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A Composer's Guide to Game Music

A Composer's Guide to Game Music

Winifred Phillips
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: MIT Press
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    A Composer's Guide to Game Music
    Book Description:

    Music in video games is often a sophisticated, complex composition that serves to engage the player, set the pace of play, and aid interactivity. Composers of video game music must master an array of specialized skills not taught in the conservatory, including the creation of linear loops, music chunks for horizontal resequencing, and compositional fragments for use within a generative framework. InA Composer's Guide to Game Music, Winifred Phillips -- herself an award-winning composer of video game music -- provides a comprehensive, practical guide that leads an aspiring video game composer from acquiring the necessary creative skills to understanding the function of music in games to finding work in the field. Musicians and composers may be drawn to game music composition because the game industry is a multibillion-dollar, employment-generating economic powerhouse, but, Phillips writes, the most important qualification for a musician who wants to become a game music composer is a love of video games. Phillips offers detailed coverage of essential topics, including musicianship and composition experience; immersion; musical themes; music and game genres; workflow; working with a development team; linear music; interactive music, both rendered and generative; audio technology, from mixers and preamps to software; and running a business.A Composer's Guide to Game Musicoffers indispensable guidance for musicians and composers who want to deploy their creativity in a dynamic and growing industry, protect their musical identities while working in a highly technical field, and create great music within the constraints of a new medium.

    eISBN: 978-0-262-32133-4
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. 1 Why Would You Want to Write Music for Games?
    (pp. 1-16)

    The first time I thought about writing music for games was during protracted gameplay with the originalTomb Raider. Taking a break from pursuing ancient Atlantean artifacts among the ruins of Egypt, Greece, and Peru, I decided to let the game’s star, Lara Croft, relax for a little while in her family manor. I had her swim a few laps in the pool. She went for a jog around the manicured estate. She hung out in the posh ballroom. Just for fun, I had her turn on her stereo, and some classically inspired music began to play.

    This was the...

  5. 2 A Composer’s Creative Skillset
    (pp. 17-34)

    Among the bric-a-brac scattered around my house is a big feather quill. It has a very impressive-looking brown feather, and is purely decorative. I sometimes look at it and think about all those great historical composers, slaving away with their feather quills. Then I head off to begin my creative day in a studio full of so many buttons and blinking lights that I might as well be working at NASA.

    As modern day composers, we are often forced to remind ourselves that we aren’t primarily button pushers. Our tech expertise is not what makes us what we are. We...

  6. 3 Immersion: How Music Deepens the Play Experience
    (pp. 35-54)

    A few years ago, a small independent studio released an unusual horror game that provoked a lot of attention. The game itself didn’t introduce any radically unique gameplay mechanics, nor did it break any new ground in terms of presentation or technology. What this game did outstandingly well was scare the living daylights out of people.

    Shortly following the game’s release, an assortment of gameplay captures made their way to video hosting sites. Gameplay videos on the Internet have become commonplace, serving as one of the chief vehicles through which gamers help each other solve difficult puzzles or defeat powerful...

  7. 4 The Importance of Themes
    (pp. 55-74)

    Every year, thousands of American gamers gather together to attend two major conventions: the Penny Arcade Expo in Seattle, Washington (otherwise known as PAX) and the Music and Games Festival (a.k.a. MAGfest) in National Harbor, Maryland. Crowds of enthusiasts pack exhibit halls, challenge each other in all manner of games from console to PC to tabletop, celebrate their love of geek culture, and party into the wee hours. They also attend officially sponsored rock concerts.

    The venues are often packed with sweaty music-lovers, many wearing the usual jet-black of devout rockers (although some of these black t-shirts also feature video...

  8. 5 Music Genres and Game Genres
    (pp. 75-96)

    Walking through one of the wide hallways of the Los Angeles Convention Center during a busy day at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), I found my pace settling into a steady rhythm. I was nodding my head to the beat. My shoulders were jogging a little with the syncopation. If it weren’t for the bright sunshine streaming in from the massive wall of windows to my left, and the hundreds of footsore convention goers carrying bags of expo floor swag as they streamed by on either side of me, I might have thought I was walking through a particularly edgy...

  9. 6 Roles and Functions of Music in Games
    (pp. 97-116)

    At this point, let’s pause and contemplate a simple but obvious question: why do video gameshavemusic? A musical score is certainly not a requirement. And yet most games have a lot of music. Why? I’d suggest that it may be for the same reason that so many other parts of our daily lives have music.

    When we think about it, we can put together a fairly long list of ordinary places where we’re likely to find music on a daily basis. These include overt performances meant to deliver music directly to an audience (concerts, sporting events, radio playlists),...

  10. 7 Preparation and Workflow
    (pp. 117-134)

    I watched the rabbit, dangling by its ears precariously over the head of the bear. The great brown beast looked up at this potential snack with a keen interest, but for the moment he could do nothing but wait. The cuteness factor embodied by the bunny was tremendously high, augmented by the accompanying sense of impending doom. While this was going on, a game developer explained that the options for this gameplay situation were manifold. The bear and the bunny could become friends. They could simply ignore each other. The bunny might even intimidate the bear. But the bear could...

  11. 8 The Development Team
    (pp. 135-144)

    As game composers, our creative output has a strong influence on the rest of the team, whether we know it or not. Even after the project is complete, we’ll often have no idea how deep our creative impact might have been. Our music might have serenaded the team through headphones while they were creating textures, refining animations, and testing gameplay designs. Over the course of development, our music might have inspired the team to make changes in their own work ranging from subtle tweaks to the visual style of a single location to complete redesigns of entire levels. In my...

  12. 9 Music Needs of the Game
    (pp. 145-156)

    Now that we’re more familiar with the people who comprise the development team, let’s take a look at how their music needs might progress, starting from the earliest days of a project.

    Unless we are in-house members of the team, we are usually not given the opportunity to significantly contribute to a game’s development in its earliest phases. The sound and music professionals frequently sit on the sidelines while the team leaders from the art, programming, and design departments engage in the initial brainstorming process, and composers usually don’t get to participate when the development creating the first embryonic incarnation...

  13. 10 Linear Music in Games
    (pp. 157-184)

    There is a debate currently raging in the world of video games. The debate concerns whether games can ever truly be considered “art.” Many professionals in our industry think that games have already achieved that lofty summit whereby a work of ingenious craftsmanship becomes emotionally powerful enough to be hailed as art. Not everyone agrees, however. The most vocal among these naysayers was late film critic Roger Ebert, and one of his chief arguments against the viability of video games as art was the variability of the experience. “Art seeks to lead you to an inevitable conclusion, not a smorgasbord...

  14. 11 Interactive Music in Games: Rendered Music
    (pp. 185-202)

    As a part of our daily work as game composers, we spend a great deal of time devising the distinct components of our creations. We invent melodies and counterpoint, harmonies and rhythm, delicate patterns and beefy walls of sound. During this process, our music is likely to be comprised of a multiplicity of instruments performing concurrently. When we’re happy with our musical compositions, then it’s time for us to take the next step. Do we save the music as a file that maintains the separateness of each musical element, or do we render it?

    Torenderis to bring about...

  15. 12 Interactive Music in Games: Music Data
    (pp. 203-214)

    “Igor Stravinsky, acclaimed as the most distinguished, if not the greatest, of living composers, now sojourning in America after an absence of ten years, ardently advocates and practices the composition of mechanical music!” proclaimed an article from a 1925 edition ofThe Independentmagazine (“Stravinsky Previsions a New Music”). In the article, Stravinsky hailed themechanical musiccomposition method as “A new polyphonic truth.” In addition to the elaborate etude that Stravinsky composed for this new “mechanical” technique, many of his fellow composers added their own compositions to the repertoire of “mechanical” music. Alfredo Casella, Gian F. Malipiero, and paul...

  16. 13 A Game Composer’s Technical Skillset
    (pp. 215-236)

    Every so often, I’ll get a cheery phone call. It goes something like this:

    “Hello, Winifred! Hope everything is going well. How did that project turn out? Wonderful! It’s great to touch base with you again. We were just talking about you here. What are you working on now? Oh, can’t talk about it, yeah, I understand that. Anyway, just wanted to see how you were doing, if you’re all set and have everything you need. I remember you bought those two PCs and the soundcards from us last year, and that sample library in March. Everything working out okay?...

  17. 14 Acting Like a Business and Finding Work
    (pp. 237-250)

    Before I got my big break in the video game industry, I’d had a very bleak year. In that time, I’d created music for three games that never saw the light of day—a robot fighting game, a massively multiplayer role-playing game, and a futuristic total-conversion game mod. All three projects were canceled. Having thrown all my creative energies into these unreleased games, I was feeling particularly dejected. As a last ditch effort, I decided to write a letter to the music director at Sony Computer Entertainment America. This was something of a Hail Mary pass considering how important this...

  18. Conclusion
    (pp. 251-254)

    Every now and then, I’ll find myself thinking back to my “eureka” moment when I realized I wanted to be a game composer while playing the originalTomb Raider. Those mental images are colored by the rosy hue of fond remembrance, but since then, nineTomb Raidergames have been released, with more soon to come. The level of increasing sophistication continually amazes me.

    Modern video games have the capacity to inspire us with awe and wonder, immersing us in worlds that exist only in the developers’ imagination and letting us amass experiences that we couldn’t have in any other...

  19. References
    (pp. 255-262)
  20. Further Reading
    (pp. 263-264)
  21. Index
    (pp. 265-276)