Interactive Scoring for Games
Authored by Michael Sweet
Course Code: OCOMP-492
Scoring music for games differs significantly from composing music for other linear media like film and television. Video games require the player to be actively involved and to make decisions based on the action that is occurring on screen. This active interaction affects how the music must change and react to player decisions. Whether you're working on a small iPhone or Facebook game, or a large PlayStation or Xbox title, this course will teach you the fundamental music approaches and skills that professional composers use to create these interactive scores for games. This course focuses on these game scoring techniques from conceptualization, to creation, through to implementation. By the end of this course, you will have composed a fully interactive musical score, which you will have implemented and edited directly into the game.
Upon successful completion of this course, you will understand the theory, mechanisms, and approaches to writing music for games, preparing you for entry-level work at a game development company as a freelance game audio professional or an assistant composer. In addition, you will learn about the business aspects (including ways to price music services), the challenges of pursuing this career, and strategies to break into the industry. By learning these tools and strategies, you will have an advantage when seeking employment in this fast-paced and exciting field.
By the end of the course, you will be able to:
- Analyze and discuss how an interactive score works in a video game
- Compose interactive music scores using common interactive methods employed in video games, including looping, branching, layering, and transitions
- Understand game structures and mechanisms, especially as related to music deployment in video games (including control inputs such as triggers and zones)
- Understand and utilize the fundamentals of middleware game technology
- Understand the basic collaborative mechanisms for working with a game developer as a contractor, including revisions, budgeting, and scheduling
- Have a basic knowledge of working conditions/expectations in the industry
- Know how to create a demo reel and be equipped with sales strategies
- Be familiar with different types of game development software and team working methodologies
Lesson 1: Game Structure and Interactive Introduction
- The Video Game Industry
- The Uniqueness of Video Games
- The Structure of a Video Game
- Game Music Aesthetics
- Melodic and Thematic Development in Video Games
- 15 Video Game Composers You Should Know
- Compose Themes to Represent Characters or Locations
Lesson 2: Interactive Music Overview and Analysis—The Video Game Composer’s Toolbox
- Synchronization in Video Games
- Mapping Control Inputs to the Score: What is Controlling the Playback of the Music?
- The Composer's Toolbox
- Game Genres and Demographic Considerations
- Music Development in Video Games
- 5 Quick Tips for Making Your Work Sound More Professional
- Introduction to Using Crossfading to Transition Between Musical Cues
- Extend Your Music Themes
Lesson 3: Spotting the Game, Game Technology, and Music Loops
- Spotting the Game
- The Music Asset List
- Software Used to Build Games: Game Development Engines and Middleware
- Introduction to Unity
- Creating Seamless Music Loops
- Audio File Formats and Compression
Lesson 4: Interactive Music Composition: Horizontal Resequencing and Musical Transitions
- Horizontal Resequencing
- Crossfading Scores
- Synchronized Crossfading Scores
- Composing Bridge Transitions
- Using a Sound Effect as a Transition
- Writing Transitions
Lesson 5: Interactive Music Composition Using Vertical Remixing (Layering)
- Vertical Remixing (Layering)
- Composing Using Vertical Remixing
- Challenges with Vertical Remixing
- Synchronized vs. Non-Synchronized Layers
- Stylistic Approaches to Game Music Using Layered Scores
- SFX and Instrument Design
- Composing for Vertical Remixing
Lesson 6: Using Stingers, and Implementation of Layered Music Scores in Unity
- Composing Musical Stingers
- Wwise Fundamentals
- Composing Musical Stingers
- Unity’s Audio Mixers
- Comparing Horizontal Resequencing with Vertical Remixing
- The Concept of Musical Interruption
- Eastern and Western Scoring Approaches to Video Games
- Storytelling Through Event to Event Based Scoring Using Stingers and Overlaps
- Creating Your Musical Stingers
Lesson 7: Interactive Music Composition: Horizontal Sequencing Using Branching
- Branching Scores
- Branching on the Measure Start or on a Specific Beat
- Architecture of Branching Based Scores
- Composing Techniques for Branching Based Scores
- Production and Editing Techniques for Branching Based Scores
- Creating a Branching Composition
Lesson 8: Introduction to Audio Middleware Using Audiokinetic’s Wwise Software
- What is Audio Middleware?
- Considerations When Using Audio Middleware
- Advantages and Disadvantages of Audio Middleware
- Audio Middleware Feature Sets for Video Game Composers
- Using Wwise for Interactive Scores: Wwise Fundamental Building Blocks for Music
- Wwise Communication with the Game Engine
- Advanced Looping Features within Wwise
- Branching and Stingers within Wwise
Lesson 9: Using Unity with Audio Middleware: Advanced Middleware Functionality in Wwise
- Transitions within Wwise
- Working with Audio Middleware Inside a Game Development Platform (Wwise and Unity)
- Wwise Events, Game Syncs, and the SoundCaster Window
- Exporting SoundBanks from Wwise
- Setting Up Unity to Work with Wwise
- Connecting All the Pieces Together (Unity and Wwise Integration)
Lesson 10: Working in the Industry, Pricing Your Work, and Creating Demo Reels
- Introducing Vertical Remixing (Layering) within Wwise
- Working in the Games Industry
- Skills Required to Be a Composer in the Game Industry
- What to Charge?
- Sales and Marketing: Finding Your Audience
- Demo Reels to Showcase Your Work
- Final Project
Lesson 11: Game Development Teams, Career Development, and Advanced Features in Wwise
- Working with a Game Development Team
- Wwise Export Settings and Compression
- Getting Everybody in Sync with One Another (Version Control Software)
- Common Version Control Software Used by Game Developers
- Where Do Composers and Sound Designers Fit into These Systems?
- Sound Design Features within Wwise
- MIDI and Instrument Design in Wwise
- Negotiating Tactics
- Paths to Becoming a Successful Composer
- What Does 9:00 a.m. Look Like When You Are a Composer?
- Final Project (Continuation)
Lesson 12: Advanced Interactive Music Scores, Larger Projects, and Where to Go Next
- What Have You Learned?
- Advanced Interactive Music Scores and Design
- Advanced Skills: Real-Time Mixing for Games
- Approaching Larger Projects
- What’s Next: Finding Resources and Inspiration Beyond the Course
- Unity: Building the Game with Wwise Assets
- Video Demo Reel
- Final Project (Ending)
Prerequisites and Course-Specific Requirements
Prerequisite Courses, Knowledge, and/or Skills
Completion of Music Composition for Film and TV 1 or equivalent knowledge and experience is required. Students should be highly proficient with the features of your digital audio workstation (DAW) of choice (Logic, Pro Tools, Digital Performer, Cubase, etc.) as well as having an advanced knowledge of how to use virtual instruments. An existing competency in creating music, combined with a thoughtful awareness of drama and human emotion will be critical assets to draw upon from your own background. Advanced harmony and theory skills, along with intermediate orchestration skills are highly recommended to complete the assignments in the course.
You should have the following prerequisite musical and technical skills:
- Ability to read and compose music
- Prior experience composing for linear media (television, film) is highly recommended
- An advanced knowledge of harmony and theory skills
- Intermediate orchestration and arranging skills
- Advanced experience with MIDI sequencing and digital audio software for producing and finalizing musical mock ups utilizing virtual instruments
- Ability to import QuickTime video in your DAW for scoring purposes
- Ability to create and export final audio mix within designated specifications, including MP3, WAV, and QuickTime movies to submit
- Writing Interactive Music for Video Games: A Composer's Guide by Michael Sweet (Addison-Wesley Professional, 2014)
- DAW suitable for scoring to picture and/or orchestral mockup production, such as Logic Pro, Cubase Pro, Pro Tools (Studio or Ultimate), or Reaper
- Deeply sampled orchestral libraries covering all standard families, such as Orchestral Tools Berlin Orchestra Created with Berklee
- Audiokinetic Wwise. Exact version will be specified within the course.
- FMOD Studio. Exact version will be specified within the course.
- Unity (free personal edition). Exact version will be specified within the course.
- MIDI keyboard controller
- One of the following studio monitoring options (both recommended):
- Studio monitors (pair), such as JBL 305Ps or better, as well as an audio interface and necessary cables
- Over-ear studio headphones, such as Sennheiser HD 600, Sony MDR-7506, Philips SHP9500, Audio-Technica ATH-M50x, etc.
Important Technical/System Considerations
- OS-specific requirements:
- OS X Mojave 10.14.6 or higher if using Mac OS
- Windows 10 or higher if using Windows OS
- At least 30 GB storage space. Some of the game templates at the end of the course are large (1 GB+) so students will need plenty of extra space.
General Course Requirements
Below are the minimum requirements to access the course environment and participate in Live Chats. Please make sure to also check the Prerequisites and Course-Specific Requirements section above, and ensure your computer meets or exceeds the minimum system requirements for all software needed for your course.
- Latest version of Google Chrome
- Zoom meeting software
- Speakers or headphones
- External or internal microphone
- Broadband Internet connection
Author & Instructor
Michael Sweet leads the development of the game scoring curriculum at Berklee College of Music. Over the past two decades in music, Michael is an accomplished video game audio composer and has been the audio director for more than 100 award winning video games. His work can be heard on the X-Box 360 logo and on award winning games from Cartoon Network, Sesame Workshop, PlayFirst, iWin, Gamelab, Shockwave, RealArcade, Pogo, Microsoft, Lego, AOL, and MTV, among others. He has won the Best Audio Award at the Independent Games Festival, the BDA Promax Gold Award for Best Sound Design, and has been nominated for five Game Audio Network Guild (GANG) awards.
Since 2008, Michael Sweet has led the development of video game scoring curriculum at Berklee College of Music. He has developed curriculum for many classes that teach the art of video game composition, and helped establish the Minor in Video Game Scoring at the college. As a teacher and communicator Michael has lectured at many universities and prominent conferences in interactive music and sound design including the Game Developer’s Conference, Audio Engineering Society, NYU, SVA, and Parsons The New School of Design.
Michael is the author of the highly regarded book “Writing Interactive Music for Video Games: A Composer Guide” published in 2014 available from Pearson Publishing.
Before Berklee, Michael was the co-founder and creative director of Audiobrain, a company dedicated to breaking boundaries with interactive sound design and music. Michael’s creative vision had led Audiobrain to develop many emotionally immersive award-winning experiences for games, broadcast and sonic branding. Audiobrain continues to be successful, and Michael consults on many of their projects. In broadcast Michael’s work can be heard in many network identities including HBO, VH1, Comedy Central, CNN, General Motors, and NASDAQ. In addition Michael’s digital artistry has led him to ground breaking work in the creation of interactive scores for digital design installations that have traveled the world.
In 2017, Michael's latest game Walden, A Game is being released on Playstation, PC, and Mac. Walden, A Game is a first person simulation of the life of American philosopher Henry David Thoreau during his experiment in self-reliant living at Walden Pond. Michael was the audio director of the project contributing all sound effects and music for the game developed by the USC Game Innovation Lab in cooperation with the National Endowment of the Humanities. Read Less
When taken for credit, Interactive Scoring for Games can be applied towards these associated programs: