After over five years of working in the music industry, it seemed like I had done it all. I’ve been to countless concerts and festivals. I’ve done loads of interviews and podcast tapings. But recently I was tasked with something that was totally uncharted territory for me. A friend of mine who works as a game developer asked me for feedback on his work, specifically his music choices. He wanted me to review his song choices and how they work with the theme of the game. He explained to me that music in a video game is just as crucial as a movie. When it’s done right, it can make for a much more cohesive and immersive experience.
As much as I am an expert on music, I have virtually no background on video games. I wanted to take some time brushing up on the different genres and themes so I could be a better judge of what music worked. Obviously, I wasn’t going to invest in a PS4 or Nintendo Switch just to help out a friend. So, he referred me to a website called Plays.org, a free gaming website I could access from my laptop. No streaming service or expensive equipment needed? I’m in.
GAME #1- KAREN
I figured it would be best to play a few different games to widen my scope. The first one that caught my eye was a game called “Karen”, I was intrigued by the name at first but then the description had me sold:
Even though I’m not a huge gamer myself, this one was easy enough to navigate. It reminded me of games I would play on the computer as a kid, so if you’re looking for something simple and nostalgic, I think this is a great place to start. The music choice for this game is simple but works great. It’s an electronic instrumental with an upbeat tempo. The music gains momentum as your character gains points which helps to create a good build for the game player. It reminds me of the iconic “Super Mario” instrumental we all know and love. Sometimes all it takes is a good, happy beat to keep players engaged.
Play Karen for yourself here!
GAME #2- LIFESPAN CANDLE
I wanted to try to find a game that looked a little darker in nature to see if it would have thematic music to match. Most of the games on this website are neon, bright, and exciting looking- so it took a bit of searching until I found a simple game called Lifespan Candle.
“This is a room escape puzzle platformer game where you must use the power of fire and water to help a candle reach the end of the level and set the goal on fire.”
While the concept seemed simple enough, it’s harder than it looks. This game is marketed to both kids and adults alike and it involves you being quick on your keys. The music choice was actually different than I was expecting. I was anticipating something dark and haunting. This does have an eerie tone, but it still has that triumphant video game back beat to keep the game player motivated. It reminded me of the tune played by the music box in Anastasia. This showed me that you can have dark elements in the song, without it making the player feel down.
Play Lifespan Candle for yourself here!
GAME #3- FRUIT MASTER
I figured it would be best to hit all genres here, Fruit Master looked to be a concentration game so I was interested to see what they would choose musically.
It seemed they decided to go simple all the way around in terms of this game. There is no background music and only simple sound affects when the game player does an accurate slice or misses. I actually like the simple, more muted choice on this game. Games like this are created specifically with the intention to help the game player relax. I think for this specific game, background music may have been overstimulating, so I agree with this music choice.
Play Fruit Master for yourself here!
SO, WHAT DID I LEARN?
After a few hours of playing around on Plays.org, I felt like I genuinely learned more about video games then when I started. I was of the opinion that if a games overarching theme was dark and moody, well of course you would need dark and moody music to match. Throw in some Chop Suey! and call it a day. But I’ve observed that no matter how dark the theme, there is always an overarching theme of triumph. The goal of course is for the gameplayer to defeat the odds, level up, and eventually win the game.
My advice to my friend, and any other developers would be of course lean into the musical tropes of your games’ theme, but always try to keep it light. Music affects us so deeply and I truly believe it can make or break the player’s experience. If you want to dive deeper into the gaming world for free, check out Plays.org.