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Types of Game Music Part 2 – Menu Music

November 5, 2010

Most games usually have ‘menus’ – where the player saves and loads games, changes the game’s options and customizes different settings. Because of their nature, players are not going to spend a lot of time ‘inside’ these menus and are going to want to concentrate while they are changing settings and the like.

So generally, music for the context of game menus is short and usually on a loop. The music is normally fairly unobtrusive so it doesn’t distract players while they are making decisions inside the game menus.

The music will follow the same style and instrumentation as the rest of the game’s soundtrack. It’s main purpose is to keep the player immersed in the ‘game world’ for the short time that they are using the game’s menus, without being distracting.

– A couple of examples to demonstrate this in context:

Metal Gear Solid 2 Menu Music

We can hear that it’s on a loop with the bass line unchanging throughout. It’s pretty laid back, with only some pads/strings occasionally coming in. There are no overt melodies or anything that could be considered ‘distracting’. Also, musically, it’s in keeping with the ‘espionage’ theme of the game and the rest of the game’s soundtrack. This makes it effective as music for the context of a menu as well as being effective for the context of the game genre: espionage- action.

Zelda: Ocarina of Time file select Menu

Here we have a pretty simple harp riff that loops every eight bars. Again it’s not distracting in any way and just serves to keep the player immersed in the ‘Zelda’ world while they load their saved game of choice. The use of the harp is suitable for the context of the game: a fantasy adventure. It’s also suitable as menu music because it is not very distracting.

-Mass Effect Menu Music

This is on a much longer loop than the previously looked at menu music. Lush pads provide a calm environment for the player to navigate the menu. Once again, it is also in keeping with the rest of the Mass Effect soundtrack in regards to instrumentation and style. Again here, it its both the context as menu music as well as fitting in to the context of the wider scope of the game as a whole.

Borderlands Main Menu

Very atmospheric and like Mass Effect, it’s quite long for menu music (1:17).  No prominent melodies, it’s all very subtle and is almost more music concréte than ‘pure music’. Great immersion before the player has even started to play the game.

With regards to the rest of the soundtrack, menu music is not greatly important in it’s own right. But it is important that the music fits the context (i.e short, loops, keeping in theme and style with the rest of the soundtrack and is not distracting). From what I have researched and looked at I’ve come to the conclusion that it isn’t that hard to compose fitting menu music as long as the composer is aware of the context of game menus and how they are used by players: to quickly change game settings before jumping back into the game proper.

Because menue music tends to be quite short and on a loop, there may come a point where it could get annoying. In reality I don’t think this is a problem because, by their very nature, menus are not something that players are going to spend a lot of time on, and usually it’s doubtful that they would of heard the entire piece of menu music before they were finished making their changes and back into the game proper.


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