Games have long been an integral part of our lives. And anyone who has ever played a game, such as Call of Dragons (click here to download the game), knows that music plays an important role in it. What does the production process of a game score – or the music of a game – actually look like? And how does this differ from the production of, for example, an album or a film score? Guest blogger and composer Jonathan van den Wijngaarden gives a glimpse into this relatively new branch of the music industry.
WHY GAME MUSIC – GAME(PLAY) IS KING
It’s good to first have a clear understanding of why games use music. Normally, music has entertainment value (such as on an album or in a concert hall) or is ‘functional’, for example, to translate emotion (such as in a film). But there is a third role for music. This is unique for game music and is also immediately a lot more active: supporting gameplay. Gameplay or game feel is the element that ensures that the player can no longer put the game away and wants to keep playing. Supporting this is what makes writing music for games so incredibly engaging.
SUPPORT AND INFLUENCE
Music in a game must therefore support the gameplay as well as possible (this is also the task of all other aspects of a game, such as sound effects and visuals). Music can sometimes even have a guiding role in this. You can write a great upbeat track, but if the game at that moment gives elements that should make a player think, then this can actually disrupt that process. In addition, games also have a direct influence on the players themselves. For example, it may be that characters in a game experience different emotions than the player himself. It is therefore important to always consider how the player should be directed and how a certain emotion can be generated.
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There is one thing that seems to be inextricably linked to music and that is time. Normal arrangements are usually based on fixed timing. And a musician who improvises also decides for himself what he ‘tells’ at what time. In a game, this works differently: the player has control and determines the course. Of course, the music has to follow (with the previous paragraph in mind!) and sometimes this creates complex situations. Most game scores are ‘adaptive’: they are written in such a way that they can go along with the player’s choices at any time. Is a player discovering? Then the music underlines this. But when a player chooses to seek tension, the music will follow – preferably in a way that is musically correct. The arrangement is therefore never completely fixed.
Just like in a film, a game composer will have to be flexible when it comes to musical styles and arrangements. The game dictates what is needed and this ensures that the ‘box’ is often already fixed. Very different from a musician who is working on an album, who is driven by inspiration and his own style. Nevertheless, there is still a lot of leeways left for the game composer. Precisely because many developers want to deviate from the usual paths, there is often the possibility to combine genres and experiment. For example, in recent years I have combined analog synthesizers with a spaghetti-western sound, but also funk with punk, symphonic with EDM, and so on. As a composer, it is a lot of fun to explore or (re)discover new styles!