In the upcoming article "How to Write Better Video Game Music," I delve into the intriguing world of different track categories, highlighting their unique characteristics and importance in shaping a game's sonic landscape.
More crucially, the focus is shifted away from middleware tools like FMOD and Wwise, and we instead dive deep into understanding the behavior of audio files themselves.
This knowledge forms the cornerstone of successful game music composition, empowering you to craft sounds that seamlessly blend with the dynamic nature of interactive media.
Join me as we embark on this exciting journey of making your game music more engaging, immersive, and effective.
Before you dive into composing a video game track, bear in mind that maintaining a neat and well-organized DAW session for your track is crucial. This practice streamlines your workflow and ensures you retain a clear overview of your composition process. Please look at the screenshot below for a Cubase Project Setup example.
From a technical perspective, video game music can be divided into three distinct categories: the main theme, cutscene music, and in-game music.
The main theme is a standalone track, embodying the game's core melody, ambiance, and mood. In contrast, in-game music serves to complement the on-screen action during gameplay.
It's vital to recognize that the dynamics of a video game soundtrack are not dictated by the composer, but rather, they are influenced by the player's actions.
A critical aspect to grasp when composing in-game music is the role of loops and layers. Consider a scenario where one player spends five minutes in a particular level.
In contrast, another spends 30 minutes - do we compose a half-hour-long piece for a single scene just because some players linger longer than others? And what if a player stays even longer, say 45 or 60 minutes?
The solution lies in creating loops. The challenge and artistry in crafting an excellent loopable track is making it sound like it isn't repeating. Furthermore, we can incorporate short segments that serve as an intro and an outro.
The game's audio director can then program the game engine to play the intro, transition into the loop, and ultimately play the outro upon level completion. This creates the illusion of a seamless musical experience for the player.
You might find this method surprisingly simple, but it's incredibly efficient. When you're crafting a loopable in-game track and you've got the perfect loop between the left and right markers, just duplicate the entire track twice.
Next, render the file. It's crucial to then remove any mastering effects you may have applied, as these could introduce extra latency.
Finally, delete the first and third loops, leaving only the middle one. Now you have a seamlessly looping track. It's as easy and impressive as that!
As previously stated, the dynamics of in-game music are player-led, not composer-led. What does this mean?
Let's illustrate with an example:
Picture a player venturing through a forest and suddenly coming face to face with a wolf. We can anticipate a battle, and the music must underscore this shift in mood.
However, if the composer controls the in-game track's dynamics, the timing of the wolf's appearance and the music's dramatic peak may not align. The solution? Use loops, supplemented with layers.
Let's revisit the scenario.
The player enters the forest to a serene soundtrack. The wolf's appearance switches the music to a tension-filled loop via a distance trigger.
Another trigger in the game engine determines when the wolf will attack based on the player's proximity or vice versa. This trigger initiates a combat track.
Now let's say the player starts losing health rapidly, and the situation becomes dire. The engine can then introduce another layer, say, additional drumming, to heighten the drama over the combat track. This layered, player-responsive approach ensures a dynamic, immersive musical experience.
In a recent live stream, I composed a piece reminiscent of World of Warcraft. This video offers a review of that creative journey, providing a step-by-step walkthrough of the process.
Venturing into video game music composition can seem daunting. Questions like the appropriate format for tracks, the length of loops, the choice of instruments for an RPG, and even understanding what an RPG signifies can be overwhelming.
However, in nearly all instances, you'll interact with an audio director or another responsible individual who will guide you through the intricacies. A thorough briefing, discussing the game's mood, style, and ambiance, is typically part of the process.
Remember, no one-size-fits-all approach to creating music for all video games exists. The key is not to let the process intimidate you, avoid overcomplicating things, and focus on the creative journey.
This video delves into the exploration of percussion patterns in video game music. Join me as we create some powerful drum sequences reminiscent of the main theme from Elden Ring.
Discover the intricacies of video game music composition in this comprehensive online course. From the essentials of project briefing and delivery of final music files to mastering the art of crafting captivating main themes and dynamic in-game music, this course sets you up for success.