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The Music of The Mojave Wasteland
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The Music of The Mojave Wasteland

October 14, 2010 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 3 Next

The five types of music that we defined in the original system spec are:

Scripted Music. This is the most basic type of music. It plays. It overrides any other types of music that may be authored. When it is finished playing, the system will go silent until a new command is given.

Incidental Music. When out in the open wasteland we want the music to be very, very sparse. Incidentals are short pieces of music (five to 15 seconds).

We will want to play a sound that contains a collection of these at a certain time interval. The result will be random chucks of music and tones that quietly wisp away in the background. Almost like silence.

Location Music. When approaching an area in the desert we want to draw the player in. Location Music helps accomplish this. Picture the player walking through the empty desert listening to the wispy incidentals.

As the player starts to see a house on the horizon, the first layer (of three) starts to play. The player hears the tension change. As he nears the house, a second layer comes in, and once he is in the center of town, the whole music track plays.

The same thing happens in reverse as the player leaves the area. This gives a very natural flow to the experience of exploring the wasteland. And to this, we also make sure the music has night and day variations.

Battle Music. While in the wasteland or in small towns, we are generally playing Incidentals or Location Music. In either of these cases the player can get into battles. These tend to be fairly small skirmishes. If the enemy is of significant threat to the player Battle Music will play an intro, a loop, and an outro when the battle is over.

Hostile Music. When a town or location is hostile to the player, we will play Hostile Music. These pieces of music will have three layers; explore, tension and battle. The system will switch between the three based on the threat level to the player.

These various systems should go completely unnoticed. Ideally, players will never realize that any of these systems exist. The systems are created so that the music seems as purposeful and intentional as a composer would score the experience.

Before entering production, there were a few last questions to answer. First, I needed to put together a final cue list for Inon of what pieces of music he was to work on. This meant looking at the game as a whole and trying to determine which areas needed their own custom music.

Inon was very supportive in providing variations of pieces he created, which we were able to implement very effectively. All of the pieces of location music had a night and day version created for them. They were also all mixed into low, medium and high versions. The system we were creating would use all of these variations to help stretch the music's value across the countless hours of gameplay.

We also had to put together a final system specification of the programming work that would need to be done for the adaptive music system. Once the system was designed and the composer had his battle plan, all of the questions we had for the project were answered and it was time to enter production.


At this point, everything had been given the green light and all systems were go. My role switched to reviewing the system as it developed and the music as it was written.

There were a number of hurdles that we had to overcome on the programming side. Designing an adaptive music system is not a simple task. However, the early tests of the system proved out its value. I was extremely happy with how the music felt as the player would enter and leave our first town, Goodsprings. The instruments subtly build onto each other to form a piece out of the ambient wisps of the incidentals of the wasteland. We decided to stress the player's relationship with the town and we implemented an element of reactivity to the system.

Fallout is a game that allows for its players to choose their own role, and their own morality. Some players play the good guy, and others play the bad guy. We decided that the music system should reflect that.

If the player runs through the town of Goodsprings and kills everything in sight, the music will reflect that with a dark, foreboding tone. If the player is helpful to the townsfolk and doesn't cause too much trouble, the there is a much lighter, rural tone to the music. This was accomplished via the Media Location Controller system we had set up for the project, which you can see below.

As you can see, we had the ability to define what faction reputation to base this reactivity off of. Then, we could choose to play a different set of music based on the relationship with the faction, be it enemy, friend, ally, or neutral. These Media Location controllers were then tied to the Music Markers that were placed in the world. The Music Markers (see below) allowed us to define the radius and location of the music in the game.

(Click for full size.)

Once the groundwork was laid, these Music Markers and Media Location Controllers were relatively easy to set up. When attempting to cover such a large amount of ground with music, the ease of set up was necessary. I had to come up with a template control system by creating a series of Location Controller templates (scary, hostile, mysterious, peaceful, rural, vault, etc...) that could be placed across the wasteland as a first pass.

This allowed the entire world to be covered with music in relatively short order. Then, I could go back and focus on the areas of the game that were part of the critical path, and that belonged to the two main factions, NCR and Caesar's Legion. These areas will react to your reputation and as you ally with one or the other, the music will reflect that. It was this process of iteration that allowed the most flexibility.

Article Start Previous Page 2 of 3 Next

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