This is the seventh installment in guest blogger Frank Klepacki’s series on music production. Today Frank looks at how scoring for video games differs from scoring for film and TV. If you missed Frank’s previous post on incorporating analog elements into the digital studio, you can read it here.
The Video Game industry is big business, and the quality of the medium offers all kinds of different and fun experiences for the casual or hardcore gamer. Gaming is but another entertainment choice, competing with music, movies and television, and it appeals to all different ages.
As a composer, it’s important to know what the differences are in the approach to scoring a video game from scoring for the other forms of media.
Take film and television. These are linear experiences. Every time you watch a movie or TV show, they are guaranteed to play out the same way. When you watch them again, they will be the same exact experience for you to digest.
When you play a video game, you are in control. The experience is interactive, it moves at your pace and reacts to your choices. It will not play out exactly the same way every time, and that creates interesting problems for creating a soundtrack. Granted there are some games that guide you along a certain path, follow an order of completion and unfold in almost the same way each time. But the bigger games can be much more open-ended. Designed in what we call “sandbox” style, these games let you do whatever you like, explore the virtual world and decide when you wish to engage a mission or objective.
Being a composer AND a gamer helps your understanding and approach to scoring immensely. You want the music to match up to what the player is experiencing, but you can’t overdo it either and try to account for every single move the player makes – doing so will surely result in a jerky-sounding score. You have to imagine a level in the game in the way it is designed, and then base the cues on what the player is going to have to accomplish or encounter. Having good communication with the game’s design team will be invaluable in nailing down the key points and emotional context.
For example, ask what is happening when the level starts? Is the player fighting right away or exploring first? How long does the player get to explore before encountering an enemy or an event? How is this event triggered? Is the enemy low-level or a significant character in the game? How long on average does combat last? How big is the overall level? These are just a handful of questions that you will need to have answered.
It’s not enough to just get a grocery list of what the game designers want and compose from that. For more casual games, that might work to a point, but it won’t connect as well with larger games – you have to think of the big picture. Games can tell stories like movies do, but they also have multi-player modes that are not story driven but focused on allowing a bunch of people online to play against each other at the same time. So you have that to think about as well.
The goal here is to be clever and create a soundtrack that connects with the story and characters, covers multiple situations, triggers appropriately when the game reacts to what the player is doing, and still works in the context of multi-player modes. More on this approach in part 2.
In Frank’s next installment he’ll continue to discuss the art of video game scoring – look for Part 2 next week!
– Frank Klepacki
Frank Klepacki is an award-winning composer for video games and television for such titles as Command & Conquer, Star Wars: Empire at War, and MMA sports programs such as Ultimate Fighting Championship and Inside MMA. He resides as audio director for Petroglyph, in addition to being a recording artist, touring performer, and producer. For more info, visit www.frankklepacki.com