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Chapter 4. Design > Music for Different Game Types

Music for Different Game Types

Once you have a good grasp of the design you want to implement, you can start thinking about more creative aspects of audio development. I begin by citing some excellent examples of how music is being used in different ways for various game types.

Music for games used to have a single development strategy: Learn the technology and be its slave, but coax impressive things out of it. If you reach the level where people can hear it and say, “That's kinda cool,” you've won the battle.

Now that the CD-ROM drive enables audio to stream for games, the rules have changed. You can use any means necessary to create music, because the music can be as similar to (or as different from) any other music written before—without the technological constraints.

This advance, coupled with the fact that videogames are making more money than the record and film industries combined, has lured many a fresh thinker (or money-grubber, to some) into the game-audio arena, searching for new outlets now possible with the most rapidly evolving entertainment delivery system in history. Thus more and more people are coming up with new ways—some interesting and some disastrous—of creating game audio. I'll focus on the interesting stuff.

Music Licensing

Music licensing has taken the game-music world by storm. Two major publishers now include a job title of music executive: the person responsible for placing music that will add to a game's selling power. Interestingly enough, these same people aren't as interested in adaptive technique as they are in licensing, mostly because licensing is an avenue that can create millions in cross-promotional dollars. In some cases the decisions these executives make are sheer genius. Let's take a look at one of the crown jewels of music licensing: Wipeout XL.

Wipeout XL, developed by Psygnosis, was among the first games to successfully use licensing in a major way, back in 1997. The title is a racing-car game set in the future where advanced hover cars go at insane speeds. The game is filled with metal, concrete, and explosions. As such, some bright spark at Psygnosis decided to link the game with popular electronica pieces of the age from bands such as The Future Sound of London, Underworld, Orbital, Daft Punk, and Prodigy. The music fit the game like a glove. The in-house composer, Tim Wright, even wrote a few songs alongside the pop artists, and it all blended together seamlessly. It was a dream come true, a marriage of game audio and popular style, wrapped up in a neat and polished package that even sold quite a few copies of a separate soundtrack. From that, there was only one step to a full orchestra in a game.

Live Orchestra

I use the term live orchestra loosely, to mean there are composers who have written tracks—by using massive sample libraries and a bit of midnight tweaking—that most listeners can't distinguish from live music.

The earliest game I can remember that used live musicians in an orchestra probably isn't the first such game, but I must mention it. Total Annihilation, released in 1997, was a futuristic strategy title for the PC that featured some impressive live orchestral work by the Seattle Northwest Sinfonia, written by Jeremy Soule. Soule got his start in 1995 doing a very good soundtrack for Secret of Evermore for the Super Nintendo. The soundtrack was so damned good that no one could ignore its impact. It could have been any game type, and the music would have gotten the same attention.

However, now that the way for live orchestra has been paved, the challenge for videogame composers who swear by live orchestras is to create music that rivals that of the film composers who swear by it. After all, more and more reviews are comparing game soundtracks to those of television and film. But hey, we don't need that. We got our own juice.

The message I'm sending here is that the orchestra is a tool. It can be used just like any other tool. The fact that it generates emotion easily just makes it more seductive to plunk down with Gigastudio and play a few chords, but don't discount the other tools in the box.

Guy Whitmore and Russian Squares

Let's take a look in the other direction, away from the cameras and the lights, the tuxes, and the champagne during intermission. Here is probably the best-documented case of adaptive audio (see www.adaptiveaudio.org and search for Russian Squares), with music quality that rivals what you'd expect to pick up at the store under “Electronica.”

For the puzzle game Russian Squares, audio composer Guy Whitmore ignored the orchestra and instead constructed music using an advanced form of MOD: a DLS2 sample set. Downloadable Sounds (DLS) is a standard developed by the Interactive Audio Special Interest Group (IASIG) to combat the problem presented by General MIDI that we explored earlier in this chapter and that has already been well documented. The result of Guy's and the other composers' work on Russian Squares is something that smacks of resounding quality and, best of all, changes and morphs the music completely but subtly. For almost every action in the game, Guy created a musical transition that could change the music state. For example, in the piece “GravityRide” there are 28 different music cells. Each cell consists of any number of changes, from a new beat to the addition of a new instrument, to the tempo or meter changing in an existing beat or instrument. Even the latest Web-based and wildly popular Pop Cap games can't boast that.

I've explored at least a few of the ways that game design and music can intertwine successfully. Up to this point, I've covered the bases of workflow, technology, and design. In the next chapter, I turn to a real test case, Deus Ex: Invisible War, in which I examine all three more closely.

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