In this era of big-budget live recordings captured and mixed at world-class facilities by the recording industry’s finest, with methodologies and accompanying tech established to achieve so-called ‘interactive music’, it’s easy to forget just how far videogame scoring has come since the rudimentary midi- driven sounds of the early nineties.
That said, even back in that faraway decade (and in spite of prevailing technical limitations), some seriously interesting experimentation took place with interactive and adaptive techniques which conceptually went beyond many of today’s productions. Eschewing attempts to shoe-horn in the grammar of linear film music, some composers nurtured a thoughtful sense of music ‘design’, treating videogames as an entirely new art form requiring its own unique and distinct approach to a new non- linear form of scoring and its associated in-game delivery.
Composers need to approach music as an actual component of the experience not merely an illustration, and with VR it’s like there’s an open door – so let’s go there.
Olivier Deriviere’s composing journey on multi-layered, enigmatic and intriguing Get Even reminds me of that spirit. His passion for innovation and deep integration of music into the very DNA of the game was amply demonstrated by Remember Me, but this new and intimate collaboration with The Farm 51 goes to another level – and in today’s powerful run-time computing world, he’s able to marry radical music design thinking with high-quality midi-triggered music instruments/segments, sound effects and superb Abbey Road linear recorded strings, meaning it’s very sonically pleasing.
Olivier: “I turned down a lot of other things to do Get Even – it’s like nothing I’ve ever scored before – unique in approach – I had to be part of it! Music here is not primarily ‘illustrative’ and it’s not just a part of the audio. Videogames are not about storytelling in my opinion – yes, there is storytelling and it’s important – but it’s about the experience you’re going to have – it’s a game. Get Even’s music is deeply embedded in that game experience in subtle and unifying ways. Although not a VR game, the events are happening in fictional VR and ‘illustrative’ music isn’t right for that.”
Interesting. So imagine anything around you in the game is musical – anything. Start with a room tone pitched at C and build on that. Say you have light bulbs buzzing – also in C effectively as part of a music arrangement. Ditto many other sounds which build and build surreally yet subtly harmoniously. As a player, you’re not thinking about that as you progress from room to room yet it has emotional and immersive impact. Plus there’s the tempo dimension with ‘musical’ sound effects (e.g. characters knocking on a door) timed to the ‘music’ – even to the extent of the music meter determining animation/ game event timing – and the tempo can also change dynamically.
Then think about hearing sounds (or music motifs) in an abstract way (say dramatically pitched down yet still part of the music ‘system’), which gradually move from being disorientating and/or disturbing into focus and original pitch at key narrative points making you think – ah, that’s why I was hearing that before. Finally, add ‘real’ emotive music ‘speaking’ at vitally important moments but for valid story-related reasons, and you start to get some idea of the deep – there’s that word again – deep subliminal integration and therefore crucial role of the Get Even score – truly at the heart of the experience. It’s complicated. To say much more would give the game away, but maybe the book on how you do game music isn’t quite finished yet…
Olivier reflects: “Audio is such a big part of this experience. For instance, there are lots of audio clues you don’t understand at first but when you’re at the end it all comes together – it’s magical. I think music for games will change in the future – it won’t be just about handcrafting a score, it will be more like scoring with the environment itself. Composers need to approach music as an actual component of the experience not merely an illustration, and with VR it’s like there’s an open door – so let’s go there.”