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)


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