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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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