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The Music of Gamescom Opening Night Live

Now that September has started and every gamer in the world has sunken their teeth deep into either Starfield or Baldur’s Gate 3, we thought we’d take a closer look at the trailers presented at Gamescom Opening Night Live. Most of you already know that ONL 2023 took place on 22nd August, kicking off the Cologne-based conference. Legendary Host Geoff Keighley treated fans to another evening of trailers and gameplay footage.

Gamescom Opening Night Live is the biggest stage on which developers and publishers can showcase their upcoming titles to the world, so needless to say a lot of work goes into making sure that every second of those previews and trailers have maximum impact. 

Music has an important role to play in a trailers’ ability to captivate audiences and make sure the games they advertise stay on people’s minds for a long time. Here’s a look at three of our favorite trailers of this year’s Opening Night Live that use music in a great way. 

The live-action trailer for Starfield shown at the beginning of ONL serves one purpose – it is the final big marketing push to get as many people on board the Starfield spaceship as possible. With Starfield’s imminent release, Bethesda chose to speak to a wide audience. They went after people’s attention with a cinematic cover version of Elton John’s classic 1972 song ‘Rocket Man’. Let’s be honest, if there was ever a hit song that could be used for Starfield’s marketing, it would be Rocket Man. Even if a bit overused, the song perfectly captures that feeling of grandeur of interstellar travel, and the overwhelming vastness of the final frontier. From the intimate moments of the first piano chords to the roaring symphony at the end, and finishing with Inon Zur’s instantly recognisable 5-note piano motif, Bethesda nailed it with their Starfield piece.

The ONL trailer for Black Myth: Wukong has reserved a large role for music as well, although in quite the opposite direction from Starfield. Chinese developer Game Science has created a story based on Chinese mythology and history, taking inspiration from Journey to the West, the classical 16th-century Chinese novel.

The ONL trailer starts of with a headless character playing the Sanxian (三弦), a traditional Chinese lute, one of the oldest traditional musical instruments in China. Together with a gripping vocal performance, the song continues playing non diegetically as the trailer unfolds. Towards the climax of the trailer, percussion and more instruments are added, The intensifying score is the perfect accompaniment for the fight sequences of the second half of the trailer. Game Science did a great job of establishing the historical, mythological setting of their game and using music to do so.

The reveal trailer for Little Nightmares III claimed the best spot of the night for itself – the new game by Supermassive Games and Bandai Namco was the very first trailer shown during the event. 

The long awaited sequel builds up suspension in this first glimpse in a straight line. It starts out very quiet, with minimal instrumentation, except for strings. The focus in the beginning is much more on sound design – the creaking of wood, birds cawing, a gust of wind. As we see our two miniature protagonists making their way through various obstacles, while evading enemies, the sound grows more intense. The trailer expertly adds sonic elements that complement the scenery. With xylophone, a music box, and the faint sound of children singing, the tension rises. Overall the piece does a fantastic job of using music to establish an unsettling mood, while keeping the scale of the trailer small.

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