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Adaptive Music

May 15, 2001 Article Start Previous Page 3 of 3

Going for Broke

Example: Adaptive Sentence Texture with Meter, Rhyme, and Transitions


(HEROIC cue)
Captain Brave-O, he's our man
Bravest soul in all the land
Hard as steel and twice as smart
Tough as nails and…

(SPOOKY cue)
…knows these parts
Wow, it's really scary here:
Smells of fish and smells of fear
Is that a shadow moving there?
Damn seals could be…

(COMBAT cue)
…oh, beware!
Bam boom bang, ker-chunk, ker-splat!
Filthy seal, do you like that?!
Seal bits flying everywhere
In a frenzy, just don't care
When, oh when, will the…

…seals try again?
Victory is ours, my friends!

Knowing Your Arsenal
As these examples get progressively high-level in terms of structure, I am reminded a little bit of the Seal Hunter weapon selection options. The UltraNinja2000 (a light, fast club) is perfect for lightning strike strategies, but doesn't do very much damage. The more expensive Crusher is slower and difficult to wield effectively, but makes an impressive impact when it connects! Each weapon has its place, and is useful in different game situations. In fact, choosing the right tool for the job is a big part of winning the game.

The same thing is true of the different adaptive strategies that we have examined. Each has advantages and disadvantages. There is no one perfect choice that is right for every game context. The best approach is to use all of them as necessary, applying the most effective solution on a case by case basis. "What do we want to hit the player over the head with for this part?" Choosing the right tool for the job is a big part of winning the game. It also helps to have a secret weapon handy…

Adaptability at the Letter Level
Those of you who have been paying attention to the structure if this paper will have been expecting either A) an example of adaptive poetry combining multiple approaches or B) "Adaptability at the paragraph level." Instead, in a surprise move, I am unveiling a secret weapon that's been hiding under our noses all along!

It's easy to overlook adaptability at the letter level because we don't normally think of packing much useful meaning into a single letter. If we could, it would offer incredible advantages in terms of flexibility. (Even faster than the UltraNinja2000!)

Example: Adaptive Letter Texture


(The level begins as Captain Brave-O enters heroically. Poem mood: HEROIC) thbifaarakopthbifaarako (The landscape changes; seals are nearby. Switch poem to CREEPY) pthbifaarakopibysal (Seal surprise attack! Switch poem to COMBAT) TLSWERIPIAMISFORAHACAA (The last seal is subdued but the territory is still scary. Also, Captain Brave-O's health is low. Switch to CREEPY, INJURED combo) uwocbrpuacvpitiaadb

Shockingly, that little example of pure adaptive letter texture was packed full of meaning! How could this be? Well, don't forget that the game is its own narrative. The player already knows what's going on. Our job as adaptive poets is to merely to enhance the mood of the story -- telling it is somewhat redundant. Still, adaptive letter texture on its own is somewhat limited in terms of what it can express.

(HEROIC) The real power of adaptive letter texture is its ability to com-(CREEPY)-bine with other techniques. It is fully com-(COMBAT)-PATIBLE WITH ALL OF THE OTHER APPROACHES THAT WE HAVE DISCUSSED. IT COULD even BE USED TO add AN ADAPTIVE element to PRE-COM-(CREEPY, INJURED)-posed material… and even com-(NEUTRAL, INJURED)-pletely unrelated prose!

Notice too that with this technique we've added an "analogue" element to our mood swings. Instead of limiting moods to either ON or OFF, BLACK or WHITE, we've added some shades of gray (and red…). For instance, the frequency of red characters (or completely red words) can indicate the status of Captain Brave-O's health meter, without interfering with the content or structure of other levels.

Seal Hunter: The Final Battle

Now that I've introduced my secret weapon, I'll leave you with one final example. The final example demonstrates how one might combine some of these approaches into a complete adaptive game poetry solution. Don't forget that the purpose of this exercise has been to learn something about adaptability in structured art forms, so that we can apply it to making interactive video game audio soundtracks. Meanwhile, think about the example that follows. What techniques are being used? Why did the game's Poetry Director make the choices he did? How much would this cost to implement and produce?

Example: Seal Hunter, Level 10


Captain Brave-O's back again,
He'll kick tail in Level 10!
Go Captain Brave-O, Go!

Tum te tum…

Tum te tum…

Tum te tum…



Tum-tum tum-tum…

Tum-tum tum-tum tum-tum tum-tum tum-tum tum-tum tum-tum tum-tum
BAM KER-CHUNK OW! KER-SPLAT HOOK bat FRAY SLAY BANG ker-splat OW! bat SLAY SLAY ker-chunk bam ker-splat SLAY slay slay
His breathing slows, the battle done
This war, he knows, is far from won
And though there's not a seal in sight
It's far too quiet to be all right

Tum te tum…

Annotated Bibliography

Hofstader, Douglas R. Gödel, Escher, Bach - 20th Anniversary Edition: An Eternal Golden Braid. New York: Basic Books, 1999.

Hofstadter, Douglas R. Le Ton beau de Marot - In Praise of the Music of Language. New York: Basic Books, 1997. Both Hofstader works explore symbol and meaning, form and content. The former has cognition and self-awareness as its central theme, while the latter is about communication and relationships. Hofstader draws deep and engaging analogies between his themes and the systems and structures that he explores (math, art, and music in the former; poetry, translation, and language in the latter). Frequently (particularly in GEB), the very structure and/or form of his writing demonstrates the content - an impressive device that adds an extra dimension to his exposition. Both of these books contributed enormously to the form, content, and even tone of my little paper.

Jourdain, Robert. Music, the Brain, and Ecstasy - How Music Captures Our Imagination. New York: Avon Books, Inc., 1998. A very broad survey of the phenomenon of music, from the physical and biological to the psychological and the sublime. Not an academic reference work, it's very readable - yet obviously exhaustively researched across many disciplines. Especially interesting to me were the explorations of how different elements of music (particularly patterns at different structural levels) are processed in different parts of a listener's brain, and the incredibly complex relationships that are involved in even the perception of music. OK, put it like that and it sounds boring, but seriously - anyone who is even remotely interested in music or audio will thoroughly enjoy this book. I'm not kidding, buy it! The takeaway is universal, despite a fairly western-classical-tradition-centric focus. Room for a sequel I guess…

Schoenberg, Arnold. Fundamentals of Musical Composition. London: Faber and Faber, Ltd., 1970. You wouldn't think that one could learn how to compose from a book, but something special clicked into place for me with this one. Partly the timing was just right - years of intensive training probably had something to do with it… Whatever it was, I really did understand music differently after reading this book. Unexpectedly (considering Schoenberg's prominent role in the deconstruction of tonality), the book limits itself strictly to traditional classical composition. It doesn't discuss or challenge tonality at all; it merely explains how and why the structures work. Despite the specific focus, there are lessons to be learned here about cohesiveness of form, repetition, and variation that can be applied to structures in any genre (…any medium?). Kind of an enigma is that the structure of the book itself is confusing at some points almost to the point of loosing the point entirely. Also, unlike the other works cited in this bibliography, it's extremely dry - unless you're really interested in classical music theory. Nonetheless, for me it was a gem. Grab it… if you can find it!



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