我想以我最喜欢的《半条命》系列中最喜欢的音乐《Triage at Dawn》作为总结。这首音乐是出现在《半条命2》中一个特别恐怖的场景后；即玩家独自待在Ravenholm的一座废弃矿山一个晚上。不久之后就日出了，玩家将能够在一个相对安全的地方见到那些熟悉的面孔，并暂时得到放松。这时候便响起了相对平缓且温和的音乐，并让玩家能够静静回想刚刚经历的可怕场景。这同时也让玩家能够了解现在的角色是以怎样的状态站在自己面前。他们可能从未想过会遇见你，特别是在你所选择的走向他们的那条路上。然而结果却是，你成功地做到了其他人所做不到的事。
Cipher Prime Studios（游戏邦注：这家开发商位于美国费城）程序员和音频设计师Dain Saint表示，这是一种行业惯例。他说道：“你经常会看到AAA游戏的开发者用音乐来让玩家明白正在发生什么事情。比如，好莱坞电影人可能会有‘这是个悲伤的场景，配上段悲伤的音乐’之类的做法。他们在使用的是背景情绪控制。因为我们做的是音乐游戏，所以在《Pulse》和其他游戏中，我们就尝试将情感链接提到前景处，而不是将其作为背景音乐。”
据Cipher Prime联合创始人及首席执行官Will Stallwood所述，iPad游戏《Pulse》是款简单的音乐游戏，其设计目标是成为互动音乐集。
Cipher Prime的开发团队也在《Pulse》中运用无声来营造情感氛围。但其目标不是让玩家感到恐惧，而是间或用无声让玩家有喘息的机会。Dain Saint解释道：“我觉得游戏对音效的运用与其他媒介并无差别。《Pulse》的菜单处并非无声，菜单处的音乐好似管弦乐队正在调音，它让玩家为游戏做好准备。当你选择一首歌曲后，会暂时无声一段时间。当歌曲结束后，游戏又会有一段无声的时间。我们在游戏中运用无声来提供现场演奏的真实感。”
游戏邦注：本文原作者是Peter Drescher，现任Danger, Inc音效设计师（Danger, Inc是手机设备T-Mobile Sidekick的制造商），很早之前他曾经在街头弹奏钢琴曲卖艺，但是在15年前，这种生活发生了转变。从那时起他开始为多媒体制作音频，并逐渐成为制作小型精巧音频文件的行家。
刚开始我是为《After Dark》的屏幕保护程序制作音乐。后来也为General Magic设备制作音乐邮票以及56K调制解调器的网络音频。而最近，我开始为手机设备制作铃声和游戏音频了。这也正是我将在本文提到的内容。
《Cheese Racer》是一款基于《迷魂车》（Rally X）而开发的游戏，游戏通过运用各种技巧在狭小的储存空间中制造出了各种声音和音乐，包括：
如上图，通过使用tile editor在游戏级别图表中安置传输工具，使游戏能够转换不同的音乐效果。图中的每一个黑点都代表一些特殊的游戏内容，包括弹跳，遇见敌人等，特别是“音频Mix #5”更是专门用了细蓝线标示出来（因为这是一款横向卷轴游戏，所以这条蓝线会持续出现在不同的游戏点上）。如果玩家并没有掉进屏幕中间的那两个无底洞，他将能够进入下一个音频区，也就是如图8所示右边的黑点连成的线，随后游戏便会开始播放“音频Mix #6”。
接下来我想谈谈我最喜欢使用的音频制作技巧，也就是 “Secret Yanni”技巧，这种技巧其实很深奥，很难在这里详细说明。关键问题就在于：视频游戏并非电影，并不能同步播放图片，因为玩家总是不能预言什么时候会突然出现音乐等等。但是如果使用了 “Secret Yanni”技巧，你将能够发现音效的神奇之处，在游戏中合理使用音效定能为你的游戏加分不少。
《辐射3》充分利用了剧情音乐和非剧情音乐。除了游戏角色的手腕上安装的一种叫作“Pip-boy 3000”的小计算机，游戏世界中到处是播放音乐和其他无线电台节目的无线广播。当玩家打开角色的“Pip-boy 3000”时，他们就必须小心无线信号会使NPC发现角色的所在。当广播功能被打开，游戏世界就充满非剧情背景音乐。
篇目1，Rethinking the audio loop in games
A looped composition is an intriguing sonic artifact used in the production of music for videogames. It can adapt itself to many different situations, and it has been in use as long as the videogame industry has existed. It is so popular that even today, music for videogames is still remembered by non-gamers as “tiny, repetitive pieces of music.” Nevertheless, the technology and aesthetic of games, along with consumer expectations, have changed, forcing developers to rethink the use of this technique in order to make it relevant in the modern game production environment.
This article has three objectives. The first is to talk about the history of looped compositions and find out why they were so popular and effective back then. The second objective is to identify challenges related to musical implementation in games and the impact caused by loops. The third and final goal is to suggest new ways of implementing music into games, without significantly increasing the budget or time of development.
If you are already familiar with the history of loops, and wish to know more about their application, jump to the last part of this article, “Efficient approaches to musical implementation.” Otherwise, start by reading the next paragraph.
What is a looped composition?
In the context of videogames, it is music in which the beginning and end are seamlessly connected. By doing this, the composer is trying to prevent the listener from identifying where the music starts and ends. This composition can be repeated endlessly, and it sounds like it is much lengthier than it actually is.
There are two main reasons to use looped compositions. The first is aesthetical and the second is technical, and they are closely related to each other. To better understand these reasons, we need to go back in history and remember how games were produced during the industry’s infancy.
The musical loop in yesterday’s videogames
Historically, developers always struggled to fit games into a medium. The available space to store music, sound effects, graphics and other data is finite. The better the optimization of this data, the faster the performance of the game and the lesser the amount of data it requires to be stored. In some cases, optimization is an essential requirement. In the mid-1980s, when the console market started to gain popularity, disk space was incredibly small compared to today’s standards. At that time, games had to be very small in order to be viable.
The technical limitation of the file size enters into conflict with the most important aesthetic feature of video games: interactivity. In a game, it is very difficult to know exactly how long a player spends in a given section, since it’s the player who decides when to advance. Theoretically, one can simply stay put for many hours in a stage without progressing.
These two reasons, technical and aesthetical, created a huge challenge for game music composers. They needed to create music that occupied a minimum of space on disk, and, at the same time, had flexible length. The same music file could be reproduced for one minute or for several hours, depending on the result of the player’s interaction with the game.
That’s why the solution of the looped composition was so well received. The files were small enough to fit in the limited space available for storage, and at the same time, could be “extended” to fit most interaction scenarios.
However, looped compositions have significant drawbacks that affect both their production and the effect they have on the listener.
The disadvantages of looping
One of the challenges the composer faces is making the loop pleasing to the ear for longer periods. It doesn’t matter how beautiful the composition is. After being repeated over and over, it becomes boring. Here’s a simple exercise that proves this: try listening to your favorite music four times. By the fourth repetition, you may not be able to listen to the music at all anymore. The melodies that were once pleasant and pleasing become annoying, and the surprise generated by each new section of the song is gone. In the end, looped music creates an undesired effect: it repels listeners, instead of attracting them.
The length of the loops should also be carefully considered. Even though the same music can be repeated for many hours, it doesn’t mean it should be. The songs are still quite short, usually one or two minutes in length. It is very hard to create short songs that have enough elements within them to be interesting for so long. Music is highly dependent on its duration, and the job of the composer is to make music pleasant over time. One of the ways to do this is to create contrast. If a certain part of the music is tense, the other part can be soft, creating contrast and maintaining the interest of the listener for longer periods of time. The smaller the loop, the more difficult it is to create this contrast and the more likely the listener will grow bored of the music.
Contrast is not the only characteristic affected by the limitations of looping. Several compositional techniques also need to be adapted. For instance, if the composer wishes to enhance the familiarity of a melody without repeating it exactly as before, they may want to play the melody in a different key. This technique creates a feeling of familiarity, but at the same time adds novelty, since it’s not an identical repetition.
Raising the key of a song gives the impression that the music is growing in intensity. But, at some point the song will reach its looping point and return to its original key. When this happens, the song sounds less intense, thus creating the exact opposite feeling desired when the composer gradually raised the key.
Another technique compromised by looped compositions is the “growth” of the arrangements. This consists of using more instruments over time, making the music sound more “grandiose”. However, when the music passes through the looping point, it becomes “empty” and “thin”. This happens because there are fewer instruments playing at the beginning of the song, before the arrangements started to “grow”.
These are just a few examples of the disadvantages of using musical loops. At the beginning of this industry, these weaknesses didn’t seem to have a huge impact. After all, games could now have a musical background, thanks to the loop. This was a great technical and aesthetical achievement.
The situation is different now. Games are getting more sophisticated and almost every technical aspect of game production has improved significantly. Gamers are demanding higher-quality content and developers need to adapt quickly in order to survive.
These challenges and their relationship with looped compositions are going to be further analyzed in the next paragraphs.
New challenges for game music
No matter how sophisticated modern games are, the goal of music still remains the same: promote immersion for the player. Nevertheless, it is hard to achieve this objective using short-length looped musical artifacts that repeat themselves ad infinitum. This wonderful technique is still going to be used, but it needs to be upgraded in order to fulfill the demands of the market.
There are several reasons that justify the revision of this technique, and they vary depending on the game genre, target audience, and the objective each game is aiming to achieve. Since every situation requires a different analysis, this article will focus on one challenge that permeates almost all situations.
The intolerance to repetition
Experienced gamers have developed their musical perception and are perfectly capable of quickly identifying the looping point. They don’t accept the “illusion” of musical extension through loops. The use of this technique, once pleasant in the 8 and 16-bit generation, now causes repulsion instead of immersion.
Even players with less experience are now capable of identifying the musical repetition. Perhaps not all of them will be able to pinpoint the exact location of the looping point, but they know the music is repeating. In the end, the result is similar, and the music becomes undesirable.
Besides that, the wide range of affordable digital music playback devices have changed the way we consume music. Players (and music consumers) have a huge arsenal of music content available in their pockets. Many are accustomed to listening to hours of diverse music throughout the day and this has made them even more demanding. When they play games with repetitive musical content, their tendency is to simply ignore the music by turning it off or lowering the volume.
Many modern games also provide the option to replace the game’s music with the music stored on the device. So there is no good reason for a player to continue listening to repetitive music if it can easily be replaced.
It is important to note that these statements are made based on observations of players behavior, as well as informal conversations with other people working in this industry. The aim of this article is not to be a scientific basis for proof of facts, but a document that discusses the challenges of this market and serves as guidance and inspiration for professionals that produce games.
As previously mentioned, this article is not attempting to discourage the use of the loop. This technique is still crucial in almost every game, and there are many examples of wonderful products (some that are even references for musical production in the industry), which continue to use loops in a way similar to previous generations. The purpose of this analysis is to alert game producers to the challenges of creating music for video games and the impact that the use of the loop may have in some situations. In the end, the artistic decision whether to use the loops or not, as well as the implementation approach, must be aligned with the product, the target audience, the budget and the intended goal.
The response of the industry
Producers of games referred to as “AAA” (games with high production values) are aware of this context change and have updated their approach to the musical production of their games. The solution, in some cases, is to produce more music, thus making the content more diverse. Theoretically, more music would help reduce the undesirable effects of continuous repetition.
However, producing more music is not a viable solution for everyone in the industry. There are a lot of independent and small businesses that need to produce low-budget games in order to survive. Often, the available budget is not adequate to satisfy the musical demands of the modern gamer. Companies are stuck with the low-cost solutions of the past, creating short loops that are played continuously during most of the gameplay experience. This approach is economical, but not always effective.
Efficient approaches to musical implementation
In order to create musical loops that minimize the probability of listening fatigue, it is first necessary to assess the needs of the project. Try to find out how much time, on average, players spend during each session, stage or segment of your game. In this article, this will be referred as Gameplay Time. Given the non-linear nature of the games, it is impossible to know exactly how long players spend in Gameplay Time, but it is crucial to have an estimate based on the game planning and, more importantly, the analysis of test results using various players’ profiles.
To avoid excessive musical repetition, the length of the music should be greater or equal to the Gameplay Time. In this ideal scenario, the player would only listen to original music. However, it is hard to achieve this goal in low-budget projects. If the music length is equal to 50% of the Gameplay Time, it will be repeated twice, which is tolerable and does not bother most gamers. But if the music starts to repeat 3-5 times, it can become too repetitive, repelling the player. The worst case scenario is when the music is repeated more than five times during the Gameplay Time.
The table below shows the relationship between the number of repetitions of the loop and the sensorial results for most players.
If the music in your game results in scenario D, the best solution is to create more musical content and try to approach scenario A.
However, if you can’t produce more musical content, due to budgetary or scheduling constraints, there are some workarounds. It is important to notice that even AAA games are using these techniques as a strategy to minimize the costs of the project. All the solutions cited below are related to the concept of dynamic arrangements (horizontal and vertical).
Solution 1 – Inversion of the parts of the song
Description: Songs are divided into different parts which are presented one after another over time. In popular music, these parts are often called A, B, bridge and chorus. By making some adjustments, it is possible to change the order of the parts, making a slightly different, new version of the song. The more parts the music has, the greater the possibility of combinations.
Advantages: The music doesn’t start exactly the same way during different Gameplay Times. This mitigates the feeling of repetition at the moment the player starts to listen to the music. It is especially useful when the same music is used in different sections.
Disadvantages: Once the song completes its loop cycle, the player realizes that the same song is being reproduced. Depending on the listener’s experience, they may even perceive the order replacement before the completion of the cycle.
Suggestion for implementation: The composer needs to export different versions of the song, with parts in different places. It is also possible to export each part separately and then assemble them in real time within the game engine.
Solution 2 – Mute the melody
Description: The melody is the most memorable element in music. If you think of any music right now, you will probably remember the main melody. Melodies are powerful sonic artifacts that, if used properly, can make your game even more memorable. But melodies have a drawback. If they are repeated too much, they can repel the listener.
Advantages: It is possible to increase the number of loop repetitions when the melody is muted, without harming the player’s immersion.
Disadvantages: If the melody is often excluded, the music can lose its impact and fail to be memorable.
Suggestion for implementation: Ask your composer to export two versions of the song, one with melody and one without. Then play them alternately, trying to carefully find the balance for the repetition of both melodic and non-melodic versions. You can also mute the tracks that play the melody, if your game engine has this feature.
This technique is used in the Skyview Temple, the first dungeon of Zelda: Skyward Sword. When Link is in the main room, a melodic version of the theme is played. When entering smaller rooms, the main melody is muted.
Solution 3 – Implementation of silence
Description: An aggressive version of solution 2. By repeating the song a number of times, you can simply turn it off when the number of repetitions approaches the aforementioned scenario D.
Advantages: As there is no music, the player won’t experience the undesirable effects of listening fatigue.
Disadvantages: If the game is silent for a long time, abrupt reintroduction of the music can be jarring.
Suggestion for implementation: Play the loop 3 times (approaching scenario C). After the third repetition, let the music subtly disappear. Leave the game in silence for a while and repeat the operation. You can also mute the music until the end of the next stage/segment.
This solution was used in Halo. When the player spent too much time in one stage, the music simply disappeared.
Solution 4 – Random playlist
Description: This solution proposes the use of different songs played in random order, similar to a music player with the shuffle option enabled.
Advantages: The player has a greater diversity of music content available during Gameplay Time. Furthermore, the music can be tailor-made to match the theme of the project. The result is better than simply replacing the game’s original music with the playlist.
Disadvantages: At some point, the musical content will start to repeat.
Suggestion for implementation: Play the songs in random order, but don’t repeat the same file twice in a row.
Solution 5 – Expandable end
Description: This is a short loop that can be added at the end of the music file. After a few repetitions of this loop, the full song can be reintroduced.
Advantage: The effect is similar to solution 3, but more subtle. When you create a loop at the end, you can mitigate the effects of listening fatigue and prepare the player for the next musical repetition.
Disadvantages: The expandable end can become annoying if overused, just like any other musical loop.
Suggestion for implementation: Ask your composer to create a short loop (30 seconds is more than enough), using the same BPM and percussive elements of the music it will be connected to. This file should be flexible enough to connect with the beginning of the song.
To make your music production even more interesting, try to combine these solutions. You can create a random list (solution 4) with songs with expandable ends (solution 5). You can also use songs with expandable ends (solution 5) that may repeat without melodies after a while (solution 2) and fall into silence (solution 3), returning with parts reversed (solution 1). Basically, any solution combination can be made and they all have a similar result: the expansion of the existing musical production of your game, maintaining the quality without significant increase to production costs.
篇目2，The Half-Life Approach (to Music Design)
by Kyle Johnson
The Half-Life series, like most Valve titles, is remarkable in many areas of design. Besides the inter-dimensional aliens, crazy fringe-science, and newly acquired regenerative Rambo-like abilities of its mute protagonist, Gordon Freeman, the games have all strived to be as grounded as possible. Chiefly the physical mechanics and general ‘feel’ of the world, powered by the Source engine. When the engine was built, initially for Half-Life 2, one of its primary design goals was to recreate accurate physical properties in the world and subsequently build a lot of the the core-gameplay around them. Truly innovative at the time, Source still feels great to play today and its physics engine has seldom been bettered.
The games in the Half-Life series have a particular approach to music design I’ve always found interesting due to its relative simplicity. Musical playback is intentionally infrequent throughout the games, not only to help assert the idea of realism that the series strives for, but to allow the rare appearance of music to enhance mood by ‘speaking’ to the player dynamically at specific moments. Many of the compositions are moody ambience tracks that are dark in tone in line with the theme of the story; a struggling resistance’s fight to reclaim the earth from an oppressive alien race. The dystopian setting has a soundtrack that is filled with gloomy dread and eerie gothic electronic compositions that rarely deviates to allow for music that briefly conveys hopes and victories to shine through. It enhances intended emotional resonance during key moments in the journey and is deftly capable of entirely changing the pace and style of gameplay from one moment to another.
Take the above track from Half-Life 2: Episode One for example. After a confrontation with a gunship in an open space the level design becomes confined; a mini-labyrinth of corridors and small rooms that constrict player movement leaving nowhere to hide. Once here it’s clear a very large wave of enemies is imminent and some serious ass-kicking will have to be dealt out in order to survive. The game lets the player know the pace of the imminent scenario by simply fading up the track; an energetic percussive-led composition, that aims to increases player-alertness and strongly suggests an increase in pace and movement is required in order to survive. Not only is this a cool gameplay mechanic that provides the appropriate feedback for gameplay, it also has a of great deal of entertainment value and can make you feel like a complete bad-ass in the moment. Via this technique the music has created a brief but exciting and intense action scene out of nowhere and you have the starring role.
After the necessary running and gunning has finished, the music fades away returning the ‘reality’ of the space. The world is silent again; the hyper-real, upbeat moment of quick-thinking has now vanished completely and you’re back to exploring your way through the level. Nothing about the game world has actually changed during the last few moments besides the fading in and out of music (and the piles of dead alien soldiers). This kind of choice musical-triggering happens a lot throughout the series and it’s extremely effective at assisting all kinds of ideas and interesting moments outside of combat too. Sometimes it merely works to establish the tone of a new location, usually accompanied by an area that introduces a new visual aesthetic to the player. Sometimes it’s triggered in collaboration with an attention-grabbing visual of something important like a distant destination or the appearance of a character.
As efficient as this design technique is at playing the various roles, the value of silence is also never under appreciated in the games. The lack of a conventional soundtrack works just as well to serve the reality and sense of place as the musical cues do in aiming to enhance it. Even after prolonged sections of level that feature no score, the appearance of music feels really natural, as if designed to be experienced subliminally. It never breaks immersion or pulls player focus directly on to it. It is wholly unobtrusive and only ever acts an audible extension to the ‘feeling’ of the world.
‘Half-Life 2′ Main Menu (cycle)
The consideration of audio design and how significant it is begins before the actual game even starts. The main menu contains no music and instead relies solely on pieces of sound design to populate whatever instance of level is shown on screen. From environmental effects, gentle weather, and eerie soundscapes, to a small fire crackling, the hum of alien technology in the distance, or the lone squarks of bird (curiously the only animals ever seen in the games). During the main menu these components begin to create an indirect sonic sensibility that carefully codes player perception of the world they are about to enter; a quiet, dying planet, infused with a faint but domineering alien presence. The lack of music here helps sell the atmosphere in a way that any kind of composition never could, it speaks volumes about the world and begins the process of grounding the player within it instantly.
Valve Ident (2004)
It’s clear that Valve understand the power of smart audio design. The company ident at the start of every game is almost entirely recognisable by the music cue that accompanies it. Comprised of a small slice of one of the original Half-Life’s soundtrack, for almost two decades it has been the developers calling card. After all the years they have existed, this simple cue from their first game remains the way in which they choose to identify themselves at the start of every new game. Though the visual aspects of the ident have been slightly updated, the music itself has never changed. It clearly stands for something, and I for one never tire of hearing it. It’s just plain cool.
‘Triage at Dawn’ (Half-Life 2)
I’ll wrap up this entry with one of my favourite pieces of music in the series, ‘Triage at Dawn’. It comes after a particularly distressing horror section of Half-Life 2; surviving a night alone in the abandoned mining town of Ravenholm (we don’t go there). Shortly after emerging into the morning light and meeting with friendly faces in a relatively safe place, a brief chance to relax is granted to the player. During this moment a contemplative and gentle composition begins to play and for the first time allows you to reflect on the hellish ordeal you’ve just been through. It also suggests to you how the characters now standing in front of you perhaps feel about you. They probably never expected to ever see you, especially given the route you’ve taken to reach them. Yet here you are. Alive. Triumphant in having done what no one else can do. A triage at dawn.
I find this sort of approach to music design and implementation fascinating. It’s something that only the interactivity of games can offer. It allows the world to feel realistic even when moments of ‘unreality’ via music punctuate it from time to time. Gordon Freeman isn’t wearing headphones. He isn’t hastily fading the volume in and out during a firefight. He’s not hastily shuffling through MP3s to find appropriate music to accommodate how he’s feeling about things in the moment. The music in Half-Life is the only thing in the game that isn’t physically part of the world yet it manages to enhance the reality of it and give weight to the things that are at stake within it.
篇目3，Puppet Masters: How Game Musicians Manipulate You
Games control us. Like it or not, we’re being manipulated each time we boot up our consoles. When I started the rhythm game Pulse on my iPad, sitting on my bed, listening to the music and tapping the dots in tune to the rhythm, I was acutely aware of how the game and its soundtrack were affecting me. As I started the game, I couldn’t help but feel as if the music was affecting the tone of each level, and controlling my emotions in turn.
This is a standard industry practice, says Dain Saint, a programmer and audio-designer at Cipher Prime Studios, a developer based out of Philadelphia. “In general, you’ll normally see in AAA titles people using music to try and tell the player exactly what is going on,” he says. “So for example, in a Hollywood movie they’ll say, ‘Ok, this is a sad scene. Bring up the sad music.’ They’re using those kinds of background emotional controls. With Pulse and the rest of our games — since we do music games — we try to bring that emotional connection to the foreground instead of leaving it in the background.”
It’s an effect that works because of close proximity players have to the game, Saint says. “In Pulse, the design is very minimal so we try to take away as many barriers between the player and the music as possible.”
Developed for the iPad, Pulse is a simple music game designed to be an interactive album, according to Will Stallwood, CEO and co-founder of Cipher Prime.
“You’re learning the second you get into the game. We’re all really big fans of teaching here, and on all of our games we don’t have tutorials. So when you first get into the game, you’re presented with a problem. The problem is, ‘How the f*** do I start the game?’” he says.
“Before you even get into the game you’ve already learned the basic mechanic — you have to touch circles. You’re getting taught before you even get into the menu to get into the game.”
“We went through a lot of testing,” says Saint. “We took it to GDC, we took it around Philadelphia, we took it out to bars and actually had quite a few drunk people sit down with Pulse and figure out how to play it. We would take notes and if somebody couldn’t get it, then we would make note. The thing was, that by the end, even drunk people could play it, and for us that was a win. We were able to make something that was that intuitive.”
The music of Pulse communicates the tone of each level to the player. Sparsely relying on visuals, the developers at Cipher Prime are able to let the music become the central character and source of atmosphere in each level.
“With each track we communicate a very different sort of feel; a very different sort of emotion. And I think that it does that really well,” explains Saint.
Kerry Gilbert, level and co-audio designer on Pulse, shares his opinions about the abilities music has in their game: “It sort of guides, for lack of a better term, the emotional journey. You know, you’re going through each song and they each have their own feeling and song takes you up and takes you back down. It speeds you up and then slows you down, and then you finish with a big finale with Cinder and then you’re done. It feels very linear to me, in a way.”
Both sound and music have multiple different properties and uses. Besides using these aspects as a means to educate players, they can also be used to create ambience and tone (or lack thereof) in games. However, in a very different vein than Pulse, Dead Space 2, the latest production from Visceral Games, uses ambience and tone to create a very different sort of atmosphere for the player.
Part of what makes Dead Space 2 so scary is its use of a tense orchestral score to heighten tension. This is exactly what Sound Producer Andrew Boyd, and his team at Visceral were looking to accomplish.
“I think [that music] is pretty important in Dead Space,” remarks Boyd. “I think it’s important in all games, but in Dead Space it’s really a key component. We’re very interested in the psychology of the character — Isaac’s character — and we want to put the player through some of those same kinds of experiences. So, as a player, you’re sitting on your couch, you’re not actually walking down some deserted hallway. How do we make you feel like you are? How do we play with that?
“Music works on this great unconscious level…if you’re doing it right, people don’t recognize what’s happening necessarily. But we use the music in Dead Space to create that sense of loneliness and isolation and dread — and we’ve got a million techniques for doing it.”
“We want to play with a sense of uneasiness. Constant uneasiness kind of dulls its edge, so we want to modulate the experience for you. Dead Space is obviously a very dark place to spend time, and you know, that’s part of the goal.”
One aspect players frequently overlook is the seamless integration of sound effects into the atmosphere. They are such a basic component of every game, yet most players don’t even notice them — it’s natural. If the sound effects were missing, of course, that would be another story.
“[Dead Space] actually has the sliders in it so you can adjust sound effects and music separately. It’s kind of interesting to turn the music off and play through it. Or vice versa — turn the sound effects off and play with the just the music. You’ll see immediately how much less effective it is,” states Boyd. “In this case, there’s a synergistic relationship between the sound effects and the music. Taking either one away doesn’t let you have the experience; it makes it significantly less.”
When creating Dead Space 2, Boyd and his team made sure that the line between these two aspects would become blurred for the player. He also remarks at how both the music and sound effects are tied together as one unit: “[They] work really closely together in Dead Space. Sometimes the line is really blurry between what you’re hearing — are you hearing music, or are you hearing sound effects? A lot of the environmental sounds of the world have a tonal element to them. It all becomes part of the psychology of the presentation.”
“Often the music will just trail off and disappear completely, and we use that as an effect as well. Sometimes the scariest thing we can do, the best mood we can set, is just silence.”
In Pulse, the team at Cipher Prime also uses silence to set the mood. However, instead of scaring the player, the game uses silence sparingly, as a way of giving the player time to breath. “I think that sound is appropriate in a game in the same places that it’s appropriate in another medium,” Dain Saint explains.
“The Pulse menu isn’t exactly silent; it just has this sort of ambient feeling where it has this sound that is similar to an orchestra tuning up. It prepares you. But when you are going into a song, the game becomes silent. When the track is finished, the game is silent again. We use silence in the game to give the feeling of performance.”
“It’s kind of that calm before the storm,” says Kerry Gilbert. “You’re getting ramped up and you’re ready, and this is right before the curtain opens.”
However, in Dead Space, the use of silence is an interesting gameplay element that almost always changes.
“The airless sections are, if not unique, certainly signature elements for Dead Space. It’s a different sound; it’s a very unusual sound,” states Boyd. “If you haven’t heard it, then the first time you do it’s quite surprising to have all of the sound sucked away and to just be left with your heartbeat and breath. I don’t know if a lot of games are doing that.”
Audio design changes drastically from game to game; objectives are different, atmosphere is different, and every team has different ideas of what they want to create with their games.
“I went to a talk at GDC, not this year but the year prior, and there was a big talk from a lot of the audio designers,” recalls Dain Saint. “They said, ‘Hey, guess what? People are shutting off your music because your music sucks.’ And it’s not that your music is bad, it’s just that if you’re playing something like Red Dead Redemption, and every time you go into this town the exact same song plays on loop, eventually you don’t want to hear it any more. You have to design your music more intelligently so that people don’t shut it off.”
“You have to be smart; you have to figure out ways to have the game dynamically change the music and generate and synthesize, and do everything you can do to avoid the pattern detection algorithm that humans have where somebody says, ‘Oh, that music just looped. That’s the beginning of the song again.’ If you can avoid that, then you can get a lot more mileage out of the same music. It’s just a matter of intelligent audio design, not just necessarily subtle design.”
篇目4，Could Mobile Game Audio BE More Annoying?!
[Editor's Note: Peter Drescher's last article for O'Reilly Digital Media ("Could Ringtones BE More Annoying?!") was such a hit that we asked him to expand on the concept. The following article is an edited transcript of his session "Creating Audio for Mobile Games," which he presented last month at the Game Developers Conference. To simulate the live experience, we've sprinkled audio and video clips throughout the story, corresponding with the ones Drescher played from his T-Mobile Sidekick during the presentation.]
Good afternoon. My name is Peter Drescher, and I am currently sound designer at Danger, Incorporated, makers of the Hiptop mobile internet device, also known as the T-Mobile Sidekick. I used to be a road-dog bluesman piano player until about 15 years ago, when I managed to get a job doing audio for multimedia. Since then, and through no planning on my part, I’ve become something of an expert on making little, tiny itsy-bitsy teeny-weeny audio files sound like, well … anything at all.
First I did soundtracks for After Dark screen savers that shipped on floppy disks. Then it was music stamps for the General Magic device, web audio for 56k modems, and these days, ringtones and game audio for mobile devices. And that’s what I’m talking about today.
A Cell Phone by any Other Name
Now, when I say “mobile device,” I’m talking about a cell phone or “smart” phone, but not the PSP or Game Boy. In the context of this presentation, a mobile device is defined as something that contains a radio for transmitting and receiving voice and other data over a cell phone network. We are talking about devices with fairly sophisticated operating systems, like Nokia and Motorola cell phones, or devices like the Treo and the Sidekick, because we are concerned with interactive game audio produced by the device OS (as opposed to phone conversations, FM radio broadcasts, or iPod libraries).
Figure 1. Peter Drescher plays a game while listening to music on his custom black nanoHiptop.
The Point of the Operation
When making sound effects and background music for any game, you’re trying to enhance gameplay and create a fun, exciting audio experience for the user. The last thing you want to do is be annoying, irritating, painful, or trite.
You really don’t want to be repetitive.
You really don’t want to be redundant.
You really don’t want to play the same sound over and over again.
You really get the idea.
Unfortunately, this is frequently exactly what happens when your entire audio budget is less than 100 kilobytes, as is mostly the case in resource-constrained situations like the current mobile environment. Given that one second of “CD quality” audio is about 86K, you’re going to have to use some tricks of the trade if you want to have more than a single sound effect in your game.
The most important trick is to be as ruthlessly efficient as possible. You want to squeeze every last drop of variation out of each and every byte of audio data at your disposal. Repetition is the enemy, compression is your ally, and creative use of limited resources is your battle cry. If you’re making sound effects, this means low-resolution, highly compressed samples used in multiple ways. If you’re writing music, it means MIDI. Using the techniques I’ll be demonstrating here, it is possible to produce interesting, interactive, non-repetitive, evolving soundtracks for mobile games using absurdly tiny files. The real difficulty comes when trying to make these little tiny pieces of digital audio crap actually sound good. But it can be done, and here’s how we did it.
Could Mobile Game Audio BE More Annoying?!
How About a Nice Piece of Cheese, Gromit?
Cheese Racer is a game, based on Rally X, that uses a number of techniques to produce lots of sound and music in very little space, including:
Muting and unmuting multiple tracks in a MIDI file to produce various mixes.
Playing a single sample at different pitches to produce variation.
The “pitch it up, play it down” technique for saving space.
Figure 2. This MIDI sequence contains all of the tracks used for the Cheese Racer game. It plays instruments from the built-in General MIDI soundbank, along with custom samples contained in an RMF file. (Click to enlarge.)
Let’s look at the music soundtrack first. Figure 2 is a screen shot of the MIDI sequence used in the game, displaying the complete track layout. Since this game was designed to run on the Hiptop, which uses the Beatnik Audio Engine as part of the OS, we were able to use an RMF file to create the soundtrack. This means that during gameplay, the MIDI sequence pictured here is rendered on instruments from the internal General MIDI soundbank, and on custom software instruments specifically designed for the game.
For example, the top two tracks play custom samples of drum loops:
Percussion 1 (56K MP3)
Percussion 2 (68K MP3)
Next we have a group of three tracks, playing bass, melody, and chords:
Bass (92K MP3)
Melody (92K MP3)
Chords (88K MP3)
In the code for the first level, we’ve defined ten different combinations of tracks: percussion + bass, percussion + bass + melody, bass + melody + chords, etc. You can hear what it sounds like by clicking the movie clip in Figure 3.
Figure 4. Every time you play the game, the soundtrack is different. (Click image to play movie clip.)
Figure 3. Notice how the mix changes every time the mouse gets a piece of cheese. (Click image to play movie clip.)
Because the music loop is 40 seconds long and we defined ten different combinations of tracks, each level contains more than six minutes of different music mixes. Of course, not every mix is played for 40 seconds—in fact, that’s kind of the point. Because the mix changes depending on gameplay, the music will never play exactly the same way twice, thereby increasing variation and decreasing “ear fatigue.”
But wait! There’s more! In fact, there are two more sets of tracks playing two more styles of music, using the same tempo and percussion tracks as the first level.
Therefore the entire game contains almost 20 minutes of various music mixes, using only 68K of compressed sample and MIDI data. Click on Figure 4 to hear a different performance. This time, notice the use of “bumpers” to smooth out transitions between mixes, and when moving to the next level. (Special thanks to Lucas Finklestein, Danger QA engineer and game player extraordinaire, for helping me film these sequences.)
It’s the Same, Only Different
Remember, you want as much variation as possible, and you really want to avoid hearing the same sound over and over again. This game contains only a single “trumpet fall” sound effect, but we modify the playback sample rate so that each time you pick up a piece of cheese, the sound is played at a different pitch … any similarity to the 1960s Batman theme is entirely intentional:
Fall 1 (12K MP3)
Fall 2 (12K MP3)
Fall 3 (12K MP3)
Fall 4 (12K MP3)
We also randomly vary the pitch during gameplay, so there’s no repeating pattern to it:
Random Fall (48K MP3)
Figure 5. By randomly varying the pitch of the car horn beeps, we produced multiple sounds using only one file. (Click image to play movie clip.)
The sound tends to mask the transition from one mix to another, helping to create a more seamless audio experience. In Figure 5, you can hear the same kind of pitch-shifting effect applied to car horn beeps.
Another way to save space is using the “pitch it up, play it down” technique. Here’s how it works: take your original, high-resolution sound effect and transpose it up an octave, halving the length. Then convert it to a low-resolution compressed format, like this:
Cat growl, octave up (12K MP3)
Car start, octave up (16K MP3)
Then in the game, play it down an octave:
Cat growl, octave down (20K MP3)
Car start, octave down (24K MP3)
Although the game sound might be a little crunchy, you’ve just cut the size of your file in half without losing too much audio fidelity. Obviously, the higher you pitch the sound, the “crunchier” the playback will become, but the technique can be used for custom instruments as well as sound effects, and is particularly effective on the tiny speakers in mobile devices.
Sound Design for Really Small Speakers
Duke Ellington said about arranging, “Always write for your players.” In other words, if you write a horn line you know your horn section can play well, then your arrangement will be well-played and your music will sound good, kinda by definition. The same is true when creating audio for mobile games: you have to write for your players, which in this case is usually a speaker the size of your thumbnail.
First of all, this means no bass—I mean, none, nada, fuggedaboutit. Don’t write music that gets its power or groove from a deep funky bass line, because nobody’s ever going to hear it. Snap of the snare drum—yes, boom of the kick drum— nnnnnot so much.
The same thing goes for sound effects. When making a car crash, pick a sound that has a lot of high end, then EQ the bottom right out. Applying a highpass filter at around 250Hz and maybe adding a bump around 3kHz will prevent low-end rumble from distorting the speaker, and make the sound pop where the speaker is most sensitive.
Figure 6. Waves L1 is an extraordinarily useful plugin that helps audio designed for cell phone speakers play loud and clear.
Another thing you’re going to want to do is apply a liberal dollop of L1 to almost every sound you make (see Figure 6). L1 is a compressor/limiter plugin from Waves that squishes the peaks and raises the overall volume of a sound file; it is used to fill up as much of the available digital range as possible, as shown on the right side of Figure 6.
This does two good things. First, it gives you a strong signal so that your sound will play loud and clear on the tiny speaker, and second, it gives your downsampling and compression algorithms as much meat as possible to chew on while they decimate your audio data to save space. When processing a high-resolution, CD-quality sound effect down to an 11kHz, IMA 4:1 compressed sample, a soft sound like the one on the left side of Figure 6 is going to come out sounding a lot like static.
This doesn’t mean you can’t make good sounds on cell phones; you just have to write for your players. For mobile music, melody is king. For sound effects, well, there is one category of sound that cell phones are specifically designed to produce well–vocals. Voice-overs, screams, laughs, sneezes, sighs, grunts, groans, pretty much any sound a mouth can make is guaranteed to come through a cell phone speaker with some sort of fidelity. Here’s a good example.
A Bouncin’ Beachball, Lookin’ for Love
Bob is a game that uses a number of interactive audio techniques to create a varied soundtrack. The music mix changes as the player progresses through each level, the frequently played bounce sound effect is varied depending on how fast the sprite is falling, and Bob, being a loud happy guy, says things like “Yeah!” when he gets a power-up, “Whoa” when he falls too fast, and “All right” when it’s time to play. And if these vocals sound a little familiar, yes, it’s true, I admit it … I am the voice of Bob.
Figure 7. The whimsical Bob is one of Danger’s best selling games. (Click image to play movie clip.)
Notice how the music mix changed as we played the game. The bass line got faster, the electric piano came in, etc. Each level has six or seven different combinations of instruments and tracks that flow from one to the other as you continue forward, with a full mix playing when you complete the level. That way, the music is always changing, and there’s a little reward at the end.
Figure 8. This view of the tile editor shows a section of one level with the bits for “Audio Mix #5″ shown as a blue line.
This variation is accomplished by setting bits in the level map using an editor as shown in Figure 8. Each black dot represents some sort of special tile bit (bounce, enemy, heart, etc.) and the bit for “Audio Mix #5″ is highlighted in blue. Therefore, when Bob passes through that thin blue line (and he always will at some point, because the game is a side-scroller), the music will change to mix #5. Later, if you don’t fall into the bottomless pits at mid-screen, you’ll hit the next audio zone, shown in Figure 8 as a line of black dots in the sky at the right, and then Mix #6 will play.
The Secret Yanni Technique
Figure 9. Why is this soundtrack called “the Secret Yanni Technique?” Click the image to play the movie clip.
Now we get to one of my favorite tricks of the trade, which I like to call the “Secret Yanni” technique for reasons that are too arcane to explain here. Basically, the idea is this: video games are not movies; there’s no concept of “sync to picture” because you can’t always predict when a sound effect will be played. But knowing this, you can use serendipity to your advantage, as we did in Bob with the sound effects for bonus points.
In order to save space, we wanted to play a few MIDI notes every time Bob picked up a heart. MIDI is an excellent (and in many cases, the only) choice for making sound in the mobile environment because it is an extremely efficient and flexible technology. But the question becomes, “Which notes do you play?” There’s no way to know when Bob is going to pick up points, so there’s no way to know when the bonus sound will play or how it will fit with the music. You want the effect to be “Yay!” but if the notes clash with the music, the effect is going to be more like “Ouch!”
The answer? Modal music. You restrict your soundtrack to a single mode, no key changes, no fancy chord progressions. Just keep it simple, baby—and in many cases, this is a good way to write background music anyway. For Bob, the chords are mostly ii-IV-V-I in C, and then I picked notes for the bonus points that fit the mode, using a pentatonic scale consisting of C, D, E, G, and A. If you want to get really clever, you can have the notes play at the same tempo as the music, or some polyrhythmic fraction of it. Arranging things in this manner will produce sound effects that almost never clash with the music, and sometimes will even seem to be part of it. (Click on Figure 9.)
The Sound of No Music
Figure 10. Meme is a super-chimp, fighting his way past mad scientists and evil robots by hitting them with bananas. (Click image to play movie clip.)
One way to avoid the problems associated with background music is not to have any. Another Danger game, Meme, dispenses with music altogether, and uses mood-producing sounds instead. The “evil laboratory” level demonstrates the “pitch it up, play it down” technique to an extreme degree, and is used to solve a difficult problem: how do you create a low, creepy ambience using very little memory space? Traditionally, looping ambiences have to be fairly long (and therefore fairly large), otherwise you quickly hear the unnatural repetition of the same sound playing over and over. The other problem: How do you produce a Star Trek bridge-style rumble on a tiny cell phone speaker?
The answer, of course, is … you don’t. It’s impossible. Here’s what you do instead: Make a fairly high-pitched sound with a little blip in it and a little looped vibrato, like this:
Laboratory ambience (16K MP3)
Then make a custom RMF instrument out of it so you can play it at different pitches and layer it against itself. Then try playing it lower and lower until the sound starts to disappear, then bring it back up a little. That way, you get the lowest possible hum, the sound itself is very crunchy (which kinda works in this situation), and so it sounds something like Figure 10.
Man, that’s a noisy game! You don’t really miss the music much, do you? Other techniques demonstrated are the random pitching up and down of the banana whooshes, and prominent use of “vocal” sound effects (in this case, chimp noises) which punch through the tiny speaker loud and clear.
We also do the “single sample used in multiple ways” trick for the robot factories. Each time a robot is manufactured, there’s this grating, grinding noise. It’s the electrical-zap-played-down-an-octave machine:
Figure 11. Playing the zaps and pows at different pitches can produce interesting effects without using additional space. (Click image to play movie clip.)
Zap (12K MP3)
Machine (16K MP3)
During gameplay, the bottom end goes away because the speaker’s too small to produce it, leaving only the higher-end grungy sound. Maybe it’s not the sound effect you
would have first designed for a robot factory, but it sorta kinda works and it doesn’t use any extra space.
But my favorite use of that trick in this game is the cannon sound, which is the bullet played two octaves down:
Bullet (8K MP3)
This was totally unplanned; I was simply playing around with pitch-shifting and thought, “Cool, man, we got to use that!” Sometimes, happy accidents are your most valuable tool. Check out Figure 11.
Because I Can
I have a certain advantage in producing these kinds of interactive soundtracks because:
I’m working with the Beatnik technology, which is specifically designed for this kind of thing.
I’m the oldest living content provider for the system, so I know all the tricks and techniques.
I have an intimate knowledge of the target hardware and operating system, because, well, we built it. But if you’re an independent audio producer, or working on a game intended to ship on a myriad of phones, then you’ve got some special problems.
First, you’ll have to see if your phone’s operating system gives you access to the kind of APIs you’ll need to implement things like pitch shifting and track muting.
Some do, some don’t. Then you’ll need to check if the audio subsystem can even do what you want it to. If you’re running Beatnik, you’re probably golden; if not, well, good luck. The audio capabilities of cell phones and audio engines vary widely, from the completely rudimentary to the arcanely sophisticated.
To make good decisions about how to squeeze the maximum amount of sound out of the minimum amount of space, you’ll want to design your audio taking into account the technical limitations of each platform your game is intended to run on. You’ll need to know what file types are supported, at which resolutions, and what compression algorithms are available.
If you can run hi-res MP3s, you can pretty much make any sound you like, but if you’re limited to, say, 8kHz IMA WAV files, you might want to consider using short, loud, uncomplicated sounds. These will translate better than complex noise, so forget that symphonic sample and use a single flute line instead. If the audio engine’s output rate is 44k, rocking! Go for that screaming guitar solo, but if you’re constrained to 11kHz, you’re up against Nyquist, so you might be better off with a midrange piano solo. And no cell phone speaker is going to produce any bass whatsoever, so plan on using all tweet and no boom.
Most important, you’ll need to know what your audio budget is—how much space is being allocated for sound. In most cases, if you want to make music, you’re going to have to use General MIDI played on the internal wavetable, simply because it provides by far the most audio bang for your digital buck. But do yourself a favor and write for the basics—piano, horn, kick, snare, maybe some strings—and avoid things like the goblin pad, or the shakuhachi, and the other lesser-known patches. You have no idea how those instruments will sound on different devices and different soundbanks, whereas a piano is pretty much going to sound like a piano no matter where you go. In fact, solo piano music is usually a pretty safe bet in a General MIDI world, and I would suggest that being constrained to a single instrument didn’t seem to hinder Bach’s, Beethoven’s, or Chopin’s creativity.
All That’s Old Is New Again
Truth be told, none of the techniques I’ve described today are new or inventive. I am certainly not an innovative genius or a radical visionary, I’ve just been doing this stuff for a while. In fact, creating audio for mobile games these days is strikingly similar to producing audio for PC games in the ’80s and doing web audio in the ’90s. The same kind of audio problems and solutions will apparently arise in almost any resource-constrained, developing, competitive environment.
But since we’ve been here before (twice!), you think we would’ve learned a lesson or two. We’d know that closed, proprietary audio formats are bad and open standards are good.
We’d know that bandwidth bottlenecks will expand, and so we’d plan for scalability now.
We’d know that all DRM schemes are doomed, and that the best way to make a buck is to give the customer what they want, not criminalize what they’re going to do anyway.
But most important, we’d know that the same techniques that have worked for us in the past will be useful today and in the future. In other words, you want interesting, well-produced soundtracks for your mobile games? Hire old game-audio guys!
By the way, these “lessons learned” are not mine, they are just a few from the 2004 Project Bar-B-Q Mobile Audio session.
That Was Then, This Is Now
But finally, my friends, I’m going to stand here and tell you that the mobile industry moves so fast that everything I’ve said today about creating soundtracks for mobile games is already complete and utter bullshit. And I’ll tell you why: convergence.
The advent of music phones with gigabyte removable storage and broadband network connections is going to make mobile game music completely obsolete.
Really, think about it for a minute: games on your cell phones are not like games on your Xbox, or even your PSP. Given the bandwidth restrictions and the CPU usage, mobile games tend to be small, fun, time-killers. They’re not 40-hour immersive environments like God of War; they’re what you do while you’re waiting for something else to happen in your life. And because of the technical limitations, and because they’re cheap, and because, let’s face it, folks, they’re phones, not dedicated gaming platforms, mobile game soundtracks are going to be kinda low-res no matter what you do.
And this is all well and good when that’s all you’ve got. But what happens when that same device, that cool little gadget that takes pictures, does email, surfs the Web, plays games, and—oh yeah—makes phones calls also contains six hours of your favorite music? Ask yourself what you would prefer to listen to while you kill a little time playing little game—some low-res MIDI soundtrack written by who knows who (and that would be me in this case), or that funky-cool Grammy-winning groove you just uploaded to your phone from iTunes? Come on, it’s no contest.
And I know this because I’ve done it, and it’s too damn cool for school. It’s “roll your own game audio;” it’s CheeseRacer with an Aerosmith soundtrack, or the Greenskeepers, or the New York Philharmonic, or whatever you want. I’m tellin’ ya, it’s the best thing since flavored toothpaste, and pretty soon aaalll the cool kids are going to be doing it. Some Motorola phones already have iTunes built in, and the cell phone carriers are all jumping on board the “music phone” bandwagon like it was headed for Gold Country. Personally, I just took my custom black Hiptop and slapped an iPod nano on the back with duct tape (because I’m a musician, and all musicians must use duct tape) and voilà! (See Figure 12.)
Figure 12.The nanoHiptop (Duct Tape Edition) is the essence of convergence: two refined tools fused into one.
Introducing the nanoHiptop (not a real product, not available in stores, not condoned by either Danger or Apple Computer, do not try this at home, may void warranty).
Nonetheless, check it out, it’s a cool concept, it works great—and it represents a paradigm shift in the way we’re going to think about creating audio for mobile games.
篇目5，Video Game Music: Player Immersion
by Gina Zdanowicz
Music has always been an important part of entertainment media. As gaming continues to evolve, game music is more heavily relied upon to integrate with the games visuals, to set the scene, and to evoke players’ emotions. Game music should affect the gameplay, and the gameplay should affect the music. The player’s actions influence the interactivity and evolution of the music, just as the music influences the player’s decisions during game play. This combination immerses the player deeper into the gaming experience.
One of the biggest challenges in creating music for video games is in understanding the limits of the game audio engines while trying to provide a seamless interactive experience.
Techniques such as varying tempo, genre, instrumentation and musical notes can set the perfect mood for each area of the game and tell the player exactly what emotions they should feel in those areas.
A layered score is a technique that has several streams with different instruments on each. Those streams should be composed so they are strong on their own and work well with the games visuals, but also be able to be mixed together with the other streams to evolve the music as the game play changes.
Music that builds to a crescendo can signal to the player there is danger just ahead. A boss battle may require more intense music with several layers of instruments and heavy percussion. After the boss is defeated, the music slows down in tempo and the instrumentation thins out, signaling to the player that the danger is no longer imminent.
Super Mario Brothers utilized increased tempo to signal to the player that time is running out, which evokes a sense of urgency to complete the level before running out of time. Dead Space 2 uses ambient soundscapes and a large orchestra to create an eerie, yet larger than life feeling. A small string quartet was used in the game to contrast the large orchestra and to portray the vulnerability of the main character.
Both music and visuals must be well thought out and tightly integrated to create a cohesive and ambient environment. A game’s pace is just as important as the musical build up that allows the player time to feel safe in order to deliver the next tense moment with impact.
When you take a look at how far music in gaming has come, it speaks volumes to its importance in the game industry. Music is no longer just set in the background of the game. Rhythm genre game titles such as Rock Band and Guitar Hero offer a twist on standard game play and offer music as the game.
In Part I of this article, lead audio designer Gina Zdanowicz discusses how video game music enhances a player’s gameplay experience. In Part II, she offers examples of diegetic and non-diegetic music in games.
A technique that is becoming more popular in games is diegetic music. Diegetic music refers to music that originates from within the game world. It’s always nice when a game score can incorporate epic music in the game world, but in real life when you are walking around in a park or on a beach, you don’t hear any music unless you have your headphones on. Diegetic music, although coming from an object within the game, can still set the mood of the environment.
Let’s take a look at some games that use diegetic music to enhance the player’s immersion into the game world.
Fallout 3 makes great use of diegetic and non-diegetic music. Characters in the game have wrist-mounted computers called the Pip-boy 3000, as well as radios scattered around the game world which play music and other broadcasts from in-game radio stations. If the player has their Pip-boy 3000 turned on, they have to be careful of the radio alerting NPC’s to their presence. When the radio function is turned off, non-diegetic background music is played through the game world.
Bioshock also uses a combination of diegetic and non-diegetic music, as well as no music, to set the mood. In the game’s opening scene, the player escapes from the plane wreckage to a lighthouse set on a small rocky island. The lack of music in this scene hints to the player the feelings of a desperate struggle to survive. After the player enters the lighthouse, music starts to fade into the scene. The music is coming from downstairs, which provokes the player to follow the music down the flight of stairs to find the radio in a bathysphere. The music plays two roles in this example: It gives the player a reason to move forward in the game, as well as sets the mood.
The use of diegetic music in Bioshock really underscores the dying city when the player enters a room with a scratchy, 60’s-era record playing. Diegetic music, which is used in place of orchestral background music, can be heard from around corners or can be muffled by doors.
Left 4 Dead allows a player to turn on a jukebox, which will attract a zombie horde. During this attack, instead of non-diegetic music playing, the jukebox music continues to play even if the jukebox is out of visual range.
Grand Theft Auto is, while cliché, a good example of diegetic music. Car radios broadcast different stations and songs that the player can choose to tune into while driving the vehicles in the game. After all, who doesn’t love riding in a car with the music pumping?
A diegetic switch is a technique which can be used to continue the diegetic music throughout the game. The music starts off as a diegetic broadcast from a radio or other source within the game, and as the scene changes, the music switches to a non-diegetic version of the same song and continues to play in that environment.
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time starts with the diegetic version of Saria’s as it directs the player through the lost woods maze. As the song grows louder, the player is aware that they are moving forward in the right direction. If they player goes off course, the song’s volume decreases, alerting the player to change direction. After the player learns the song, it becomes non-diegetic music in that environment.
As video games evolve, game music must also evolve, allowing for a cohesive integration for a seamless visual and aural experience, which will deeply immerse the player into the game world and keep them there until they press the pause button.