Game Design in Salt: Music

12:11 PM Will Sterling 0 Comments

Often we like to give you a behind-the-scenes look at some of our design and development processes so you can understand why certain aspects of the game are the way they are, and so you can look for these philosophies sprinkled throughout our content. Today I want to talk about our design philosophy behind the music in Salt.

The Importance of Music

We believe that music plays a major role in the development of a game. Many games are even known or stand out for their music. Think of The Last of Us with the haunting acoustic guitar melodies, adding a tremendous amount of atmosphere to the time between the tension. Or Dark Souls with the brilliant boss music adding a new level of intensity to an already tense battle. Some games even have musical melodies that are almost universally recognized among gamers (like Ocarina of Time).

Knowing that, we wanted to make sure the music in Salt felt right. We didn’t want it to be too generic or easy to just pass by. We wanted music that really helped the game and further immersed you into your adventure.

Scarcity of Music

One major design decision we made early on was to have music somewhat uncommon. We didn’t really like the idea of music constantly playing. I often find that this can become over stimulating and actually take away from the atmosphere of the world, thus making you less immersed.

With Salt being a game where you spend a large amount of time at sea, it seemed natural to have music play then. And so we wrote a system where music had a certain percentage chance of occurring while you were out in the open ocean (we define open ocean as being a certain number of units from islands). This turned out to work really well. Often you ended up with some down time on the large expanses of ocean, waiting for another island to emerge, and so it was nice to have some epic melodies play while your boat is crashing up and down on the waves heading towards the horizon.

We recently decided to expand this system to islands as well. We have specifically wrote shorter, less intrusive melodies that have a chance of occurring when you are exploring certain islands. This still keeps within our philosophy of keeping music scarce since it won’t occur on every island, and it won’t always happen. But when it does we feel that it adds a nice sense of calm and relaxation when exploring some natural islands.

Thematic Music

Another big design decision was to split almost all of the music in the game into two categories: night and day. For example when you are sailing out into the ocean, if it’s during the day, there’s a certain pool of songs that the game can pick from. All of these songs are specifically designed with the theme of daytime in mind. This means they will be more upbeat, happy, epic feeling, etc. And vice versa when you are sailing at night, there’s a pool of nighttime exclusive songs with a more sad, eerie, or even relaxing feel. This system also extends to island music.

Boss Music

While we chose not to have music play during common battles, we knew that bosses had to have music. A boss battle just doesn’t really feel like a boss battle without the appropriate music. And so we’ve composed some unique tunes for each boss battle in the game. Some of the songs even share similarities with a twist, such as the Spider Queen vs the Jungle Queen music.

Music You Can Control

In a more recent update, we introduced musical instruments that players can find in the world. One of the design philosophies behind musical instruments was to give the player more control over music in their game. We know that players have different preferences: some want to hear music more often, others would prefer it to be more refrained. Now with musical instruments you have more control over when you want to hear music. We’ve added around eleven new instruments, each with a different theme to suit your playstyle or the feeling you’d like to convey with music in your adventure.

Even though we’re always tweaking and polishing our systems, we are pretty happy with the way the music has turned out. What do you all think? We love hearing your feedback and would love to hear your thoughts on the music system in Salt.