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

Developing musical ideas in video games

Part 2

By: Kole Hicks

<-- Back to Part 1 of this article

Welcome to part two of this two part series on developing musical ideas in video games. If you haven’t read part one I highly recommend you do so.

In part one we defined the tools we have to work with and analyzed two successful titles that developed their musical ideas in unique ways (Journey & Rayman: Origins). In this article I’d like to break down and detail out all of the ways we could go about developing our musical ideas in a hypothetical game situation.

Hypothetical situation: Online only Multiplayer game (FPS)

Our game is a Modern Military FPS (First Person Shooter) that is online/multiplayer ONLY. There is progression with the player’s character as they achieve objectives, but not a linear/single player campaign. To further complicate our situation, we must understand that games of this nature don’t feature a lot of music (for good reason too). Sound Design is essential in a game like this and players need to hear the direction of every bullet whiz, footstep, etc. to locate their enemy. Furthermore, many people who play these games prefer to use teamwork and chat with their friends while playing. With all of this audio going on, we must be very selective with where we place our music.

(Click image for large version)

So how do we create an emotionally evocative score that develops ‘organically’ in a game where our character progresses over time, and yet we’ll find ourselves playing through the same maps/modes quite often?

Most definitely our music (even if it was phenomenal) could get stale after a while if our character never progressed. However, fortunately in this game our character is not only rewarded with new gear as they level up, but with new maps and additional features added to pre-existing maps (Lvl. 1 – 5, 6 – 10, 11 – 15, etc.)
With all of this taken into consideration, our first step is ‘Spotting’ the game or answering all of our music related questions for the game (When, Where, How, etc.) We already understand that our options are limited because of all the sound effects/chatting going on and while this can be a negative, there is also a positive benefit to our restriction. Music, when it does come in, will ultimately be more evocative because of its scarcity.

So let’s make a little ‘blueprint’ of where and when to place music in our hypothetical game.


  • Main Menu/Opening Screen
  • Loading for Various Maps/Modes
  • Beginning of Match
  • Nearing the end of the Match
  • End of the Match Results Screen (Win & Lose)

Personal/Individual (Stingers)

  • Capturing/Achieving Important Objective
  • Kill streak/ Multi-Kill
  • Helping Teammates (Healing, Assists, etc.)

These are just a few of the numerous possibilities we have to choose from. I'm sure you've thought of a few others as well, but in order to keep this direct and to the point I'll only discuss how our music can develop under the 'Universal' options.



Our Main Menu music will be the largest, most prominent, and most played piece of music that players will hear on a consistent basis. This piece of music will state our main themes while sticking to the 'core' instrumentation we would have determined before this. Furthermore, our Main Menu piece of music should be of a 'healthy' length since the player may spend quite a bit of time here tinkering with their gear, upgrades, etc. This'll give us ample time to introduce many of the musical ideas we'll be developing as they progress through the game.

(Click image for large version)

When the gamer chooses a map to play, our music will set the mood based off of the location of the map. So, if they are playing a jungle map then our music could potentially switch to ethnic woodwinds, percussion, etc. In addition, we can re-state some of our main themes here and they will seem fresh because of the difference in instrumentation.

*We could also slightly develop the various loading screen pieces of music as the player progresses and moves into a new 'level bracket.' So a very high level character could hear a super inspiring orchestral metal piece with big percussion and a lower level character may only hear some percussion with some electric guitar elements. It's a subconscious way of rewarding the player as they level up and keeping the musical 'palette' fresh the more they play the game.

As the player is waiting in-game for the countdown to end and the game to start, we have an opportunity to invigorate the moment of anticipation. A thirty second countdown will allow all of the players time to organize and give us one of only a few linear moments to write music to. We know the game begins at the thirty second mark, so our piece of music will build to a quick climax and state our Main Theme when the game begins (still using instrumentation based off the map type to keep it fresh).

As the end of the match nears a timer pops up on the screen counting down from sixty seconds. We have another a linear moment to work with here and an opportunity to not only push forward the momentum of the game, but let the players know that the end of the match is coming soon (especially if some players like to eliminate as much visual clutter as possible and deselect the timer notification). Sticking with our map's instrumentation, we have an opportunity to develop some of the themes we've introduced during the Main Menu, Loading Screen, and Beginning of the Match. It could differ from map to map, but that could mean variations in the melody, re-harmonization, introducing new textures, etc.

Last but not least, we have the results screen where everyone can check out how well they did and wait until the next map loads. Once again we'd stick with the chosen instrumentation for this map, but our system would play different pieces of music depending on if the player's team won or not. Perhaps re-harmonizing some of the most important themes that were introduced in earlier pieces.
As you can see, we can develop our musical ideas in unique ways and further immerse the player in the game experience. Even if that game severely limits our options on where and how to present that music. Thank you for reading, I hope you’ve found these articles useful, and are able to apply some of these ideas in your next project!

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]