Feature: 'Defining Adaptive Music'

In this latest exclusive Gamasutra feature, seasoned audio programmer Andrew Clark (Full Auto series) attempts to define adaptive music for games, as he cites examples like Luc
In this latest exclusive Gamasutra feature, seasoned audio programmer Andrew Clark (Full Auto series, Pseudo Interactive) attempts to define adaptive music for games. In doing so, Clark cites a wide range of examples, including Lucas Arts’ patented iMUSE music engine used in early titles such as the X-Wing PC series, as well as later efforts such as Ubisoft's Rainbow Six 3. In this excerpt, Clark takes a broad looks at the term “adaptive music,” and discusses just why this seemingly uncomplicated term is in actuality much more difficult to define than one might assume: “What is adaptive music?” is one of those questions like: “What is music?” or “What is art?” Everyone takes for granted that they know what art is – until they show up to the first day of Art History 101 and their professor asks the class to define it. As it turns out, it is almost impossible to define music without referencing preexisting notions of music. “Rhythmic patterns of notes” seems plausible at first… except that some cultures’ music doesn’t have any kind of concept of rhythm, and others’ don’t recognize pitch – let alone notes. “Organized patterns of sound in time” is better in the sense that it is less culture-specific. After all, organization is subjective. (For instance, the way that I like to organize my living space drives my wife mental. And vice versa.) On the other hand, “patterns” implies repetition, and some musical traditions are organized around strictly non-repetitive, organic growth. More importantly, the definition doesn’t differentiate music and, well, speech. Hmm. To a certain extent, we simply know what music is because we grew up in a musical culture. And, in general, unless you’re into ethnomusicology or philosophy, that’s about all you need to know; a formal definition is not really that useful. “Adaptive music” is different – a formal definition really is that useful. You did not grow up with an innate cultural understanding of this concept. If you want more than a superficial glimpse of its essential nature, you’re going to have to dig. “ You can now read the full Gamasutra feature with much more from Clark as he defines adaptive music in video games, and how Mozart was an early music game innovator (no registration required, please feel free to link to this column from external websites).

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