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

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

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  • Explains how video game music composition is fundamentally different from other forms of composition
  • Fully explains each interactive game scoring method, including advanced aleatoric, dynamic reharmonization, and algorithmic techniques
  • Teaches through examples ranging from casual smartphone games to cutting-edge console titles
  • Covers crucial business issues: contracts, pricing, marketing, and sales
  • By Michael Sweet, the award-winning game music composer who created Berklee College of Music's pioneering game audio program
  • DVD contains powerful composition tools created at Berklee and available nowhere else
  • Supported by sample assignments and lesson plans for use in all college game music programs


  • Copyright 2015
  • Dimensions: 7" x 9"
  • Pages: 512
  • Edition: 1st
  • Book
  • ISBN-10: 0-321-96158-7
  • ISBN-13: 978-0-321-96158-7

“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.

Sample Content

Online Sample Chapter

The Language of Music Storytelling in Games

Sample Pages

Download the sample pages (includes Chapter 1 and Index)

Table of Contents

About This Book         xxvii

Acknowledgments        xxix

About the Author          xxxi

Introduction         1

Welcome   2

Structure of the Book   6

Conventions Used in This Book   11

Part I: Scoring for Games         13

Chapter 1: The Language of Music Storytelling in Games         15

What Makes a Video Game Unique?   16

Types of Music within Games   21

Exploring Music Function within Games   26

Synchronization and Integration of Music   28

Music Conceptualization   29

Analysis and Critique of a Game Score   32

Review   33

Exercises   34

Chapter 2: Breaking Down the Language of Interactive Music         35

What Is Interactive Music?   36

Types of Interactive Music   37

Control Inputs   42

The Composer’s Toolbox   44

Review   50

Exercises   51

Chapter 3: Spotting the Game          53

The Game Production Process   54

The Spotting Process   55

The Goals of a Video Game Music Score   58

Video Game Scoring Techniques   62

Music Control Inputs   65

Repetition, Randomization, and Surprise   66

Review   67

Exercises    68

Chapter 4: Working with a Game Development Team          69

Who’s in Charge?   70

Collaborating and Approving the Music   72

Preparing for Music Production   76

Review   81

Exercises   83

Chapter 5: Video Game Composition over the Past 40 Years            85

Why Video Game History Is Important   86

The Dawn of Coin-Operated Machines   87

The Ascent of the Arcade Machine   89

The Game Console Revolution   93

The Evolution of PC Gaming   97

The Rise of Handheld and Network Games   100

The Advancement of Audio Middleware   102

The Evolution of the Modern Gaming Platform   105

Review   107

Exercises   108

Chapter 6: Historical Perspective of Experimental Music          109

The Beginning of Interactive Music   110

Pre-Twentieth Century   110

1900–1950    112

Post-1950s    115

Review   120

Exercises   121

Part II: Fundamental Video Game Scoring Techniques          123

Chapter 7: Composing and Editing Music Loops          125

The Art of Looping Music   126

Musical Construction, Connections, and Cadences   128

Audio Editing   131

Auditioning Your Finished Loops   139

Review   140

Exercises   141

Chapter 8: Horizontal Resequencing         143

Sequencing Music in Real Time   144

Crossfading Scores   145

Transitional Scores   147

Branching Scores   149

Composing for Horizontal Resequencing   151

Review   152

Exercises   153

Chapter 9: Vertical Remixing              155

Remixing Music for Intensity   156

Deciding How Many Layers to Use   158

Types of Vertical Remixing   159

The Art of Fading Layers In and Out   160

Nonsynchronization of Layers   162

Composing for Vertical Remixing   163

Review   164

Exercises   164

Chapter 10: Writing Transitions and Stingers            165

Enhancing without Interrupting   166

Connecting Two Pieces of Music   166

The Concept of Musical Interruption   167

Composing Transitions   168

Transition Construction and Considerations   169

Example Transitions   171

Using and Placing Stingers   172

Review   173

Exercises   174

Chapter 11: Using Sound Design Techniques in Music            175

What Is Sound Design?   176

Basic Synthesis   177

Audio Signal Processing   182

Techniques for Creating Sound Design   183

Review   185

Exercises   185

Chapter 12: Music as a Gameplay Element           187

Engaging Players with Music   188

Music Games   188

Level Design, Construction, and Adaptation   194

Instruments in Interfaces and the Game World   195

Diegetic Music in Video Games   195

Music Approaches in Other Games   196

Review   196

Exercises   197

Part III: Advanced Video Game Scoring Techniques           199

Chapter 13: MIDI and Virtual Instruments             201

An Alternative to Prerendered Audio   202

Working with MIDI-Based Scores   204

Using Virtual Instruments   206

Review   209

Exercises   209

Chapter 14: Real-Time Tempo Variation and Synchronization           211

Immersing the Player through Tempo   212

Varying Tempo Based on Game Events   212

Tempo Changes with Prerendered Audio   213

Tempo Changes with MIDI or MOD   215

Tempo Synchronization   216

Phrase Synchronization   216

Review   217

Exercises   218

Chapter 15: Advanced Dynamic Music Manipulation Techniques          219

Weighing More Expensive Options   220

Melodic Manipulation and Reinterpretation   221

Ensemble, Rhythmic, and Style Alteration   221

Embellishment and Fills   222

Motivic Elements in a Running Score   223

Dynamic Reharmonization and Chord Mapping   224

Building an Event-Driven Sequencer   225

Review   226

Exercises   227

Chapter 16: Aleatoric Performance Techniques for Video Games         229

What Is Aleatoric Composition?   230

Aleatoric Techniques   231

Review   234

Exercises   235

Chapter 17: Algorithmic and Generative Music Systems         237

Using Algorithmic and Generative Music   238

Generating Music   239

The Rules of Game Composition   240

Mapping Control Inputs to Music   243

Applying Algorithmic Composition   243

Review   244

Exercises   245

Chapter 18: Using Middleware to Create Advanced Compositions         247

Simplifying Composition with Middleware   248

Using Multiple Interactive Techniques   251

Creating Scores Using a Middleware Engine   251

Intelligent Music Engines   252

Looping within a Middleware Engine   254

Variation and Randomization   255

Review   256

Exercises   257

Chapter 19: Creating a Custom Music Solution         259

Solving Problems with Custom Solutions   260

Limitations of Interactive Techniques   261

Teaching a Computer the Rules of Music   262

Selling the Idea to the Developer   262

Shaping an Interactive Musical Engine   263

Review   265

Exercises   266

Part IV: Bringing Music into the Game          267

Chapter 20: Composing Music with a Digital Audio Workstation           269

Getting Started with a DAW   270

Sequencer Setup and Track Layout   273

Planning for an Interactive Score   276

Transitioning between the DAW and the Game   279

Review   280

Exercises   281

Chapter 21: Live Recording, Session Preparation, and Mixing           283

Elevating the Score with Live Musicians   284

Preparing, Orchestrating, and Arranging   284

Session Preparation and Planning   286

Exporting a Sequence to Another DAW   290

Session Flow and Practices   291

Time Management   292

Final Mixing and Editing   292

Musicians and Recording   293

Review   297

Exercises   298

Chapter 22: Mixing and Exporting Audio Files to the Game Engine          299

Considerations for Mixing Music for Games   300

Bouncing and Exporting Master Files   301

File Formats and Compression   302

Surround Mixing within Games   305

Review   307

Exercises   307

Chapter 23: Implementation and Programming           309

Defining the Music Framework   310

The Implementation Process   311

Game Production Methodology   312

Balancing Compression with Quality   315

Allocating Time for Programming   318

Mixing and Real-Time DSP   320

Review   321

Exercises   322

Chapter 24: Large-Scale Music Development            323

Establishing a Unique Creative Direction   324

Unification and Planning   325

Organization, Revisions, and Backups   326

Mapping the Overarching Emotional Arc   328

Integration and Follow-Through   328

Large-Scale Interactive Music Challenges   329

Review   331

Exercises   332

Part V: The Business of Scoring Music for Video Games            333

Chapter 25: The Life of a Video Game Composer             335

A Day in the Life of a Game Composer   336

The Business of Scoring Games   337

Working In-House versus Out-of-House   340

Skill Sets   344

Music Production Companies   346

Internships as Entry Points   346

Music Libraries   348

Review   349

Exercises   350

Chapter 26: Contracts, Rights, and Work for Hire          351

The Legal Side of Composing   352

Non-disclosure Agreements   352

Music Rights and Work for Hire   354

The Project Contract   356

The Employment Contract   359

Demos   360

When Things Go Wrong   360

Federal Forms   361

Review   363

Exercises   364

Chapter 27: Creating an Estimate             365

Proposing Your Talents and Fees   366

Questions for the Developer   366

Using an Estimate as a Sales Pitch   368

The Psychology of Bidding   369

The Organization of an Estimate   370

Breaking Music Down into Components   372

Determining How Much Music to Write   374

Knowing How Much to Charge   375

Review   377

Exercises   378

Chapter 28: Contract Negotiation Tactics            379

Working for Less Than You’re Worth   380

Collaborating with Developers   381

Renegotiating the Estimate   382

Royalty Arrangements   383

Offering Discounts for Multiple Projects   385

Licensing   386

Additional Rights and Opportunities   386

Review   389

Exercises   389

Chapter 29: How Composers Find Work          391

Building Relationships   392

Networking   393

Informational Interview   395

Video Game Conferences   395

Working for Free   397

Game Developer Organizations   397

Your Website and Blog   398

Social Networking   399

Cover Sheets and Résumés   400

Partnerships   400

Representation and Salespeople   401

Advertising and Public Relations Agencies   402

Review   403

Exercises   404

Chapter 30: The Challenges of Working as a Composer            405

Setting Expectations and Goals   406

Traits for Success   407

Competition   414

Handling Rejection and Failure   415

Finances   416

Review    418

Exercises   419

Part VI: Conclusion and Appendixes           421

Conclusion               423

Where to Go from Here   424

The Future of Game Scoring   424

Appendix A: Companion Website and Supporting Software Tools            425

Companion Website   426

Composer Tools   426

Appendix B: Glossary           427

Appendix C: Game Music Canon         437

1970 to 1989    438

1990 to 1999    438

2000 to 2009    439

2010 to 2013    440

Appendix D: Resources            441

Organizations   442

Game Conferences   442

Web Resources and Podcasts   442

Books    443

Audio Middleware   444

Game Engines and 3D Middleware   445

Appendix E: Composer Biographies             447

Index               453


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