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[C2] The Music Behind Creatures 
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The Nymph (Administrator)
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Post [C2] The Music Behind Creatures
The Music Behind Creatures
Music has an important role to play in any game, setting the mood and giving it a unique atmosphere. In Creatures 2, we put a lot of thought into how the soundtrack would help immerse the player in a particular scene. Music can to some extent compensate for the lack of information to other senses such as smell and touch. It can also impart information about thoughts and characters that is not otherwise evident.

There are two approaches to soundtracks - you either write to accompany the action or you can accompany the emotion of a scene. Think of any Tom and Jerry or Scooby Doo cartoon and the sounds produced - it seems that almost every action is accompanied by an instrument.

The problem with having music accompany the action, is that it soon becomes comical, and so this approach tends to be restricted to cartoons and action movies. One notable exception is the Simpsons cartoon. Alf Clausen, the composer on the Simpsons, set out to "score the emotion, not the action" which he does most effectively.

Help, a Grendel is coming!
In writing the music for Creatures, Peter Chilvers concentrated on composing music that would give all the major areas of Albia a particular atmosphere. Different music would also be heard when particular events happened eg when a Norn is born or dies. Although there are some instances where an action is accompanied by an instrument - think of the bee sting sound - there is very little of this otherwise. It didn't seem right that there was an orchestral stab every time a Grendel hit a Norn. For a start, the noise of the punch is already there, and secondly, it would start to look artificial. However, having the music become slightly darker when the Grendel arrives on the scene and become sadder when the Norn has been punched can help immerse the user into the scene.

Improvising a scene
When Peter started planning the soundtracks, he opted to create generative music - music that is created spontaneously - and Peter chose to use his background in improvised music to create an array of "virtual musicians" that would play along to the action on screen. Each composition in Creatures contains a set of "players", each with their own set of instructions for responding to the mood of the norns on screen (how happy or sad they are), and any threat present (from Grendels or poisonous plants, for example.) These instructions might be of the form "Play more quietly when the norn is sad", or "use harsher sounds when a threat is present".

Peter started out as a classical pianist but later moved into rock and jazz, and this has lead to the mixture of instruments you can hear him playing in the soundtrack: the electric guitar, synthesiser, piano and the Stick (a sort of cross between the piano and the guitar with its own unique properties).

Peter was able to generate much more interesting effects using recorded instruments rather than using General MIDI sounds generated by a soundcard, which can often be quite restrictive. This meant that he could take advantage of the many different ways that a note on a "live" instrument can be played - for example, on a guitar the sound changes greatly depending on the part of the finger used to strike a string, and on a piano when one note is played, all the other strings vibrate too. Also by altering the stereo effects, he could fatten the sound at certain times. The only downside is the size of the soundtrack - at 12Mb it's much larger than you'd get if the same music was generated from MIDI files but for the music buffs out there, I'm sure you can appreciate the difference.

He also made use of feedback loops within the soundtrack. Feedback loops were first experimented with in the 1970s - if any of you can remember Brian Eno, you may be interested to know he composed most of his music then using this method. The idea is that you play a track and record it into RAM (onto a tape back in the 1970s). After about a short while (around 8 seconds in Creatures 2), the loop starts and the original sounds are played back so the composer carries on creating sounds in response to what's gone before.

Creating the soundtracks
Individual soundtracks were generated for the swamp, waterfall, volcano, underwater, terrariums and laboratories. In each area, a particular atmosphere was achieved but on top of this, the music varied according to mood and threat. Behind the scenes, scripts control the music engine and set the volume, panning and interval between notes as the mood and threat changes. When a Norn is lonely or hungry, the mood score is low. Alternatively, when a Norn has just eaten and is happily playing with a toy or with friends, the mood score is high. As the threat level increases so does the volume and you get a sense that something is about to happen.

Before we take a look at the effects created in different areas of Albia, let's find out what happens when a Norn is born or dies. These events trigger a piano piece that is up-beat when the Norn hatches out of an egg but becomes more melancholy as the Norn reaches death. A piano was used in both instances to tie together these important events in a Norn's life.

Sat Jun 21, 2008 11:14 pm
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