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 Instrument, made 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…
- 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> [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> [Accessed 05.10.15]
- YouTube (2013): “Tomb Raider (2013) Walkthrough” <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X0k3iFsd5hA&list=PL6dyw1-Hj7dsrBpaNN7u3aX7GLci38yIG&index=10> [Accessed 06.10.15]