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Procedural Music November 2, 2009

Posted by eric22222 in General, VG Music.
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Something I’d like to see done:

For the Banjo-Kazooie series, Grant Kirkhope arranged each song several times over. During play, the song would fade to a different arrangement based on where you were in the level. For example, when underwater, the instrumentation would change to harp and other stings. If you want to see what I mean, compare this and this.

In The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, the music faded between two different songs (not just two arrangements) depending on if the player was actively involved in combat. Couldn’t find a good video for this one.

What I’d like to see is similar to that, but on a more detailed scale. Instead of switching between a few pre-written songs, what if songs could branch into many more branches, perhaps as quickly as every four bars? Movie scores always match the on-screen action well, picking the right instrumentation to meet the mood. What’s to stop us from using some simple code to figure out what kind of music should be playing?

Here’s how it might be seen in action: the character walks slowly through a forest at night. Our code checks the player’s speed (1.5). It’s a slow pace, so it chooses a relaxed cadence for the beat. Based on the time of day and the environment variables (night, woods), it adds a tambourine on the downbeat and makes the bass line a slow cello tune. Since the player is alone and in a constricting environment, the melody is sparse. Instrumentation is based on a predefined list for the night-woods set.

Where I see this kind of system working best is when things change in-game. When the player encounters a band of monsters, the tempo picks up, the instrumentation table is consulted again, and instruments are changed accordingly. When the player rounds a corner to see a wide expanse ahead, the melody is less sparse and more variety is added to the instrumentation. A big swell of brass, for example.

What I’ve got in mind is that each phrase of music would follow a pre-set chord progression which would be chosen from a list (based on in-game parameters). The melody could follow patterns within each chord, perhaps choosing from some predefined ones (again, based on the game).

It’s more of an idea than anything right now… I really have no idea how I’d even be able to create a mock-up. It would sort of require me to have a fully-functioning video game, and I don’t think I really have time to make one of those. I managed to find a video that gets across the idea pretty well:

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