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Lesson 150: Writing Music for Games

Different Types of Music Needed

  • a main theme
  • stingers:
    • prize
    • hint
    • transition
    • victory
    • defeat
  • action/ gameplay tracks
  • ambient/ exploration tracks and dynamic soundscapes
  • mystery/ puzzle tracks
  • music for cinematic sequences
  • a menu track
  • a closing/ end credits tune
  • pitch trailer and teaser trailer music

Linear Music Vs. Interactive Music

Writing music for games is very different from writing music for theatre/ film/ TV. A piece of music for theatre/ film/ TV is linear, since we know what is going to happen, it has a beginning, a middle and an end. The piece of music may have an apex/ climax at a certain predetermined point.

Game music has to be non-linear. We do not know what is going to happen in the game, so writing game music has to be done very differently. The music has to be able to go up or down in intensity at any given point determined not by the composer but by the gameplay. Game music has to

  • help the player with the immersion in the game - even to the point where the player enters a flow state
  • be adaptive, dynamic, interactive and variable - it has to reflect what happens in the game and that is going to be different every time
  • stand being heard a lot of times without the player getting weary of it - a game may have over 20 hours, even hundreds of hours, of gameplay

In order to make the music adaptive, dynamic, interactive and variable you will need to be able to

  • create linear loops
  • create music for horizontal re-sequencing
  • create music for vertical layering or re-orchestration
  • implement generative music systems

An Example of Great Game Music

A personal favorite of mine is the music to the indie puzzle/ platform game FEZ. FEZ also happens to be one of my all-time favorite video games with very difficult puzzles and codes to crack and 150 rooms to explore which gives you around 20- 30 hours of gameplay.

Rich Vreeland, also known as Disasterpeace, composed the game's chiptune-esque electronic soundtrack. He worked with soft synth pads, reverb, reduced reliance on percussion and incorporated distortion techniques like bitcrushing and wow to push the score close to an 80's synthesizer sound. This fits the game's retro 80's 8-bit style perfectly. The official soundtrack can be found on Spotify here.

How to Get Started

So, how do you get started in writing music for games?

  • Play games and study the music in them
  • Write a lot of different types of tracks covering a lot of different types of feelings/ moods/ scenes - see above
  • Go to video game conferences, conventions, festivals, seminars and workshops and establish contacts with people working with games
  • Make a demo CD with your best tunes and give/ send it to people working with game design and programming
  • If there is a local game design school where you live, let them know you exist and that you would be interested in working with them
  • If you can get in touch with an indie game designer/ programmer, let him/ her know you exist and that you would be interested in working with him/ her

2016 Tomas Karlsson. All rights reserved.