Sometimes games are better without music

Ben Prunty

Ben Prunty is the composer whose music you’ve got heard accompanying the loss of life of your crew in FTL: Faster Than Light. His column for PC Gamer covers the function of music in games.

Hi, I am Ben Prunty. I make music for indie games. You would possibly know my music from FTL: Faster Than Light, Gravity Ghost, The Darkside Detective, Dead Secret, the upcoming Into the Breach, or just a few different indie games. PC Gamer requested me to jot down an everyday column about recreation music. So, after all, I believed the most effective factor I might do is write about not utilizing it. 

Why do we’ve got music in games in any respect? It gives emotional weight to a scene, similar to how music in films works. It can work in tandem with the visuals to construct an environment. Most apparently, by utilizing these strategies, a recreation’s music can direct you, the participant, by telling you what you need to really feel in a given scene. Let’s illustrate with an instance. 

Imagine a easy, moderately well-lit front room. There are no characters within the room. Now think about that breezy, enjoyable, bouncy music is enjoying, like say, one thing from the superb soundtrack to Dream Daddy. You have a look at that front room, you anticipate some attention-grabbing characters to look and also you may need entertaining dialog. Witty dialog can be exchanged. It’ll be nice. 

Now think about the identical factor, however now creepy, ominous music is enjoying, like, say, one thing claustrophobic from Silent Hill or The Evil Within. Suddenly your complete notion of the lounge has modified. Something horrible has occurred right here, or one thing horrible is about to occur. You know this room is not protected. Now you are scanning each shadow within the room. Is one thing in right here watching me? Who or what’s going to seem on this room? 

…there are two games that use their lack of music to unimaginable impact, and so they train us a lesson about why we select to make use of music within the first place.

Same picture, utterly totally different emotions. All directed fully by the music. The music instructed you what to anticipate and, not directly, learn how to really feel. We name music non-diegetic, which suggests it exists outdoors the world of the narrative, in the identical method narrator is outdoors the story. I prefer to think about that the music sits outdoors the sport with you, the participant, gently providing encouraging recommendation. ‘Here’s what’s occurring proper now… Now the temper is altering, be careful! OK, now you are protected.’

I am going to simply go away this right here.

A recreation’s music is a guiding presence, even when it is attempting to creep you out. It could be an infinitely useful gizmo in recreation design and storytelling. Many recreation lovers, and even some skilled composers, imagine that music needs to be ever-present. “The best game soundtrack would be the one that never stops through the whole game,” mentioned one composer colleague of mine. 

But what if that is incorrect? What if we should not have music enjoying at each second? Game music lovers could scoff at this, however there are two games that use their lack of music to unimaginable impact, and so they train us a lesson about why we select to make use of music within the first place. 

Dark Souls. You understand it. Everybody is aware of it. It’s turn out to be one of the vital influential games of the final decade. Did you discover that there was completely no music throughout any exploration elements? Even when you did not discover the shortage of music, you may need observed that the sport feels tremendous unsettling. Like, on a regular basis. It’s eerie, nearly like a horror recreation. Some of this is because of artwork, the sound design, and the darkish fantasy setting. But I feel a lot of it comes from the shortage of music. 

And that is why that is hilariously inappropriate.

For most of Dark Souls, that guiding presence I talked about earlier has been eliminated. The music has deserted you. As you wander by means of Lordran, you are continually unsettled, as a result of you haven’t any concept what to anticipate. Is this space extra harmful than the final one? Is one thing gigantic going to leap out and homicide me? Is that man sitting on the bottom over there pleasant? You merely don’t know; the music is not there to assist information you. I am not saying the shortage of music is the one factor making the sport unsettling, however having no music wherever has a robust impact on your entire recreation’s really feel.

It’s an extremely tense expertise. And there isn’t any music in any respect.

This leads us to a different recreation. Duskers is part-roguelike, half real-time technique, and half horror recreation. In it, you employ a command-line interface (sure, actually) to pilot drones to discover derelict spaceships that will or could not have monsters on them. The data you obtain concerning the setting on these ships is restricted by your drones’ capabilities. 

It’s an extremely tense expertise. And there isn’t any music in any respect. Not within the title display screen, not when a monster seems, nothing. There are solely sound results. This is definitely associated to a key a part of the sport’s design: verisimilitude. The expertise shouldn’t be that you just are controlling an avatar who controls these robots. You, together with your keyboard and monitor in entrance of you, are instantly controlling the drones. Since the data you’re employed with is simply the lo-fi information collected by the drones (there isn’t any all-seeing, floating digital camera so that you can spin round, wanting on the drone, for instance), it is really fairly simple to think about that you just’re exploring an actual area. 

When designer Tim Keenan realized that the realism of Duskers may very well be so highly effective, he made the daring choice to haven’t any music by any means. Having music would kill the fantasy, since you are alleged to think about that you just are actually controlling drones. “I don’t walk around and hear a score playing in my head,” says Tim in his GDC speak about growing the sport. That omniscient, reassuring presence merely does not make sense on this context. Removing it made Duskers a better recreation. 

By eradicating music, a designer could make the participant really feel unmoored, alone, and unsettled, and might enhance the realism of a recreation in some circumstances. That’s a whole lot of energy in a single easy choice.

There are many games that take away music at key moments for dramatic impact. There may very well be a complete separate article on that, actually. But only a few games use the absence of music a core a part of a recreation’s design. Dark Souls and Duskers assist us ask the query of why we use music in our games in any respect, and their reply reveals quite a bit about music’s elemental function. 

Pay consideration to the elements of games the place no music is current. Why is there no music there? What do you suppose the designers are attempting to make you’re feeling? Let me know within the feedback about your favourite conditions the place a recreation eliminated music and it enhanced the expertise. 

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