The Musical Box #03: Breaking the Silence

The Musical Box features 30 articles focusing on game music production and implementation. Edition #3: Red Dead Redemption

On this edition of The Musical Box, I'm going to explore a particular musical moment from one of the most incredible games released for this generation: Red Dead Redemption.

This article is not supposed to be a review, but it's impossible to write about this game without mentioning how awesome it is. The gameplay is similar to GTA: you spend many hours in an open world completing various quest and subquests. Production values are extremely high: graphics, music, SFX, and story are so well crafted that you really feel like you are in the old west. In short, Red Dead Redemption is an amazing experience, even for those who don't like open world games.

If you haven't played the game, keep in mind that this article contains spoilers.

The Set-up

Released in 2010 by Rockstar games, Read Dead Redemption is a spiritual successor to Red Dead Revolver. You play as John Marston, a "retired" outlaw who is trying to live a decent, honest life with his wife and son. Everything changes when government agents ask for Marston’s help apprehending the same outlaws he was once involved with. Ironic, isn't it?

The music in this game is incredible. As mentioned before, it perfectly matches the theme and the environment. Because of the open world gameplay style, Rockstar's approach to music is clever: it's only triggered during certain events and cutscenes. Most of the time, you are surrounded by ambient sound effects. This aesthetic direction makes you feel alone, isolated and abandoned. Your only companion is your horse and your guns.

Until you reach Nuevo Paradiso, that is.

The Moment

After a fierce battle, you cross the river and reach a new area in the game. This happens after several hours of gameplay once you are already accustomed to the sound of the environment and the sparse use of music. But everything changes when you mount your horse and start to discover this Spanish-speaking region.

A song starts to play... A beautiful song, called "Far Away", composed and performed by José González.

Songs with vocals and lyrics are rarely used during gameplay, mainly because they may diminish the player’s immersion in the game. But in this particular case, Rockstar did a terrific job, and the result is astonishing. Not only is the song incredible, but it also matches the atmosphere perfectly and greatly enhances immersion and the feeling of loneliness. See the moment below.



The Impact

This may sound weird, but even though I am a composer, I value silence. Silence, when used wisely, can have a huge impact. To the same degree, even, that good music can. When you play a silent game, musical events have the potential to be very significant, even when subtle music is played.

You play Red Dead Redemption for many hours with sparse music until you reach the aforementioned memorable moment. When you do, you would normally expect another great silent environment to explore. However, Rockstar and José González surprised gamers and broke the silence of Red Dead Redemption when they chose to implement this beautiful, unforgettable musical moment in one of the top game experiences of this generation.

Check out another performance of "Far Away" by José González.

Special thanks: Gilliard Lopes, Rafael Kuhnen, Fernando Secco, Sandro Tomasetti, and Rafael Martins (Sommastudio).

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