Saturday, October 27, 2012

Playing Games: Music in FF7's opening

So I'm playing FF7, and as annoying as it is, I'm taking notes on the musical experience meanwhile.  I've got a huge stack of post-its, a red pen from grading papers, and my brain and ears.  So far, I've learned that there's very little written on game music analysis.  Even with the little written, certainly one thing that's missing from discourse on this material is indepth analysis of music's influence on game play. 

As I'm in the midst of reading Collins' books on Game Sound, I've got many academic arguments in my mind.  Wondering particularly: how does the music influence the feel of the game play? the flow of the scene? how do the changes in the music interact with the visual experience? how does the music help to draw you into the gaming experience?  Thus tonight's blog, a real time experience of me jotting my thoughts about the music and game play of the opening minutes of Final Fantasy VII.  In the future, I'd like to explore this sort of dialogue as a realtime chat feature to allow discussion with others.  For now, just noting the kind of things that come to my own mind may help establish avenues for future thought/ analysis.  What do you think/ experience as you hear this music? Leave me comments! 

The first thing you hear when you start a new game is, of course, the opening music of the game.  The classic music from when you cross the Cornelia bridge from the first Final Fantasy.  This video skips the opening and begins after the "new game" screen.  It starts with the ambient noise of outer space.  Music mimics the uncertainty as we pan through the unknown. 


What's the first music cue?  The appearance of Aeris face (:47).  Union strings create emotion, feeling, importance, tonality (home base).  Opening theme.  

Notice Aeris footsteps echo as if on coblestone in an alley.  This sound had to be carefully constructed to sound as shoe against stone in echoing alley.  This game has clear attention to detail in precisely crafted sound effects. 

This opening is a movie and incorporates Mickey Mousing, the idea of timing music and sounds to precise visual cues.  For example, the first bike drives by at 1:08, breaking the shot on Aeris, and this moment is also the first percussive sound in the accompaniment.  The accompaniment builds to 1:28, when the title screen appears.  Timpani and drums herald its arrival.  A melodic snippet is sequenced lower as the camera zooms back in to Avalanche's raid on the reactor, shifting the music to the next theme.  The percussion enters as the last note of the previous material dies away, keeping flow with the single camera shot.  Just like a movie with spotted cues, this opening video has a careful audio/visual construction.

1:58-- Opening Bombing Mission theme.  Music is now continuous until 4:55 with no break for battles.  This music is active....  2:39 battle entry sound, but no music change.  This music has sharp percussive beats and gives a feeling of urgency.  By not introducing other music for battles, the music for the intro has more continuity.  Excitement.  Entering the Shinra buidling yields no music change but entering the reactor... 

On entering the reactor (new screen) at 4:55, the music slows down to the "Mako Reactor" theme.  Whereas before the state of the music earlier conveys to the player, "hurry up!, get pumped, go!" this music says: "calm down, you're doing well, explore."  Mechanical sounds.  Wondering: how does this music compare to Final Fantasy VI factory music?  Bell chimes sound grandiose, cold.  Syncopated and synthesized offbeats sound mechanical, weird. 

6:42 is the first real battle music heard in the game.  7:05 the first victory fanfare/spoils music.  Fanfare music is timed to last as long as victory movements (Cloud twirling blade, Barret pumping fist). 

10:20-- At the reactor core, notice how the alarm sounds, and the return of the Opening Bombing Mission.  This battle is going to be different, more challenging, more fast paced...  To be honest, hearing the Bombing Mission theme here struck me as new boss music theme and I was surprised to learn it's the same Bombing Music from 1:58 replayed.  If you heard it as a return of the Bombing Mission, then perhaps it serves as a reminder for you: oh yes, we're on a terrorist mission, we set off the alarm, timing is of the essence, get it done and out of here. 

The impact of new music and the timing of when music is introduced at the beginning of a game cannot be overstated as a way to draw a player into the game and convey information about game play, characters, situations, etc.