Classic Halloween VGM (Back by Popular Demand!)

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Last year I did a series of posts about classic video game music that’s perfect for the night of fright, and since you guys enjoyed that, I thought I’d bring back some favorite tracks from that series:

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Castlevania Symphony of the Night – “Abandoned Pit” (1997)

Developed as an action roleplaying game for consoles, Castlevania Symphony of the Night focuses on the story of Dracula’s son Alucard, and his struggle to destroy his father. This slow and hypnotic composition proceeds in a stately triple meter while creatures of the night weave their voices into the serenade.

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Resident Evil Code: Veronica – “The Suspended Doll” (2000)

As the fourth game in the Resident Evil series, this game had players fighting mutated monsters on a prison island, all set to grim music such as the track below. At times this track may make you think of John Carpenter’s theme to the movie Halloween, while other moments take on a bit of gothic grandeur with the introduction of a cathedral organ.

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Arcanum – “Dungeons” (2001)

There’s nothing like a slimy dungeon to invoke those feelings of horror that are so complimentary to the Halloween season. Fortunately, the Arcanum roleplaying game has multiple dungeons, some crawling with the undead. This track, written entirely for string quartet, captures the mood in a horrifically elegant way.

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Evil Dead: Hail to the King – “Menu Screen Music” (2000)

Sometimes, only a strong dose of demonic Latin will make a Halloween music experience complete. This track delivers. Evil Dead: Hail to the King continues the survival horror adventures of Ash Williams, the star of the Evil Dead franchise in video games and on the silver screen.

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Xenogears – “Omen” (1998)

Dungeons are great for finding creepy music for Halloween. Luckily, a lot of roleplaying games have creepy dungeons. This track was written for dungeon-exploring in the Xenogears sci-fi roleplaying game. The track features a constant low suspense tone, with harp and bells weaving a hypnotic pattern while metallic impacts punctuate the gloom.

 

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I hope everybody has a delightfully frightful Halloween!!  And if you have a favorite Halloween tune from a classic video game, please let me know in the comments – I’d love to hear it!

Audio Engineering Society Convention 2014

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I was honored to serve as a speaker this year at the Audio Engineering Society Convention!  The event took place at the Los Angeles Convention Center from October 9th to the 12th — here are a few photos from the event:

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My speech was titled “Effective Interactive Music Systems: The Nuts and Bolts of Dynamic Musical Content.”  My speech expanded on some ideas that were explored in my book, A Composer’s Guide to Game Music.  The great audience were really kind and appreciative, and they asked lots of interesting questions!

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I had to take a photo of the sign that was outside the door to the presentation room where I gave my speech.

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This was my AES convention badge.  It had an AES presenter ribbon!  I was so proud.  :)

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Stopped to take a quick photo in the lobby outside of the convention expo floor before going in.

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Since the Alto Music store has met my needs many times, I had to pay their booth a visit.

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This massive black balloon hung over the exhibit floor, urging AES attendees to “Mix the Masters.”  Seems like a sensible request for a crowd full of audio engineers.

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The amiable guy giving the thumbs-up sign is Noland Anderson of PostProduction.com.  He and his production partner did a video interview with me for their web site (the interview will be posted to the site soon).  Thanks, guys!  It was great fun.

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I could not call myself a true Pro Tools user without stopping at the Avid booth to gawk at the new Pro Tools toys.

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The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences had a nice booth, including information about their Grammy U initiative designed to help young aspiring audio professionals make their way into the recording industry.

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On display – some microphone solutions for drum kits.

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Big honking mixing consoles were absolutely everywhere on the exhibit floor.

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I could not neglect to say hello to the RCA dog.

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Emerging from the exhibit floor again, I took a walk down the AES red carpet.

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Finally, I couldn’t leave without a souvenir!  I’ll wear my AES hat with pride!  Thanks very much, Audio Engineering Society.  It was tremendous fun, and I look forward to next year, when AES will hold its convention in New York City.

GameSoundCon 2014

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I just got back from speaking at GameSoundCon, and it was a fantastic conference this year!  So great to see everyone, and the enthusiasm for game audio was infectious!  I thought I’d share a few photos from the event:

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Here, I’m giving my speech, “Advanced Composition Techniques for Adaptive Systems.”  Really enjoyed sharing my experiences with interactive music to such an appreciative audience.  The room was packed — standing room only!

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I had the pleasure to meet Matthew Thompson, music and voice lecturer at the University of Michigan, and he asked me to sign his copy of my book, A Composer’s Guide to Game Music.  It was great to meet so many readers of my book, and I’m glad to hear that it’s proving to be a helpful resource.

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It was fun meeting Evan Yanagida after my speech.  What a great photo of him!  Really nice guy.

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This is the front entrance to the Millennium Biltmore hotel, where GameSoundCon took place.

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Here’s the ultra-grand entrance hallway that led to the presentation rooms.

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I had to get a photo that included the incredibly fancy ceilings in the presentation rooms.

GameSoundCon-EaselWell, I’m sad that the conference is over – it was a great experience!  To everyone who I met during the conference, thanks so much for being so kind and generous with your ideas and enthusiasm for game audio!  In my next blog I’ll be posting some photos documenting my adventure as a speaker at the Audio Engineering Society Convention, which took place immediately after GameSoundCon ended at the Los Angeles Convention Center (Oct. 9-12).

 

Hey, Big Spender! (Games Versus Movies)

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Since GameSoundCon is starting up tomorrow, I thought I’d direct your attention to an article written by GameSoundCon founder Brian Schmidt about the difference between the money raked in by the video game industry and the motion picture industry.  While it has been reported that games bring in more money than films, according to Brian Schmidt’s article, the figures for the game industry are distorted by the inclusion of hardware sales.  In fact, because film tickets are generally much cheaper than game sales, a blockbuster film must sell tickets to many more people in order to take in the same amount of money that a console game could earn through far fewer sales.

Reading this article on the GameSoundCon site, I found myself thinking about the idea of premium purchases.  What kind of psychological conditions need to exist in order for a customer to become a big spender — i.e. to opt to spend more money?  With a console video game, we are clearly looking at a premium purchase — these games can be up to 50 dollars or more.  Does the willingness to spend reflect on the depth and diversity of the experience?  Games typically outlast films in terms of their long-term entertainment value. Is this the reason why the top-tier console games are able to sustain their premium pricing?

The motion picture industry has made attempts to introduce premium pricing into its business model.  From luxurious theaters with reclining seats, to motion simulators with weather effects and smell-o-vision, to 3D formats, motion picture companies have been repeatedly urging movie-goers to part with larger sums in exchange for enhanced experiences, but success rates have been very limited or are rapidly on the decline.  Console video games, however, have been successfully charging premium prices for many years.

What I find interesting, though, is what happens when these two entertainment juggernauts start reducing their prices.  While movie theaters had dug in their heels for many years and refused to offer discounts, there is currently an initiative underway by the National Association of Theatre Owners for discount tickets to be offered in selected locations on off-nights.  While experimental and limited in scope, the trial period should be revealing in terms of whether discounts will lure movie-goers back to the theaters with more frequency.  In the world of video games, however, the discount experiment is fully underway in the form of the iTunes App Store, XBox Live Indie Store, the PlayStation Network Minis Store, Google Play, the Facebook App Center, and many other online retailers that offer games for drastically reduced prices.  If the movie industry hopes that discounted tickets will lure more people into theaters, then I wonder — have discounted games captured more casual gamers and turned them into frequent players/purchasers?

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In 2010, Reuters reported that free games had lured players successfully into gaming, converting them into paying customers.  However, in 2014 the optimism had waned as an industry analyst at the NPD Group warned that PC gamers, accustomed to receiving discounts, were now expecting all games to be very inexpensive.  Currently, XBox Live Gold members enjoy steep discounts with the “Deals With Gold” program, and PlayStation Network Plus members get their games at up to 75% off.

In contrast, however, the Gartner’s forecast for worldwide gaming revenues in the coming two years has estimated that mobile, console and PC games will see dramatic increases in their earnings. This seems to be good news for gaming — discounts for some game products may not have taken the luster away from the big-ticket games.  Our industry currently enjoys the benefits of a wider array of offerings that can be priced accordingly, whereas the motion picture industry continues to be saddled with a fairly uniform pricing structure that has been difficult for them to challenge and adjust.

GameSoundCon Industry Survey Results

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As the GameSoundCon conference draws closer, I thought I’d talk a little bit about the Game Audio Industry Survey that was designed by GameSoundCon Executive Producer Brian Schmidt.  The survey was prepared in response to the broader “Annual Game Developer Salary Survey” offered by industry site Gamasutra.  Since the Gamasutra survey suffered from skewed results for game audio compared to other game industry sectors (owing to lower participation from the game audio community), Schmidt set out to obtain more reliable results by adopting a different approach.

Instead of focusing on the yearly salaries/earnings of audio professionals, the survey concentrated on the money generated by the music/sound of individual projects. Each respondent could fill out the survey repeatedly, entering data for each game project that the respondent had completed during the previous year.  The final results of the survey are meant to reflect how game audio is treated within different types of projects, and the results are quite enlightening, and at times surprising.

GSC-SurveyThe financial results include both small-budget indie games from tiny teams and huge-budget games from behemoth publishers, so there is a broad range in those results.  Since this is the first year that the GameSoundCon Game Audio Industry Survey has been conducted, we don’t yet have data from a previous year with which to compare these results, and it might be very exciting to see how the data shifts if the survey is conducted again in 2015.

Some very intriguing data comes from the section of the survey that provides a picture of who game composers are and how they work.  According to the survey, the majority of game composers are freelancers, and 70% of game music is performed by the freelance composer alone.  56% of composers are also acting as one-stop-shops for music and sound effects, likely providing a good audio solution for indie teams with little or no audio personnel of their own.

A surprising and valuable aspect of the survey is to be found in the audio middleware results, which show that the majority of games use either no audio middleware at all, or opt for custom audio tools designed by the game developer.  This information is quite new, and could be tremendously useful to composers working in the field.  While we should all make efforts to gain experience with audio middleware such as FMOD and Wwise, we might keep in mind that there may not be as many opportunities to practice those skills as had been previously anticipated.  Again, this data might be rendered even more meaningful by the results of the survey next year (if it is repeated), to see if commercial middleware is making inroads and becoming more popular over time.

Expanding upon this subject, the survey reveals that only 22% of composers are ever asked to do any kind of music integration (in which the composer assists the team in implementing music files into their game). It seems that for the time being, this task is still falling firmly within the domain of the programmers on most game development teams.

The survey was quite expansive and fascinating, and I’m very pleased that it included questions about both middleware and integration.  If GameSoundCon runs the survey again next year, I’d love to see the addition of some questions about what type of interactivity composers may be asked to introduce into their musical scores, how much of their music is composed in a traditionally linear fashion, and what the ratio of interactive/adaptive to linear music might be per project.  I wrote rather extensively on this subject in my book, and since I’ll also be giving my talk at GameSoundCon this year about composing music for adaptive systems, I’d be very interested in such survey results!

The GameSoundCon Game Audio Industry Survey is an invaluable resource, and is well worth reading in its entirety.  You’ll find it here.  I’ll be giving my talk on “Advanced Composition Techniques for Adaptive Systems” at GameSoundCon at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles on Wednesday, October 8th.

Many thanks to Brian Schmidt / GameSoundCon for preparing this excellent survey!

Game Music Documentary at GameSoundCon

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The kickstarter campaign for the documentary “Beep: A History of Video Game Sound” is entering its final six days.  I’m pleased that the producers approached me to be interviewed for their film; I’ll be talking about my career as a game composer and my book, A Composer’s Guide to Game Music.  The “Beep” documentary looks like it will be a fascinating project, and all indications are that the resulting documentary will be a wide-ranging discussion of the audio aspects of video game design and production.  Two days ago, the kickstarter announced that its plans include coverage of GameSoundCon, the video game music and sound design conference founded and executive produced by the president of the Game Audio Network Guild, Brian Schmidt.

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The conference is less than a couple of weeks away now, and I’m looking forward to giving my presentation, “Advanced Composition Techniques for Adaptive Systems.”  The GameSoundCon crowd is one of the most enthusiastic and creatively-charged groups of people I’ve come across, and it will be great fun to meet new people and talk about the current state of adaptive music in games.

When I heard that “Beep: A History of Video Game Sound” would be covering GameSoundCon, I started thinking about the nature of Brian Schmidt’s conference, not only as a great gathering place for creative audio folks, but as a historically-significant event.  After all, one of the slogans of the “Beep” documentary is “Be a part of game sound history!”

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The GameSoundCon conference will take place at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles on October 7 – 8.  GameSoundCon will be celebrating its 10th conference this year.  Since its first event in 2009, GameSoundCon has been steadily growing as a resource to the game audio community.  GameSoundCon concentrates its sessions solely on game audio, which separates it from other industry events that encompass the entire discipline of game development.  Further, the GameSoundCon conference embraces both the music composition and sound design disciplines, differentiating it from other music-centric gatherings such as Game Music Connect, the Ludomusicology Conference and the North American Conference on Video Game Music.  This particular combination of priorities seems to make GameSoundCon an ideal event for the “Beep” documentary team, and I wonder how their historical perspective will inform their coverage of the conference.

In my own speech at GameSoundCon, I’ll be approaching the topic of interactive music in games from both a modern and historical standpoint, and I imagine that other presentations will do likewise in regards to their topics.  It’s nice that the GameSoundCon event will be documented with the intent to understand its historical significance, and I’m looking forward to meeting the documentary team of “Beep: A History of Video Game Sound.”  There are still 6 more days to go before the kickstarter ends, so if you want to get involved, you can go here.

Music and Aural Feedback (for Game Composers and Sound Designers)

Over at GameInformer.com, writer Kyle Hilliard conducted an interesting test. He recorded the sounds made by video game controllers to see which is the noisiest. In the course of the test, he pressed the buttons of various controllers from across the long history of video game devices, and then categorized the controllers according to their peak decibel levels. You can go over to his article to read about his testing methods and see the bar graph of his results. 

His test got me thinking about the idea of aural feedback – the use of sounds to confirm or reinforce the literal actions of the player. For instance, when the player hits a button and causes an action in the game, the game emits a sound that represents that action. These can range from plain clicking noises meant to accurately emulate the sounds the controller makes naturally, to more whimsical dings, pings, tones and whooshes – the inherent nature of which would depend on the atmosphere of the game. These sounds can encompass both the immediate action of clicking the controller and the physical action or reaction that occurs as a result of player’s click.

When these aural feedback sounds are strongly evocative of a sound effect, such as a click or a whoosh, then they fall completely into the purview of the sound designer’s art. But when they are closer to dings, pings and tones, they begin to cross into the realm of musical expression. This is when the sound designer and the music composer for a game can work in a very collaborative fashion.

The video game Peggle 2 is a great example of this, and a perfect demonstration of sound design and musical score working together in perfect harmony (literally). Here’s a demonstration of aural feedback at its most musical: