In Part I of this article, lead audio designer Gina Zdanowicz discusses how video game music enhances a player’s gameplay experience.
Music has always been an important part of entertainment media. As gaming continues to evolve, game music is more heavily relied upon to integrate with the games visuals, to set the scene, and to evoke players’ emotions. Game music should affect the gameplay, and the gameplay should affect the music. The player’s actions influence the interactivity and evolution of the music, just as the music influences the player’s decisions during game play. This combination immerses the player deeper into the gaming experience.
One of the biggest challenges in creating music for video games is in understanding the limits of the game audio engines while trying to provide a seamless interactive experience.
Techniques such as varying tempo, genre, instrumentation and musical notes can set the perfect mood for each area of the game and tell the player exactly what emotions they should feel in those areas.
A layered score is a technique that has several streams with different instruments on each. Those streams should be composed so they are strong on their own and work well with the games visuals, but also be able to be mixed together with the other streams to evolve the music as the game play changes.
Music that builds to a crescendo can signal to the player there is danger just ahead. A boss battle may require more intense music with several layers of instruments and heavy percussion. After the boss is defeated, the music slows down in tempo and the instrumentation thins out, signaling to the player that the danger is no longer imminent.
Super Mario Brothers utilized increased tempo to signal to the player that time is running out, which evokes a sense of urgency to complete the level before running out of time. Dead Space 2 uses ambient soundscapes and a large orchestra to create an eerie, yet larger than life feeling. A small string quartet was used in the game to contrast the large orchestra and to portray the vulnerability of the main character.
Both music and visuals must be well thought out and tightly integrated to create a cohesive and ambient environment. A game’s pace is just as important as the musical build up that allows the player time to feel safe in order to deliver the next tense moment with impact.
When you take a look at how far music in gaming has come, it speaks volumes to its importance in the game industry. Music is no longer just set in the background of the game. Rhythm genre game titles such as Rock Band and Guitar Hero offer a twist on standard game play and offer music as the game.
Gina Zdanowicz is the Founder of Seriallab Studios, Lead Audio Designer at Mini Monster Media, LLC and a Game Audio Instructor at Berkleemusic. Seriallab Studios is a full service audio content provider supplying custom music and sound effects to the video game industry. Seriallab Studios has been involved in the audio development of 60+ titles.