5 Legendary Adaptive Music Games
When looking back at the history of game audio, it is hard to pinpoint exactly when music has changed from being merely a track played in the background of the game to the full-blown, multi-layered, event-based adaptive music that we see nowadays. Although even early games such as Frogger (1981) used a different musical theme for when the player reached a certain point, the change was mostly abrupt and did not feel smooth or dynamic.
Here is a brief history of a few games that changed the world of adaptive music as we know it.
1. Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge (1991)
This monumental point and click game by LucasArts was the first to showcase the company’s Interactive Music Streaming Engine, or iMUSE. The beautiful, innovative soundtrack by Michael Land was not only one of the best game soundtracks in history, but was also the first to be presented with seamless transitions, as you can see in the following video:
2. Ultima Underworld: The Stygian Abyss (1992)
Although Ultima Underworld, developed by Blue Sky Productions (Looking Glass Studios), was not a great success at the time, it gradually gained its popularity by word of mouth, and eventually achieved cult status by certain gaming communities. It was the first time dynamic music was used in a first-person game, in which the music was altered by the player’s actions. The fantastic music was written by George Sanger and Dave Govett.
3. Tomb Raider (1996)
This classic title, originally released for Playstation by Eidos Interactive, was one of the first games to use nonlinear musical cues. Although it was not fully adaptive, the cues created the illusion that actions in the game could change the music in real time. Anyone who had played it back then would testify that the music, written by Nathan McCree, was one of the most memorable aspects of this wonderful game.
4. Quest for Glory V: Dragon Fire (1998)
Released by Sierra for PC, Dragon Fire was one of the first games to use a complete orchestra. It took Sierra years after the release of LucasArts’ iMUSE engine, but eventually they did follow suit with their own adaptive music engine, with one huge difference – instead of using MIDI, they made use of digital audio streams. A revolutionary step in the history of adaptive music, and game audio as a whole. Dragon Fire’s soundtrack, by Chance Thomas, was also the main argument in bringing game music into the Grammy Awards.
5. Halo Series (2001-present)
Leaning on the shoulders of giants, Microsoft and Bungie game studios have created one of the most complex adaptive music engines ever created, combining vertical re-orchestration and horizontal re-sequencing, mixed with randomization to create a beautiful score that re-writes itself for each player without repeating itself. The iconic soundtrack by Martin O’Donnell has had a huge impact on the game industry, and on music in general. It is impossible to find one video that demonstrates these adaptive features in all Halo games, but perhaps this one will help you get the gist of it.
Yinon “Mojo Kid” is a game music composer, sound designer and audio programmer who specializes in adaptive music. Check out some of his works at MojoKid.com