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Writing Interactive Music for Video Games: A Composer’s Guide

Book Description

“This book is a must read for newcomers and experienced composers wanting to learn more about the art of video game composition.”

—Chuck Doud, Director of Music, Sony Computer Entertainment Worldwide Studios

All You Need to Know to Create Great Video Game Music

Written by the developer of Berklee School of Music’s pioneering game scoring program, this guide covers everything professional composers and music students need to know about composing interactive music for video games, and contains exclusive tools for interactive scoring—tools that were previously available only at Berklee.

Drawing on twenty years of professional experience in the game industry, Michael Sweet helps you master the unique language of music storytelling in games. Next, he walks you through the entire music composition process, from initial conceptualization and creative direction through implementation.

Inside, you’ll find dozens of examples that illustrate adaptive compositional techniques, from small downloadable games to multimillion dollar console titles. In addition, this guide covers the business side of video game composition, sharing crucial advice about contracts, pricing, sales, and marketing.

Coverage includes

  • Overcoming the unique challenges of writing for games

  • Composing music that can adapt in real time to player actions

  • Developing thematic ideas

  • Using audio middleware to create advanced interactive scores

  • Working effectively with game development teams

  • Understanding the life of a video game composer

  • Managing contracts, rights, estimating, and negotiation

  • Finding work

  • The companion website contains software tools to help you master interactive music concepts explored in this book, with additional resources and links to learn more about scoring for games. See Appendix A for details.

    Table of Contents

    1. About This eBook
    2. Title Page
    3. Copyright Page
    4. Praise for Writing Interactive Music for Video Games
    5. Dedication Page
    6. Contents
    7. About This Book
    8. Acknowledgments
    9. About the Author
    10. Introduction
      1. Welcome
        1. Games and Popular Culture
        2. Scoring for Games
      2. Intended Audience
        1. Game Development Teams
        2. Audio Teams
        3. Game Players
      3. Structure of the Book
        1. Part I: Scoring for Games
        2. Part II: Fundamental Video Game Scoring Techniques
        3. Part III: Advanced Video Game Scoring Techniques
        4. Part IV: Bringing Music into the Game
        5. Part V: The Business of Scoring Music for Video Games
        6. Part VI: Conclusion and Appendixes
        7. Digital Tools
        8. Companion Website
      4. Conventions Used in This Book
    11. Part I: Scoring for Games
      1. Chapter 1. The Language of Music Storytelling in Games
        1. What Makes a Video Game Unique?
          1. Passive versus Active Interaction
          2. Variable Length of Experience
          3. Number of Plays
          4. Game Mechanics
          5. Pacing, Synchronization, and Flow
          6. Multiple Story Paths and Repeatability
          7. Technology
        2. Types of Music within Games
          1. Extra-Diegetic Music (Underscore)
          2. Diegetic Music (Source Music)
          3. Music as Gameplay
          4. Player Customized Music
        3. Exploring Music Function within Games
        4. Synchronization and Integration of Music
          1. Serendipitous Sync
        5. Music Conceptualization
          1. 1. Gather and Assess Materials
          2. 2. Prioritize Primary Music Objectives
          3. 3. Create an Asset List
          4. 4. Define Interactive Elements in the Score
          5. 5. Create a Supporting Audio Style Guide
          6. 6. Create an Audio Design Document
          7. 7. Revise
        6. Analysis and Critique of a Game Score
        7. Review
        8. Exercises
      2. Chapter 2. Breaking Down the Language of Interactive Music
        1. What Is Interactive Music?
        2. Types of Interactive Music
          1. Improvisational Construction: Variation and Form
          2. Real-Time Composition and Arranging
          3. Performance-Based Dynamics and Tempo Changes
          4. Experimental Composition Techniques
          5. Instrument Design and User Interactive Performance
        3. Control Inputs
        4. The Composer’s Toolbox
          1. Cue Switching and Musical Form Adaptation
          2. Dynamic Mixing
          3. Tempo and Rhythmic Manipulation
          4. DSP and Effect Application
          5. Stinger and Musical Flourish Additions
          6. Instrumentation and Arrangement Alteration
          7. Harmonic Approach, Melodic Adaptation, and Note Manipulation
        5. Review
        6. Exercises
      3. Chapter 3. Spotting the Game
        1. The Game Production Process
        2. The Spotting Process
        3. The Goals of a Video Game Music Score
          1. Outlining the Emotional Context and Narrative Arc
          2. Structuring Interactive Music throughout Gameplay
          3. Synchronization
        4. Video Game Scoring Techniques
          1. Noninteractive Game Score
          2. Horizontal Resequencing
          3. Vertical Remixing
          4. MIDI Scores
          5. Advanced Interactive Scores
        5. Music Control Inputs
        6. Repetition, Randomization, and Surprise
        7. Review
        8. Exercises
      4. Chapter 4. Working with a Game Development Team
        1. Who’s in Charge?
          1. Game Development Teams
          2. Audio Teams
          3. Finding the Composer
        2. Collaborating and Approving the Music
          1. Defining the Tone and Voice of a Game
          2. Assessing the Music
        3. Preparing for Music Production
          1. Team Workflow
          2. Setting Schedules and Milestones
          3. Considering the Technology
          4. Sharing Documents
          5. Collaboration Technology
          6. Game Testing
        4. Review
        5. Exercises
      5. Chapter 5. Video Game Composition over the Past 40 Years
        1. Why Video Game History Is Important
        2. The Dawn of Coin-Operated Machines
          1. Musical Machines
          2. Gambling and Slot Machines
          3. Novelty Machines, Shooting Games, and Racing Games
          4. Pinball Machines
        3. The Ascent of the Arcade Machine
          1. Circuits
          2. The Programmable Sound Generator and the Rise of Melody
          3. Laserdisc Games
          4. The Golden Age of Arcades
          5. Social Arcade Games
        4. The Game Console Revolution
          1. Cartridge-Based Consoles
          2. CD-ROM–Based Consoles
          3. 128-Bit and DVD-ROM–Based Game Consoles
        5. The Evolution of PC Gaming
          1. MOD Files
          2. MIDI Scores (SMF) and Sound Cards
          3. iMuse
          4. CD-ROM/Redbook Audio
        6. The Rise of Handheld and Network Games
          1. Handheld Game Systems
          2. Internet Games
          3. Mobile and Cell Phone Games
        7. The Advancement of Audio Middleware
          1. The Beginnings of Audio Middleware
          2. Publisher Tools
          3. Standards
          4. Modern Middleware
        8. The Evolution of the Modern Gaming Platform
          1. Game Engines, Indie Games, and Distribution
          2. Game Distribution and Future Cloud Computing
        9. Review
        10. Exercises
      6. Chapter 6. Historical Perspective of Experimental Music
        1. The Beginning of Interactive Music
        2. Pre-Twentieth Century
          1. J. S. Bach: The Art of Fugue (1740s)
          2. Amadeus Mozart: Musikalisches Würfelspiel (1787)
        3. 1900–1950
          1. Marcel Duchamp: Erratum Musical (1913)
          2. Charles Ives: Concord Sonata (1919)
          3. Arnold Schoenberg: Variations for Orchestra, Op. 31 (1928)
          4. Henry Cowell: Rhythmicon (1930) and The Banshee (1925)
          5. Paul Hindemith: The Craft of Musical Composition (1937)
          6. Pierre Schaeffer: Études de Bruits (1948)
        4. Post-1950s
          1. John Cage: Music of Changes (1951) and 4’33 (1952)
          2. Pierre Boulez: Structures I (1952)
          3. György Ligeti: Musica Ricercata II (1953)
          4. Morton Feldman: Projections (1953)
          5. Karlheinz Stockhausen: Klavierstücke XI (1956)
          6. Krzysztof Penderecki: Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima (1960)
          7. Terry Riley: In C (1964)
          8. Earle Brown: Calder Piece (1966)
          9. Alvin Lucier: I Am Sitting in a Room (1969)
          10. Steve Reich: Clapping Music (1972)
        5. Review
        6. Exercises
    12. Part II: Fundamental Video Game Scoring Techniques
      1. Chapter 7. Composing and Editing Music Loops
        1. The Art of Looping Music
        2. Musical Construction, Connections, and Cadences
        3. Audio Editing
          1. Zero Crossing Points
          2. Waveform Shape and Direction
          3. Transient and Legato Elements
          4. Music Tempo, Meter, and Performance
          5. Reverb Tails and Long Decays
          6. Crossfading
        4. Auditioning Your Finished Loops
        5. Review
        6. Exercises
      2. Chapter 8. Horizontal Resequencing
        1. Sequencing Music in Real Time
        2. Crossfading Scores
        3. Transitional Scores
        4. Branching Scores
        5. Composing for Horizontal Resequencing
          1. Harmonic and Tempo Considerations
          2. Working within the DAW
          3. Delivery
        6. Review
        7. Exercises
      3. Chapter 9. Vertical Remixing
        1. Remixing Music for Intensity
        2. Deciding How Many Layers to Use
        3. Types of Vertical Remixing
          1. Additive Layers
          2. Individually Controlled Layers
        4. The Art of Fading Layers In and Out
          1. Fade Times
          2. Layer Anatomy
        5. Nonsynchronization of Layers
        6. Composing for Vertical Remixing
        7. Review
        8. Exercises
      4. Chapter 10. Writing Transitions and Stingers
        1. Enhancing without Interrupting
        2. Connecting Two Pieces of Music
          1. Crossfading
          2. Transitioning
          3. Transition Matrixes
        3. The Concept of Musical Interruption
        4. Composing Transitions
          1. Synchronized Transitions
          2. Nonsynchronized Transitions
        5. Transition Construction and Considerations
          1. Ambient (Rubato) versus Rhythmic
          2. Tempo Considerations
          3. Harmonic Considerations
          4. Introducing Destination Music
          5. Repeating Transitions
        6. Example Transitions
        7. Using and Placing Stingers
          1. Synchronized Musical Stingers
          2. Nonsynchronized Musical Stingers
        8. Review
        9. Exercises
      5. Chapter 11. Using Sound Design Techniques in Music
        1. What Is Sound Design?
        2. Basic Synthesis
          1. Sound Generator
          2. Filters
          3. Envelopes
          4. Low-Frequency Oscillator
        3. Audio Signal Processing
        4. Techniques for Creating Sound Design
          1. Recording Live Instruments for a Sampling Session
          2. Sending Sounds into Infinite Reverb
          3. Using Speakers to Add Acoustic Resonance
          4. Using DSP to Create Unusual Sounds
        5. Review
        6. Exercises
      6. Chapter 12. Music as a Gameplay Element
        1. Engaging Players with Music
        2. Music Games
          1. Beat Matching
          2. Performance Simulation
          3. Music Mixing and Adaptivity
          4. Memory Matching
          5. Music Creation and Construction
        3. Level Design, Construction, and Adaptation
        4. Instruments in Interfaces and the Game World
        5. Diegetic Music in Video Games
        6. Music Approaches in Other Games
        7. Review
        8. Exercises
    13. Part III: Advanced Video Game Scoring Techniques
      1. Chapter 13. MIDI and Virtual Instruments
        1. An Alternative to Prerendered Audio
        2. Working with MIDI-Based Scores
        3. Using Virtual Instruments
        4. Review
        5. Exercises
      2. Chapter 14. Real-Time Tempo Variation and Synchronization
        1. Immersing the Player through Tempo
        2. Varying Tempo Based on Game Events
        3. Tempo Changes with Prerendered Audio
        4. Tempo Changes with MIDI or MOD
        5. Tempo Synchronization
        6. Phrase Synchronization
        7. Review
        8. Exercises
      3. Chapter 15. Advanced Dynamic Music Manipulation Techniques
        1. Weighing More Expensive Options
        2. Melodic Manipulation and Reinterpretation
        3. Ensemble, Rhythmic, and Style Alteration
        4. Embellishment and Fills
        5. Motivic Elements in a Running Score
        6. Dynamic Reharmonization and Chord Mapping
        7. Building an Event-Driven Sequencer
        8. Review
        9. Exercises
      4. Chapter 16. Aleatoric Performance Techniques for Video Games
        1. What Is Aleatoric Composition?
        2. Aleatoric Techniques
          1. Pitch
          2. Rhythm, Tempo, and Form
          3. Articulations, Instrumentation, and Dynamics
        3. Review
        4. Exercises
      5. Chapter 17. Algorithmic and Generative Music Systems
        1. Using Algorithmic and Generative Music
        2. Generating Music
          1. Composer-Defined Rule Sets
          2. Knowledge-Based Musical Intelligence
        3. The Rules of Game Composition
          1. Mapping the Harmonic and Rhythmic Framework
          2. Melodic and Thematic Development
          3. Chord Construction, Counter-Melodies, and Supporting Instruments
        4. Mapping Control Inputs to Music
        5. Applying Algorithmic Composition
        6. Review
        7. Exercises
      6. Chapter 18. Using Middleware to Create Advanced Compositions
        1. Simplifying Composition with Middleware
        2. Using Multiple Interactive Techniques
        3. Creating Scores Using a Middleware Engine
        4. Intelligent Music Engines
        5. Looping within a Middleware Engine
        6. Variation and Randomization
          1. Random Playlists, Track Variation, and Alternative Start Points
          2. Time Variation
        7. Review
        8. Exercises
      7. Chapter 19. Creating a Custom Music Solution
        1. Solving Problems with Custom Solutions
        2. Limitations of Interactive Techniques
        3. Teaching a Computer the Rules of Music
        4. Selling the Idea to the Developer
        5. Shaping an Interactive Musical Engine
          1. Prototyping the Idea
          2. Design and Specification
          3. Implementation in the Game
        6. Review
        7. Exercises
    14. Part IV: Bringing Music into the Game
      1. Chapter 20. Composing Music with a Digital Audio Workstation
        1. Getting Started with a DAW
          1. Choosing a Sequencer
          2. Sequencing Standard MIDI Files
          3. MOD File Sequencing
        2. Sequencer Setup and Track Layout
          1. Sample Rate and Bit Depth
          2. Track Layout, Submixes, and Stems
        3. Planning for an Interactive Score
          1. Looping
          2. Vertical Remixing
          3. Horizontal Resequencing
          4. Auditioning the Transitions between Cues
          5. Organizing the Musical Cues
        4. Transitioning between the DAW and the Game
        5. Review
        6. Exercises
      2. Chapter 21. Live Recording, Session Preparation, and Mixing
        1. Elevating the Score with Live Musicians
        2. Preparing, Orchestrating, and Arranging
          1. Preparing Sequences for an Orchestrator or Arranger
        3. Session Preparation and Planning
          1. Determine the Recording Order of Cues
          2. Multitracking
          3. Sequence Preparation
          4. Preparing for What Can Go Wrong
        4. Exporting a Sequence to Another DAW
        5. Session Flow and Practices
        6. Time Management
        7. Final Mixing and Editing
        8. Musicians and Recording
          1. Union Contracts
          2. Musician Expenses
          3. Musician Releases
          4. Recording Studio Expenses
        9. Review
        10. Exercises
      3. Chapter 22. Mixing and Exporting Audio Files to the Game Engine
        1. Considerations for Mixing Music for Games
        2. Bouncing and Exporting Master Files
        3. File Formats and Compression
          1. Audio File Compression Formats
          2. Game Audio Formats
        4. Surround Mixing within Games
        5. Review
        6. Exercises
      4. Chapter 23. Implementation and Programming
        1. Defining the Music Framework
        2. The Implementation Process
        3. Game Production Methodology
          1. Scheduling and Milestone Delivery
          2. Managing Assets and Files
          3. Tracking Asset Reviews and Feedback
          4. Naming Conventions
        4. Balancing Compression with Quality
          1. Physical Removable Storage
          2. Downloadable Games and Onboard Media Storage
          3. Onboard Working RAM
          4. Online Network Storage
          5. Voice Considerations
        5. Allocating Time for Programming
          1. Setting Up the Music Framework and Interactivity
          2. Implementing the Hooks
          3. Integrating Middleware Solutions
        6. Mixing and Real-Time DSP
        7. Review
        8. Exercises
      5. Chapter 24. Large-Scale Music Development
        1. Establishing a Unique Creative Direction
        2. Unification and Planning
        3. Organization, Revisions, and Backups
        4. Mapping the Overarching Emotional Arc
        5. Integration and Follow-Through
        6. Large-Scale Interactive Music Challenges
          1. Closed System (Games on Rails)
          2. Open System (Open-World Games)
          3. Combat-Triggered Musical Interactivity
        7. Review
        8. Exercises
    15. Part V: The Business of Scoring Music for Video Games
      1. Chapter 25. The Life of a Video Game Composer
        1. A Day in the Life of a Game Composer
        2. The Business of Scoring Games
          1. Size of the Industry
          2. Game Development
          3. Game Development Education
        3. Working In-House versus Out-of-House
          1. In-House Composer
          2. Part-Time Contractor
          3. Freelance and Your Own Music Production Company
        4. Skill Sets
        5. Music Production Companies
        6. Internships as Entry Points
          1. Learning Experience
          2. Relationships
          3. Job Conversions
        7. Music Libraries
          1. Justifying Composer Fees
          2. Additional Income Streams
        8. Review
        9. Exercises
      2. Chapter 26. Contracts, Rights, and Work for Hire
        1. The Legal Side of Composing
        2. Non-disclosure Agreements
        3. Music Rights and Work for Hire
        4. The Project Contract
        5. The Employment Contract
        6. Demos
        7. When Things Go Wrong
        8. Federal Forms
          1. Employee
          2. Individual (Sole Proprietor)
          3. Corporation
        9. Review
        10. Exercises
      3. Chapter 27. Creating an Estimate
        1. Proposing Your Talents and Fees
        2. Questions for the Developer
          1. Game-Related Questions
          2. Audio-Related Questions
          3. Budget-Related Questions
        3. Using an Estimate as a Sales Pitch
        4. The Psychology of Bidding
          1. Price
          2. Presentation and Delivery
        5. The Organization of an Estimate
        6. Breaking Music Down into Components
          1. Interactive Music versus Linear Music
        7. Determining How Much Music to Write
        8. Knowing How Much to Charge
          1. Calculating the Cost of One Minute of Music
          2. Getting to Know the Client
        9. Review
        10. Exercises
      4. Chapter 28. Contract Negotiation Tactics
        1. Working for Less Than You’re Worth
        2. Collaborating with Developers
        3. Renegotiating the Estimate
        4. Royalty Arrangements
        5. Offering Discounts for Multiple Projects
        6. Licensing
        7. Additional Rights and Opportunities
          1. Music Publishing and Performance Royalties
          2. Guaranteed Work on Derivative Products
          3. Screen and Box Credits
        8. Review
        9. Exercises
      5. Chapter 29. How Composers Find Work
        1. Building Relationships
        2. Networking
        3. Informational Interview
        4. Video Game Conferences
        5. Working for Free
        6. Game Developer Organizations
        7. Your Website and Blog
        8. Social Networking
        9. Cover Sheets and Résumés
        10. Partnerships
        11. Representation and Salespeople
        12. Advertising and Public Relations Agencies
        13. Review
        14. Exercises
      6. Chapter 30. The Challenges of Working as a Composer
        1. Setting Expectations and Goals
        2. Traits for Success
          1. Passion
          2. Speaking the Language
          3. Belief in Yourself
          4. Write Music for the Person Signing the Check
          5. Reliability
          6. Adaptability
          7. Entrepreneurship
          8. People Skills
          9. Talent
          10. Humility
          11. Objectivity
          12. Technical Skills
          13. Experience
          14. Courage
        3. Competition
        4. Handling Rejection and Failure
        5. Finances
          1. Expenses and Budgeting
          2. Taxes
          3. Legal Fees
        6. Review
        7. Exercises
    16. Part VI: Conclusion and Appendixes
      1. Conclusion
        1. Where to Go from Here
        2. The Future of Game Scoring
      2. Appendix A. Companion Website and Supporting Software Tools
        1. Companion Website
        2. Composer Tools
      3. Appendix B. Glossary
      4. Appendix C. Game Music Canon
        1. 1970 to 1989
        2. 1990 to 1999
        3. 2000 to 2009
        4. 2010 to 2013
      5. Appendix D. Resources
        1. Organizations
        2. Game Conferences
        3. Web Resources and Podcasts
        4. Books
          1. Twentieth-Century Experimental Music
          2. Film Scoring
          3. Game Scoring
          4. Game Audio
          5. The Business of Game Scoring and Audio
          6. History of Video Game Music
          7. Adaptive and Generative Music
        5. Audio Middleware
        6. Game Engines and 3D Middleware
      6. Appendix E. Composer Biographies
    17. Index