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When less is more in game music

Composer Andrew High has an issue with game music -- that it isn't handled more like film music, and used to punctuate games and their emotional content rather than to layer them with constant sound, and in a new feature, asks why.
In an extensive feature on how games use -- and misuse, in his opinion -- music, composer Andrew High points out one important fact: "Movies, television, and games certainly don't require a wall-to-wall score." His argument? "The score can often have far more impact if it is present only when it is needed." He draws a comparison to film: "Think about the opening battle scene in Saving Private Ryan, the invasion of Normandy. Throughout that 20-minute battle sequence there is only one tiny section with music: when the camera briefly dips under the water in a bit of a body-count shot. That little shred actually brings attention to the fact that there isn't any sound elsewhere in the scene that isn't the visceral sound of major battle." Films, he says, have "yet to realize" this, by and large, but they're sometimes getting there. "Lack of music can also build tension, especially when it is released properly." The video embedded above is what High calls a "great example" from Gears of War (warning: some NSFW language in the clip.) "There is no music at all until a full minute in, and when it comes in it's a barely-perceptible string pad to simply build the tension a little more," High writes. "And then, 20 seconds later, release. The score continues its minimalism after that, but it's a good example of how very few lines can be used to good effect." For more examples of what film can teach game composers, and what games do it right -- and wrong -- read High's full feature, live now on Gamasutra.

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