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
first article on this subject we went through three different items
to consider when scoring for a mobile game. Coincidentally, the latest
game I finished scoring was also a mobile game, but many of the challenges
and priorities differed. In this article I’d like to share three
of the main things I took into consideration when composing the music
I. Platform Constraints
This has always been an issue for Game Audio people, but as technology
has developed over time it’s become less of a burden for those working
on Console/PC games. However, with the emergence of mobile games (and
restrictions of certain ‘stores’), this issue has once again
reared its ugly head… or perhaps I should be the optimist &
say this ‘unique challenge’ has once again reared it’s
Interestingly enough, the previous mobile game I worked on (mentioned
in the first article) didn’t mind if we went over the allotted 20mb
limit for 3G downloading. However, the developers at Hidden Variable Studios
made it absolutely clear that they wanted to keep the whole game under
After looking at the proposed asset list & discussing the audio ‘budget’
(around 3mb for all of the Audio) it became clear that this was a case
of quantity or quality. I always tend to favor quality and as the game
progressed it just so happened to work out that many of the proposed audio
assets were not needed. This gave us room to use a little bit higher quality
audio files. In addition, working with people who had a clear vision of
what they wanted really helped me develop the appropriate audio necessary
in a timely manner.
Specifically the SFX were bounced at 16/22 (mono .wav) & the Music
at 16/44.1 (stereo .wav), but then compressed in Unity. Not absolutely
ideal, but still pretty good and ultimately effective for the game. Also,
there are issues when looping with Mp3s so fortunately (with a little
tweaking from the Programmer) we were able to use features in Unity to
create seamlessly looping music with .wav files.
II. Creating the Appropriate ‘Feel’
This is always a tricky one for anyone working in audio for media, as
the sound/music really sells the visual. There are a million different
directions to go in and you have to be aware of how other people perceive
sound (more detail on this in III). With that said, the artwork for ‘Bag
It’ was fantastic and really helped me when developing the appropriate
mood with the music.
Fortunately, the CCO I worked with directly already had a good idea of
the feel of the music they wanted (even some instrumentation too!). So
building the rough foundation was rather easy… especially when considering
one of the reasons they decided to work with me was because of the spec
demo I submitted. So identifying the elements we wanted from my piece
and other music (in a similar style) was quite painless.
After collecting all of the appropriate instrument colors for our foundation
(Pizzicato Strings, Acoustic Guitar, Piano Synth, French Horn, & Light
Percussion) it was time to discuss the role our music was to fill in this
game. ‘Bag It!’ is a challenging, but light-hearted game driven
by unique characters. We knew that the SFX would help identify the characters
& realized quickly that the music should play a supporting role during
game play. However, during the menu we needed the music to be a bit more
active & engaging… thus there was more liberal usage of melody.
Furthermore, although we backed off on our usage of melody during the
game play music, we decided that it should be semi-interactive. Realizing
the constraints of our platform & the feel of the game, we decided
on a simple approach that allowed the music to develop ‘organically.’
Essentially it is one single piece of music (30s long), however we don’t
hear the ‘big picture’ until the 2nd layer comes in. So, about
30s into playing (by then the pace has picked up a bit) you’ll hear
a more active & engaging piece of music.
However, I would also like to note that our original intent was to
include 3 different layers in our game play music system. Unfortunately,
this would put us over the 20mb limit, so we restricted it to 2. Perhaps
this will change as more downloadable content is made available.
I recommend buying the game to hear the ‘music system’ in
action (beyond my normal bias & the fact that it’s quite fun);
however I’ll also supply a link below to our trailer, which happens
to feature a decent chunk of the music used in the game.
Bag It! Game trailer
video at YouTube
III. Being Aware of Other People’s Perceptions
Iterations are a part of life and business in every corner of the world.
Trying new things, developing new ideas… it’s how we grow.
With that said, I highly recommend having multiple iterations be a part
of your initial bid/contract as they’re inevitable and you’ll
thank yourself later.
Previously I mentioned the importance of being aware of how other people
perceive sound. This is especially important when working with producers
who are extremely involved in the process and enjoy experimenting.
On this project I was fortunate to work with a CCO who not only had a
good idea of what he wanted, but knew how to speak music (or at least
express the ideas he couldn’t explain with musical terms). However,
there were a few cases of miscommunication based purely off our different
perceptions of music.
In one such case we were having an issue identifying elements of our
main theme that sounded a little to ‘childish’ for the feel
we were going for. Since I was creating the tracks based almost purely
off our references it was hard for me to identify what our testers considered
‘childish,’ as that critique had not come up before when reviewing
any of those reference tracks.
Eventually, after a little discussion back and forth, we found the culprit
in a Pizz. String Harmony and octave doubling with Glockenspiel on the
second pass through the theme. It seems so obvious to me now that I look
back at it, but why was it difficult at the time?
Well, the reference tracks included Glock/Pizz. String Harmonies, but
not that high in their register & not so exposed. The solution we
found was to continue playing the main theme in its original range on
the Piano Synth, but with Arco String accompaniment, a Guitar doubling
underneath, and no Glockenspiel up top on the 2nd pass through. This helped
move the piece forward while achieving our goal of keeping the piece light-hearted
and playful, but mature.
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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.