There is something strange going on in games for me. I’m not sure quite how to pinpoint it, but certain games essentially require their own music to even be a viable alternative to picking fluff from my belly button, whereas others I can quite happily chuck my own stuff from winamp over the top and enjoy it just as much. When I was thinking about this article I initially thought this was just a singleplayer/multiplayer divide, but it’s not. At all.
Music is pretty important to me. Perhaps more so than the average gamer, but I still think that, at least subconsciously, everyone appreciates it on the same level. It makes that last push up the hill in Medal of Honour that much more dramatic and heroic. It makes walking around the corner in Condemned a thing of utter terror rather than a cold calculated move. Music in games has come a long way; from the 2d scroller where it was just a track on loop to the procedural stuff we see today, different tracks triggered by different actions.
But when I try to figure out why some in game music matters to me and some doesn’t, I think it’s the nature of the game itself that determines it. Team Fortress 2, for instance, essentially has no in game music, and as such I must supply my own. That, in itself, works wonderfully, as I can pick the music to suit my mood, and go running around as a pyro to ragtime, or pick a sniper with some Eluvium droning in the background. I can’t be sure the developers had that in mind at the time, but it certainly seems rather well thought out. They could easily have thrown in some faux-50s spy music in there, but instead you’re given a blank canvas to fill with your notes.
On the other hand, and keeping to a multiplayer game, just so the example is sound, something like Left 4 Dead I would never consider playing my own music over the top of. Perhaps it’s because it’s essentially a survival horror and as such anything in my library wouldn’t suit it, but it’s much more likely to be the fact that a big part of the game is being scared to the degree where your trousers start to smell. So no matter what music I pick, it’s never going to lead me into a scare, or pound me with battle music. No, for something like that I need to rely on the in game music.
If you are clamouring for single player examples, then on the one hand you have something like Fallout 3 where the music is essentially a peripheral, thrown in as a radio alternative. For that I’ve got no issues firing up my music player and listening to what I want. But if you were to look at something like Call of Duty 4, where it’s an extremely cinematic format, then you need to stick with the program.
And I think that’s it. If the game is a cinematic, semi-scripted event where you’re constantly fighting and sticking to how the developers wanted you to play the game, then the music is essential for you to enjoy the experience they made for you. On the other hand, in something a bit more freeform, both in style and play, it doesn’t matter if you whack on The Wurzels and jaunty your way to the end of the level.
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