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Why Orchestral music is best for video games?

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#1 aldonbaker   GDNet+   -  Reputation: 114

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Posted 21 August 2014 - 09:28 PM

Many people tend to be drawn to the electronic element of music to fit their game. I think this is because electronic sounds go with electronic engines and games are meant to feel like they are made? I disagree with this, games are beginning to feel. Computers and electronic sounds CAN NOT FEEL. An orchestra is many human beings in a room playing with their own individual emotions all combined. This is something missing that can bring a game from good to great. If you have music that makes you feel, with characters that have a story, and a game engine that is seamless and nice to look at... you can have a great game.

 

I think many people give up the idea of having orchestral music for their game because they think of budget. You don't need a full live orchestra hired for your game to make it sound nearly as good. All you need is a few soloist players, hitting on what my previous article talked about... Cello is very common in game scores. One solo cellist over a "mocked up" orchestra can mean a lot for emotion's sake. The emotional and sonic depth that is attributed to orchestras can drastically change how someone views the game, let alone how they remember it. 

 

The term "mockup" in orchestral music world means that we have many of samples of recordings. Some DAW's have engines or players to combine these samples into an instrument. Large orchestras have been sampled, and they are expensive. Most libraries aren't cheap... however it's worth the price. Serious game and film composers have bought these libraries to write with. If you combine these libraries that have possibly hundreds of players on them, with one or two live player to heighten up the soloistic sounds. 

 

We make a game so that it has a positive response and a good playing experience so that people will buy it, tell other people to play it, and so on. 

 

With this all being said, you can get affordable orchestral music for your game WITHOUT hiring an orchestra. I challenge everyone with the capacity to have orchestral music to try it.

 

All that, but here's an example of one I've done with part live players and part live. I re-scored this video, this is an interactive engine working in FMOD.

 

LISTEN HERE

 



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#2 Elahrairah   Members   -  Reputation: 185

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Posted 21 August 2014 - 10:06 PM

Oh, but you have opened up such a squirming, icky, tragic can of worms here.

I'm halfway behind you here: I almost always consider orchestral music to be the gold standard when it comes to media music one way or the other. But I think the trouble with incorporating orchestra music into gaming is simple:

1. Live orchestral music is unthinkable (except for the poshest AAA titles).
2. Sampled orchestral music sounds more 'fake' than sampled electronic / popish sounds.

You're right that sweetening the MIDI orchestra with live players can do wonder, but since orchestra music is the most refined and most nuanced of all music, it's also the flat-out hardest to emulate. As committed as I am to composing good orchestral music for games, I honestly, really don't blame producers who pass on it.


Great track, by the way, especially in your mixing of live recording with sampled library. Here's a cut of one of my MIDI pieces with a live opener (any tips would be welcome!):

https://soundcloud.com/evan-witt/theescapeoftheotters


 



#3 Keith G   Members   -  Reputation: 302

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Posted 22 August 2014 - 06:33 AM

I used to think the same thing.  A great man once said that there's a lot more to gain from keeping as many doors open as possible.  But once you go through one all the others close.  I feel this is the same with genres.  Here are a few electronic tracks that are beautiful and expressive.  It's all a matter of context and the medium.  There is no best genre for games.

 

Mirror's Edge:  

 

Portal 2:  

 

Fez:  

 

 

Do you think that Beethoven or Mozart wouldn't jump at the chance of using digital music to enhance their music or experiment with completely new sounds?  You said that "Computers and electronic sounds CAN NOT FEEL.".  The same is true about a cello or a violin or a piano.  The instrument is useless by itself.  But when a human plays it with a feeling in mind, then it becomes art and expressive.



#4 nsmadsen   Moderators   -  Reputation: 4528

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Posted 22 August 2014 - 07:40 AM

Why Orchestral music is best for video games?

 

It's not. 


Edited by nsmadsen, 22 August 2014 - 07:40 AM.

Nathan Madsen
Composer-Sound Designer
Madsen Studios

#5 nsmadsen   Moderators   -  Reputation: 4528

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Posted 22 August 2014 - 07:45 AM

I think many people give up the idea of having orchestral music for their game because they think of budget. You don't need a full live orchestra hired for your game to make it sound nearly as good. All you need is a few soloist players, hitting on what my previous article talked about... Cello is very common in game scores. One solo cellist over a "mocked up" orchestra can mean a lot for emotion's sake. The emotional and sonic depth that is attributed to orchestras can drastically change how someone views the game, let alone how they remember it.

 

 

You could be making a huge assumption here. Perhaps the game developer never felt orchestral music was the right direction for their project in the first place? About your last sentence: "The emotional and sonic depth that is attributed to orchestras can drastically change how someone views the game, let alone how they remember it." then why do so many of us 20-30 something year olds have such fond, strong, nostalgia towards the chip tunes of the NES and SNES days? It all comes down to the quality of the music and it's production. Much more than the actual sounds or ensemble setting used. 

 

 

1. Live orchestral music is unthinkable (except for the poshest AAA titles).

2. Sampled orchestral music sounds more 'fake' than sampled electronic / popish sounds.

 

With the powerful virtual instrument libraries these days, it can be hard to tell the difference. Sometimes at least. This all comes down to how good at production someone is because you can buy all of the sample libraries in the world but if you don't know how to use them effectively, it will always sound fake. It becomes the composer's job to create that emotion into the MIDI tracks. This is done very carefully employing many tricks and methods to create as much life into that performance as possible. And yes, hiring a few live musicians here and there can really help too. 

 

But, much of this thread (and the OP) is focused on orchestral music. The very same principles apply to any style of music. I can write really crappy rock music via MIDI and VSTs or I can write amazing rock music. I can compose stale polka music the same way or use all of my tricks and knowledge to bring it life. 


Edited by nsmadsen, 22 August 2014 - 07:52 AM.

Nathan Madsen
Composer-Sound Designer
Madsen Studios

#6 Navezof   Members   -  Reputation: 1266

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Posted 22 August 2014 - 07:59 AM

Computers and electronic sounds CAN NOT FEEL

Nope, YOU cannot feel what the computer and electronic sounds has to say. Is there really a difference between the musician behind his cello and the musician behind his screen? They both have the same goal smile.png

 

 

 

Why Orchestral music is best for video games?

Yes, it's not.

 

As Keith G said it's all about context. Some games will sound better with electronic sound, and other not.



#7 nsmadsen   Moderators   -  Reputation: 4528

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Posted 22 August 2014 - 09:10 AM

About the piece you linked: the ambient parts sounded much more realistic to my ear than the action parts did. The mix was also better during the ambient sections than during the combat ones. Overall, however, I didn't feel a strong connection between the game's visuals and the music composed for this video. There was also quite a bit of bleeding over, which could be really cool when done well but in this video it felt sloppy. At least to my ears. The space that your percussion "lived in" felt very different from the space the other instruments, particularly the woodwinds, lived in. So what we're left with, as players, is several streams of music that sound different from each other (even down to the types of reverb and balance of the ensemble). That takes me out of the experience and draws attention to what's happening behind the curtain, instead of not even noticing it. And that's the real goal - isn't it? I remember an interview with one of the leads at Pixar who said (and I'm paraphrasing) "if you do your job right, the audience won't even notice your work." In other words, it wont draw attention to itself but will just exists, perfectly, in the world you're creating. 

 

Jack Wall did an amazing talk about interactive music and how he and his team got Wwise to seamlessly transition from various cues based on game events in a way that really felt organic. It felt like the music was composed that way. It was always supposed to go from A to B. Then on another play through you'd hear it from A to C and it also felt very natural and like that was the natural course of the music. 

 

Just my thoughts!

 

Thanks, 

 

Nate


Edited by nsmadsen, 22 August 2014 - 09:14 AM.

Nathan Madsen
Composer-Sound Designer
Madsen Studios

#8 aldonbaker   GDNet+   -  Reputation: 114

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Posted 04 September 2014 - 12:37 PM

I believe that Nate has listened to the AC video with the view that no Sound design or sound effects should be prevalent. The Music is mixed up as it should be for a demo because there is nothing else for it to compete with. No dialogue, sound design, foley, etc. 

 

Also, that recording was a live ensemble mixed by a professional film/game scoring engineer, so to say it sounds fake in parts sort of has me question your credibility a tad. :D



#9 nsmadsen   Moderators   -  Reputation: 4528

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Posted 07 September 2014 - 03:41 PM


I believe that Nate has listened to the AC video with the view that no Sound design or sound effects should be prevalent. The Music is mixed up as it should be for a demo because there is nothing else for it to compete with. No dialogue, sound design, foley, etc. 

 

No, that's not at all what I mean. I was saying that your mixing of the music itself differed from segment A (ambient) and segment B (combat). That's not a good thing if you're going to toggle between the two. I then referenced some games that have done this VERY well in hopes that you'd do some research and see how interactive music (to this degree) was accomplished. Furthermore, the implementation of the music via middleware was sloppy. This is my opinion. If you disagree with it, that's completely fine. 

 


Also, that recording was a live ensemble mixed by a professional film/game scoring engineer, so to say it sounds fake in parts sort of has me question your credibility a tad. biggrin.png

 

I knew you had some real players in the mix along with some virtual. You seem to gloss over the other points I brought up and want to take this to a personal level. I don't. I'm simply giving my input and, in general, your post seemed to be more about promoting yourself and spamming this board than an actual discussion. Feel free to question my credibility all you want. I'll let my work and my credentials speak for themselves.

 

I stand by my comments and know that I offered them up to you in a critical but constructive manner. In other words - take it or leave it. Have a good one.

 

Thanks!

 

Nate


Edited by nsmadsen, 07 September 2014 - 03:45 PM.

Nathan Madsen
Composer-Sound Designer
Madsen Studios

#10 Dannthr   Members   -  Reputation: 424

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Posted 13 October 2014 - 09:09 PM

There's so much going on in this thread.

 

The most challenging bit to look past is the supposition that synthetic instruments are unfeeling.  This is just silly.  All instruments are manufactured.  It's easily suggested that instrument design and building is one of our earliest forms of sound-design for the technique in building an instrument was creating something that had interesting and musical timbre and likely, one that could be well articulated by a performer.  Instruments grow in popularity based on how flexible and usable they are in multiple contexts.  The bowed string family, specifically that of the violin, could be considered one of the most versatile acoustic instruments ever designed.  There is an incredible breadth of possible timbre and articulation, so much so that it is one of the most defacto instruments when putting together an acoustic ensemble (at least until the guitar became way cooler).

 

Likewise, Nathan Madsen plays (and I have hired him to play) an acoustic instrument that Henry Mancini considered one of the most versatile wind instruments ever designed--and it showed, because Mancini loved employing and used brilliantly the saxophone section.

 

Synthetic instruments are simply the next step in the progression of instrument design.  And just like acoustic instruments, they are subject to the emotional expression and articulations of their designers and performers.

 

People are still playing instruments.

 

People have as much feeling or little feeling in their performances as anything else.

 

When you're a MIDI programmer, a lone music producer who has to program their own performances, frankly, if you're not very good at your job, then you're not going to get great performances out of your tools.  It's on you to learn how to do that, but don't complain that synths have no feeling because I have heard synths played with feeling everything from well performed synths in music scores to beautiful Theremin solos. 

 

More on point:

 

Assassin's Creed presents a particularly interesting situation.  By its very narrative nature, AC is anachronistic in its aesthetic design.  Generally, you play someone who is in a way transported back in time from the present to the past to possess a long dead relative.  This means that there needs to be a strange marriage of technology and period aesthetics in its musical design and direction.  It's important in a demonstration that you present not simply your musical skill, but your ability to understand aesthetic choices.

 

We are not merely making a simulation, we're making art and entertainment and it's absolutely critical that you demonstrate (for your reel) that you have an aptitude for aesthetics and an understanding of not simply the role of an orchestra in a musical presentation, but the role of every instrument at your disposal.  With your rejection of synthetic instruments, how do you intend to express the tension that this AC scenario is one that is facilitated through time-travel science?  When your character dies, they go back in time, when they hit pause, the aesthetic of the menu screen is electronic.  How do you intend to resolve this in your rejection of synths simply because you don't think they have feeling?

 

Those are serious questions--do not merely deflect criticism by calling out your critics. 

 

Nathan Madsen used to be the Audio Lead at NetDevil, which was a 150 person game studio making million dollar MMOs--he's also been a composer/sound designer for Funimation and he's also an excellent and serious musician with real instrumental skill.  You are absolutely fortunate to have someone like him give you honest and sincere feedback.

 

And as far as mixing engineers go, what you have to understand about mixing engineers is that they operate as service providers.  Their job is to mix your music the way you want it mixed.  But that choice is absolutely subjective and frankly, any mixing engineer worth their salt will tell you the same--there are a ton of approaches to mixing an ensemble, especially an eclectic one like yours.  I will also tell you that audio directors pay attention to how well music might sit in a game mix--they care about that because their whole focus is not music and frankly music is almost never a primary focus in a big game.  I want to say the last time I went to a GANG Demo Derby, Paul Lipson probably made a comment on whether or not the music would sit in a game-mix on like 20% of the participants and he's audio director at Microsoft Games.  This stuff is not trivial, don't trivialize it.  Just take the criticism you can use and use it, no big deal.

 

Here's mine:

 

I'm not a big fan of the piano, especially on the second entry when it drops back down to ambient after your character kills like a dozen dudes.  I feel like slaughtering a bunch of guys near an enemy camp doesn't instantly send you back into a (mostly) calm Zen mode and the slight string bends you have during the ambient music isn't enough to combat the absolute consonance of the piano part.  It's also incredibly front and center.  I would just try taking it out or maybe substituting its presence with a more hidden string part.  I liked the hand percussion when it was there, and there's probably some interesting opportunities to bring in more hand percussion during the ambient parts (like rubbing the drum head with a rubber mallet, etc.).  Maybe some low flutes or ambient horns could touch more on the Native American theme while adding more tension with non-diatonic tuning.

 

I would tighten up your FMOD cue points.  You end the battle music before you even kill the last dude (the game system has no idea that he's certainly going to die, so it wouldn't know to cue the change before hand) and the changes are extremely abrupt--that is to say, non-musically abrupt, which is something Nathan talked about.  Don't worry about that too much, just keep making interactive music and you'll get better at the transitions.

 

But all that stuff is not trivial, audio directors would hear all that--and probably more.

 

Cheers,

 

EDIT: PS: Be sure to check out Jean Michel Jarre, Vangelis, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Enya, Brian Eno, and so much more for great examples of "feeling" synths.


Edited by Dannthr, 13 October 2014 - 09:41 PM.

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#11 Breakdown Epiphanies   Members   -  Reputation: 175

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Posted 16 October 2014 - 08:01 AM

 

EDIT: PS: Be sure to check out Jean Michel Jarre, Vangelis, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Enya, Brian Eno, and so much more for great examples of "feeling" synths.

 

I would like to add Mike Oldfield to that list ;)

Although I found the OP a tad presumptuous I enjoyed reading all your responses, good stuff thx!


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#12 JonathanRace   Members   -  Reputation: 136

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Posted 16 October 2014 - 08:59 AM

I think it comes down to that epic'ness.

 

When you have a orchestra even just from a sample library you can imagine the number of players and even the sort of space needed for that (both BIG!)

 

With electronic music it's hard to evoke that same sort of feeling (not impossible) it will just need a whole lot more work whereas orchestral instruments can get you most of the way there quicker in a way.



#13 CCH Audio   Members   -  Reputation: 475

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Posted 16 October 2014 - 10:57 AM

Saying "Orchestral Music is best for gaming" is like saying the color red is best for painting. There are many different styles of music that can each convey their own emotions and they all have their place in gaming.


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#14 Madhed   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 3281

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Posted 17 October 2014 - 08:59 AM

I am actually pretty bored by the recent trend of super-epic-orchestral-hollywood-schmaltz game soundtracks. There are some soundtracks that combine classical with modern elements however, these tend to catch my interest. Deus Ex: HR OST by Michael McCann comes to mind.



#15 matmilne   Members   -  Reputation: 188

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Posted 15 November 2014 - 06:00 AM

Feeling is a derivation of notes, timbre, and ideas.  3 lines of synthesizer can be just as expressive as 20 lines of orchestra and choir.

Yes sadly, recent 'super epic' soundtracks have been done badly...really badly, chosen merely for the fact that it's orchestra and not because it offers the greatest depth and breadth of expression, or because it is appropriate and fits.

Far too many composers obsessed with looking the part and how their work sounds; than what it actually is, or achieves within the listener.

 

At the end of the day, you're there to take the player through the game, and control their perceptions of it; It's not just feelings or mood, there's a LOT more to it than that.



#16 TheChubu   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 5215

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Posted 15 November 2014 - 01:47 PM

 I think this is because electronic sounds go with electronic engines and games are meant to feel like they are made? [...] games are beginning to feel. Computers and electronic sounds CAN NOT FEEL.
What?

 

Seriously, how can you even begin a discussion of anything with something so subjective and so meaningless as that. That just tells me flat out that you're not trying to discuss anything.

 

Just tell me how you can have a game like Deus Ex Human Revolution without electronic music. How you can have a game like any Megaman without electronic music? I'm gonna get ahead of myself and tell that you can't.

 

Then again, you can't have Skyrim's dovahkiin theme without 60 guys singing with epic drums and string/wind instruments. I'll give you that.


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#17 Servant of the Lord   Crossbones+   -  Reputation: 21854

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Posted 15 November 2014 - 03:03 PM

When you say "orchestral", do you mean an orchestra specifically, or any live music?

 

Despite not being too much of a rock or metal fan (or whatever - I can't tell music genres apart), I find it enjoyable and attention-grabbing (in a good way) when some games go for more non-traditional soundtracks for their games.


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#18 TheSlantedRoom   Members   -  Reputation: 101

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Posted 16 December 2014 - 03:21 PM

I make orchestral music and feel that is brings out the most emotion possible if done well.  I always prefer orchestral over electronic in an RPG, and SiFi themes I like a hybrid of orchestral with electonic sound scapes. 

 

PS

 

I am Steve. I am a Sound Engineer and a composer from Vancouver, Canada. I make fantasy music and am currently working on a project called Lost Worlds. Please take a listen and let me know your thoughts. My Goal is to have my music on a game or tv show one day.
 
 
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