Compose Music for Video GamesCompose Music for Video Games?

Learn some tips from a game developer, to get a better perspective of what need and benefit your music will have to serve in order to work well for a video game.

Here’s some tips from video game developer (and aspiring composer) Luca Leonardi:

1. SHORT LOOPING DURATION

Most of the times, unless we’re talking about very big productions, developers like the music for the game to be short.

We’re talking about 30 seconds to 2 minutes long.

For retro style games for example, a simple town theme could easily be a 30 second loop repeating itself… a lot of times more than 2 minutes is kinda considered “too much”… but of course this is something that can be talked about with the team.

The important thing is that it needs to be perfectly loop-able. That usually means no “Introduction” or “ending” sequences because it would break the “rhythm” of the game up.

2. PROCEDURAL

This probably isn’t the right terminology for what I want to talk about (language barriers are a bad thing) BUT I’ll do my best to explain.

In games were there is an alternating of calm and action moments many developers like their music to “adjust” to the situation. This is quite hard to do as the transition between “calm” and “action” usually needs to be flawless but it can be achieved.

From what I know so far (I’ll definitely look into it more in the future) this is achieved by having two musical pieces playing at the same time BUT one, usually the calm one, has the volume up while the other, the action one, usually has the volume at 0.

The two pieces should go perfectly together, like a base and a main melody, so that when the action comes the developer will rise the second track volume up and it will seamlessly “blend” with the base thus changing the whole atmosphere of the game with no no “breaks” in between.

The same would happen at the end of a combat sequence were the volume of the second track would be brought down to 0 again and only the “calm” base will still be audible.

This are, as of now, the best Tips I am able to do about video game music BUT i want to go a little more in depth.

3. GAME JAMS

If anyone’s interested in composing for video games than you literally should know what a game jam is as a lot of famous indie games (like for example hollow knight) come from those.

A “Game Jam” is an event, like the ones you’re having in this community were you have 1 month of time to compose a track.

A Game Jam has a specific time limit that usually goes from 2 days to 1 month of time. At the beginning of the jam you’re given a theme and you have to create a complete game/prototype in the time limit you’re given.



That means concept, graphic, story AND music… in that time limit.

At times some specific jams wants a developer to do EVERYTHING on his own but most of the time it’s possible to form teams.

A lot of Jams are very little BUT there are some very MASSIVE ones.

The more famous ones in the world would probably be the Ludum Dare and the GMMK (I think it’s spelled like this) that usually have thousands of entries.

Can’t speak for the GMMK one as I’ve never joined it but I can say that for the latest Ludum Dare we had something like 4500 entries for the “normal” category (the one were you can form teams and get 2-3 days as a time limit) and about a 1000 I think for the “Solo” category (where you only have 2 days and have to do EVERYTHING on your own).

Every aspect of the game is rated separately and as such you get a “Music” category on its own and then all of the different votes are joined together for an “overall” that ranks the game.

What I can say is that if a composer manages to create a soundtrack that takes the top spots in these kind of Jams… he’ll have a big chance of advertising him/herself in the gaming community.

Also… when it’s Jam time you will find a LOT of developers looking for artist and composers and teaming up can be an absolutely awesome way to know people that might become “allies” in the future :slight_smile:

I know for example that the team I joined up with for the latest Ludum Dare was a very good one, I was in charge of coding and I had a graphical artist and a music composer… our game came in at about 500th place if I remember correctly… not bad… and for sure all of us know that in another time, if there’s chance, we’ll definitely team up again be it either for a jam game or for a complete production.

To know about Game Jams you might want to add to your bookmarks a website called “itch.io” as it has a TON of game jams published and it’s kind of a “go to” website for every indie game developer… even for ones that already has commercial success.

Ok… I think I’ve said what I can for now… I hope this post was of use to you guys… if it was I’ll be sure to share more tips and insights as I get more experience in the game developing field.

Check out Luca Leonardi’s work: https://chosenplay.itch.io


Mikael Baggström - Composer and Sound DesignerMy name is Mikael “Mike” Baggström, and I am a composer, sound designer, artist and educator.

PS. Do you want to LEVEL UP as a Composer? – Learn How here.