A friend of mine (and blog reader) told me last week: I’m waiting for you to publish something about the Braid’s soundtrack. And I thought: well…….. that’s a good idea!
So, after some years without playing the game, I reinstalled it on my Mac, started playing and researching about it’s music. Found some interesting things.
First of all, my personal opinion: Braid is a really good game! Its fun to play, has an interesting mechanic applied (the time manipulation control), a really impressive visual work (it’s one of the most beautiful and artistic games I’ve ever seen) and a spectacular soundtrack.
One aspect that most impresses me is the perfectly relation between the artistic visual of the game (looks like a water colour paint, sometimes resembling the impressionism style) and it’s soundtrack (instrumental classical music). I thought to myself: that was a pretty great connection between the design and sound teams!
But, I couldn’t be more wrong!
The truth is: Braid’s soundtrack wasn’t composed for the game, according to this GameSpot article “Spot On: The music of Braid“. Jonathan Blow (@Jonathan_Blow – the game developer) chose to license existing songs instead of hiring a composer and a producer to create a soundtrack for the game. This happened for two main reasons: first, the restrained budget; second, because he wanted the songs to mean something for the composer.
“My not-so-charitable opinion of game-music people is that most of them are not at that level of skill. Most of them don’t really understand gameplay that well unless it’s very simple, traditional gameplay. If they give you a song, it’s usually not very high-quality, like what a real musician makes. By real musician, I mean people who made the song because they cared absolutely about that song. They weren’t making it for anything. They just made what they most wanted to make at that time, so that’s what I was looking for.”
I don’t know if I agree with him, but it’s an interesting point of view. Being also a musician/composer, I do fell there’s difference between making music for a specific project, and making music for your own creativity satisfaction. Making your own music is a more free and emotional process than making a soundtrack, that has specific requirements and other people approving it. That, in some way, is more systematic.
I’m not saying that making game/film soundtracks doesn’t lead to amazing results and emotional songs. We have some wonderful examples all around (I even made a post about this: Great Examples of Soundtracks in Gaming). I’m just saying that I can understand his idea of “looking for songs that meant something for the composer”.
Anyway, Jonathan made an amazing selection for the game, as you can listen to below, on this YouTube playlist.
Another interesting thing about Braid’s soundtrack is that it helped design the game’s visuals.
“It certainly set a tone,” said David Hellman, the artist behind Braid’s visuals. “When the game was early and the graphics were rudimentary, the music was certainly one of those things that made a strong impression as far as the atmosphere of each world. I think his musical choices were very good. I always felt they were interesting and well chosen.”
According to Blow, choosing the songs was not an easy and simple affair:
Blow went through a lot of music before settling on the eight tracks that are in Braid. He had specific requirements in mind when he started his search.
“There were aesthetic goals and functional-gameplay goals,” said Blow. “So I wanted songs that were long because if you’re sitting in a level trying to solve a puzzle…often you’re just sitting there for 10 minutes to try and figure something out. If there is this short, looping music that just repeats over and over, that’s going to drive people crazy.”
He was also looking for the right music to go along with the atmosphere, even though the artwork would come later.
“I wanted them to be organic and complex because that’s kind of the mood the game is trying to set as a whole. Thematically in terms of the graphics, it’s trying to present something that isn’t necessarily clear-cut. There are all these layers in the graphics and in the emotion,” he said.
“There were other functional aspects,” Blow noted. “I wanted the music to be composed with instruments that worked well with the rewind. When you rewind something, the song should sound interesting going backwards, the texture of the instruments should be different and interesting going backwards and feel different.”
Some of the tunes selected have some interesting histories behind them, that, in some way, inspired the game’s design. It’s the case of “Downstream”, by Shira Kammen.
“‘Downstream’ was written in the Grand Canyon; it is several tunes in one,” said Kammen, who also previously recorded a brief piece for The Sims Online. “I was camped on the Colorado River [with] a friend of mine who had to row downstream to meet somebody who was hiking in. It was twilight and he had a headlamp on and he was rowing away into the twilight, and all you could see was his headlamp bobbing, going downstream.”
Although Hellman didn’t know the inspiration behind “Downstream” when he sat down to create the game’s art, he thought that the piece was very appropriate for a “forward-moving jumping game.”
“It works with the clouds, the way the sun moves. The music actually enhances the feeling [of] sunnyness and warmth in that world. I think it’s the sound of the violin,” he said.
And, besides it’s cool for games to have their own music, inspired by their creators ideas and yearnings, giving some less known composers the opportunity of having their work reach a wider and unexplored audience is pretty awesome.
“It’s hard to get your music heard,” she said. “There is this particular audience for the kind of music I do, and it is a really different kind of audience…a few have written asking for sheet music, [I think] that’s really neat and very nice. I would never think before this that a video game would inspire anybody to think about music.”
Well, all of this stories and info made me enjoy more Braid’s soundtrack. Hope this happened with you too! 🙂
Mauricio Ruiz – www.mauricioruiz.me