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Creating Ambiance: How The Right Music Can Improve A Game

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Music has been a part of gaming history almost since its inception. There are few out there who can't at least hum the opening bars of Super Mario Bros. main theme and most would at least recognize the intro to Sonic the Hedgehog or the crystal theme to any of the Final Fantasy games. Music, or the lack of it, can set the tone of the entire experience.

A horror game might place the protagonist in a silent, darkened hallway where only the sounds of his footsteps and labored breathing can be heard, creating an atmosphere of being completely alone. A knocked over paint can followed by an unintelligible chattering can cause the paranoia of being watched set in without having to show anything at all.

Licensed music can have the same effect as original efforts if done properly. One of the last missions of Saints Row the Third presents Bonnie Tyler's "I Need a Hero" in such a way that it matches perfectly with the game's overall satirical and over-the-top tone. Both Borderlands' intros capture the viewer's interest with the first game in particular, setting the pace for the game's irreverent feel. The right song can also give a scene emotional weight, much like in World in Conflict, where Audioslave's "Shadow on the Sun" accompanies a group of marine helicopters attempting to retake Governors Island from the invading Soviet forces.

Best use of licensed music ever.

As games continue to grow as a storytelling medium, it's important that all aspects the experienceare covered. The most amazing action packed set piece can fall flat without an appropriately epic musical score driving the player forward. Likewise, a forgettable moment can be given an extended life by simply choosing the right song to play alongside it. The atmosphere of a game can be completely ruined if something breaks the immersion, pulling the player out of the experience and killing any emotional attachment that might come along with the game. Much like how a good meal can be made exceptional with the right combination of spices, the right music can make a mediocre game better or a fantastic game into something that will truly be remembered.

Steven Brown falls asleep listening to the Skyrim soundtrack every night. You can listen him on Twitter to hear his thoughts on damn near everything.
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About Capitalistpigone of us since 5:48 PM on 02.11.2013

Reach exceeds grasp. Not that I lack skill, I just have small arms.

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