Video games should learn from Remedy and deliver more original music to the world


World building in video games is a crucial part of the player experience. Lore blurbs, NPC conversations, and the environment itself tell the story of the world to a player. Even background music can set the tone for an area, but Remedy Entertainment uses a specific type of track to enhance its games: in-universe music.

Despite the budgets and talented artists employed to produce background tracks, few games take full advantage of the world-building potential offered by music: the ability to use songs created in the world to both create the ambiance and give players a tangible piece of culture. Few studios have used tracks like this to better effect than Remedy in titles like Alan Wake and Control.

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Remedy’s success with In-World Music

Alan Wake not only features appropriate vocal tracks at the end of each chapter, but has major plot points told through the songs. “The Poet and the Muse” is performed by a group from the world Alan encounters on several occasions, the Ancient Gods of Asgard. This band is performed by the real-world band Poets of the Fall. Another Old Gods track, “Children of the Elder God”, serves as a battle song heard by both Alan and the player as a major battle unfolds on an abandoned concert stage. Most gamers who were asked to remember the 2010 action horror game will likely remember these two as highlights.


The Poets of the Fall reprise their roles as both ancient gods of Asgard and appear as themselves, in Controlwho shares a universe with Alan Wake. The music of Old Gods again serves as a major plot point, with main character Jesse Faden using a Walkman given to him by the mysterious and powerful FBC Janitor Ahti and blasting “Take Control” to progress through an otherwise area. inaccessible from the oldest House.

Additionally, one of the altered items found in the FBC is a recording of “My Dark Disquiet”, a high-powered song thematically tied to Polaris and Jesse Faden. These pieces not only reinforce the story and the surreal atmosphere of Controlbut go a long way to making the world of floating corpses, aggressive fridges, and talking spacesuits more grounded to the player.


Other studios have found success with In-World Music

Such lyrical world-building feats are hardly limited to the Remedyverse. Jedi: Fallen Order opens with the player character, Cal Kestis, listening to “Sugaan Essena” performed by The Hu. Later, during a gladiatorial brawl, Cal even comments that he recognizes the band’s music as it begins to blare from the arena speakers. Fallout 4in addition to the famous radios of the Fall games, allows the player to relax around the Third Rail bar and listen to performances by Magnolia, whose life story is told through the lyrics of her songs.

Cyberpunk 2077The song for “Chippin’ In” harks back to the roots of the tabletop game, hits on major story beats, and serves as a sort of anthem for the solos. CD Projekt Red has had previous success with this technique in one of Witcher 3the most poignant moments using the performance of “The Wolven Storm” by Priscilla the Callonetta. The game’s Hearts of Stone DLC heightens the uneasy fear that surrounds Master Mirror with a chilling children’s rhyme sung about the DLC’s quasi-antagonist.

Perhaps the only studio to match Remedy in its use of world music is Supergiant, which has used this technique in all of its games. Bastion‘s “Build This Wall”, Transistor‘s “All Become One”, bonfire‘s “Never to Return” and underworld“Good Riddance” are just a few highlights of the list of songs performed for both the player character and the player themselves, standing out even among the incredible instrumental music of Supergiant’s games. In all cases where this method is used, the song usually serves as an element of world culture, a memorable game moment, and background music.


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More games need music in the world

the original Mass Effect The trilogy painted one of the richest sci-fi settings in gaming, with an intricate political web, detailed explanations of how each species designed their ships and weapons, and even elements of cultural exchange. like the all-Elcor production of Hamlet. Despite this, although the games featured many nightclubs full of pumping instruments, not once did the player come across an example of an original vocal performance.

The opportunities for such leads were great; each species could have brought a different style and subject to the table. Few players would say no to a turian military anthem, krogan battle march, or quarian lament for their homeworld. Even a brief look at what humans are producing in the 22nd century would be of keen interest, not to mention the comparison between the songs of Earth and colony worlds like Elysium.

In a more recent attempt, Ring of EldenThe expansive world of FromSoftware is largely based on Norse mythology and features instrumental tracks that maintain FromSoftware’s track record of audio excellence. It could have made heavy use of ballads and spoken word poems which are strongly tied to Norse tradition, and FromSoft’s extensive use of choirs in boss themes shows that they are no strangers to bolstering their music with a vocal accompaniment. Yet even with George RR Martin on hand to provide lyrical and poetic content, no one sings mournful tales of the Shattering, even when nomadic merchants are commonly seen playing instruments.


There are challenges to using In-World Music

There are a few challenges to getting great music into games. It could be argued that the language barrier would exclude some of the international audience or require the production of several expensive versions of the same song. However, the prevalence and wide international success of music like popular anime opening songs makes this argument ring somewhat hollow.

Another potential objection would be the cost of hiring singers and lyricists; this has also been refuted by the success of artists like Gavin Dunne (aka Miracle of Sound), an independent producer whose work has been featured in both desert 2 and Subnautica: below zero. Outsourcing to smaller artists such as Dunne with vast libraries of popular works could significantly mitigate the financial risks of presenting music in-universe. Some of the most memorable segments in video games use original voice tracks, enhancing both the world and the player experience. If more studios took the initiative and followed the example of Remedy Entertainment and Supergiant, similar success may follow.


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