I was reading an article on Rock Paper Scissors – an interview with Jesper Kyd, Jack Wall and Jason Graves on the development of game music – but a post in the comments section got me thinking…

OK – I have to say I’m a fan of orchestral music in games – but I think I’m fairly biased as I’m a composer who appreciates that kinda stuff. It’s a series of ‘Oh, I see what you did there… nice one’ moments when I listen to a score. For someone who is just a regular gamer – they aren’t applauding the composer’s unique french horn voicing – they are trying to play the damn game, and get immersed.

Here’s the comment that got me thinking:

MikoSquiz said:

Everything’s orchestral now, by default. Space shooter? Symphony orchestra. Cyberpunk RPG? Symphony orchestra. Medieval adventure game? Symphony orchestra. Farming sim? Symphony orchestra (well, maybe not that one). I have a hard time remembering which music goes to which game, if I can even remember a tune. You get the occasional Skyrim main theme or the like, but really, the memorable stuff almost always has “hey, it’s not a symphony orchetra” on its side.

The first things that come to my mind as standing out positively from relatively recently besides Hotline Miami and Bastion are Terraria and Mass Effect’s bleepy bloopy side – I’m sure Mass Effect had plenty of string sections stuck in for the big dramatic moments, but I honestly don’t remember them at all. In one ear and out the other.

What orchestral music in a game says is “we just hit ‘enter’ through those options on the game design spreadsheet”, now. It’s the safe, default, let’s-just-throw-money-at-it choice.

So when it comes to awesome game music – what do regular gamers ACTUALLY think of as unique and memorable? All those Video Game Music concerts that to the world tours every year train us to think it’s those really EPIC scores with full orchestra, and then some. And sure – it’s good music! We wouldn’t go and listen if we didn’t like it. But interestingly – after MikoSquiz’s comment – I now think of certain games that I have found so very memorable, that didn’t rely on a 200-piece orchestra to deliver the goods – one that instantly comes to mind is Machinarium (composed by Tomas Dvorak). Or Monkey Island (Michael Land). Maybe they are different kinds of games – but perhaps we box things into categories too much. Who knows?!

That comment was a wake-up call to the fact that scores can’t just be boring generic filler – they have to do something unique and memorable; and that might not mean loading up the orchestral template as a default. It might mean finding a new palette of instruments to play with, and thinking outside that cliched box.

Let’s up the ante game composers! Let’s get original!

Question: What qualities do you think makes for a unique and memorable game score?

-s

[The original article can be found here: http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2013/01/11/behind-the-sounds-game-musics-orchestral-revolution/]