Music in Computer Games

Posted on August 17, 2007. Filed under: Games, Music |

I was thinking back on why I liked particular games (lists of my favorites are posted in previous entries in my “Games” topic) and a very strong and nearly essential component for me is the Music.  The Zork games all have great music, particularly Return to Zork;  and Syberia I & II do, as well.  In  Amber, Journeys Beyond, the music is absolutely essential to the stories.

Some of the best music, however, is in games that have little or no other sounds, i.e. no spoken dialog, or not very many sound effects.  My favorites among these include Other Worlds—the music was haunting, and stayed with me for a long time–however the author says that the music not original.  It was very well chosen.

Deirdra Kiai has contributed wonderful original music to her games.  The Jazz score in Cubert Badbone, P.I. added greatly to the noir feel of the game.  Each location had its own theme, which reinforced that location in my mind.  It got even better with The Game That Takes Place on a Cruise Ship.  Although I thought the graphics and story were really good, again I felt the music clinched the deal.  For instance, in the ship’s video arcade the graphics were minimal, but the sound effects and funky music convinced me I really was in an arcade.  The jazz club in the same game was beautifully rendered.  If you visit, be sure to listen to the band’s number all the way through.  There’s a keyboard solo and everything!  I read an interview with Ms. Kiai in which she said music was not one of her strong points.  I beg to differ.  This woman knows jazz.  And disco!

Then, there’s the weird and wonderful Out of Order.  Again, there’s an original theme for each location.  Author Tim Furnish reports that he has had mixed reviews of his game music.  I, for one, think it’s brilliant.  I particularly enjoy the Ragtime score in the pub.  There’s something not quite…traditional about it, which fully supports the off-kilter experience we are having along with the game’s hero.  If you go to the pub, please do stay for the whole number.  Where does Mr. Furnish get some of those chords?  I also like the corridor theme.  All the music in the game greatly enhances the immersive experience.  I cannot stress this enough, especially after reading one review of Out of Order stating that the music is “annoying and repetitive.”  The reviewer actually suggests turning off the sound to make playing the game tolerable!  Arrrghh!  Obviously I don’t expect everyone to be as much in love with the score as I am, but to TURN IT OFF!  I might as well turn off the dialog captions, too.  Maybe 1/3 of the game for me was delighting in the music.

OK, enough ranting.  Just let me close by saying that music can enhance many kinds of experiences, and at its best, contribute to life being more than “just a game”.


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3 Responses to “Music in Computer Games”

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[…] blog MusEditions wrote a fascinating little piece about music in computer games, and Cubert and TGTTPOACS are […]

“The Zork games all have great music”… Yeah, I really like the soundtrack of Zork 1. 😉 Seriously, I agree, though. Zork GI had some great moments in that area for me. I like The White House Theme in particular, and the singing house, too. I remember going back to that one several times just to hear it sing.

Regarding OOO, I too liked the music, but I think there’s an important lesson here for game developers. Always let the player turn the music off even if you think it’s an important part of your work. There will always be someone who will want to use that option.

HaHa, you’re right, of course. Should have said “The Zork games that HAD music”. Although I did hum along with the text adventures, volcalized my own sound effects (boing! boing!) and my “Whistle While you Wizard” theme had great potential 🙂 That singing house was something, wasn’t it? A house that hums a vaguely do-wop/reggae theme all day—So…Zorkian.
As for your other comment, well, as a developer yourself, I suppose you should have the last word! After all, as I keep reminding myself, silence is also music. You are respectful of your gamers.
I’m about a third of the way through Frasse and the Peas of Kejick. I will comment on in when I’m through. Just briefly–like it, he’s adorable & graphics are good. And so’s your music! Thanks, Rikard for visiting.

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