Monday 27 July 2009

Permanent Death, Interstitial - Music on Mute

While chatting to some of my blogger friends the other day, some happened to mention that they liked to play Far Cry 2 without the music – either for added realism or some other reason. Since I’m experimenting already with permanent death, I thought I’d give it a shot and see how it changes the experience. I can now confirm that it is… different.

I had always enjoyed the music for Far Cry 2, but even I must admit that after hundreds of hours of exposure to it my ear had grown weary and stopped noticing it. However, as soon as I turned it off the lack was entirely apparent and I realised just how much I had relied on the music to provide much of the game’s pacing.

When you get close to enemies, even if you don’t know they are there, the music often adds a layer of tension to the mix and if you’re experienced at playing the game you will probably pick up on this subtle change and prepare yourself. With the music gone, being ambushed can become truly a surprise…

The first time this happened to me, it was indeed a surprise - but it was also less tense than it would have been with the addition of music. I was unconsciously waiting for it to ramp up and provide me with an emotional guide as to how I should be acting and responding. Lacking this musical signpost, I spent a lot of the early time in an emotional plateau – never feeling particularly bothered by the enemy soldiers.

I became more brazen – I found myself charging through the middle of a series of checkpoints in pursuit of a weapons convoy and was hit by a sudden fear. I was apprehended by a feeling that I had dangerously over-stretched myself and that I could be only seconds from death.

I came away from the encounter unscathed, but the tempo of the Far Cry 2 experience had changed. I started ramping my concentration levels up and down much faster– snapping from the baseline ‘pseudo-boredom’ of driving through beautiful scenery, to full-on attention which would then be paid to the effort of staying alive. Or perhaps that was what I was already doing when I had the music on and it just became more transparent without the music.

I suspect not – for without music to tell me that the fight wasn’t over, I had to judge for myself. and it subsequently felt like I entered a great many more discreet conflicts. In one instance I had just finished clearing a camp of soldiers and was searching around for some diamonds, when more turned up and I had to break off the search, bare seconds passing between the first and second encounter. If the music was there, it might well have stayed at that same level across the whole period because it often takes a reasonable period of time to 'calm down'.

Whatever the case may be, I’m still convinced that the people responsible for the music of Far Cry 2 have done a singularly excellent job in creating a score, and implementing a system, that has held up for a hundred hours or more, in my case. If I keep it off for a little bit longer I hope Jeff Wesevich won’t take it personally.


Tellurian said...

I liked the music, but then I grew tired of it pretty fast and switched it off.
To me, it made the game much more immersive, as my senses switched to actually listening to what went on in the surroundings / environments from the musical "spider sense" that had always warned me of danger to come.
I like the game better without music tbh. And not even for the realism. It's just a somewhat tenser, "freer" (as in "feel the way I want not the way the music wants me to") experience.
Dynamic game music is a good thing, but usually I dislike it becoming too much of a danger sense. At least not when I think it's not suitable.

Moeez Siddiqui said...

I've never turned off the music in games, because dynamic game music has become a crutch for so many years. But now, I have to try it out! Sounds intense having to think on your feet instead of leaning on a "musical signpost" ;)