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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 Previous Page 3 of 3

Reward Music
The next type of music I designed for this latest version of the Myst series was "Reward Music". That is, music played when you've actually accomplished something. When you solve the puzzle to make it to a particular age, the "age theme" plays. These are linear pieces of music with melody that serve to define each of the Ages. Unlike Myst and Riven where the music is almost exclusively ambient, the music has ambience as background, but it's designed to be listened to. It's 2 to 3 minutes long and only plays once — so it's not possible to get annoyed by it. It's meant to be a break or respite in a musical sense at least. When you arrive at your destination, the thought is that you would simply be in awe of your surroundings. This reward music is the score for that emotion and for that first few minutes where the player is experiencing the new environment.

Once you are passed the reward music inside a new age, then the familiar ambient Myst music takes over. Of course, the in-game music is the largest single category of music in this game, since this is where you are spending most of your time. The main idea here is to introduce melody. However, how do you do this without annoying the player? Enter the Presto audio engine.

Presto developed an audio engine for the Journeyman Project series that endeavored to solve this problem. The basic concept at the beginning of the production was a looping pad or some mixture or texture of sounds, with what they called "stingers" that randomly play on top. Working directly with the man who programmed this engine (as well as the whole of Myst III), Roland Gustafsson, I asked him if it would be possible to make some modifications to the engine in order to enhance the functionality to do what I wanted to do with the music. Roland's response surprised me. He said "yes". It was truly amazing working with Roland, because he never said no to anything I asked for. His enthusiasm was mind-blowing. He was a great partner in getting the music to play properly in the game.

Once you are passed the reward music inside a new age, then the familiar ambient Myst music takes over.

• The Process. My basic idea was to compose and fully produce a 2-minute piece of linear music without any constraint whatsoever. I wanted melody, rhythm, texture, dynamics (at times) and counterpoint to add to the ambient music the audience was accustomed to. When I got a mix I liked, I recorded the mix in stereo. Then I would record multiple passes of every element of that mix — various rhythms, melodic instruments (all real by the way — almost never electronic), textures or pads, counterpoint instruments, etc. I would import these files into Protools and edit them to their core elements. All of these music elements would then be available for scripting into the Presto audio engine.

• Scripting. Once all files were edited and ready, I would write a script that dictated specifically how each file was to be played; how often it would play, what files would loop, which ones would play only once and also, and very importantly, when there should be silence. Scripting took the last 3 weeks of production and went right up to the gold master date. It was a nail biter for me. Of course, almost everyone was feeling the gold master pressure common at the end of every production.


I'm very proud of the Myst III: Exile score, not just for the music itself, but the process of making it. Working in tandem with Presto and Ubisoft could not have been better. Working with the genius of the musicians that played on it and having the opportunity to work with such great teams of people made this a truly memorable production — and I think the score was better for the fact that everyone involved truly cared about it and supported the making of it.

It took more than my talent and experience to make this score work. To me, that's only about 50% of it. The other half comes from the audio programmer working to implement it properly. They have to really care. The designer and the producer making sure that the music is fulfilling their vision. They have to really care. The publisher and executive producers who pay for the score. They have to care. The sound department that mixes the music and sound together. They have to care. Everyone cared.
The best part is that no one cared any more or any less about the music than any other single part of the production (gameplay, sound effects, cinematics, story, graphics, etc). That's what makes the best scores.


Article Start Previous Page 3 of 3

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