The Game Audio Explosion – A Guide to Great Game Sound Part II: Music, FMVs and Audio Planning

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Until recently, you simply could not compare game music to film music. Every

aspect involved in their production, from budgets to performance, made it an

impractical comparison. Today, these two media have a working relationship.

Games are created to support movies and movies are made from successful

game franchises. Film composers are now writing for games, and some game

composers have made the transition to film. Hollywood orchestras and

orchestrators are now commonly used for game music scores. Why make this

comparison? Because even though the considerations involved in their creation

are different, their effect and function are relatively the same.


As the name suggests, the scores to story-driven games must primarily tell a

story. To tell a story musically is a sublime art. A composer must be well

versed in the work of his predecessors in order to understand what constitutes

successful story telling using the language of music. Fortunately, centuries of

music have been written for this purpose, allowing today’s composer a

foundation for developing this art. We now associate certain sonorities and

rhythms with specific actions, emotions or locations. Compositions like

Rossini’s ‘William Tell’, Wagner’s ‘Tristan’ and Holst’s ‘Planets’ have laid the

groundwork for these non-verbal associations. Film and television composers

have since expanded on these motifs to help express the elements within a


A portion of story telling is to define the environment, both time and place.

Musically, we draw influence from folk traditions for such a purpose. Through

ethnomusicology we can effectively represent locations and time periods by

incorporating traditional instruments, modes and progressions into the score.

For instance, a tabla, tambour or sitar is appropriate for describing an Indian

location. If such instruments are not available, the music may be orchestrated

in such a way as to mimic these traditional sounds. A modern orchestra is

greatly enhanced by the addition of folk elements for the purpose of describing

a specific time and place.

Characters within a story are supported through the development of melodic

themes and motifs associated with each character. Orchestrating the motifs

throughout various instruments will provide a sense of character development

as the game progresses. In addition, varying the harmonic support of these

themes will reflect the character’s physical, mental and emotional states.

Game music for the story and role genre must highlight the dramatic events in

the story as well as drive the game-play. NIS and FMVs are the primary tools

for advancing the storyline and scoring to these videos is generally a

straightforward process. You must consider, however, that game-play is also a

dramatic event that contributes to the overall development of the story. Herein

lies the careful balancing act of supporting the story as well as the action,

without the music sounding repetitious. Cross fading alternate versions and

transitions, or layering individual tracks that are programmatically muted and

un-muted, will secure the musical effectiveness over long periods. The

programming methods of manipulating music within a game are beyond the

intent of this article. Further reading from game development resources such

as ‘’ will provide a closer look at some of the programming

methods used in game music playback.


The most basic function of game music is best exhibited in ‘arcade’ style

games in which the overall gaming experience is enhanced by the addition of

adrenaline-surging music. The music helps to drive the action, thereby

heightening the intensity of the experience. For this reason, it’s very common

for these games to license tracks from well-known, marketable artists with a

track record of producing music that translates to the listener. The interactive

potential of this music, has thus far been very low. However, as many artists

are also avid gamers, they are beginning to show interest in lending their talent

toward interactive soundtrack design, if not producing tracks in their entirety.

Generally speaking, the interactivity of the music in arcade-style games rarely

moves beyond loops and stings. In many cases, this is all that is required.

However, as the complexity of arcade-style games grow, so must the level of

musical interactivity. The music for these games should support any changes in

game-play. Power-ups, signature moves and multiple damage are all examples

commonly reserved for the sound design to immerse the player in the action,

but are appropriately expressed through music as well. A deep understanding

of the game-play will reveal to the composer, new areas to interactively

enhance an otherwise monotonous arcade soundtrack.


Since the FMV is a controlled environment, it is tempting for the sound

designer to elaborate on the sound effects. While in some cases, it may be

appropriate to heighten the dramatic impact of the story; great care should be

maintained to be consistent with the in-game sound design. An incredible-

sounding FMV is surely a joy to behold, however, if the in-game sounds do not

hold up to the FMVs, the playing experience will be diminished. The purpose of

the FMV is to dramatically move the storyline, and to provide a break in the

action. Since Most FMVs occur after completing a level, there is an inherent

sense of reward when viewing the FMV. The sound design should pay respect

to this as long as it doesn’t stray too far from the in-game sound. The FMV

should act as a seamless transition into and out of the game play. In my

opinion, it is best to use in-game sounds within the FMV wherever in-game

movements or actions are present.

The second consideration for FMV sound is the mix of all the sound elements.

All dialog, sound effects and music should be mixed at comparable levels to

the in-game mix, unless there is a dramatic motivation for stressing one over

the other.


The Beta date is just around the corner. Your sound team has worked countless

hours, and is nearing the finish line. You might think it’s time to examine the

sound for any necessary revisions. Well by this time it’s probably too late. As

mentioned earlier, the sound team is generally the last in line to begin creating

their content. Add to this, the fact that all previously missed deadlines

becomes their burden to make-up. Your sound team will likely be delivering

content right up to the last minute. You will need to have in place a regular

and effective reviewing mechanism to stay on top of the direction of the game


Using the same group of reviewers used for the demo phase (part 1 of article),

create a questionnaire that rates the general aspects of the sound. Rating each

individual sound would be time-consuming, so use categories of sounds and

include room for comments or explanations. By assembling the various

questionnaires, you will be able to develop a consensus opinion that will reveal

spots that need further attention. If this is performed in a timely and periodic

fashion, your sound team will be best able to manage the revisions, as they are




Today’s games are competing with each other on every level. Sound is no

exception. You must secure the best resources possible for your sound team.

This will require that you use your budget wisely, and use all of it.

Prior to beginning the sound effects production, ask yourself the following


1. Is your sound team complete? (i.e. sound designer(s), supervising/Lead

sound designer, composer, audio director and audio programmer)

2. Is each member of the sound team assigned a specific task uncompromised

by additional or overlapping roles?

3. Is your sound team assigned only to your project?

4. Does your sound team have enough time to complete your project?

5. Does your sound team have the adequate resources necessary for your

specific game? These include sonically treated work spaces, equipment,

software and sound effects libraries that are compatible with the needs of your game.

6. Does your sound team have a demonstrated track record of producing

sound within the style and genre of your project?

If you answered “yes” to all of these questions, your sound design team is

properly equipped, prepared and ready for production. Answering “no” to any

of these questions will tell you where you will need to focus portions of your



If the sound team is incomplete or in any way compromised, you should

consider outsourcing an appropriate amount of the workload to game audio

specialists. Look for companies and people that have a strong resume of

interactive sound production, and have successfully produced sound for “high

profile” titles. If your game has special stylistic needs, then consider companies

that have a track record of producing sound for similar titles.


The overall ‘theme’ of your game will help dictate where you may need

additional resources. A historically based game will require authenticity;

therefore consider obtaining fresh recordings of historically accurate weapons

and vehicles. If your game focuses on destruction, a sizeable Foley session may

be appropriate to produce original content unencumbered by overused sound

effects libraries. A small but well organized recording session can give your

game a lot of fresh spark without breaking the budget.


Game marketing has typically focused on the creator, developer or the voice

actors within the game. In many cases, sound can be used as a marketing tool

as well. For “The Incredible Hulk – Ultimate destruction” we hired some of

Hollywood’s finest sound recordists to coordinate a Foley session that would

produce the raw destruction sounds we needed to create the sound effects

necessary for this game. Our session took place at an auto-dismantling yard in

a southern California desert. A giant forklift and bulldozer were used to drop,

drag and tear apart cars, vans and trailers. Multiple video cameras captured the

session for future use on the “Behind-the-scenes” reel. The added benefit was

the marketability achieved by everyone’s dedication to producing the most

destructive sounding game to date. Your ability to market your game’s sound

will also help raise any additional finances needed to bring your sound up to

the next level.

Source by Steve Kutay

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