Flexibility and dynamism at the musical note level will be necessary to advance game scoring in the 21st century. Without that level of detail and granularity (at run-time) we’ll be stuck painting our scores with a wide brush, and no ability to embellish the finer details of game-play. More than a nifty way to save lots of memory, note level dynamism also enables harmonic, rhythmic, timbrel, as well as melodic flexibility.
The overriding goal was to create a music/sound design that is so enmeshed with the actual game design that it becomes an essential part of the game’s storytelling. We wanted to create an emotional arc with the music and sound that not only followed the game design, but pushed the right emotional buttons at exactly the right moments. As with any good story, timing is everything.
So what’s left? To be sure, our growth as composers never ends, but there’s one important lesson from film music that game composers have yet to truly apply to games: and that is scoring to picture!
When a composer scores a film, the visual timing is locked, and each moment of the film is forever linked to a specific moment of the music. This allows the composer to craft the score to flow purposefully with the visuals, sometimes synced very tightly to visual cues (Carl Stalling) or change harmonies on picture edits (John Williams) or more loosely set to picture. Bur regardless of the scoring aesthetic, this range of tight to loose scoring is purposeful and precise in the film world. In other words, it’s no accident. And if you want to hit a very specific frame with a music event it’s not only possible, it’s often expected.
"Nobody listens to audio in mobile games anyway, so why bother putting much into it?"
Boy, if I had a dime… Interestingly (and sadly) I hear this sentiment as much from audio professionals as I do from producers, designers, and managers.
Originally published May 29, 2003
There is a growing trend away from detached "linear" scores towards music that is tightly integrated with, and relevant to, game-play. Game designers are learning that music doesn't have to be merely a detached backdrop to the action on screen - it can ebb and flow, adding emotional depth and soul to scenarios and help maintain the suspension of disbelief that is so crucial for players. We now have the ability to craft scores that adapt to what is going on in the game, in real time.