Good Game Design – Music & Sound
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Good Game Design – Music & Sound

August 30, 2019

Today’s video is sponsored by Squarespace,
start your free trial today at and use the offer code SNOMAN to get 10% off
your first purchase. Stick around to the end of the video and you
can help me create my own website for Snoman Gaming. Enjoy! I’ve always been a big music guy, but you
may not realize that based on the Good Game Design series. We do talk about music, but normally as a
passing thought or a quick nod to how good a soundtrack is. But when you think about it music and sound
effects are some of the most important tools in a game designer’s arsenal. It can set the mood, encourage you to push
onward, or even be used as a gameplay mechanic itself! So today we’ll dedicate an entire video
to the topic and look at all the ways music can help or hinder a player’s experience. Let’s talk about it. The first main thing music has the power to
do, at least on a macro level, is establish the atmosphere of the game you’re playing. But this is so much more than picking a slow
or fast song, you have to consider what instrumentation will be used, the structure, and what emotion
you want the player to feel. The beauty of music is that it can be so diverse,
and a good developer uses that to their advantage. Hotline Miami is a high-octane 80’s killing
spree just oozing with juice, so the soundtrack reflects that: lots of synths and electronic
dance music that you might hear in a club from that timeframe, but a bit more intense. It sounds like something straight outta John
Wick. Stardew Valley on the other hand is a master
class in fitting the theme of the current season you’re in. Spring is all about new beginnings and endless
possibilities while summer is bombastic, fun and feels like you’re in a hoedown. But when winter hits, there’s nothing but
calm, quiet xylophone to keep you company as you try to survive the harsh climate. But all of the tracks in this game are relaxed
and charming, which really describes the package as a whole. Banjo Kazooie is fascinating because this
is when you start to see composers thinking about much more than a singular focus for
a song. Listen to Grant Kirkhope describe the overall theming of this dynamic duo… There’s only like 12 notes, C, C#, D, etc. in between two octaves, right? And the middle point of the two C’s is an F#, it used to be called the Devil’s Interval, or tritone. So I figured that because Banjo and Kazooie were complete opposite characters, i.e. Kazooie is clever and sarcastic, Banjo is dumb and, you know, etc. C and F# are the furthest notes apart, it’s the furthest point from C and C, right so I figured that’s why it’s got the chords of CM, F#M, CM, F#M, that’s why all the music in Banjo Kazooie is basically based on that interval, ’cause it represents in my mind the two opposite characters. So in addition to creating spooky tunes for a haunted
mansion stage, or using an Egyptian sounding scale in Gobi’s Valley, he also makes sure
that the dichotomy of Banjo and Kazooie is present in every piece he writes by including
those dissonant notes. Sometimes it’s not about specific lines
or melodies, but setting a tone through ambience. Super Metroid starts out eerily quiet and
somber but as you journey deeper into Planet Zebes it comes alive, slowly fading into Brinstar
and showing you through music that there’s imminent danger here, like you walked into
a monster party that you weren’t invited to. Then when you loop back through the first
area after growing stronger, you’re greeted with a heroic
theme that completely shifts the mood. Instead of being hesitant and scared, now
you’re a confident capable bounty hunter. Genius. You see music setting the atmosphere of a
game all over the place, and it’s often as simple as looking at the source material. Guacamelee uses mariachi style acoustic guitars,
Cuphead evokes the big band era of classic cartoons, and Shovel Knight gives loving homage
to the 8-bit games it was inspired by. Heck, what if a game doesn’t have any background
music at all, but solely relies on its sound design to build meaningful moments? Look no further than Thumper, where you get
to be the one creating music through your actions. The loud clanging of metal is used in repetitive
ways to make recognizable beats, but is more engaging since each maneuver you complete
is tied to a catchy sound effect. As I said earlier, it’s important to ask
what emotions you want the player to feel while they go through the experience. Compare a game like Furi, using heart-pounding
metal as you take on incredibly challenging bosses, to something like Yoshi’s Woolly
World which employs joyful, soothing tunes to carry you through each stage on a pillow
of happiness. And if you don’t think this type of selection
is important, just imagine if these two games had swapped soundtracks. *Yoshi with Furi music* music *Furi with Yoshi music* Now more on the micro side of things, music can also be used to inform the player about
the current situation they find themselves in. David Wise is an expert at using samples from
the setting of a stage to give more life to his compositions, like chirping crickets in
the forest, bubbling lava in volcanoes, or even screams from children in an amusement
park. The wind is a backdrop while you’re flying
high on a ship’s mast, and this driving scale used while navigating a dangerous hive
sounds like bees buzzing all around you. It not only creates a catchy melody, but makes
the world feel rich and real. The Messenger adds a neat little muffle filter
to the music when you go underwater, which is a nice touch, but if you’re willing to
put in more effort, a fully recomposed version of a track makes a big difference, like when
you enter a dank cavern in Banjo Kazooie, or hear a chilled out version of the main
theme on the pause menu. Man, Grant really is the best at sweet pause
themes isn’t he? But something that The Messenger really did
do well was program the game to completely swap between 8-bit and 16-bit versions of
the songs AND sound effects whenever you jump through a time portal. It really feels like you’re playing two
separate games at once. Portal 2 is normally devoid of music, but
will use intriguing sound effects when you gain momentum on gels, or even play simple
notes when you connect a laser, which adds character to the situation but also helps
guide you toward a puzzle’s solution through sound alone. Paper Mario does this cool thing where once
you enter chapter 4 and the shy guys are running amok around Toad Town, it plays a remixed
version of the theme with these with extra tinkering noises and clanging of children’s
toys to show you that while you’re in the same place, mischief is afoot here. In fact, lots of Mario games like to layer
in extra sounds when you change up the gameplay, like how hopping on Yoshi adds extra percussion
in Super Mario World. Sometimes a big reveal requires a big crescendo
in the music to really drive home the impact, like in God of War where a powerful choir
chant is used sparingly but effectively at just the right moments. Music can also help with a certain flow the
game is going for. In Spider-Man it plays an epic rendition of
the Avenger’s theme while you’re swinging around town, but when you stop the music stops,
and when you begin again, it picks right back up with you to continue the momentum. If a game requires you to retry a stage many
times in quick succession, like The End is Nigh or Wings of Vi, it’s a good idea to
have the track continue playing despite the resets, which is another way to help give
the player a sense of flow. You realize how jarring it is when this type
of thing is NOT present. Finally, in addition to setting the atmosphere
or building off the current situation, there’s also a ton of other really cool things music
can do in gaming. Wandersong is an unbelievably adorable adventure
of a bard that tries to save the world with his voice alone. He never uses violence, and sings his way
through a bevy of creative obstacles. He even belts out his responses to questions
which is just hilarious. But while the voice wheel mechanic never changes,
they made sure to swap the key of the notes so that they’re in tune with the different
background music throughout the game, which is a detail only some will notice, but goes
a long way toward polish. It is a game entirely ABOUT music after all,
so I would only expect as much. Everything is bright and happy, which fits
the main character’s personality perfectly, and some of the most impactful moments are
driven home due to an equally impactful chorus. Another thing to consider is when a particular
track is going to be used quite often, like battle themes in RPG’s for example, you
want to make sure they’re really catchy and won’t get annoying to listen to over
and over, since the player will probably hear it hundreds of times during a playthrough. I’m always impressed when a composer is
able to come up with an anthem that never gets old no matter how many times I hear it
– that takes some real talent right there. And hey if you want to go for bonus points,
try out what Octopath Traveler did by adding in nods to the particular character you’re
playing and using their theme as it transitions into boss battles. This is an insane amount of work, but really
blends the different paths together into one cohesive experience. In fact, let’s talk about motifs because
they probably pop up more often than you would originally think. This is when you take a specific melody or
part of a song and bring it back later on to emphasize a point. Sometimes this can be a simple character theme
that plays whenever they pop up on screen, but it can be more than that too. Ori and the Blind Forest has a beautifully
memorable main ballad, but it shows up continuously throughout the adventure, often at very important
or pivotal moments in the story. Game Score Fanfare has an amazing video you
need to check out on Uncharted 4’s use of motif and how it compliments the back and
forth relationship between Nathan and Elena. When you recontextualize the same notes in
a different situation it leaves a lasting impression on your brain, even if its on a
subconscious level, and in my opinion is what can elevate a good soundtrack to a phenomenal
one. One final thing to consider when implementing
music into your game is if it will coincide with the gameplay. Now I’m not just talking about rhythm games,
though they obviously have their place as well. Sometimes titles will combine this with another
genre, like Crypt of the Necrodancer, which is a dungeon crawling roguelite but you also
move to the beat of the song. This makes it a sort-of real time strategy
game in addition to the randomly generated exploration, and a really cool natural byproduct
is that the difficulty rises simply by having a faster song, so the player has to think
more quickly about where to move next. But music can be more integral with the gameplay
in smaller ways too – like in Underhero how attacking in rhythm will give you a damage
boost, or even just having elements in the background reacting along to the music. I’m a sucker for any stage that has obstacles
bouncing around in step with the song, I mean c’mon, you’re gonna tell me these Koopas
dancing to the beat ISN’T adorable? Get outta here. If there’s one thing to remember about music
in video games, it’s that it can be so much more than background noise. Many, many games have passable soundtracks
that get the job done, but don’t have any meaningful impact on the experience. When designing a game I think it’s important
to think about all the aspects, not just the gameplay or visuals, and how they can all
compliment each other to make something memorable. The difference between a good song and a great
song is one that has connection. Why does this particular piece fit better
than any other? Is there something missing that could help
nail the emotion we’re going for? How can I better show the player what I’m
trying to show them? All the different pieces are in play at the
same time whether you like it or not, so make sure they’re in harmony. What are some of your favorite video game
soundtracks and why? What about specific parts of a game where
the music or sound effects made a greater impact than if they weren’t there? Tell me in the comments below and let’s
talk about it. Thanks for watching another episode of Good
Game Design, I’ll see you next time. Stay frosty my friends. Huge thanks to Squarespace for sponsoring
today’s video, in case you have no idea who they are, Squarespace is one of the easiest
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to and using the code SNOMAN to get 10% off your first purchase. And I actually need your help because I’m
creating my own website for Snoman Gaming and I would like your input on what you’d like to see there. I’m open to just about anything, editing
tutorials, vlogs, you name it. Leave me some thoughts in the comments below. Alright, I’m outta here, bye! Special shoutout to Josh J because what can
I say, he’s just epic that way.

Only registered users can comment.

  1. Pokemon rse and oras is my favorite soundtrack.
    It does an amazing job at setting an atmosphere. While I was playing ruby on my gba it was a memorable experience walking trogh route 113 or the abandoned ship. Or some dark cave.
    Not many other games,did this to me. Even modern games with better graphics didn't catch it.

  2. Cuphead's OST is just ridiculous in terms of game complimenting. The final boss fights of Final Fantasy 2 and 3 (Zeromus and Kefka( are my favorite badguy soundtracks ever. Hollow Knight also deserves mention for how good it is throughout the game- City of Tears and Queen's Gardens are just breathtaking.

  3. I always appreciated the music for the puzzles and scenes in the professor layton games. The puzzle music was not annoying and felt like it helped you think, until you got to the end and it was faster and just the music alone made the puzzle feel more important to solve

  4. First, im so happy you mentioned The End is Nigh. And second, the soundtracks of the LISA series have the ability to flip between empowering and catchy to sorrowful and heartbreaking. It reflects how emotional the story and gameplay can be.

  5. I can’t believe he didn’t mention the rocket and Minecart theme in donkey Kong

    Edit: my favorite soundtracks are on mario galaxy

  6. I thought about Octopath right before you brought it up! Such great music in that game! I never get tired of the amazing battle themes

  7. I’m not suprised that you are subscribed to Arlo and AntDude, what are you talking about…
    They aren’t like my favorite YouTubers or anything…

  8. Kirby's Return to Dreamland has an amazing soundtrack and I feel as though every song has a purpose for the level or boss that it takes place in. Like when you fight against Landia for the first time and plays this powerful and fantasy-like theme! It's one of the best Kirby games and you should definitely play it!

  9. I think the way Persona 5 switches the night theme to the lyrical version of Beneath The Mask after the first palace is cool little nod to how your officially a Phantom Thief now.

  10. Super Mario Maker 2 Actually uses it's Main Theme and Peach's Castle in a Worrying Tone when an Emergency Appears anytime in the Story Mode such as when All the Toads are Missing or even Worse, When Toadette (Or in this Case, The Chief) Disappeared. Without this Music, We wouldn't know if these are Problems or not and we Wouldn't have this Amazing Song that Combines these 2 Themes that are Already Great on their Own. ^^

  11. In The Legend of Zelda : A Link to the Past about halfway through the credits it plays a recomposed, slower version of the overworld theme, and it's just amazing, you really feel accomplished after hearing it.

  12. My favourite soundtrack is either bowsers inside story because each song fits the area or Mario party ds because its Mario party ds

  13. Thank you for the shout out to the underrated importance of sound and music in games, I only wish you would have let us listen to the examples you mention.

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