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An area that has always fascinated me is the way that sound, music and voice work with, or against an image to create meaning. There is a magnetism that occurs when music and sounds are synced to the image, which once experienced, one cannot imagine them ever having been apart.
Perhaps the richest area for collaboration with audio is with the art direction. One could perhaps begin to argue that the more unique or interesting sounding games are often the more aesthetically "limited", or those that work within a very clearly defined and unique visual vernacular. A good rationale to begin thinking about this is that because the visuals are focused into such a narrow bandwidth, the sound design and musical choices can be relied upon more than usual in order to fill in what the other senses are lacking.
This is not to say that the soundtrack cannot influence the visual style of a game as it develops, but that more often the first steps in defining a unique game world are made within the visual realm.
"Buy-in" is more often visual than it is audible at the product greenlight process (although quality audio can often and should play a leading role in this process).
Concept art and look and feel videos are often the first exposure the sound designer or composer will have to the game's direction and tone, at least beyond conversations with the art director and game director.
Provided sound is an active participant in the early concept stages, and is a collaborator throughout production, then a creative synergy can quickly develop between the art direction and the sound direction with ideas and inspiration flowing in both directions.
As I have already said, there have been recently a large amount of generic sounding games, mostly shooters, yet almost in rejection of this aesthetic, exceptions and examples of games with very different soundtracks have emerged.
I'd like to call out three examples of audio direction within the last few years that have been striking in their partnership with unique art direction.
All these examples have a focused and immediately clear vision; both sonic and visual that can be instantly recognized. It is interesting to note that these examples are all in firmly established and hugely popular genres, yet in each example have adopted a radical art direction.
First Person Shooter. BioShock's use of source music from the 1940s gave the game a sense of distorted realism, but this was very much a part of the vision for the entire game universe itself. This music formed a cohesive skin over the art direction which served to immerse the player in a unique historical fiction.
In addition to this, the strong use of the mid-Atlantic accent in many of the voice performances solidified a strong and clear voice direction which was extremely evocative of time and place. This title relied so heavily on the soundtrack for its effect, that it is impossible to imagine this game functioning without such a strong clear and narrow audio direction.