Video Game Composers: The Tech of Music in Virtual Reality (GDC 2018)

Video game composer Winifred Phillips, pictured in her music production studio.

By Winifred Phillips | Contact | Follow

The Game Developers Conference is almost here! I’m looking forward to giving my presentation soon on “Music in Virtual Reality” (Thursday, March 22nd at 3pm in room 3002 West Hall, Moscone Center, San Francisco).  Over the course of the last two years, I’ve composed a lot of music for virtual reality projects, some of which have already hit retail, and some of which will be getting released very soon!  As a result, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what role music should play in a virtual reality game. During my GDC talk in March, I’ll be taking my audience through my experiences composing music for four very different VR games –the Bebylon: Battle Royale game from Kite & Lightning, the Dragon Front strategy game from High Voltage Software, the Fail Factory comedy game from Armature Studio, and the Scraper: First Strike RPG-Shooter hybrid from Labrodex Inc.  In preparing my GDC presentation, I made sure my talk addressed some of the most important creative and technical hurdles facing video game composers working in VR.  However, time constraints ensured that some interesting info ended up ‘on the cutting room floor,’ so to speak.  So, I’ve written two articles that explore some of the best topics that didn’t make it into my GDC presentation.

My previous article focused on some abstract, creative concerns facing video game music composers and audio folks working in VR.  In this article, we’ll be turning our attention to more concrete technical issues.  Ready?  Let’s go.

New Binaural Developments

Illustration of popular binaural developments in VR audio, from the article by composer Winifred Phillips for video game composers.VR games currently focus on binaural audio to immerse players in the awesome soundscapes of their virtual worlds.  As we know, binaural recording techniques use two microphones, often embedded in the artificial ears of a dummy head (pictured right).  By virtual of the popular binaural recording technique and/or binaural encoding technologies, game audio teams can plunge VR players into convincing aural worlds where sounds are spatially localized in a way that conforms with real world expectations.  The technology of binaural sound continually improves, and recently the expert developers of the Oculus Rift VR headset have refined the quality of their VR sound with two significant upgrades.

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VR Headphones Update: Video Game Music Composers

Video game composer Winifred Phillips, pictured in her music production studio working on the music of the Dragon Front virtual reality game for Oculus Rift and Samsung Gear VR.

By Winifred Phillips | Contact | Follow

Last year while working on the music of the Dragon Front virtual reality game for Oculus Rift (as pictured above), I gave a lot of consideration to the listening environment in which VR gamers would be hearing my video game music.  Since then I’ve served as the video game composer for several more virtual reality games (which will be released in the next few months).  I’ve also written a number of articles on this subject in order to share what I’ve learned with other game composers.  Last September I devoted two articles to a discussion of audio headphones designed specifically for the demands of virtual reality applications.  You can read those here:

In addition, two years ago I wrote an article that focused on some of the top difficulties associated with choosing the right headphones for VR.  You can read that article here:

Music Composers and Sound Designers in VR: The Headphones Problem

Now, I’d like to revisit the ideas discussed in those articles, so that we can see how the art of VR audio for headphones has progressed.

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Understanding Audio in VR – A Game Music Composer’s Resource Guide

Video game music composer Winifred Phillips working in her game composers production studio.

By Winifred Phillips | Contact | Follow

When I’m not at work in my studio making music for games, I like to keep up with new developments in the field of interactive entertainment, and I’ll often share what I learn here in these articles.  Virtual reality is an awesome subject for study for a video game composer, and several of my recent projects have been in the world of VR.  Since I’m sure that most of us are curious about what’s coming next in virtual reality, I’ve decided to devote this article to a collection of educational resources.  I’ve made a point of keeping our focus general here, with the intent of understanding the role of audio in VR and the best resources available to audio folks.  As a component of the VR soundscape, our music must fit into the entire matrix of aural elements, so we’ll spend this article learning about what goes into making expert sound for a virtual reality experience. Let’s start with a few articles that discuss methods and techniques for VR audio practitioners.

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Inside the World of Game Music: A Society of Composers & Lyricists Seminar

SCL-GameMusic-Jan2015

I’m happy to announce that I’ll be speaking in New York City on a panel entitled “Inside the World of Game Music.”  The event is hosted by the Society of Composers & Lyricists, and moderated the distinguished NY SCL Steering Committee member Elizabeth Rose.

The panel will consist of myself and game composer Tom Salta, well known for his work on the Ghost Recon and H.A.W.X. series of games.  We’ll be talking about our creative process as game composers.  Here’s the official description of the seminar from the event’s web site:

These days, many top music composers who have been scoring film and TV are lending their talents to our newest media: video games. Using everything from full orchestras to digital instruments, this is a fascinating new creative field which turns the rules of composing sideways. Video games have earned more in revenue than film and TV combined, according to some reports. It is a bright, highly creative and competitive field. Please join us for this entertaining panel led by two of our most successful game composers who will demonstrate how they make musical magic happen in this fascinating “one-click” digital world.

Hosted by the New York chapter of the Society of Composers & Lyricists, this event is part of their ongoing seminar series.  As an organization that supports and champions the interests of music creators, the society offers lots of informational resources that delve into the creative and business aspects of writing music and lyrics for film and television.  They also make efforts to improve workplace and working conditions for their members, encourage a sense of community through the establishment of online forums, and proactively reach out to producers to facilitate productive communication and collaboration with the society’s members.

In 2008, the Society of Composers & Lyricists released a short video describing the mission of the organization.  Here is television composer Dan Foliart, describing the society in his own words when he was the president of the organization:

It’s an honor to participate in the SCL’s seminar series and speak about game music to the New York Chapter!  The event will take place on February 9th, starting at 6:30pm.  If you’d like to attend, you can register here.