Image Credit: allinonemovie/Pixabay.

The lasting power of Minecraft’s procedurally-generated music

Minecraft, first released in Alpha in 2009, boasted an infinite, procedurally generated world, leaving players free to survive and thrive entirely as they wished. The first major game of its type, the agency afforded to players to destroy terrain, craft items, and build their own vast structures, all while attempting to survive the dangerous nights was staggering.

C418’s soundtrack was entirely reflective of this freedom. It heavily featured dynamically-triggered motifs, sounds and fragments of music that would change depending on the actions taken by the player. This means Minecraft can shift from silence to liveliness or panic in an instant, perhaps prompted by the sunrise, an approaching monster, or the game simply decided that the player might fancy hearing some music.

Unlike the scary outside sun, a Minecraft sun will never burn you. Pretty neat. Image Credit: Reece Bennet/Flickr.

The soundtrack’s dynamism is absolutely its greatest strength. By encouraging players to associate pieces of music with certain actions, the game becomes capable of conjuring incredibly vivid images in the player’s mind or ushering in moods as naturally as the game’s sweeping rains.

The music creeps up on you: “Wet Hands” often begins playing just as the night begins to evaporate, its plucky piano arpeggios informing the player that they’ve survived yet another perilous night. Coupled with a pixellated sunrise, it can make you look forward to another day of doing exactly the same. I have experienced thousands of sunrises in Minecraft and can picture them perfectly. After a long night of hiding in what amounts to a hole in the dirt, being able to look up and see the sky gradually fade from black to lighter and lighter blues while “Wet Hands” echoes about you: that’s a powerful memory. The chunky sound effects of your hands in the dirt as you dig your way out, coupled with the music and unique visuals, have an impressively lasting effect.

I can’t think of another game where the memories are as vivid as these. The individual days collapse into one another, every remembered feeling imbued with an overwhelming sense of presence thanks to C418’s ambient pieces.

Ultimately, the soundtrack is forgettable. It’s not technically brilliant, and if you asked me to hum a tune from Minecraft I probably couldn’t. But if you play “Mice on Venus” the memories will come flooding back in an instant: it’s nostalgia in its purest form, but I can’t think of another game where the memories are as vivid as these. The individual days collapse into one another, summers and winters playing Minecraft with friends online; every joke, conversation, and feeling; each success and failure, they’re imbued with an overwhelming sense of presence thanks to C418’s ambient pieces.

I’ve never longed to be young again. My teenage years were nice, but my life is absolutely going in the right direction and I can’t wait for the future; however, hearing any of the tracks from Minecraft’s soundtrack is enough to make me think back, boot up the game, and see if I can inspire those same feelings. Of course, I can’t. The game has changed a great deal since 2009 and I’m not the same person I was then either. For the time being, just playing the music will have to do.

Minecraft: Volume Alpha collects much of the game’s most memorable tracks and is available from C418’s Bandcamp page in physical and digital formats.

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