How to link music to gameplay

Greetings! My name is Nazar, I am a composer and arranger. I specialize in instrumental music for games and films.

My musical path is quite tortuous. I was a poet, a lead guitarist in a rock band and even a bit of a vocalist. I went through ups and downs before I figured out exactly what I wanted to do. This road led me to composers!

I am currently working on several indie projects: Dictator Glory Fatherland, Sumo tatami And Arthur and the Sixth Agefor which I compose music.

But it all started much earlier – with my passion for games! During this time, I had an understanding of how music should work.

Why is the soundtrack so important?

Music affects our senses, which causes an emotional response and contributes to immersion in the game world. This is especially important in story-driven games. But even in the absence of a plot, music helps to maintain the necessary mood. In a technical sense, games are a combination of code and pixels. But thanks empathy the player is involved in the game, it becomes alive and convincing for him. Music is one of the most important ways to achieve empathy!

But you can’t just go and write good music. In a spherical vacuum, it may sound good. But it’s worth putting it in the game – problems occur:

  • Music exists separately from gameplay

  • Music distracts the player, does not help to immerse in the setting

  • And as a result, it does not create empathy.

Why is this happening

When a composer composes an independent track, he seeks to capture all the attention of the listener. The soundtrack works differently, it occupies a strictly defined space in the overall gaming experience. The soundtrack is strongly associated with the game!

Methods for linking music with gameplay

Extradiegetic – music that only the player hears. There is no source of this music in the game world, the game character cannot hear it. This category includes themes of locations, characters, background music of dialogues, fights. The job of a composer is to make music part of the gaming experience. The unique style of the game largely depends on the competent combination of the setting with the music. For example, noir-style games (LA Noire) use jazz music, while fantasy-style games use symphonic music with ethnic elements.

There are examples when independent track became part of the gameplay, as it was in The Witcher 3. CDPR invited a group Percival Schuttenbach and asked them to re-arrange some of their original compositions

The group was not invited by chance, their very name is associated with the character of the book Witcher. The musicians were well versed in lore, so they understood what was needed from them.

Principle counterpoint, when the music intentionally clashes with the environment, like Fallout 3 with its light-hearted 50s music set against a scorched wasteland. But even here the choice of music is not accidental, it carries an element of narrative, emphasizes the atmosphere of ghostly retro-futurism, adding depth to the destroyed world.

Intraframe or dietetic music, the source of which is in the game itself. It is heard not only by the player, but also by the character. She can convey the vibe of the era, for example, like a radio in GTA, or she can be a plot guide: Priscilla song in The Witcher 3, late goodbye in Max Payne 2, Poet and the muse in Alan Wake. Location music can be the same dieteticfor example, the music of a tavern or other location where the presence of musicians is justified.

Most often, the soundtrack for the gameplay is utilitarian in nature, to fill the background and indicate the basic emotion (combat, exploration, etc.). Such music is called adaptive.

In my opinion, music should not close the “hole in the wall”. With the right balance between brightness and invisibility, music can be a full-fledged participant in the gameplay and do its job much better: evoke emotions in the player

How to interact with the composer

How the soundtrack will fit in with the gameplay ultimately depends on clearly defined goals. The composer must understand: what, for what and for whom he writes! Here are some important points to help you with this:

  • Give the composer as much information about your project as possible. The better the composer understands what you want from him, the better his decisions will be.

  • Prepare a detailed TOR and add to it the references of the games and music that you are targeting.

  • Try to build a trusting relationship, the ability to hear and listen to each other improves the quality of collaboration.

  • Don’t be afraid to give critical feedback, but do it with respect and be as constructive as possible.

Finally, I will say that video games are still art! And art implies a field for creativity and experimentation. Sometimes even random, but extremely successful solutions will work much better than proven over the years, but managed to get bored. As soon as you stop inventing something new, looking at familiar things from a different angle, then your work turns into a routine. Do you need it? Therefore, do not limit yourself to small things, give room for imagination, including the composer.)

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