View Cart | License | Blog | Contact
[ Home ][ Testimonials ][ Help/FAQ ][ Affiliate program ][ CD collections ][ My tags ][ My orders ]

Things to Consider When Scoring for Games

Part 1

By: Kole

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 for games.

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 Knight”.

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).

Grass Theme:

Original 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 music.

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 song.

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 parts in the series:

About the author: Kole Hicks is an Author, Instructor, and most prominently an Audio Designer with a focus in Games. He's had the pleasure of scoring mobile hits like 'Bag it!', has provided audio for Indie PC titles like 'Kenshi' and 'Jeklynn Heights', and was nominated for a 2012 GANG award for an article written exclusively for titled, "Mixing as Part of the Composing Process. Emotionally Evocative Music & Visceral Sound Effects... Kole Audio Solutions.
Other articles you may find useful:
Asset Management: How to keep track of sound clips using metadata and cataloguing. Three ways to build a sound library: Record sounds yourself, or find another way. Timeline of classical composers: Get an overview of the lives and times of classical music maestros. Depth and space in the mix, part 1: How to use reverb, pre-delay, EQ and delay to make your mix better. Depth and space in the mix, part 2: Further tips on improving the sound of your productions. Maximizing composer agreements: How you as a composer for games and other media can get the best out of the contract.
YouTube and music use: How "fingerprinted music" is causing advertisements on your YouTube video. Using Reverb to enhance your production: John Radford on the use and abuse of Reverb in music. Do the work: Music composers' tips and strategies for overcoming procrastination and getting the job done. Sound effects in music composition: How you can use sound FX in music production for games, film, media. Mixing as part of the composing process - part 1: Planning your instrumentation and approach. Mixing as part of the composing process - part 2: Making your sounds and instruments work with your composition to best effect.
Sound for picture - Faking it: Some great tips on making your audience feel they are there. Royalty Free music in 24-bit: Why we are upgrading to High Definition music downloads. Choosing music for a short film project: We look at some options for obtaining your musical score. Choosing music for a Documentary: Help and tips for obtaining your film soundtrack. Tips and Curiosities from Computer Game Music, pt 1: Piotr Koczewski discusses video game music. Tips and Curiosities from Computer Game Music, pt 2: More talk about composing music for video games.
Copyrights in Classical music and Public Domain music: We try to explain why "public domain music" still has rights attached to it. 1 year exclusive: Some of our best music can be found only at first year. Browse royalty-free music super quick: With our free Demo DVD-ROM you can skim through tracks quickly on your own PC. Getting started with voiceover: Things you need to know if you would like to make a living as a professional voice talent. Sennheiser PXC 450 noise canceling headphones: Video review of these classy noise reducing headphones Surviving your first composing gig: How to handle your client when composing music for video games or film/TV.
Creating radio ads with music and voice: We discuss some good practices and neat tricks for a great sounding ad spot. Recording sound for perspective: Good sound recording practice for a realistic result. Making a long-playing sound or Audio-CD starting out from a short, looping sound file. Creative workflow in Sonar, part 1: Save time and frustration while working in Sonar music production. Surround music in video games: Rob Bridgett discusses the viability and aesthetics of 5.1 sound heaven Shockwave-Sound's sister site for sound-fx
We introduce our new site for listening to and buying sound effects.
Cue the Music, Part 1: Using copyrighted music in your project or presentation Cue the Music, Part 2: We look at Five ways to get music for your project without breaking copyrights. Cue the Music, Part 3: How to use Royalty Free Music to the best effect for your project. Working with audio in Sony Vegas, Part 1: Importing & Timestretching audio files Working with audio in Sony Vegas, Part 2: Adding FX, Mixing & Rendering Audio Files Samson Zoom H4 portable recorder: An in-depth product review of this handy sound recording unit.
How to get music on your web site: We explain how to Embed music on a web page and how to make a Flash that plays music. Music rights terms and expressions: Podcast safe music, Sync License, Royalty Free Music, Performance Rights... Confused yet? Royalty free music explained: What really lies behind this term? We talk a little music licensing history and look at this expression. How to build a music track from loops: Do this to get the "set of music loops" to play as a longer music track YouTube Safe Music: How to find music for your YouTube video and properly credit the composer and publisher. Common myths and misunderstandings about music rights: We try to clear up some of these.
Orchestral MIDI arrangement: A beginner's guide to the Orchestral MIDI Mockup. A guide to virtual pianos: We take a look (and a very close listen) to virtual piano plug-ins. Strengthen your 3D animation with audio: How to use royalty-free music and sound-fx with 3D animation Ideas for Effectively Using Sibelius and Pro Tools 8: We look at ways to streamline and optimize your composing work. Cleaning up noisy dialogue: Get rid of background noise and improve sound quality of voice recordings Interactive Music in Games: We look at ways to make videogame music react and respond to the players actions.
Writing music for games, part 1: Video games composer Kole on some issues to keep in mind. Writing music for games, part 2: Kole dissects another video game music project. Writing music for games, part 3: Finding a way to compose music for Facebook games and stay within the boundaries. Writing music for games, part 4: How to make the most of what little resources you have available. The Cost of Music: Options for filmmakers to source music for their film. Music Production hardware and software tips, part 1: Important issues you need to consider when selecting your tools, computer, CPU, RAM, software etc.
Music Production hardware and software tips, part 2: Useful tips for choosing your hardware for music production. Composing music for cellphones / mobile phones - Part 1: Tips and tricks of the trade. Composing music for mobile phones / cellphones - Part 2: More useful info for producers. Observations of Memorable Themes: We discuss music composition and how to make your melodies memorable. Developing musical ideas in video games - Part 1. Ways of making the music work for the game. Developing musical ideas in video games - Part 2. More thoughts on scoring music for video games.
Ideas for creating unique musical colours: Tips to try to make it sound and feel 'different' Choosing the right classical music, part 1: We recommend 10 pieces of bombastic, powerful, awe inspiring classical music. Choosing the right classical music, part 2: In this part we recommend 10 beautiful, soft, heavenly and emotional classical music tracks      

Would you like to contribute an article to We will pay you $150.00, and we will include your bio, a link to your web site, and if you wish, a quick plug of your product or service. is used by almost 4,000 unique visitors every day. Contact us if you have an article idea/pitch for us that you feel is useful, relevant and well written. First, though, you may want to read this blog post about article requirements.

Copyright notice: This article and all other text on this web site is under Copyright to This text may not be copied, re-printed, re-published, in print or electronically, in whole or in part, without written permission from

[Switch to Classic Navigation]