A Composer’s Guide to Game Music – Vertical Layering, Part 2

CCGM-VES-1

Here’s part two of a four-part series of videos I produced as a supplement to my book, A Composer’s Guide to Game Music. This video demonstrates concepts that are explored in depth in my book, beginning on page 200.  Expanding on Part One’s discussion of the Vertical Layering employed in The Maw video game, this video provides some visual illustration for the interactive music composition techniques that were implemented in the video game LittleBigPlanet 2: Toy Story.

A Composer’s Guide to Game Music – Vertical Layering, Part 1

CCGM-VES-1

Here’s part one of a four-part series of videos I produced as a supplement to my book, A Composer’s Guide to Game Music. This video provides some visual illustration for the interactive music composition techniques that were implemented in the video game The Maw.  As a PAX-10 award-winning video game and a number one bestseller on XBox Live Arcade, The Maw employed an interactive music structure called Vertical Layering.  Expanding on the discussion of the Vertical Layering employed in The Maw video game, the video provides a visual demonstration of some of the concepts that you’ll find in my book, beginning on page 195.

GameSoundCon: Melodic Composition, Part Two

GSC_Prt2_WP

Last week I posted part one of the video excerpt from my presentation a few months ago at GameSoundCon — the game audio conference.  Since my speech was focused on game music composition, it makes a good complement to my book, A Composer’s Guide to Game Music, so I thought I’d make it available here.  Below you’ll find the second and final part of this GameSoundCon video, which includes the PowerPoint visuals and the demonstration music I used to explore topics related to thematic music in interactive constructs: “GameSoundCon: Melodic Composition, Part Two.”

GameSoundCon: Melodic Composition, Part One

GSC-Vid1

A few months ago I spoke at GameSoundCon — a terrific conference that explored all aspect of audio creation for video games.  My own speech focused on melodic composition for games, with a particular emphasis on the music I created for the LittleBigPlanet franchise.  Since that speech touched upon a lot of issues that are explored in depth in my book, A Composer’s Guide to Game Music, I thought I’d post some of that speech here as a video presentation, complete with the PowerPoint visuals and video demonstration excerpts that I used at GameSoundCon. Here is the first installment of this two-part video presentation: “GameSoundCon: Melodic Composition, Part One.”

A Composer’s Guide to Game Music

Today, my book, A COMPOSER’S GUIDE TO GAME MUSIC, was released by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press.  It’s a huge day for me.

In December of 2011, I was finishing up work on my music contribution to LittleBigPlanet PS Vita when my music producer, Winnie Waldron, turned to me and said, “You should write a book about game music.”  Before that moment, it had never occurred to me that I might have something to share about my experiences as a game composer, so I initially laughed off her suggestion.  She paused, and then casually remarked that I should go and look over all those game audio books I owned (I have a pretty large collection) and then maybe ask myself if I had anything to say that hadn’t already been said.

A few days passed, and eventually I did look those books over. I took along a pad of multicolored sticky notes. Every time I felt like I could add something to what I was reading, I stuck a different colored note on the page, letting the edge hang out.  When I was done, I had a pile of books that looked like a rainbow had exploded inside them. Staring at all those little slips of paper convinced me to write the book.

I’ve been creating video game music for over 10 years, ever since my first project, God of War.  With every game score I composed, I learned so much… not only about the art and craft of game composition, but also about myself as an artist.  Game music composition is a thoroughly unique art form, imposing both technical and creative challenges that aren’t found in any other discipline. When I started in this profession, I didn’t really understand how complex everything would be… how much I didn’t know… how much I would need to learn.

A COMPOSER’S GUIDE TO GAME MUSIC is a guidebook, from my perspective as a game composer with experiences to share.  It’s been over two years since I first started writing it, and I’m very proud to say that my book has just hit retail. It’s out of my hands now, and I’m excited that see what readers think of it.  I hope it proves to be a helpful resource.  If you’re curious about my book, you can watch this video trailer.  I’m interviewed in the trailer, and I got the chance to talk a little bit about my reasons for writing the book, and what I hoped to share with readers.  Here’s that video:

My book is available for sale on Amazon.com.  If you choose to buy it, you’ll have my heartfelt gratitude!  And if you enjoy it, I’d be grateful if you share your thoughts about my book on its Amazon.com page. The launch of my book is a tremendously special day for me, and I’m happy to share it with you!

Extra Credits: Video Game Music

Extra-Credits

This week I’m sharing an interesting video about game music that was produced in 2012 by the Penny Arcade network as a part of the Extra Credits video series.  This video, titled “Extra Credits: Video Game Music,” contrasts classic game melodies against modern video game scores. It breaks down a complicated subject into a user-friendly introductory lecture that sheds light on a topic of some contention in the game industry:

Should game scores be highly memorable, or should they set a mood and avoid drawing the player’s attention?

While this video doesn’t really address that subject head-on, it does outline the basic ideological rift between the two viewpoints.  A memorable game score possesses compelling melodies and arresting arrangements that serve to astound players while simultaneously exerting a strong influence on their emotional states.  On the other hand, an atmospheric game score tends to avoid melodies in favor of musical textures and effects that set the mood without impressing players. With such an atmospheric score, players might not even be cognizant of the existence of music at all.  This phenomenon seems to be what the video addresses when it expresses the dissatisfaction that some players feel with the state of modern day game scores.  In the video, writer James Portnow tells us, “modern game music has become a lot less memorable.”

Is that true?  Or do these early game scores enjoy the benefit of the numerous repetitions that each melody would receive in the classic loop structure that was so universally prevalent in older games? We all tend to remember something we’ve heard many times far more clearly than something we’ve heard only a few times.  Pop music in recent years has acknowledged this fact by making sure that the hook or refrain of a song repeats as many times as possible within the body of the song.  Take the song Happy by Pharrell Williams as an example, which repeats the refrain “Because I’m Happy” a total of 24 times – and this is just in its 4 minute duration as a single.  The song also has a long-form “24 Hours of Happy” music video in which that 4-minute song repeats constantly over a 24 hour period.  That is a lot of repetitions of the refrain “Because I’m Happy.”

While the Extra Credits video doesn’t discuss how repetition figures into how memorable a video game score will be, it does touch upon other interesting subjects.  These include the technical and artistic restrictions placed on early game composers by the limitations of the hardware, and how complex instrumental arrangements may alter a listener’s perception of a melody.  Here’s that video:

Harry Gregson-Williams Talks Video Games

Celebrated Hollywood film composer Harry Gregson-Williams spoke with the New American Filmmakers program in a fascinating YouTube interview that included a fairly lengthy discussion of video game music.  I thought I’d share this interview, because it’s particularly interesting to those of us who create game music.

At the 2012 premiere of one of his most recent projects, Total Recall, Harry Gregson-Williams was photographed with Bryan Cranston, the actor best known for his role on Breaking Bad, who played the villain in the Total Recall movie.

At the 2012 premiere of one of his most recent projects, Total Recall, Harry Gregson-Williams was photographed with Bryan Cranston, the actor best known for his role on Breaking Bad, who played the villain in the Total Recall movie.

As the composer of music for numerous blockbuster films, including the Shrek and Narnia movies, Harry Gregson-Williams has a unique perspective on the process of creating game music (having composed for multiple entries in the Metal Gear Solid series).

I’ve embedded the YouTube video at the end of this blog entry – and I’ve also transcribed the portion about game music below.  Harry Gregson-Williams’ perspective allows us to see what the game composition process is like for a Hollywood composer, including the fundamental differences in the mediums and how this alters the composer’s creative process:

“I’ve composed the music for a couple of video games, mainly a series called the Metal Gear Solid series – which probably sounds very weird if you don’t know anything about the gaming world, which (by the way) I don’t really.  However, I was asked to do this series.  Over the course of about eight years I’ve done three of these games and to begin with, it was quite a primitive process.  I think I was one of the first Hollywood film composers to do the music for a game – and that was what the director of the game really wanted – his game to sound like it was a Hollywood movie, an action movie.  And that’s why he came to me, but to begin with it was quite primitive.  Because it’s not a film, he wasn’t able to send me the film, and that’s my normal working process, would be to start with… hello!… the film.  So, if ever I’m stuck with my work, I go to look up at the screen and learn something, and bounce off that.

“But with a video game, they weren’t able to give me footage, per se.  So, more than that, when I first started doing video games, I would be sent little descriptions – adjectives – by the director.  You know.  Sneaky.  (laughs)  Thrilling.  Nerve-wracking.  Something like that.  And I’d have to write 30 seconds or a minute of music in that vein, but without any guidance from pictures, so it was kind of difficult for me, and different.  But I liked it.  And actually, as things have progressed, more and more film composers have become involved in making music for games, I think the game makers themselves have developed better methods of getting the best out of us.  So they’ll send us, for instance, what’s known as Cut Scenes.  So the actual scenes that, however you play the game, do happen.  They know they’re going to happen like that.  Doesn’t matter whether you’re very good at playing the game or very bad, there are various cut scenes that are going to happen. So they’re like a scene in a movie, so that they’re presented as that.  And those can be sent to the composer, and he can compose the music very much like he would to a film in that case.  But, at the end of the day, one’s just making music, so it’s pretty much the same thing.”

Here’s the YouTube video of that interview with Harry Gregson-Williams, conducted by the New American Filmmakers program and the Vilcek Foundation.  The portion about video game music begins at the 6 minute 30 second mark: