Composing for Video Games-A New Opportunity for the Federation

By Moore, Lennie | International Musician, June 2007 | Go to article overview

Composing for Video Games-A New Opportunity for the Federation


Moore, Lennie, International Musician


I've been composing music for video games since 1997, mostly using live musicians, or what is commonly called in the industry "hybrid scores" (live musicians mixed with electronic elements). Over the last 20 years, I've composed, orchestrated, and arranged music for film, TV, commercials, and records. I've also been an AFM member in good standing for the same amount of time.

Video games are my favorite medium, as they require some of the most challenging types of compositional and technological approaches. Plus, the people in this industry are passionate, innovative, wonderful folks.

In the Moment

The easiest way for me to explain to you the differences in writing music for games versus any other medium is that, in most forms of music (film, TV, commercials, records), the performance is linear. Music starts at a predetermined point A and ends at point B. The mix is fixed by the artist.

In games the music experience is more non-linear. Music is created in components and layers, and it is the player who dictates how the music performance is experienced based on the choices the player makes while playing the game.

For example, if a player is sneaking around a room in a game, looking for clues, there might be an ambient layer of repeating music for that mood. If the player then steps on a hidden trap set into a particular location on the floor in that room, this might trigger a bunch of bad guys to appear who wish to do the character bodily harm.

Then there might be a percussive layer of music that fades in over the existing ambience, heightening the tension and thus changing the music experience. All these kinds of layers would be synchronized from audio files created to repeat perfectly in time with each other.

In other words, music is not fixed, the performance is created in the moment as the player plays the game. This is done between the talents of the game composer and the audio programmers working on the title.

Growing Our Future

There are an incredible amount of possibilities in creating music that works within varied video game scenarios. This is my favorite part of doing this work-figuring solutions to these complex puzzles. It's really fun and exciting for me, and one of the reasons why I'm so passionate about what I do.

There has been a lot of talk flying around lately in Los Angeles-news articles, blogs, trade magazines-some true, some halftrue, and some outright false. I'm writing this in the interest of providing more information to my AFM brothers and sisters.

I have a unique perspective as a veteran video game composer and AFM member and my main interest is to build something. This industry which I love is growing up quickly, and I believe we all need to work to help the games industry and professional musicians grow into the future together.

As our international convention is approaching, I'm sure all of your delegates will be hearing many different things about new video game agreements. I hope the delegates will pay attention to what's being said, by whom, and what is motivating these people in saying what they say. (I'll get into this more later.)

World Class Sound

As most of you are aware, there has been a large amount of film and TV recording work leaving the US over the last 10 to 20 years. Meanwhile, the video game industry has been growing.

Massively Multi-player Online Games (MMOGs) like World of Warcraft, in which players log in to central servers and have online adventures with other players around the world, have millions of subscribers who spend $10 to $15 monthly (plus $50 for the game) and, on average, spend 20 hours per week playing these games!

TV viewing is declining and more people are spending their free time gaming on PCs and consoles like Playstation, Xbox, and Nintendo. Video game creators are generally very dedicated towards making great entertainment products with innovative game play, stunning visuals, and world-class sound. …

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