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Immersion into Fantasy: Compositional Techniques of Video Game Music from the Late 80s and Early 90s

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Immersion into Fantasy: Compositional Techniques of Video Game Music from the Late 80s and Early 90s

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This is the slideshow for the 2015 Spring Meeting of the American Musicological Society held at the Juilliard School of Music. It includes hyperlinks, audio, and video examples.

This presentation explores the extent to which video game music promotes fantasy-play through dynamic shifts in mood and tension caused by player actions.
The diversity of sonorities and musical patterns within the scope of primitive sound chips is a result of technical ingenuity through collaborations of composers and sound programmers.
This aids in the total immersion of the player in the game-generated world.

This is the slideshow for the 2015 Spring Meeting of the American Musicological Society held at the Juilliard School of Music. It includes hyperlinks, audio, and video examples.

This presentation explores the extent to which video game music promotes fantasy-play through dynamic shifts in mood and tension caused by player actions.
The diversity of sonorities and musical patterns within the scope of primitive sound chips is a result of technical ingenuity through collaborations of composers and sound programmers.
This aids in the total immersion of the player in the game-generated world.

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Immersion into Fantasy: Compositional Techniques of Video Game Music from the Late 80s and Early 90s

  1. 1. Immersion into Fantasy: Compositional Techniques of Video Game Music from the Late 80s and Early 90s ● A Presentation for the American Musicological Society ● By Dr. Christopher Hopkins, Five Towns College Faculty
  2. 2. Goals ● This presentation explores the extent to whichvideo game music promotes fantasy-play through dynamic shifts in mood and tension caused by player actions. ● The diversity of sonorities and musical patterns within the scope of primitive sound chips is a result of technical ingenuity through collaborations of composers and sound programmers. ● This aids in the total immersion of the player in the game-generated world.
  3. 3. Dissertation ● Chiptune Music: An Exploration of Compositional Techniques as Found in Sunsoft Games for the Nintendo Entertainment System and Famicom from 1988-1992 – How did the composers at Sunsoft overcome the limitations of the sound chips to create compelling sounds and effects? – This dissertation defines and acknowledges the compositional tradition of this genre during the 8- bit gaming era.
  4. 4. Video Games ● Fantasy through graphics – Hardware limits color choices, amount of visual content on-screen at any given time Final Fantasy 2 Contra
  5. 5. Video Games ● Fantasy through audio – Memory and hardware specifications limit timbres, volume gradients, simultaneous sounds ● NES/Famicom – 5 sound channels ● 2 pulse, 1 triangle, 1 noise, 1 sampled 12.5% Pulse 25% Pulse 50% Pulse Triangle Sampled Noise
  6. 6. 5 Sound Channels
  7. 7. Compositional Techniques ● Focus on melody ● Reuse musical motives – Rhythmic – Melodic – Harmonic – Micro & Macro ● Variation through – Duty cycles – Tempo – Key – Meter – Dynamics – Articulation
  8. 8. Artificial Reverberation ● Simulate a more convincing physical soundscape with two sound channels desynced ● PROS – The part has a denser tone more indicative of acoustics ● CONS – Instrumentation is sparse
  9. 9. Batman (1990) ● Takes place in the world from the 1989 movie with Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson ● “Ending” – Top of cathedral to street level – No more actions from player required – Relief, inner peace, completion, no fanfare Melody w/ reverb Melody w/o reverb Full
  10. 10. Batman (1990) ● Video of Ending Scene
  11. 11. Looping ● Compose music such that sections transition smoothly at the loop point ● PROS – Good balance between memory and musical content – Accounts for music of variable length in gameplay ● CONS – Limits amount of musical development – End of track dictated by player action
  12. 12. Ufouria: the Saga (1992) ● Bop-Louie is in search of his three friends who have amnesia and were abducted by an alien and a robot ● “Boss 1” – Arena setting – First large enemy fight with endurance and attack strategy – Danger, excitement, agitation Melody Full
  13. 13. Ufouria: the Saga (1992) ● Video of First Boss Fight
  14. 14. Arpeggiation ● Cycle through 2 or more notes on one sound channel ● PROS – Frees up other sound channels ● CONS – Needs to be moderate to fast as harmony – Not as effective for slow tracks
  15. 15. Mega Man 9 (2008) ● As Mega Man, a robotic man, fight through a robot army to prove your creator's innocence ● “Galaxy Man” – Takes place in outer space – UFO enemies, teleporters – Futuristic, technological, digital, out of this world Arpeggiation Alone Full
  16. 16. Mega Man 9 (2008) ● Video of Galaxy Man Stage
  17. 17. Samples ● Record and use original sounds – Sound effects – Grunts, moans, – Percussion hits ● NES/Famicom can repitch samples on the PCM channel short voiceovers Sampled bass Sampled orchestra hit Sampled percussion
  18. 18. Shovel Knight (2014) ● Chiptunes are still used for a game-infused fantasy backdrop ● Armed with only a shovel, dig and battle your way against creatures, dragons, and knights to find and rescue your fellow knight ● “Plains – Stage 1” – Outdoors, nature, thematic – Needs to be engaging to encourage play
  19. 19. Shovel Knight (2014) ● Video of First Stage
  20. 20. Conclusion ● Video game music, specifically chiptunes, enlivens and supports the fantasy world of the game ● Composers and sound programmers worked out the best practices to simulate a more realistic aural world ● Player interaction with audio responses promote immersion and continued play
  21. 21. Questions? ● Dr. Christopher Hopkins – www.christopherjhopkins.com – chopkins@liu.edu

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