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Types of Game Music Part 6 – In-game Music (or gameplay music)

January 9, 2011

Finally we have come to perhaps most important music in video games – the music that will accompanies the actual game play. This will be the most significant amount of music written for the game in terms of length, as well as what will take most of a composers and developers attention. All of the other things I have looked at, such as the Main Theme, Menu music etc are all important, but the in-game music takes priority to nearly everything else.

It’s also important to note, before I go on, that the things I’ve looked at can overlap. For example, a player could be playing a game and be hearing the in-game music. An event could happen while they are playing that triggers a cinematic or cut-scene, and the music will be scored for that appropriately. After the cinematic is finished the player will be ‘back in the game’ with the in-game music playing again. Then they might pause the game to bring up a menu, in which case the menu music might start playing etc. All of these different sections within the game are ‘mini contexts’ which the music must address appropriately.

Where I have discussed locations as context also counts as gameplay music, as it will be playing while the player is actively engaged in the game in a specific location.

As you can see, all these different elements of video games are not isolated to their respective parts of the game, but intertwine and make up the larger picture of scoring music for a video game. Thus, it makes it even clearer that a game’s soundtrack must be a coherent piece of work as the various parts of the game are intertwined and the music must be able to support this.

In-game music can serve a variety of purposes, which will largely be determined by what kind of game it is, which will determine the overall context for the music. The majority of video games can be categorized by their genre. Some of which are: Role Playing games, First Person Shooters, Survival Horror, Arcade, Real Time Strategy, Action-Adventure, Platform and Simulation.  (There are of course many more types)

These genres will largely determine what main purpose the in-game music will have on a game. Survival Horrors (Such as Resident Evil and Dead Space) rely a lot on atmosphere, creating tension, making the player feel isolated and scared, with the odds stacked against them. So the in-game music will enhance and support this and will take a large role in creating the atmosphere and tension etc. And for a survival horror, it will usually borrow ideas and conventions from horror film scoring, in the use of strings, discordant harmonies etc.

Real Time Strategy games are fast paced strategic games where the player often has to concentrate a lot and plan ahead and react to sudden changes, manage resources and control a multitude of things at once (in real-time). Some examples of RTS games are: Age of Empires and Starcraft 2.

Because of this the music for RTS games will often be subdued, atmospheric and not overtly distracting. This allows the player to concentrate, while still being immersed in the mood and atmosphere of the game, which the music will help provide, but subtlety rather than overtly.

First Person Shooters are highly immersive, action packed, fraught with danger with lots of gun fights etc. The music will typically help create excitement, suspense and a sense of danger.

While the genre of the game will determine the main function of the in-game music, other factors will have a bearing on it as well. I have already looked at locations and how they can provide a context for the game’s setting and in-game music.

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