composing for games

Composing for Video Games

For a while now it has been clear that one section of our industry is drifting off in a slightly different direction to the rest of the business. I’m talking about music for video games. In the past, many games composers were in essence film composers who happened to be working in games. The new generation are very much games composers in tooth and claw, who fully embrace the huge challenges that games present. What am I talking about?

Computer games are the only truly non-linear form of entertainment. Everything else – film, television, commercials – have a predetermined start middle and end that never change. The end of the film is the end of the film however many times you watch it. So scoring films is not that different in essence to writing music for tv or anything else – it is linear. Games are different. The story is controlled by the player’s progress and the choices they make. Granted some games lead the player down a predefined path towards a conclusion, but even then the manner, nature and speed of progress is different every time the game is played. Creating a score that follows a non-linear narrative is a completely different game and requires new technical and creative skills.

You may already be aware of techniques like layering, branching and horizontal re-sequencing. In isolation they are relatively straight forward but when compounded together the effect is exponentially more complex and powerful, delivering a seamless interactive score to a story that has never been told in that way before. Writing the music and envisioning the nature of the interactivity is only half the battle. Making it work is another thing entirely. This is largely achieved using middleware. Middleware is a class of program that sits in-between the composer and the game engine. FMOD and WWise are the most popular and they allow the composer to implement their interactivity in the game with out the need for complex coding skills. That’s not to say these programs are simple. They are not, but increasingly learning how to use them is a fundamental part of the game composer’s skillset.

There is another half to the equation, in many respects a bigger and more significant part of the industry and that is sound design. I say more significant because that is certainly true in terms of employment and job opportunities. Most game companies employ three or four times as many sound designers as composers. That said, they employ probably ten times as many coders and developers but that’s by the by. Sound design is a fascinating area and will be the subject of another blog shortly.

So to reflect the growing specialization of games composers, we have decided to produce a new MA course Game Music and Audio. It’s one of a very small number of postgraduate or master’s courses in the world to specialize in this fast growing area and the only one available exclusively online. We will open our doors to new Games Music and Audio graduate students in September 2016. The course will offer two pathways, one aimed at composers and the other at sound designers. All students will start with two modules where they will do both music and sound design but after that they will go their separate ways. They will have an intensive course in FMOD middleware before they start both to write and implement their music in a range of games. Each level will offer students a different game to score covering a wide range of styles from mobile puzzle games to top down fantasy games, first person shooters and simulations. The course materials will include show-how video tutorials and interviews with top composers, audio directors and games producers from all over the world. The faculty have been recruited from the top ranks of the game, all hard working professionals with amazing credits. More details of that shortly. In the meantime, if this sounds like the course you need to open the door to this incredibly exciting and challenging area of work, drop me a line.

About the Author
Guy Michelmore

Guy Michelmore

Course Director Guy Michelmore is an award winning film composer. He has scored over 8 animated films for Marvel and over 200 episodes of TV for networks all over the world. He also has a detailed knowledge of sampled orchestration and contemporary techniques in film scoring.

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