Everyone of us surely have that one game or a genre of games to go to after a long, tiring day. Some will boot up Uncharted or Titanfall, some — Need for Speed. For a number of reasons we turn on our PC’s and consoles just to spend a few hours with them before going to sleep and I think we can agree that what unites us is an urge to have fun and unwind from stress. The recreational function that games fulfil often takes the spotlight — we simply want to shoot stuff for a couple hours just to relax. In majority of cases that’s all what we are in for, because that’s all what we can do. After a stressful day or a work-filled week, we lack energy and mental capacity some games demand. In such case, would someone choose SOMA? Or The Witness? Maybe. But it is not difficult to conclude that the amount of gameplay value in so called „walking simulators” is not really proportional to easy action of an AAA FPS.
What is a walking simulator? It’s a rather scathing label that our gaming society put on videogames based on narrative and observing your surroundings. Being based on walking and low-level interactivity of the player with said surroundings is why those games are called boring, non-engaging and useless. Some call them „non-games”, throwing them into the void between „videogames” and „simulators”. But contrary to the popular belief, these games are in fact not that easy to make and quite risky. The developers need to write a good script, hire some good voice actors, create a world that begs to be explored. In short, they need to do everything to make us feel like walking around and everything that could make up for fun we would get from many other games. Of course, that includes music.
It’s essential for games that narratively rely on voice acting and/or a lengthy script to have a quality, expressive score.
Dramatic purposes of music in various media are countless. A proper piece in a certain moment can save a poorly executed sequence of a movie or videogame. It will get the plot going, emphasize a mood, it will end the plot — it does in video-games what it’s been doing in theatre or cinema. That’s why it’s essential for games that narratively rely on voice acting and/or a lengthy script to have a quality, expressive score. Without it, things seem empty and pointless. It just may be that its function is to motivate us to keep walking until walk our way into the closing credits. But in fact, walking sims require music for two reasons. One — to serve a dramatic function, make us cry and dumbfound us. Two — to please us, as a radio, during hours spent on walking from point A to point B, moving the plot forward.
We use radios daily. Going to work, school or uni, more than often we take an mp3 player or headphones for a smartphone to have our 30 minute commute covered. When we get there, we pack it up to our pockets. We start talking, working, learning. Later we go back home and that means another 30 minutes to fill with music, even for the sake of not having to deal with this horrid feeling of wasting time (just like some parts of videogames we can’t skirt around). And we all feel frustrated when we somehow forget to take our music sources with us. In my opinion, it’s because comfort of modern life accustomed us to constant intake of entertainment and it’s difficult to imagine a game not entertaining us at all times. If a developer chooses a genre that can’t transform mundanity of travel into a full parkour experience (Assassin’s Creed) or won’t allow to skip it entirely with a fast-travel system, they must provide other ways making it fun, or shall I say, engaging.
Wonderfully designed maps really need music to emotionally bond with the place.
Anyone remembers Far Cry 2? I personally love that game despite its flaws. Ubisoft offered us a huge, two-part map and a plethora of vehicles. No matter what faction we decided to side with and no matter which side activity we sought out to complete, to start a quest you’d have to travel for 5 to 10 minutes. In complete silence. Adding the ever-replenishing outposts, travelling in that game would turn tedious and boring after a couple hours. For Far Cry 4, to fill the silence, we got a rather irritating speaker and great punjabi music on the game’s radio. Coming back to Far Cry 2, despite its great soundtrack by Marc Canham, we notice that deciding to skip any sort of real life counterpart of trying not to go crazy doing the exact same thing over again, is a design mistake. It doesn’t keep the show going on.
I wanted to love ADR1FT but its drive towards being a cosmonaut simulator with slow drifting, slowly building sense of alienation and big doses of silence made mine and a lot of other players’ experience a drag. Lack of more prominent score in this game is one a few design choices that stand between me and my love for ADR1FT and its premise. It looks like a wasted potential not to use the magnitude and beauty of space to write memorable music, especially given the story ADR1FT presents. Wonderfully designed maps, like this game’s, really need music to emotionally bond with the place.
I will go on into the details in part two, but music is one of the most crucial and — excuse these words — profitable investments a studio can make when developing a walking simulator. Main reason for it is because music deeply rooted within us because of its omnipresence in our lives. It’s given to us in offices, waiting rooms or malls just so we can have something to focus on when being forced to do something monotonous, like waiting or having our dental check-up done. Implementing it in less engaging sequences or genres is a simple pleasure for us, but more importantly, it’s both an efficient response to short and needy attention spans and a way for games to further imitate life (to some extent, of course). If everything emanates music and we decide to surround ourselves with it, hearing it in Everybody’s Gone to The Rapture isn’t just an addition served to us by the composer. It’s keeping the game as a full, believable experience, without letting any traces of the ordinary in (eg. hours of slow walking). It grasps our attention and keeps us occupied, telling in its own language, making mundanity an exceptional experience.