Game lovers may lap up anything the title Portal touches as though it’s covered in powdered sugar, but resident Valve Software composer Mike Morasky deserves special mention. His music for Portal, and now Portal 2, is dead-on: chilly, atmospheric, dystopian, but also pulsing with energy and able to capture the gaming blockbuster’s strange combination of diabolical cerebral puzzles with wit. It’s all the more impressive, as Morasky has straight-up parodied musical styles in his whimsical Team Fortress or horror movie-cinematic Left 4 Dead scores.
Developer Valve quietly released 22 instrumental tracks from Portal 2 as “Soundtrack Volume 1: Songs to Test By,” free in 320 kpbs MP3 form. “Music to Code By” could be just as appropriate. Even if you ignore this post, know that this score will be racking up Last.fm playcount as it pipes into the headphones of nerd boys and girls.
GamesRadar published an interview with Morasky. Interestingly, while this is being released in soundtrack form, Portal 2 is in fact adaptive in the game. The system is in the foreground only in a few scenes, but there, multiple layers give a sense of progression. Any musicians who have been … erm … sucked into this game no doubt found these scenes highlights already, but here’s Morasky’s explanation to GamesRadar:
There are several cases where the music adds channels and complexity as you successfully solve portions of the puzzle, with each additional piece of music actually coming from the device that is participating in the activated game play mechanic. Obviously, this can heighten the sense of achievement as one completes the puzzle but also turns the mechanics of the puzzle into a sort of interactive music instrument that you can explore by selectively triggering the different channels of music with differing timings and configurations. Most of the interactive music is also positional so that as you move through the space you also change the mix and volume of the music you are hearing, which invites explorations of the space as well.
Morasky and Valve have been at the forefront of adaptive music in games – an area still left surprisingly unexplored – in particular in Left 4 Dead’s use of cinematic cues to heighten suspense and integrate with actual gameplay.
But that doesn’t make the soundtrack to me any less satisfying. With nods to spooky scifi and electronica convention alike, it nonetheless emerges with a distinctive voice – much like the game itself. In a world of cookie-cutter mainstream gaming, at least in the triple-A territory, the success of the title could be encouraging. Find it here:
And if you’d like to see more covered than in the interview above, let us know.