Ocular Audio

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  1. Communication is a Game Development Skill

    Excellent article. Hit this nail right on the head
  2. Manipulation Magic - The Harpsichord

    Thanks very much. Really nice to know it's had an impact. What's the game if you don't mind me asking? Or can't you say at the minute.
  3. Before any music was composed for Black Shuck it was key to put thought into what sound palette would work for the purpose of the game. Details of the game and references from the development team led us to agree that keeping the audio quite minimalistic, dark and atmospheric would be the best option. This isn't a game that requires a Hollywood style score. But rather one that plays with the consumers emotions. This needed to be portrayed not just with the gameplay and visuals but also with the audio. In the next few entries in this development blog I will discuss how some of this has been achieved. As the game is set in the Georgian Period it made sense to me to use instrumentation that would have existed around that time. One of the key instruments of that period was the Harpsichord. Looking back at reference words and music though, the Harpsichord by itself didn't quite fit the bill sonically. This is where production techniques were utilised to help transform the Harpsichord into an instrument that sonically would work better. Below you can hear an unprocessed, very basic chord progression played on the Harpsichord. As you can hear the instrument is quite brash and in your face. As this game requires some more atmospheric, darker tones some production has to be be done to get a tone that suits. https://soundcloud.com/ocularaudio/black-shuck-harpsichord-chords-unprocessed/s-SJOI5 Below you can hear processed versions of the chord progression and also a note that has been time stretched and reversed. As I'm sure you will agree these are far from the original sound of the Harpsichord. https://soundcloud.com/ocularaudio/black-shuck-harpsichord-chords-processed/s-oZtjk https://soundcloud.com/ocularaudio/black-shuck-harpsichord-processed-note-reverse/s-koO1x The screen shot below shows what processing was involved on the chord progression. The equaliser eliminated a lot of the high end of the instrument, pushing it further back into the stereo field by taking away the higher frequencies. The clip distortion then added some grit to the sound. This is then followed by chorus, flange and delay. Such production techniques are useful as you can still use an instrument that is say relevant time period wise but doesn't quite suit the mood of the game. So by steering away from using standard sounds or presets, you can increase your sound palette by manipulating the audio.
  4. How To Make Videos For Games

    Great article Kirill
  5. Been a bit of a gap between the last dev blog and this one. Have been a bit busy up until recently but back on the ball now. I am inclined to say that the planning stages of audio creation are the most important and pivotal to the overall outcome. It is during the planning and research stages that you allow your mind to explore the different possibilities. If you just dived into composing you could get so focused on the music that you wouldn't pay attention to the timbres being used and what would best suit the game. During this planing stage references are incredibly helpful. In the early stages of speaking about the audio for Black Shuck, Chromium Gamesroom were very clear about references. As well as providing musical references they also sent through images so a grasp could be taken on the environment of the game. All of these helped a great deal. Such images can be seen on their website - http://www.chromium-gamesroom.com/BlackShuck Reference images, music and key words allowed me to start putting a sound palette together. Knowing the game is set in the Georgian Period gave me the ability to utilise instruments of that period. But rather than just using them as they are it was more interesting to implement some audio production techniques to help them suit the game better. This will be further demonstrated in future dev blogs. The topic of references again harks back to that of good communication between all people involved in the project. Being able to communicate expectations and ideas clearly is critical to success in every walk of life. This is especially true when working as an outsourcer and not always being in the heat of the development so to speak.
  6. If there is one part of the current project I am extremely grateful for it is that of clear communication. When composing for a project it is often all too easy to get wires crossed and for each party to not understand what the other is trying to say. Throughout this project though this hasn't been the case. From the very get go the developers (Chromium Gamesroom) have had the clearest of ideas of what they want and have portrayed it perfectly. I believe this is down to very careful planning and also research. Their planning has allowed them to create a very insightful document which breaks down characters, scenes, scenarios, emotions, key words and locations into very concise areas. This document has allowed both sides to asses what each area requires with regards to audio. Clear communication came into play today after I had sent over some drafts of audio. Some areas of my audio were needing refinement. Rather than just saying they didn't like them, I got nearly a whole A4 page of notes, explaining where they think it could be refined, what they liked, what they didn't like. There was clearly a lot of though put into it. It's this sort of communication which makes a project so much easier. And outsourcers really appreciate it as they get concise feedback. I don't think this is just the case for audio professionals but anyone who is outsourced for a job. Their research led them to have very clear views of the sort of style they wanted the audio. However I haven't been restrained in my creativity. In fact quite the opposite. I have been able to treat some of the composition like sound design and really go against what I would usually do. Which is very challenging and rewarding. Both of these areas are key when planning not just the audio but also the game overall. Like any project, for it to be a success a solid plan needs to define every step. As my Dad would say about construction; measure twice, cut once. Always refine and then execute. Yes there will be mistakes along the way but they will help you learn and develop and overall make the whole project even better. I can't share any audio just yet, but a trailer is being released soon and I will breakdown the audio to explain how it fits with the concept of the game.
  7. With the blessing of the guys at The Chromium Gamesroom I have decided to start this development journal as a means to reflect on the whole experience of composing for a video game. As well as covering composing and production aspects of music I aim to highlight in as much detail the relationship between developer and composer, what struggles are encountered, etc. I shall soon follow this up with another post and post as regularly as I can whilst working on this sound track. Posting audio updates will be pivotal at points to illustrate areas. So I aim to do this as much as I can as long as the developer is happy with it. My wish is that this makes some interesting reading. If it doesn't then at least there's something to read to remind me of how bad I am at writing developer journals. Ciao for now
  8. Composing Music For Video Games: Chords

    Hi Elbenko,   Thanks for your kind words. Very much appreciated. I agree a lot of musicians do learn these principles early on. However I have also noticed in many films I have watched and games I have played the score simply not working. It's as if they aren't paying attention to what is happening when composing. They are just writing and using something that sounds nice. It's very disappointing but sets apart the good composers from the bad I suppose. Couldn't agree more about the use silence. I am currently working on a game where using a minimalist approach can be utilised very effectively.    Thanks for the suggestions for another post. Will definitely try to cover these at some point when I get the chance. Thinking about this and other posts the game I am working on have agreed to let me do a developers blog from the audio guys perspective. So delving into the creation of music for a game. I shall make a note to try and include areas such as these in the blog, and how they can be utilised. I'm hoping the blog will be useful for developers to see the game from an audio point of view and how important it is. 
  9. When composing music for visual media, especially films, TV shows, adverts and video games, it is key to be able to reinforce musically what is happening on the screen. Two areas that establish the mood of a composition is that of the key and the tempo. Further to the video tutorial that covers these areas briefly, this article was produced to delve into a bit more in depth about the choice of key and feel of the tempo. Although the initial post was related to composing for film the same musical techniques can be applied when composing for video games. This article is purely an introduction to one small side of composition. It is part of a larger series that is intended to inform both new composers and developers. The Youtube video which accompanies this article to help demonstrate what is discussed can be viewed below: Know Thy Character & Environment When considering what to compose it is important to grasp the character's personality, morals and attitude in the visual, as well as the environment they are in. We need to learn and get to know the person the actor is portraying. When it comes to putting music to the visual, it needs to suit every aspect of the scene down to the last detail like "What is the weather like?" or "What season does the scene look like its been shot in? Does it have an essence of summer about it or does it look cold like winter?" We can then take these details and enhance the emotions that need to be accented. We're massive Star Wars fans and love the work of John Williams. The music he composed enhances the scenes. Think of the'Imperial March' when Darth Vader walks in. It wouldn't have worked so well if he would have marched in to the sound of 'Waterloo' by Abba! So how is this acquiring the right tone and ideas for a scene achieved? One of the techniques we use is to find key words that associate with the characters and the environment in the visuals. Here are some of the examples we came up with when watching the Grazia Fetish advert: Environment: Shady, Noir, Erotic, Gloomy, Street lit Character: Devious, Flirtatious, Enticing, Seductive, Silky (model's movements) Starting with the environment, we can establish immediately that it's very dark, subtly lit with hints of red, purple and blue. This makes the scene feel like it is set outside at night time and the only light available is from neon shop lights and street lights. The elements of shade and rain portray a 'dark' feel, there's nothing really happy and joyous about the environment. Looking at the model's personality in the scene, she gives off this mysterious, flirtatious persona. The way in which she speaks with her body language, the way she opens her eyes slowly, the way she turns to look at the camera, the way in which see runs her hand up and down her leg, they are all very silky smooth movements. What is she trying to say with all these looks and movements? Every smile she gives off has a hint of seductiveness and 'up to no good' intent about them. The look in her eyes gives off a mischievous and luring impression. We may even go as far as to say she has the "Hey, big boy" look! As the scene unfolds the "Erotic" meter gets turned up the more it goes on. That straight, serious face that we see at the start becomes a raunchy, playful smile. So how can this translate musically? Through the choice of key, utilising a minor one for example to put emphasis on the 'dark' feel, and also through tempo. Let's discuss key first. Major Or Minor? The reason why we try to pick major and minor keys for compositions is for the emotional feel. Essentially the harmony of the chords and the choices of notes in the melody portrays the feel and emotion of the piece. We associate 'major' as a happy feel and 'minor' as a sad vibe. Before we go any further into this, we need to remember for every major key, there is a relative minor and vice versa. The relative minor is found 3 semi-tones below the route note of the major scale. I have chosen C major for this example because there are no sharps or flats, I have also added the names for each chord to show how the harmonies are the same. C Major Scale: C, Dm, Em, F, G, Am, Bdim, C. A Minor Scale: Am, Bdim, C, Dm, Em, F, G, Am. As you can see, both scales share the same notes and chords. The only difference you can see from this example is that one scale starts on a different note to the other. So what's the difference if they are both the same? The difference is in the 3rd and 6th notes of the scale. For example, in the major scale, the gap between notes 2 and 3 (D & E) are a tone apart. Whereas it is only a semi-tone apart in the minor scale (B & C). This difference in the scales are what make the major and the minor scale sound the way they do. So to conclude, for us to achieve the mood we wanted to give in the clip, it was about choosing a minor key and minor chords that set a solid foundation to build a melody on. One that will enhance the visuals. Tempo This particular composition is set to 91 BPM. This tempo works so well with the visual not just because of how it links with the cuts of the shots, but also because of how the groove falls into place. If you watch the full advert for instance there are two points (00:46 & 01:18) which the tempo of the track plays a key role in emphasising what happens visually. Let's discuss one of these points, at 00:46, when the snare hits on the beat as she lifts her head. The drop of the music before the snare hitting adds to the rise in the composition that follows by allowing it to breath. If you look at her face, she looks as if she is about to overcome a situation and has a certain 'driven' look. It was this point that was key to emphasise and the tempo allowed for this to happen perfectly. If the track was faster it would lose the groove and feel rushed, if it was slower it would lose the pulse and lack the edge it has. There are a few things that I want to mention that make up the composition that the tempo directly corresponds to. Let's start with the rhythm section, the foundation and groove of the piece. The drums are very straight which allows the bass to slot nicely into place with that 'pulsing' feel. To add extra attitude and rawness to that pulsing bass line is 2 distorted guitar parts, the first one being a palm muted 8th note rhythm to reinforce that rhythm section and the other was a "this one goes up to 11!" guitar tone that rings the chord out on each chord change. All this gives that raw edge to the composition that it needs. Lastly, notice how simple the rhythm section is. Its primary objective is to create that pulsing rhythm that many would consider "the groove" allowing space for the lead part to shine on top of it. Another element in this composition to briefly look at is the string part and the end section with the guitar solo. These add depth into the emotion of the song. A good place to start with when writing a lead part is to emphasise on chord tones, notice again how simple the string parts are, highlighting certain notes of the chord that add flavour and draw attention to a particular element of the chord. Very simple, but effective. Lastly, credit to a great guitarist, Ben Monaghan, for the guitar solo at the end. Personally, I've played with many guitarists who judge a good solo with how much smoke they can create from the fretboard. Ben came up with clever little phrases sitting slightly in the back of the mix interweaved with a synth line bringing a little extra to the final progression of the song. These are just some of the things that went into constructing the composition for this advert. I hope this article has inspired you and given you fresh ideas to try out for your own work. Joe Gilliver & Dan Harris www.ocularaudio.com Contact - joe@ocularaudio.com
  10. As with previous articles this article does not aim to cover this area in depth but to provide a rudimentary understanding to aid individuals looking for such material. The material is intended to help not just composers new to the field but also give developers a better understanding of audio. Major and Minor Chords Chords come in all shapes, sizes and flavours. The most common though is the major or minor triad. A major triad consists of the root note, the major 3rd and the perfect 5th intervals with relation to the root note. To keep it simple, if we are in C major then the C major triad is C, E and G. The minor triad is exactly the same except that the third is flattened and therefore a semitone lower. So a C minor triad will contain an Eb rather than an E. If you have a positive, happy scene on screen and the story needs positive reinforcement then a major chord is going to help this. A minor chord, with its 'sad' tones will not suit it. Going further than the minor chord we can then flatten the fifth interval and arrive at a diminished chord. The diminished chord isn't a pleasant construction at all. Take a listen to the three examples: C - Cm - Cdim The dissonance created of the diminished chord leaves us feeling very uneasy. Although these diminished chords don't have much use in today's chart music, they can be used in certain settings. For example creating tense music for a suspense scene. It is that flattened 5th interval that causes so much tension. The diminished chord also always appears more intense when played on instruments with a lot of harmonic content, such as brass and bowed string instruments. Listen to the examples of the following instruments playing a C diminished; Brass Strings Xylophone Compared to the xylophone the brass and strings portray greater power, emphasising the diminished chord. The less complex harmonic content of the xylophone is not as brash, and therefore less aggressive. We won't go into too much detail here regarding instrumentation when composing, as that will be covered in a later article. But this is a good example of how using different instruments for different chord sections can help emphasise the feeling of a chord. Suspended Chords In the first tutorial key words were discussed to help plan out the emotional and tonal feel of a scene. These reference words are key when thinking of chord choice and chord progressions. A happy, uplifting, romantic environment will benefit more from major chords than minor chords. As long as the storyline calls for it. Sometimes juxtaposing what is happening visually with the music can help lead the consumer to feel differently towards the visuals. For instance introducing and uneasy and uncertain tone to a scene where two people appear happy. Therefore providing an undertone to some other area of the overall storyline. As just mentioned, this can be useful when undertones to the storyline need to be portrayed. This is always good for themes where things are 'too good to be true'. Composing music that creates uneasiness and suspense will encourage consumers to listen to their 'gut feeling' that something isn't right, and not just rely on the visuals for how they feel. It is when composing such cues that suspended chords can be very useful. A suspended chord is a chord whereby one interval in the chord, we'll use a triad to keep it simple, is replaced by another interval. For instance a C major chord will become a Csus4 if the third (E) is removed and replaced with the fourth interval (F). Likewise a Csus2 is created by removing the third and playing a D in its place. Take a listen to both of them in the examples. Csus4 - Csus2 As you can hear from these two chord examples they both have different feels to them. The Sus 4 chord reinforces a more major tone. This is due to the fact that the suspended 4th interval is closer to the major 3rd than it is the minor 3rd. And if in root position this chord contains both perfect 4th and perfect 5th intervals relative to the root note. The only chord this doesn't correspond to is the diminished chord, as there is no perfect 5th interval in a diminished chord. The Sus 2 chord however leans towards a more minor feel, as the suspended 2nd interval is closer to the minor 3rd than the major 3rd. Now you can hopefully see how these chord constructions can be useful. By utilising suspensions you can help guide emotions by not overly emphasising the happy or sad tones of the chord. Another example (just to reinforce some more) in the key of C we have the chord A minor, by changing the third (C) to a suspended fourth (D), it softens the blow of the minor chord, or maybe opens up an avenue to modulate. Modulation will however will be covered in another article. Suspended chords are great to end with as they give a great cliff hanger. In other words, the composition does not feel like it has fully resolved because of no reference to a major or minor key. As referenced in the video this is perfect when composing for video games. It is common in video games for sections of music to loop seamlessly. If using the same two or three chords over and over the music could get boring and repetitive very quickly. However, utilising a suspended chord at the end of a progression, or at various points throughout, can help make the transition of a repeat better. It also helps add interest as the chord tones give a different flavour. Chord Extensions & Compounds This is a subject which is very extensive within itself. Extensions and compounds are additions to chords beyond the basic triads. For example, a Major 7th is an extension on a major triad. As different genres of music utilise different extensions for different flavours, it is too large of a subject to cover in simplicity. However, they are worth reading into further if you have the time as they can help add lots of character to existing progressions. Movement & Inversions One very important aspect of composition is how chords work and progress together. Chord progressions are staple part of songwriting and composition. It is vital to be able to piece together chords in coherent progressions in order to create an overall piece of music. Before discussing chord progressions though it is useful to mention inversions. An inverted chord is made when a note from the chord tones other than the root is played in the root position. For example, a C major chord in root position is played C-E-G. 1st inversion would be E-G-C. And 2nd inversion would be G-C-E. Third inversions do exist but only for chords that contain more than three notes (extensions & compounds). For example, having a CMaj7 chord and putting the B (major 7th interval) in the bass. We will keep it simple for the purpose of not getting overly complicated at this point. If you would like to read more, there is plenty of material elsewhere on the internet. How can inversions be used when composing you ask? Well let's consider a very simple chord progression, the good old I - IV - V (1 - 4 - 5). If this progression was to be played with all of the chords in root position the movement would be disjointed and not flow particularly well. Yes it would still work, but if playing on the piano your hand would be all over the shop. This is because the root is always at the bottom of the chord. So you will be moving from C up to F, then to G and then down to C again. Take a listen to the following example so you can hear for yourself. Root Position Movement How can this be played in a manner whereby the hand moves less and therefore the chords flow better? Let's try the two options below. OPTION 1 - C in root position (C - E - G), followed by F in 2nd inversion (C - F - A,) and finally G in 2nd inversion (D - G - B). Let's hear what that sounds like... OPTION 2 - C in 2nd inversion (G - C - E), followed by F in 1st inversion (A - C - F), and finally G in 1st inversion (B - D - G) As you can hear in both cases you are minimising the movement between not only the bass notes of the chords, but also of the other intervals. Take a look at some of the midi from these and this will be even clearer. The above examples give testament to how utilising inversions can help make the movement of chords easier. This knowledge I (Joe) have found to be very useful when composing pieces for a string section for example. The string parts flow better when the chords are closer together. - Joe Gilliver & Dan Harris (Ocular Audio)
  11. Composing Music For Video Games: Chords

    Hi Fafase,   Thanks for posting a comment mate. Much appreciated feedback. And great idea on posting references. I'm actually going to be doing some full game audio break downs of projects I work on where it gives in game examples. On these I will likely speak of inspiration and references. I have to be honest I completely forgot to include in this article. I was to focused on making sure the content made sense. 
  12. Composing Music For Video Games: Chords

    And now a subsequent explosion happened in my head!  Great article BTW, I'm starting to dabble in music for my game since it's so silent....this was quite helpful to get me started (along with some of your other articles).   Thanks very much for the kinds word. Hope it helps out and if you need any advice at all then please inbox me and I will help out where I can.
  13. Composing Music For Video Games - Key & Tempo

    Hi Buckeye,   Many thanks for your feedback on the video. I am inclined to agree on parts and must say this is a fault due to being new at video casting. The video clips for future articles I do intend to be shorter or more to the point. Alongside this I will also include short musical clips within the articles to illustrate points. 
  14. Composing Music For Video Games - Tempo

    Thanks tnovelli. It certainly is a challenge and I find plenty of prior planning the best way to help with composition. I find it's not the sort of composing where you can simply starts playing away and piece it together. Like you can with a popular song. In some ways it can kind of kill the creativity. But I like the challenge of composing and producing with certain restrictions. It challenges you more and makes you adapt. Rather than just putting a nice chord progression together with a melody.
  15. Composing Music For Video Games - Tempo

    Hi Matmilne,   Thanks for your response and I completely agree. However this singular post is part of a series. The first of which is already on here and the next of which I am currently writing/doing the video for. These tutorials as stated at the start are an overview of areas composers need to be aware of when working with visual media. And they aren't specifically aimed at us composers who already have experience, but people looking to get into the field.