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Foxostro

I'm a programmer, what do musicians want from an engine?

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Here at Carnegie Mellon University, we have a Game Creation Society where I am currently project leader for a small RPG. I have had three really good music majors sign on for composing music for my game. Except, I wasn't expecting anyone to be interested in music. The game uses simple MP3 files for music, and allows the Map Creator to choose one file to play on a loop for a map, but I want to do more with the music now that I can get a large variety of interesting pieces for it. Please evaluate my ideas so that I can get an idea of what game musicians want: I was thinking of adding a feature to the Map Editor that would allow musicians to mark an area for a selection of music. This way, the music could switch from idylic town music to scary forest music as soon as the player steps off the winding forest path, for example. I was thinking of ways to mark these area to cause either an abrupt transition of music, fading out and starting the new music, or just queueing the new music to play instead of looping the current track. Should I play shorter music segments in regions where the player could experience a transition in music? If so, should this be determined by the engine automatically, or decided by the Map Creators and Musicians? If not, then how should I transition between music "properly?" Any other thoughts?

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Guest Anonymous Poster
Yeah, exaclty like that

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Well, theres a lot of thought to go into it...honestly, you can make it happen any way you like, as long as the composers are on board the idea train.

Simple examples, if you wanted to designate zones that fade between each other, then the composer is going to have to be aware that different pieces can and will be played together, and he would not want to create tunes that would sound horrible when mixed for 5 seconds. You may take an entire new approach to the composition process, where the real "music" of the scene is highly ambient, with the interesting parts being played as a short 10 second fanfare upon entry into a new zone.

All of this kind of stuff can only happen if the composer knows thats what is going on, so before they start jumping and writing music, you've got to have an audio team meeting and ask these questions to them. It'll have to be decided, outlined, planned and prototyped before proceeding or else all you will have is headaches.

On a less critical note, I designed exactly such an audio engine myself, where there were overlapping Zones, like large venn diagrams, ie in the area overlapped by A and B, if one was coming from A, once you were in "only B", then A would fade and B would begin. THerefore, once in B, one would have to travel back through the overlapped zone before it would kill B music and prepare for A.

This was to prevent the music from going A-B-A-B-A-B if the player was running around near the border. Dead zones, either where the music goes to a transition piece, or becomes silence in preperation for the next zone.

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My musicians have each scored music for several student films a piece, I guess I'll have to remind them the music is mostly ambient in a game; it doesn't follow the action. As far as making sure they don't make pieces that sound horrible when mixed, they already brought this to me and asked what game zones could link to which other zones, so I think they know what to be careful of there.

@krikkit:
A little off-topic: When you made your music engine, did you allow regions of arbitrary shape, or something simple, like a sphere?

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My audio engine didnt know that. I gave it the smarts to discern when to act based upon its zone data, but the zones themselves were in the hands of the mappers to dictate to the sound engine.

It had more capability than they ever used. (Student project as well).

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Quote:
Original post by krikkit
On a less critical note, I designed exactly such an audio engine myself, where there were overlapping Zones, like large venn diagrams, ie in the area overlapped by A and B, if one was coming from A, once you were in "only B", then A would fade and B would begin. THerefore, once in B, one would have to travel back through the overlapped zone before it would kill B music and prepare for A.

This was to prevent the music from going A-B-A-B-A-B if the player was running around near the border. Dead zones, either where the music goes to a transition piece, or becomes silence in preperation for the next zone.


That's a pretty nifty feature. Would it also work if you write the music for A and B so that they can be blended together without them clashing?

What I'd like to see (and what I'm working towards, as a programmer learning to write music) is a system to aid the dynamic blending together of music. I'm thinking more along the lines of those games where the music tracks have linking measures that make them flow into each other nicely, like in the old Lucasfilm games and (to a lesser extent) the Baldur's Gate fight music. Anything where the music is dynamic or interactive based on the gameplay, really.






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I don't know if this helps you...

I read an article by a games-music writer - he worked 100% with the level programmers, the artists etc. & developed an engine to do the following:

The ambient music would play at normal speed, but when something was about to happen the same piece would speed up, or play minor chords instead of major ones to darken the atmosphere.
Each piece had a way of being played in different keys, so when a 'boss' or other main character was on screen, their 'signature tune' would play in the same key as the current 'background' music, and the background music would alter it's tempo to match the signature for that character - this meant both tunes simply blended together with no loss of musical flow.

UKTab

Ps.
Quote:
Original post by Foxostro
My musicians have each scored music for several student films a piece, I guess I'll have to remind them the music is mostly ambient in a game; it doesn't follow the action.


What about the classic games - Star Wars, Gauntlet, Scramble - music CREATED the mood, and changed to ENHANCE the action.

These games have been replaced by the likes of Halo (with awards for it's music) and the new classics, but the music is still an important way of enhancing the action - even in an rpg.

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Quote:
Original post by UKTab
I don't know if this helps you...

I read an article by a games-music writer - he worked 100% with the level programmers, the artists etc. & developed an engine to do the following:

The ambient music would play at normal speed, but when something was about to happen the same piece would speed up, or play minor chords instead of major ones to darken the atmosphere.
Each piece had a way of being played in different keys, so when a 'boss' or other main character was on screen, their 'signature tune' would play in the same key as the current 'background' music, and the background music would alter it's tempo to match the signature for that character - this meant both tunes simply blended together with no loss of musical flow.


That's exactly the sort of thing I'd like to play around with. Dynamic mixing of instruments, choosing chords, maybe a bit of improvisation over the top; I'd like to see what I can do.

Quote:

These games have been replaced by the likes of Halo (with awards for it's music) and the new classics, but the music is still an important way of enhancing the action - even in an rpg.


I'm really suprised I don't hear dynamic music that often in games, because when it's there it makes the game so much more engaging. For example, for anyone who has played Zelda:Wind Waker, that bit where you play "fireball chicken" with those floating spectral mage-warriors, where the music suddenly goes all tense and plays dynamic chords building up the tension as the fireball bounces back and forth between the two of you is brilliant!


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