GameSpot GDC 2007 Blog
March 7, 2007
Here's a suggestion: The next time you're playing whatever's in your home console, open your ears a little wider. Really listen to what's happening beneath the clang of the sword or the roar of the engine. Yes, that's music you're hearing underneath all that racket. In many cases, soundtracks are too often one of the easiest parts of a game to ignore. This is especially true in the depressing miasma that is the world of licensed music in sports games.
That said, when done right, game music can be a revelation that dramatically improves the gameplay experience. That was one of the themes of today's GDC session "Painting an Interactive Musical Landscape". The event was hosted by Koji Kondo the legendary game composer responsible for the scores Nintendo series such as Mario, Zelda, and StarFox. This was Kondo's first appearance at GDC--indeed his first public appearnace in the United States--and, as a result, the room in the north hall of Moscone Center was packed both with Kondo fans and working sound designers looking to glean some knowledge from the master.
To Kondo's way of thinking, successful in-game music has three common elements: rhythm, balance, and interactivity. How each of these three attributes work together and enhance the game experience is what separates game soundtracks from that of more traditional media like film or television. Kondo used in-game examples from some of his previous masterpieces to illustrate examples of each of the three elements.
"If the music doesn't reflect the rhythm of the game, it becomes background music."
When it comes to rhythm in his compositions, Kondo believes that just as game characters and events move in time to "computer clocks" so too then should the music that accompanies them. His first example was the familiar main theme from the original Super Mario Bros. Kondo pointed out the syncopated rhythms between the theme's triplet-based high hat pattern and the eighth-note-based melody which helped to establish the driving feel to the on-screen action.
"Try to think of music as one piece for the entire game, not simply as a collection of separate pieces."
Balance is at the heart of Kondo's compositional philosophy. The balance between the sound effects and the music, the volume, the pitch, the left-right balance; all of these are elements music directors must take into consideration when composing for games, Kondo said. Moreso, however, Kondo challenged the composers in the crowd to think of their work in the context of the game as a compositional whole, not just select pieces existing independently of one another.
At one point, Kondo asked for a show of hands of the number of composers who played a game composition for their game director the moment it was finished. After a decent number of hands went up in the crowd, Kondo replied by saying he never does this--as he feels that introducing individual pieces one at a time upsets the balance of the compositional whole. Instead, Kondo waits to introduce his music in larger chunks to his directors, so that they can get a feel for how the music fits together, and how themes develop and evolve.
As an example, Kondo showed clips of the famous jaunty "invincibility" theme from the original Super Mario Bros. and Mario 64, to illustrate how the familiar game themes can stay consistent throughout entries in a series while staying fresh all the while.
"Showcasing sound ideas that showcase interactivity is the most important work in sound work."
The biggest difference between game music and traditional "linear" soundtracks is the interactivity between the character, player, world, and soundtrack. To illustrate, Kondo had several examples in mind. To illustrate the effectiveness of changes in instrumentation, Kondo showed a clip of Super Mario 64 that showed Mario on a beach, swimming underwater, and eventually finding an underwater cave. On land, a basic electric piano played the main theme; when Mario entered the water, the theme was augmented by strings; when he found the cave, a bass and drums entered the mix to heighten the excitement of the moment--all of this without changing the main theme.
Another example from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, brought the interactivity point home even further. The "field" theme was his example, played when Link leaves town and travels through the open world map. The theme changes not only to reflect Link's condition (such as when he enters combat) but also changes at random in order to keep the listener's ear engaged. Kondo intentionally composed this theme in eight-measure chunks that could be swapped at random yet still maintain a cohesive theme and feel to them.
Other examples of interactivity cited included the ever-building tempo changes as one neared the end of levels in Super Mario Bros., or batted energy balls back and forth with monsters in The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. Then there were enemies in New Super Mario Bros. for DS that moved to the musical themes in the game, the interactive musicality of the castle town courtyard in Hyrule in The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, and many others. Wrapping up, Kondo encouraged game composers to strive to work these elements into their work on videogames in order to further evolve the art of game composition.
In all, the session was a fascinating insight into an aspect of games that many of us (myself included) all too often take for granted. With Nintendo stalwarts like Super Mario 64 and Ocarina of Time finding new life on the Wii's virtual console, it's a great time to go back and re-experience these amazing games with fresh eyes… and ears.
March 7, 2007
Gamers, analysts, and by now, even hermits living in the Outback, knew that Sony went from gaming behemoth to another fish in the pond since E3 2006.
But guess what? They're baaaaaaack.
The Sony keynote delivered by Phil Harrison at the 2007 Game Developers Conference was exactly what the company needed to re-establish itself as a gaming giant. The announcements of Home and LittleBigPlanet were the types of things gamers had expected to hear about a year ago, but as the old adage goes, "better late than never."
Even just waiting for the keynote to begin, the crowd could tell that something was up--that this wouldn't be another Sony keynote like the ones from E3 2006 or Tokyo Game Show 2006. This would be the Sony of old, the one that wowed the audience at its E3 2005 press conference.
Among the faces I happened to spot in the crowd were Keiichi Yano, the creator of Elite Beat Agents and Gitaroo Man, Joseph Olin, president of the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences, and even Reggie Fils-Aime, president of Nintendo of America. And of course, DS owners were furiously sending entertaining (and obscene) messages back and forth to each other over Pictochat.
About 10 minutes before the keynote began, Sony staff threw gigantic soccerballs into the crowd which were bandied about like beachballs at a baseball game--with the intent being to knock the balls into makeshift goals set up on the flanks of the stage. Giant screens kept score of the "game," which was a heated match between team A (a portion of the crowd on the left) and team B (a portion of the crowd on the right). If you're keeping score at home or had money on the match, team B won.
That was a glorified example of audience participation--a key component of Sony's strategy moving forward. The buzz phrases "user-generated" and "emergent gameplay" were used about a billion times during the keynote, but they were backed up.
Home, the PS3's answer to Nintendo's Miis, Microsoft's Xbox Live and achievements system, and Linden Labs' Second Life, is a free service designed to foster communities among PS3 owners in a virtual world populated by corporate-branded virtual items and locations (hey--the Home service is free). The audience was clearly impressed with the seamlessness of the software, which allows gamers to bowl, play arcade games, hang pictures (customized of course), furnish their own digital apartments, and more.
However, the real darling of the presentation was LittleBigPlanet, a game from the makers of Rag Doll Kung Fu, now under the studio name of Media Molecule. The game is LocoRoco on steroids, or hallucinogens, or probably both. The word 'cute' doesn't do the game justice, nor does the phrase 'totally fricking insane and fun.' At it's heart LittleBigPlanet is a fancy tech demo showing off an incredible range of physics, but on the surface it's an adventure created by the player--and that player will range in age from 5 years old to 90 years old. I haven't heard applause like that which followed the LittleBigPlanet demo in a long time.
Miyamoto and Nintendo, it's you're move.
March 7, 2007
Over the next couple of days, the average IQ in San Francisco will roughly double. And this is despite the 49ers having recently signed Ashley Lelie at wide receiver. Ha ha. That's a sports joke. I do those sometimes. I can't help it.
Actually, the reason for the IQ bump will because of the huge numbers of really smart game developers that have migrated into town for GDC 2007. I always look forward to this conference because, as opposed to product-centric press events or the general nastiness of the E3 of old, GDC is a chance for smart people to get together and talk about the future of the industry.
Over the next few days, when I'm not scouring the show floor for unannounced games or checking out the always-exciting keynotes from the likes of Sony and Nintendo, I hope to hit a few of the GDC sessions which feature a host of cool topics that affect all game fans in one way or another. Some of the upcoming highlights:
- The Future of Storytelling in Next-Gen Game Development (Speaker: Warren Spector)
- Painting an Interactive Musical Landscape (Speaker: Koji Kondo)
- Innovations in Fable 2 (Speaker: Peter Molyneaux)
- Designing Gears of War: Iteration Wins (Speaker: Cliffy B)
- Game Criticism: Opportunities and Approaches
Some of these are happening simultaneously so, while I probably won't get to all of them, you can be sure that someone here probably will and report accordingly.
So that's what I want out of this week's shindig. My question is: what do you want from GDC 2007? What kind of things are you hoping to glean from this event and all its associated brainpower? What games are you interested in? What news are you most hoping to see from the keynotes? Let's hear what you've got to say...
Recent GDC 2007 Updates
GDC 2007 Videos
Nintendo Keynote - GDC 2007 WII
The heralded Shigeru Miyamoto heads Nintendo's GDC 2007 keynote address.
Posted 3:15 pm PT Mar 8watch download
2007 Game Developers Choice Awards X360
Don't miss out on the full awards show from GDC 2007.
Posted 9:40 am PT Mar 8watch download
Sony Keynote - GDC 2007 PS3
Phil Harrison leads the Sony keynote address for GDC 2007.
Posted 2:56 pm PT Mar 7watch download
Home Official Movie 1 PS3
Take a look at the first footage of Home for the PlayStation 3.
Posted 10:31 am PT Mar 7watch download
The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass Official Trailer 4 DS
Don't miss out on this trailer for The Phantom Hourglass from GDC 2007.
Posted 2:46 pm PT Mar 8watch download
Little Big Planet Official Trailer 1 PS3
Feast your eyes on the first footage of Little Big Planet.
Posted 10:33 am PT Mar 7watch download
Featured GDC 2007 Games
Super Mario Galaxy (WII)
Super Mario Galaxy finds Mario taking his adventures to new heights as he soars through space from planet to planet in search of stars.
The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass (DS)
The Phantom Hourglass is a new Zelda adventure set after the events of Wind Waker in which Link must rescue Tetra and return to familiar seas.
The Orange Box (PS3)
This package deal contains Half Life 2, and HL2: Episodes 1 & 2, as well as their extras such as Team Fortress 2 and Portal.
Unreal Tournament III (X360)
Unreal Tournament 3 is the next installment in Epic Games' popular sci-fi shooter series.