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Reaching NGC 4151

Written by - Aditya Virmani

In March of 2018 I was given with an opportunity to avail an All Access Pass to the Game Developers Conference 2018, San Francisco, by the Indian Game Design Network via the Priyesh Dixit Scholarship. The Game Developers Conference or GDC is a 5 day long formal meetup of individuals from the Gaming Industry worldwide with a plethora of talks, showcases, meetings and after parties thus providing a platform for individuals with varying experiences to interact, giving the new entrants an opportunity to learn and the veterans to impart useful information. It is here where people pioneering their fields share information on their approach towards achieving outstanding results in their respective domains via the talks. This was my first GDC and I have been involved in the gaming industry for about 2 years now. My company Barren Sound deals with providing cutting edge solutions to the Indian Game Developers. GDC gave me an opportunity to learn more and make connections for Business Development. 

In this article I am going to talk about the talk given by Elvira Bjorkman. The talk is accessible through the GDC vault, titled Audio Bootcamp XVII: A Composer's Guide to the Galaxy. The talk was the first GDC talk on the inaugural day and was quite inspiring. It provided composers innovative ways of thinking when creating music for video games. Elvira has worked as a composer on Angry Birds 2, Aragami, Hammerwatch and Apex Construct among others. 

During the introduction, one thing Elvira mentioned was that it is always a good idea to know more about the different aspects of making games like programming, design etc. and that it really helps with creating audio for a game. She spoke about various lenses that one should look through while designing music for video game. 

Lens of the Player- STOP THINKING AS A COMPOSER. START THINKING AS A GAME DESIGNER. Start thinking about the game. Think about how you want to implement the music. Imagine a background music for a level. Start thinking about the player pacing, about how long he or she would be engaged in the level. If the player engagement time is long then you want a longer track or dynamic variation but if the engagement time is short then the track has to be short. Aim for the shortest track you can loop without it becoming mundane to listen to. It saves up your workload and economically helps with saving budgets. Think about the length first before you start writing. Try out different snippets of musical concepts together with the game and feel if the tempo is right. Ideally the client should be in on this. Another great point was to have a playable build of the game. A good thing to consider is when the music should be played in the game. What parts trigger various music parts. She demonstrated that with an example of the game Aragami. It is always not necessary to start the music as soon as a level starts in a game. Find as many possible ways to compliment player action. 

Lens of Delight- Always keep a sense of curiosity in your music. The opposite of delight is boring. As soon as the music is memorable, the idea is to move on. A pop song pattern is never a good idea. Generally. 

Essentially game is the only medium where you can use loops to your advantage. Build up Surprise and Relief. Something that's probably going to or not going to happen- Surprise and the unexpected happened- Relief. That should reflect in the music. Add detail which is not very noticeable and the emotion will reach the player. The entire idea of delight. 

Lens of Purpose- The first draft of what you do generally sounds improvised. The various parts, the melody, arrangement, rhythm etc. do not really have a purpose initially and generally in the first draft. Kill it with FIRE, the parts that you think are unnecessary. This was demonstrated with track Pig City of Angry Birds 2 and the various iterations it took to reach the final track. 

Staying with the Rhythmic pattern really makes it memorable. Another very commonly missed point which make compositions great was that frequencies matter a lot. Which is true. That is generally a reason why things can start sounding muddy in a mix. A rule of thumb is what you can't hear is not supposed to be there. 

Lens of Make it and Fake it- You can have convincing results with a lower budget. You can generally fake great results inhouse. She demonstrated with a choir recording she did with only her voice. Put your money into technical help such as engineers etc. Play at your strengths, solve problems creatively. High production quality makes a great portfolio. 

Lens of Emotional Attachment- The last lens. Don't be too attached and lose time over pride. The Client's recommendations could in fact be correct. The client expects you to make their wish come true. You are a magician, the wizard, the creator! 

And that is how you reach NGC 4151 or Andromeda or wherever you wanted to reach with your compositions.

All in all, this session, was perfect food for thought for a composer.

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