How does the next sci fi game sound different?
In June 2018, one month after I graduated college, I signed on to score my first video game soundtrack: Underspace. After spending all of college composing for chamber ensembles, I was under the rookie impression that the best way to approach game soundtracks was make it as film score-like as possible.
Because I started the soundtrack that way, I failed to utilize all the knowledge I had gained from writing for live performers in small settings. Underspace has a big sound, but most all of the soundtrack is not performable as a result of my initial approach.
After I completed Underspace, the biggest question I asked myself was how my next space game would sound different.
Last month, April 2021, I signed on to score my fifth game soundtrack: Starship Simulator. As it turns out, creating a new sound for the game was no problem at all. This was because I’ve learned to utilize all my knowledge of writing for concert hall. Moreover, the starship soundtrack is written to be performable by a live orchestra.
The two sound incredibly different as a result, and I’m happy that each came into their own quite quickly.
Recently I've been revisiting old unfinished compositions that never made it past the sketch stage. Three years ago my mind wasn't compositionally fertile enough to develop the ideas. Now it is, and I'm having quite a bit of fun with them.
Take Seabound. The original sketch was written in 2018, when I was just discovering sample libraries and had little intuition when it came to orchestration.
Original Sketch (2018)
Fast forward to March 2021, and it's clear that I've come a long way. I'm pretty proud of the progress I've made! It's so neat to compare my ability to develop motifs between then and now.
Developed Sketch (2021)
Writing bombastic orchestral tracks titled “epic music” isn’t the key. Creativity is.
Good at writing epic music? Great! But you need a diverse portfolio. You are not going to stand out by doing the exact same thing as everyone else trying to break in. In reality, most game developers who are after epic music likely already have a composer to do the job that they’ve worked with before they made games with a legitimate budget. If they don’t have someone, the budget developers can quickly find an established “epic composer” anywhere, and their first choice won’t be an aspiring composer without any commercial game soundtracks to back them up.
I didn’t catch the attention of who became the first game developer to recruit me by writing something big and bombastic. He contacted me after hearing a Haydn-inspired waltz I wrote chamber strings. Why? Because his game needed that sound.
The game developers you might have a shot with probably don’t need epic. What they really want is something that fits the vision they have for their game. And looking ahead, a creative, possibly unique soundtrack will ultimately make you sound out than doing what everyone else is doing.
Ultimately, be creative. White a traditional choral piece, a composition with an untraditional orchestral set up, a ballade for cuckoo clocks, you name it.
Limiting yourself to a big sound won’t help you. Diversifying your portfolio most definitely will.
I started scoring Underspace in early July. It was my first soundtrack for a full-fledged video game, so I approached it with that mindset. The result? Fitting action packed lead themes tailored to the gameplay, as expected.
The first 50% of completed game music was written on the basis of a life listening to video game and film music. My vast exposure to soundtracks served me well for the first 50% of the work I had done.
About a month in, my approach to writing the music of Underspace went in a new direction.
It all started with a composition we know as Vauldwin Overture, which was the first publicly released track from the game. Because it was written in a concert hall style, I didn’t think it would be suitable for the game, but I sent it to the lead developer anyway. To my surprise, he thought it would fit really well in the game.
Vauldwin was a turning point. After the overture was released, my film score mentality that I had turned to for the first half of the soundtrack was quickly matched with an approach to music for concert hall.
The soundtrack really started getting good after that. I was professionally trained for five years to write for concert hall, so it only made sense to utilize all the skills I had built from writing traditional classical music for the game.
It wasn’t a matter of choosing one approach over the other, but rather the marriage of film scores and music for concert hall. After Vauldwin, the remaining 50% of the soundtrack was written under that hybrid approach.
To give you a little perspective, the Main Theme and Battle were written first. Vauldwin overture was the turning point. Marren Overture was the first true hybrid of the film score and classical approach. Finale, the last piece completed for the game, was a culmination of the evolution of the soundtrack.