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Sound Design in Video Games and Film

This past September, I began playing Persona 5 Royal. It’s an incredible game that I’d strongly suggest to anyone who’s considering picking it up. One aspect of the game stood out to me above everything else, and that’s the music. The game has an incredible soundtrack in a style unlike anything I’ve heard before. For example, in the game’s airsoft shop, a song called Layer Cake plays. It’s a jazzy song that fits the environment incredibly well, but in the same game, there’s a song called Take Over, which plays during battle encounters. Both of these songs are incredibly different from each other but fit their respective environments well. It’s an incredibly unique range of music that fits the game exceptionally well, and it got me thinking about the process behind the soundtrack. So, I began looking into how games use sound compared to how a movie would use sound.

The first example that comes to mind is the 2019 film Avengers: Endgame, which is a movie many have seen, so it’s a good example for the topic at hand. Its soundtrack was composed by Alan Silvestri and is entirely orchestral, as is the case with most movies and their soundtracks, but it fits the movie well. For example, you can feel the tension in The One, which is used in the climax of the movie. It’s a fitting piece that evokes a feeling of urgency for the heroes to come out on top. Every piece of music in the movie fits the scenario perfectly. It’s apparent that a ton of time went into selecting the music that would be played and how the original soundtrack would sound and affect the movie.

Another prime example of a soundtrack acting to its fullest potential is that of the 2017 game The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. For those who haven’t played it, it’s a fully open-world game considered by many to be the greatest in the genre. I’d strongly recommend at least watching a playthrough on YouTube, as it’s an incredible game that pushes the boundaries of what an Open-World game can be. At the same time, this incredible work has a magnificent soundtrack to complement its unique gameplay. The game has a total of over 200 unique tracks that all play at different times of the in-game day or in different areas of its massive world. These include the Guardian Battle Theme, which evokes a true feeling of panic, and the Tarrey Town Theme, which is a perfect example of a theme that builds as you progress. What I mean by this is that Tarrey Town is an incredibly unique case with its music. Tarrey Town itself is built during a side quest in Breath of the Wild where you help a man construct a town from scratch by recruiting people from across the game to bring the town together. As this happens, pieces of the themes from their homeland are mixed with the original Tarrey Town theme, eventually mixing into one of the most unique themes within the game.

The final example that I’ll use is that of the Mario series. Everyone knows Mario, the plumber in red who has dozens of games, spin-offs, and even a movie adaptation coming later this year. The music of the Mario Bros. series is iconic, recognizable as Mario music even to people who have never played any of the games. Some of the songs that are instantly recognizable include World 1-1 from the 1st game, Delfino Plaza from Super Mario Sunshine, and Slide from Super Mario 64. Mario’s music is recognizable to anyone and everyone who has seen a Mario game, a feat that not many pieces of entertainment can claim to have pulled off. Super Mario Bros. games have a distinct style of music that easily translates the desired feeling of the environment, such as the Super Mario 3D World Bowser theme, which conveys the sinister feeling of a character like Bowser through the use of a starting B♭ note, which was previously associated with Satan in classic theater, to show that Bowser is evil. These subtle touches are what breathe life into the Mario Bros. soundtracks, with each having a distinct style that mirrors the game it appears in perfectly.

A soundtrack is essential to the audience’s experience. Good music and sound effects can make or break an experience. No matter how good your game or movie is, a bad soundtrack that is hard to listen to can destroy the experience of the audience. These examples of music that I’ve provided are but a tiny portion of examples of the incredible work that drives composition for video games, movies, and TV shows. Most of this, though, goes unnoticed, due to many not knowing the incredible effort that is put into a project of this scale.

Credit to this video by Scruffy for the bit about Bowser’s music and the bit about Mario music in general.

Joe Mullen, Writer


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