Creating Music for Video Games

by | Sep 14, 2017 | Music (general), Open Labs, Stagelight, Tips and Tricks

Video-GamesOnline collaboration has led to teams of music makers and game developers forming across the globe. With such a vast set of tools available to everyone, many of which are more affordable than ever before, creators are able to branch out into entirely unknown territory. Game devs can compose music, and music composers can develop games. Stagelight makes it easy and affordable for you to jump-start your creation with simplified composing tools and tons of sounds. These projects are cross-platform compatible too. That means easier collaboration and better work flow.

But how does one get started with the composition process on a software like Stagelight? If you’ve written melodies before, everything should be familiar to you. However, one has to keep in mind the importance of context when scoring a game.  Depending on the game, it can also involve player action. Many games use music to signify major shifts in mood – and these shifts can happen far more often and more quickly than they do in film. To account for these rapid shifts in tone, many game soundtracks are now popularizing “dynamic music”, which means that the music is arranged and programmed in such a way that the soundtrack responds to the action in the game.

Nintendo games are prime examples of dynamic scoring. Several Nintendo titles utilize a soundtrack that player’s unconsciously utilize. For instance, in several of the New Super Mario Bros. titles, enemies and platforms move in time with the music. By understanding the music, players can predict the movements of certain enemies. Animal Crossing has a track that plays for each individual hour of the day, setting completely different tones from sunrise to sunset. In the game Pikmin 2, switching between characters causes the track to change from a standard 4/4 tempo, to a swing tempo, depending on the character. 

Performing certain actions in games often causes the soundtrack to stir and react. This is incredibly tantamount to setting tone and connecting the player to the story and action happening on screen. Many scores utilize sound effects that seem as if they’re coming from the world itself, like rain or the sound of birds. Bioshock Infinite triggers stabs of strings when the player fires their weapon. The environmental theme of air is commonly accompanied by strings for their levity and rising sound. Water is normally characterized by mallet instruments such as xylophones because of the way sequential notes can be tied together without pause, giving the sound of these instruments the same fluidity as water.

aquatic piano roll

While working in a standard timeline-based DAW is sufficient, Stagelight’s LoopBuilder makes it incredibly easy to layer music cues and triggers, building a dynamic selection of tracks that can layer and interplay in order to add texture to a game’s soundtrack.

For example: if the player character is simply exploring, a light drum track loop can play in the background, spurring the player forward without being too busy. If the character enters into a room with some sort of threat or enemy, another loop track can be triggered. This track will then layer upon the first, with percussion on all counts and a synth line to ramp up the tension. In a water-themed level, keys can flow back and forth in arpeggios to create an aquatic atmosphere.

videogame soundtrack file imageAs the player moves between areas, the track will trigger differing sections to accent these shifts. With LoopBuilder, we can explore the way dynamic music typically functions. When the player enters an aquatic themed area, the aquatic music will trigger. The music does not have to stop completely because this music queue has been written in the same tempo and sometimes even in the same key. LoopBuilder shows this type of song structure in a visually accessible way.

Typically, as action builds, so will the complexity of the music. Introducing additional percussion as more enemies are on screen adds to the hectic nature of a situation. More mellow, pad-driven music does well to introduce players to more relaxing settings and peaceful areas. Tracks can be entirely different from each other, or flow seamlessly from another through layering.

Check out the video below for a more in-depth look at how LoopBuilder helps with the composition process, and with dynamic music scoring.


If you enjoyed this lesson, check out Stagelight EDU and learn all about the basics of song writing and production in Stagelight.