Make Your Own Kind of Music in ‘Spore’ With Help From Brian Eno (Listen to this)

Will Wright’s modus operandi for “Spore” has always been about empowering the user to have a personalized experience from start to finish.

Such ambitions extend to even the game’s music. Electronic Arts Audio Director Kent Jolly and Composer Aaron McLeran, who temporarily came in to work on “Spore'”s musical implementations, discussed the execution of their hard work at last week’s GDC.

“Spore” uses what’s called procedural music. The sounds generated are executed through processes designed by a composer. In this case, the composer is musician Brian Eno and the processes hidden in the various editors (creature, ship, etc.) found in “Spore.”

Jolly’s team has incorporated most of the user-influenced music into the game’s creation editors (some bits show up elsewhere, such as the civilization building era), but it wasn’t until Eno arrived that the team became really jazzed about the prospects.

“[Eno] was a very inspiring person,” recalled Jolly. “He came and really just got everybody pretty excited about the idea of doing procedural music and I think that’s one of the things that’s just amazing about him as a person.”

When McLeran came on board, he worked with Jolly on tools for Eno’s procedural ambitions to be realized in “Spore.” When the player is using one of the creature editors, building a UFO or alien or what have you, the ambient music alters based on the player’s editing work. Moving the mouse over different icons produces small, but noticeable, alterations to the music, while placing a piece on a ship causes a much more substantial change.

Music is best understood heard. Click the player below for a quick example. Here, McLeran is building a ship in the same editor pictured above.

“Hopefully, the average user might not even notice that it’s procedural music. In fact, if they don’t notice, then I think aesthetically — and they still like the music — we’ve achieved something that’s pretty awesome,” concluded McLeran.

I have no musical talent, but “Spore” seems to take the hard part of creativity and make it an organic process without the user aware it’s happening. There’s something very compelling — maybe even unnerving — about that.