Story in Games Pt. 1.5: The Music in Monstrum

So much for writing more… I should try and keep up, but it’s been busy at Team Junkfish. Once again, this is a repost of that blog and is reflective of the development progress at the time. The original post is here.

This is one follow up to my previous blog which discussed storytelling in games. You can give it a read here. My original plan for the second part was to speak about the use of sound effects in story telling and world building, however I thought it’d be an idea to talk about how we’re actually going about the music side of things ourselves!

In Monstrum we are aiming to use both diegetic and non-diegetic music for a few different purposes. The most obvious use of non-diegetic music are the monsters’ themes, so let’s start there. Simplifying some statements down a bit, these are used to provide information (i.e.: the monster is chasing you), context (which monster it actually is) and emotional content (trying to evoke a certain feeling). I’ve spoken about the “hows” of the Brute’s theme before in detail here, including of the sound design that’s used, so I’ll give you a little summary of the decision making, the “whys”, that went behind it and what I was hoping to achieve.

First, let’s talk about the Brute’s musical flow:

Sorry artists…

Here we can point out how the musical themes provide information and context. There is the initial Wandering theme, which is used as players walk around the ship before being spotted by the monster.

Wandering Theme

The information players can learn from this is that they are “safe”, but it is actually quite interesting due to the lack of context it provides. In a game that is going to be different every time you play, it doesn’t make sense to give everything away from the beginning. It seems obvious, but it ties into how the Stalked theme is used and how it replaces the Wandering theme. You now know what else is on there with you, so the original gap in your knowledge has been filled, but you are also not actively being chased or hiding, which is when the Wandering theme usually plays. So while the information remains the same, the context is different, and this new emotional content is represented musically.

Brute Stalking theme

Each monster also has its own Stalked theme, which utilises some of the thematic and instrumental motives that are established in the Chasing music .

Brute Chasing theme

The Brute has an almost constant, unflinching rhythm during his Chasing theme, provided by the pounding drums, cymbals and background pulse. This is to reinforce his nature as a physical, charging force that has a singular focus and goal. On top of this are the metallic, almost mechanical screams and squeals that sound like metal buckling under strain. This was mainly an emotional content decision. I wanted the listener to feel uncomfortable slightly stressed while being chased because, well, it would be. I also wanted to somehow represent the ship in the music, so this was a decent compromise too as it also plays into some of the randomised creaks, thumps and squeaks that happen as you explore. These are the elements I bring back into the Stalked theme, because trying to sneak around while drums thunder in the background is somewhat jarring…
Anyway, time for something a little newer:

We’re been working on the Hunter, so here’s a little snippet from one of its themes. I’ll do a more detailed break down of the hows and whys behind it later on though, because

Jonesy The Guardian watches for any and all leaks.

Now a little about our use of diegetic music, and how we’re using it to build up the game world. Diegetic audio is something that has a source on screen or in the game (or film) environment. Basically the characters on screen would be able to hear it. I’ve briefly spoken about the radios in a previous blog post, and their implementation has evolved a bit further since then.

The 70’s was an interesting time for music, with lots of genres and sub-genres coming into the mainstream. There are a few common musical tropes that hang over from that era, such as funk, disco and punk, so if we’re going for general world building and theme setting it makes sense to focus on the easily recognisable ones. Canterbury Prog would probably be lost on a more than a few people. So how are we going about integrating these ideas into the game, and why do they have to be diegetic in the first place?

Also heard in our trailer…

From a gameplay perspective we are using them as part of the distraction mechanic. In Monstrum each monster will react to sounds that occur in the game world. For example, if you run around and throw things about a lot then the monster’s more likely to hear you (and thus chase after you) compared to you walking around quietly.

Here’s where the radios come in. Being a portable usable item they can be thrown into rooms, corridors, whatever you like, while active and will act as an audio source in the game world. As the music is coming from a specific object, we have also tweaked the song so that it sounds like it’s coming from a fairly bad mono radio, like the character and monster would hear it, as opposed to the general themes that are “just there” in the background. This makes logical sense for how the item is used, and also proves a sense of place for the player and their interactions.

For an extra trick the “signal” deteriorates as you go further into the ship’s underbelly. This has a few benefits, one being that it serves as a rudimentary compass, but it also helps keep the tone of the darker, grittier areas intact, as a funk track in the middle of the cargo hold maze might dull the atmosphere a tad. While these would be perfectly functional just emitting noise, the opportunity to do something a bit more interesting on the whole was too good to turn down.

And that’s why these films will have soundtracks

We’re hoping to have the record players with different (and possibly even swappable) LPs working at some point soon too, although these will be stationary sources.

Hopefully this’ll give you a bit of insight as to how we’re doing things in Team Junkfish and following our own advice.


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