The player takes the baton | Masters 2022

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  The player takes the baton

Princess Peach is in danger. Mario scampers through eight worlds to a catchy, upbeat tune to save her from Bowser. Button A: jump on a pipe. Down arrow: go through it. The little red cap plumber appears in an underground stage. The music changes. The tension and humidity of the depths seep between the notes. Time runs out and the melody speeds up. A tower appears to the right of the screen, all you have to do is hoist the flag and you will have passed another level. Without realizing it, the player has decided the final soundtrack of the video game with his movements.



Take one path or another. Kill a hundred enemies or flee the scene. In a video game, all actions add or remove layers of music from the melody to guide the player. The music reacts to the game, something that, explains the orchestrator and sound artist Isabel Royán, is essential for immersion: “It has to give the feeling that you really live it”. The character walks badly wounded through a forest, if he approaches a dangerous area, percussion is added to the song; if he approaches a medicine cabinet, violins.



Faced with the linearity and simultaneity of movies, where the scenes always start and end at the same point, the creators of soundtracks for video games have learned to adapt to the multiple possible outcomes. Winifred Phillips, American author of award-winning scores such as those of God of War either LittleBigPlanet, has been composing music for video games for almost 20 years. “We have a responsibility to build this new world that appears on the screen by creating a unique atmosphere,” he says. He sees a key change in the industry: Soundtracks now have an easier time reacting organically and naturally to what the player is doing.



The increase in the capacity of memory cards increased the complexity of the pieces. Pepe Pérez, musician and composer, was inspired by the first songs that were born with the Tetris either mario bros for mobile game sotbot. “In the ’90s, they only had three audio tracks where they could add melody, a chord, and drums,” he says. At just 2 megabytes, a Game Boy cartridge contained programming, graphics, and music. The console’s sound chip was 8-bit in size (smallest storage unit). Óscar Senén, conductor at Assassin’s Creed either FIFA 2019compares: “For one minute of current music, 80 cartridges would be needed”.



Not all of the musical result resides in the innocent hand of the player. Eduardo de la Iglesia, composer of more than 60 soundtracks for video games, took a year and a half to build the music that accompanies Call of the Sea, a video game about Norah, a woman searching for her kidnapped husband on an island. “Normally I make a main theme and from that timbre I create the rest of the sub-themes”, she affirms next to the first keyboard that her parents gave her and from which these pieces come.



Although he prefers to record music live, De la Iglesia usually creates his soundtracks on a computer. On his desk are five hard drives. Each one is a sound library with more than two million audios. Among these are choirs, guitars, percussion… Everything you need to set up an orchestra at home. “The sound is very similar, but there is no soul in the nuances,” he says. Other times, the most modest video game developers opt for a third way of composition and buy already written songs. The problem with this system is that in the end there are “50 games that have the same action music,” lamented De la Iglesia.



The mechanics of the game are substantial when it comes to dealing with the composition. This is how Royán interprets it. The authors play the levels for hours to get to know each scenario in detail. De la Iglesia still keeps old projects with the first basic 3D model that was given to him to compose. They need to know if the video game consists of jumping on platforms to reach a goal like Donkey Kong or if it is totally narrative like Zelda. There are games in which the story marks the music and others that only need ambient sound.



Basic 3D mockup that composers work with to put the sound before and after implementing the music



Phillips extols the role of the soundtrack in narrative games: “It is intrinsically connected to what you do and makes the game more memorable.” Royán joins the opinion of the American creator and clarifies that the songs help to situate and remember elements that happened before and that will be needed in the future. This forces the authors to create 12 or 14 hours of musical themes that fill the spaces. Senén, who was also an orchestra director in films such as James Bond: No Time To Die, He adds that in the cinema the music only lasts about 60 or 80 minutes.



But music is not the only element that makes up a soundtrack. Dialogue and sound effects are also necessary for full immersion.



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Composers are aware that outside of those who experience total immersion with headphones, players can mute their music. However, now they go beyond the screen. This August, the BBC Proms, one of the largest classical music festivals in the world, flooded the Royal Albert Hall (London) with video game music. Despite this, De la Iglesia still faces many prejudices: “Every time they ask me if I do little music Y sounds I answer them: ‘For you? little game?”.



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