The Leitmotif: The Fat Lady's Legacy

[The following is a companion piece to a larger work, titled "Is Game Music All It Can Be?" I suggest you read that one first.]

The leitmotif is a concept that was really exemplified by Richard Wagner, the famous opera writer of the late Romantic period. You can read that link for a thorough explanation, but at its base level a leitmotif is a very small musical idea that serves to announce the presence of a character, place, object or even idea. Think of it as a mnemonic device of a story. It has become the one of the most important idea in scoring for feature works. Games, however, seemingly have no clue how to exploit this idea to deepen and enhance the player's experience.

“But wait!” you say. “I hear recurring themes in my games all the time!” Yes, it’s true, there are often common themes running through sequels, but this does not explore the full potential of the leitmotif. Wagner himself started out with this sort of unchanging theme, used over and over to the point where Claude Debussy said the use "suggests a world of harmless lunatics who present their visiting cards and shout their name in song." This is not, as you can imagine, the kind of image you want to project.

As an example, the “Zelda Theme” (and many other themes from the Zelda series) has been used in every single Zelda game since Ocarina of Time — always at the actual meeting with Zelda, and always roughly the same. Same tempo, same feel, often even the same key. The only thing that changes is that the orchestration gets a little beefier as technology and budgets grow. For instance, here are the Ocarina of Time and Twilight Princess tracks side-by-side:

These do nothing to explore any narrative potential; they simply announce “This is the scene in which you interface with the Princess.” Once more, despite tremendous advances in technology between the two games, the latter can only muster somewhat better samples than the original N64 game. This is about as far as video games have gone in exploring the leitmotif. It is a tremendous missed opportunity; they are one of the most powerful tools a composer has in his toolbox.

Let me show you what I'm talking about in a more sophisticated example. For a very brief, drive-by example of leitmotif in modern cinema, we shall turn to John Williams, the idea’s modern-day master. I could choose a dozen or more themes he’s written and you could instantly think of the character they represent, but for now we’ll stick with this one. So: Name that tune!

Everyone recognizes this. In its most fundamental use, this leitmotif has succeeded — it instantly makes you think of a certain character, place, or idea — but what about the interesting implementations of this? If I may be allowed to torture you for a moment with Hayden Christensen’s acting from Episode III:

Williams subtly inserts this theme into Anakin’s responses to Padme’s pleadings. It starts in very twisted variations around 1:10 and becomes more defined and recognizable as “Imperial March.” The violins take the B theme around 1:30, the trumpet intentionally mangles the A theme at 1:58, the first two bars of the theme are stated quite strongly as Anakin gives us his “evil face” at 2:09. In short, we’re watching Anakin’s transformation into Darth Vader, he of the “Imperial March.” The theme is short and stunted at first, distorted in key and pitch, but it coalesces at the same time as Padme’s horrible dawning comprehension of what her husband has become. It — call me crazy on this one — supports the picture.

So where can this recognition and manipulation be found in games? Just about nowhere.

I don’t really know why this is. It’s so effective, but it’s never fully explored. Perhaps it’s because videogame plots tend to be so straightforward that there’s no room for subtlety and alternate takes on reality, but I don’t think that’s always the case. RPGs provide an excellent opportunity for leitmotifs, but honestly even many action and FPS games have plenty of room for subtle ideas. I’d love to hear a theme in Modern Warfare 3 that belied what one of the characters was trying to say.

Sadly, I only know of one game that has used leitmotif to any notable effect: Final Fantasy XIII. [Very early-game plot spoilers ahead]

I’ll be honest: I’ve never really been a big fan of Nobuo Uematsu’s Final Fantasy soundtracks, at least as they pertain to our topic today. They’re pretty, and he writes a catchy melody, but they don’t really carry the narrative. Masashi Hamauzu’s soundtrack of Final Fantasy XIII was panned by some for not being up to the standard set by his predecessor Uematsu, but I think it is hands-down the best, most cinematic game score I have ever heard. It gives me hope for the future of game music.

In Final Fantasy XIII, each character has their own theme. This means six separate leitmotifs for the characters, as well as around a dozen conceptual themes — one of which is incredibly important (arguably the most important in the game). Each is used many times in many ways to evoke certain ideas that differ based on where an when they occur, each bringing their own weight to the visuals of the moment. There are themes for objects, important locations, and even for intangible concepts like atonement and promise. Let’s look at one of the important themes.

“The Promise” is the main theme of the game, and can be found peppered all over the place. This theme encapsulates the main purpose and focus of two of the playable characters, and can be extrapolated to all six. It is mostly used to represent a promise that Snow and Lightning made to Serah, an important NPC. She is Lightning's younger sister and Snow's fiancée, and has in a manner of speaking been cursed and turned into a L'cie. The promise made by both Snow and Lightning is to save her by whatever means possible. Here is the theme in its pure form.

It is a simple melody, but it has a complex and evocative underlying chord structure. It also has three distinct parts, each comprising roughly 1/3 of the composition. The A section is the solo piano section at the beginning; the B section starts at about :34 when the full string section and winds enter; and the C section begins at 1:05 with the undulating violins over the top of the slowly plodding lower strings. Interestingly, each section is sometimes used on its own to evoke slightly different aspects of the promises made. The C section, referred to by Hamauzu himself as a "crystal motif", appears in quite unusual places and can give the player fresh perspective. It’s very … wistful. It’s also out of tempo almost every time it appears, which is an interesting effect that composers can be reticent to utilize. Let’s look at a few uses of this theme to see how Hamauzu supported or altered the meaning of the visuals.

The above statement is the first time we hear “The Promise” in the game proper, while the promise is being made. It’s pretty similar to the pure version, which makes sense. There are a few things to be gleaned from it, though. For starters, section A of the theme is performed by a sweeping string section, instead of a simple piano. It adds a more maudlin, bittersweet tone to the moment, reverberating with a promise made to an ostensibly dying individual. Also note that the changes in the theme from A to B to C and back to B are all very loose beats, corresponding with slight shifts in emotion or action of the scene. A is used starting at :40 for introductions and expository setting. B kicks in when Serah speaks, the delivery so to speak, and the promise itself is made by both Snow and Lightning. C enters as the time for words has passed — again, a wistful, poignant moment, as the characters realize that Serah has become a crystal (hence the moniker “crystal motif”) and is therefore “dead”, but fulfilled her focus and avoided the horrible fate of becoming Cie’th. We transition back to B as the process ends and the scene focuses on the characters’ rather bewildered reactions. Because the scene itself is something I would describe as “squishy”, you can see that these aren’t hard beats but softer, more gradual transitions.

Here we have one of several flashbacks to this same location earlier in the story (soundtrack version). This punchy, upbeat arrangement plays over events that occur before things have gone all to hell. It’s a rather playful due to some joking going on, and there are fireworks. Note the distinct lack of the third portion of the theme at the end. Note also that it cuts out for the brief time the discussion turns to darker matters (PSICOM), but then re-enters full blast once the conversation turns to a promise Lightning made to Serah. A different promise, and less serious, but it ties the two sequences together very well. Because it has a more light-hearted tone, the C section is omitted entirely, and we instead alternate repeatedly between the A and B sections of the theme.

This version is presented the first time that our characters enter a “brave new world.” Up to this point, our heroes have worked diligently to try to fulfill their promises, but immediately preceding this they discover that everything they thought they were doing was actually being orchestrated by their enemy, and they’ve only been helping hasten Cocoon’s destruction (which would be the opposite of their promise). So here they are, unceremoniously dumped onto a strange and dangerous world, with no clue of what to do next. It is a huge, sprawling place, with creatures and beings that can look down upon them and judge them. However, we have this level music that remixes the promise to give it a drive, a steady focus. In contrast to the lack of direction portrayed on-screen, it reminds us that the characters all still have a purpose, and it is the engine that drives them forward through their trials.

Our next cue (another flashback) uses a similar arrangement as the original version, although it is slower and a bit more unsure of itself. Less percussive instruments, more low strings. This flashback on the beach is another promise between Snow and Serah, very similar to the one we examined earlier. Again, the A theme is used as introduction and exposition, the B theme (with a nice hard cut to the sunset right as it kicks in) is the statement of the promise, and the C theme is the crystalizing, all-things-left-unsaid piece. It takes us back to that original moment when she turned to crystal, and gives a deeper impact to the promise Snow makes both here and earlier.

There are also several instances of a “blink and you’ll miss it” thematic use. Take this scene, for instance:

...which uses the “Pulse Fal’cie” theme through most of the video. Beginning right at :39, as we pass under the Fal’cie and cut to Snow, we get a very slow, melancholy statement of a single line of section B of the theme. Things look somewhat hopeless at this point, as Snow is amidst rubble and the Fal’cie where Serah’s located is guarded by half the Sanctum fleet. Very subtle, but nice.

The final use of this theme I’ll examine today is the ending credits. It uses a classic movie trope of remixing the main leitmotif of the story in a way that engages the viewer to walk out of the theatre feeling refreshed, saddened, uplifted, or whatever the point of the movie was. (In our case, mostly uplifted.) The underlying chord structure of the theme has changed, become more major key, more majestic, more final. There is a small amount of bitter-sweetness to it to reflect the fates of Fang and Vanille, but most of it points to the joyous reunion of Serah and Dajh with the main characters.

I chose a theme that has simplistic uses of the leitmotif idea and is mostly presented intact, but there are a great many more advanced and subtle uses of the leitmotif in Hamauzu's work in this game (even an incredible rhythmic motif that runs through almost every theme in the game and hearkens back to a similar idea in Beethoven's 5th Symphony). A full article could be written on each of the themes in Final Fantasy XIII, but Lightning's theme in particular is a fun one to dissect, as it gets sliced and diced a lot more. If you're up for homework, check out the following links and see what you can glean from their uses. 1 (through 3:25) 2 3 4 5 6 7

Final Fantasy XIII is an excellent example of using the leitmotif to support the visuals. Sure, the gargantuan orchestra playing impressionist chords is great in a gee-golly-whiz way, and they work well with the highly-produced and generally large focus of the game. But the real point is that the themes themselves, those simple melody lines, can be twisted, reverted, and contorted in all sorts of ways to create interesting emotions and call back certain themes that would otherwise be missed.

Comments

That was a fun read! I do enjoy analyzing music, but it's been ages since college, and I sort of dropped playing music for many reasons, playing including analyzing, so I don't get to think about it too often.

Looking forward to the full article on Gamasutra. Be sure to post here when it goes up because I don't regularly check Gamasutra.

Edit: I guess it won't be that hard for me to check on Nov. 7th.

Yay for some really technical and expert analysis! I'm terrible at this music stuff, but this is exactly the sort of primer pseudo-intellectuals like me love.

I actually had some time to go back and listen to the posted clips just now. I'm really amazed with all of the excellent interpretations of that three part FF XIII theme and how the interpretations fit the moments, particularly the moment during the fireworks. I've always been meaning to play the game but keep trying to finish FF VII for the first time. I'll surely be picking it up very soon since I absolutely loved what I heard in these clips.

I definitely remember that moment in SW Episode III where that twisted version of the Imperial March shows up and thinking it was rad, I didn't pick it up as fast as 1:10 into that clip, though.

I've been racking my brain trying to think of another video game that does a good job with Leitmotif, but I really can't think of one. I also would like to see this better implemented in games. Main themes can be a glue that holds a story together, but if they doesn't vary at all, it can end up defeating this purpose. I suppose that the more complex games get the more complex the soundtracks will get. Even Zelda - Skyward Sword finally made the switch to full orchestration, although I think it still has very repetitive themes. I haven't finished it yet.

I suppose the existence of Top Score is evidence that game soundtracks are improving and getting more complex and interesting. It's a bright future ahead for game music.

Edit: Okay, I have a final thought. I was curious about Ni No Kuni even though it's not out in the U.S. because Joe Hisaishi does the soundtrack. I believe that Ni No Kuni is going to have some great Leitmotif going on. I quickly checked 2 pieces on YouTube out of curiosity, and you can hear a ton of themes and variations on these themes between the two. I can't wait for next year. I'm not going to listen to any more of the soundtrack so as not to spoil it. When I do finally get to play it, I'll definitely be listening to it with this article in mind and decide if it implements Leitmotif well. Thanks, Minarchist!

I don't want to clog up the thread with YouTube videos in the comments section, but the Ni No Kuni pieces I listened to are here and here if anyone is interested.

Fantastic read. The leitmotif is not something I had given much thought in regards to games, but it is most certainly a powerful tool for storytelling that deserves exploration in the medium.

I'm curious as to whether or not most people will pick up on leitmotif or not in a game. With Star Wars we've had an association with that music for a long time, so when it arrived in the prequels it was exciting, but expected, in many ways. Movies are much shorter experiences, however, than a game like FFXIII. There's so much music in a Final Fantasy game I'm not sure I ever recognized that there was a part C to the theme. I certainly recognized the first two portions, but watching/listening to the above videos things still tend to get drowned out by the visuals and sound effects. To me.

We've been so accustomed to visuals playing such a huge role in video games that I'm not sure most people notice music. In many ways that's as it should be as the music is a supplement to what's happening on screen and with the story. The same is true of movies, I believe. I just don't know if game consumers are ready for it. Video game entusiasts, well, I'd like to think so.

Worth a read is RPGFan's soundtrack review for FFXIII as it touches on a few things mentioned in this article.

tuffalobuffalo wrote:

Okay, I have a final thought. I was curious about Ni No Kuni even though it's not out in the U.S. because Joe Hisaishi does the soundtrack. I believe that Ni No Kuni is going to have some great Leitmotif going on. I quickly checked 2 pieces on YouTube out of curiosity, and you can hear a ton of themes and variations on these themes between the two.

Should be interesting to see if we're looking at the standard thematic music or if there are elements of leitmotif in the game or not.

tuffalobuffalo wrote:

I actually had some time to go back and listen to the posted clips just now. I'm really amazed with all of the excellent interpretations of that three part FF XIII theme and how the interpretations fit the moments, particularly the moment during the fireworks. I've always been meaning to play the game but keep trying to finish FF VII for the first time. I'll surely be picking it up very soon since I absolutely loved what I heard in these clips.

If you're really attentive you will notice oodles of that stuff: there really is a graduate thesis hiding in that game's score. If you haven't had a chance to yet, tuffalo, flip through the numbered links for the second theme down at the bottom. It's a much more instructive example as to what can be done to mangle a theme but still keep it recognizable, but was not nearly as layman-friendly as "The Promise." Heck, even the Crystal Motif from "The Promise" (C section) gets re-used as this, which is a giant crystal lake (eh?) that you do battle in, but it's at probably 6x the speed and is so deconstructed that very few people will recognize it. There are a lot of little three-second uses of the dozen or so main motifs in this game. It's fun.

garion333 wrote:

I'm curious as to whether or not most people will pick up on leitmotif or not in a game. With Star Wars we've had an association with that music for a long time, so when it arrived in the prequels it was exciting, but expected, in many ways. Movies are much shorter experiences, however, than a game like FFXIII. There's so much music in a Final Fantasy game I'm not sure I ever recognized that there was a part C to the theme. I certainly recognized the first two portions, but watching/listening to the above videos things still tend to get drowned out by the visuals and sound effects. To me.

There are two parts to this. To the first, I believe most people do, even if it's only subconsciously. In fact, subconsciously is usually preferred by the composer, unless there's some reason you want people to think about a scene's placement. He may not remember it, but I did a quick little interview of M0nk3yboy when I was writing this. He had just finished the game and had no idea that I was writing an article, but I just asked him a few questions about the score, and if he noticed any recurring themes. I am proud to say with basically no prompting he was able to remember examples of, say, how they floated a couple bars of "Snow's Theme" over a scene with Hope when hope is talking about getting revenge. So it's intuited more than you may think. Or, as some of us are fond of saying, "Don't assume your players are idiots!"

The second part deals more with the mixdown, and how music is written around more diegetic sounds like dialogue and sound effects. This is IMO a major issue in games that needs to be addressed, but that's all discussed in the mother article coming out tomorrow.

I'm pretty sure that more games did this in the MIDI era, though I can't remember any offhand. When we went to digitized music, it was really hard for the early machines to seamlessly mix multiple tracks. When CDs first got common, many games would stick their soundtracks there, because it was free in terms of CPU use -- they could just tell the CD player to play the soundtrack. (Even copying data from a CD directly to the soundcard was a TON of work on a 486-33!) Eventually, they brought the soundtrack back onto the hard disk and used the CPU to play the music, but hardly anyone experimented with mixing tracks on the fly. The practice had fallen out of style.

Of course, that's assuming that it was ever IN style, and while I'm pretty sure this used to happen, I can't think of any examples. I'm not terribly musically inclined, so I don't pay very much attention to soundtracks.

The move toward full symphonic recordings rather than more complex composition seems to track with the chase for graphical realism while complex and meaningful art direction could do more with less.

wordsmythe wrote:

The move toward full symphonic recordings rather than more complex composition seems to track with the chase for graphical realism while complex and meaningful art direction could do more with less.

That seems more like an either/or situation when deciding the route to take on a game composition. I don't think it really ends up being this way. A full symphony is just one tool in a composer's toolbox. It's a very powerful tool. The whole point of the article is that Leitmotifs as used in games like Zelda isn't really enough and not advancing game composition. The contrasting examples given are the incredibly distorted Leitmotif occurring in Star Wars: Episode III where you can barely tell that it's a variation on the Imperial March until it morphs into something more recognizable. The other example is the FF XIII "The Promise" Leitmotif which goes through a huge amount of variation. A full symphony completely helped with that to create a complex, interesting soundtrack. I would argue that the same composition done with MIDI's or something would have suffered.

Edit: I should clarify that you could get great, complex Leightmotifs without a full symphony. It's hard to think of examples at this point and seems to be another point of the article.

tuffalobuffalo wrote:

Edit: I should clarify that you could get great, complex Leightmotifs without a full symphony. It's hard to think of examples at this point and seems to be another point of the article.

In gaming, anyway. Plenty of examples of it in film, opera, ballet, etc.

Minarchist wrote:
tuffalobuffalo wrote:

Edit: I should clarify that you could get great, complex Leightmotifs without a full symphony. It's hard to think of examples at this point and seems to be another point of the article.

In gaming, anyway. Plenty of examples of it in film, opera, ballet, etc.

What? I'll bet someone will make an awesome chip tune opera someday. Yeah, I'm definitely talking about gaming soundtracks, specifically.

History's Greatest Monster wrote:

If I may be allowed to torture you for a moment with Hayden Christensen’s acting from Episode III (feel free to fast-forward to about a minute in)

I WROTE THE YOUTUBE TIMESTAMP CODE FOR NOTHING!

Please report to the Hague.

Minarchist wrote:
garion333 wrote:

I'm curious as to whether or not most people will pick up on leitmotif or not in a game. With Star Wars we've had an association with that music for a long time, so when it arrived in the prequels it was exciting, but expected, in many ways. Movies are much shorter experiences, however, than a game like FFXIII. There's so much music in a Final Fantasy game I'm not sure I ever recognized that there was a part C to the theme. I certainly recognized the first two portions, but watching/listening to the above videos things still tend to get drowned out by the visuals and sound effects. To me.

There are two parts to this. To the first, I believe most people do, even if it's only subconsciously. In fact, subconsciously is usually preferred by the composer, unless there's some reason you want people to think about a scene's placement. He may not remember it, but I did a quick little interview of M0nk3yboy when I was writing this. He had just finished the game and had no idea that I was writing an article, but I just asked him a few questions about the score, and if he noticed any recurring themes. I am proud to say with basically no prompting he was able to remember examples of, say, how they floated a couple bars of "Snow's Theme" over a scene with Hope when hope is talking about getting revenge. So it's intuited more than you may think. Or, as some of us are fond of saying, "Don't assume your players are idiots!"

The second part deals more with the mixdown, and how music is written around more diegetic sounds like dialogue and sound effects. This is IMO a major issue in games that needs to be addressed, but that's all discussed in the mother article coming out tomorrow.

I suppose I did answer my own question in my first post as I said that music is meant to be in the background, however you added in the catch phrase I didn't use: subconsciously. I believe I was driving at the idea that most people wouldn't consciously recognize leitmotifs and I think I was attempting to drive a divide between consumers and enthusiasts. Enthusiasts, like M0nk3yboy, are more likely to pick up on leitmotifs throughout something as they are functioning at some higher level when interacting with games. To some extent this is probably true (ie. not thinking of the controller in your hand vs. someone looking for "x" on the controller), but I think I was applying some sort of elitist judgment to the whole situation as if freeing up one's mind even somewhat to focus on other things is inherent in someone recognizing musical motifs in, well, anything. Some people are more capable of doing that than others and that probably matters more than whether or not you've been playing games for 20 years or 2 months. Science experiment time!

As to the second part, I'm in complete agreement. There are so many mixing errors in games it drives me nuts. Looking forward to the article tomorrow.

Minarchist wrote:

If you're really attentive you will notice oodles of that stuff: there really is a graduate thesis hiding in that game's score. If you haven't had a chance to yet, tuffalo, flip through the numbered links for the second theme down at the bottom. It's a much more instructive example as to what can be done to mangle a theme but still keep it recognizable, but was not nearly as layman-friendly as "The Promise." Heck, even the Crystal Motif from "The Promise" (C section) gets re-used as this, which is a giant crystal lake (eh?) that you do battle in, but it's at probably 6x the speed and is so deconstructed that very few people will recognize it. There are a lot of little three-second uses of the dozen or so main motifs in this game. It's fun. :D

Just listened to that one! Very cool! I'll have to listen to the numbered links regarding Lightning's theme variations as well.

Bonus_Eruptus wrote:
History's Greatest Monster wrote:

If I may be allowed to torture you for a moment with Hayden Christensen’s acting from Episode III (feel free to fast-forward to about a minute in)

I WROTE THE YOUTUBE TIMESTAMP CODE FOR NOTHING!

I assure you that you must be mistaken.

Garion, it's a lot easier for me to recognize these sorts of things because I went to school for composition and even studied film scoring while I was there, so I think your thoughts are very valid. But I would reiterate that most media composers don't want anyone to think about it consciously. Even Hamauzu, in the interview I linked above in this article, said this:

Also for the motif from the repeat part of [The Promise] is an image of a crystal, and the [Lake Bresha] theme has the same motif as it is filled with crystals. Perhaps people might not notice. However, I wanted to make them feel the world rather than recognizing it.

I think that most any composer will say they want people to intuit things rather than rationally consider them. In most media, a lot of thought is put into how an audience member will view a certain scene or idea and to either support or belie it subconsciously using everything from the score to the prop design. People agonize over fine details like this to make sure they evoke the desired emotions. Howard Shore penned a master-stroke of leitmotifs in his LotR work. Did you notice? Probably not intentionally. But I'll bet they got what they wanted out of you. Read the description of this youtube video for a teeny tiny inkling of what they considered.

pace Debussy, it's not completely accurate to say that Wagner's leitmotifs don't develop during the operas. Wotan's spear motive, for instance, does change, more or less subtly, through the Ring cycle. And the eponymous ring's motif is a mutation of the Rhine's gold theme.

Really, when the giants sing Freya's theme as they're deciding whether to take her or the mountain of gold offered as her ransom, that's pretty breathtaking, and heartbreaking, since you know they're going to greedily choose the gold, not the girl. And then they'll kill each other for the ring. And then the Gods will end up with the ring, the gold, and the girl.

Minarchist wrote:
Bonus_Eruptus wrote:
History's Greatest Monster wrote:

If I may be allowed to torture you for a moment with Hayden Christensen’s acting from Episode III (feel free to fast-forward to about a minute in)

I WROTE THE YOUTUBE TIMESTAMP CODE FOR NOTHING!

I assure you that you must be mistaken. :ghost:

IMAGE(http://i21.photobucket.com/albums/b296/Bonus_Eruptus/lolpics/are_you_a_wizard.jpg)

The Full article is up and in the OP! Also here if you don't want to scroll all the way back up there.

Minarchist wrote:

The Full article is up and in the OP! Also here if you don't want to scroll all the way back up there.

Whew! Saved me all that scrolling. My carpal tunnel thanks you.

Minarchist wrote:

I think that most any composer will say they want people to intuit things rather than rationally consider them. In most media, a lot of thought is put into how an audience member will view a certain scene or idea and to either support or belie it subconsciously using everything from the score to the prop design. People agonize over fine details like this to make sure they evoke the desired emotions. Howard Shore penned a master-stroke of leitmotifs in his LotR work. Did you notice? Probably not intentionally. But I'll bet they got what they wanted out of you. Read the description of this youtube video for a teeny tiny inkling of what they considered.

The Lord of the Rings is probably the 2nd most prominent set of movies I would think about when discussing soundtracks, after Star Wars of course. Time to investigate all the leitmotifs in that film and see what I missed!

All of this talk makes me want to re-watch the Last of the Mohicans and see if it stands up. I bet I remember that soundtrack more as having two in-your-face leitmotifs than for effectively weaving them throughout the film. As a fan of Hans Zimmer's work in Gladiator I wonder if it's true there also. Then again, I'm a huge Lisa Gerrard fan and may like that score simply from her involvement.

This discussion excites me. I sure wish my audio equipment wasn't in storage.

I'm actually not really a fan of Zimmer, so I probably wouldn't be the best to ask. Some of his earlier stuff was good, like Rain Man and The Lion King, but he totally phones it in now and has for years. And, I mean, c'mon.

Dead Can Dance, though, they're totes great.

I think the answer to your initial question is pretty simple. In film the rough cut is spotted, cues are drafted, and then the picture is locked and the music is scored to picture (and often edited to massage it into the cut). Due to the nature of video game development, the integration and production of the music is probably rarely produced in such a way, and probably ends up with composers coming up with a bunch of themes or motifs based on concept art, previz, or early builds which could change all the way up to the last weeks before release. This happens sometimes in film (Williams's score for The Phantom Menace is absolutely butchered in the final film), but presents a fairly unique challenge for game composers. I think surmounting it will require an overhaul of the game scoring process, though whether that's possible in technical terms (how flexible is the revision and integration of musical assets while programming a game?) I don't know.

Minarchist wrote:

I'm actually not really a fan of Zimmer, so I probably wouldn't be the best to ask. Some of his earlier stuff was good, like Rain Man and The Lion King, but he totally phones it in now and has for years. And, I mean, c'mon.

Dead Can Dance, though, they're totes great.

Gladiator is Wagner mixed with Lisa Gerrard, I like it. After doing some digging it does appear that people seem to believe it's one of his better scores and perhaps the last one where he wasn't phoning it in quite as obviously. One of the better tracks here.

Edit: Now that I'm skipping through some tracks it appears that much of the score isn't very good, but it's punctuated with some great tracks. /derail

Minarchist wrote:

I'm actually not really a fan of Zimmer, so I probably wouldn't be the best to ask. Some of his earlier stuff was good, like Rain Man and The Lion King, but he totally phones it in now and has for years. And, I mean, c'mon.

Dead Can Dance, though, they're totes great.

Personally I think Zimmer's work in the last decade has been some of his most creative and anti-"Zimmer sounding" of his career. He experiments with ideas that no composer in their right mind would even think of and makes them work: the Joker's theme in TDK comprised of a single endless cello note, playing string instruments with razor blades, the BLAMMMM sound for Inception that has been endlessly copied since (not to mention that one of the main themes is literally the "go to sleep" music slowed to a crawl, lower level dream style), scouring the UK for a perfectly neglected piano for Sherlock Holmes to play various themes with before dropping the piano off a building and using the sound of its destruction mixed into an orchestra crescendo, etc. And when he's not doing that, he's showing how to do a techo-style buildup with a full orchestra in Chevaliers de Sangreal for the Da Vinci code, though he's never topped Journey to the Atoll from the Thin Red Line for that.

Last of the Mohicans is a great stand alone listen and the last minutes of the film is some of my favorite use of music to picture ever, but there are some really heavy-handed cues that misfire a bit as well.

Warriorpoet897 wrote:

I think surmounting it will require an overhaul of the game scoring process, though whether that's possible in technical terms (how flexible is the revision and integration of musical assets while programming a game?) I don't know.

Perhaps. One of the things I note in the introduction to the full article is that if you strip away all the gameplay and look at just the non-interactive cut-scenes, many games (and all AAA titles) are clocking in at full movie lengths, from 90 minutes to over 5 hours on occasion. It's that part, the area similar to other interactive media, where I think they lag behind the most. They might be coding some of that stuff last-minute, but at least the voices for it are probably set a while beforehand. I think general awareness of the problem at all would be a huge step forward.

Interesting you bring this up today. The London philharmonic released their "Greatest Video Game Music" album today. You can find it at all the normal places. Here's the link for Spotify

Warriorpoet897 wrote:

(not to mention that one of the main themes is literally the "go to sleep" music slowed to a crawl, lower level dream style)

Yeah, I have to agree with the bold section. It's a simple trick but is still awesome. It's just like that bit mentioned about FF XIII's "The Promise" theme being sped up 6 times. You don't get it initially, but when you are told or notice it, it gives you a great "Ah, ha!" moment. Anyways, I didn't meant to continue the derail, but I wanted to mention that.

I think this is awesome, and a great analysis.

But I have to disagree with the point that Uematsu never used leitmotif effectively. I recently read this analysis of character themes in Final Fantasy VI that I thought had a lot of interesting breakdowns. http://thegamedesignforum.com/featur... There's a lot of songs quoting other songs, and one character theme that piggybacks on another (Locke/Rachel) to tell a story. I think it's a solid motif considering the more limited technology in this title, and uses music to talk about the characters' relationships to one another.

AJLange wrote:

I think this is awesome, and a great analysis.

But I have to disagree with the point that Uematsu never used leitmotif effectively. I recently read this analysis of character themes in Final Fantasy VI that I thought had a lot of interesting breakdowns. [posted link] There's a lot of songs quoting other songs, and one character theme that piggybacks on another (Locke/Rachel) to tell a story. I think it's a solid motif considering the more limited technology in this title, and uses music to talk about the characters' relationships to one another.

Thanks, that's a really interesting link. It makes me want to go back and play the game again; it has been a long time.

Admittedly, it's tough for me to consider some of those older works in the same breath because of the indeterminate nature of the music. Those songs just played over a bunch of text that could advance at the player's discretion, so you couldn't really set up too many moments. But you make a good point.

Wow, Minarchist, the full article was just as fun as the section posted here if not more so. Great job.

I didn't realize the soundtrack to NieR was a huge reason you loved it. After listening to the specific examples posted, I definitely think I will share the appreciation. I'll be picking up that one in addition to FF XIII very soon.

The Persona 4 examples are pretty funny. I haven't played it yet had hoped the soundtrack would be better after playing so much Persona 3 and disliking a great deal of the soundtrack after 75 hours or however much time I've put into it. About the only part of Persona 3's soundtrack that I like is the start screen. It gives one a sense of hope and optimism with a tinge of sadness sprinkled in. In fact, I think that tinge of sadness might especially hit me because of the color scheme of the start screen (lots of blue and purple). It definitely gets you primed to play the game. Then you start the game and the soundtrack is just meh, especially after hearing things so many times. Actually, I do like one track that ends up playing while you are doing after school activities. I suppose it isn't really appropriate to what's happening, though.