Exploring Indie Game Music

Aug 28, 2017 | 0 comments

 

I love how progressive and dynamic game music/game audio is – and the constant flux and advancements keep pushing you as a composer to stay ahead of the (pun coming up) – game and create new and interesting compositions to keep your audiences engaged. Indie Games are a genre of games that showcase amazing talent and some truly cutting edge audio. Let’s look a closer look at this genre-

Indie Games really became popular round about 2011/12. Some small game studios developed and released their own games, and they were so highly addictive and popular that it spurred on this Indie Game movement. Before this revolution, many developers thought you had to go and work with a big studio to be successful as a game developer until they realised the beauty of producing a game themselves or as part of a small team. Not only could they make their own game, but these games had the potential to be huge successes. Platforms like STEAM and the Humble Bundles have helped push and grow the movement by giving the little guy a platform to sell to their audiences.

Before this revolution, many developers thought you had to go and work with a big studio to be successful as a game developer until they realised the beauty of producing a game themselves or as part of a small team.

So, the rise of Indie Games has not only introduced us to some awesome games regarding development or graphics, but there are also some stellar composers born from the movement. The crazy cool soundtracks, I believe, can often be attributed to the close communication required with small teams, driven by a common passion to develop something for more than a paycheck. Another reason I’m so fascinated with this scene is that a lot of these Indie Games remind me of games that I used to play when I first got my hands on some video games – gotta love the power of nostalgia!

Here are some of my favorites. Give them a spin, check out their game functionality and then also take a close look at how the sound and music help enhance the experience of these games. By playing games, you’ll get a better understanding of music’s role, game functionality and what makes a great game, well, great. If you want to get into the Game Music World, start researching with some hands on gaming!

I’m sure everyone has their own flavour of games they like, but hopefully, you’ll find these as inspiring as I have –

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By far my favourite indie game is Fez.

 

Developed by Phil Fish and Renaud Bedard, Fez was released through Polytron in 2012. It’s a 2D platform-style game, with a 3D component. When you press the keys A and D and swivels the world around giving this 2D world a 3D flavour and also creates some interesting puzzle solving conundrums.

This game reminds me of some of the old school NES games and what’s even better is that the composer Rich Vreeland (also known as Disasterpiece), has produced an awesome chiptune style soundtrack to compliment the retro look of the game. These songs have been beautifully composed and arranged, and enhance the game experience. And even better I see that Rich is a Logic user (one of my favourite DAWs), and used the Massive synth (and one of my favourite software synths) quite extensively on this soundtrack. So it’s inspiring to know that these are tools within a music composer’s grasp.

 

Another favourite Indie Game of mine is Limbo.
 

This is quite a dark, haunting side-scroller puzzle game released by PlayDead games. The player has to guide a little boy through dangerous environments and traps to get to his lost sister and be careful; there’s some creepy and scary stuff around. It appears to be a simple greyscale 2D game, but the graphics and visual game movement give it an awesome modern feel.

There isn’t really music to this game. It’s more about the ambient background sounds composed by Martin Stig Andersen that create the dark, sombre mood. It’s a great game to play to hear how the ambient background places you in a particular space, and how the sound effects add to the experience of the game. Andersen’s use of pads and sound effects create this lonely, dark world and the minimal sound palette really adds to the level of game immersion.

 

Andersen’s use of pads and sound effects create this lonely, dark world and the minimal sound palette really adds to the level of game immersion.

 

 

Thomas Was Alone, is also another super simple game that reminds me of my old 80s and 90s favourites.

 
 

 

Created by Mike Bithel, the main character, Thomas, is a simple red square, and he needs to roam his world and find other shapes, like squares, triangles and circles to help him solve puzzles. The music was composed by BAFTA nominated composer, David Housden. It’s a combination of acoustic and electronic instruments playing very simple melodies and phrases, but don’t let the simplicity fool you – they’re super catchy. It feels like you’ll be humming the lines forever after a game play.

The game has amazing dialogue that accompanies it voiced by Danny Wallace. His voice gives this basic red object an actual character. You start developing feelings for this little red block, and the dialogue helps guide you so that you can progress in the game.

 

 

The game has amazing dialogue that accompanies it voiced by Danny Wallace. His voice gives this basic red object an actual character.

My favourite game on iOS is Monument Valley.
 
 

With its use of Escher style architectural puzzle solving and stunning almost dreamy graphics, Monument Valley will have you hooked as you try to navigate the changing and warping architectural paths.

The composer, Stafford Bawler, has written beautiful pieces that complement the amazing graphics. Plus, he has used some simple but interesting ways to use music scales to solve puzzles. For example, the one part in the game, as you match up a piece in the path it plays a different harp note in a scale. So it’s musically pleasing and helps you solve the puzzle.

With its use of Escher style architectural puzzle solving and stunning almost dreamy graphics, Monument Valley will have you hooked as you try to navigate the changing and warping architectural paths.

So what draws me to these games? Yes, the nostalgia of my 80s childhood, but couple that with the beautifully composed and thought out soundtracks – and I’m hooked. These Indie Games make me want to compose and play, and play and compose – catch 22 – which one first?

I have to be honest, when I got into game music production, I stopped playing games for a while as my addiction was the music software itself. But (thankfully) the Indie Game movement revitalised my interest in games, plus I heard some great new composers through the game, which I now listen to on a regular basis. With all the niche markets in the game music industry, there are so many possibilities for composers to get creative!

So take a play through some of these games. Get inspired by Fez’s chiptune style soundtrack. Take a listen to ambient backgrounds with Limbo. See how interesting dialogue can be in a seemingly simple game like Thomas Was Alone. And see how musical scales and theory can be used in gameplay like Monument Valley.

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* If you notice  that any of the youtube links have broken please do let me know. Images copyright the respective game designers.