How to make good music in game development

At this time of year, we each have our traditions. Some go shopping; some enjoy latkes; some get cranky. A few weeks ago, I partook of one of my traditions — singing in a choir. We sang this German piece, Der Stern von Bethlehem, from the early 20th century, high in drama. Standing perched on the steps overlooking the orchestra, I watched the floutist carry on the melody for a spell, then the clarinet effortless took over. No struggle, no argument, just a quick swap as one artist yeilded the piece to another one.  Why doesn’t it work this way all the time? 

In game development, we often come across a tug-of-war over what makes a game good and fun. Many designers and gamers will say that story doesn’t matter.  Others will say writers don’t have much of a place in game development, although more and more writers are being hired on staff.  Some developers will insist that certain genres can’t support a story, despite evidence to the contrary.  But to me, that’s a bit like saying that the flute holds no place in an orchestra, just because you can’t hear it when the horns are playing.

In an orchestra, each section or “department” works together to create a full experience for the audience.  Like the harpist who came out only for a cameo here and there, not every instrument will play every beat like the violins seem to, but each instrument adds to the variety and beauty of the piece.  

Just so, in game development, sometimes the art and lighting will underline the game’s theme, sometimes the gameplay, and yes, sometimes the writing.  The trick is not to hold any one instrument above the others, but to combine each together to create the best experience for the player.  

As we head into the new year, maybe we can all see ourselves less as members of this department or that, and more as instruments that only make good music when we work together.

Posted by Anne for Writers Cabal, a game writing and design partnership.

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Published in: on December 23, 2008 at 12:51 pm  Comments (3)  

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I like the orchestra analogy.

    The toughest jobs must be the ones where folks don’t notice you unless something goes wrong. For me, I am much more likely to notice bad examples of camera control, level design, or even writing than I am with good examples.

    It takes a certain kind of mindset to know that people may appreciate the game because of your contribution, even if they do not realize you are the one to thank.

    A good reminder to be observant while playing!

  2. “Some developers will insist that certain genres can’t support a story, despite evidence to the contrary.”

    I played a lot of the older FPS games, such as Doom and Quake, not they had a story… kinda… but not really.

    Then I played Perfect Dark on the N64, and I loved every moment of the story, every twist and turn and how the spy style gameplay mixed in with it. Ir probably wasn’t as great as I remember it to be, but I was a teenager at the time.

    More recently I played the first FEAR and the mix of horror story with FPS was awesome. The twist I loved was that scary stuff happened more when the lights were on. I regularly used the phrase that “I’m in an air vent, so I’m safe” as nothing happened in darkness.

    So yeah I totally agree that more genres can sustain a story than are made, which is unfortunate. I love stories in games and there isn’t enough of them out.

  3. Excellent examples, Skynes. Glad to hear from more gamers who like story!


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