuantely had a short run.

The music, though, was great. If they've adressed the host problems, I'd love to go again some time and take a few friends.

Re:Video Games Live brings it to a whole new level (2, Informative)

poot_rootbeer (188613) | more than 5 years ago | (#25960289)

I went to one a few years ago at GenCon and found the host to be a prick, personifying all the bad stereotypes of a "hardcore gamer."

Funny, I find him to personify all the bad stereotypes of a "self-congratulatory putz".

The only credential Tommy Tallarico can claim that qualifies him for his role as a curator video game music is that he was the first to have the idea. (His sound design work on classic game titles like "Cool Spot" and "Color A Dinosaur" certainly doesn't suffice.)

His inclusion of his own works on the Video Games Live program alongside the likes of Uematsu and Kondo is, quite frankly, abuse of power.

Re:Video Games Live brings it to a whole new level (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25961409)

I got to sing at this year's Gencon VGL, and it was amazing. I also sing with the choir that regularly accompanies the symphony in the same concert hall, but I've never heard anything like the VGL crowd before. It was like being in a football stadium.

I do have to agree though that Tommy Tallarico could take a bit of a smaller role. The gratuitous guitar additions to some of the songs seemed out of place to me, although there were some where it fit right in.

Failed to mention TRUE dynamic music (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25955771)

The original Unreal: Various level songs but during combat the song would start to get more intense, even based on how many opponents you were up against. They added anything from instruments to completely different shifts of melody. It helps it used the tracker xm file format for the tunes I think.

Re:Failed to mention TRUE dynamic music (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25956357)

It didn't work like that. Unreal music was in UMX format, which was a proprietary tracker format that was similar to XM, IT, S3M or MOD. It was a simple arrangement of ambient patterns and action patterns where the action patterns were "disconnected" from the ambient tune and would not ever play unless the game explicitly jumped to one of the patterns within the action tune.

Each level had a single ambient tune and a single action tune. The number of attacking enemies did not alter the action tune whatsoever, it was just a loop of patterns that played continously if the player was being actively attacked by any enemies. Once the attack was over, it would fade and the ambient tune would start from the introductory pattern, which would lead into the ambient loop patterns until the next attack triggered the action tune again.

Besides Wing Commander, Dune II, Monkey Island 2 and X-Wing (and a number of other games) featured dynamic music long before Unreal came out.

Menu Music (1)

NuclearError (1256172) | more than 5 years ago | (#25955891)

The music that plays in the menu when you first start the game up is important for setting the tone of the game. The music for the game Mafia was absolutely masterful at this.

Re:Menu Music (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25956859)

The music that plays in the menu when you first start the game up is important for setting the tone of the game. The music for the game Mafia was absolutely masterful at this.

I'm with you 100% here, though I must admit I've never even played Mafia...

But does anyone remember Metroid Prime? (the original GCN installment) Even the opening dribbles and glubs were masterfully crafted... that initial menu remains a highlight of that game, and I've loved every Metroid game ever created. To think that the menu was a highlight - Yes. Music is important at any stage in the game.

Not very good (0, Flamebait)

Threni (635302) | more than 5 years ago | (#25956761)

Whether you like shit, crap or simply awful music there's something for everyone in the world of computer music. Seriously, i don't know anyone who doesn't turn the music off immediately and just have the sound effects.

Re:Not very good (1)

michfreak (1413469) | more than 5 years ago | (#25956885)

Whether you like shit, crap or simply awful music there's something for everyone in the world of computer music. Seriously, i don't know anyone.

Fix'd, for obvious reasons.

Game music that worked great (1)

Tyrannicsupremacy (1354431) | more than 5 years ago | (#25958587)

I think that Aliens Vs. Predator for PC, despite having static tracks that cycled at random (at least specific tracks depending on what race you were playing as) had some of the most fitting game music ever. it was very true to style the movies and made you feel like you were really taking part in a movie of your own. Halflife did it a different way, instead of music throughout, certain shorter tracks would trigger at certain parts throughout the game, also giving it a more cinematic experience. Serious Sam, despite being fun in a silly way would switch from normal background music to faster paced metal parts when an enemy rush or boss fight would trigger. Deus Ex and System Shock 2 were the first games i can remember that had dynamic soundtracks that flowed elegantly between combat, stealth, and just wandering around.

Re:Game music that worked great (1)

Tyrannicsupremacy (1354431) | more than 5 years ago | (#25958617)

Also i cant forget the Phoenix Wright games for their very good soundtrack. I dont think anyone who has played them can ever forget the good feeling you get when suddenly you hear the high intensity action sound of the Cornered them from the first game. I dont think the games would have been nearly as climactic if it hadnt been for that song to let you know that you really had your opposition on the ropes...

Re:Game music that worked great (1)

Jim Hall (2985) | more than 5 years ago | (#25962095)

I thought Shadow of the Colossus for PS2 did dynamic music extremely well. As you wandered around, you got a certain type of music. As you spotted a colossus, the music shifted. And when you entered "combat" with the colossus, the music became much more tense.

A level that demonstrates this perfectly is the level with the flying colossus in the desert. You come down to the plains, the music is almost calming. As you watch the colossus appear and fly around you, the music definitely changes to build anticipation. And when you jump onto the colossus, the music evokes excitement and danger.

Re:Game music that worked great (1)

Tyrannicsupremacy (1354431) | more than 5 years ago | (#25962117)

I know what you are talking about and agree. The controls of that game were a little lacking at times, and it could get a little repetative, but overall it was a pretty decent game with music that worked well for it.

Lucas Art iMUSE (1)

DrYak (748999) | more than 5 years ago | (#25959909)

They have a whole section about dynamic music in TFA, but fail to mention full dynamic systems like LucasArt's iMUSE [wikipedia.org] .

Yes, OK it's nice that Mario Kart Wii's music gets muted when you're underground.

But at the same time, LucasArt's adventure games have been able to assemble musical score on-the-fly based on the combination of a several pre-written pieces and a set of conditions based on current status.
These doesn't use as much a "musical score" or a pre-written "music" as they mix freely a large quantity of smaller "themes" combined to form a continuous score.

It provides a much better musical environment to the game, but also introduce some difficulties and drawbacks :
- It's much more complicated to compose. You can't just out-source the music to some artist whom you ask to write a score. The music design has to be an important part of the rest of the game design.
- There won't be any actual song created for the game. You won't be able to sell a CD with tracks from the game. You'll have to hire an additionnal DJ to make a nice mix of the themes (basically replicating what the game engine does in-play).
- As there aren't actual song, you can't just license known tunes from known artists. You can put song from Prodigy or Offspring on Wipe Out or on Crazy Taxi. You can put Bob Marley as-is on Monkey Island 2.

The last two points explain why most mega-corp aren't interested in this.
The first point explains why indie game developper won't easily be able to do this.

Re:Lucas Art iMUSE (1)

darthnater (1422269) | more than 5 years ago | (#25962549)

I don't know if this is an example of the LucasArts iMuse or not, but my seminal video game music experience as far as dynamic music goes was the x-wing games that Lucas Arts put out. It had music that would change based on the context of the game, for exmaple, if new imperials showed up it would transition to the imperial theme. It was the first time I was really aware of the music as a tool to understanding what was going on in the game. It was a great way to be aware of reinforcements showing up for the bad guys without needing to see them actually drop out of hyper space. It really added to the experience in a way id never realized music could before. Great Article!

Interesting techniques in older music (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25960195)

The video game music from the 16-bit era and before was the most interesting to me because the constraints the composers had to work with created a unique musical style. Like the composers on the NES were working with at most a triangle wave and square wave generator, and maybe a noise generator as well (but probably not all three at once). They weren't only limited in the kinds of sounds they could use, but it also required most of the songs to be monophonic. And then there were memory restrictions, so that the tracks often had to repeated every minute or so without being ridiculously annoying.

Now that these limitations are non-existent in newer games, I think the most interesting aspect of game music is the idea of dynamic music that mixes multiple tracks or generates new music in response to the game. I can't think of any really amazing examples of this though. But it's been around forever, like the bongo drums that start playing when you get Yoshi in Super Mario World totally change the feeling of the music, or in the X-Wing games where the evil imperial MIDI plays whenever a star destroyer warps in.

Now it seems like now a lot of developers use typical movie score type of music (not surprising since high budget games have basically become interactive movies) or just license popular music tracks and throw them into the game. This is rather disappointing given the potential for really awesome interactive music.

Anarchy Online and EvE Online: listen OFFline! (1)

rbanzai (596355) | more than 5 years ago | (#25961205)

Both Anarchy Online and EvE Online had such evocative music that I found myself listening to it offline, even after I no longer subscribed. The music actually got me to resubscribe to Anarchy Online for a while just because I loved the atmosphere it evoked.

I've heard some good game music before but only these two made me think I needed to add their soundtracks to my library.

td;dr (1)

davlastor (1420139) | more than 5 years ago | (#25962227)

The author is stating the obvious and making superfluous categorisations. All the 9 pages could well be fit in one or two paragraphs - in one slashdot post if you wish.

Though his style is admittedly admirable. What he lacks contentwise he makes up with literary style.

Schools of thought and stylization in game music (1)

7Prime (871679) | more than 5 years ago | (#25966565)

I'm a composer, myself, and a game soundtrack enthusiast, and one thing I've noticed time and time again is the drastic differences in philosophy between Japanese and western game soundtracks.

Japanese composers tend to approach scoring from a more stylized approach, more akin to opera or broadway musicals. The technique of giving each character and element its own unique theme was first pioneered by Wagner back in the 1860s, but it has become a staple of dramatic scoring and often used for "epic" film soundtracks as well (John Williams is one of the masters of this).

It's a very effective approach to scoring... but it does stylize the action to a certain extent. In the eyes of many western game developers, it over-stylizes the action. Western game developers appear to be quite phobic of stylization and mellodrama, and are far more concerned with upholding the perception of "realism" than being emotionally dynamic (dramatic). For this reason, western game soundtracks use much less of the techniques found in dramatic genres. Each piece is scored independantly, and the soundtrack generally lacks any over-arching themes or conceptualization. Western game soundtracks tend to be generally very loose, many times with different composers writing music for different sections of the game.

On one hand, it does assure that the game doesn't feel stylized, which is one of the major goals of western game soundtracks, but the caveat is that it impede on the "continuous flow" which seems to be another primary goal of western game developers.

Personally, as a fan of the dramatic, epic, and heavily conceptualized... I greatly prefer Japanese soundtracks to western ones. As a composer, I like the fact that the music plays a more dominant roll, and is used to really help style each game uniquely. I strongly dislike the realistic school of a videogame design... I like every title to have its own unique character through its music, graphic design, and writing. I think that western games become a bit monotonous because their ideal is one of characterlessness. Of course, I'm generalizing. I'm currently playing Fallout 3 now and enjoying the hell out of it... but then again, it's heavily stylized in many areas; it has the 50s kitch and futurism stylization to really weave the setting together. It's similar to how the brash art-deco stylization made Bioshock shine.

However, when I think of the greatest original soundtracks that really hit home, I'm always going to go back to Final Fantasy VIII, Metroid Prime 1, Mario Galaxy, or Chrono Trigger. They weren't afraid of the music taking on its own unique character in the context of the game, interweaving themes in interesting ways, and being highly influential in giving each game its own unique feel.

As an aspiring composer myself, I'm not sure I fit in with the current western aesthetic in game music. I simply feel that western composers and directors are too hung up on destroying any semblance of stylization, the very thing that I think really makes the genre so damn appealing in the first place. We just need to get over our fear of the dramatic. There's nothing wrong with open-ended realism, but I'm starting to feel like there's a major stigma against any games that aren't. Is stylization concidered to be a sign of weakness or caused by some kind of latent homophobia or sense of "wussiness"? Get over it, it makes life entertaining.

Sonic the hedgehog (1)

Tommay3 (1086087) | more than 5 years ago | (#25984881)

Sonic games often had some great music to play to. Especially in later games such as Sonic Adventure, it often sets the tone for final bosses.
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