“Non-linear music” is bogus | Abstract

Composite of arcade machine with music and game logos
Composite of arcade machine with music and game logos
Composite of arcade machine with music and game logos

An argument for adjusting the terminology in video game music and game design.

Abstract

As music producers for video games we usually discuss our art in terms of linear and non-linear music. While this type of discourse is both descriptive and useful when talking about a game’s soundtrack, it also generates false and inaccurate assumptions of how music is created and played back in a video game.

When analyzing video game narratives using an MDA framework, we can see that non-linearity is primarily an emergent phenomenon of a game’s aesthetics, rather than its explicit design. Further investigation shows that all music is created through a mixture of arranged and performed elements, and that these are not inherently non-linear. The same analysis shows that video games are also created with similar properties. Thus, each sequence in a video game contains varying degrees of performability and arranged elements, which the player then perceives as non-linearity.

The study concludes that video games is an autodramatic artform, in which the players themselves acts as performers through a series of sequences that game developers have designed. Producers will therefore come to a more accurate understanding of their craft by shifting the discourse, from a ”linear vs non-linear”, to an ”arranged vs performed” terminology.

PS.

This is an outtake from my current research in video game music. I’m studying a master’s degree in music production for video games, with the purpose of bridging the gap between game developers and music producers, so that we can collaborate and create the best possible music for games. Remember to follow my social media to get updates when I’m releasing new music or posts here on my website.

Game music Master’s Degree – First month

Video game boss fight.
Video game boss fight.
Still from a boss fight in a video game that’s being developed by @fiskyfisko. You can find the video here below

The game has begun! The Royal College of Music in Stockholm is absolutely thicc with talent and ambition. My biggest problem is: What should I do around all of this talent?

Me and another student set out to record as many odd sounds and sources as we could come up with. Below is a picture from when we found an old bike, which I now have turned into an actual instrument in Ableton Live. Using a portable Zoom H4N Pro we tried creating as weird sounds as possible.

One of the first things I wanted to test is to start creating my own sample libraries. Here’s a picture from one of the recordings with a rusty bike!

However, I did find it a bit tedious to handle the files afterwards. That’s why I have looked at some new microphones you can simply attach to your phone. Because that would allow me to record HQ samples and have them directly sync with my Dropbox account so I can access the recordings from within Ableton Live instantly. That will not only make it quicker but also way more fun to know that I can use the recordings as soon as I’m back at my computer.

Music Design for Video Games

From the first few weeks we have also been assigned to formulate a plan for our research. You can read the outline of my research on music design for video games here.

Starting next month I’m getting in touch with game developers and designers to open up my discussions about how to bridge the gap between music producers and game developers. Because, as far as I can tell, we all know too little about each other for us to make something actually great.

Martin O’Donnell created a piece of music that most likely will be played centuries from now.

I’m speaking in a general sense, of course. We have a few highly accomplished composers in video game history. For instance, Martin O’Donnell created a hallmark in music history when he produced the musical experiences in Halo: Combat Evolved from the role as an audio lead in the development team. That’s why I have a notion that we will start producing some extraordinary music for video games, if we can make game design theory accessible for music producers.

I have also started looking for game projects to produce music for and test my ideas on game design. This made me get in touch with some developers on Twitter. I created this short piece after being shown a video, by a developer, from an in-game boss fight:

WIP from indie developer @FiskyFisko

Next step

I’m looking for game designers who are interested in sharing insights of their personal work and relationship to the player. Ultimately, I want to find ideas on how we can improve the relationship between game developers and music producers. The insights will become a foundation for my upcoming artistic research in music production for games.

Are you a game developer? or a music producer for games? Then I would love to get in touch with you so we can discuss these ideas together! Follow my social media and send me a DM. Click the social icons below here to get in touch 🙂

Master’s study – Music Design for Video Games

Composite of an arcade game machine and a music teacher

Project Goals

In general, computer game developers create their products from a design perspective where the development originates from game designers; Experts in “how games work”. There is plenty of research in the field of game design, which is widely used by developers. Therefore, there is an established analysis method and jargon in the gaming industry that describes how and why a game engages its users. One method is based on a so-called MDA framework.[1]

Music is present in almost all computer games. But music creators usually have a lack of knowledge about game design. Similarly, game developers also have a lack of knowledge about music. Knowledge of how and why a piece of music engages the listener. Therefore, we have a need to build bridges between our two industries, so that the collaboration between us can be more effective and thus utilize the full potential of music.

The aim of the study is to establish a useful method for music producers that is related to the game developers’ creative process. This method is what will be called music design for video games.

The study will result in a music project that explores a work method where decisions in production are derived from the MDA framework. The end product will be created based on a computer game that contains existing game mechanics, dynamics and aesthetics.

The question that motivates the survey Music Design for Video Games is therefore: What is it? and What is not?

Purpose

The study will explore and define the concept of music design for computer games, because there is no concrete definition on the topic.

In a broader perspective, the work will form a foundation for future studies in composition and music production for computer games, which need to take into account the games’ development and production chain.

Finally, music design will act as a hub between two worlds that currently need each other, but who do not yet know how to communicate.

Method

The study will include a number of interviews with various music creators, game designers and audio directors who are active in game development. These will be used to form an overview of the issue and the views that exist around the project’s topic in each industry.

The research will also result in an argumentative text about what music design for computer games is and how its practitioners can relate to the subject.

Above all, the study will establish how music can be created by analyzing games and the intended music based on an MDA framework. A method where decisions about music production will be justified through the theoretical lens that the framework presents.

The study will be documented on a blog with reflections, images, transcripts and other media that provide an insight into how the research went.

Schedule

The study will mainly consist of two parts.

The first part includes searching and analyzing study material on the subject, as well as interviews with experts. The period is expected to end by October and a suitable gaming project should then be available for the start of the second part.

From November, the study will focus on the creation of music for the game project and the application of the working method being investigated. In parallel with the final work, reflections and analyzes are documented in text form to prepare a final project report in December.

References

[1] Robin Hunicke, Marc Leblanc, Robert Zubek (2005) MDA: A Formal Approach to Game Design and Game Research. Retrieved September 13, 2020, from Northwestern University, https://users.cs.northwestern.edu/~hunicke/MDA.pdf

Week 1 of a Master’s Degree

There is a heck lot of music going on within these walls! And what diversity!! I have yet to meet a pair of students that do the exact same style and instruments, and I think it will take a while before I do.

In our program we have just started to get to know each other, and today we sat inside this venue at our campus.

Listening to all the music we had brought today, they turned into great discussions on the creative process and what goal everyone has with their studies. Turns out we have a few people interested in making music for games, but so far I’m the only one with having it as my primary reason for attending this institute.

Still, it makes me so excited to find out that we have a lot of different expertise among ourselves and I think it’s a fantastic opportunity to get to know music making from other points of views.

For my part, I’m doing some individual studies with two authors in particular.

The first one being Winifred Phillips and her extraordinary book on composing for video games, I highly recommend anyone interested in this topic to read it. So far, I have only read extracts from it so thought it’s time I dig into it for real right now and use it in parallel with the second book I’m reading.

“How Music Works” by David Byrne is a deep dive into the clock-work itself, so to speak. His hypothesis is that people don’t decide what music is to be popular and remembered throughout history, but it’s an innate consequence of the environment which music is being played within. In its broadest term, the analysis is Darwinian and the result is fascinating. By taking into account that “survival of the fittest” we can come to some insights into why some music seems to just work and why some doesn’t. However, it is not clear to me how that gives us the full picture, and I especially want to put it inside the context of video game music. Really interesting stuff!

Coming up we have a few assignments. One being a co-write of a piece of music until next Monday, and the other being a plan for our individual art project.

I have decided the general approach for my studies and in one sentence it’s called “Music Design for Video Games“.

Next week there will be an update with my plan, it will probably be more precise to better suit this semester. 🙂

PS

My absolute top lad of a friend Nick has just released his first single under his new artist name. He is doing a more honest R&B than ever and I think you should give him a listen 😀 Here’s a link to his release “No Friends” with Nick Albie, which I have had a finger in the game with. 😉

DS

Until Next Time!

// J

Master’s Degree in Game Music

Entrance to the Royal College of Music in Stockholm, Sweden

Starting this September, I will begin my studies at the Royal College of Music in Stockholm. After a long application process, lasting since December 2019, it was announced to me that I will have a seat among this years students. I’m excited to meet new people, to the extent that it is possible during the current pandemic circumstances, but I know it will happen. People always tend to find solutions to socializing. Especially, I assume, creative people.

From the get go, my interest is to study how music is produced for and used in games. And my intention is to give regular updates on this blog so I can document my research. There are people around the internet looking for this kind of knowledge. So come on in and get it. Feel free to ask me about it through my social channels.

One of the topics I’m going to dive deeper into is “music design”. As composers and sound designers we hear it every now and then, but I have yet to see someone take a clean swing at it.

In general, my interest is mainly emotional impact and musical flow in game environments. As a capable programmer I’m able to compose and arrange the music in such a way that the game and its underlying music have a natural and clear relationship. Instead of, as I often hear it being used, being slapped onto gameplay with the only intention of filling out space, which will only give it an “OK” rating in my book. The music I want to make for games must be “Excellent” and “Next Level”, otherwise I’m not interested.

Finally, I will also take a serious look at the legal and copyright aspect of music for games, since I have been subjected to some egregious comments and attitudes towards music composers and their rights for the earnings and derivative works of projects they are involved with. Seeing how the music, in some cases, lasts longer and permeates the global culture in a way more effective way than the games they are composed for; It is a shame how music as an art is being treated by the developing community.

Next up, I have a meeting at the school on the 25th of August with introductions and other formalities. Let’s go! 🙂

Pillars of Music – Noise and Not-noise

A meditation on the nature of harmony


We all have our own puzzle to put together.

It starts as a random collection, a noise of bits & pieces, and ends with a complete image. With the help of a vision – a finished form of the whole puzzle – we can start connecting the pieces and expand our understanding.

This is us. Avatars of puzzled territory. We start off in noise, and with faith, we end up in clarity. In our lives, we experience this continuous balance between noise and… well, what is the opposite of noise?

As technicians and academics of music and audio; we say that noise is the collection of all potential outcomes, present at the same moment in time. In terms of audio, that means the sound of a full frequency spectrum. The same way, a waterfall sounds.

Noise can be loud; and when it is, it’s usually not enjoyable. Could the opposite of noise be silence? While that is the popular view, the most recent evaluations by physicists show that even the empty vacuum of space is not completely void of stuff that we can measure. On the smallest possible scale, we have discovered how the fabric of space itself creates particles out of nothingness.

So we are constantly engulfed in noise. The big question is; how to stand out from it? Because the noise also signifies the potential for creation and patterns. It is the canvas onto which being itself is projected.

As creative beings, it is our interest to take that noise of potential and discover patterns of resonance. When we discover harmony in these patterns, our creation springs to life and moves independently. It will go to wherever it is destined to go.

Announcement: Tiny Echo release

 

I am thrilled to announce the release of “Tiny Echo”.

Inspired by the astounding graphics and the spiritual theme, I composed the music for this beautiful game to tell a story of stagnation and revitalization.

For now it’s exclusively available for subscribes to Humble Monthly over at https://www.humblebundle.com/

If you want to play Tiny Echo right now I encourage you to subscribe to Humble Monthly, in which you will also have access to a huge catalogue of game. Otherwise you can still wait for a few months, when Tiny Echo eventually will be released on an open platform.

More updates will come soon, so stay posted!