One of the struggles with a mystery game is the balance between giving the player enough of a hint that they can figure out the next step to take without the game feeling like it’s leading you by the hand. Many games solve this problem with clever dialogue or an optional hint system. One way I would like to solve this problem is by using musical “leitmotifs”.
A leitmotif is a short, reoccurring musical phrase that is specific to a person, place or idea. One of the most recognizable leitmotifs is the Force Theme from Star Wars. In “A New Hope”, the motif is used around the critical times in Luke’s journey to become a Jedi. It is loud and longing when Luke looks out into the double sun set; it is low and sinister when he finds his Aunt and Uncle dead; it comes in subtly in the battle of the Death Star when Luke embraces the force. Overall, it is a versatile and iconic motif that gives extra thematic depth to a scene.
I believe leitmotifs can bring depth to the game as well. There are simple uses, like for characters. In the game, whenever you talk to a character, their leitmotif will play to let you know their musical signature. On top of that, there can be subtle musical signatures that act like a hint for when you are around an intractable object that is relevant to the plot. We can get even more creative by having objects play character motifs to let a player know who that object relates too. Also, the leitmotifs can be altered to make objects seem more or less benign. The possibilities are endless.
Now, you might be wondering why I put leitmotifs in quotes up at the top. The reason is that, with a video game, I can’t control the timing of the scene—that is, of course, up to the player. That means the motif would have to be able to mix with the background music seamlessly at any point, which is impossible. So instead of a set melody, like a true leitmotif, we used a music track that fades in and out depending on the proximity of the player to the object. Each motif has a different texture, color, or vibe to make it unique. What’s nice about Jazz is that we could get a musician who would work the character’s leitmotif into an improvised solo. I feel like this adds an extra layer of uniqueness to each and every interaction with the character.
I want to thank Katie Carson @Okayycars for her work on flugelhorn on these motifs, and also Ethan Kimberly @Mindthegoat_music for the music production of the whole game.
I’m happy to announce that the Demo will be out in a week on Itch.io. I’m excited to see what you all think!
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