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Things to Consider When Scoring for Games, part 1

Things to Consider When Scoring for Games, part 1

By Kole Hicks

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!

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 Shockwave-Sound.com
titled, “Mixing as Part of the Composing Process. Emotionally Evocative
Music & Visceral Sound Effects… Kole Audio Solutions.

Choosing the right Classical music pieces for use in your project, part 2

Choosing the right Classical music pieces for use in your project, part 2

This is a continuation of the article: Choosing the right classical music (Part 1) which you can read here.

In part one of this series we looked at a list of 10 Bombastic classical pieces. Those huge, thunderous anthems that would sound great as an accompaniment to epic visuals & graphics or deep sonorous voice overs.

But the beauty of classical music is that it is rich in dynamism. One moment loud & boisterous, the next wistful & melancholic. In part two we’re looking into the sensitive side of classical music with a list of 10 breath takingly beautiful pieces of classical music.

Part two: Beautiful Classical Pieces

So here’s a list of 10 stunners from the classical canon. Usages could include film and documentary scenes such as panning shots of natural beauty, moments of reflection, falling in love…Romantic visuals that would benefit from a touch of sheer understated class.

10. The Four Seasons (spring) – Vivaldi

Fresh & flowery, The Four Seasons is Vivaldi’s series of Baroque violin concertos inspired by the 18th Century Italian countryside. Vivaldi’s music has a high note count with plenty of gushing detail & colour and of all the Season’s, ‘Spring’ is over brimming with flamboyant Baroque fruitiness.

9. Flower Duet – Lakme

Highjacked (pardon the expression) by British Airways for a series of TV ads, ‘Flower Duet’ is a magnificent operatic aria performed by two female sopranos. The operatic voices bob and weave through a magical garden of soaring cellos & assorted strings like two beautiful swans. Tasteful, graceful, stylish and elegant.

8. Piano Sonata No. 14 in C Sharp Minor – Beethoven

Recognizable from a plethora of usages in contemporary film and TV, Piano Sonata No. 14 (AKA The Moonlight Sonata) takes you on a lilting journey with its ever shifting succession of solo piano chords. One moment somber and sincere the next enchanting and elegant, and as one of Beethoven’s most beautiful pieces, is more than worthy of a place in our list.

7. Peer Gynt (morning) – Edvard Grieg

Imbued with a sense of fresh optimism this dynamic aria builds from a fluttering flute into a euphoric orchestra as daybreak bursts through the morning mist. A Norwegian composer, Grieg even lived long enough to hear some of his compositions immortalized on record.

6. Messiah Halleluiah Chorus – Händel

In our lists of both bombastic and beautiful classical music, this one easily straddles both camps with its huge choirs, crashing cymbals & divine orchestration. Another Baroque composer, Handel is considered one of the classical elite having composed over 40 operas in the early 1800’s.

5. The Lark Ascending – Vaughn Williams

British composer Vaughn Williams’ most celebrated piece was inspired by a poem about a skylark. And as flutes and violins spiral skyward, the imagery of a bird in flight is synonymous with this elegant masterpiece. Melancholic, sad & breath takingly graceful.

4. Suite for Solo Cello No. 1 in G Minor Prelude – Bach

Known to induce feelings of tearful ecstasy and abundant joy in most listeners, one must often contemplate…What is it about this continuous stream of solo cello notes that moves the human soul so profoundly?

3. Nimrod – Elgar

Among Elgar’s best known compositions are the orchestral works, Enigma Variations. Taken from that is the popular piece is Nimrod. With its angelic wind and swelling orchestral strings it surely ranks among one of classical music’s most compelling pieces.

2. Adagio for Strings – Barber

Radiating with angelic warmth, ‘Adagio’ tugs at the heartstrings with apparent ease as its wash of strings climb higher and higher towards divine absolution. Simply one of the most graceful & appealing classical pieces ever composed, it has been used to great effect in films as diverse and polar opposite as Platoon and The Elephant Man.

1. Ave Maria – Schubert

Yes, here we are at the top of the pile where I’m keen to point out that these pieces are in no particular order. Although Schubert’s Ave Maria is possibly the number one favourite when it comes to popularity. And continued cover versions of varying quality. It’s a stunningly sad yet uplifting operatic aria in its traditional arrangement. Although nowadays we’re treated to less sympathetic versions by the likes of Beyoncé & Celine Dion!

OK, so there we have it. A list of 10 beautiful classical compositions in no particular order. And, of course, it’s all down to subjective taste. With so much wonderful classical music, I’m sure you could make up an infinite number of lists in the same category without including any of the above. In fact, here are five more that might just as easily have featured in the list.

  • The Swan (Le Cygne)
  • Sleeping Beauty op. 66
  • La Traviata Act 1 Prelude – Verdi
  • Jupiter (The Planets) – Holst
  • Gymnopedie No. 1 – Erik Satie

Well, here’s hoping that these lists will lead you on to finding some less well known pieces by these wondrous composers. And that this article will help with your decisions when choosing some beautiful classical music for your film, documentary or presentation. Good luck!

Classical Music at shockwave-sound stock music library: http://www.shockwave-sound.com

About the author: Simon Power has made
over 50 short films and documentaries for the music technology website Sonic
State. He has also removed & replaced copyrighted music on a number
of commercial BBC releases. In these articles he offers advice and tips
about using music in your low budget film and audio/visual projects. You
can learn more about Simon and his projects at his website, http://www.meonsound.com/
Choosing the right Classical music pieces for use in your project, part 1

Choosing the right Classical music pieces for use in your project, part 1

by Simon Power

If you are a filmmaker or production house looking for a recognizable hook or sound bed for a visual presentation, then classical music can be a tremendous asset. The Classics can be used to add weight and depth to your project, instantly giving it a classy air of sincerity. Or they can be included with a sprinkling of irony to add humor, gaiety and wit.

What’s more, a huge percentage of the public recognize many of the popular pieces instantly, as they have been used countless times on films, sporting events, TV shows and commercials. So that gives you an instant shortcut to a wide pallet of emotions and shared consciousness with your audience.

So that’s great, isn’t it?

Well, yes, but there remains a huge problem with classical music: Much of it is just plain inaccessible. Sure, you can recognize a piece of classical music, you can probably hum the first few lines. But when it comes to searching for the actual piece, you’re met with a frustrating & bewildering puzzle to unravel.

The first problem will be the title. Unlike popular music, the title will not always be representative of the emotion or imagery you get when listening to it. You may be looking for a piece that puts you in mind of a ‘Beautiful Sunrise’. But the piece turns out to be called ‘Suite for Solo Cello No. 1 in G Minor BWV 1007 Prelude’.

Same with the composer. Not content with two names, most of them have three or four. And a few of those will be almost willfully unpronounceable. Of course, I’m being flippant, but you get the picture? Unless you’re classically trained you will find it awfully hard to get what you want when searching for classical music for your project.

So how can I find what I’m looking for?

Well, hopefully, these articles will help by offering a beacon of light to producers who are keen to explore the rich and diverse world of the classics. Each part will name & describe 10 popular classics with a particular theme. Many of the examples mentioned are out of copyright public domain pieces that are available for download at shockwave-sound.

So let’s kick off with some real biggies to get the ball rolling…

Part one: Bombastic Classic Anthems

Here’s a list of 10 rousing classical anthems. Uses could include war-like themes, colossal shows or cataclysmic events. They’re showy, impressive and somewhat grandiose pieces that take full advantage of the huge might of an entire orchestra.

10. Finlandia Op.26 No. 7 – Sibelius

Dark, impressive brassy chords full of impending doom from this Finnish composer who produced loads of good Wagnerian sounding stuff in the early 20th Century.

9. A Night on Bare Mountain – Mussorgsky

A track for the masterwork Pictures at an Exhibition, this frenzied, nightmarish romp sounds like someone left the gates of Hell open wide and the screaming banshees of Hades have just flown through.

8. Symphony No. 9 in D Minor Op. 125 Molto Vivace – Beethoven

A change of gear, but no less impressive, this is a joyous, extravagant string symphony filled with all the pomp & ceremony of a huge event or happening.

7. Gayaneh Suite No. 3: The Sabre Dance – Aram Khachaturian

Kyachaturian was a Russian composer which figures when you hear this Arminian workout complete with driving rhythm and loud, incessant woodwind and brass.
Archetypal Russian folk music played at break neck speed.

6. Toccata & Fugue in D Minor – Bach

its Judgment Day and Bach’s Fugue makes it sound like the entire majesty & weight of religion is crashing down around your ears. This is full on fire and brimstone and what’s more it has a MASSIVE organ!

5. Mars (The Planets) – Holst

Cheltenham born Holst was most famous for his orchestral suite, The Planets. A blinding collection of tunes that run the full gamut of human emotion. Mars makes it to this list for being arguably the most bombastic track with its Morse Code-like pulsing bass and apocalyptic lead lines. Its influence on modern film music is incalculable.

4. 1810 Overture – Tchaikovsky

Boy, these Russian composers like it big and the 1810 Overture is no exception. With its huge orchestration, bells and clashing cymbals, its sheer big-ness knows no bounds. And what’s more, any piece that includes the sounds of canon’s firing makes it into this list, so here it is at number 4.

Apocalypse Now used Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries”

3. Ride of the Valkyries – Wagner

Wagner is so cool, he even has his own expression named after him. ‘Wagnerian’ means big, powerful, domineering, full of drama and emotional intensity. And that about sums up ‘Ride of the Valkyries’, now famous of course for its inclusion in the chopper sequence in ‘Apocalypse Now’, this is a masterpiece of bombastic classical music from Mr. Hitler’s favourite composer.

2. Romeo & Juliet Op.64 Act 1: Dance of the Knights – Prokofiev

Recently highjacked for the UK version of ‘The Apprentice’, Dance of the Knights is a behemoth of classical music with orchestration that crashes in like the approaching footfalls of some giant monster. It lollops around with surprising grace before ending with some huge chords that are enough to induce feverish applause from any mortal human being on the planet.

1. Carmina Burana Fortuna Imperatrix Mundi: No. 1 O Fortuna – Orff

Carmina Burana is a collection of 24 poems set to music by Carl Orff in 1936. The poems are from dramatic texts from the 11th, 12th and 13th Century that reflect the birth of an international European movement. Though you wouldn’t know that to listen to them as they were all written in Latin and a couple of other dead languages.

But no one really listens to the words of ‘O Fortuna’ (the intro to Carmina Burana.) You just get swept away by the power and majesty of the awesome music. The huge choirs, the incessant rhythms, the dark thunderous orchestration. Yep, in a list that’s all about high and mighty classical tunes, ‘O Fortuna’ from Carmina Burana is number one, because, in all truth, there’s no other place for it.

OK, so as always with charts there are lots and lots of choices that didn’t make it into the final list. And this is by no means meant to be a definitive countdown of bombastic classical tunes. In fact, there’re in no specific order and, after reading it, you can probably think of a hundred omissions and one’s that got away, or trampled in the stampede.

So at least let me give you these. Five more tunes that were considered for the list, but didn’t quite make the final 10.

  • Brandenburg Concerto – Bach
  • Radetzky March – Strauss
  • The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba – Handel
  • Entry of the Gladiators Op.68 – Fucik
  • Symphony No. 40 in G Minor – Mozart

Who knows, maybe this list will lead you on to finding some less well known pieces by these awesome composers. Either way, I hope it will help with your decisions when choosing some rousing classical music for your film, documentary or presentation.

Royalty Free Classical Music can be searched and licensed at Shockwave-Sound.com

This article continues in: Choosing the right Classical music (Part 2)

Bamba kids games line with audio from Shockwave-Sound.com

Bamba kids games line with audio from Shockwave-Sound.com

We recently worked with Mezmedia – a full-service interactive and multimedia studio, to create a unique “Audio Logo” for the animated logo for their line of kids games, “Bamba”.

The brief was to create an audio stinger that was unique and that matched the animation: Fun, bright, a bit childish, and it had to incorporate the vocal element: “Bamba!”

We got our composer Bjorn Lynne on the job. He came up with a simple and recognizeable musical “theme” and combined it with a recording of his young daughter and one of her friends, for that fun/japanese inspired “two kids in unison” tone, which you’ll nod in recognition when you hear this result:

It was a fun project to work on and it was carried out over a few days. The client, Mezmedia, received all the rights to the audio, exclusively, unlimited, and in perpetuity, for a few hundred dollars. We enjoyed working on that project and we think the client was happy with a result, as they wrote up a recommendation of our company on their website – which we appreciate!

Here are pictures and links for a couple of the Bamba games for kids:

Bamba Ice Cream (Free)
Bamba Pizza