Gamasutra is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Gamasutra: The Art & Business of Making Gamesspacer
View All     RSS
October 1, 2020
arrowPress Releases

If you enjoy reading this site, you might also want to check out these UBM Tech sites:

Analysis: How To Get Creative With Game Music

Analysis: How To Get Creative With Game Music Exclusive

November 25, 2008 | By Mathew Kumar

November 25, 2008 | By Mathew Kumar
    Post A Comment
More: Console/PC, Exclusive

Generally considered one of the biggest afterthoughts in game development even now, music is of utmost importance to developers attempting to create depth within their work.

So said Duncan Watt, founder and creator of game music production company Fastestmanintheworld, at a Gamasutra-attended Montreal International Game Summit session aimed at offering developers better understanding of music's place within other creative works.

"Music has an incredible hold over the viewer," Watt said. "Not only does it follow the action of a work, but it tells the story behind the story, and can inform the viewer on what they should be thinking. As a game designer, this is an incredibly powerful ability that you should use."

In any creative work, music is either ambient, or background music, referred to by composers as underscore -- or source music, where something within the world is generating the tune.

(This can also be called diegetic versus non-diegetic music, as columnist Gregory Weir recently explained in Gamasutra.)

"The great challenge faced by composers, particularly when writing underscore, is that they do not know exactly what is going to happen. A player could choose to walk into a bar and walk right back out again, or they could spend twenty minutes there," said Watt.

However, not all techniques in creating game music require taking player behavior into account. "Even static ambient music -- music which doesn't alter to fit what is going on on screen -- can bring a lot to a game in communicating the mood and setting to the player immediately," said Watt.

"A game like Jet Set Radio Future communicates as much by playing Cibo Matto's Birthday Cake as it does from its cel-shaded visuals."

"Reactive" ambient music is probably one of the most well-used methods in games, but Watt emphasized that "it doesn't just have to show that the player is in battle or not," remarking that casual games were leading the way with reactive scores that communicate a variety of different states to the player.

And though the form may still be too nascent for this, Watt noted that music affects how players feel to such a great degree that it can be used to trick them for dramatic effect.

"You are telling the player what to think when he hears that battle music. He thinks, when he turns the corner, here come the enemies, but there's no reason that has to be true."

To discuss source music, Watt referred to what he felt was the best example of what it can do for a game - Portal's radio, which is found in the very first area.

"It's right there behind you, so it gets you used to the space and informs that you could, should turn around, which gets you used to the controls, and as you start to warp around, the distance you are from the radio helps keep you straight."

One recent example of source music that also excited Watt was Fable II's bard, who sings songs of the player character's adventures. "This is reactive source music driven not only by the player's action to initiate it, but by their previous actions in the world," he said.

These examples were important enough that Watt used them to argue for an improved connection between game and music design - which doesn't mean things like Guitar Hero. "Songs with lyrics are completely valid story drivers," he said.

"You can't think of every musical as 'High School Musical' - there is so much potential to this; compare Portal without 'Still Alive' and with it, and then tell me you wouldn't play something as silly as a minigame collection if it promised a thematic link to Portal through the music."

"The bottom line is that is timeless, it's universal, it doesn't matter where you came from or who you are, you understand music on an intrinsic level," Watt concluded. "It's like a smell; it puts you on that spot, and we should use that."

Related Jobs

Sony PlayStation
Sony PlayStation — Bend, Oregon, United States

Lead FX Artist
Airship Syndicate
Airship Syndicate — Austin, Texas, United States

Mid to Senior Worldbuilder - Unreal Engine
Airship Syndicate
Airship Syndicate — Austin, Texas, United States

Senior VFX Artist
Remedy Entertainment
Remedy Entertainment — Espoo, Finland

Senior Material Artist

Loading Comments

loader image