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
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.
We’re almost a fortnight into 2015 and I hope it’s been going great for everyone. Here at 16-BIT Shock HQ, things are moving along at a brisk pace. Work on game projects resumed early last week, after a short holiday break.
Before moving on with fresh content for the new year, let’s take this opportunity for a brief recap of top posts on this blog. Several articles proved to be quite popular with readers and it would be great to showcase them again. Particularly for those who discovered this blog, only recently. The following list features a quick rundown of those posts truly, resonating with folks during 2014, and my personal viewpoint of why that is the case.
Just click on the relative heading and you will be taken directly to the article:
Tools Of The Trade – GameMaker : Studio– Certainly the most read article on this site by a large margin, and quite understandably so. With the explosion of indie game development in recent years, everyone is looking around for the best ways to make games. This article gives a brief overview of one of the most popular game engines in existence today.
Project MSG – Early Development– The game project I’ve been working on and has fortunately excited a few people. It’s a 2D retro-style shooting game with a top-down view perspective set within a cyberpunk universe. Many folks loved the logo and the pixel-art style, and in turn generated some interesting conversation between us. I appreciate all the input I’ve received and will be sharing more about this project in the near future.
Developing For Vintage Hardware– It’s a no-brainer why this post struck a nerve, after all the number of retro gaming and computer aficionados keeps growing. Homebrew development is both intriguing and reinvigorating within the game development scene. Vintage consoles and computer systems, with their limited capabilities offer alternative, frankly more interesting roads for creative expression.
Cybermanga– I’m a huge fan of anime & manga, particularly from the 80’s – 90’s. And it seems so are plenty of people visiting this site, even attracting significant traffic from Japan. The influence of these art forms play a big part in my own creative path and this post gives a brief overview.
This Is For Retro Lovers– On the 2nd of June 2014, I wrote this blog’s very first post. Short, sweet and straight to the point – ultimately setting the general tone for future articles. Surprisingly it attracted a far larger audience than I was expecting, considering it was very early days for the blog.
The 16-BIT Shock Design Philosophy– Probably one of the more important articles I’ve written here. The goal was to convey the direction that my game development projects were to take. Worth a read for recent visitors.
Prototyping And Arcade Presentation– A fairly recent article, managing to gain far more traction than I was expecting. I covered an issue in games that I feel should gain more attention, and that’s the matter of how they are presented. Arcade games in particular are a great example of how this could be done.
Anti-Establishment– Another one of those articles that had a significant impact with readers. Further reiterating key points from the 16-BIT Shock Design Philosophy article. Perhaps a tad more cheeky, but still attracting small trickles of traffic several months after it was published.
Tools Of The Trade – GraphicsGale– At one point, pixel art seemed like it was a dying art form. Fortunately it has been rejuvenated recently with all the interest in retro and indie gaming. One of the better, if not the best pixel art editor is GraphicsGale. A personal favourite of mine which I go into more detail in this post.
FM Synthesis & Video Games: Kick Drums & Toms– Last but not least, is this excellent article by Joe Giliver from Ocular Audio. Joe’s vast knowledge in music composition and FM synthesis is a great help in understanding what is substantially niche subject matter. Lately FM synthesis, is enjoying growing interest which is in line with the resurgence of retro gaming, computing and 80’s synthesizer music.
Plenty of reading there, great way to start the new year I would think. Future articles will tread similar ground for the most part. However, there will be a shift in focus around the periods when I’ll be releasing my game projects. Naturally there will be greater emphasis on these as should be expected.