Art and Music in Video Game production


Gazing across the flat, grassy plains of a virtual savannah, you may as well be standing on another planet — which, in a sense, you are. The Myst-like virtual world of Dr. Hilary Rhodes’ “Exploration Without Boundaries” is built with three-dimensional dreamscapes that have never been captured on film, and never could be.

Part theater, part art, “Exploration Without Boundaries” invites armchair travelers to explore 48 virtual landscapes that Rhodes created on the Mac as part of her doctoral thesis at Australia’s University of Wollongong near Sydney.

Presented in QuickTime Virtual Reality (QTVR) Cubic, the scenes let travelers wander icy Arctic wastes, gently-rolling hills reminiscent of English moors, volcanic islands, deserts and a dozen other fantasy landscapes — all to the sounds of winds soughing through the grass, ethnic music, excerpts by composers such as Ralph Vaughan Williams and her own compositions.

And it's been published (2005) Original article (archived)

Current listings (for expensive book and DVD)—in tinkering with this page in 2023, I had hoped to find an online video...

In 2005, though, the very thoughts of beauty and of soaring soundtracks in video games was new to parents and to most adults, though teens and kids knew.


“Films are stories you watch,” says Clint Bajakian, “and music underscores them — but you could tell the stories very well without music.

“Video games are activities you play,” continues Bajakian. “When the player gets his senses and faculties engaged in achieving an objective — in the hot-and-heavy moments of actual button-mashing and getting tense — the story recedes to the background. He may even forget it while he figures out, How do I climb this wall?”

That’s why, Bajakian says, music is so important. “When the story goes to the background, the music stays there and does the job of transmitting emotional impulses to the player. It defines the mood. Music has the primary role of communicating emotion in a game. Often it’s the driving force. It’s almost impossible to think of it as an underscore.”

Games Sound Great

As a composer and sound designer for popular video games such as the recently-released “Indiana Jones and the Emperor’s Tomb,” Bajakian has thought plenty about music’s role in the fast-evolving game industry. Video games have blasted out from the shadow of film, their erstwhile big brother, and composers now have a slew of advanced tools with which to craft game environments as rich to the ear as they are to the eye.

“In the entertainment industry,” says Bajakian, “what drives development is profit. So as games get more popular, people are paying more attention to soundtracks, and the budgets for authoring game music have reached revolutionary heights.”

Competition with film plays a role in giving composers more license. “Hollywood set the original expectation for live orchestras,” Bajakian explains. “Ben Hur was scored for live orchestra because there was no alternative. Now, game industry executives want to be as cool as the big film guys by using live music. It’s a stamp of arrival, and another way to distinguish their titles. And it’s fortunate for composers like me, because we get to do higher quality music.”

Technology has kept up, ensuring that the composer’s artistic decisions are faithfully transmitted to the gamer. “Game audio used to be significantly lower quality than film or TV,” says Bajakian. “But no more. We’ve left TV in the dust. Now we’re right up there with film industry standards. The new game platforms have high-resolution audio — better than CD quality — and automatic mixing of dialog, music and effects to Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound.”

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