Thursday, 12 February 2009

If music be the food of games then play on.

Hmmm, sound in games is tricky as I tend to play most games muted with my own music blaring in the background. I do this for a variety of reasons -
1. The music is repetitive and boring
2. The music is distracting
3. I just plain don’t like it
But more often than not I mute it because it scares me less.

This is usually the case within fps games, I like playing them but they scare the shit out of me. There is nothing worse than creepy music and the sounds of some monster chasing you down a corridor. So if I mute the game there is no creepy music or sounds of monsters chasing me down corridors.
But then I guess it means that the music is effective as the purpose of it is to create suspense and make the game more thrilling.

However I tend to enjoy the music more in strategy games and RPG’s.
Games such as Age of Empires II was quite possibly the defining game music of my childhood. I adored it. Unfortunately the poor specs of my pc back then meant I yet again had to mute the music and was just left with the sounds of my humble villagers.

Going back earlier, my first game music memories come from the Sega and Sinclair. Manic Miner on the Spectrum Sinclair had the most repetitive loop of music ever that was fun to begin with but the monophonic-nursery rhyme eventually drove me insane and it couldn’t be muted as it blared out from a very ancient cassette player.

The Sega Megadrive, however, had some of the best game music ever, so good, that in most cases I didn’t mute it. Micro-machines, Golden Axe and Mega-lo-mania had awesome music that was well sited to the game and improved the overall gaming experience.
But the best game music of my life so far easily has to Sonic the Hedgehog. The music and sounds to the original sonic have become infamous themselves, a defining sound that is instantly recognised by all. Let’s put it this way, I have never muted a game of Sonic … ever!

The level of importance of music in a game depends on it’s genre. Sound in needed in fps games to pinpoint enemies, RPG’s need atmospheric music and dialogue. Some series of games need to keep to a loved style such as Final Fantasy games.

Music is important as it sets the scene and creates suspense. A definitive piece of game music can make a break the popularity of a game. Classic, unforgettable games such as Tetris, Super Mario and Sonic have epic, memorable theme music that will be with us always.

But then some games rely on pre-released music such as GTA, Saints Row, Motorstorm etc. within games such as Grand Theft Auto, the player can cycle through radio stations of popular music, most racing games also include this feature. So not all memorable games have their own composed music as I will always associated Billy Idol’s ‘White Wedding’ with GTA San Andreas.

Whether we notice it or not music is a key aspect of games. We may mute it or love it but it’s what makes up our individual gaming experience.

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Hmmmm....Game Engines

I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed and so when it comes to how things work I usually turn a blind eye. So actually looking into how games work is proving quite a challenge.

I’ve heard of game engines, don’t get me wrong. I would regularly be playing games with my friends and whilst I was easily amused by the colour of my characters shoes, my friends would be in an in-depth discussion about the game engine and it’s physics. Now by this point I would have groaned, rolled my eyes and pleaded with them to stop being geeky and get back to playing the game. But just recently I’ve realised how important the game engine is.

Being an artist I’ve only ever focused on the concept work and the graphics. But without the game engine there would be no game. A game engine is the software system used to create a game. It programs key factors such as AI animation, lighting, shaders and physics.

There are many game engines been used but the major ones that most people have heard of include Cryengine, Source and Unreal. Now when looking at their own websites and specs most of them brag about dynamic lighting and real-time editing but what advantages do these big name engines have over the smaller companies.

Now most fps games tend to use the same game engines, which is good news for the bigger companies, but sadly not so good for the smaller developers.
Many of the smaller game developers are struggling to produce new big title games as they can’t afford to buy the game engine technology that many other games share.

However to develop their own game engine is too complex and expensive which causes the smaller companies to struggle within the industry. This then means that the bigger companies are gaining control of the market which may lead to a decline in the quality of games as there is less competition.

But for the companies that are able to develop their own game engine technology, it gives them a chance to put a unique edge to their games, increasing the popularity, desirability and sales.

So with the hype of the next-gen games, we could possibly see two major outcomes within the industry. Either a decline in the quality of games or an increase in the experimental approach to the gameplay and physics.