6.1 Sequencing und Layering

 

6.1) Sequencing und Layering

 
 

 

One important element of a game’s soundtrack is still missing: the music. Music in video games serves to set the mood and enhance the emotion of what the viewer is experiencing. The dissonant drone of tremolo strings can foreshadow what’s about to happen, and a symphonic crash can punctuate what has just occurred. These ideas echo principles used in music for picture going back to the days of piano players performing live beneath the glow of a silent picture upon the big screen. Of course, the primary difference between movies and video games is that in the former, the viewer only plays a passive non-participatory role; while in the latter, the viewer is an active participant, directly affecting the action on screen. With video games, the sequence of events can change each time a player plays the game, leaving the traditional linear approach to implementing music extremely limited in the ever-changing environment of video games. Even more, music in video games can offer players a feedback mechanism that can reward them for their success and chide them in defeat.

It’s the sense of unpredictability and/or the reactivity to gameplay that has coined terms like Interactive Music, Dynamic Music and Adaptive Music; these terms are necessary to distinguish video game music from traditional linear scores, but what’s the difference between them? Depending on whom you talk to, the answer ranges from nothing at all to very defined, albeit sometimes contradictory differences. Simply put, there’s no consensus on what these terms signify individually. But what they all have in common is that the music has a degree of non-linearity. In other words, it changes or evolves due to factors ranging from simple randomization, specific player actions, or general overarching circumstances like the time of day. Within Wwise, anything to do with musical non-linearity is typically managed within the Interactive Music Hierarchy, as this section of the software provides many distinct features that address the unique needs of video game music.

Generally speaking there are two different approaches to building a Dynamic Music System: the Sequencing approach (=horizontal Shuffle) or the Layering Approach (= vertical Remix). Both methods are widely used and can be mixed and matched depending on the needs of the game. For this particular Platformer Game you will use the Sequencing approach for building a horizontal playback system. It will change the playback of Music Segments depending on checkpoints the player passes by when running through the level. Before you start building the playback system, let’s quickly look at these two different approaches with the help of some good examples.

Example01 Nintendo, Zelda Breath of the Wild 2017

In this example, the Music System is simple and fits the style of the game. It uses a horizontal approach with a short Fade-out on the current Segment and a short Fade-in for the next Segment as the gameplay state changes. There are no Crossfades used, which makes it possible that different Segments have completely different Time Signatures without sounding rhythmically really messy as they are blended together for the length of the transition.

Example02 Thatgamecompany, Journey 2012

In this example the Sound Designers are also using a horizontal approach, but it’s much more complex. Whenever a player passes checkpoints during sand surfing, perfect on-beat transitions to the next musical part are being triggered; not an easy thing to do with orchestral music. The accentuation highlights these moments and creates a nice flow. Since a player could take forever to get to the next checkpoint, there are variations shuffled within each Segment.

Example03 Queasy Games, Sound Shapes 2012

This example shows a nice combination of a horizontal Shuffle and vertical Remix of the music piece. With each screen there is a slight change in the Segments being played back. But even more so, each time the player collects a special item, another instrumental track of is added on top of the current playback. So the music can start out simple and the more the player progresses through the level, the more tracks are added on top, all in sync to the base track.

This gameplay example shows an excellent use of a dynamic Music System, reacting to the intensity of the gameplay. Furthermore, it uses the sounds of cymbals as so called Stingers in addition to the music, which are being triggered on an enemy hitting a wall or another enemy. It may seem subtle but the Stingers are being triggered on beat with the music playing. To keep the offset to an actual hit unnoticeable, the Trigger is using a fast musical grid with 8th or 16th notes.