Adaptive Soundtracks in Games -

Adaptive Soundtracks in Games

Game Maker’s Toolkit
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Many video games these days boast having a dynamic soundtrack, but that usually just means the score kicks into a high tempo beat when you start shooting. Mark Brown shares some more inventive uses of adaptive audio. This episode is best watched while wearing headphones.

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Games shown in this episode (in order of appearance):

Deus Ex: Human Revolution (Eidos Montreal, 2011)
Far Cry 3 (Ubisoft Montreal, 2012)
Red Dead Redemption (Rockstar San Diego, 2010)
Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune (Naughty Dog, 2007)
Dead Space (Visceral Games, 2008)
Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory (Ubisoft Montreal. 2005)
Portal 2 (Valve Corporation, 2011)
Mario Kart 8 (Nintendo, 2014)
WipEout HD (Sony Liverpool, 2008)
Luftrausers (Vlambeer, 2014)
New Super Mario Bros. U (Nintendo, 2012)
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (Nintendo, 2011)
The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks (Nintendo, 2009)
Super Mario Galaxy 2 (Nintendo, 2010)
Super Mario Galaxy (Nintendo, 2007)
Super Mario World (Nintendo, 1990)
Super Mario 64 (Nintendo, 1996)
Luigi’s Mansion (Nintendo, 2001)
Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge (LucasArts, 1991)
Banjo Kazooie (Rare, 1998)
Auditorium (Cipher Prime, 2008)
LA Noire (Team Bondi, 2011)

Music used in this episode (Non diegetic)

Icarus – Main Theme (Deus Ex: Human Revolution)
Rook Island (Far Cry 3)
Good Egg Galaxy (Super Mario Galaxy)

Clip credits

“Super Mario 64 – The Not So Endless Stairs REDUX” – joeyoshi

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  1. I wish this video would've come out after Mirror's Edge Catalyst was released

  2. I know this game came out after this video was made but devil may cry 5’s adaptive soundtracks are awesome. The music changes depending on how well you’re fighting, not just between fighting/not fighting.

  3. APE ESCAPE ANYONE? When you crawl it takes out some of the instruments on the track and sound dampens a bit. very early example

  4. I kinda wish Payday 2 was talked about here, its soundtrack is very dynamic and can actually help you identify when an assault is in its seperate phases, but the game was much smaller in 2014 so I understand

  5. What about need for speed the run. Anyone? One of the best gaming/racing experience I've been given.

  6. Having not played most of the newer stuff, I had no idea Nintendo did this a lot. I thought it was mainly just Rare (and Playtonic).

  7. Not digging how you talk about ambient/combat music transitions like it's a bad thing and then talk about Nintendo using the same parrallel techniques in their games like they aren't both great.

  8. A (fairly) recent example is the Celestial Resort from Celeste

  9. So weird seeing this 6 year old video from you, with you calling Portal 2 recent and me thinking of examples thinking "why didn't he mention X" but then I remember they didn't come out yet. Still a great and relevant video despite its age!

  10. Jak 2 Did this amazingly you should look into it

  11. I know it's ultra late here( like 6 years) , but since people are gonna watch this video even now, I thought I would also take a recent exemple here. Pretty long explanation ahead, sorry for any typos.
    (TL;DR: Pony Fighting game gets music variations when a character starts to win, making around 112 tracks for 6 characters and 7 stages and it's great lol)

    There's a Fighting game called Them's Fightin' Herds(Made by the guys that made a good "My little Pony" game almost featured on the biggest Fighting game esport btw lmao).
    There are 6 characters in it's roster, each with a disntinct look, feel, and appeal, but most of all, different kinds of music to accompany them. When you're on the character selection screen, you have this little music made for it, but the catch is, that this song is covered when you select a character, each also distinctive from each other to reflect their personality. But that's not all, when the second character is selected (since you play one vs one) the two remixes associated with them are mashed up, creating an even more awesome song. That would be around 20 tracks just for a character selection screen.
    And then there's the stages. We'll take two characters, Tianhuo and Velvet and one of them's home stage, here Velvet's (I'll refer it to Reine to avoid confusion):

    We see that Reine is a snow city, so the music theme reflects it with instruments usually associated with Christmas (, nothing to say here.
    Though, once Tianhuo wins one round, the track then starts replacing some of it's Christmas-like intsruments for Chinese ones and an electrical guitar, the track then gets more energetic and lasts a different ambiance to it(, like she's slowly dominating the match. But if instead of Tianhuo, Velvet wins the first round, Reine's track will instead be less replaced, more so adding to it with a piano, EDM, and even things like a guitarbass instead of EDM bass (
    Both of those variations express the characters' personalities in a unique way, leaving different styles to the same place, as if fighting for domination over it.
    And even then, it's not like it's over for one once the other starts winning, right?
    Yup, there's other variations. (you can get those depending on the number of rounds you set for a game though). Both characters get one (Tianhuo:, Velvet: ), where both now only keeping the melody left to override the song with their style, while ramping up the intensity with a different pitch and added percussions. And after that, if the other makes a comeback and both are on the very final round where everything is decided through it, instead of one completely changing the theme's style, Reine reinforces it, adding some chorus (and slightly altering the pitch for extra intensity), like it has its own personality like the two, deciding the victor getting more intense as it does so.

    All in all, that means each character in Them's Fightin' Herds has a style distinct between each other that gets applied to most of the ost to expand their own personality through music. Since there are six characters with two variations for each stage that all have a first round and final round versions(+an idle variation for each if you are on a) , that would make around 112 tracks just for 7 stages. This is a HUGE soundtrack for such a small cast of characters and stages of a Fighting game. For reference, Tekken 7 has stages that changes music based on the round currently played, and there's only 49 tracks. This isn't an overstatement when some say Them's Fighting Herds is a game with a great adaptive Soundtrack.
    I wish more games had something like this, but I can only dream as the number of characters in a roster gets bigger and more overwhelming work would have to be done for all variations. It would be impossible without such a smasl cast of characters and such a small number of stages.

  12. X-Wing was the first game where I noticed the dynamic soundtrack. It impressed me like everything in this (for me) godlike game 😁

  13. In Portal 2 the music also turns muffled if you enter an Excursion Funnel.

  14. I hipe he mentuon de blob, since it's an outstanding example of dynamic soundtracks

  15. Also, DMC. That one Devil MayCry game with short-haired Dante and soundtrack by Noisia. Every fight feels like a magnificent music video, with music adapting to all your actions. My favorite part is how certain scripted cutscenes during bosses get shorten or prolonged depending on your action's rhythm to fit what's happening in the music and avoid any kind of rhythmical aliasing. This feels extremely natural, while being something extremely artificial, and it puzzles me.

  16. Jak II on ps2 had different layers of music if you were in haven city, walking, driving, had a weapon out or on a hover board

  17. How about Ape Out? That soundtrack is THE definition of adaptive soundtrack, every move and throw is accompanied by a crash, cymbal and the like while a drum beat is going on underneath

  18. Banjo Kazooie had the best adaptive soundtrack ever made

  19. One of my absolute favorites is the second galaxy of Super Mario Galaxy 1 that uses the Battlerock theme (I think in World 4 or 5) as in one star you'd find yourself launching launch stars going from a more relaxed and thoughtful scenario of choices, to intense and dangerous, filled with enemies places.
    Now, if you kept an eye during the game, you may have noticed Battlerock Galaxy's theme is a more realised extension of Space Fantasy's melody and progression, but if you didn't, now the game lets you know by transitioning in this mission between Space Fantasy and Battlerock Galaxy's themes going from the alone in the big wide space vibe to the more epic and inspiring orchresta.

  20. I like to think that art lacks the power of making you feel exactly the same as if you were in the situation portraited, so the authors have to use all means they have to get you inside it. Music is a really good tool for this, if you were fighting a zombie in real life, you wouldn't hear any music, but you would be terrified. Then, in a game, you can (and should) add music to the scene so the player "artificially" gets that emotion.

  21. More recently in Hollow Knight, music gets more intense when in combat, but in the city of tears, you can remove an npc (no spoilers)
    And the music will forever change

  22. Imagine if outer wilds was out when you made this video. That game had phenomenal sound design

  23. De Blob deserves credit for this
    Every colour you paint has different instruments to it
    So you kinda get to make your own soundtrack

  24. Man, Pokemon Black and White has so many great examples of this. Victory Road's entrance, Village Bridge's musicians, Route 20's seasonal differences, and the Battle Subway's progression as you get closer to the front of the train.

  25. you cud use music for telegraphing attacks

  26. The music in the excellent game Creaks adds instruments (usually drums to make it more rousing) when you're nearing the solution of each puzzle. A great way to tell the player if they're on the right track, and it provides an emotional high whenever you solve a puzzle.

  27. Never see a most adaptive soundtrack than A Lenda do Herói, a Brazilian games available in English.
    No wonder, the game was based in a song, and this song was based in classic RPG-platform games. How the trailler says "The game sings what you're doing" (even if you stay still too much time).

  28. Oddworld Abe's Oddysee (The Original) was a perfect example for adaptive soundtracks as well as giving you auditive clues about what you are about to face in the next screen.

  29. Took not having Breath of the Wild mentioned in this Zelda section for me to realize this video was almost 7 years old

  30. Ff7R does an amazing job at utilising this like with Ine Winged Angel Rebirth

  31. An example for each enemy representing an instrument would be the tank minigame from wii play

  32. You did not say enough things about portal… Its soundtrack is a masterpiece, even in the video you can hear much more changes, everything changes the soundtrack…

  33. When I hear “dynamic music” the first thing I hear in my mind is “StAnding hEre I Realizee”

  34. I think the best kinds of video game musics are 'invisible'.
    By which I mean, you never notice them enough to pay direct attention to them despite them having a Big influence on the experience.

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