As a freelance composer of TV and film scores, I’ve found that many principles involved in creating game music translate effectively when composing for the moving image.
The first task when creating a good score for a video game is to conceptualise the music. Before a single note is created, conceptualising the music is an essential stage for the composer, as this defines the stylistic and functional goals for the music.
Many people think that the conceptualisation of the music is undertaken by the composer alone. However, I’ve found that it’s better to involve other people in this. As there are many different teams/people involved in the creation of a game, I believe that they should be able to have an input into the role of the music. It’s also a perfect opportunity for relevant teams to disuses ideas and share their goals, which will improve the soundtracks of your games in the long run.
This article outlines the stages that can be followed to effectively set the direction of your musical compositions.
- Gather and revise game materials
- Identify the functional goals of the music
- Decide genres and moods
- Create a music asset list
- Define adaptive elements in the music
- Create a music guide
- Create a music design document
Gather and revise game materials
When working on the conceptualisation of the music, the primary task is collecting all the materials that relate to the game, such as the script, graphical assets, game design documents, and the sound effects.
For the composer, the collection of this material is a source of inspiration when defining the stylistic and functional goals of the music. For example, if the game has a theme of Roman gladiators this will provide musical ideas in terms of instrumentation and style of music that can be used to compliment the visuals.
Identify the functional goals of the music
The games’ music has several layers, and the responsibility of the music goes beyond providing a sonic background. The music can help set the scene, provide players with clues about where they are in the game, and define the time and place of the game environment.
The music can have an almost countless number of roles. The most common uses of music in games introduces and depicts characters, signals changes in the game state, changes the tension, communicates an event, and changes the emotional connections with the players in the game.
In this stage, the main objective is to outline the goals of the music in the game. But, as the music usually has several roles to fulfill at the same time, it’s important to divide the functions into primary and secondary goals. This will help define what’s more important for the soundtrack and to prioritise the elements.
Decide the genre and mood
Genre and mood are two key components of any soundtrack. The first task is to decide the genre. For example, if you’re working on a game that has a medieval setting, instrumentation that features flutes, strings and drums would be an option to explore.
It’s worth noting that you can use different genres of music throughout the game, but the soundtrack should be coherent, compliment the visuals, and function alongside the game narrative.
Once the genre has been defined it’s important to focus on the mood of the music for the different elements of the game.
The music should be used to enhance the emotional experience of the player. For example, if there is an element of sadness the music should reflect this.
Create a music asset list
Once the functions, genre and the mood of the music have been defined, the next stage is to build an asset list. This encompasses all of the musical cues needed for the final.
The music asset list will help plan the time and resources that are needed to complete the musical.
Define adaptive elements in the music
The score may contain some adaptive elements that allow the music to change in real-time which based on the actions of the player. Adaptive music enhances the engagement of the player and improves the overall quality of the game soundtrack.
In this stage, it is important to identify a set of game parameters that will eventually be mapped onto changes in the music.
Create a music guide
It is common that game designers provide a variety of visuals to inform the direction of the game. As a game composer, it is important to develop a variety of musical references that can be used as a way of assessing the final music against a group of criteria you set.
Create a music design document
Keeping accurate and updated recordings is one of the most important jobs that a composer needs to do. This document will help keep track of the overall musical direction of the game and how the music will interact with the game. Include the following information in the music design document:
- functional goals of the music
- music genres
- adaptive elements of the score
- music asset list outlining the number and lengths of the pieces
- file names and formats to be used