Silence is not Golden: Music in Video Games

in Tips and Tricks

There are so many components to every game, and being smaller indie developers, we have to keep them all in mind. We don’t have to be a master of every art in game development, but we do have to be a connoisseur of them. How can we create a cohesive experience if we can’t identify and place each component in the best way and place.

Today though, we will focus on just one part of video games. One we don’t generally discuss much but one that I personally think is grossly underrated. Music.

Many people put off music to the end. Its an afterthought, a thing to just fill in. You can make a good game this way. It is possible. But proper use of good music can make a good game great, and even make a mediocre game enjoyable.

Think back to some of your favorite games. Do you think that the finale of Final Fantasy VII would be the same without One Winged Angel? Or that you would have been affected as much without Aerith’s Theme?

Writing can elicit emotions, but the context of video games really prevents you from using them as the driver of emotional immersion for the player. In a novel, you can describe the heartbreak of a character, you can describe the smell of a rose, the sounds of bustling city.

Video games, with the exception of text adventures, don’t really have the kind of narration for this. That is where music comes in. Music can invoke fear, happiness, or even emotions as specific as claustrophobia and disorientation! Think about how a game like Silent Hill can make you feel uneasy just from the slightly eerie sounds of the music.

A popular example of course, is how one specific song makes EVERYTHING funny. Don’t believe me? Just try it out by clicking here. (I’ve taken the opportunity to load up some video that really shouldn’t be funny).

Music can also invoke other themes. Have a character who is a little bit high tech? Accompany his entrances with a slightly more electronic/techno sound than the rest of the soundtrack and it makes him a lot more memorable. You can also use it to evoke certain cultures, evoking Gaelic, Asian, or Arabian sounds in your music to make certain locations have more of the FEEL you are looking for.

Video game music is all about feel. Atmosphere and emotion and themes. It is the key to immersing players even further. Don’t ignore this wonderful portion of video games.

Have your own thoughts on video game music? Just want to share your favorite game soundtracks? Or even composers? Don’t be shy about commenting below to tell us about them.

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  • Georges

    Some of my favorite music comes from the Final Fantasy series and Chrono Trigger. Theme of Love (FF4), Battle on the Big Bridge (FF5), Battle with Magus (Chrono Trigger) just to name a few that I personally love. Amazing songs that captured the moment they were playing.

    Another great one from FF4 would be “Sorrow and Loss”. Whenever something sad happened, this song kicks in and drives that feeling of sadness home: Tellah dying after casting Meteo. Yang sacrificing himself to stop the cannons in the Tower of Bab-il. Cecil washing up on shore near Mysidia, thinking everyone is dead. These moments would not have been nearly as sad if “Sorrow and Loss” had not been playing and would not have left such an impression on me in my earlier years.

  • Music has a very good idea behind it to make certain feelings occur at certain situations, but I have come to known that sometimes silence can be very effective as well.

    • Silence at the right time can be really great. I can think of a few points in some of the RE games where things go REALLY silent and it works. The point is it still has to be very intentional.