Thoughts on Video Game Music, Part I

Surprisingly enough, there aren't many articles about video game music on the internet. There are probably a number of reasons for this, one being that magicians don't like to show how their tricks work.

Well, at the risk of putting myself out of work, I've decided to put some thoughts on this topic down and share them with you. This might be interesting if you're a composer yourself, but it should also prove informative for game producers who would like to gain an insight how to communicate with their contract musicians more efficiently.

Part I: Knowing the Difference

Over the past ten years, with the capabilities of software studios, many major games have acquired a sound quality not too different from blockbuster movies. But while there are a lot of parallels, writing and recording tracks for video games still holds a unique position in media music production.

The main reason why many great film music producers aren't quite that good at video game music and vice versa is quite simple when you think about it: just like you have to be a film freak if you want to be successful at film music, you have to be a video game nerd to understand the art of game composing. Let's state the obvious here: Video Game Music is nerdy.

But apart from interests and references, there's a whole bunch of other things, closely connected to each other, that should be taken into account:

  1. VGM is often repetitive.

    Especially if we're talking about arcade or puzzle games. Your tracks will probably need to loop without becoming boring or distracting from gameplay. This is one of the major challenges. An action scene that may take 10 minutes in a movie might take an hour in a video game.

  2. VGM should be interactive.

    This fact provides numerous opportunities. More on that later.

  3. VGM has different moods.

    Do you know a movie with a soundtrack similar to Tetris? ...didn't think so! Also, ''moods'' (a communication design term, more on that later!) might change quite a bit during the course of a game, especially in the Adventure / RPG genre.

  4. VGM is a collaborative computer science.

    The key words here are integration, file formats, accessibility, documenting, team work...

  5. VGM has a different history.

    It might seem over the top, but I think that just like a jazz musician studies the playing styles of the ''late greats'', a video game composer should know quite a bit about the times before modern DAWs and large sample libraries.

...which leads us to our next chapter, Knowing Your History.