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Music from Myst III: Exile - The Evolution of a Videogame Soundtrack
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Music from Myst III: Exile - The Evolution of a Videogame Soundtrack

January 11, 2002 Article Start Page 1 of 3 Next

In 1993, when I first played Myst, being immersed into that strange world for the very first time, it was obvious this was a seminal moment in computer games. The story, the ambience, and the mystery of the Myst universe consumed my free time joyously; there was some relief in knowing that I could be so smitten by a computer game without constantly having to kill something.

The original soundtracks to Myst and Riven were an absolute determinant in rendering the player's experience immersive and intriguing. Both Soundtracks are, to date, two of the finest examples of the effectiveness of good-quality music and sound in a video game. Of course, in producing the next Myst soundtrack, we would be remiss if we didn't look at ways of improving the music and sound.

When I started writing music specifically for video games in 1995, my own personal mandate was to bring the quality of music heard in film to video games. Why not? This business now produces as much revenue as the film industry. Why not produce music for games that hits the player with as much force as when the opening cinematics in a film roll? Obviously there are fundamental differences between film music and game music, but why reinvent the wheel? When Myst III came along, I realized this was our chance. This was an enormously successful series that was now being produced by a company that had nothing to do with the original game design. They were bound to be looking for ways to set this title apart and make a truly high-quality game.

In order to make the music for this game stand out, I told them that it's not simply about writing great music to suit the title. It's also about understanding and implementing the highest of production values. It's about shedding the metaphoric blood, and the real sweat and tears to make the perfect mix — it's about how to make the music, and therefore the game and it's characters, come alive!

Myst and Riven are, to date, two of the finest examples of the effectiveness of good-quality music and sound in a video game.

Anyway, this hyperbole was part of a proposal that I had to write in order to "get" the game. Yes, I had to audition. I didn't mind though. This was a good sign. It meant they were taking the music production seriously. This was good. If I was going to be the one to compose the music, I wanted to know that everyone was on board and behind me. After all, I knew I'd have to work closely with the people at Ubisoft (Mattel, Gores Technology, Game Studios and various other monikers during the production!) and the developer, Presto Studios to get this done right. During the audition, I was competing against a number of talented composers. However, from the beginning, I felt that it wasn't simply about the composition that would land me the job. I had to be part of the team that was concerned about how to set this title apart from its predecessors. I felt that the production of the music would be of paramount importance. I wanted living, breathing people playing real instruments on this score. I wanted a grand theme with an orchestra and choir. I wanted exotic instruments; I wanted melody, ethereal backgrounds. I wanted the score to be different than the wonderful sonic pastiche of that of Myst and Riven, yet tied to it in a way that demonstrated that this was, in fact, a sequel.

I probably could have copied word for word, stylistically, Robyn Miller's work for Myst and Riven, but that seemed too safe, too expected, and basically, it just didn't resonate with me. I felt that these six new worlds in Myst III: Exile deserved their own voice musically. Yet, I wanted to make certain that there was a connection musically to those titles. After all, Robyn's music and how it affected my view of Myst are the main reasons I got into video game composing in the first place.

This article is about the evolution of this music; how it was conceived, planned, produced and finally implemented into the game.

First, I needed to do an analysis of Robyn Miller's music, play the first two games again, immerse myself in everything Cyan ever released concerning Myst and then (and here's the hard part) find some way to improve on it wherever possible.

In listening closely to the original soundtracks as well as talking to Robyn Miller about his process, melody was rare. Robyn felt that melody could easily get in the way of the experience of playing the game. I agreed with him, but I also felt that some melody would go a long way to giving the player something thematic to grab onto. Therefore, I had to find a way to use melody judiciously. Also, Robyn used one synthesizer to do Myst and only one to score Riven. I wanted freedom to use any instrument I desired including a full orchestra if it was appropriate. Next, I wanted the music to have as much "purpose" as possible — not just be tied to areas within the game, but also to have a level of randomness and interactivity to it. We came up with three ways to achieve this:

  • Orchestra and choir — For all live action and cinematics.
  • Reward Music — For achieving certain important puzzles within the game. These would be the Age Themes for the three "Lesson" Ages in the game use as thematic material for that age also.
  • In-Game Music — Similar style to the music in Myst and Riven. Tied specifically to Ages and areas, but also played in a random, ever-changing, interactive fashion.

Article Start Page 1 of 3 Next

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