Thursday, October 16, 2014

Anything Goes: Music in Modern Games

Like many things in today’s modernized world, anything goes when creating a new video game. The types of music you may hear and how it’s used in newly-released games varies greatly. Today, let’s just look at a few uses of music in various modern-age games.

Today it is more common to have an actual composer write a soundtrack for a game rather than using a programmer to create background mechanical sounds. Some people relate video game scores to film scores when they are actually quite different to create. Many film composers know exactly what to expect with the film and have the clean and neat task of putting music to an already-set plotline. With video games, however, the story or progression is unpredictable since each individual player determines which direction the plot might turn. Many composers approach this difficult task by creating a score with flaps containing different ways the music may turn as well as different layers of instruments, adding more during intense moments.

Darren Korb, composer for games such as Bastion and Transistor is known for his excellent soundtracks and use of experimental music.

While some games use the old chip tunes, nostalgically choosing to pull sounds from the 80s, others use beautiful soundtracks (many people think of Halo when they want to hear a great video game soundtrack). One of my favorite soundtracks comes from Journey in which the main character is represented by a solo cello.

Do you dislike the soundtrack you hear in one of your games? Xbox players can plug their iPod into the console and create their own soundtrack!

Do you remember when we looked at diegetic and non-diegetic music during our film music month back in April? Well, these terms also apply to video games! As a reminder, diegetic music is music that the characters onscreen can hear (there is a musical source onscreen) while non-diegetic is simply background music. Bioshock Infinite shows a record player inside a house while Grand Theft Auto allows players to choose their own radio station inside the car, both diegetic examples.


Hopefully the expansive examples touched on above show you that music can be used in many different ways within modern-day video games. Do you enjoy the range of options currently on the market or do you prefer the traditional games of the 80s and early 90s?

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Making Music in Guitar Hero and Rock Band

Have any of my readers ever played games such as Guitar Hero, Rock Band, or Dance Dance Revolution? Last week we looked at several examples of games in which players can control music. Today, let’s talk about games with the purpose of creating music.

During the late 1990s, Dance Dance Revolution entered the arcade scene introducing the idea of a “rhythm game.” A physically interactive game, consumers are given a “dance stage” on which they can step on various sensors as they follow a list of step patterns on the screen. Console versions were also made available for people’s use in their own living rooms.

This idea of a “rhythm game” sparked the makers of Guitar Hero to develop a similar gaming idea in 2005 in which players can “play” guitar on a guitar-shaped controller as they follow “notes” that scroll by on the screen in time to the music. An expansion of this idea came with Rock Band in 2007, which also included drums and vocals. These “rhythm games” provide a new type of video game in which the music itself is the game.


Games such as Guitar Hero and Rock Band provide an avenue for players to do something that they may be incapable of in real life. These games allow people to feel like skilled rock stars even if they may be tone deaf. It’s interesting that these games have created tension amongst many “real” musicians who cannot understand why people spend their time mastering a toy-version of an instrument rather than practicing the real thing. What are your thoughts on this?

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Making Music in Video Games

Continuing our look at video game music this month, today let’s focus on the idea of making music in video games. Has anyone played The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, released for Nintendo 64 in 1998? This particular game features an ocarina that gamers must play in order to beat the game. The ocarina is an instrument that you receive during the game and it can be played by using button presses and bending the pitch with the analogue stick. As players progress, they learn various songs they can then play on the ocarina.

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is an example of a game balanced between ludo and narrative. If you are like me and unfamiliar with gaming terminology, you may be wondering what this means. Primarily, ludic games emphasize game play, like Angry Birds, Pong, and Tetris. Narrative-heavy games emphasize story elements, as Heavy Rain and The Last of Us do. Many games, like Ocarina of Time, are a balance of both elements. By making music using the ocarina, players further the plot and solve puzzles.

Ocarina of Time is one of many games that involve making music as part of the game. Other examples include Twilight Princess (players use a whistle to call a horse), Skyward Sword (players can strum a harp), and WindWaker (players can direct patterns with a conductor’s baton).
  
Have you ever played a video game in which you could make music? Which one?


Join me next time as we continue looking at making music in video games by examining Guitar Hero and Rock Band!