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Staying In Tune: Richard Jacques On Game Music's Past, Present, And Future
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Staying In Tune: Richard Jacques On Game Music's Past, Present, And Future

June 16, 2008 Article Start Previous Page 5 of 10 Next

I wanted to ask you about interactive scores, because not a whole lot has been done with it yet, necessarily, or it seems like there's a lot more that could be.

RJ: Firstly, I would politely disagree with that statement, because... actually, I won't say the name of the website, but there was an interview with me, and one of the questions was "There is a lot of talk about interactive music, but it doesn't mean anything." So, a quite interesting perception, and probably picking up on what you just mentioned.

I think over the last three to four years, there's been a lot of interactive scores, and whether they're not publicized or whatever, but people maybe don't know about them. The most interesting thing about that is that if they're done well, the gamer may notice the changes less than if they're incredibly obvious.

There was an interesting conversation I was having with Russell Shaw, composer at Lionhead who's been working on Fable and Fable 2. He said that he did a focus group test when they were working on Fable 1 of really, carefully interactive music changing seamlessly and smoothly, or two tracks... I don't remember what it was, but let's say "exploring" and "battle music," cut really brutally. The gamers preferred that method, because it was obvious.

Another composer I know on a big title which I'm not going to mention was going through an awards nomination process, and the nominating panel couldn't tell that the score was interactive because it was done so well and so smoothly and so cleanly that it wasn't that obvious.

But if they videotaped themselves playing through the whole game and then did it again differently, you'd guarantee that the score would play out completely differently.

It's a really great question. I think that a lot of composers are doing it so well now that it's smooth and clean and plays underneath the game in this seamless way that we are doing our jobs right.

If it's really obviously done and you're just hard-cutting two stereo tracks, that's what we as composers are trying to get away from, because as a movie soundtrack, the score would play beautifully underneath and support it and etcetera, but it should never get in the way.

That's what we've been trying to do with games. I think there's a lot of it happening, and I think we'll see more of it in the next two to four years, because we've got great tools, and everyone's aware of it. That's why I'm considering giving talks about how to write the stuff.

What, then, do you think is a good balance for that? When is it appropriate, and how should it be... in fact, do you have multiple different modular music that can build and subtract from itself, or do you have things in different octaves?

RJ: Well, the way I do things, it really depends on the game, because every game should be approached differently. I do a lot of action games, and I do quite a few action-adventure games as well.

In action-adventure games, you've got situational music. Let's say "walking," "running," "exploring," and that kind of thing. Then you're going to have battle music, whether it's a war thing or if it's a hack-and-slash thing or whatever, but you're going to have combat music of some shape or form.

You can have different levels of combat music, depending on the number of enemies. You almost certainly have to have some kind of boss music, some cut scenes, and etcetera.

I look at that, and I think, "What do I want the player to feel, and how do I do that interactively with the score?" When you're just looking around -- looking at Oblivion or something like that -- and you're looking around at this beautiful landscape, you might go into a battle very quickly, but the way I want to do that interactively is have a musical transition, or rise or whatever that sounds very musical but then goes into a big battle scene, rather than hard-cutting two tracks, because I think it can be done better than that.

So my approach is always... I do quite a lot of layered soundtracks. A lot of my stuff has three or more layers of sometimes the same piece of music, if you like, and sometimes three different pieces of music all layered on top of each other, which you can change at any time. That's noticeable enough to the player, but you can really ramp up and down the tension in a split second, according to the gameplay, and it works fantastically well.

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