As developers ponder ways to expand the creative scope and lifespan of their games, many audio-based opportunities sit quietly within reach—no reinvention or massive overhaul needed. One such opportunity is through musical rendition—the art of the remix—and its powerful potential to fill out a banging soundtrack for gameplay that grows and evolves with new chapters, new challenges, or even new game modes.
As composer for Ubisoft Nadeo’s 2020 iconic Trackmania racing franchise, I was thrilled to revisit my material after the game’s PC release and create new renditions to accommodate new game modes and revitalize the sound for new seasonal campaigns, all gearing up toward the game’s long anticipated release on consoles this May.
Let’s explore some of the advantages Trackmania gained in using remixes in their rollout which other developers can also pursue in roadmaps designed to keep games feeling (and sounding) fresh.
Before we get started, be sure to check out our remixes of Trackmania’s main theme!
Cut Straight to the Creative Spark
Few things are more daunting for a creator (be they a composer, a writer or a programmer) than a blank page. Once you’ve got a good base of material to work with, riffing and experimentation comes much, much easier. No more spinning your creative wheels or spiraling into an abyss of inescapable uncertainty.
The wonderful thing about remixing is that you’re not starting from scratch. The heavy lifting in creating a distinct melody and harmony has already been done, so the fun of tailoring the arrangement for new flavors or contexts can roll right ahead.
For more on that initial heavy lifting, I’ve recapped the process of creating Trackmania’s soundtrack, building on the franchise’s legacy of iconic musicianship. My goal for this musical baseline was to capture the “racing feel” of classic Trackmania while putting a new spin on the styles people have come to associate with the series.
At launch, it wasn’t immediately apparent how the soundtrack would grow with content down the road, but some of the base library did come to life through remix. Our track editor theme “Infusion” reimagined the main menu theme with a mind for chill vibes and free-flowing player creativity over long stretches in the track customization mode.
As development continued post-launch, game updates took on a seasonal creative lens. With seasonality in mind, the extra fun work of remixing tracks for new content could finally begin.
Evolve Organically to New Needs
When creating the initial Trackmania soundtrack, it wasn’t set in stone that future updates would eventually reflect all four seasons. But once the creative path for updates became clear, the opportunity for remixes as an efficient approach for new music fell naturally into place.
Our original theme music, “Opening Ceremony,” took on the distinction of our fall season theme with its regal, olympian feel from warm brass horns, yet glassy chill from synthy trills and trance effects.
For the 2021 summer season and launch of the Royal Mode with all of its obstacle course mayhem, we reimagined the track with a barrage of wacky and percussive synth ornamentation, electronic stutter, and even some chiptune accents for good measure.
Racing ahead into 2022, we filled out the remaining seasonal themes with spring and winter remixes. For the winter rendition, we slowed the tempo a bit and layered in short synths to give the effect of glass bells. We replaced the EDM kick drums (used for the more temperate seasons) with sounds of an actual drumkit to give it fuller bombast and baked in more reverb for a cool airiness overall.
Our spring remix swung heavily back in the electronic direction with bouncing bassy lows, popcorn synthesizer highs, and a quickened tempo for that bright and revitalizing seasonal feel.
While the evolution of our remixes was tied very clearly to seasonal shifts, the same iterative approach to remixing could be applied to any manner of content campaigns—from thematic chapter shifts like western into cyberpunk or timely genre lifts to tie real-world holidays to in-game events.
Maintain Player Interest & Excitement
Hearing the same track over and over can make a game feel plain and unexciting for players, which makes the variation provided by remixes a great way to fight player fatigue. Each rendition of our “Opening Ceremony” theme retains the base melody and/or harmony that makes it belong unmistakably to Trackmania, yet noticeable differences in instrumentation and ornamentation help continually engage and intrigue players throughout the year.
That said, you could also argue that some of the most unforgettable game soundtrack classics never needed a library of remixes to become timeless, but it’s worth considering how today’s games and play contexts compare to bygone eras, including the length and intensity of gameplay loops or the unlimited variety of stages, player customizations, narrative evolution, etc. In all of these cases, music should help games open new chapters for their players as they grow into and with their game, whether it’s through remix or through other bespoke methods.
Which Games are Fit to Remix?
We wish more developers considered the possibilities that remixing provides, although not all games would get the same value in doing so. For instance, linear, narrative-driven games gain a lot of strength from having tightly composed soundtracks that hone in on each beat of their story. Composers may invoke a slight sense of remix by including audible callbacks and recurring musical motifs throughout their score, but full track renditions may not always lend themselves to a cohesive narrative experience (multiverse plotlines aside).
Games built with interactive music systems also have a heightened opportunity for building out extensive libraries with a broad selection of remixes. These robust systems are more likely to suffer by lacking the volume of music needed to achieve their intended impact.
Remixes present a significant opportunity for games with tight gameplay loops, with broad flexibility baked into their worldbuilding and lore, or with a rotation of stylized campaign content as used by many popular live service models. These types of experiences benefit from a broader range of musical variation to differentiate or create a sense of departure throughout their evolving gameplay, and remixing core tracks helps build on signature motifs that create cohesion across an ever-changing soundscape.