How does music and sound design work in games? (Topic)

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How does music and sound design work in games?


Music is an important part of the sound design of any game. If it wasn't, games would be more boring. We wouldn't be interested in fighting, exploring and just meditatively spending time.

It is difficult to create a good musical soundtrack, because if you do not press it, it will interfere, and sometimes, even with efforts, it can go unnoticed. We continue our themed series on how video games are made and explore how high-quality game sound design balances with music.

Immersion in the atmosphere of that time

The first and best option for open worlds for how good music fits into the game is to use time and place. Thus, the game world gains depth. Some of the best examples of conveying the music and atmosphere of the era are in the GTA series starting with Vice City. The studio has always competently approached the creation of its own world, therefore, in every time period, on the radio, in clubs or locations, hits of the time in which the action of the game unfolds sound.


Since music is the fastest way to convey information to the player, it is used to immerse oneself in a temporal setting. Another example is the Mafia series, especially the second part, where you immediately understand what time it is thanks to the song "Let it Snow" by Frank Sinatra, which sounds during the hero's return home.


A similar principle applies to Metal Gear Solid 5, where you listen to the hits of the 80s on a cassette player, as the action unfolds in the era of disco, pop and glam rock. It immerses you in the atmosphere, despite the fact that you do not see the architecture and people of that time, for the reason that you are fighting in Afghanistan.


However, it is worth noting that these projects are made in the open world, so they can afford this.

Techniques in Session Games

In a confined space, you don't have time to meditatively explore the world, so such a thing as immersing yourself in the setting with music works differently here. In such projects, the developers try to draw the player's attention to the gameplay. Music in them must constantly give certain triggers to the player.

Let's look at some examples

First is the music in Payday 2, which works in an incremental and cyclical manner. One of the gameplay features of the game is that you shoot back from the growing waves of enemies during a robbery. The music is cyclical and without interruptions so that the player does not lose attention. While she is playing, the gamer is, shall we say, in combat mode. With the advent of more enemies, the music becomes more and more dynamic. Then the stronger the enemies, the more dynamic the music. This prevents relaxation and weakening of the reaction.


Second example Hotline Miami, where the music has a similar character, but also copes with the atmosphere of the action time. The retro wave, which is used as a sound in the game, has motives of the 80s, conveying the atmosphere, but also the dynamic component. All tracks are pre-recorded for different levels and made so that it would be easier for you to kill opponents, falling to the beat of the music. Hotline Miami is very fast and sharp, so its audio is exactly the same. Often your kick, shot or fighting style will match the rhythm of the composition.


This connects in-game audio and in-game music, allowing you to play at the exact tempo you want. The absence of interruptions is also important in actions, as their presence interferes with the tempo and very often they are removed in the tracks so as not to knock you down.


For example, in the DMC series you are constantly accompanied by combat compositions, but if you listen to them separately, you will find many interruptions in them, which were not in the game itself during gameplay.

Artistic design and music as part of the mechanics

Another interesting way to use music in games is to use it indoors. Creation of the feeling that not only you, but also your character hears it. This happens all the time at levels with clubs, when the source of the music is in the playing space and your hero is directly listening to it. This can be used to catch a character off guard, as we see in Max Payne 3 in the club level or Saint Row 3 when your headquarters is attacked during a party.

Skillfully weaved the song into the Ubisoft gameplay in Far Cry 5. There, the villain hypnotizes people with the track "Only you" and provokes them to kill. Soon, your hero himself falls under its influence. And when it turns on in the game, you understand that your character reacts to it and now there will be a carnage.


Music is often part of the mechanics or gameplay. The most common option is calm music when everything is fine, dynamic when something is happening. Often times, this approach can be seen when you are looking for something on a large map, and as you get closer to the goal, the music takes on a different character, hinting that you are moving in the right direction.

In LA Noire, there is an interesting approach to music as part of the mechanics. If you pick up the correct piece of evidence or make the right guess, a long hint melody sounds for a second.

Dynamic sound

I would like to highlight the soundtrack to Doom, which was released in 2016. Mick Gordon, composer, came up with his own dynamic soundtrack system that reacts to the player's action.


Previously, this kind of music was created by layering the sound on top of one another to create one rich soundtrack. In the new Doom, music is created from sound blocks that are activated based on your actions. With each blow or shot, one or another block is turned on. This creates an individual composition that depends on your actions.

This will happen in DMC 5 - the better the player fights and the higher his rating, the cooler the soundtrack.

Music and sound are very important parts of the game. Some projects are very fond of precisely for the musical accompaniment. Therefore, the work of sound engineers and composers should be appreciated. Now you know how sound design and music in games work.

The Topic of Article: How does music and sound design work in games?.
Author: Jake Pinkman