Social Point was honored this week with an invitation to The Breakfast Club, a monthly pow-wow on all things cultural, hosted by the Catalan government and our local TV channel TV 3. This month’s theme was “Music and Video Games” – an exploration of the relationship between gaming and music.
We sent our Sound Guy and all-round musical Wunderkind, Victor Sola, to talk about music to soothe beasts with a crack panel of industry experts.
In the meantime, we thought we’d ask Victor to tell us a bit more about what’s involved in creating soundtracks for games.
In this 3-part interview, he tells us about the basics of composition in gaming.
MAKING MUSIC FOR VIDEO GAMES – part one.
Victor, how important is music in gaming?
Music helps deepen the player’s experience. The music can even determine whether a player stays or goes. In the case of Social Point games, the player can choose whether to listen to the music or not.
Is there a big difference between composing a “song” and a “soundtrack”?
I guess we compose songs that are meant to be listened to as songs - at home, making dinner, in your car. Whereas a soundtrack is meant to accompany something visual. When you’re composing a soundtrack, you try to adapt the music to the situation, regardless of the musical “structure” – so listening to a soundtrack might sound weird or disorientating if you hear it without the visual cues or references. But of course there are plenty of cases of songs being used as sound tracks in films, games, plays and so on.
Are there rules for composing music for video games?
Yes, there are. Mainly the music has to be coherent and intelligible. The music has to accompany the experience, and should drive the user to keep playing and become immersed in the gameplay. Personally I think it’s a good idea to seek out references and examples before you start composing anything.
So how do you decide on the style, instruments or tempo for a game?
The style is determined by the game itself. And by what you have picked up from your own experiences hearing soundtracks at the cinema, playing games yourself, from the TV. It helps if you can relate what you experience in the game with a personal experience or an identifiable situation; it makes it much simpler when it comes to determining the style, instruments, arrangements.
The tempo is usually set by the tempo of the game as well. If you are in the middle of a Medieval battle, you know you aren’t going to want to hear something slow and ponderous.
How long does it take you to compose music for a game on average?
I’m not classically trained. So for me this varies a lot. You might get an idea or a sketch in a day, but then you might need a month or more to work it through. It’s important to allow a fair bit of time to pass when you are composing. Time helps you put some distance between yourself and the composition and gain some perspective – which helps you be more objective and more demanding of yourself. I imagine it’s a faster process though if you’ve been classically trained. In the end it’s experience, deadlines and budget that set the time limits!
Can you describe the process of composing for a game?
First you have to play the game in prototype. You need a sense of the gameplay, objectives, atmosphere – following the design process, new illustrations, animations – these things are key.
The next stage is looking for references. There are almost always good references available. If there aren’t, you can usually tie the game to a film or feeling or a situation that you have been through. Once you’ve found your references, you can ask yourself useful questions, like: “whey did they create this particular music?” or “what are they trying to convey”?
Next it’s about digging deep into your own creativity and trying out ideas on instruments. You create a sort of template where you can work out your introduction – part A, bridge, part B – or whatever might occur to you during the process. It’s very open and the possibilities are endless.
Once you have your theme and your arrangements, you need to mix the music carefully; ensuring all the instruments are where they should be, cutting out annoying frequencies, and making sure that it sounds good to the ear; bringing in volume and dynamism at the right moments. This is where you use effects like delay, reverb and others.
Do you typically create several different versions until you get it right?
Yeah, I usually start with a few ideas and different versions, and then I develop the one that feels right or that other people like best.
When do you know it’s right?
Ha! Well, you could spend ages working on the same song, but deadlines are usually pretty helpful when it comes to deciding if something is right! Honestly, I think it’s like lots of things. It’s about creating something that YOU like – and that you can feel proud of.
In Part 2 Victor talks about who has inspired him most.
In Part 3 of this interview, Victor shares his secrets from the magical world of special effects.