Technologies like Microsoft’s DirectMusic and our own Wide Sounds API are enabling developers to create audio for games in a way that, until now, has not been possible. Developers are able to go beyond movie-style soundtracks and really utilize music and audio in groundbreaking and innovative ways.

It was vital in Prisoner of War that we achieved an atmosphere in the game that would add to the tenseness and excitement generated by the stealth-action. We also wanted PoW to feel like an epic war story. Given the fantastic soundtracks in movies like “Saving Private Ryan”, “The Great Escape” and “Bridge over the River Kwai”, we felt, early on that we would have to achieve a similar quality of audio in our game.

Movies have stunning audio production values and a richly evolved sonic language and many game musicians revere and aspire to movie scores as the zenith of music composition–the beauty of movie music is that it perfectly complements the on screen action. In games, it is impossible to predict the on-screen action to the level of detail required to get the audio to emulate a movie score. So we found a new way–the audio would be driven by the player action–changing smoothly to reflect the correct emotion at the time.

Technically this solution was supplied by our sister studio, Wide Sounds. They were working with technologies such as Microsoft’s Direct Music, and had some very exciting results linking music to player actions.

So now the player completely controls the progression of the music–but we didn’t just want the usual supposedly interactive music, which suddenly changes when some action goes off. We wanted the music to be controlled by many different in-game events and player actions, to create a constantly shifting musical score, tied perfectly to the action to simulate the very best movie theme tunes.

Again, this was all done at Wide Sounds, so that all we needed to do in the development team was decide which events should drive the music, what we’d like from the music, and let them get on with it. The results were excellent–the score follows the player’s actions, subtly changing from tense, scary music (when the character is hiding with guards nearby) to the day to day music (when the character is following the daily routine of a PoW–changing to identify different characters as they are approached), to high tempo chase music if the player is spotted and is evading capture, to down in the dumps moody music if the player is caught or shot.

The beauty of the system and the work produced by Wide Sounds, was its subtlety–instead of jarring changes in the music, it became hard to spot exactly when and where the music changed. We were playing the game and suddenly noticing that it felt scarier – because the music had gradually got more and more atmospheric–exactly like a film! We realized that we could, and indeed had, achieved what we wanted to with the music for Prisoner of War.

By Carl Jones, Codem… – 01/20/02

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