The Imaginative Immersion in Tomb Raider (2013)

Tomb Raider (Square Enix, 2013) is the first entry in a new Tomb Raider continuity. It has received massively good feedback from the gamer community, some even going as far as to say it is the best game in the Tomb Raider franchise thus far. As we’re nearing the release of Rise of the Tomb Raider (2015), revisiting this action-adventure from 2013 seemed like an appropriate way to get hyped up for the new release. In this text, we will look at a battle sequence from the Chasm Monastery in Tomb Raider, and how the sound helps to immerse the player in a linear gameplay setting.

The concept of immersion brings about a great deal of issues, mainly related to the definition of the term and what actually causes immersion. Other concepts directly or indirectly related to immersion, such as Flow, presence and cognitive absorption can lead to further confusion as to what immersion actually is (Cairns et al, 2006). Whether or not sound and music is actually related to the level of immersion within a gaming situation is also debatable: Some researchers suggest that the level of immersion is a result of whether or not the gaming situation satisfies our basic human needs for competence, autonomy, relatedness and mastery of controls (Przybylski et al, 2010). They further suggest that the fidelity of sound, music and even graphics does not seem to have any significant effect the level of immersion (Przybylski et al, 2010:161). Other research has shown that the use of music in video games alters the sense of time passing while playing (Sanders & Cairns, 2010). This might suggest that music and sound does indeed have an effect on the level of immersion a player experiences. Other factors, such as the likeability of the music, might, however, effect the results. Sanders and Cairns also found that whether or not the players enjoyed the type of game they were playing seemed to have a greater impact on the level of immersion than that of the music.

I have chosen to look at a battle sequence from the Chasm Monastery in Tomb Raider. This is not because the sound in this sequence is particularly immersive in comparison to the sound of the rest of the game, but rather that this sequence can exemplify how the sound helps to immerse the player throughout the entire game. Tomb Raider is a very linear game: It has a linear storyline, and the gameplay, all though it does offer a few different choices of approach to the player, is also mostly linear. However, the game does not feel that linear and it is my opinion that the dynamic nature of the music, and how the sound effects often seem to blend into the music, creates a heightened sense of immersion for the player. These features might also make the player not realise just how linear the game is.

Shortly after Lara stumbles into the Chasm Monastery it seamlessly transitions into a cut-scene where Lara, quite ironically, utters: “I hate Tombs”. After which she discovers that this is not just any Tomb, but the tomb of Himiko, the first and the last queen of Yamatai – the Island on which the events of Tomb Raider take place. Shortly before the player regains control over Lara, a band of enemies (Solarii) appears, and the music starts building up to battle music. In the following battle sequence, the music is mainly made up of rhythmic motifs. The interesting part here, is how the sound effects also work with and blend into the music. Specifically, when the enemies, who are located above Lara, uses a zip-line to get down on her level. The sound of the zip-line adds an interesting rhythmic effect to the music, and distorts the line between non-diegetic backround music and diegetic sound effects. This is an effect used many times throughout the game, and is achieved by the use of an instrument, referred to by Jason Graves as The Instrumentmade specifically for this game. The Instrument is used both for the soundtrack and for some of the sound effects, which makes the soundtrack and sound effects feel more closely related to each other. This close relation between the sound effects and music, together with the dynamic nature of the music, can have the effect of making it feel like everything the player hears is rooted in the events happening in the game world. This, in turn, could cause the sound to have the effect of making the player further invested in, and thus immersed, in the fictional game world. At least that’s how I felt when playing this game…

Bibliography:

  • Cairns, Paul, A. Cox, N. Berthouze, S. Dopharee & C. Jennett (2006): “Quantifying the Experience of Immersion in Games”. In Proc Cognitive Science of Games and Gameplay Workshop at Cognitive Science 2006. Vancouver, Canada
  • Collins, Karen (2007): “An Introduction to the Participatory and Non-linear Aspect of Video Games Audio”. In Hawkings, S. & J. Richardson (ed.) Essays on Sound and Vision. Helsinki: Helsinki University Press.
  • ExpertReviews (2013): “Tomb Raider review” <http://www.expertreviews.co.uk/games/pc-games/52543/tomb-raider-review&gt; [Accessed 06.10.15]
  • Jørgensen, Kristine (2010): “Time for New Terminology? Diegetic and Non-Diegetic Sounds in Computer Games Revisited”. In Grimshaw, M. (ed.) Game Sound Technology and Player Interaction: Concepts and Developments. Hershey, PA: IGI Global.
  • Sanders, Timothy; P. Cairns (2010): “Time Perception, Immersion and Music in Videogames”. In BCS ’10 Proceedings of the 24th BCS Interaction Specialist Group Conference.
  • Przybylski, Andrew, K.C. Scott Rigby & R.M. Ryan (2010): “A Motivational Model of Video Game Engagement”. Review of General Psychology 14 (2).
  • Square Enix (2013): Tomb Raider
  • YouTube (2012): “Tomb Raider JASON GRAVES Music Composer Official Dev Diary” <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bh6MmzPBs6U&gt; [Accessed 05.10.15]
  • YouTube (2013): “Tomb Raider (2013) Walkthrough” <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X0k3iFsd5hA&list=PL6dyw1-Hj7dsrBpaNN7u3aX7GLci38yIG&index=10&gt; [Accessed 06.10.15]
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Introduction

I was born into a musical family, so music has always been a large part of my life. I have been singing all my life, and at the age of eight I started taking piano lessons. However, coming up with my own melodies always interested me more than learning how to play other people’s compositions. Whenever I was rehearsing, I would always end up playing my own melodies instead. Sometime during the teenage years, I decided to learn how to play guitar. It was also during this time that I discovered the world of audio software and virtual sound samples. I got my hands on FL Studio 6, which resulted in many a song with recorded guitar and vocals, and all the other instruments sampled. Fidling around in FL Studio, also resulted in many tunes using only samples, and it was the beginning of my path to becoming a composer.

Video games is another interest I have had since childhood, and some of my fondest childhood memories come from the countless hours I spent with my sister playing games on our brother’s Super NES.

I got my bachelor’s and master’s degree in Musicology from The Norwegian Univerity of Science and Technology in Trondheim, Norway. During the course of my bachelor, I realised I wanted to compose music for video games. A friend of mine was making a demo for a game as a school project, and she asked me to compose the music. All though I had been composing a lot of music up until that point, I had never tried composing for something else. I was intrigued by the challenge. It was a fun experience, and I was quite happy with the end result; I would consider the music to be average at best because I had horrible sound samples to work with. However, it was at that point I discovered what I would like to do with my life. Composing music for video games. Since then I have composed the music for two video games: GearCity (VentDev; KISS Ltd., 2014), a car business simulator, and Breakage (Vegard Stolpnessæter, 2014), a point and click adventure game. Apart from that, I have also composed music for a few short videos and I am currently composing all the music for a YouTube channel called LazyDreads.

My interest in sound sparked when I was writing my master’s thesis in musicology, which was supposed to focus on the music of video games – I was studying musicology, after all. When I narrowed down my thesis to focus on the music of Dark Souls, I quickly realised that just talking about the music wouldn’t make for a good thesis on its own. The sound is just as important, or in many ways, maybe even more important than the music in Dark Souls (From Software, 2011). And thus I ended up with a thesis focusing much more on the sound than the actual music. All the theoretical knowledge I got about the audio in video games through the work I did on my thesis has made me realise that I would like to work both with audio and music for games. In this day and age when sound effects are getting very close to realism, sound is just as important as music to ensure the player’s full immersion in a game. I would also like to be able to contribute to a player’s experience both through music and through audio.

– Kristin