Monday, March 9, 2015

The Composer's Guide to Game Music: An Award-Winning Book Game Scoring Icon Winifred Phillips

Hey friends, readers, composers, and all artists alike! As promised, I have read through the entire Composer's Guide (paraphrasing the title) by one of my role models, Winifred Phillips, and can now post a full review. I enjoy talking too much online, in one-on-one situations, and when I'm teaching, and a blog is kind of like all three of those situations, so I figured I'll review each chapter. Ok, an overall will be at the end too...and on Amazon. Enjoy!

Chapter 1

The hook. This is what artists commonly use to grasp the attention of those they are presenting a work to, and Winifred definitely hooked me in this chapter. Her writing style is sincere and friendly, quirky and humorous, and full of passion that connects with a game composer like myself. In addition, like any good teacher, Phillips shares a plethora of analogies and personal stories to paint vivid pictures of that which she hopes to convey to us as readers.

The great thing about this chapter is that it also gives people who aren't sure if they want to move into the field of game composing a little test they can assess their passions with. And that is also the biggest takeaway point. Love games!

Chapter 2

This chapter describes the essence of the book. It shows the book's approachable nature (and really that of Phillips, as she loves to engage with fans at conferences or via social media sites like twitter). Throughout the entire text, she continually presents information about the game scoring world that can benefit both complete newbies and experienced veterans. Because I myself lie more on the experienced side, I knew much of what she presented here, but it is always great to hear inspiring quotes, to be refreshed on where you came from, and to learn new ways of teaching old tricks to those who work under you.

In essence, learning the craft of game composing doesn't have to cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, but it will cost time, dedication and passion.

Though not mentioned in the book, I'd like to say that I read an article recently in which Mark Ruffalo stated that he had to audition over 600 times before his career as an actor launched. Do you think he did nothing in the meantime? Of course not. With each rejection, he tried not to take it to heart. Somebody else just happened to be better suited for the part, and he had to continue practicing so he could eventually convince directors he was that guy who was the best for the part. Winifred is telling us the same here. The takeaway here is always be learning, no matter how far along you are in your career.

Chapter 3

This was a very interesting chapter on the science of video game entertainment and how it attracts a following. It shows that before you consider being a game composer, you must understand games. Sure some of the biggest film names out there score games simply for the creative freedom, but there is something more that can be pulled from one who has a personal connection to every step of the video game experience. This particular chapter does a good job explaining how game composers can gently nudge a player toward a more fully immersive experience.

Takeaways will help you to understand the science behind player-game relationships.

Chapter 4

The story in this chapter was one of my favorites. I have not yet had the luxury of attending one of the biggest game festivals in fandom, so it was nice to imagine the scenes she described of raging fans going nuts over hearing their favorite game music performed live.

On the educational side of things, this chapter is extremely important for those who have not had any formal composition or very good private training. I've had formal composition training and I still learned more in-depth things, especially when it comes to the usage of the idée fixe. Winifred argues that it should indeed be considered a distinct entity from leitmotifs against the popular beliefs of many that state they are interchangeable with no real differences. I've heard both countless times in video games, and after reading would myself consider the idée fixe to be a very specific subcategory of the larger generalization of the leitmotif, even though neither side may agree. Again because of in-depth gaming experience and the reading, I was able to conclude that there might even be two distinct types of idée fixe.

The takeaways here should help you to understand music itself better before incorporating its techniques into gaming.

Chapter 5

This chapter makes a slight diversion back to the science of games and the psychology of gamers. It is immensely useful if you aren't well-rounded in your experience of the different genres of music in general, the genres of video games, or the genres of music in video games, and it is equally useful if you don't have the mind of a producer. As mentioned earlier, not only will you study game and music types, but you will also see how different psychological mindsets associate with the various types of games out there.

This chapter also inadvertently encourages you to be a self-disciplined go-getter. In other words, to truly get the most from it, you'll have to do some side-by-side research. Phillips describes the different types of music associated with shooters or RPGs or platformers, but she doesn't necessarily tell you step by step what goes into a rock song or what goes into a fantasy score or how to create an electronic soundscape. What she does do, however, is provide a plethora of in-game examples you can refer to in order to study various effects and techniques. Of course, I just love listening to game music, despite having experience in most of those compositional fields, so I followed along with most of the soundtracks mentioned to really put myself in the world of what she was describing. Some of the scores were old friends, while others I had never heard, and all enhanced the reading greatly.

Even now, as I write this, I'm listening to the full score to Little Big Planet 2 because I've completed the list of OSTs I've compiled over the years and only got to listen to a few of that game's tracks while reading the book. Listen to game music every chance you get! Be familiar with various game and music types. Those are the takeaways.

Chapter 6

A sort of expansion on the previous chapter, this chapter focuses more on the music in games since the reader should have a better understanding of the player. It focuses on what exactly music can do in a game and how important it can even become in the marketing world outside the game. If I recall correctly, this is also where she mentions just how valuable of an asset the game composer really is. If you are brought on board early enough, chances are that teams will listen to your work as they create (an honor I've experienced once). It really does fire them up and inspire them to do even better work! And, boy is it great to hear them say that your music has affected the development of the project in a positive way.

Takeaways demonstrate the relationship between game pacing and music reflective of any given situation.

Chapter 7

Winifred has more experience on much bigger titles than do I, and I found this section to be greatly enlightening on the process of working with a studio that is planning to release a AAA game. There are so many things you must do to prepare yourself for a big job, and she gives a great list of items to request from developers to make sure that you have access to as much source material as possible to inspire your best work. It's also where she first gets into the materials a game composer might need. While the film industry is relying more and more on music technology, the game industry couldn't survive without it. So if you are unfamiliar or uncomfortable with technology, make sure you pay attention to the upcoming chapters.

Preparation and the tools to achieve it can all be form your takeaways here.

Chapter 8

There are so many types of music and audio titles let alone members of other departments for any given game, so this chapter introduces you to the ones you'll likely be working with. It's a relatively short chapter compared to the others, but it can open your eyes to other music and audio-related jobs in the industry if you are interested in managing musicians and sound people instead of just creating music.

The takeaways here will show you who to communicate with (perhaps if you are seeking your first gig), remind you to communicate early and often, and help you to understand the chain of command.

Chapter 9

This is an all-around enjoyable chapter. It finally gets into the different types of game tracks you might hear in a typical game—something I have been studying since I was a child. Nowadays, there are so many cool things you can score: battle sequences, cinematics, general exploration (overworld themes), game trailers, and more.

If you understand the difference between how the various game tracks function within a game, you've nailed the takeaways.

Chapter 10

While chapter 9 explores some of the types of tracks you'll see in the video game composing world, this chapter really gets into the heart of linear-style game music as well as what makes game music dynamic and interesting. A must read for the beginning and intermediate musician. Linear music is very common in projects that are smaller or have engine limitations, and a composer can expect to work with it a lot, especially when first starting out.

Even the more advanced game composer can take away pointers on how to draw the most out of linear music, particularly when looped. At the very least, we can be pushed to pull more out of our journey around each track.

However, not only are loops more difficult to make interesting, they are often the hardest edit and make transition smoothly. In fact, this chapter was what inspired me to write my most recent article on an alternative game looping method.

This really should be considered as one of the most important chapters in the book.

Chapter 11

Unique only to the gaming industry, interactive music is explored here. If you are a true gamer, it is likely in my own musical opinion that interactive music is your favorite type of music to experience in a game…especially if you are a musician. This chapter offers great explanations and advice on what interactive music is and how it works.

Your takeaways may be more educational, but mine are that interactive music is so imperative to games all game composers should have a profound knowledge of how it works. It's super fun!

Chapter 12

MIDI is surprisingly something that many composers, young and experienced alike, have difficulty with. Even then, many who have a general understanding of it don't really take it to its full potential. This chapter will give you a brief understanding of it as well as explain some of the advantages, but only practice, experience, and some very specific topical research will help you to get the most out of MIDI.

After MIDI, the chapter goes on to describe where video game music has tried to go and may one day go, despite the disadvantages of highly experimental styles. Education on generative music (and MIDI if that's new for you) are good points for takeaway this chapter.

Chapter 13

This chapter is non-musical and it is also so huge that an entire book could be written about the topic. In fact, some have already been written. As composers, especially for games, you must have gear. And, that gear must be good! Winifred mentioned that she composes with the assistance of six computers and my brain nearly exploded. How I'd love to have even two! Simply put one machine can't handle all of the tasks you'll want it to do, no matter how strong it is. Not only that, but she gets into the types of software, plugins, controllers, boards, DAWs, libraries, and other gear you may need, though she doesn't advocate any particular brand here. That's OK though. You can always read my product reviews to understand each company specifically.

My personal takeaway from this chapter was that Phillips must use some EastWest equipment because she says a company, whom she leaves nameless, has software she owns that she regularly curses to the skies, but must accept because that creates some beautiful libraries that you can't find anywhere else. I also own EastWest, and as you all may know from my reviews, the products are great, but the player, stability, size of samples, and operation are insane.

Your takeaway may be less silly and more practical, since the other section of the chapter deals with middleware, another thing all game composers should be comfortable operating. If you don't know what middleware is, read this chapter, then start practicing!

Chapter 14

The chapter of hope and frustration. Winifred shares her personal journey and shows us how she got into the game scoring industry as well as how she maintains it. I currently am looking for that next boost to the top tier in my career and can say firsthand that it is indeed a lot of hard work. Even if you follow all of the tips, you'll have to be able to keep up with those tips and repeat many steps until you are satisfied with where you are. You may have to experiment with different ways of approaching each step until you perfect them or find something that is efficient. You will face various rejection, not because you are bad, but because somebody else got there first or fit a particular project in the way the producers had hoped they would. Even if you do everything technically right, your timing could just be a little off or it could just not work out. Phillips strives here to encourage you to keep on keeping on, and that is the final takeaway.


Overall, this is a wonderful book, and I believe classes could be developed in universities that specifically teach game composing using Winifred Phillips' guide as the text. It reaches readers of all ages and understandings of game scoring, and can surely boost the EXP of the newb and andvanced reader alike (level up, anyone?). It's light but useful. Comical but efficient. The least boring textbook you could hope to read. It covers every area of the game scoring world and gives a plethora of musical examples you can listen to while reading in order to fully capture the essence of her ideas, and it gives additional resources you can use to further your understanding of specific topics.

Pick up a copy the next time you're online, which is now, or at the bookstore the next time you're out.

For more information on the game composing sensation that is Winifred Philips, visit her site at www.winifredphillips.com.

Don't hesitate to email me with any questions you may have about the book or about composing in general. And remember, if you need a composer for your upcoming game project, visit www.natecombsmedia.com, or bypass me and go straight to Winifred if you think you can land her!

No comments:

Post a Comment