You can usually tell when a game has been well-crafted. A great game will include excellent graphic design, playability, a captivating story and, of course — the soundtrack. A soundtrack can turn a great game into an extraordinary game, captivating the player and immersing them into a world they’ve only dreamt about.
A compelling soundtrack will have amazing melodies, epic chord changes that make you feel something, and sounds that are perfectly tailored to the atmosphere of the game. Below, check out four great iOS games that have amazing soundtracks. I caught up with a few of the soundtrack creators who make these beautiful soundscapes, and their answers to my questions give a ton of insight into how special this music really is.
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In Monument Valley you play as Ida, twisting and turning the world around you to expose new paths to your destination. The design and puzzles are outstanding, and the unique gameplay mechanics really make you think about the monuments you’re exploring.
I asked Stafford what his favorite part of making the soundtrack was.
I think for me the best part about working on the audio for Monument Valley was the opportunity it gave me to get really creative, experiment and try ideas in terms of both sound design and musical composition and production I would normally have not had the remit or time to produce. Such opportunities are rare, especially in a professional role in the games industry, so my experiences and memories of working on that title are something I will cherish.
It was also awesome working with the guys on the team at ustwo games. They’re a really great bunch and I always enjoyed my visits to the studio when we discussed the project and thrashed out new ideas. It was also fantastic being asked back to work on [Monument Valley expansion pack] Forgotten Shores, as by the end of the production cycle on the original title, the ideas were in full-flow, production techniques nailed. I think we all understood the ‘creative language’ of Monument Valley, so Forgotten Shores really allowed me to take the audio ideas even further.
Space Age takes you on a sci-fi adventure, as a group of explorers land on planet Kepler–16. The retro feel and ’90s-esque gameplay make this an exciting game you can sink lots of hours into. The game comes from Big Bucket Software, who also made The Incident. Big Bucket is Matt Comi, Neven Mrgan and Cabel Sasser (who made the soundtrack). You might know Neven and Cabel from the also awesome Panic Inc.
Space Age’s soundtrack is filled with funky synth leads, beautiful piano, string sections and, most importantly, spacey blips and bloops. There are more than 60 tracks to listen to, with reoccurring themes that make appearances as you progress through the game. With so many tracks, it’s hard to pick a favorite, but you owe it to yourself to hear “Not Feeling So Great (Chapter 11),” which features one of the best chord progressions I’ve heard in any soundtrack.
Cabel was nice enough to answer my questions about what his favorite part about making the soundtrack was, and how he figured out how it’d sound. Note that he mainly recorded this right in GarageBand. A testament to what Apple’s built-in software can do!
Arriving at the “sound” was interesting. The Incident was all pixel-art, and it was pretty obvious that it should sound “old.” I wrote that soundtrack in Famitracker, which emulates the original Nintendo Entertainment System sound chip, really fun and weird to write for!
But Space Age was trickier — the aesthetic was more like an Amiga or PC game from the ’90s, right when CD-ROMs were taking off. I thought about emulating the “Ad-Lib” sound of that time, but Space Age told a really interesting and substantial story, with dramatic twists and turns, and I was worried that retro synthesis would take away from that.
I arrived at a kind-of hybrid — dramatic orchestral film score, but with synth-y bleeps and bloops that remind you it’s a game. I like this combo a lot!
I have super-fond memories of working on that game. The family would go to sleep, I’d sit down at the kitchen table, turn on my big MIDI keyboard, fire up GarageBand, load a cutscene video, hit play, and just start ad-libbing and flowing while the scene unfolded. Everything just came straight out of my brain and into the sequencer in near-realtime. Then it was just a matter of layering — adding each instrument I heard in my head, one by one, until it sounded like it was supposed to sound. At times it was almost like an out-of-body experience, watching music materialize before me. That’s a weird and great feeling. I’m really grateful for the opportunity!
If you’ve ever played the game Bastion, you’ll know that its creators have an amazing ability for storytelling, sound design and creating worlds that lend themselves to exploration. The same folks who created Bastion also created sci-fi RPG Transistor. In Transistor, your weapon can gain attachments from its former owners, and it becomes somewhat of a living and breathing thing. You travel through a compelling city, unlocking its mysteries with a very fun combo-system for attacks.
Transistor’s soundtrack was created by Darren Korb, who also did the music for Bastion. It combines elements of real instruments like guitar, drums, and a beautiful female vocal with electronic sounds such as distorted loops and menacing synths. The guitar is processed and played in chameleon-like ways, where sometimes it can sound like a regular bluesy guitar (the intro to “The Spine”) and other times can be used as a sound effect (the delay-driven “Gold Leaf”).
There are a lot of stacked sounds making up these songs, which led me to ask Darren who his influences were and what he enjoyed most making the soundtrack.
Making the Transistor soundtrack was definitely a rewarding challenge. At the beginning of the project, I felt a good deal of pressure to follow up Bastion with something different, given the incredible response to Bastion’s soundtrack. I struggled for a while to find the identity of Transistor’s music, maybe about six months of experimenting. When I finally made the piece “Old Friends” I knew I had found the tone of the music. That was my “a-ha” moment, I think. From that point it was a pleasure to work on! Some of the things that heavily influenced me on that project were: Imogen Heap (specifically the album Speak for Yourself), Radiohead (mostly OK Computer era), DJ Shadow, Grandaddy, some lounge-y/jazz elements, Kings of Convenience, and some old-world European music/instrumentation.
Sword & Sworcery has it all. An 8-bit graphic style, a beautiful fantasy/adventure story, and Jim Guthrie doing the soundtrack. Guthrie has been making music for TV, film and video games for a long time. His Bandcamp site is a treasure trove of quirky music, and I suggest you subscribe to get all his future and past creations.
As you travel through the game, you’ll explore an amazing landscape filled with lots of surprises. Guthrie’s soundtrack weaves in and out of the story with chopped-up drum loops, a fat bass, filtered synths, piano drenched in reverb, guitar and tons of other sounds.
The game has sold more than a million and a half copies to date, and Apple featured it as a “landmark title” for the fifth anniversary of the App Store. For less than a dollar, this experience is worth every penny.
Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP – 99 cents – Download
Some of the best iOS games have great soundtracks that make us want to play more. There are some that have fun music, such as Threes! and Domino Drop, but don’t have a full soundtrack. Even so, the music is still part of what makes these games some of the best.