NieR: Automata: Procedural Music


I recently… last year… was asked to write an article on procedural music in video games. Procedural music is also referred to as generative music and is a style of composition that uses algorithms to create indeterminate patterns of music with pre-made sound (think Spore and No Man’s Sky).Winifred Philips (Little Big Planet) explains this all excellently in her book A Composer’s Guide to Game Music and her blog: 

I chose to write the article/blog post on the music of NieR: Automata as I am a massive fan of the game to the point that I’m giving a presentation at the 2018 Ludomusicology conference in Leipzig just next week. (Eek!). The music in the game is incredible, it follows the player through the game world, the narrative, the character developments, the environments, and adapts its music to where the player is.

I’m not going to be writing anything more on NieR… here! Please follow the link below to my blog post in Melodrive on procedural music in NieR: Automata; 

While you’re there, please have a look around Melodrive, they do some amazing stuff and the support would be amazing.


Red Dead Redemption 2: 100 Ambient Man Hours

The long awaited Red Dead Redemption 2 (Rockstar games, 2018), the prequel to the renowned Red Dead Redemption (Rockstar games, 2010), is an RPG where players act as cowboy Arthur Morgan on the run from ‘civilisation’ with his band of merry women and men. A massive open-world game, RDR2’s soundscape is a signifier of the quintessential cowboy. Acoustic guitars, open chords (on a synthesiser), and a general ambient soundtrack allows the music to accompany the player without being overbearing in the soundscape.

The game’s soundtrack remains consistent throughout, colouring the game as you roam the large and, empty but gorgeous, environment. During fight scenes the soundtrack becomes more animated to keep up with the relentless sounds of gunfire. Here we start to hear the distinctive sounds of the Xylophone performing quick rhythmic patterns, not necessarily in keeping with the ongoing “death of the cowboy era” mood.

Elsewhere the game attempts to be more “authentic” with its sounds. An absolute delight to myself, mostly because I’ve spent a few seminars teaching it, is the inclusion of the Phonograph. Whether the music from the Phonograph is authentic, or manipulated through middleware, the tone and quality of the sound bends and flutters as though we were actually listening to a disc.

Although the game does not want to admit it, I am about 50 hours into the game but I still have massive issues with the “employees worked 100 hours a week” aspect of the game. Although beautiful, RDR2 is not a good “video game” (it is a good Red Dead Redemption game) and its soundscape leaves little to the imagination. Part way through the game, at a heightened narrative junction for Arthur Morgan a song takes over the narrative. Encouraging emotional empathy in the player, ‘Stand Unshaken’ is a direct comment on the destruction of the cowboy life and the scramble for survival it has left. The placement of this song is problematic however, it is not positioned at a complete emotional low and is placed at the end of a long sequence of shooting where a player is itching to save the game.

My personal opinion is the song could have been placed further into the narrative, as I can assure you it gets much worth for Mr. Morgan. As the song plays the player must follow a directed path, on a horse that is not your own (why?). The problem here is that the game wants you to focus on the emotional content of the song but does not completely reduce the on-screen UI (horse bonding even appears on screen). The player can also still run into obstacles, flip the horse over, and completely break the mood. If Rockstar wanted and emotional journey for the player here, they really needed to fix the cinematic mode and actually have the horse follow the path… still 50 hours in and I am immersed.

Stand Unshaken –

Faeria: A Musicologist’s View


Faeria is a free to play, fantasy style strategy card game which is now in Early Access. The game runs like other card games such as Magic and Hearthstone, with a Blue, Yellow, Red, and Green decks which have different play styles which can be mixed to create explosive combos. What’s different about Faeria is that you and your opponent take control of the board’s spaces with plain tiles, forest, desert, mountain, and lake to give yourself an advantage when placing creatures.


The music and sound effects within the game are set in the fantasy style with, at least during the menu screen, light harmonies on high frequency synths accompanied by a regular crotchet beat pattern on a plucked string instrument; this eventually flows into a haunting melody and accompaniment between a piano and erhu (a traditional Chinese violin). If anything, the game’s aesthetics are very close to that of Ori and the Blind Forest and give the game a particularly calm and mystical feel, in contrast to Hearthstone’s heavier tavern style. However, after this cue has ended, the music occasionally creates a completely different atmosphere during the deck creation and fight phases, sounding militant in its style with low synth drones and a heavy, driving drumbeat accompanied by a combination of brass and strings.

Deck Build.png

For a card game, with little to no narrative/story plot, it may be difficult to create interesting musical accompaniment that is in danger of becoming a monotonous loop of cues. Faeria’s flow between musical styles which all fit the same fantasy genre work well for the game, especially when working with areas such as deck creation where a player may spend a lot of their time.


Until Dawn: A Musicologist’s View

Until Dawn

Until Dawn (2015) is a survival horror game, revolving around a cinematic experience which includes cut-scenes, quick actions, and character narrative choices, with the game making a large emphasis on the butterfly effect; every choice the player makes changes the future of the game, narrative, characters, and story throughout. Due to this, a lot of the gameplay revolves around the player deciding what character narrative choice to make (unless it is a quick action which makes this decision shorter), which means that any music needs to become adaptive to a static environment.


The music works mostly as an environment feature in the game, creating tension were necessary and acting as a background “filler”, so to not make the game appear empty; containing mostly string or synth drones. Although this would seem appropriate for a horror game, it can sometimes be unnecessary, for example, at the beginning of the game the player must remain still with the controller in order to attract a wild squirrel to the character of Sam. In a rather innocent scene void of tension/fear, as the object is a squirrel, the music becomes tense to put the player on edge in a scene where it is not appropriate (although it is used in the future when the player is actually in danger). The visuals and controls in Until Dawn are first rate, however, the music seems chaotic at times as it tries to continuously match and interact with player actions, rarely being silent. This is where survival horror games could take from the 2017 Resident Evil 7, which remains mostly silent in its music until the player is either in a save room or is being attacked. Then, the music becomes an important signal for the player, rather than being used continuously and becoming out of place, repetitive, or boring.

Thumper: A Musicologist’s View


Thumper is a rhythm violence game, developed by Drool, where a player is in control of a space beetle travelling on what appears to be a psychedelic winding path to hell. The first level of the game is intuitive in its design, teaching the player all the basic steps that they need to know, and how to identify any rhythmic patterns that will need a response. Although the visuals are fast paced, the game mostly gives you enough time to see what is ahead, being surprisingly calm in a barrage of senses, as the music is not entirely obvious for a rhythm game; it should not be the only sense the player relies on.


Thumper will suck you in and spit you out, being both an encaptivating and exhausting with the intense visuals, and synthesised music which makes the beetle feel as though it is going faster than it is actually moving. The music is enjoyable to listen too, having a driving beat pattern, with rising synth frequencies and high pitched positive feedback sounds, which pulls the player with it and protects itself from the issue that some other rhythm games may have, being boring.

Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture: A Musicologist’s View

Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture

Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture is a first-person art adventure/walking simulator video game. Specifically looking at the opening of the game, the player is exposed to the delightful voice of a treble, in the track All the Earth, which begins with a piercing solo note accompanied later by the piano. This opening is powerful, and placed alongside the stunning visuals of a typical English village, it sets the scene for the rest of the game and definitely lives up to its art-adventure description.


Image from

Looking at the track Finding a Pattern, a choir is used accompanied mainly by woodwind and strings which have an emphasis on dovetailing between solo instruments, with a particular counterpoint occurring between a solo viola and violin. What first springs to mind upon hearing this is the symbolisation of pastoral England through the musical contour, which identifies greatly with its visuals. However, although beautiful like the game’s visuals and narrative, the melodies and use of instrumentation creates a haunting and spacious environment in the music, symbolising the empty village. During gameplay, the player is mostly surrounded by silence until triggering musical cues (either by area triggers or story triggers), allowing the player to focus on the voice acting provided. Regional accents, intonation, and nuisances symbolise the English village even more so, and although characters are not physical in the game, the player can paint a picture of personality and looks with the accompanied voice acting. If the soundtrack and visuals were not enough for the game to be considered believable then the voice acting makes it so.

Undertale: A Musicologist’s View

Undertale (Spoilers!)

Undertale (2015) is an RPG developed by Toby Fox, who is also the composer of the music. At first glance, Undertale resembles quite a few other games that came out around the same time which have nostalgic pixilated visuals and 8 bit sounding music; one such game being Shovel Knight (2014). However, as you progress through the game, it becomes clear that Undertale is a parody of these old-style RPGs where the player goes around the world, defeating the “bad” characters with very little consequence for themselves.


If anything identifies that a lack of consequence is not the case in Undertale, it is the music. Character themes occur for almost all enemies seen in the game, except for random encounters although these still have been given a personality of their own. Each theme is unique to the character and boasts interesting and complex rhythms and melody, which are transferred between the character it belongs to and any character it has a relationship with. For example, Toriel and Asgore share similar rhythmic traits in their melodies, as they are ex husband and wife. This adds a new level of emotional baggage for the player, as it is very likely that, if unaware of the pacifist route, they killed Toriel at the beginning of the game only to find her relationship with Asgore at the end.

Undertale creates these links between the characters in the game world, to cause a sense of being for everyone in the world and the player. If a player is unfortunate enough to decide to take the genocide route, then they will notice that, once all characters have been defeated by the player in an area, the music will take a negative appearance. The music slows down considerably, resulting in long reverberated drones which give the area an uneasy feeling appropriate to the genocide route. If any game can accurately represent its game world and inhabitants through musical material, Undertale is one of the best.