Ah, sounds

I sit here in the middle of the night, up way later than I should be on a school night (although to be fair, I usually don’t crawl into bed until around 2 or 3 anyway) trying to bring together all of the elements on my Game Design project and brainstorming on and off regarding my final project, and I keep getting distracted by the sound of the thunderstorm. It’s not as distracting as, say, the occasional flicker of my floor lamp, or when my roommate rolls over and smacks the sliding cardboard doors of her ‘cave’, but whenever I pause in typing, the soft sounds of outside filter in and prevent me from starting up typing again.

Real life has some pretty great sound design sometimes.

So often, every area in a video game has an accompanying background music track. In the games I normally play (mostly RPGs), music is a very important element to the gameplay experience. The idea that you’re going to spend a long time in each place necessitates an interesting musical theme, because most people would go insane sitting in a silent room playing a silent game silently. Then, when the game DOES go silent, it’s an important mark of what is happening in the game world.

(My roommate snores, the neighbor turns off his music, and the rain falls through the gutters. I wish I had some soda right now.)

For instance, in Final Fantasy IX, when you visit the Black Mage Village, a funky sort of tune plays everywhere you go, except at the cemetery (at 3:15).

Gah, what’s the point in playing FF9 if you’re not even going to read the text bubbles? Getting Excalibur II isn’t THAT important.

The music starts back up again without pause as soon as you leave the cemetery, a musical cue that life is continuing as normal outside of the graveyard.

Most area words in .hack//G.U. will result in an area with one of three or four songs being played (Dungeon, Shrine, Field and Plains in some key or another), but if you manage to create a Field area either at night or with a heavy thunderstorm, no music plays. Instead, the only sounds are those of the area and your own footfalls.

The soundtrack to a lot of video games will be several discs long (the Final Fantasy XII and XIII soundtracks are both 4 discs long, and even Dirge of Cerberus, a rather short and crappy game, has a 2-disc soundtrack), but Red Dead Redemption’s soundtrack is more on-par with a movie soundtrack length due to the fact that music isn’t always blaring. The occasional guitar twang  might sound, and music plays in saloons (of course), but there is no ‘Prairie Theme’ or ‘Mexico Theme’ to be seen–the game seeks to create a realistic representation of the Wild West, and since we all live in what was once the ‘Old West’, we know that (sadly) theme music doesn’t constantly play everywhere we walk in Texas.

(I turn off the Desktop theme from .hack//G.U. and crack my knuckles. I listen to the rain again for a few moments. The music carries on in my head.)

Plus, the ambient noises from the world around you are so important in Red Dead Redemption; you have no hope of hearing wolves sneaking up on you if some twangy guitar and down-home country fiddle is playing in the background (and you can forget about noticing mountain lions).

You never know they’re there until it’s too late.

    • bboessen
    • April 17th, 2011

    This is especially crucial in light of Elliott’s recent post about the blind man who plays games by listening for subtle changes in ambient and action sounds in-game.

    We should not forget that sound design is integral to almost all visual arts, just as the presence of text both within and accompanying images is also important.

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