Music Influencing Game Design and Vice Versa

Thus far we have not created a single complete level for our game. We have experimented with ideas, but so far none have matured into a finished, concrete form. Which led Jesse, the artist and musician of our trio, to say this in an email last night:

It would help to have a level with a certain flow to be able to write according to the intensity of the level instead of just throwing out random music at this point. I mean, the music I’m writing will hopefully be useful in some way, but it’d be nice to have direction for a level. Right now I’m just kind of writing to see what you guys like and don’t like.

I absolutely understand where he’s coming from. And I believe that having more complete level designs would be a great aid for helping him compose the soundtrack. But it brings up an interesting issue, which is how the influence of game design and music can work in both directions.

There is an interesting dynamic by which I personally draw design inspiration from the music Jesse creates, while he turns to our ideas about the setting and story and gameplay as a basis for the music. I imagine that for many video games their soundtrack comes near the end, created after the completion of the visual and interactive elements so that they can serve as a platform for the soundtrack composition. But I do not believe this is the best approach.

Personally I like that Jesse has created a sample of music based on little more than ideas the three of us have brainstormed (Jesse, Jeff, and me). Sometimes when writing code for the game both Jeff and I will have Jesse’s music on loop. It is a bi-directional flow of creative inspiration. The aural ideas he presents influence game design elements, characters, settings, narrative ideas, et cetera. As we flesh those out then in turn they lead to the creation and refinement of more of the soundtrack. I believe this hand-in-hand approach will benefit the game greatly.

I do not believe it is the most efficient method for us to take, because there is always that possibility that a delay in one creative aspect of the game will affect the others. For example, how our indecisiveness in level design is limiting the input for the music. But all that said, I do believe this may be the most creatively optimal approach, making the music a ‘first-class citizen’ with regard to influencing the overall design and feel of the game, and placing it on equal level with the other elements of design like levels, enemies, art style, and so on.

When people play our game I believe they will feel an impact from the music and see how it not only fits the game world, but even shapes it in some ways. In my opinion that is what a great game soundtrack should do. And I feel entirely confident in saying that ours will do exactly that.

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