Composing music for videogames and other forms of visual media requires the individual writing the music to take a different approach from writing songs. As video games more often than not follow a concept, or some form of storytelling, this requires reinforcement in aspects of its creation, such as the music.
Writing a popular song can consist of a few chords and a melody. Often these can be chords that sound nice with the melody that is being sung. However thought is often not given as to how the melody and chords can interact to portray a certain emotion, and therefore have psychological effect on the listener. When it comes to composing for visual media though, thought needs to be given to this, and how both the melody and chords can shape the individual’s experience of what they are either playing or watching.
This is where the idea of an overall concept comes into play. A concept can help paint a picture. Of course when it comes to videogames the concept will come from the developers as they will be the decision makers behind how they want the story to be shaped and the overall outcome. From this though the composer can take away many aspects that can aid in their endeavours. Let me explain further with a game I am currently composing for. Once Upon A Platform is a challenge based game where the player has to move through levels, avoid obstacles and reach end stages. The developer (Klim Bloom Games) wanted to explore various human emotions throughout the game and provided me with a list of keywords which are to be the names of the various chapters in the game. The chapter names are below:
Chapter 0: Rules
Chapter 1: Time
Chapter 2: Space
Chapter 3: Confidence
Chapter 4: Perseverance
Chapter 5: Adaptability
Chapter 6: Self Control
Chapter 7: Nirvana
When presented with these words as a composer what would your first thoughts be? Mine were, “how can I reinforce the meanings of these words with music?” This question alone opens up a collection of other points that can be addressed, such as:
What does each of these words mean when relating to human psychology?
When it comes to the overall audio production, how can each area be reinforced? (For instance, how can reverb and delay be used to reinforce the essence of Space?)
When would a major key work best and when would a minor key work best?
Approaching projects like this allows the composer to break down what needs to be taken into consideration when creating the music for the game, in order for it to reinforce the overall concept and story of the game. This can then be taken a step further and when developing the main theme for a game you can take the essence of the concept/story and portray it in a singular piece of music. This was my aim with the below main theme for Once Upon A Platform, to encapsulate the keywords of the chapters. Joe Gilliver – BA Hons (Ocular Audio)Composer | Producer | Sound Designerwww.ocularaudio.com
If you want to know more about Once Upon A Platform and download the free demo, please head over to KlimBoom Games.
And don’t forget to vote for it on Steam Greenlight!
I’d like to commend both Thomas from KlimBoom Games & Joe from Ocular Audio for their work on what looks like a cool and fun, neo-retro game. I particularly like the clean, minimalist look while the music matches the on-screen action perfectly – Demos
April turned out to be an eventful, fruitful and an exceptionally busy month over here at 16-BIT Shock HQ. Unfortunately all that activity didn’t translate to regular blog updates which isn’t something I’m particularly happy about. Ideally I would love to post an article at least once a week but that’s not possible with my current work schedule. Nevertheless, I do plan to post on more regular intervals in the coming months.
The increase in workload over April was due to fine-tuning and tweaking of existing game projects. Some further fine-tuning was also applied to the current business model. In order to deal with a shifting gaming landscape, some changes were necessary in how future projects are to be executed. PC & mobile game development are two entirely different beasts and require their own unique approach.
Another area I spent considerable time on is sharpening my physics GML scripting skills. While GML shares a lot of similarities with Java and even C++, it does have it’s unique quirks which can be both funny and frustrating. Generally I only foresee limited use of some of the physics code I put together. Mainly for craft and character movement as that’s what it’s most suited for.
I even got round to using GM Studio’s 3D features, quite a change for a 2D game developer. Surprisingly it seemed a lot easier to implement a 3D environment than I expected it to be. There are no plans to develop any 3D games but if I ever decided to move in this direction, I would love to make something similar to Namco’s Cyber Sled or Sega’s Virtual On. However I’ve been experimenting a bit with pseudo-3D – the type of 3D that consists of scalable 2D bitmaps ala After Burner, Out Run, Galaxy Force, Space Harrier etc.
Now this is far more challenging than I expected but I finally got some neat results. There is quite a bit of math involved and precision is mandatory. Any scalable bitmap that is 1 – 2 pixels out of place will seriously mess up proceedings. It’s evident why this type of 3D fakery fell out of favour and 3D polygons were readily adopted back in the mid-90’s. Far from a practical way to depict a 3D world effectively, but nonetheless it’s cool to see again – and quite the nostalgia trip.
This technique will find it’s way in some of my game projects, simply because it’s interesting and not commonly used nowadays. One of the games I’m currently busy on, comprises of scalable 2D but in a subtle manner. It will also be a title that is drenched in 80’s aesthetics to the hilt – I wouldn’t have it any other way
Irem’s Ninja Spirit is somewhat of an underappreciated arcade title that just didn’t get the attention it rightfully deserved. Nor enjoying a level of obscurity that would gain it some form of cult or underground notoriety. Just a rock-solid, well-crafted, side-scrolling action game – a near perfect experience. Such was the level of quality that it received Electronic Gaming Monthly’s (R.I.P.) first ever 10 for the Turbografx-16 home conversion.
Personally, Ninja Spirit feels a lot like Contra but with a ninja as the main protagonist. There’s a similar intensity, pacing and duration towards completion. Another similarity to Contra is it’s awesome soundtrack that is both memorable and melodious. Further adding to Ninja Spirit’s already well-conceived visual aesthetics and atmosphere. I really can’t think of background music that fits so incredibly well with the on-screen events.
The player will transverse several diverse landscapes such as temples, cliffs, swamps and woodlands which comprise individual stages. Each stage harder than the previous, as the difficulty ramps up so does the blood-pumping intensity of the music. Irem’s craftsmanship certainly shines through, after all this is the company that brought us R-Type. An interesting side-note is that Irem utilized Yamaha’s YM2151 OPM FM-based sound chip, sporting 4 operators and 8 channels. This sound chip was also used on other arcade boards from Sega, Namco, Capcom, Konami, Data East and even found a home in Sharp’s X1 and X68000 home computers.
There’s no denying that FM-based sound chips just sound way better than the forerunner PSG (programmable sound generator) of earlier generations. Since Ninja Spirit was ported to various home computers, most of which had a PSG sound chip, replication of the original arcade bgm was often poor. However, the Commodore 64’s trusty SID chip provides the best rendition of Ninja Spirit’s soundtrack among the 8-bit home conversions.
Naturally if one wants to enjoy the best possible home port of Ninja Spirit, the NEC PC-Engine / Turbografx-16 version is the way to go. Also an incredibly satisfying game to complete and play all over again.