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nsmadsen

Interesting article and discussion about game music

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I don't agree with all of the author's stances but the discussion and comments resulting from the article are very interesting. http://www.gamasutra.com/php-bin/news_index.php?story=23401 My favorite comment that I've read so far is by Chris Kline:
Quote:
Great article! This makes me want to get on a soap box and express my views on why music isn't getting the attention it deserves. There are hundreds if not thousands of incredibly talented musicians and composers out there in need of work. 1. In my experiences thus far, music now a days is almost always an afterthought in the game industry. It's either rushed to hit some meaningless deadline early on, before the game is even far enough along to inspire the composer, or it's done very last minute. 2. The budget allocated for music at your average developer is less than you'd pay a junior level tester for a year. Most developers that I've seen of 25-100 people don't even have internal audio departments. If they do, it's typically only for sound FX. If the studio ever has financial difficulties, the audio guy is one of the first to go. 3. Far too many developers opt to shop online for the cheapest generic music bundle CD they can find and call it good. Add in a canned sound FX CD to seal the deal. 4. I blame both the publishers and developers for inadequate budgeting and using audio as a means to cut corners and save a dime. 5. The fact that there are lots of great musicians out there willing to do work at cut rate deals isn't a good thing. That's a sign of how bad things are. That opens the doors for abuse by continuing to underpay those few lucky musicians who manage to get a gig. If the trend continues, newer generations of composers will dwindle. 6. The average medium budget game has an art team of 20 or so people. Using the latest salary pole average from GDM, let's say they're average pay is 45k per artist (erroring on the low side). That's almost 1 million dollars spent on art (900k) alone for a year to develop a game. It's sickening that publishers / developers are not even willing to spend 1/10th of that on audio development. Programming to audio would of course be an even crazier comparison. 7. Just imagine watching Star Wars or Indiana Jones with absolutely NO music. The movies would not be nearly as memorable. Music is the one art form that sticks with you through out the day. You could be walking down the street hours after seeing the movie, and you probably won't be picturing X-Wings flying around in your head, but you might spontaneously start humming the star wars theme. That's the power of a good MELODY BASED soundtrack. I completely disagree with the author stating that music these days sounds like another John Williams immitation. It would be memorable if it were done by Mr. Williams. 8. Resorting to licensed music is a very bad idea. Most of the time it doesn't fit appropriately and you could have gotten a way better original soundtrack for less. Vocal tracks rarely fit well for a game soundtrack. It's more of a huge distraction. Soundtracks work best as instrumentals. I think it's a bad idea to put in placeholder music during development that's not original. Good or bad, developers and publishers will soon associate the music with the game, and miss it when it's replaced. Just like art, it should be a work in progress of the real soundtrack that evolves with the production of the game. 9. It's not coincidence that the most memorable games of all time also have very memorable soundtracks. Repetition of small tracks only plays a small role. If the melody isn't good, repetition will just make it annoying. There was simply a lot of very talented people working back then with more emphasis on the importance of music. You avoid ear fatigue with good composition and having more tracks for a variety of good melodies. 10. If publishers / developers would wake up and take music seriously, they'd begin to realize the positive impact it can have for them. They would sell more games with a good soundtrack. I've personally bought games just because I liked the music. When I think of Final Fantasy, I don't remember much of the story line, but I remember all of the music. Publishers need to open the avenue of selling game soundtracks in the US and putting some advertising muscle behind it. This is done with decent success over seas. There's no good reason it can't be the same in America. If anything, money earned from additional soundtrack sales help to offset the intial cost of producing it. I guess all we can do is hope....maybe one day...

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yes, everyone is chicken and afraid their game wont sell if it doesnt have the consensus motives-it applies to graphics as well, nobody trust anyone to make a breakthrough because its too risk and too much money and effort was invested.

i want to make a breakthrough music etc, and i have the vision to do it, i just need to finesse my skills abit more, although i wouldnt mind selling my soul for the $.

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I'm really glad that attention is being brought to this. Having grown up on classic melodically based soundtracks like in the Final Fantasy series or Mario or Zelda, it pains me to have to hear countless uninspired, or in many cases nearly nonexistent, soundtracks in modern games. Hopefully with the rise of artistically oriented indie games, we'll see more characteristic music.

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Original post by TheJ
yes, everyone is chicken and afraid their game wont sell if it doesnt have the consensus motives-it applies to graphics as well, nobody trust anyone to make a breakthrough because its too risk and too much money and effort was invested.


Well, not everyone. There have been plenty of break through games and developers-publishers that are investing a huge amount of time, resources and talent into projects. Unfortunately there are just as many developers-publishers, if not more, that cut corners and don't put in the time needed to make truly spectacular games. The end result is often a mediocre to terrible gaming experience. This also happens with record labels, film studios and book publishers. It's too bad really because it's a proven system: more time, resources and talent usually means a better result. Less time, resources and talent usually give less than stellar results. Of course, there are always exceptions.

Quote:
Original post by JonahSM1
I'm really glad that attention is being brought to this. Having grown up on classic melodically based soundtracks like in the Final Fantasy series or Mario or Zelda, it pains me to have to hear countless uninspired, or in many cases nearly nonexistent, soundtracks in modern games. Hopefully with the rise of artistically oriented indie games, we'll see more characteristic music.


I'm also glad this discussion is happening, but I disagree with your statement. I've heard many inspired and very prominent video game OST in the PS1, PS2 and next gen (really more like current gen) phases of games. I've heard the "music made back in year X is so much better than the crap made now" argument many times. It's been applied to film scores, pop music and video game soundtracks. This is a flawed argument. Here's why:

Classic radio stations don't play the crappy songs from the past. "You're listening to 56.4 FM, only the crappiest songs from the 1960s!" That station wouldn't do very well. What you would hear (and do hear on real stations) are the classics, those songs that did well. The same thing happens with video games. Unless it's a "Top Ten Worst Games on System X" kind of list, the crappy stuff usually is forgotten and only the gems remain. This is why some folks begin to make the argument that only great stuff was written or created back then. That simply wasn't the case.

Another factor is the growing up comment. When I see games that I played when I was between the age of 8-12 I get very nostalgic. My face lights up, I remember growing up and playing these awesome games and how much I enjoyed them. Also playing games as a kid is very much a new experience. I'm 30 years old and have been playing games for a very long time. Although I still get very excited about a new game, I'm used to the overall experience. But when I first got my NES it was a completely new experience. Playing games until 4AM, using passwords, defeating the uber hard boss and so on... it was all fresh and new. Including the music.

If you feel that music has changed, that's your opinion and you're more than welcome to it. But I think there are many factors here that are contributing some people's reaction to today's music. After all, as the author (and many of the comments point out) music is extremely subjective. But I disagree with your comment that so much music is uninspired.

Final point:


Quote:
Original post by JonahSM1
...or in many cases nearly nonexistent, soundtracks in modern games.


One theory I have for this is that the audio expectations and capabilities have changed drastically since the days of 8-bit. Back then there was NO audio ambiance, so the music had the job of supporting and creating the mood. The music was looping and not really interactive or dynamic. (There were some instances like the music speeding up as time ran out, but not nearly as interactive as it is now.) Now we have all kinds of layer ability in audio engines and we have ambient soundscapes that help create and support the mood of the game. This frees up music to become more of a cue, instead of a constant. Look at films: does the music play throughout the entire film? Nope. That would be overkill. Instead the music acts as cues, coming in when most effective. Video games have taken this approach as well.

Great discussion and thanks for chiming in guys! I hope to see other's comments as well.

Thanks,

Nathan

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Having read the article and most of the discussion, I think Tommy Tallarico really smashes it:
Quote:
For every beloved Mario, Zelda & Tetris score from 25 years ago we could all point to 1,000 games back then where the music was horrible. In fact, truth be told... in regards to the "mainstream general public" (not hardcore fans such as all of us here) most people believe that the "old school" music is totally annoying and repetitive.

Any game composer whose been around more than 10 - 15 years will tell you how the average person on the street would laugh and make fun of us when we told them what we did. But that sentiment has rapidly been changing over the past 4 or 5 years BECAUSE of the amazing quality and awesome production that is coming from the video game industry NOW.

I think there's a considerable amount of selection bias and nostalgia clouding the author's recollection and thus invalidating the comparisons. Was any of the music from Strider particularly memorable? Can you hum the theme to Bad Dudes right now? What was the soundtrack for Dangerous Dave? The music for classic Accolade racing titles like Test Drive and Cycles and Grand Prix were amazing to me, even on my PC-XT speaker, but they may have meant nothing to you (or the author).

So, yes, a lot of studios are using the cheapest option available. But a lot are not. Whatever our opinions on the current state of the art, though, I think we can all agree that we want to see more, better music and musicians being given an opportunity to earn a good living doing what they love and helping to make our favorite games better.

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I don't know about you guys, but I regularly play Super Mario All-Stars on my old SNES with my girlfriend.

The games are simple, you could probably spend an hour completing several if not one game.

However, these days, players play games without completing them for 100s of hours, maybe even 100 hours a month for several months.

MMO developers don't bat an eye at hiring 20 artists to make sure that each different location and instance of the game has a fresh and appealing look--a friend of mine at Guild Wars even mentioned that each corner has to invite mystery in just its appearance, and each nook of the game was specially crafted and molded to keep the player engaged. The art itself is an engaging aspect and even interactive aspect of the gameplay as they change their clothing/armor and encounter new and fantastic enemies and races and allies and so forth.

But the problem is that in a development cycle, a single composer can only produce so much fantastic music for a game that has so much OTHER content--to the point that they are forced to be selective about when and where their iconic moments lie. So the composer and developers opt to have the music get out of the way of the game.

All that results in is players turning off the music.

I recently did a study on gamers response to music in-game and probably something like 1 out of 25 MMO gamers asked would actually keep the soundtrack on after the first couple of weeks of playing the game.

Most of them said the music became too repetitious, especially, they said, battle music.

But I believe this is only a half-truth.

Obviously, one issue is that the music is written to be "unobtrusive," in hopes that they won't turn the music off, but instead, like sneaking the music into the game, it just becomes weak. The composer picks his moments of clarity and strength and composes some great interim pieces that fit nicely in a cut scene.

The whole truth, in my opinion, is that game music is not engaging the player. Not for lack of iconic melody or complexity, but for lack of content and vertically dynamic composition.

For every artist hired to a game, so too should there be a composer.

If there are 20 artists then there should be 20 composers whose responsibility is to more fully enrich a game with a dynamic and engaging audio experience that goes completely beyond mere ambience.

I've written mario style pieces, but there isn't enough time in a composer's development cycle to put that much time into a game--not that the game music has to be jazzy or quirky, but that it should be detailed and deliberate.

Right now we composers have to paint in broad strokes so that our music won't be tiring, so we can fill up 100 hours of gameplay in less than 1, when really there should be dozens of us writing distinct works and imbuing games with rich and engaging audio. Audio that gamers themselves interact with and enjoy.

A game doesn't have to be about music in order for the player to engage the music.

The style is wholly irrelevant. Mario is just as iconic in orchestra as a jazz combo as a rock/techno fusion remix, dub style.

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8. Resorting to licensed music is a very bad idea. Most of the time it doesn't fit appropriately and you could have gotten a way better original soundtrack for less. Vocal tracks rarely fit well for a game soundtrack. It's more of a huge distraction. Soundtracks work best as instrumentals. I think it's a bad idea to put in placeholder music during development that's not original. Good or bad, developers and publishers will soon associate the music with the game, and miss it when it's replaced. Just like art, it should be a work in progress of the real soundtrack that evolves with the production of the game.


I'd just like to add a side comment on this and say I'd find this mostly true for a lot of the games out there, but, certain genre of games can make use of licensed music more naturally than others. For example, Grand Theft Auto and Saints Row series make use of the vehicle radio where a lot of licensed music, both big names and small names end up. In games set in "modern" times, licensed music makes for a good use coming from a radio.

I bring this specific "exception" to the point simply because I've noticed that when games use a wide variety of licensed music in those settings, people who would never have gotten into certain genres of music or artists are now exposed to it and can end up becoming a fan and purchase their music.

I am one example of such a person. A lot of the music used in Saints Row 2 was music I'd not really gotten into before and after playing the game and having listened to it, I liked it. I became a customer of groups of people whom I was never targeted solely for the reason of the music being used in a video game I enjoyed playing, and I know that is the case for others as well. In fact, you can go to the music video pages on YouTube of a lot of the songs used in Saints Row 2 and find user comments saying they heard the song in the game and they liked it, so the proof is out there.

I think if it makes sense for your game to use licensed music, then I don't think it's a bad thing if you can afford it. So I for one don't totally agree that licensed music is a no-no for games, but I do agree you definitely don't want placeholder music being used and associated with your game.

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Just like Battlefield: Vietnam's use of Jefferson Airplane got me to listen to The Moody Blues.

...

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Quote:
Original post by nsmadsen
Thorough thrashing... have a nice day :)


Oh my, I seem to have said much more than I thought I had in my original post! I didn't mean to imply "Oh, everything back then was way better, and everything now is shit!" I am well aware that many games 'back in the day' had horrible music. My citing of classic titles was to indicate that I know what good music can be, and what it can do for games.

That being said, I hold to my previous statement in the lack of material in the current generation (360, Wii, PS3, etc). Though I have heard some decently interesting or appropriate music in current games, I cannot think of any examples of truly iconic soundtracks (aside, of course, from extensions of previously good series such as Mario Galaxy). It is also important to note that many of the games cited as having amazing soundtracks were the blockbusters of their day. The blockbusters of today are, in comparison, lacking (otherwise, why would we all be posting in this thread?) I am also aware that nostalgia can play a strong role in determining our attachment to music. I still believe that you can objectively analyze the two side by side and clearly find a melodic, harmonic, and timbral richness and inventiveness in the great classics that is not represented in the mainstream games of today. Of course, I may just not have played the right games (I would be happy to receive a few recommendations.)

Also, I meant to draw attention specifically to the melodic aspect of the music. There seems today to be this idea floating around that if the music is too good or has too strong of a melody, it will distract and overwhelm the player. I personally find this to be absolutely ridiculous. I have never experienced this, and in fact, if a game has strong melodies and is up in the mix, I tend to be more likely to become deeply invested in the game, and I know I'm not the only one. I've had discussions similar to this one constantly with many different gamers over the past year or two, and every single person has said the same thing. The only reason I think this argument still flies is that no one has tried to prove it wrong.

Also, I have really mixed feelings about the whole interactive music thing. From a technical perspective, it's really a pretty neat idea. In practical application though, I'm not so sure about it. In the games that I've played that employ interactive soundtracks, I've not really found it to be that more effective than more or less constant tracks. At most, I get a kind of "Oh, the music changed, that's novel." It's always way too transparent to garner the subtle emotional yield of music timed to a fixed sequence like a film. I understand the difficulties associated with creating dynamic, interactive music - but if doing that prevents the music from being as potent, I don't think it's an equitable trade. I would much rather have awesome music that sets the general mood of an area than the same goddamn horn rips and taiko drums every time a guy pops out.

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