Music for the Gaming Industry
There is no question that the video game industry has evolved tremendously in the last 15 years, especially when it comes to how music is created for games. We have seen game music production budgets go from small five figure productions to massive big budget Hollywood motion picture style production budgets. This is partly because many of today’s highly successful franchises have dramatically increased what is spent on these games from animations to celebrity CG actors to established Hollywood composers. As the CG technology and capability seems to double every two years, so too does the quality of the music. Sound also must improve to keep up with the incredible visuals and playability that these games are evolving into.
Back in the early days of gaming, very little “footprint” was even given game audio and in footprint I mean, the amount of physical ram memory set aside for all the audio to reside it in, but with the dawn of super computer gaming systems, all that has changed. Games are now able to have a visual gameplay quality that easily rivals that of the most elaborate CG in major motion pictures. The good thing about that is that there is now more room technically in the game for longer, higher quality (resolution) music and sound effects in these games. This sound, arguably being half the experience in games, has game music producers and sound designers are rejoicing in the many ways their hands have become un-tied allowing them to create powerful, evolving and more interactive musical scores for just about any game project.
PC and console games are truly benefiting from this advanced technology and this has allowed game audio to “catch up” and at the very least rival the quality that the game play and visual enjoy. The advancements of audio compression technology have also played a major role in the ability to use quality music and sound effects that take up very little space be it in ram memory, disc space or streaming bandwidth. As we all know in the early days of gaming, an electronic collection of pitched bleeps was all that we heard in games. Now all of that has changed and a capable game audio developer must stay on top of the constant evolution of game technology to create the most compelling and captivating game audio be it music, sound effects or dialog.
Needless to say, at GameBeat Studios, we could not be happier with this new capability technically. But there is still a challenge when it comes to the politics of creating music for games. Of course, there are many sectors of the gaming universe - console games, free/ shareware games, casual games, handheld games, mobile games, PC games and slot gaming. Each of these areas have a distinctly different way that they handle the procurement of quality music and sound effects for their games. We are talking about music budgets that don’t exceed $500, to budgets that easily can reach the half million-dollar mark for proven established game franchises. With each of these, the goal is always to create the best quality music for the game genre that will technically fit within the allotted audio footprint in the game.
Our goal and approach to game music is to create the most compelling, targeting genre appropriate music possible for any given game project. Today, the only platform that is really limited technically would be hand held or mobile platforms. Almost all the others allow you to deliver full length, high resolution music and sound effects for any game.
For us, the most exciting phase of creating music for any given game project is the initial creative conversation with the developer. Obviously, the type of game will dictate the style of music that is needed, but even within specific type of games, musically, things can still go in a dozen different directions. It very much depends on the initial vision the developer has for the game. For example, in a Zombie FPS style game, one would think that suspenseful, horror style foreboding music would fit best, but I have seen zombie games where a humorous and whimsical direction was desired for the music. The type of game does not always strictly dictate the style of music. The game composers and developers must have a series of conversations to make sure they are on the same page. Also, it is not uncommon for the UI (user interface/menu system) to be generally in line with the mood and style of the music in the game.
One of the things we always ask for when composing for a game is to have a video of actual game play. This goes a long way in giving our composers the needed inspiration to create the ideal scores for game play, cinematic or a game’s UI. These visuals or “storyboards” will also dictate the casting of voice actors if there are dialog assets in the game. This creative inspiration can be video or still images. But with these visuals, along with the developers, creative direction, we have never failed at nailing the ideal sonic atmosphere for virtually any game project. One of our specialties is giving silent cinematic video a complete and total audio treatment with music, voice over and sound effects.
When it comes to composing for games, we absolutely love the wide range of musical styles and genres needed. We have gone from music for an Egyptian themed Vegas style slot game to a high energy EDM dance track for a racing game. We love being able to put on so many different musical hats to give our clients exactly what their game needs.