Atypical Soundtrack Design

A second aspect that has been relevant in my Death Stranding experience is music. To me, music is one of the main aspects in life and in games as well. Almost all of my most memorable experiences with games, movies or series are highly tied to the music that was playing in that moment. I have a tendency to relate songs to experiences in life, to people and to game situations. I exercise this mostly as another source of fun as it gives me great pleasure to find a song with lyrics that fit perfectly the story or moment in a game I’m playing. Death Stranding however, is very particular on its way of using music and, therefore, I think it features an atypical soundtrack design.

GameSpot

Just like in a movie, musical moments in this game are carefully crafted by Kojima (or the designers in general). The game has, in my opinion, an incredible soundtrack. It introduced to me the wonderful band Low Roar which is right in the middle of my kind of favorite music but for some reason hadn’t appeared on my Spotify radar so far. And this incredible soundtrack is meant to be another character in the story. Key songs make their appearance in key moments to create a more deep and lasting memory of those events. “The first time I reached X place this song played…” “When Y happened to Z character this perfectly related song played and it was incredible” (even more so if we consider some end-game spoiler events). This is, of course, a very effective technique for people like me who enjoy relating songs with events. It means however, that all the rest of the playtime happens in absence of music (except for the diegetic music played by the structures, if customized that way).

Obviously the emotional impact of the first time we hear “Don’t be so Serious” would fade away if I played it 24-7 on every moment of my sometimes annoying travels. Also, I guess this aims to help getting a better immersion and a somewhat more realistic feel of the world. As someone in a GDC talk said, when we walk into a room in real life, no matter how dramatically we do it, an orchestral soundtrack doesn’t play that exact moment to enhance the experience (although it could and it would be awesome!)

wccftech

I learnt to live with this concept in another great game I experienced a couple of years ago: Zelda Breath of the Wild. A lot has been said about this masterpiece and I can only say I really love it. But something that disappointed many and certainly surprised me was the soundtrack choice. Previous titles of Zelda had such incredible soundtracks and memorable songs that it was hard for me to imagine a Zelda game with a soundtrack such as the one BOTW features. However, once you get immersed in that world and you really “breath the wild” it becomes apparent that this was the way to go. I don’t think the players could have felt the freedom and wildness of trekking or exploring such a vast world if a classic Zelda soundtrack had played during the whole time. This is not to say that BOTW doesn’t have great music tracks. Just like Death Stranding, the songs that are really present in the game are so good that they leave you wishing you could hear them in other moments as well, at least in my opinion.

I heard rumors about people eager to build mods for Death Stranding PC version that would include a music player to take with you at all times. I agree and also would love to have something like this, but I’m curious about how this would affect the overall experience.

Are there any memorable soundtracks you always go back to? Are there some games that would have been better without constant music?

Social Coziness in Games

As I mentioned in previous posts, lately I have been interested in the topic of Cozy Games and coziness in general. At the same time, I have been actively playing two games: Death Stranding and Animal Crossing. While these activities could appear almost ironic and hugely different from one another, I have been surprised to discover how they do not differ that much.

Coziness Using Social Mechanics

It’s a given fact that Death Stranding doesn’t emphasizes or centers around coziness. If we consider the main ideas behind Tanya Short’s bible on Cozy Games, most of the points that prevent a game from giving that vibe are present in Kojima-san’s latest creation. There are very few safe spots or places the player could feel like home, most of the environment is always dangerous, and things only tend to get worse the more we continue advancing on the story.

However, there is another aspect on this that has caught my attention: the subtle social interactions that the game promotes. It’s not a MMO game, nor a multiplayer game, in fact you (almost) never see another soul while travelling through the vast and barren locations, however the game has its own techniques to always make you feel supported by the rest of players. It uses a system based on “likes” and the world has turned into some kind of huge social network where even the dopamine generated by the social approval of the rest has its own name. And for those of us who are not such fans of social networks this may sound a little ridiculous, however the effects this has in the gameplay are very interesting and set the mood for the creation of very wholesome communities many cozy games could envy.

Polygon

Just like in Animal Crossing, an important part of the daily routine is socializing with your neighbors and building the best island for them (and for you), Death Stranding encourages you to establish connections with other mostly anonymous players and build in-game structures that will eventually make the road less painful for the others (and for you as well). One of these days I spent most of my playtime building the ultimate zip line network to connect all the last location preppers (trying hard no to spoiler here). This meant a lot of time and effort, many very annoying fallings on Sam’s part and BB’s crying but when it was finished it was totally worth it. And, ironically, the feeling I got when I traversed the difficult terrains mostly flying through endless zip lines was remarkably similar to the one I get when I finally finish fulfilling my Animal Crossing’s island vision.

Reddit

These social interactions are obviously highly encouraged by the game, which gifts you “likes” (one of the game’s most desirable collectibles) every time other players follow your paths, use your structures or deliver cargo you lost on a dreadful BT encounter. That awesome feeling of being useful and approved by a lot of strangers that during their playtime will be grateful for your contributions as you are of the ones that built some roads before you, is another kind of reward not directly related to the story or your progress in it but arguably equally important.

Anonymous Social Interactions

This kind of social interactions has greatly interested me ever since I played Journey. I tried this game with no prior information or investigation about it, and therefore my first playthrough was a complete exploration and discovery experience, I met some people along the way and up to the last moment I was completely sure those people where NPCs carefully placed there by the developers. When the credits rolled in and the list of other players, I met along the way appeared it was a complete experience changer for me. Now, after having made some research on the topic, this feeling reminds me of the concept of Kishoutenketsu, the narrative technique where one of the steps is about the Surprise or Twist element. There are great resources (such as this and of course this) that explain this thoroughly but one of the definitions states that the surprise element is meant to provoke a different point of view on all the story retroactively. Learning that the other characters I saw along the way were real people, and their support to finishing each level was someone else’s legit effort to help me/us, was really what I remember most fondly about this great game.

Softpedia

I feel Death Stranding implements this is a AAA kind of way, with a lot more content to support the concept but aspiring to reach the same emotional connection.

There is something very human about being alone in a dystopic world working to make it a better place for the rest. Regardless of the real motivations of the main character, many players (me among them) make it their personal mission to finish building ALL of the roads, fixing every useful structure and making the world a better place not only in a figurative way but also for the other human being that is experiencing the same as you.

Are these unusual social interactions something that evoke coziness for you when playing a game? Are there other fundamentally anti-cozy games you feel at home with?

Raincup Games and Coziness

Cozy Games

The first time I heard the term cozy games was very recently, when someone mentioned it associated with Animal Crossing. I entered the world of Animal Crossing very recently as well, being New Horizons my first one in the franchise. And I can totally picture the meaning of cozy games if I think about Animal Crossing and its core mechanics.

According to the literature found about cozy games, a key point about its design is the concept of wellness and abundance; the feeling of being safe and comfortable in a place that belongs to you. This is achieved, for example, via personalization, music or ambiance in general. Although the concept was unknown for me, it turns out to be pretty close to what we expected “Raincup” to represent.

Animal Crossing knows best.

The Raincup Concept

Raincup is a made up word that comes from “teacup” + “rain” and it’s meant to evoke that cozy feeling of staying at home, playing your favorite game and entering a completely different world full of adventures while it’s raining or at least cold outside. Raincup was also founded during our country’s winter (July) and for us – since we don’t get any snow because we live by the sea – winter is more about rain. That has changed over the years, though, and every year we get less and less rain… 🙁

At Raincup we aim to create games that represent a memorable experience and that make people feel good. We have nothing against war themed games or games where the main goal is to kill or defeat other people, however it’s not our cup of tea (shameful pun intended). What we want to create goes more along the lines of “nice games”, if there is such a thing… And cozy games is a concept that surprisingly includes many things that we would like to present to our players.

Our first game, however, is not so close to the editorial line that we have in mind. Being a mobile free to play, its design strayed away a little from this emotion evoking goal we are talking about. Nevertheless, we have worked hard to keep it as close to those concepts as possible, featuring a cute character, delivering the experience of exploring and also including a safe space where the coziness is the star.

Our Future

In the future, we want our games to have a stronger narrative component and specially, to deliver a memorable emotion. That could be accomplished by having a great story or through gameplay. As I mentioned before, the cozy game concept has a lot of possibilities to deliver this cozy feeling; possibilities we are exploring in order to help us better define and better design our next project.

As a new company, we are in the stage of defining our personality, so to speak, what we want to be recognized and remember for, what style of games we want to specialize in, what platforms are the best to accomplish these goals, etc. It’s a long process and this quarantine months have really favored the reflection of our team about it.

Thanks for reading and stay tuned to find out more about our creative process and the challenges we are facing. 🙂 Follow us on social media!