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  • Creating Music For Video Games: The Plan

    [08.22.19]
    - Ricardo Cuello
  •  * The introduction was made taking into account the lack of material about audio for games available in Spanish. It seems right to leave it in the translation because it is one of the original reasons that led to the writing of this article.

    Introduction

    Despite the popularity of the media and the video game industry today, the lack of material on composition, and audio in general for video games in our Spanish language is very striking. In the English language there is already a variety of books, articles and studies on sound design, dynamic systems, and musical composition (of the latter much less). However, in our language much of the information is scattered in different communities and / or forums.

    For this reason I decided to write a series of small articles on these topics. In this case, laying out some bases of what seems fundamental to me when composing music for this particular medium. All this information is brought to you a little by reading books, another bit by my own academic studies on music; and a little more due my experience composing this music.

    Thus, this first article is going to be purely dedicated to the musical composition, mostly, the planning prior to the composition itself. What things to consider before sitting down to write a single note. I will leave for another time the sound design and the musical design (or the dynamic audio design by layers).

    I will take 3 characteristics that seem pillars when it comes to addressing the composition of music for a video game and, at the end, are strongly linked to the form and character that the soundtrack of the project will have. These 3 characteristics are: unity, variety and function.

    Unity

    With unity I mean that the different parts are related to each other and together they form only one thing. Now, why do we want it to be just one thing? I believe we want that for several reasons: I think it is part of any artistic project, when things complement each other they are enhanced and the result is of a higher quality than of their elements presented separately (A wild synergy appears!); In addition, also for a matter of simplicity: we perceptually generate connections faster and associate elements more easily (which in a video game is very useful because things usually happen dynamically and fairly quickly). Another reason may be because it is what comes most naturally to us, we tend to unite, group, categorize, rather than divide. And one last reason is because it is what is styled in the industry.

    Normally, the musical unity is given by the way in which its internal elements are related, the greater the degree of similarity between elements, the greater the general unity. However, when you join music with another medium, you have to look for a way in which both work as one.

    For that, you have to start reviewing the other constitutive elements of the game, which ones can help you to provide greater unity and which not. Having already composed several soundtracks and themes for games, I have concluded that there are several simple ways to contribute to the whole effectively. I present to you 3 of the most immediate and easy to work with. Recommended if you just start with musical composition. Also, these are generally present in most games:

    - Narrative: The story, the characters and where the game is set should be important indicators when thinking about music. The history can provide a dramatic curve; the characters the musical character of a passage; and the setting different ways to orchestrate.

    - Graphic art: Another very effective way is to relate music to art. The color palette, the basic shapes, the style of the brush, the artistic vein. All these elements can be related to musical parameters.

    - Pace: This feature I think is very important and rarely mentioned. We can say that it is the rate at which things happen. The speed at which events unfold. Music can reflect this aspect by modifying the tempo, or the speed at which the new material to be developed is presented.

    To end this point: The parameters set out in the previous points are examples. If you think about it, any musical parameter can be related to an extra musical element and function complemented to achieve cohesion. Some will generate more abstract connections, and others more literal. Some are easier to work (for example: Melodic or timbral leitmotiv); and others more difficult (harmonic leitmotiv, or formal thematic work).

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