The Underscore - Interactive vs. Film Music
Until recently, you simply could not compare game music to film music. Every aspect involved in their production, from budgets to performance, made it an impractical comparison. Today, these two media have a working relationship. Games are created to support movies and movies are made from successful game franchises. Film composers are now writing for games, and some game composers have made the transition to film. Hollywood orchestras and orchestrators are now commonly used for game music scores. Why make this comparison? Because even though the considerations involved in their creation are different, their effect and function are relatively the same.
As the name suggests, the scores to story-driven games must primarily tell a story. To tell a story musically is a sublime art. A composer must be well versed in the work of his predecessors in order to understand what constitutes successful story telling using the language of music. Fortunately, centuries of music have been written for this purpose, allowing today's composer a foundation for developing this art. We now associate certain sonorities and rhythms with specific actions, emotions or locations. Compositions like Rossini's 'William Tell', Wagner's 'Tristan' and Holst's 'Planets' have laid the groundwork for these non-verbal associations. Film and television composers have since expanded on these motifs to help express the elements within a story.
A portion of story telling is to define the environment, both time and place. Musically, we draw influence from folk traditions for such a purpose. Through ethnomusicology we can effectively represent locations and time periods by incorporating traditional instruments, modes and progressions into the score. For instance, a tabla, tambour or sitar is appropriate for describing an Indian location. If such instruments are not available, the music may be orchestrated in such a way as to mimic these traditional sounds. A modern orchestra is greatly enhanced by the addition of folk elements for the purpose of describing a specific time and place.
Characters within a story are supported through the development of melodic themes and motifs associated with each character. Orchestrating the motifs throughout various instruments will provide a sense of character development as the game progresses. In addition, varying the harmonic support of these themes will reflect the character's physical, mental and emotional states.
Game music for the story and role genre must highlight the dramatic events in the story as well as drive the game-play. NIS and FMVs are the primary tools for advancing the storyline and scoring to these videos is generally a straightforward process. You must consider, however, that game-play is also a dramatic event that contributes to the overall development of the story. Herein lies the careful balancing act of supporting the story as well as the action, without the music sounding repetitious. Cross fading alternate versions and transitions, or layering individual tracks that are programmatically muted and un-muted, will secure the musical effectiveness over long periods. The programming methods of manipulating music within a game are beyond the intent of this article. Further reading from game development resources such as 'gamasutra.com' will provide a closer look at some of the programming methods used in game music playback.