Composers Making a Name on the Indie Gaming Scene

For anyone even partially involved in the video game scene, you know that the quality of gaming music is undeniable. Names like Nobuo Uematsu, Jeremy Soule, and Michiru Yamane have cemented themselves in the classic musical zeitgeist, with newer AAA hits bringing with them world-class production quality. From Persona 5 to Breath of the Wild, the tracks available on the mainstage are worth listening to in their own right, but they also illustrate just the beginning.

Today, some of the most exciting developments in music come not from the big names, but from the indies. With smaller budgets, these titles usually can’t afford the big orchestral scores, yet they’re still considered some of the best in the market. As for how they succeed and what they accomplish, there’s a lot to consider.

Today’s Indie Darlings

Among modern composers, one of the best-regarded is Australian musician Christopher Larkin. Cutting his teeth on television and film, indie games gave Larkin a chance to make his mark, and that’s exactly what he did with Hollow Knight. A challenging Metroidvania title, Hollow Knight has been a huge hit for both fans and critics. In no small part, this is thanks to the lonely aesthetic, only aided by Larkin’s emphasis on melancholy.

Aiming for a more traditional game sound for indie titles is also still important, as embraced by composers like Lena Raine. Lauded for her work on Celeste, Raine’s work on this fast-paced platformer is more reminiscent of classic 8-bit platformers. Blending classic chip-tune styles with more complexity than what could be handled by the early systems that inspired it, Raine’s work is considered some of the best in the industry.

Matching Scope but Maintaining Quality

Composing good indie music can be limiting, but not necessarily in a negative way. All video games are built around limitations in some way, and by understanding what we have to manage a better final product can result. Take the best new games on both mobiles and PC as an example. These titles need to both perform and play well on both sets of systems, so developers streamline the UX to achieve the best of both worlds. This way, more players can get involved, and a wider community results. A similar concept applies to music.

For indie gaming, the two primary limitations in music come from cost and genre. Cost is self-explanatory, where a smaller developer can’t afford to rent an orchestra as a company like Bethesda could. It is with genre and style that things get interesting.

Because so many indie games are retro-styled, they tie their music back to the systems which inspired it. Celeste is a fantastic example of this idea, as Raine showed. Using a limited range of sound forced her music to stand out, creating nostalgic tunes that still exist on the cutting edge. Add on her natural talent and hard-earned skill, and it’s little surprise that her Celeste music has extended beyond games to become available on vinyl too.

As AAA video games bloat and stagnate, the indie scene continues to inspire otherwise jaded gamers. Music is one of the most important components of that equation, and it’s an area where more amazing composers are continuing to turn. Sure, 3D graphics in indie games might never match up to their big-budget cousins, but as musicians like Lena Raine and Christopher Larkin have continued to show, that’s the only place where indie games can’t keep up.