Choosing The Right Music For Your Game

I wonder what your game sounds like? It doesn’t? Let’s make it sound like something!

Nik Sudan
Nik Sudan
Apr 27, 2017 · 3 min read

A game has many aspects that make it great, being graphics or storyline. But you can’t have a decent game without the right soundtrack. Sure, quickly going onto Newgrounds and downloading the first track you see may be a quick and easy way to get things done, but it’s not the most efficient way. Many popular independent game developers use original music, created purposely for use in the game. These soundtracks are usually perfect material for such a game, and are very hard to acquire when creating a game of your own. However, the key to an excellent soundtrack is to exactly know what the situation needs.

For example, if you were developing some sort of space game, use of ambient music would be suggested. But playing an ambient track over gameplay wouldn’t be as effective as having the track play partially through the song, having it fade in and out gradually. You’re in space, flying around. You don’t really need a soundtrack, just some mellow, atmospheric sounds and music suffices the game absolutely. Have them random, have them differ in volume, manipulate them as much as you can.

Let’s say you were developing something which needed more of a “hardcore” soundtrack; for example, a shooter. As of above, playing some heavier music over the gameplay won’t achieve anything. Playing nothing may create atmosphere, but you want the player to be engaged in the game. The soundtrack needs to change depending on what the situation is. If the scene was some sort of home base, and your character was communicating with others, you’d want some subtle, calmer music. Maybe have it happen in bursts, like the space game. The mood you want to create should make the player feel more relaxed, rather than “HELL YEAH”. On the battlefield however, the soundtrack needs to change drastically. There should be different genres of music at option to you, from classical strings, to some heavy rock. If the character is hiding from an enemy, who is approaching nearer, you’d want to build tension, just like in a movie. Make it louder as he gets nearer. Make it more complex. If the situation changes, such as being detected, change to a more drastic theme. If you’re easily tearing through the enemies, play some rock music! — make the player feel great. If the situation becomes less in the player’s favour, make it loud and sudden; make it so it makes the player worried about not escaping alive.

When making a game, don’t just keep focused on keeping the player entertained with gameplay. A game is essentially a movie, where you have to keep the player absolutely engrossed into it. The music of the game can transform it from good to revolutionary (maybe not revolutionary, but you see my point). Music is a great atmosphere creator, varying from short, sudden ambient noises to fully fledged orchestral compositions.

How do you get this type of music? If you can create it, or can get someone to, do so. An original soundtrack which is used efficiently will be one of the highlights of your game. Can’t create music? Don’t worry. Grab some music you like (with permission from the creator, of course), cut it up into extracts which will really define a mood if you can. Make some music online with some easy creation tools. Do whatever you can to create the best soundtrack your game needs.

I was in the process of making a game at this time of writing, and the soundtrack for it had a very high priority. I wanted the player to feel the experience that their character is feeling. I wanted them to get nervous when a situation arose. I wanted them to feel confident about themselves when things weren’t going their way. Think like this when implementing sound, and it will certainly be noticed when people play it.

Nik Sudan

Written by

Nik Sudan

Game designer, composer and systems developer