The Sound Of No Music - DJH Blog - www.GameInformer.com
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The Sound Of No Music

 

There are multiple elements to video games that help compose them into suitable forms of entertainment. The top two being story and combat. Generally one can outshine the other, but if blended perfectly, they can make a masterpiece of a game. However, there is one aspect to games that can be easily overlooked. The Soundtrack.

I had acquired the Bastion soundtrack before I got my hands on a copy of the game. it is, by far, the best soundtrack for any game or movie I have ever heard before. After familiarizing myself with it, I managed to snag my own copy of the game. After playing, it brought a smile ot my face listening to the tracks I was used to. However, as I played, the game utilized each song differently than i had expected them to. But it got me to thinking about the game itself, and how the music in the game plays perfectly with the situations at hand. Muting the TV for about 10 minutes, I had to turn it back on. The game didn't feel right without the music. Which got me to wondering about other games, and how their soundtrack affects them.

After some consideration, I decided to ask for some help with the following experiment. I picked out 3 games, all very different from each other. Skyrim, Mass Effect, and Left Behind

 

I decided to helm Skyrim myself, before assigning anyone else to my project, to see for myself if it would work or not.

Where else to test the music of Skyrim than the beginning prologue to the game. Going through the dialogue and character creation, I noticed the background music. It sounded nice and calm, despite being sent ot my death  I keep along with the game, until the dragon shows up, interrupting your precious head about to be sliced off. As he arrives, the music changes appropriately, making sound like all hell is breaking loose, giving you a desperation for escape. It remains like this throughout most of the prologue, except the situations you are not in danger. When you are safe, the music goes back to a sweet somber sound. When combat arrives, the music changes tot  hat same desperation mood.

After finishing the prologue, I turn off the music completely, but I leave everything else on. Restarting the game, I go through exactly what I did before. The sweet sound I heard before was gone, but it wasn't that noticeable. it actually felt appropriate for the situation. Going through the motion, when the dragon attacks, is when things got eery.  Before, the music of his attack overcame everything else, the sound of the thunder int he sky, the sound of fireballs reigning down, the villagers screaming, and the dragon himself talking. This time, I heard everything. And it was vastly different, being able to hear all those little things that I could not before.

When I thought I was in safety, I realized I was not. I had utilized the sound of the music changing to alert me to enemies attacking. All I could hear was the sound of my blade striking my foes, and their cries as I cut them down. It never dawned on me that I used the music to my advantage during combat situations so much before. So when I went through the rest of the prologue, it changed the mood of the game.

 

Orochisama LEVON, Spectre was the first I asked to help out, giving him Mass Effect to try. Here's his take:

I decided to play the first Mass Effect and chose the first time players arrived on Ilos as my test. Since it was most memorable, I felt it was an excellent choice, given the first entry in the series had a more nuanced approach sonically than the latter two which regularly boasted high production value.

Initially playing it without music naturally makes the level seem like a run-of-the-mill mission, possibly a sidequest. At the most it could just be another location in the main quest. Of course, the absence of music does bring an intensity to the experience since you inevitably are focusing on the severity of those attacks while geths chirp, but I could argue that it takes context to really appreciate this mission and understand why it's so important.

When the score is added however, the experience shines and the drama of the event is candidly communicated. This level firmly established Mass Effect as its own unique science fiction universe with music that constantly reminded me of classic sci fi film themes - Terminator being an obvious one. You knew with the subdued rhythm constantly bearing down upon you with a subdued beat echoing in the background that you were at the point of no return. The sound effects are a complementary bonus that doesn't intrude but nonetheless are not necessary to convey this immediacy; the music adds this weight all on its own.

 

I got GIO Mojomonkey12 to help me out with my little experiment. Here is his section:

Little bit of housekeeping first! I am very honored to be a part of DJ’s blog! I love that guy.


When he asked me to participate(many have asked, few don’t regret it), he wanted me to pick between Bioshock and The Last of Us, he instructed me to play through about 4 hours of the game with all sound effects, including music, enabled, and then turn off only the music.  He wanted me to describe how it impacted my gameplay experience.  So I did. It didn’t. The Last of Us will always be amazing, even if I had to play it deaf and blind, in addition to already being dumb. But, I digress, as I can still play a mean pinball.  I realized I had played The Last of Us so many times, that it didn’t matter, the music was always there in my head. I even tried listening to different music; if you haven’t listened to Imagine Dragons while playing TLoU, missing out is an understatement.  So I was about to admit defeat, beg David for mercy, and face the bitter truth: I am biased towards TLoU and cannotdo anything regarding that game objectively.  So I did the next best thing. I used Left Behind as a sample.

When the greatest DLC ever to come out released on Valentine’s day, I cancelled all 11 of my dates and decided to stay home and try and salvage this blog with DJ, before I had to tell him why I was stalling.  So I played through it as he instructed, paying attention to the music(check out the OST).  As much as I want to totally fanmojo over LB, that isn’t what this blog is supposed to be about, if it were, I’d list my top 25 favorite moments in Left Behind, as a nod to our most accomplished top 25 writer we’ve ever known(it’s DJ).

So anyway, there isn’t much to say about the normal playthrough. I mean the musicof The Last of Us is among my favorite video game soundtracks ever, it fit perfectly. Though the content of much of LB, made for some different music than the game proper(I love saying game proper this week).   But the other thing I noticed, is that the background music doesn’t play as much as I thought it might, at least not when I was consciously listening for it.  It’s hard to really juxtapose the difference for ya’ll here, without going into spoiler territtory, or suddenly becoming a talented writer.  The former will happen much sooner, I assure you.  Essentially, there were more upbeat moments in Left Behind than in TLoU, so it made for a bit of a different flavor in some of the music. It fit well, of course.

Now that the easy part was over, it was time to tackle the real task at hand.  I played the entirety of Left Behind again, as instructed, without the music on.  I then went back and played certain sections with the music on, and with it off.

Overwhelmingly, I noticed the difference in the Riley segments more than the solo segments.  The solo Ellie portion of the game(it bounces from Riley/Ellie to Ellie alternately), wasn’t any different than playing the main game without the music,because it was really just some fill in for the main game, stuff we already knew most of the details and outcome for, though that part was still great.

When Riley and Ellie were together, perhaps it was my unfamiliarity, or simply that Ihad played that portion less, so to speak, I could totally notice the difference, keeping in mind I would play the same chapter back to back at this point, one with music on, one with off.  There is a part when Riley shows Ellie around an abandoned mall, they had both been before, but this time Riley managed to power the place, it was magical, including all of the very often subtle music that played, but didn’t drown out those amazing moments between Riley and Ellie.  The game let’s you play for long periods of time without much background music, it shows up more in the cutscenes than anything, and it was also where it was the most noticeably missed.  I didn’t like it without the music much, is there a chance I could come to beas familiar with LB as I am TLoU? Uh, duh, of course I’m going to play it more, and I fully expect to notice the music less and less each time.  However, the more I think about it, I sincerely feel this would ring true for me with any videogame, especially those I have endured and survived the most.  Had I chose Bioshock, the outcome would likely have been the same. I need to try this experiment the other way around.  A brand new game, IP would be better, and START with the music off.  I think that would have a more profound impact on me, individually.

Also, I usually play with a decent headset, so I’m used to having that music right in my ear. Whatever that means.

I’m not sure that I would ever find myself in a situation where I play games other than Flappy Bird without the music on, by choice.  Background music in a game can be very powerful, and it no doubt is in both TLoU and Bioshock; there does come a time, where the music just becomes engrained in your noggin, and you just know what is playing, even if it isn’t.   I’ve listened to the soundtracks of both of these games so many times, it’s like when you can know your favorite song by the time the first note is played on the radio.  It’s just instinctual.Every now and then, that so familiar song comes on the radio, and you are singing along, and then suddenly it’s a new remix, but you don’t know how it goes. That’s how playing Left Behind felt with the music off, but, like any other song, once you hear it, you remember it the next time. It’s not a bad thing, but for me, I’m keeping the default music settings…unless they are obnoxiously unbalanced.

 

It's interesting how different each game is when you remove the music element. It helps add to the game, or it's just there for fun. Sometimes like my experience with Skyrim, the game was a lot more fun and dark without it.

Major thanks to Mojo and Levon for participating.

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