The Future of Video Game Music   Leave a comment

We’ve already proven time and again that the melding of contemporary classical music (or music that emulates contemporary classical) and film can be extremely effective at accentuating the visual narrative, and the resulting music can become compelling standalone works. This has become generally accepted to the mainstream population. Outside the mainstream, more avant garde multimedia works melding visual and aural aspects have also become quite common.

It’s inevitable then, I think, that we’ve recently begun to see compelling examples of a really serious melding of music and interactive media. And I can’t wait to see where it takes us next.

Music has been an important part of video games since the earliest days, from the first 8-bit bleeps and bloops, which have helped shape the sound of future generations of the collective video game music aesthetic. The ’90s saw the introduction of real live instruments into video game soundtracks and greater artistic prowess than ever before, moving from the MIDI world to actual recorded audio.

And in recent years, due to technical advances and a sort of natural experiential evolution of design and development, games and their music/audio have become more tightly engrained than ever before. Here’s just a few examples of some of the great games along these lines that have been developed in recent years.

Journey

Of the games on this list, Journey probably features the most straightforward combination of games and music rooted in the classical tradition (it’s no wonder; composer Austin Wintory was trained at NYU and USC, both with fantastic film music programs), but it does it so well that it’s difficult-to-impossible to knock it. Along with the phenomenal writing (listen to that counterpoint!) and extremely emotive performances, the music reacts to in-game events and player actions in intriguing and often unexpected ways. The sound design, as well, is closely integrated with the music composition, as evidenced in this annotated video of the complete score of the game.

Limbo

Speaking of integration of sound design… all of the sounds in this game, including the “music,” was designed by one person. I put “music” in quotation marks not as a disrespect to its quality, but because it’s often difficult to tell where one begins and another ends. Limbo is a testament to the integration of experimental electroacoustic music and sound design elements in a relatively mainstream game experience. Sounds reacting to in-game and player actions is not a new idea by any means, but I don’t think it’s ever created such a wholly encompassing experience as in this game.

Sword and Sorcery

While Sword and Sorcery EP doesn’t generally follow anything resembling a contemporary classical music aesthetic, it’s very clearly a musically-driven game and narrative. It also is a great example of how games can form their own musical aesthetic separate from the stereotypical orchestral bombast that accompanies most Hollywood films. It builds more from the tradition that followed from the aforementioned bleeps and bloops of early game music, with a healthy dose of instrumental pop music. Along with the uniquely pixelated art style that’s been becoming a niche of its own, it makes for an intriguing and unique game experience.

Dear Esther

Dear Esther is a simple and unique “game.” All the player can do is walk on this island and listen to the narrator tell his stories in the form of letters to “Esther.” Also accompanying us along the journey is the haunting soundtrack by Jessica Curry, consisting of just a few basic motifs developed in a rather minimalist but effective fashion. The game (or perhaps more appropriately, interactive narrative) has receieved mixed reviews, with some praising its innovative take on what a game can be, and with others calling it a bore.

Regardless, I’m personally glad a game like this exists and I appreciate what it’s attempting to do: turn video games into a serious narrative art form alongside that of film, novels, and theatre.

What’s Next?

These games all bode very well for the future of games. And I think we can take the ideas presented here even further. There’s a lot of different directions developers could take with games as an art form, and music can play an integral part in that.

Contemporary classical music has been losing its mainstream audience for years. I could potentially see art music finding a serious ally in open-minded and experimental game developers looking to write new kinds of interactive multimedia experiences. I’m no programmer, but I know that the technology is already there to make a compelling narative that integrates the most artistically driven music at a core gameplay level to make for an entirely new and as-of-yet unseen kind of game.

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Posted 19 April 2013 by jonbash in Games, Music

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