Welcome to the fourth installment of my five-part article series discussing music composition techniques that heighten tension and suspense for video game projects. These articles are based on the presentation I gave at this year’s Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, entitled Homefront to God of War: Using Music to Build Suspense. If you haven’t read the previous three articles, you’ll find them here:
Before we move on to the next music composition technique in our suspense-building arsenal, I’d like to briefly revisit a video game project we discussed in our last article; the popular Dragon Front VR game for the Oculus Rift, developed by High Voltage Software.
Welcome back to our five part discussion of the role that video game music can play in enhancing tension and promoting suspenseful gameplay! These articles are based on the presentation I gave at this year’s Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, entitled Homefront to God of War: Using Music to Build Suspense. If you haven’t read the previous two articles, you’ll find them here:
So, now that we’ve discussed ominous atmospheres and jarring jolts, let’s look at the next technique in our arsenal:
The Creepy Cluster technique
As we know, tone clusters are collections of notes packed together to produce unnerving dissonant effects. While it might seem like any cat can walk across a piano and produce unpleasant clusters, well-executed dissonance is actually one of the trickiest techniques we can employ. It’s tremendously potent when used with expert precision.
Welcome back to our five-part discussion of some of the best techniques that video game composers can use to enhance tension and promote suspenseful gameplay. These articles are based on the presentation I gave at this year’s Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, entitled Homefront to God of War: Using Music to Build Suspense. If you haven’t read our previous discussion of Ominous Ambiences in part one of this series, please go check that article out.
Are you back? Good! Let’s continue!
We’ve already talked about how to create an edgy, ominous atmosphere. By carefully nurturing the player’s suspense and anxiety, we can prime the player with an assortment of quietly unnerving sounds, until the player is perfectly ready for…
The Jarring Jolt technique
This is the second technique we’ll be discussing in our five-part article series on the role of music in building suspense. Like the Ominous Ambience (which we discussed in part one), the Jarring Jolt also owes a debt to the expert work of sound designers. In fact, the Ominous Ambience and the Jarring Jolt are fairly interdependent. One doesn’t work that well without the other.
At this year’s Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, I was honored to give a presentation entitled Homefront to God of War: Using Music to Build Suspense. While I’ve certainly discussed techniques for building suspense in this blog before, the talk I gave at GDC expanded significantly on that discussion and included lots more research and practical examples that we haven’t previously examined here. With that in mind, I’m excited to begin a five-part article series based on my GDC 2017 presentation! During the course of these five articles, we’ll be taking a look at some of the best techniques that enable video game music composers to introduce suspense into their music, control tension levels during gameplay and keep players engaged.
So, let’s start by defining the core concept. What exactly is suspense?
A physiological reaction
We all can agree that music is one of the most effective ways to produce emotional reactions. But suspense, particularly in the field of game development, isn’t just about an emotional state. It’s also a unique physiological reaction – a tension rising out of the uncertainty that we’re encountering during gameplay.
The Game Developers Conference is coming up soon! Last year I presented a talk on music for mobile games (pictured above), and I’m pleased that this year I’ll be presenting the talk, “Homefront’ to ‘God of War’: Using Music to Build Suspense” (Wednesday, March 1st at 11am in room 3006 West Hall, Moscone Center, San Francisco). In my talk I’ll be focusing on practical applications of techniques for video game composers and game audio folks, using my own experiences as concrete examples for exploration. Along the way, I’ll be discussing some very compelling scholarly research on the relationship between suspense, gameplay and musical expression. In preparing my GDC 2017 presentation I did a lot of reading and studying about the nature of suspense in video games, the importance of suspense in gameplay design, and the role that video game music plays in regulating and elevating suspense. There will be lots of ground to cover in my presentation! That being said, the targeted focus of my presentation precluded me from incorporating some very interesting extra research into the importance of suspense in a more general sense… why human beings need suspense, and what purpose it serves in our lives. I also couldn’t find the space to include everything I’d encountered regarding suspense as an element in the gaming experience. It occurred to me that some of this could be very useful to us in our work as game makers, so I’d like to share some of these extra ideas in this article.
Every so often, I like to grab some time between music composition gigs to gather together the current general wisdom regarding career strategies for game music composers (since so many of my readers are new to the industry and looking for guidance). In this article, I’ve included some of the stand-out ideas garnered from three online resources – a Gamasutra article by a former audio designer for Rockstar North, an awesome discussion thread on Reddit about effective communication strategies (found in the GameAudio subreddit), and a roundtable discussion at GameSoundCon about best business practices for game audio pros.
Make some noise! Getting a job creating sound and music for videogames
Audio Director Will Morton of Solid Audioworks (formerly a senior audio designer and dialogue supervisor at the famous Rockstar North development studio), has written a comprehensive article for the game industry site Gamasutra about getting jobs in the game audio field. The article, entitled “Make Some Noise! Getting a Job Creating Sound and Music for Videogames,” focuses on the importance of experience, networking and a polished presentation in order to sufficiently impress a potential employer/client. While much of the article is solid advice that might apply to a job seeker in any industry, a few areas impressed me as particularly interesting for game composers to bear in mind.
Welcome back to our three-part discussion of how video game composers (such as ourselves) can make strategy gamers smarter! In these articles, we’re looking at ways in which our music can enhance concentration and tactical decision-making for players engrossed in strategic gameplay. Along the way, I’ve been sharing my personal experiences as the composer for the Dragon Front strategy game for virtual reality. Over the course of these articles we’ll be covering three of the top concepts that pertain to the relationship between music and concentration. In part one, we discussed the concept of ‘music-message congruency,’ so if you haven’t read that article yet, please go check it out and then come back.
Are you back now? Good! Let’s move on to the second big technique for increasing the smarts of strategy gamers!
As video game composers, we create music in a wide variety of tempos designed to support the energy of play and the pacing of the game’s overall design. From leisurely tracks that accompany unstructured exploration to frenetic pieces that support the most high-stakes combat, our music is planned with expert precision to shape the excitement level of players and keep them motivated as they progress.