Music Game Plan: Tactics for the Video Game Composer (Part One)

Video game composer Winifred Phillips, working on the music of Speed Racer the Video Game.

Interactive music is always a hot topic in the game audio community, and newcomers to game music composition can easily become confused by the structure and process of creating non-linear music for games.  To address this issue, I produced four videos that introduce aspiring video game composers to some of the most popular tactics and procedures commonly used by game audio experts in the structuring of musical interactivity for games.  Over the next four articles, I’ll be sharing these videos with you, and I’ll also be including some supplemental information and accompanying musical examples for easy reference.  Hopefully these videos can answer some of the top questions about interactive music composition.  Music interactivity can be awesome, but it can also seem very abstract and mysterious when we’re first learning about it. Let’s work together to make the process feel a bit more concrete and understandable!

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GDC Audio Bootcamp

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The Game Developers Conference is nearly here!  It’ll be a fantastic week of learning and inspiration from March 2nd – March 6th.  On Tuesday March 3rd from 10am – 6pm, the GDC Audio Track will be hosting the ever-popular GDC Audio Bootcamp, and I’m honored to be an Audio Bootcamp speaker this year!

This will be the 14th year for the GDC Audio Bootcamp, and I’m honored to join the 9 other speakers who will present this year:

  • Michael Csurics, Voice Director/Writer, The Brightskull Entertainment Group
  • Damian Kastbauer, Technical Audio Lead, PopCap Games
  • Mark Kilborn, Audio Director, Raven Software
  • Richard Ludlow, Audio Director, Hexany Audio
  • Peter McConnell, Composer, Little Big Note Music
  • Daniel Olsén, Audio, Independent
  • Winifred Phillips, Composer, Generations Productions LLC
  • Brian Schmidt, Founder, Brian Schmidt Studios
  • Scott Selfon, Principal Software Engineering Lead, Microsoft
  • Jay Weinland, Head of Audio, Bungie Studios

We’ll all be talking about creative, technical and logistical concerns as they pertain to game sound.  My talk will be from 11:15am to 12:15pm, and I’ll be focusing on “Advanced Composition Techniques for Adaptive Systems.”

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Here’s a description of my Audio Bootcamp talk:

Interactive music technologies have swept across the video game industry, changing the way that game music is composed, recorded, and implemented. Horizontal Resequencing and Vertical Layering have changed the way that music is integrated in the audio file format, while MIDI, MOD and generative models have changed the landscape of music data in games.  With all these changes, how does the game composer, audio director, sound designer and audio engineer address these unique challenges?  This talk will present an overview of today’s interactive music techniques, including numerous strategies for the deployment of successful interactive music structures in modern games. Included in the talk: Vertical Layering in additive and interchange systems, how resequencing methods benefit from the use of digital markers, and how traditionally linear music can be integrated into an interactive music system.

Right after my Bootcamp presentation, all the Audio Bootcamp presenters and attendees will head off to the ever-popular Lunchtime Surgeries.  No, the attendees won’t actually be able to crack open the minds of the presenters and see what’s going on in there, but as a metaphor, it does represent the core philosophy of this lively event.  The Lunchtime Surgeries offer attendees a chance to sit with the presenters at large roundtables and ask lots of questions.  It’s one of the most popular portions of the bootcamp, and I’ll be looking forward to it!

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If you’ll be attending the GDC Audio Track, then I highly recommend the Audio Bootcamp on Tuesday, March 3rd.  Hope to see you there!

Video excerpt from my game music talk at the 137th Audio Engineering Society Convention

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I was tremendously honored to speak at the Audio Engineering Society’s convention last month, and I thought I’d share a video excerpt from my speech, which was entitled “Effective Interactive Music Systems: The Nuts and Bolts of Dynamic Musical Content.”  Many thanks to Steve Martz and Bob Lee at the Audio Engineering Society for organizing an outstanding event!

More about the AES:

The Audio Engineering Society is the only professional society devoted exclusively to audio technology. Founded in the United States in 1948, the AES has grown to become an international organization that unites audio engineers, creative artists, scientists and students worldwide by promoting advances in audio and disseminating new knowledge and research. Currently, over 14,000 members are affiliated with more than 75 AES professional sections and more than 95 AES student sections around the world. Conventions, which include scientific presentations, student activities, workshops, and exhibitions, are held annually both in the US and Europe. Additional conferences and regional summits are held periodically throughout Latin America, Asia, Europe, and North America.

Talk Description:

Effective Interactive Music Systems: The Nuts and Bolts of Dynamic Musical Content
Interactive methodologies have profoundly impacted the way that music is recorded, mixed and integrated in video games. From horizontal resequencing and vertical layering techniques for the interactive implementation of music recordings, to MIDI and generative systems for the manipulation of music data, the structure of game music poses serious challenges both for the composer and for the game audio engineer. This talk will examine the procedures for designing interactive music models and implementing them effectively into video games. The talk will include comparisons between additive and interchange systems in vertical layering, the lessons that can be learned from conventional stem mixing, the use of markers for switching between segments, and how to disassemble a traditionally composed piece of music for use within an interactive system.

A Composer’s Guide to Game Music – Horizontal Resequencing, Part 1

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Here’s another installment of a four-part series of videos I produced as a supplement to my book, A Composer’s Guide to Game Music. This video focuses on the Horizontal Resequencing model employed in the Speed Racer video game, providing some visual illustration for this interactive music composition technique. The video demonstrates concepts that are explored in depth in my book, beginning on page 188.