Back to Part 1 of this article
Welcome to part two of this two part series on developing musical ideas
in video games. If you haven’t read part one I highly recommend
you do so.
In part one we defined the tools we have to work with and analyzed two
successful titles that developed their musical ideas in unique ways (Journey
& Rayman: Origins). In this article I’d like to break down and
detail out all of the ways we could go about developing our musical ideas
in a hypothetical game situation.
Hypothetical situation: Online only Multiplayer game (FPS)
Our game is a Modern Military FPS (First Person Shooter) that is online/multiplayer
ONLY. There is progression with the player’s character as they achieve
objectives, but not a linear/single player campaign. To further complicate
our situation, we must understand that games of this nature don’t
feature a lot of music (for good reason too). Sound Design is essential
in a game like this and players need to hear the direction of every bullet
whiz, footstep, etc. to locate their enemy. Furthermore, many people who
play these games prefer to use teamwork and chat with their friends while
playing. With all of this audio going on, we must be very selective with
where we place our music.
(Click image for large version)
So how do we create an emotionally evocative score that develops ‘organically’
in a game where our character progresses over time, and yet we’ll
find ourselves playing through the same maps/modes quite often?
Most definitely our music (even if it was phenomenal) could get stale
after a while if our character never progressed. However, fortunately
in this game our character is not only rewarded with new gear as they
level up, but with new maps and additional features added to pre-existing
maps (Lvl. 1 – 5, 6 – 10, 11 – 15, etc.)
With all of this taken into consideration, our first step is ‘Spotting’
the game or answering all of our music related questions for the game
(When, Where, How, etc.) We already understand that our options are limited
because of all the sound effects/chatting going on and while this can
be a negative, there is also a positive benefit to our restriction. Music,
when it does come in, will ultimately be more evocative because of its
So let’s make a little ‘blueprint’ of where and when
to place music in our hypothetical game.
- Main Menu/Opening Screen
- Loading for Various Maps/Modes
- Beginning of Match
- Nearing the end of the Match
- End of the Match Results Screen (Win & Lose)
- Capturing/Achieving Important Objective
- Kill streak/ Multi-Kill
- Helping Teammates (Healing, Assists, etc.)
These are just a few of the numerous possibilities we have to choose
from. I'm sure you've thought of a few others as well, but in order to
keep this direct and to the point I'll only discuss how our music can
develop under the 'Universal' options.
Our Main Menu music will be the largest, most prominent,
and most played piece of music that players will hear on a consistent
basis. This piece of music will state our main themes while sticking to
the 'core' instrumentation we would have determined before this. Furthermore,
our Main Menu piece of music should be of a 'healthy' length since the
player may spend quite a bit of time here tinkering with their gear, upgrades,
etc. This'll give us ample time to introduce many of the musical ideas
we'll be developing as they progress through the game.
(Click image for large version)
When the gamer chooses a map to play, our music will set the mood based
off of the location of the map. So, if they are playing a jungle map then
our music could potentially switch to ethnic woodwinds, percussion, etc.
In addition, we can re-state some of our main themes here and they will
seem fresh because of the difference in instrumentation.
*We could also slightly develop the various loading screen pieces
of music as the player progresses and moves into a new 'level bracket.'
So a very high level character could hear a super inspiring orchestral
metal piece with big percussion and a lower level character may only hear
some percussion with some electric guitar elements. It's a subconscious
way of rewarding the player as they level up and keeping the musical 'palette'
fresh the more they play the game.
As the player is waiting in-game for the countdown to end and the game
to start, we have an opportunity to invigorate the moment of anticipation.
A thirty second countdown will allow all of the players time to organize
and give us one of only a few linear moments to write music to. We know
the game begins at the thirty second mark, so our piece of music will
build to a quick climax and state our Main Theme when the game begins
(still using instrumentation based off the map type to keep it fresh).
the end of the match nears a timer pops up on the screen counting down
from sixty seconds. We have another a linear moment to work with here
and an opportunity to not only push forward the momentum of the game,
but let the players know that the end of the match is coming soon (especially
if some players like to eliminate as much visual clutter as possible and
deselect the timer notification). Sticking with our map's instrumentation,
we have an opportunity to develop some of the themes we've introduced
during the Main Menu, Loading Screen, and Beginning of the Match. It could
differ from map to map, but that could mean variations in the melody,
re-harmonization, introducing new textures, etc.
Last but not least, we have the results screen where everyone can check
out how well they did and wait until the next map loads. Once again we'd
stick with the chosen instrumentation for this map, but our system would
play different pieces of music depending on if the player's team won or
not. Perhaps re-harmonizing some of the most important themes that were
introduced in earlier pieces.
As you can see, we can develop our musical ideas in unique ways and further
immerse the player in the game experience. Even if that game severely
limits our options on where and how to present that music. Thank you for
reading, I hope you’ve found these articles useful, and are able
to apply some of these ideas in your next project!