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Article - 'Music in Games: Hidden Magic' by SirUltimos

An item about Graphics/Audio posted on Jul 8, 2004


Game music is more important than we think...


Music in Games: The Hidden Magic

Think back to the last game you played, what do you remember? Is it the unique gameplay? The quirky characters? Perhaps the mind blowing graphics? When you think back, it usually isn’t the music of the game that stands out, is it? Music in videogames is usually disregarded as just filler, but if used correctly, it can be so much more.

For a first example, let’s look at the Final Fantasy games. The music is these games is generally regarded as some of the best in the industry, and this has as much to do with the wonderful compositions as it does with its placement. The music in Final Fantasy has the ability to make the player feel emotion, it has the ability to tell a story of it’s own, just as good music should be able to do. If you were to go back to a Final Fantasy game, any RPG, most games even, and play them without music, you will find that they feel much more flat than before, and the immersion is broken. On the other end of the spectrum, try going and listening to music from your favourite game, what do you remember when you hear it? If the music was well fitting, you should find that memories of the game come flooding back and you can picture some of your favourite parts in your head.

Immersion is a factor that all games strive for, to try and get the player engrossed within the game world. Music can help with immersion like you wouldn’t believe. With the songs carefully picked out, the players can feel what the characters are feeling. A soft, sombre tone can instill the feeling that there is still a long way on this journey. A sad song played at the right moment and you practically watch the tears flow. Fierce and fast during the battle and the player will be jumping out their seats waiting to defeat the enemies. Even just small amounts of music can have an amazing affect on immersion. Take for example a thriller game: There is no music playing, yet as an enemy inches closer, a creepy song slowly starts to play, and get louder as the enemy approaches. For such a small amount of music, it has a phenomenal effect. On the other hand, a poorly picked song can ruin the feeling of immersion the player has. I’m sure you all can think of examples where this happens.

As a third example, let’s look at how music can change the feeling of a scene.

The scenario: A first-person shooter game (think Goldeneye, Halo, Quake, etc.). you can hear the enemies over the hill, they’re coming closer, hundreds of them. You have the choice of either: Lord of the Rings war music, or, a heavy rock tune with lots of guitar.

Lord of the Rings war music: The player hears this music and they immediately know a hard battle is just over the hill. They know that they are going to die in this battle, yet despite this almost depressing atmosphere, they know that they are going to die for a greater cause.

Heavy rock with lots of guitar: The player kicks ass and they know it. Nothing stands in your way and nothing touches you. Anything that moves is gonna get blown away. You’ll only stop shooting when the enemies stop moving. You’re such a bad-ass.

It’s amazing how such a minor change such as a different BGM can effect the player so immensely.

To sum up, music is much more important than most people give it credit for. Music can make or break a game, make the player proudly push through to the end, of close the program forever. So the next time you have to choose music for your game, give it some real thought and choose the best song for the situation, your players with thank you for it!