I have a composition question/challenge for all you composers.
By nature, in-game video game music is somewhat repetitious because it is needs to enhance the whole gaming experience and not take center stage. This is very different then say concert music which cannot really be too repetitious because it is a art unto itself. (Yes, Bolero is a good example of repetitious concert music )
As composers, we are always faced with this balancing act. We must always ask ourselves 'How much repetition is too much repetition?' What do you all think about this issue? When is too much repetition too much? How does this question effect the 'background nature' of video game music?
I personally think it's a compositional tool to be used if used well. Whether or not something loops endlessly is now a choice to make, not a given. It's becoming slightly more looked down upon, but there still is an option for repeating music if it is appropriately done. Yes, hearing the same 15 second clip over and over and over is going to get redundant and annoying. However, composing something that is attractive to the ear that stands up to repetition, perhaps used in other ways (such as a theme and variations), shouldn't be forbidden in my opinion.
This is the precise reason there's such a thing called adaptive music.
This is where music is heading for games. There are so many different techniques to score the music and mix / sequence in real-time to have the music change and also not become too repetitive.
Of course there's always going to be repetition. It's how you drive home a theme. But how often and how blatant the repetition is will be dependant upon the game and how much focus will be on the music. Some game-play is repetitious by nature (take Mario or Crash Bandicoot). It's much the same gameplay and you get into a groove. To hear the music repeat or version of repetition again after 3-4 minutes is normal. Repetition under 2 minutes seems to be too fresh in memory and you tend to pick it up more.
Wow, thank you all for the response. I think if one thing is clear from this dialogue, it is that at least some repetition is acceptable if handled correctly, but too much makes you want to turn the music off, which is a bad thing for composers.
Considering the fact that a game player will play any one game from 20 to100 hours, could it be that you will have repetition no matter what you do? There are other options such as adaptive music which have the potential to at least disguise repetition.
Take an action game for example. An adaptive score might follow the action with the appropriate music if your character is sneaking around unseen, winning, losing, or in an intense battle etc.
But the execution of this adaptiveness is what is truly the key. Any thoughts on this process?
I'll speak from experience playing a recent game, which did not use adaptive music, but did very effectively use repetition.
The game in question is Resident Evil 4 for Gamecube. As most of you are aware, the GCN is the 'least' of all the consoles in terms of raw horsepower. But interestingly enough, some of my favorite game soundtracks are GCN titles, because to a certain degree I think composers who are forced to work within specific limitations often come up with more creative ways to execute their ideas vs. someone who has the scratch to hire the LSO.
Repetition was used effectively in this game in several areas, but specifically, each time you paid a visit to the Merchant, the same ambient warbling melody would play (think Boards of Canada and you'll get an idea of the vibe). As a gamer, any time I heard that music, I immediately felt relieved, because I knew that I had a small respite from the nerve wracking gameplay. I could save, procure new items (or health!) and not have to worry as much about what was waiting around the corner.
So yes, the music was repetitive, but it was also a welcome repetition.
Adaptive music offers some truly amazing potential, and we're just on the cusp of what can be done utilizing these types of permutative audio/music systems. Not much has yet been written or documented, but I'd recommend reading some of the back archives from GamaSutra, as well as signing up to be a beta tester for XACT, which will at least give you an idea of how the system is laid out on one of the next-gen consoles (Xbox 360).