Video games are evolving incredibly quickly at the moment, and new technology is constantly being developed, allowing game designers to reach into previously unknown territory. Many people credit video game success to the visual elements of the game – this is true to a certain degree, but there’s another factor which is regularly overlooked. The music in video games is crucial, and whilst it may play a somewhat subconscious part to the user, its effects are astounding.
If you’ve ever played a video game with the sound turned off, you will notice how different the game feels to play. Scenes where deception and stealth are required lose their feeling of high tension and the fear of being caught. Battle scenarios become somewhat boring; firing the gun loses its feeling of control and power, and the game begins to become uninteresting to play.
I recently wrote a piece on Assassins Creed, and the soundtrack that was used throughout the game. Jesper Kyd was responsible for the soundtrack for Assassins Creed 1,2 and 3, and it was one of my favourite pieces I’ve ever written, due to the amazing architecture of the music within the game, and the great pleasure I received from reviewing it. Kyd manages to create score that fits the game scenario to the tee, and he not only manages to use a wide variety of instruments and background vocalists to create eerie and unnerving scenes, but the quality of the sound effects which run alongside the score is phenomenal.
When I was playing the game before I wrote the piece, I noticed one scene where the objective was to sneak up on a guard and kill them. There was a slow and quiet violin based song playing, and it was constant and steady. It set the mood correctly. As I made my final approach behind the guard, the violin played one note a semitone higher, and the suspense it added to the game shocked me. Maybe I had been slightly naïve to underestimate how much effect music really does have on a game, but from that moment on I have paid attention to every musical aspect of each video game I play, and it’s truly amazing the difference you notice.
James Hannigan, the highly respected composer responsible for video game soundtracks such as Harry Potter, Lord Of the Rings and Command and Conquest raises some interesting points about the important of music within video games.
When developed correctly, audio/visual elements of the game slot perfectly into place and create a fantastic all round gaming experience. There are games though which have not been successful in the way that they used their audio in conjunction with the visual aspects. The dark knight rises is a fantastic example of how not to synch visuals and audio together. The developers of the game developed a soundtrack that differs completely from the storyline in certain parts, and incorrectly portrays the tone and mood in multiple scenes. The soundtrack also drowns out many important scenes of apprehension and suspense within the game, including the beginning scene featuring the plane being hijacked. Just as the suspense builds up, you are hit with Gotham’s Reckoning, a song composed by Zimmer that totally overwhelms the situation and in effect, ruins the moment.
I believe that having great music within a game is crucial to the success and the playability of the game. It’s a lot like behind the scenes work on a film set; the workers won’t directly get credited by the audience for their efforts, but without their drive and skills, the film wouldn’t be able to create the ambience that it needs to be a success. When you look at how far the video game industry has come in terms of visual development in the last 10 years, you notice a huge change of quality in terms of what you see on your screen, and how you interact with the game.
My challenge to you is to focus on the musical aspects of the next video game you play. Listen closely to every noise, every sound effect and every song. Remind yourself that someone has painstakingly picked out, composed or created that sound, and matched it with that exact point of the game. It’s amazing how much more value you can get out of a game once you start appreciating the whole aspect of the game, rather than just the visuals.