Any technology which is distinguishable from magic is insufficiently advanced.

Taking Music Seriously

Posted: January 26th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Soapbox | No Comments »


Just the other day, the original Die Hard was shown on TV… and it was good!  There was one little niggle that bothered me though. During the action scenes, these weird orchestral swells would play in the background, supposedly to build up tension.  I supposed back in the 80’s, that was the norm and we never gave it a second thought.  Today, however, it just seems so out of place.

So I went through my video library and looked at two films that I really liked for their style and soundtrack… Requiem for a Dream and Lola Rentt.  In each of these, the movements on screen, be they full screen transitions or simple movements were carefully choreographed with the music. The music itself complemented the atmosphere in each of those films – dark and foreboding in the case of Requiem, speedy and action-packed for Lola.  There was a phrase to describe this sort of cinematography. It took a little while to wrack my brains before I got my “Ah hah!”… MTV style.

So for more inspiration, I flipped over to the MTV channel which I haven’t watched for years… decades even. And lo behold! MTV is no longer like that. All it seems to be now is music playing with general “stuff” happening on screen. There’s no oomph to it like I remembered from the 90’s. Youtube to the rescue… I found curiously enough that the Korean music videos actually do feature this style, as well as a lot of imagination put into it. Videos from SNSD, Wonder Girls, JYP… all had that cutting edge and were enthralling (and not just because of my inner perv). I also realize that this was something I was pretty conscious of in the making of my Oversight video, even without formal video editing training.

So how do we bring this over to game development? Other than rhythm games, we seldom see music tightly linked with the action on screen. This is partly because it is really hard to predict the player inputs. But it is also largely because we, as game developers, tend to treat it as an afterthought. Yeah, with my huge army horde marching in, I know I should play something majestic to add atmosphere. But do I ever go so far as to have them marching in step with the music? Not really.

Part of the reason why we don’t really think that way is because of the tools we use. Traditionally, we at most tie the playing of music pieces to certain events. We don’t have tools that, for example, generate an event with every bass beat in the music score.  Why? Because nobody ever thinks that way. We are stuck in a rut.

When I get around to the audio portion of Darwena, I would like to incorporate these ideas, and see if they have an impact on the type of games that get produced from it. Would it even go so far as to produce a signature style? “That must be a Darwena game because it has that rhythmic feel!” That’ll be cool to hear.

Leave a Reply