These articles are not intended to be a master source
for everything one must consider (and how to prioritize them) when scoring
a game, rather it will be a series of articles based off my experiences
with each newly completed project. As I learn from the process, the other
developers that are involved, and write about the experiences here, I
hope the information will help better guide your future scoring efforts
When scoring for any medium, our ultimate goal as a Composer is to enhance
the listener/audience/participant/gamers’ experience. In this way
all Composers are exactly the same, as we want to move people when they
hear whatever we’ve created. The differences always come down to
the technical details. The technical skill set one has to have when composing
to locked picture is quite different from those necessary for creating
an adaptive score ready to change based off the gamer’s choices.
Likewise, there are different things we must consider as Game Composers…
I would like to talk about 4 today that specifically came up (and I learned
more about) when creating the music for the fun puzzle game “Box
I. Platform Constraints
Interestingly enough this was one of the last things the developer and
I spoke about, because when I was originally approached to create the
score for the game there were two platforms it was being ported to…
PC & iDevices. Since there was so much emphasis on creating great
music at a decent enough length that it wouldn’t get old and an
unspoken understanding that the PC port was priority, certain app store
limitations for the mobile version never crossed our mind until much later
in the development process.
Was this a bad thing? Perhaps, I always like to take as much into consideration
as possible before writing a single note of music. However, since the
overall goal was to create a great product with a decent amount of high
quality music, the 20mb over 3G limit wasn’t a concern. Yes, this
means that you can only download the game via WiFi connection, but both
the developer and I think the quality/quantity of the end product makes
up for this slight inconvenience.
II. Serving the Right Purpose
Fortunately, the developer was fantastic with communication and already
had a playable client ready when I was approached to do the score. This
helped immensely at discovering the game’s tone, feel, art style,
etc. After a few initial e-mails discussing the direction of the music
and signing some paperwork, I was left to create some music. After spending
a decent amount of time recording live guitars (in alternate tunings),
vocals, and programming V.I., the music for the first half of the game
was completed. Confident in my work, I sent it over to the developer and
began working on the rest of the music.
Unfortunately and humbling for my ego (haha), the developer got back
to me very quickly saying that he really enjoyed the piece, but it didn’t
make sense with the game play. After discussing it back and forth, we
came to find out that although the art style is unique, it was essential
to cue off the game play instead. I had paid more attention to the cool
art style when that was in fact the 2nd most important thing the music
was supposed to serve. The priority was urging the player forward to complete
the level more quickly. With my new understanding of the priority and
some arrangement adjustments (plus a few percussion parts), we came to
a solid piece that served the correct purpose. Linked below are two short
excerpts from the original piece (to dynamic) & the updated version
(consistent pulse/rhythmic movement propelling you forward).
Version VS Updated Version
Also, as a side note I’d just like to mention that the developer
also didn’t initially like the feel/style of this first piece. This
was mainly because temp. music was used throughout the development process
before hiring me, so the developer became very accustomed to hearing a
certain style while playing through each of the new clients. Eventually
it all worked out though and I’ll explain more about that below.
III. Overall Vision
As I mentioned above, the developer was using temp. music
for the game before I was hired and was (rightfully) expecting something
similar… otherwise why pick that temp music? However, in our initial
discussions about the music we came to the conclusion that it was important
to capture the differences in art style/difficulty level as you progressed
through the game.
The first half of the game is much easier and features grass themed puzzles.
However, as you progress forward it becomes much more difficult and the
grass theme turns into a dungeon theme (which can be heard in the Trailer).
Our understanding of expressing the difference between this progression
was solid, but we differed on how that would be accomplished with the
Since the developer only used a single style temp track throughout both
the grass & dungeon themed levels, our ideas of where that style fit
best differed (in the future I’ve learned to be more clear when
temp tracks are involved!). I felt that the temp style fit quite well
for the dungeon theme (as it was intense but not too dark… fitting
with the art style) where as the developer believed that it fit well for
the grass theme and going darker for the dungeon theme was best.
I strongly felt opposed to this view, as it would take this unique/light
art style and might make it a little too heavy or serious… I didn’t
want the music to weigh down the experience. However, I always try to
make the client happy and began to work on an alternate version. Fortunately
for both of us, after the developer had played through the client with
the original tracks in the background (while I was working on the alternate)
he came to really like the first piece and appreciated the change in feel
between each style. This is what I initially envisioned, so I was not
only glad to hear that the developer was happy, but learned that sometimes
its best to “stick your ground.” If time allows for a concept
to fully sink in it’s much more likely that the developer will understand/enjoy
your intent and have a change of heart.
IV. Recording/Composition Process
As is true for most Composers, the Composition/Recording process often
differs from project to project (and sometimes from piece to piece). However,
as continuity & accurately expressing an overall vision are very important
to me, I try to keep some parts of the process consistent from piece to
piece within a project.
Since ‘Box Knight’ was to feature acoustic guitar more than
any other instrument, I made sure to write with the guitar & double
check that everything would be idiomatic. It’s very easy to get
carried away in a song & write outside of what is idiomatic for an
instrument (especially when writing for guitar). With that said, I did
alter the tuning of my guitars for the ‘Grass Theme’, as the
fingering for certain shapes were way too difficult in standard tuning.
It was only after I had set a foundation with the entire (solo) guitar
track, that I would then go back & not only add in the other instruments,
but “break down” & record many of the guitar parts separate
from one another (so I could have more control over them in the mix).
Often, I found that even though the acoustic guitar was the “glue”
that connected the pieces together, that didn’t mean it always had
to be the center of attention throughout the entire piece. So, I had no
problem pulling down its level in the mix or playing background lines
while a different instrument took the lead if that would best serve the
As mentioned in the italics at the beginning of this article, this is
by no means a complete list and I’m still a young professional with
many ups/downs ahead in my career, but nevertheless I believe this information
can be beneficial to many composers no matter their experience level.
Thanks for reading and keep composing fellow artists!
This article is followed by the next in the series, "Things
to consider when scoring for games, part 2"