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nsmadsen

Interesting article and discussion about game music

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nsmadsen    5578
I don't agree with all of the author's stances but the discussion and comments resulting from the article are very interesting. http://www.gamasutra.com/php-bin/news_index.php?story=23401 My favorite comment that I've read so far is by Chris Kline:
Quote:
Great article! This makes me want to get on a soap box and express my views on why music isn't getting the attention it deserves. There are hundreds if not thousands of incredibly talented musicians and composers out there in need of work. 1. In my experiences thus far, music now a days is almost always an afterthought in the game industry. It's either rushed to hit some meaningless deadline early on, before the game is even far enough along to inspire the composer, or it's done very last minute. 2. The budget allocated for music at your average developer is less than you'd pay a junior level tester for a year. Most developers that I've seen of 25-100 people don't even have internal audio departments. If they do, it's typically only for sound FX. If the studio ever has financial difficulties, the audio guy is one of the first to go. 3. Far too many developers opt to shop online for the cheapest generic music bundle CD they can find and call it good. Add in a canned sound FX CD to seal the deal. 4. I blame both the publishers and developers for inadequate budgeting and using audio as a means to cut corners and save a dime. 5. The fact that there are lots of great musicians out there willing to do work at cut rate deals isn't a good thing. That's a sign of how bad things are. That opens the doors for abuse by continuing to underpay those few lucky musicians who manage to get a gig. If the trend continues, newer generations of composers will dwindle. 6. The average medium budget game has an art team of 20 or so people. Using the latest salary pole average from GDM, let's say they're average pay is 45k per artist (erroring on the low side). That's almost 1 million dollars spent on art (900k) alone for a year to develop a game. It's sickening that publishers / developers are not even willing to spend 1/10th of that on audio development. Programming to audio would of course be an even crazier comparison. 7. Just imagine watching Star Wars or Indiana Jones with absolutely NO music. The movies would not be nearly as memorable. Music is the one art form that sticks with you through out the day. You could be walking down the street hours after seeing the movie, and you probably won't be picturing X-Wings flying around in your head, but you might spontaneously start humming the star wars theme. That's the power of a good MELODY BASED soundtrack. I completely disagree with the author stating that music these days sounds like another John Williams immitation. It would be memorable if it were done by Mr. Williams. 8. Resorting to licensed music is a very bad idea. Most of the time it doesn't fit appropriately and you could have gotten a way better original soundtrack for less. Vocal tracks rarely fit well for a game soundtrack. It's more of a huge distraction. Soundtracks work best as instrumentals. I think it's a bad idea to put in placeholder music during development that's not original. Good or bad, developers and publishers will soon associate the music with the game, and miss it when it's replaced. Just like art, it should be a work in progress of the real soundtrack that evolves with the production of the game. 9. It's not coincidence that the most memorable games of all time also have very memorable soundtracks. Repetition of small tracks only plays a small role. If the melody isn't good, repetition will just make it annoying. There was simply a lot of very talented people working back then with more emphasis on the importance of music. You avoid ear fatigue with good composition and having more tracks for a variety of good melodies. 10. If publishers / developers would wake up and take music seriously, they'd begin to realize the positive impact it can have for them. They would sell more games with a good soundtrack. I've personally bought games just because I liked the music. When I think of Final Fantasy, I don't remember much of the story line, but I remember all of the music. Publishers need to open the avenue of selling game soundtracks in the US and putting some advertising muscle behind it. This is done with decent success over seas. There's no good reason it can't be the same in America. If anything, money earned from additional soundtrack sales help to offset the intial cost of producing it. I guess all we can do is hope....maybe one day...

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TheJ    100
yes, everyone is chicken and afraid their game wont sell if it doesnt have the consensus motives-it applies to graphics as well, nobody trust anyone to make a breakthrough because its too risk and too much money and effort was invested.

i want to make a breakthrough music etc, and i have the vision to do it, i just need to finesse my skills abit more, although i wouldnt mind selling my soul for the $.

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JonahSM1    115
I'm really glad that attention is being brought to this. Having grown up on classic melodically based soundtracks like in the Final Fantasy series or Mario or Zelda, it pains me to have to hear countless uninspired, or in many cases nearly nonexistent, soundtracks in modern games. Hopefully with the rise of artistically oriented indie games, we'll see more characteristic music.

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nsmadsen    5578
Quote:
Original post by TheJ
yes, everyone is chicken and afraid their game wont sell if it doesnt have the consensus motives-it applies to graphics as well, nobody trust anyone to make a breakthrough because its too risk and too much money and effort was invested.


Well, not everyone. There have been plenty of break through games and developers-publishers that are investing a huge amount of time, resources and talent into projects. Unfortunately there are just as many developers-publishers, if not more, that cut corners and don't put in the time needed to make truly spectacular games. The end result is often a mediocre to terrible gaming experience. This also happens with record labels, film studios and book publishers. It's too bad really because it's a proven system: more time, resources and talent usually means a better result. Less time, resources and talent usually give less than stellar results. Of course, there are always exceptions.

Quote:
Original post by JonahSM1
I'm really glad that attention is being brought to this. Having grown up on classic melodically based soundtracks like in the Final Fantasy series or Mario or Zelda, it pains me to have to hear countless uninspired, or in many cases nearly nonexistent, soundtracks in modern games. Hopefully with the rise of artistically oriented indie games, we'll see more characteristic music.


I'm also glad this discussion is happening, but I disagree with your statement. I've heard many inspired and very prominent video game OST in the PS1, PS2 and next gen (really more like current gen) phases of games. I've heard the "music made back in year X is so much better than the crap made now" argument many times. It's been applied to film scores, pop music and video game soundtracks. This is a flawed argument. Here's why:

Classic radio stations don't play the crappy songs from the past. "You're listening to 56.4 FM, only the crappiest songs from the 1960s!" That station wouldn't do very well. What you would hear (and do hear on real stations) are the classics, those songs that did well. The same thing happens with video games. Unless it's a "Top Ten Worst Games on System X" kind of list, the crappy stuff usually is forgotten and only the gems remain. This is why some folks begin to make the argument that only great stuff was written or created back then. That simply wasn't the case.

Another factor is the growing up comment. When I see games that I played when I was between the age of 8-12 I get very nostalgic. My face lights up, I remember growing up and playing these awesome games and how much I enjoyed them. Also playing games as a kid is very much a new experience. I'm 30 years old and have been playing games for a very long time. Although I still get very excited about a new game, I'm used to the overall experience. But when I first got my NES it was a completely new experience. Playing games until 4AM, using passwords, defeating the uber hard boss and so on... it was all fresh and new. Including the music.

If you feel that music has changed, that's your opinion and you're more than welcome to it. But I think there are many factors here that are contributing some people's reaction to today's music. After all, as the author (and many of the comments point out) music is extremely subjective. But I disagree with your comment that so much music is uninspired.

Final point:


Quote:
Original post by JonahSM1
...or in many cases nearly nonexistent, soundtracks in modern games.


One theory I have for this is that the audio expectations and capabilities have changed drastically since the days of 8-bit. Back then there was NO audio ambiance, so the music had the job of supporting and creating the mood. The music was looping and not really interactive or dynamic. (There were some instances like the music speeding up as time ran out, but not nearly as interactive as it is now.) Now we have all kinds of layer ability in audio engines and we have ambient soundscapes that help create and support the mood of the game. This frees up music to become more of a cue, instead of a constant. Look at films: does the music play throughout the entire film? Nope. That would be overkill. Instead the music acts as cues, coming in when most effective. Video games have taken this approach as well.

Great discussion and thanks for chiming in guys! I hope to see other's comments as well.

Thanks,

Nathan

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Oluseyi    2103
Having read the article and most of the discussion, I think Tommy Tallarico really smashes it:
Quote:
For every beloved Mario, Zelda & Tetris score from 25 years ago we could all point to 1,000 games back then where the music was horrible. In fact, truth be told... in regards to the "mainstream general public" (not hardcore fans such as all of us here) most people believe that the "old school" music is totally annoying and repetitive.

Any game composer whose been around more than 10 - 15 years will tell you how the average person on the street would laugh and make fun of us when we told them what we did. But that sentiment has rapidly been changing over the past 4 or 5 years BECAUSE of the amazing quality and awesome production that is coming from the video game industry NOW.

I think there's a considerable amount of selection bias and nostalgia clouding the author's recollection and thus invalidating the comparisons. Was any of the music from Strider particularly memorable? Can you hum the theme to Bad Dudes right now? What was the soundtrack for Dangerous Dave? The music for classic Accolade racing titles like Test Drive and Cycles and Grand Prix were amazing to me, even on my PC-XT speaker, but they may have meant nothing to you (or the author).

So, yes, a lot of studios are using the cheapest option available. But a lot are not. Whatever our opinions on the current state of the art, though, I think we can all agree that we want to see more, better music and musicians being given an opportunity to earn a good living doing what they love and helping to make our favorite games better.

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Dannthr    510
I don't know about you guys, but I regularly play Super Mario All-Stars on my old SNES with my girlfriend.

The games are simple, you could probably spend an hour completing several if not one game.

However, these days, players play games without completing them for 100s of hours, maybe even 100 hours a month for several months.

MMO developers don't bat an eye at hiring 20 artists to make sure that each different location and instance of the game has a fresh and appealing look--a friend of mine at Guild Wars even mentioned that each corner has to invite mystery in just its appearance, and each nook of the game was specially crafted and molded to keep the player engaged. The art itself is an engaging aspect and even interactive aspect of the gameplay as they change their clothing/armor and encounter new and fantastic enemies and races and allies and so forth.

But the problem is that in a development cycle, a single composer can only produce so much fantastic music for a game that has so much OTHER content--to the point that they are forced to be selective about when and where their iconic moments lie. So the composer and developers opt to have the music get out of the way of the game.

All that results in is players turning off the music.

I recently did a study on gamers response to music in-game and probably something like 1 out of 25 MMO gamers asked would actually keep the soundtrack on after the first couple of weeks of playing the game.

Most of them said the music became too repetitious, especially, they said, battle music.

But I believe this is only a half-truth.

Obviously, one issue is that the music is written to be "unobtrusive," in hopes that they won't turn the music off, but instead, like sneaking the music into the game, it just becomes weak. The composer picks his moments of clarity and strength and composes some great interim pieces that fit nicely in a cut scene.

The whole truth, in my opinion, is that game music is not engaging the player. Not for lack of iconic melody or complexity, but for lack of content and vertically dynamic composition.

For every artist hired to a game, so too should there be a composer.

If there are 20 artists then there should be 20 composers whose responsibility is to more fully enrich a game with a dynamic and engaging audio experience that goes completely beyond mere ambience.

I've written mario style pieces, but there isn't enough time in a composer's development cycle to put that much time into a game--not that the game music has to be jazzy or quirky, but that it should be detailed and deliberate.

Right now we composers have to paint in broad strokes so that our music won't be tiring, so we can fill up 100 hours of gameplay in less than 1, when really there should be dozens of us writing distinct works and imbuing games with rich and engaging audio. Audio that gamers themselves interact with and enjoy.

A game doesn't have to be about music in order for the player to engage the music.

The style is wholly irrelevant. Mario is just as iconic in orchestra as a jazz combo as a rock/techno fusion remix, dub style.

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Drew_Benton    1861
Quote:
8. Resorting to licensed music is a very bad idea. Most of the time it doesn't fit appropriately and you could have gotten a way better original soundtrack for less. Vocal tracks rarely fit well for a game soundtrack. It's more of a huge distraction. Soundtracks work best as instrumentals. I think it's a bad idea to put in placeholder music during development that's not original. Good or bad, developers and publishers will soon associate the music with the game, and miss it when it's replaced. Just like art, it should be a work in progress of the real soundtrack that evolves with the production of the game.


I'd just like to add a side comment on this and say I'd find this mostly true for a lot of the games out there, but, certain genre of games can make use of licensed music more naturally than others. For example, Grand Theft Auto and Saints Row series make use of the vehicle radio where a lot of licensed music, both big names and small names end up. In games set in "modern" times, licensed music makes for a good use coming from a radio.

I bring this specific "exception" to the point simply because I've noticed that when games use a wide variety of licensed music in those settings, people who would never have gotten into certain genres of music or artists are now exposed to it and can end up becoming a fan and purchase their music.

I am one example of such a person. A lot of the music used in Saints Row 2 was music I'd not really gotten into before and after playing the game and having listened to it, I liked it. I became a customer of groups of people whom I was never targeted solely for the reason of the music being used in a video game I enjoyed playing, and I know that is the case for others as well. In fact, you can go to the music video pages on YouTube of a lot of the songs used in Saints Row 2 and find user comments saying they heard the song in the game and they liked it, so the proof is out there.

I think if it makes sense for your game to use licensed music, then I don't think it's a bad thing if you can afford it. So I for one don't totally agree that licensed music is a no-no for games, but I do agree you definitely don't want placeholder music being used and associated with your game.

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JonahSM1    115
Quote:
Original post by nsmadsen
Thorough thrashing... have a nice day :)


Oh my, I seem to have said much more than I thought I had in my original post! I didn't mean to imply "Oh, everything back then was way better, and everything now is shit!" I am well aware that many games 'back in the day' had horrible music. My citing of classic titles was to indicate that I know what good music can be, and what it can do for games.

That being said, I hold to my previous statement in the lack of material in the current generation (360, Wii, PS3, etc). Though I have heard some decently interesting or appropriate music in current games, I cannot think of any examples of truly iconic soundtracks (aside, of course, from extensions of previously good series such as Mario Galaxy). It is also important to note that many of the games cited as having amazing soundtracks were the blockbusters of their day. The blockbusters of today are, in comparison, lacking (otherwise, why would we all be posting in this thread?) I am also aware that nostalgia can play a strong role in determining our attachment to music. I still believe that you can objectively analyze the two side by side and clearly find a melodic, harmonic, and timbral richness and inventiveness in the great classics that is not represented in the mainstream games of today. Of course, I may just not have played the right games (I would be happy to receive a few recommendations.)

Also, I meant to draw attention specifically to the melodic aspect of the music. There seems today to be this idea floating around that if the music is too good or has too strong of a melody, it will distract and overwhelm the player. I personally find this to be absolutely ridiculous. I have never experienced this, and in fact, if a game has strong melodies and is up in the mix, I tend to be more likely to become deeply invested in the game, and I know I'm not the only one. I've had discussions similar to this one constantly with many different gamers over the past year or two, and every single person has said the same thing. The only reason I think this argument still flies is that no one has tried to prove it wrong.

Also, I have really mixed feelings about the whole interactive music thing. From a technical perspective, it's really a pretty neat idea. In practical application though, I'm not so sure about it. In the games that I've played that employ interactive soundtracks, I've not really found it to be that more effective than more or less constant tracks. At most, I get a kind of "Oh, the music changed, that's novel." It's always way too transparent to garner the subtle emotional yield of music timed to a fixed sequence like a film. I understand the difficulties associated with creating dynamic, interactive music - but if doing that prevents the music from being as potent, I don't think it's an equitable trade. I would much rather have awesome music that sets the general mood of an area than the same goddamn horn rips and taiko drums every time a guy pops out.

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nsmadsen    5578
Quote:
Original post by JonahSM1
Quote:
Original post by nsmadsen
Thorough thrashing... have a nice day :)



Where is this quote from? A search for "nice" and for "thrashing" only brings up your citation of this quote. On the actual article page there are no results for "thrashing" whatsoever. If this is in response to my reaction to your points (posted above) that is hardly a "thrashing" let alone a thorough one. :P I kept things respectful and professional.

Please do not quote me with this I haven't said but feel more than free to use what I HAVE said. :) After all, that can be misleading and is not really cool.

Thanks,

Nathan

[Edited by - nsmadsen on May 4, 2009 9:23:21 AM]

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JonahSM1    115
It was a paraphrase. I meant to indicate that I was replying to you without quoting your whole post. This is a convention of another large forum that I frequent (short, exaggerated paraphrase with a slightly silly reinterpretation.) I apologize for the confusion.
My interpretation as a 'thrashing' was in the context of intellectual discussion (where thrashings are typically very polite and professional), and was a reaction on my part to how I perceived what had occurred, i.e.
Me: (Paraphrased) "I agree with the ideas in the article that you presented that music is generally of less quality than before."
You: (Paraphrased) "Let me show you all of the ways that your logic is flawed, etc..."
In essence, since I assumed everyone in this thread would be agreeing with the ideas in the article, I meant only to post a sort of 'me too!' comment, and did not put forward any kind of logical argument. Being that I did not present an argument, I did not expect to be rebutted so soundly. Receiving such a rebuttal to something that had not been prepared in a logically sound manner then typecasts my original statement as an attempt at intellectual discussion, and thus reflects negatively on my person, implying that I was simply making an emotionally derived argument, and was completely ignorant of such phenomena as distortions by the lens of time.

Sorry to produce so much confusion both times that I posted, and I hope we can move on and continue to discuss this topic without further misunderstanding.

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nsmadsen    5578
Quote:
I apologize for the confusion.


Totally cool. No offense taken, I was more confused than anything else. More like "Did I say that? I didn't think I typed that."

Quote:
In essence, since I assumed everyone in this thread would be agreeing with the ideas in the article, I meant only to post a sort of 'me too!' comment, and did not put forward any kind of logical argument.


Interesting. I state that I didn't agree with all of the author's stances in the first sentence. Also since many (not all but many) of the comments thrown in after the article don't agree with it 100% so I wonder why you thought this.

Quote:
Sorry to produce so much confusion both times that I posted, and I hope we can move on and continue to discuss this topic without further misunderstanding.


Totally cool. Perhaps I'm a bit defensive because of this article, however I strive to bring reason and logic to my points. Many of the pros I've talked with were also somewhat insulted by this article and I do find the author's arguments somewhat weak and subjective at times. But I found the overall discussion coming out of this article (both on the gamasutra page and here) very beneficial. I know game music can continue to evolve and improve. I want to it, after all because I'm in this field! :)

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JonahSM1    115
Quote:
Original post by nsmadsen
Interesting. I state that I didn't agree with all of the author's stances in the first sentence. Also since many (not all but many) of the comments thrown in after the article don't agree with it 100% so I wonder why you thought this.


My reasoning was that 1. When you say that you 'don't agree with all of' something, it implies that you generally agree, or at least agree with some of it. 2. The majority of the replies to the article that I read, including the one that you specified as one you liked, seemed to me to mostly agree with the general tone of the article. 3. As I stated in one of my previous posts, I've had many discussions recently about the state of game music with various gamers and composers, and they overwhelmingly agreed with my stated positions.

If I may ask, which points in the original article do you agree/not agree with? Do you think that there is not a general boringness to modern game soundtracks? Also, what are some games from the current generation that you think do have 'inspired' music? (These questions are open to anybody.)

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nsmadsen    5578
Quote:
My reasoning was that 1. When you say that you 'don't agree with all of' something, it implies that you generally agree, or at least agree with some of it. 2. The majority of the replies to the article that I read, including the one that you specified as one you liked, seemed to me to mostly agree with the general tone of the article. 3. As I stated in one of my previous posts, I've had many discussions recently about the state of game music with various gamers and composers, and they overwhelmingly agreed with my stated positions.


I do agree with some points the author makes (see below). Going through the comments I see many comments that draw criticism with the author's argument, calling it either weak or not well documented. Several composers have pointed out that often times we're told by the developer what exactly to write. This is why many composers have been asking for more faith and for developers/publishers to take more risks. I saw more than just a few posts pointing out which games of the past two generations had great, iconic music. I saw several references to Video Games Live, and the two co-creators of this concert chimed in as well. So I don't see an environment where 100% of everyone agrees with this author. You feel that I agree, overall, with the author but I don't. I agree with his push for even more creativity! This is something we should always strive for! This continual pushing of the envelope should never stop. But I disagree with his stance that there has been an absence of creativity (as well as melody) in the past two generations. Has there been some crap? Sure. There will always been some in any industry. But there have also been some amazing titles put out there.

Quote:
If I may ask, which points in the original article do you agree/not agree with? Do you think that there is not a general boringness to modern game soundtracks?


I agree with the general push for more creativity and having developers/publishers/composers take more risks. I also agree that there was some great video game music written back in the 8-bit and 16-bit days. I do think there are video games released with crappy music, just like there are games released with terrible graphics or sub par game play. I also agree with his comparison to the level of detail and intricacy in current gen games vs. old "stomp n jump" games. I also love his comment developers/publishers about having a bit more faith in their composers!

Quote:
Also, what are some games from the current generation that you think do have 'inspired' music? (These questions are open to anybody.)


No, I don't think there is a general boringness to modern game soundtracks.

Well, I just got a 360 last month, so I haven't been involved with the current gen for very long. Plus on top of this I've been traveling during last month and this month (in fact I am right now) so I haven't gotten as much playing time in as I'd like. BioShock has some great music (speaking about the original score). Oblivion has a nice title theme as well as some good in-game music. Going back to the PS2 (and others) generation: God of War has an extremely good score. Metal Gear Solid (the later games were scored by an American composer) has some awesome, very impactful music. I loved the Ratchet and Clank series on the PS2 and PSP. Great, fun music. Sly Cooper has some good music, a nice interactive (but smooth) system and a red thread that helps keep the game's identity happening. The Riven and Myst scores by Jack Wall are very strong. Halo is a strong contender.

Now let me ask you a question: Do you believe there have been zero games out there in the last two generations (and this current one) that have an effective score? If so, how do you explain the ever increasing focus on video game soundtracks (both in retail sales and in concert venues)? There are numerous concerts that are selling out world wide and many of these concerts feature modern video game scores. (Side note, it feels funny to use the word modern when speaking about games that only came out 20 some odd years ago.) More and more composers are seeking this work in this industry. Film score buffs are now being contracted out for video games in between film projects. Now, it's true that a job is a job... but I haven't seen an influx of composers dying to get into the soap opera industry! Nor have soap opera scores garnered much attention by the composing world or the mass public. Video game music has. So there is something there that is making customers pay money to listen to the music and attend concerts. There is something there for other composers to feel that they can make a good career and good music in the games industry.

Thanks,

Nathan

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JonahSM1    115
Quote:
Original post by nsmadsen
Now let me ask you a question: Do you believe there have been zero games out there in the last two generations (and this current one) that have an effective score?


By the last two generations, do you mean PS2/Gamecube/Xbox and PSX/N64-era generations? If so, some of my absolute favorite soundtracks would fall under those categories. My frustration is with the current generation (PS3/360/Wii). To answer your question specifically for the current generation, no, I don't believe that there are zero games with good scores. There are games with scores that I have enjoyed, but they have either been from franchises that have always had good music or from indie games. Where the problem comes in is in new big-budget games from the multitude of new developers that have sprung up. The number of games being produced has gone up, but the number of games with good scores has not increased proportionally, leading to a higher ratio of bad to good scores.

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nsmadsen    5578
Yes, I mean the PS1 and PS2 generations as well as this current generation. Like I said before, I cannot speak with total authority about this current gen since I've had limited exposure to it. This will change as I get more time to play my 360 and get more games.

The author states:
Quote:
Original post by Brandon Sheffield
I can hardly remember the themes of any American game titles from the last two console generations, even in cases where melody would be warranted.


So by last two generations I'm assuming he means the PS1 and PS2 generations as well. Otherwise he'd say something like "the last and current generation..." but I could be mistaken. :)

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Jay Taylor    155
Without reading all the posts here I agree "somewhat"

There has always been bad music, it was just bad in other ways. There is some amazing music coming out and I think there is an integrity in game music. Gee I look to other music industries, what I hear on the radio makes me sick. Over produced garbage with robot voices. That's part of what really draws me to game audio, I don't feel that is required and I feel there is some great stuff coming out in the games world.

That said gee there is alot of generic semi or virtual orchestrated game scores coming out :S Way more of that than any thing else. And when there is something else like dark rock in a game for example, often it lacks balls.

I would like to have a bit more risk in game music so we can hear some more stuff, and honestly a bit less generic orchestrated mockups!! Over it. More rock, more electronica, more interesting & creative mix mashs of genres! If the producers and composers could unite that would be great.

Actually that isn't really coming out right. If orchestrated mockups is your strength, then fantastic! But composers, please put effort into finding "your own voice". Try to be flexible in your music to find work but also try to really find "your thang"

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Kylotan    9858
Music is arguably my first love ahead of computer games, but I do think that music just is not as important to a game as musicians would like to believe or would hope for. Of course, everybody would like to hear better music - just as we'd like everything to be better - but that's not the same as arguing that games somehow require better music. We remember great music from great games but that is probably as much halo effect as anything - few people remember great music from poor games. The vast majority of people don't play games for the music, whereas they do play for the graphics, sadly. Musicians mustn't fool themselves into thinking they are as important to the game as the designers or programmers, just as a programmer who made a VST instrument mustn't fool himself into thinking that he's as important as the musician who used it to record a track.

Another interesting pseudo-paradox is that the more important audio is to a game, the more likely that a player is going to turn the in-game music off, to avoid it interfering with gameplay by masking sound effects. Heavily audio-based games like the Thief series get around this by having very subtle ambient sound that barely qualifies as music, but that would not suit most composers.

I also totally disagree with this quote: "The fact that there are lots of great musicians out there willing to do work at cut rate deals isn't a good thing. That's a sign of how bad things are. That opens the doors for abuse by continuing to underpay those few lucky musicians who manage to get a gig. If the trend continues, newer generations of composers will dwindle."

In any popular creative area you will always get a pyramid of practitioners with far more amateurs at the bottom than experts at the top. And in all cases, the people at the very top command the big money and the people at the bottom are often working for free to prove themselves. Artists put stuff on DeviantArt or similar sites, programmers work on mods, directors put fan-films on YouTube, models do time-for-prints deals with photographers, prospective journalists are writing blogs, etc. This is a natural phenomenon of the wish to break into a competitive area.

If the presence of free music is driving down prices for the better music, then the better music obviously isn't offering enough perceived added value. That's not abuse, it's market forces. If someone can write music that is 75% as good as yours but charges 1/10th of the price, that's your problem, not the industry's. Getting snobby about it and wishing amateurs would play by your rules in order to inflate the wages of professionals is foolish at best. Composers like to think they've earned the right to be paid properly for their work. But the process of earning that right involves starting at that same point and attempting to build your skills and your brand. That's what these people are doing and it's no sign whatsoever of things being 'bad'.

The people who are really good at what they do are having little trouble with funding. I have a singer friend who was flown out from DC to California, all expenses paid, to record for a single day at Skywalker Sound for a forthcoming computer game. That doesn't sound like a low audio budget to me.

Ultimately the value of music to a game is only partly down to the quality of the music - it's also down to the kind of game it has to work with. The nature of the medium can deflate the importance of music to a point where it is lower than an equivalent composition in film. If a composer doesn't like that then they have the option of writing for a different medium.

Finally, the idea that composers will dwindle if the cash supply reduces is laughable. These multitudes of people offering 'cut-price' deals aren't doing it in the hopes of getting rich. They're doing it in the hopes of getting a job doing something that they love. They already love it even though breaking into the industry is very difficult and making a living more difficult still. CD sales are down too but there are still millions of bands writing and recording all the time. It's not like physics or electrical engineering where you can't do much without a rigorous education and expensive laboratories and workshops, where a lack of funds would have a terminal effect on development. Creation of art is not dependent on wages, it's dependent on cost, and the cost of making music is dropping. I appreciate some professionals may not like this but the trend is not going to reverse, so they will have to get used to it.

Sorry for the rant!

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nsmadsen    5578
Quote:
Original post by Kylotan
Musicians mustn't fool themselves into thinking they are as important to the game as the designers or programmers, just as a programmer who made a VST instrument mustn't fool himself into thinking that he's as important as the musician who used it to record a track.


I don't think most are thinking this. Most are just reacting to this author's stance that there has been practically no music with a decent melody in any American video game over the last two generations. Not that we have to be viewed as the most important.

Quote:
Original post by Kylotan
Another interesting pseudo-paradox is that the more important audio is to a game, the more likely that a player is going to turn the in-game music off, to avoid it interfering with gameplay by masking sound effects. Heavily audio-based games like the Thief series get around this by having very subtle ambient sound that barely qualifies as music, but that would not suit most composers.


I have no issue with this. In fact, I addressed this earlier saying that as more and more sound technology and techniques make it into video games the less music has to be ever presenting, looping continuously into infinity. Music, itself, has changed roles from a constant to a more cue approach. I think this is a good thing.

Quote:
Original post by Kylotan
In any popular creative area you will always get a pyramid of practitioners with far more amateurs at the bottom than experts at the top. And in all cases, the people at the very top command the big money and the people at the bottom are often working for free to prove themselves. Artists put stuff on DeviantArt or similar sites, programmers work on mods, directors put fan-films on YouTube, models do time-for-prints deals with photographers, prospective journalists are writing blogs, etc. This is a natural phenomenon of the wish to break into a competitive area.


Completely agree. While I hate to see folks offering up their talents and services for free, I know that it is a common occurrence in many creative industries.

Quote:
Original post by Kylotan
If the presence of free music is driving down prices for the better music, then the better music obviously isn't offering enough perceived added value. That's not abuse, it's market forces. If someone can write music that is 75% as good as yours but charges 1/10th of the price, that's your problem, not the industry's. Getting snobby about it and wishing amateurs would play by your rules in order to inflate the wages of professionals is foolish at best. Composers like to think they've earned the right to be paid properly for their work. But the process of earning that right involves starting at that same point and attempting to build your skills and your brand. That's what these people are doing and it's no sign whatsoever of things being 'bad'.


People can charge whatever they wish. While it does impact me to some degree, I don't worry about it too much. Basically the only thing I worry about is when people work for free. This is more due to designers only scoping out free work instead of good work. The issue is when you see development teams spending X on other assets and 1/10th of that on audio. Audio also usually gets the least amount of time and has the fewest people working on it. I think most composers-sound designer-audio nerds are just trying to say something like "give us a bit more resources, a bit more flexibility and freedom and you'll be surprised with what we can do!"

Quote:
Original post by Kylotan
The people who are really good at what they do are having little trouble with funding. I have a singer friend who was flown out from DC to California, all expenses paid, to record for a single day at Skywalker Sound for a forthcoming computer game. That doesn't sound like a low audio budget to me.


That's also Skywalker Sound. To use Skywalker Sound as an indication or comparison to how the rest of the audio industry is doing is really unbalanced. I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that my audio budget is a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of what Skywalker Sound has. I also have less resources and fewer clients. But I'm working on it! :P

Quote:
Original post by Kylotan
Ultimately the value of music to a game is only partly down to the quality of the music - it's also down to the kind of game it has to work with. The nature of the medium can deflate the importance of music to a point where it is lower than an equivalent composition in film. If a composer doesn't like that then they have the option of writing for a different medium.


Hmmm, I disagree. I've never felt like my music, or it's importance has been deflated by working in games. If anything I feel that I can take a stronger role than in film because it can be interactive. You're telling a story that the player actively takes part in. I don't feel that the nature of games (or films) deflate the importance of my music whatsoever. But maybe that's because I realize I'm writing music that has a role or function. It's true that some composers (or listeners for that matter) want the music to take certain stage during a film or game. (I had a discussion kinda like this on another forum about The Dark Knight score.) I strongly disagree. That's why I talked about balance so much. Sometimes the music needs to take a stronger role, like during an awesome cinematic, while other times it needs to step back and just support and enhance.

Quote:
Original post by Kylotan
Finally, the idea that composers will dwindle if the cash supply reduces is laughable. These multitudes of people offering 'cut-price' deals aren't doing it in the hopes of getting rich. They're doing it in the hopes of getting a job doing something that they love. They already love it even though breaking into the industry is very difficult and making a living more difficult still.


They're also doing it at cut-price deals because they lack the credentials of others. Take me for example: I charge more than most but less than some serious names. Why? Because I've achieved a degree of success and have established myself somewhat. I've also invested a good deal of money into my studio with pro gear. So should I not charge more than the guy that put down $2,000 on a computer system and audio software and has no credits? Should he charge as much as me? Should I charge as much as Tommy Tallarico, Aaron Marks or John Williams? Of course not. Experience and credentials matter.

Quote:
Original post by Kylotan
CD sales are down too but there are still millions of bands writing and recording all the time.


True, CD sales are down but iTunes and other mediums like it are up. So a band has to record the album in some manner, no? Then they take tours which is where the band can really profit from their work. Besides, if they don't record their albums how would any of their fans listen to their music outside of performances? How would they get radio play? This doesn't seem like a very good point.

Quote:
Original post by Kylotan
It's not like physics or electrical engineering where you can't do much without a rigorous education and expensive laboratories and workshops, where a lack of funds would have a terminal effect on development. Creation of art is not dependent on wages, it's dependent on cost, and the cost of making music is dropping. I appreciate some professionals may not like this but the trend is not going to reverse, so they will have to get used to it.


Okay, that's a bit offensive to be honest. Clearly you don't know how much pro audio gear costs. A Pro Tools HD 3 audio set up (which only consists of the audio card and interface) costs $32,000. A Pro Tools HD 1 audio set up costs roughly $10,000. Keep in mind this is only the audio card and the interface for it. Pro samples like East West Platinum costs about $900. The top of the line VSL sample package costs about $20,000. Sound FX libraries can cost in the hundreds or thousands of dollars as well. Then you have audio plug-ins that can cost a great deal. The top of the line Waves audio suite is about 7-8,000. To have a Dolby certified room can be very costly because you have to build the room to a certain spec, buy acoustic treatments which can be VERY costly. I haven't even gotten to the education part. I have a masters degree in music. That's 6.5 years of my life spent learning, analyzing and practicing music. Now, do you have to have a degree to do music? Certainly not. But there are many composers who do. They also have to know how to work all of this gear and how to manage audio. Your stance seems to be one of: "Hey, anyone can do music. It's not hard and the tools needed for it are cheap." Well, in a way yes. Just like I can spend about $100, put down some plastic and start painting. Doesn't mean I'll be very good. Doesn't mean that my work will gain any recognition. Finally, you get to the technical side of things. I know how to script audio, work with middle ware (such as Fmod and Xact), program MIDI, how to create looping and specialized samples, work with Action Script and work with specialized systems such as the Nintendo DS's method for music playback. Does the average person know all about this? Does the average bedroom composer know this? Maybe, maybe not. But it feels like you're simplifying and/or dismissing the composer's job quite a bit. At least at the pro level of expectations and responsibilities.

So getting back to the main point of this article: The author feels that there hasn't been good music, with an iconic melody in the last two generations. I disagree. Many others do as well. This wasn't meant to turn into a discussion of is music important. This wasn't meant to turn into a debate about how easy and/or cheap is it to make music for video games.

Thanks!

Nathan

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facher83    124
It is as if music gets the short end of the stick simply because many developers do not understand the importance or even the concept of music itself.

Coincidence or stubbornness? Spielberg is undoubtedly the most successful Hollywood director/producer of this generation. John Williams is always his first pick for music. Why not someone else? Because Spielberg, in interviews, acknowledged the importance of getting music, and he admits to not quite understanding things, but likes Williams to just show it to him so he can nod.


Side note.. one thing that bugs me about Nintendo is their lacking in their music department. Still using low to mid quality synthesizers/sequencers for most games, even budget games like Metroid. I'm sure Nintendo pays well, but it sure seems like there is an unwillingness to progress into more realistic sound. But then again, realism is not usually their target. I'd just love for a 'better' soundtrack on games such as Metroid and Zelda. Or, at least, when they use computer orchestras, use the real thing. These live performances that are put on by orchestras, doing game music, sound incredibly good... and it's a wonder why they don't play around more with real instruments.

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nsmadsen    5578
Quote:
Original post by facher83
Side note.. one thing that bugs me about Nintendo is their lacking in their music department. Still using low to mid quality synthesizers/sequencers for most games, even budget games like Metroid. I'm sure Nintendo pays well, but it sure seems like there is an unwillingness to progress into more realistic sound. But then again, realism is not usually their target. I'd just love for a 'better' soundtrack on games such as Metroid and Zelda. Or, at least, when they use computer orchestras, use the real thing. These live performances that are put on by orchestras, doing game music, sound incredibly good... and it's a wonder why they don't play around more with real instruments.


You do realize that this really more lies with the developer and not Nintendo, since in most cases it is the publisher. There are some titles where Nintendo acts as both. Also for some games there are severe technical limitations, even on the Wii. It all just depends on how the game is set up and how much storage space and CPU power the development team is willing to give to audio. For example, I had a DS game where my storage limit was 512k. Yep. 512k. That was for all of the musical samples. This meant I had to use lower quality samples and make them very, very short. All of this affects the music quality. So using a real orchestra or real instruments isn't always a viable option... even though from a purely musical stance it would be awesome!! Just something to think about! :)

Thanks,

Nate

[Edited by - nsmadsen on May 6, 2009 11:19:50 AM]

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facher83    124
Quote:
Original post by Kylotan
Music is arguably my first love ahead of computer games, but I do think that music just is not as important to a game as musicians would like to believe or would hope for.


The general audience doesn't understand what they are looking at or hearing. Most musicians have incredible ears compared to the general public... the bicycles I hear nearby, the trees in the wind, the computers running and 'making music' with their fans, the typing of a keyboard. In some ways, you are right. However, just because the general audience doesn't understand it doesn't mean it doesn't have an effect.

If the music is annoyingly bad, it does damage.
If the music is great to listen to and adds, it does positives.

In the original release of Star Wars Phantom Menace CD insert there is a quote saying that more general public people could hum the Star Wars title theme than have actually seen the movie itself.


Quote:
Of course, everybody would like to hear better music - just as we'd like everything to be better - but that's not the same as arguing that games somehow require better music.


Interesting idea... I keep arguing that games don't require graphics, and although I don't believe it myself when I say it, it's actually true. However, it's not really IDEAL of the general audience. I think MUDs (MMORPGs, text based) have more potential than graphical MMORPGs. But, it's not playable by many people.

Music gives something for the second viewer to listen to. Music, to the audience who isn't playing, provides a reason to be engaged... to the second audience, a game can be really boring if control is the only engaging aspect of a game.


Quote:
Musicians mustn't fool themselves into thinking they are as important to the game as the designers or programmers, just as a programmer who made a VST instrument mustn't fool himself into thinking that he's as important as the musician who used it to record a track.


Developers mustn't fool themselves into thinking music is worth what they are willing to pay for it. If the entire package sells copies, including graphics, game play, sound, everything, even story, then the better quality on each, the more sales should occur.

Developers mustn't settle for a C-class soundtrack when an A-class soundtrack could boost sales and completely pay for the better soundtrack, outright.

Developers mustn't settle for lowest-pay tactics, because in the near future, video game composing will become an undesirable career or aspiration, as you can make more money working next to minimum wage, often times.

Quote:
Another interesting pseudo-paradox is that the more important audio is to a game, the more likely that a player is going to turn the in-game music off, to avoid it interfering with gameplay by masking sound effects. Heavily audio-based games like the Thief series get around this by having very subtle ambient sound that barely qualifies as music, but that would not suit most composers.


This is one of those statements that "X does't work." My response to such statements is "X works if you do it correctly." Your sentiments are simply a result of a poorly designed and tested game. "Most" games simply have the music levels at half the volume or so of the sound effects.

There is also a difference between ambient music and thematic self-sustaining music. Obviously cut-scenes work well for film-like music... it's how the ambient is done that is critical.

Frankly I think the biggest problem with games and music is that the interactivity and complexity of graphics/control outweighs that of the music... music is the only medium that doesn't evolve as much as the others do.

Quote:
I also totally disagree with this quote: "The fact that there are lots of great musicians out there willing to do work at cut rate deals isn't a good thing. That's a sign of how bad things are. That opens the doors for abuse by continuing to underpay those few lucky musicians who manage to get a gig. If the trend continues, newer generations of composers will dwindle."[/qoute]

At least most/all of us are agreeing with that.

[qoute]In any popular creative area you will always get a pyramid of practitioners with far more amateurs at the bottom than experts at the top. And in all cases, the people at the very top command the big money and the people at the bottom are often working for free to prove themselves. Artists put stuff on DeviantArt or similar sites, programmers work on mods, directors put fan-films on YouTube, models do time-for-prints deals with photographers, prospective journalists are writing blogs, etc. This is a natural phenomenon of the wish to break into a competitive area.


Music sequencing or recording costs a lot of money. I know the entire "dedication will result in spending" idea is a fact, but consider the costs of producing a quality soundtrack at home? Minimum, several hundred dollars for a sequencer, and certainly thousands for a quality orchestral sample pack... and top-notch libraries cost many thousands, if not tens of thousands of dollars.

In short, hobby composers are weeded out by the cost of music written via computers. No amateur is going to spend a year's salary on music software like that unless they are actually producing good work.

I don't even have all that much software... I was at a state university, and some of my friends (aspiring composers) went gaga over simple sequencer (Reason 4, I believe $300-400 at the time?) and an alright sample library (SRGold Refill at around $500 or so) that I simply had and they did not.

I believe that a musician, in this field, their biggest complaint, is the perception that writing a good sounding track, and producing, is somehow:

A) Cheap
B) Quick and Easy

It's not.

Quote:
If the presence of free music is driving down prices for the better music, then the better music obviously isn't offering enough perceived added value. That's not abuse, it's market forces. If someone can write music that is 75% as good as yours but charges 1/10th of the price, that's your problem, not the industry's. Getting snobby about it and wishing amateurs would play by your rules in order to inflate the wages of professionals is foolish at best. Composers like to think they've earned the right to be paid properly for their work. But the process of earning that right involves starting at that same point and attempting to build your skills and your brand. That's what these people are doing and it's no sign whatsoever of things being 'bad'.


All the tech support for Microsoft talks to you from India. It costs them a lot of money in sales and want for a new OS. I'm sure it's "great" for their business financially, but that's short-sited ignorance. What are the other costs to operating that way? Far more than execs wish to listen to.

[quote]Finally, the idea that composers will dwindle if the cash supply reduces is laughable. These multitudes of people offering 'cut-price' deals aren't doing it in the hopes of getting rich.[/qoute]

I'm not sure about that... maybe getting rich isn't the term. "Make a living" is. This is the broader topic of the debate.

Quote:
They're doing it in the hopes of getting a job doing something that they love. They already love it even though breaking into the industry is very difficult and making a living more difficult still. CD sales are down too but there are still millions of bands writing and recording all the time. It's not like physics or electrical engineering where you can't do much without a rigorous education and expensive laboratories and workshops, where a lack of funds would have a terminal effect on development. Creation of art is not dependent on wages, it's dependent on cost, and the cost of making music is dropping. I appreciate some professionals may not like this but the trend is not going to reverse, so they will have to get used to it.


Are you sure of the costs of a quality soundtrack is? I'm not sure "cheap" is the right terminology. I can easily go out and spend 50 grand and still have leftover items on my 'wish' list.

Lets compare drastic fund comparisons:

Cheap MIDI

vs

Good VST/Sequencers


I sarcastically suggest going cheapest.. if developers only knew how cheap MIDI is... we'd be in heaven... good old on-board sound and MIDI.

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facher83    124
Quote:
Original post by nsmadsen
You do realize that this really more lies with the developer and not Nintendo, since in most cases it is the publisher. There are some titles where Nintendo acts as both. Also for some games there are severe technical limitations, even on the Wii. It all just depends on how the game is set up and how much storage space and CPU power the development team is willing to give to audio. For example, I had a DS game where my storage limit was 512k. Yep. 512k. That was for all of the musical samples. This meant I had to use lower quality samples and make them very, very short. All of this affects the music quality. So using a real orchestra or real instruments isn't always a viable option... even though from a purely musical stance it would be awesome!! Just something to think about! :)

Thanks,

Nate


I should note that, when talking about realistic media games I'm thinking along the terms of 'limit-less' data storage for the time. As far as consoles go, it's not a valid debate... What would have happened if the FF7 was told "You have to fit everything on 1 disc"?

Part of the problem is 'being limited' in general. I'd much love to discuss the theories and applications of more dynamic music, sequenced music in-game, that reacts more to player situations.. in that sense, I think music is behind the overall progress of interactive media.

The newer games such as Frequency/Amplitude and Guitar Hero/etc have driven music more in that direction... but I'd like to see soundtracks more layered and even more dynamic. I suppose I'm just wishing, though.

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nsmadsen    5578
Quote:
Original post by facher83
I should note that, when talking about realistic media games I'm thinking along the terms of 'limit-less' data storage for the time. As far as consoles go, it's not a valid debate... What would have happened if the FF7 was told "You have to fit everything on 1 disc"?


No the same argument applies. Games have never had "limit-less" storage for their time. Ever. There's still a cost factor, even when talking about FF7 and being spread over multiple CDs. This is why publishers still force developers to squeeze everything they can into the smallest game packaging possible. To save on distribution and production costs as much as possible. The only exception are the blockbuster titles that everyone knows are going to make a hefty profit: like the new Zelda or GTA franchise. Even if data storage isn't a factor, CPU resources is a major one. I'm working on two PC MMOs right now and even though we have plenty of space for music, we're told to optimize as much as possible. In fact all depts are told this. It's a completely valid debate on consoles and PC because data storage and available CPU processing affects music (and all other areas of the game) equally.

Quote:
Original post by facher83
Part of the problem is 'being limited' in general. I'd much love to discuss the theories and applications of more dynamic music, sequenced music in-game, that reacts more to player situations.. in that sense, I think music is behind the overall progress of interactive media.


Well, let's look at the situation so far. Here's what we have now:

*Music changes upon gameplay.
*Music changes upon character used.
*Music can speed up and slow down as needed.
*Music can change instruments depending on situation
*Music can become completely randomized to lessen listener fatigue.
*Musical segment orders can change depending on situation or be randomized.
*Musical samples can emulate live orchestras, rock instruments, electronic instruments and even the human voice to a high degree.
*Music (and sound) can respond to the environment (like occlusion and so on)

Does every game use all of these methods or samples? Nah. But I've seen many that do. I think the music quality and depth of interactivity have grown a huge amount. This is especially true when you consider that only a short time ago, consoles were using only MIDI and/or very crude samples and there wasn't much changing there.

Quote:
Original post by facher83
The newer games such as Frequency/Amplitude and Guitar Hero/etc have driven music more in that direction... but I'd like to see soundtracks more layered and even more dynamic. I suppose I'm just wishing, though.


Actually Guitar Hero and such came after layering techniques were a proven success in video games. They weren't driving this technology, they were making the best use of it. I remember playing games that would use these interactive methods long before I played Guitar Hero.

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