Exploring video game audio at Game Music Connect 2015

For the third successive year, Time+Space were proud partners of Game Music Connect – an annual event dedicated to music, and indeed, all types of sound, in video games. Hosted by composers James Hannigan and John Broomhall, the event took place in London’s Southbank Centre and featured many high profile figures from the video games industry. Here’s how the day panned out…

The event kicked off with host John Broomhall’s introduction, thanking key sponsors and media partners including Sony, Spitfire Audio, Audiokinetic, BAFTA, Classic FM, to name a few, before moving on to the day’s keynote speech….

GMC Chuck Doud
Chuck Doud

Vision Talk: Emotional Resonance in Video Game Music
Led by Director of Music for Sony Computer Entertainment America, Chuck Doud, this keynote speech examined the difference in experience between watching a movie and the more immersive and dynamic experience of playing video games and how the music affects us. Amongst many observations, one of the points that arose was how it is often construed that it is the game design/narrative that leads the way in determining the musical style however Chuck gave an example where, in the development of ‘The Last of Us’, a piece of music that didn’t fit into any other scene was so emotive and affecting to the game’s directors that they decided to design an additional scene just so they could include the music.

Chuck rounded off his speech by advising attendees that the best way to start creating music for games is to study them again and again, to get to know the medium as much as possible.

GMC Spitfire Audio and Ty Unwin
(L-R) John Broomhall, Christian Henson, Ty Unwin, Paul Thomson

Creating Virtual Orchestras
Headed up by Spitfire Audio founders Christian Henson and Paul Thomson, plus composer and Time+Space customer Ty Unwin (who was replacing an unwell Samuel Sim), this session was particularly interesting from our viewpoint as a distributor of virtual instruments, including Spitfire Audio. Summing up the history of their company, Christian and Paul divulged the moment Hans Zimmer called them out of the blue to say he wanted to produce a percussion library with them (“I had to sit down!” – Christian) and the degree of detail they went into when recording the instruments (96 mics!)

GMC Christian Henson
Spitfire Audio’s Christian Henson

The Spitfire founders went on to describe how a large scale library can take 5-10 days of recording time and a further 5-6 months in post production cleaning, editing and titling the files. We also got to see a couple of the recording/production spreadsheets which further emphasised the degree of work, planning and organisation that goes into creating an orchestral library.

Ty Unwin, who is a big fan of Spitfire products, explained that, in his view, playability and versatility make a good virtual instrument. He also pointed out that music software users should spend time getting to know their libraries in order to produce great-sounding music and not to expect to get incredible results simply by pressing a few keys – “Play it musically, don’t play a guitar VST like a piano and expect to get a genuine guitar sound. […] there are some great-sounding VSTs out there that can be made to sound awful simply because of the user.”

Spitfire Production Plan
Paul shows an example of a typical Spitfire Audio Recording & Production Plan

Other sessions of the day included…

Virtual Reality and the Meaning of Music
Alastair Lindsay and Joe Thwaites from Sony’s in-house Project Morpheus team, showed some exclusive clips from three of their virtual reality demos to demonstrate how they have had to consider and research the role of music in VR, identifying three areas – Linear (music unaffected by the player), Reactive (music affected by the player) and Pro-active (prompts/guidance). Whilst a tricky subject matter to demonstrate within the 2D facilities of the conference room, this was an interesting evaluation of the challenges that virtual reality presents in relation to binaural audio.

The Flight
The Flight (aka Joe Henson & Alexis Smith) and Christian Henson

The BAFTA Interview: Alien: Isolation
Spitfire’s Christian Henson was back on stage for this one alongside his brother Joe and his music partner Alexis Smith aka The Flight. Byron Bullock and Jack Melham from Creative Assembly’s audio team also joined the discussion which explored the making of the music for Alien: Isolation and the implementation of it within the game’s systems in relation to the unpredictability of the player’s actions. The original ‘Alien’ sound effect from the film was created using a Conch shell and Christian revealed that, for the purposes of the video game, they achieved the sound of the alien by recording a wet rubber ball being rubbed against the underside of a piano! Catch our pre-Game Music Connect interview with The Flight here.

Next was ‘Score To Studio‘ with Darrell Alexander, Nick Arundel, Allan Wilson, Chuck Doud, James Hannigan and John Broomhall who discussed the complex commissioning and delivery process behind orchestral video game music with some debate about how involved composers should actually be in the stages of integrating their music into the game. This was followed by ‘Game Music React!‘ with Audiokinetic’s Simon Ashby who demonstrated real world game integration examples using the company’s Wwise interactive music system.

Audiokinetic's Simon Ashby
Audiokinetic’s Simon Ashby

The penultimate session was provided by Karen Collins, the Director of Beep which is a project that aims to document the history of video game sound and music. Spurred on by the sad fact that 80-90% of silent movies have been lost, Karen has so far conducted over 100 interviews with composers and other game audio professionals from around the world. Her work is currently being edited into a film which has been funded by her Kickstarter campaign and Game Music Connect attendees got a 20 minute exclusive preview of the Japanese leg of her trip.

Beep's Karen Collins
Beep’s Karen Collins

One of the most prominent messages to arise from the interviews, was the common complaint from Japanese composers that game music is too cinematic and orchestral and ‘stuck in a rut’, implying a preference towards the 8-bit sounds of previous decades. The interviews also explored the use of voice within Japanese games, the influence of Anime and how a band would be put together within a game company specifically for use in a game. Check out some of the interviews on the Beep website here

And finally, as in previous years, the event wrapped up with ‘Crosstalk‘ – a chance for points that had arisen in the sessions to be discussed by the guest speakers with input and questions from the audience.

As always, Game Music Connect 2015 proved to be a hugely interesting, insightful and thought-provoking day out, and it was great to bump into some familiar faces of Time+Space customers and brands. We’re already looking forward to next year!

Photos courtesy of Dan Griliopoulos.

Posted by Melanie Doidge

Having worked in marketing for over fifteen years with experience in various industries, Time+Space and the world of music production continues to be the most exciting of them all. With our brands consistently pushing the boundaries of technology with their products, the terrific DJs, Composers and Producers using them and the feedback from magazines and our customers, there's always plenty to tell the world about. Musical experience? I reached Grade 6 in piano back in my school days and am currently in the throes of trying to resurrect my abilities!

Website: http://www.timespace.com

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