Left 4 Dead 2 – Monstrous Motifs

All the muL4D postersic in Left 4 Dead–themes, motifs, hits and effects–are based on a hybrid scale derived from the main opening menu theme. This theme, representing the near death of humanity as it fades to a distance only to be accessed through a radio, is an incremental melodic modulation collecting up all the notes used along the way. This scale is not absolute, and some notes outside the scale are used occasionally to achieve even greater dissonance; but by using this singular and very chromatic scale, almost any piece written in it will generally dovetail pretty decently with any other. At the very least, the pieces seem to spring from the same musical universe. The resulting tunes are deceptively complex–easy to remember but difficult to sing accurately.” (Buren.B, 2008)

The use of motifs in film is a common practice used for characterisation and memorability. One of the reasons that we find film music memorable is that it uses distinctive melodic motifs to ‘catch’ the main characters it describes. The James Bond theme is a good example of this, but a modern composer who has had great success with memorable motifs in all his scores is John Williams (Jaws, Star Wars, Harry Potter) 

“‘[We can] take themes and reshape them and put them in a major key, minor key, fast, slow, up, down, inverted, attenuated and crushed, and all the permutations that you can put a scene and a musical conception through.” (Williams. J, 1998)

The following examples relate very closely to the JAWS theme in terms of tonality,length and instrumentation. These are the musical motifs for each ‘Special’ Infected enemy in the game Left 4 Dead 2


There are separate cues that play as you get attacked by each different type of Special Infected enemy these can be heard below


Left 4 Dead has a More powerful Boss character called the TANK. The TANK has a piece of music that plays from when he is spawned into the game (alerting the player of his presence) until he is killed by the players, The nature of this game means that when this Boss can spawn is random and as such the music has to be triggered respectfully. Below is the TANKS theme Followed by a level specific variation of this same theme. The fictional band’The Midnight Rider’s (Diegetic) music is triggered by the player to alert for help and trigger the fight in the next video you can see what happens when one of the enemy motifs is playing the other music is present. Also the diegetic band music and the TANK motif become the same piece of music when the TANK enters the area,this makes no logical sense obviously but is a creative way of working around a problem of two songs competing with each other.

At 4:30

[Mike Morasky] We base the music on what the player is actually experiencing and not what on what we want them to experience. Working from artificial life work our audio designers had done on Lord of the Rings and the Matrix sequels, we implemented a simple system to examine what’s going on in the player’s immediate environment, then added the appropriate reactive, scalar rule-sets to control the music and its volume level. Most of the more prominent musical cues are thus ‘reactive’ results from rule sets processing this input–making the musical experience specific to each player. This system also controls the dynamic mix system—another feature unique to Left 4 Dead.


Finally here is an in game example of another ‘Special Infected’ the WITCH. with the WITCH there are 3 different levels of intensity, FAR, NEAR and Getting killed by layers of music. This enemy is musically in between the other examples, her music is not a global cue like the tanks music, it is present when only near her, likened to an environmental hazard. The Witch can be evaded or you can decide to kill her, the music notifies to the player in the same way Sound Effects and voice lines may do.



(Bill Van Buren,2008) Left 4 Dead (2008) In game developers commentary  

Mike Morasky, 2008)  Left 4 Dead (2008) In game developers commentary 

John Williams on Star Wars, quoted in Thomas, T. (1991) Film Score: The Art and Craft of Movie Music, Burbank, CA, Riverwood Press, pp. 334–335.


Shaa Li(2013) Left 4 Dead 2: All Special Infected Spawn Music (bacteria folder) Available at :https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vAYd8ihcUVA (Accessed: 21/03/2017)

Manu0jedi(2009) Left 4 Dead 2 Special Infected Attack Music. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E3ECtGQcWgc (Accessed : 21/03/2017)

TheWilsonator (2008) Left 4 Dead Soundtrack- ‘Tank’. Available at : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WhiGnj7QX2A (accessed: 21/03/2017)

Dragonsamurai (2010) Left 4 Dead 2: Dark Carnival-Concert. Available at : https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=240&v=vC4C7F1exwQ (accessed: 21/03/2017)

phenixflame123(2009) Wandering Witch. Available at : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oaoD2YDgcQE (accessed: 21/03/2017)


The Functions of Game Dialogue

Stevens/Raybould (2016, p.197) states that dialogue typically falls into the following categories:


This dialogue provides the player with information they need to play the game.
This technique is used when teaching new mechanics in tutorials or when using a new item for the first time. The aim is to solely give information but often developers find a way to assign this dialogue to a characters natural articulations and add some realism/immersion to whats being said. As the importance of this dialogue is high,mixing techniques are used to help clarity,such as sending the audio to the middle of the stereo field and ducking less important audio.


This dialogue is all about emotion and  development of narrative, character ,game immersion or comedy in the scene. mixing can either be spatialized (panned relative to sound source and distance fall off etc.) or similar to the techniques used for informational dialogue, it depends on either the business of the mix or importance of the dialogue.

Below is a video I edited to show a few different examples of narration dialogue and how in this case tells the story, informs the player where to go and reacts to specific player actions, all whilst being comedic. The game is The Stanley Parable

(Duck Dreams, 2017)

The Stanley Parable uses the Dialogue almost as a way to create game play, The scene at 0:32 when the character gets to a choice of 2 doors and the narrator says “When Stanley came to set of two open doors, he entered the door on his left” the player is not only given a 50:50 choice, but it is a choice to either rebel or to conform to the directions of the game. This ties to the over aching narrative that the Character Stanley is an obedient worker drone that works for a company he hates and does not even know why himself. The narrator often crosses between most of the functions of dialogue in games. He tells the player directly what to do, he gives story and character to the game that would not be present without. By giving the player choice in their actions deriving from the narration dialogue, the game makes the dialogue an essential part of the games mechanics, function, story and entertainment.


This dialogue is for immersing the player but often involves both information and character.Often though, the information conveyed by the words is not necessarily important.

Enemy “Grunts” or “Barks” are an exclamation that give the player feedback on the game play, often used in stealth action games. Here is an example at 0:20 seconds.

( HystrixSA, 2012)

This example is useful for understanding why variation is very important in game audio, especially for dialogue.

“The Nature of games is that we are often in similar situations again and again and again and are consequently receiving similar dialogue (e.g., “Enemy spotted!”,”I’ve been hit!”). This indicates that, for the most heavily used dialogue for each character, we need to record lots of different versions of the same line.” (Stevens/Raybould, 2016, p.199)

There is a good reason to keep these lines short and that goes back to variations and how easy it is write and record lots of short lines than lots of specific , longer lines.

In an article “Why Video Game Characters Say Such Ridiculous Things” the author Kirk Hamilton interviews the writer for the Splinter Cell: Double Agent Richard Dansky.

It can be a challenge to attempt to convey too much information in a single bark: “Ideally, each bark should convey one piece of information – “We’re flanking” or “Grenade” or “I’ve been hit”. Trying to compress multiple tidbits in there means you have to be coming up with multiple variants of each chunk of each bark. That gets really awkward – and really long – really fast.” (Dansky, 2012)

“Games give us worlds to inhabit, and so characters’ dialogue must be much more flexible and reactive.” (Hamilton, K , 2012)

Below is an example of ambient dialogue in the game No one Lives Forever 2, notice the mix as well as the length and humour of the content, it is apparent that the intended dialogue be focused upon by the player

Here is an example of Chatter/Incidental dialogue, this section is an optional conversation with an NPC that shows variations of a question prompted by the player.

Duck Dreams,(2012)


A theme that has presented itself is that Humorous dialogue relies on variation and non-linearity and has therefore given good examples of what needs to be done in games dialogue. No one wants to hear the same joke twice, arguably even more than a standard dialogue line.




Duck Dreams,(2017) The Stanley Parable Dialogue examples : available at (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k4KMzx9ebzk) accessed 28/02/2017

Duck Dreams,(2012) The Darkness II – Tony’s Bannanas : available at (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HLxTBRlvY8k) accessed 28/02/2017

Humakt83,(2009) No One Lives Forever 2 Funniest Conversation : available at (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zLF4WA2buoI) accessed 28/02/2016

Gareth Cocker, Andrew Lackey (2016) Ori and the Bling Forest: Sonic Polish through Distributed Development. GDC Vault : available at (http://www.gdcvault.com/play/1023195/-Ori-and-the-Blind) accessed 28/02/2016

Stevens, R. and Raybould, D (2016) Game Audio Implementation. Edited by `Dave Raybould. First edn. 6000 Broken Sound Parkway NW,Suite 300 Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press/Taylor and Francis.

HystrixSA, (2012) WHOSE FOOTSTEPS ARE THESE WHAT WAS THAT NOISE available at (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JjPpX1g1juo&feature=youtu.be&t=20) accessed 28/02/2017

Kirk Hamilton, 2012 Interviewing Richard Dansky ‘Why Video Game Characters Say Such Ridiculous Things’ Kotaku 28th June. Available at (http://kotaku.com/5921878/why-video-game-characters-say-such-ridiculous-things)