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Writing for a pirate-themed video game

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Writing for a pirate-themed video game

Postby Arun Sol - Composer » Sun Mar 09, 2014 11:21 am

A couple of months ago, I began searching for my first video game to write music for and, after contacting many different independent projects, I finally found one that was right for me: a pirate-themed video game, developed enough to show potential but no composer yet attached (a lot harder to find than I first thought!).

Anyway, here are the first two of 11 pieces I've written for it, composed entirely using GPO instruments (except the voices: that's me)... Hope you like them :)

p.s. thanks to Randy Bowser for posting on the Garritan FB page and encouraging us strays to join this community!

http://soundcloud.com/arunsol/sets/indie-pirates-3d-video-game-to/
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Re: Writing for a pirate-themed video game

Postby rbowser » Sun Mar 09, 2014 12:09 pm

Arun Sol - Composer wrote:A couple of months ago, I began searching for my first video game to write music for...
...I finally found one that was right for me...here are the first two of 11 pieces I've written for it, composed entirely using GPO instruments (except the voices: that's me)...
...thanks to Randy Bowser for posting on the Garritan FB page and encouraging us strays to join this community!


Hello, Arun - Welcome to the Forum! Thank you very much for letting me know my post at Facebook got your attention, and motivated you to come over here to MakeMusic's new Garritan Forum - We need more folks like you here in the community!

Let me offer you very hearty congratulations on seeking out and actually finding a gig in the very busy game music industry! That is just super - Goes to show that it is actually possible to get a foot in the door if a composer has enough determination.

And now I can tell you're having a blast with the gig, because this Pirate theme you've posted is sparkling with energy, sounding so perfect for the project.

I think you've used a lot of Instant Orchestra patches in this? It would be interesting to know more specifically what all you used.

Voices--? I listened twice, but couldn't pick out any voices. Maybe you used your voice in a different mix?

Allow me two pieces of critical feedback: To get closer to that epic, quasi-movie soundtrack sound expected in a game track like this, I really feel you need to get a higher level of reverb into the track. I can't tell what size room you're using, but I suggest you inch it up until you start hearing more of that big John Williams sound. If it's still not right, then a larger venue would be needed, a huge opera house, something like that.

The other note is I feel this would have even more impact if its quantization could be loosened up. I think this is a rendering directly from Finale? If so, maybe you can choose a Human Playback setting which is a bit more natural sounding. And then, of course, a lot of users use a second program, a DAW software program to produce their music more completely - and that involves getting rid of rigid quantization, for one thing.

I know the piece is highly rhythmic, and you don't want it to be loose and flabby, but I still think a more natural sounding lack of quantization would help create the illusion more completely of a big, real orchestra playing the piece. Gamers have come to expect cinema-like sound, and you've come close - I'm thinking you can get even closer.

SIDE NOTE about SoundCloud: I'm not a big fan of SoundCloud, and am sorry to see it so commonly used nowadays, but at least for now, it seems to be the MP3 Player of the time. Something that REALLY annoys me about it is how it automatically advances to the next piece after the first MP3 is played. I clicked on the player embedded in your message - Then I wanted to take another listen, but beyond my control, it was then playing a different piece. The only way I could get back to this Pirate piece was to re-load the page. That's a pretty primitive way to control a media player. Maybe there's some setting available on your user page which prevents this default action of automatically advancing to the next track?

I have a question - So you have this gig with the game company - How involved are you with the technical aspects of getting the music into the game? I suppose that's the job of someone else. But maybe you could tell us in a reply about what kinds of technical considerations you have to deal with when writing cues like this. I have no idea how it works, and would be interested to hear some info.

THANKS for the post - Hope this reply has some useful info and questions in it for you.

Randy B.
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Re: Writing for a pirate-themed video game

Postby kingfreeze » Sun Mar 09, 2014 5:44 pm

congrats on your contract. it sounds very piratey to me, awesome !
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Everywhere you go...there you are !
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Re: Writing for a pirate-themed video game

Postby Arun Sol - Composer » Mon Mar 10, 2014 10:03 am

Thanks so much for your replies!

Randy, it's rare to have that sort of well-balanced constructive criticism: both highly encouraging and precise with suggestions. I REALLY appreciate that and would like to reply in detail...

Foot in the door

Randy, when I was trying to figure out how to get my "foot in the door", I first started random searches on the internet and came across this article:

http://www.leonwillett.com/leonwillett. ... Games.html

Have you read it? I found it very clear and simple: I didn't follow it to a T, but it did give me some really really useful advice which I followed, for example:

• find a project that’s “ripe”: developed enough so that it’s not years and years away from being ready... but having no composer yet on board (as I mentioned before, this is harder than it sounds! Lots of emails with no replies, or replies saying “sorry, we already have a composer”... it took me about a week before I found the right team)

• don’t sell yourself as an “I-can-do-anything” composer... although it’s true that we can all probably write in any style, I’m pretty sure game designers are more excited about working with someone who has a particular style in mind.

• this point is related to the previous one: write something in the style of the game you’re going for and show them that: don’t just show the game designer a list of random cool stuff you've done.

I have to admit that the gig I have is zero-budget (at least for the moment) and I’m sure there are professional composers who might have some other great tips to share, but I’m very pleased to have this foot in the door. I believe (read “hope”) it will lead to paid gigs in the future but, more importantly, I have had sooo much fun working on it!

Tools

I’m using Cubase SX and Garritan Personal Orchestra (GPO) which I bought about 8 years ago. GPO is where I got all of the instruments which I programmed note-by-note with MIDI. It’s all been mixed in Cubase.

Is that the sort of info you were asking about?

Voices

Your comment that, even after 2 listens, you couldn’t spot the voices, is veeery informative for me... The voices begin at 0:55 and chant basically the same notes as the instruments and there is heavy reverb on the voices (partly to mask the lo-fi recording I did using the pin-sized mic on my iMac). This could explain why they’re so hard to spot.

My aim was for them to but quite subtle, but not so subtle you don’t notice them: in a new mix, I will work on bringing them out!

Reverb

I definitely want that “epic” feel so I will experiment with some different reverbs: thank you for the advice!

Quantizing

As you say, it’s heavily quantized. I don’t know if Cubase SX has a “Human Playback” setting, but I can definitely tweak the programming: because it’s MIDI programming, note-by-note, it will be easy to add some minor imperfections to the rhythm without letting it become “flabby” ;) Again, great suggestion.

Soundcloud

So far, I’m quite happy with Soundcloud: but you made a good point about the lack of control. My guess is that it won’t allow me to control what happens at the end of a song... but I will investigate!

Writing for games: technical considerations

Because the game is still fairly early in its development, I haven’t actually heard the music “in” the game, and I have no idea about the programming element of incorporating music into the game: this will be done by the others in the team.

However, I have been heavily involved in deciding what sort of music is needed, and how it will be “triggered” in the game... and because it’s zero-budget and I’m really passionate about the project, I’ve had a lot of discussions with the game designer and he’s given me a lot of freedom. Basically, I’ve written 11 full pieces (most between 60 and 150 seconds in length). I started by just going for an exciting/adventure feel and, as I discussed it with the game designer, I ended up covering the following game scenarios in this pirate universe: enemy approaching, battle, low-life, lose, victory, calmer menu music and credits. Quite often, I would just write a piece and then we would decide later how to use it. Also, I have done the sound FX, but that’s another story...

I don’t know if that answers your question about “cues”... does it?

***************

So, thanks once again for your replies: they’re deeply appreciated! And stand by for a new version of the piece based on your feedback :)

Arun
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Re: Writing for a pirate-themed video game

Postby rbowser » Tue Mar 11, 2014 8:56 am

Hi, Arun - Thanks much for the reply. Lots of information and things to respond to here - And first of all, I'm glad that my earlier reply seems helpful to you. It's always appreciated when feedback is appreciated!

I'm going to pick out a few things to reply to, but it's not as if anything I haven't included from your post wasn't interesting and informative - I just want to zero in on a few things:

Arun Sol - Composer wrote:...when I was trying to figure out how to get my "foot in the door", I first started random searches on the internet and came across this article:

http://www.leonwillett.com/leonwillett. ... Games.html


Nice! I've never looked for information like this, since I've really never thought of trying to compose for games, so that article was enlightening. It's great how enthusiastic this author, Leon Willett, is in wanting to share what he found to be a way to succeed in this market. Excellent. There's a game enthusiast at the original Garritan Forum who should read this if he hasn't, so I'll post it there for him to see.

Arun Sol - Composer wrote:...I’m using Cubase SX and Garritan Personal Orchestra (GPO) which I bought about 8 years ago. GPO is where I got all of the instruments which I programmed note-by-note with MIDI. It’s all been mixed in Cubase...


Ah, OK - Interesting. I thought you were using some of Instant Orchestra's "instant bigness" patches which are basically fast ways to get big, juicy layers of sound. Impressive you did it all with GPO.

Arun Sol - Composer wrote:...Your comment that, even after 2 listens, you couldn’t spot the voices, is veeery informative for me... The voices begin at 0:55 and chant basically the same notes as the instruments and there is heavy reverb on the voices (partly to mask the lo-fi recording I did using the pin-sized mic on my iMac). This could explain why they’re so hard to spot...


Thanks for pointing out where to listen for the voices.--- Still couldn't hear them. What it sounds like is maybe an extra amount of reverb on the low notes, but I can't identify the sound as voices.

Wanting to have voices in this brings up a couple of things: It sounds like you need to get yourself an actual audio interface that has XLR plugins, as well as a good microphone. Life is so much easier when you're not dealing with the flimsy, inadequate interfaces that come built in to computers.

But it's interesting you were recording your voice for this - Why not use a virtual choir so you can much more easily get that cinematic, chanting choir effect you're after?

Here's something being used by a lot of people now because it's very inexpensive - just $20. It's a stripped down version of the full program, but still has a lot of oomph in it:

Olympus Micro Choir from Soundiron

Arun Sol - Composer wrote:...I definitely want that “epic” feel so I will experiment with some different reverbs: thank you for the advice!...


Using a larger reverb at higher levels will be the easiest, quickest thing that will make your clients love what you're doing even more. Since this is in the big, bold, cinematic style, with Pirates as the subject no less, you defintely want to go HUGE!

Arun Sol - Composer wrote:...As you say, it’s heavily quantized. I don’t know if Cubase SX has a “Human Playback” setting, but I can definitely tweak the programming: because it’s MIDI programming, note-by-note, it will be easy to add some minor imperfections to the rhythm without letting it become “flabby”...


OK - I'll pass on some tips on that important topic:

--Like many people, you're using your DAW program rather like a notation program, since you're entering the notes by hand. That works of course -But the work is so much faster and more automatically "humanized" if you use a keyboard. IMPORTANT to note is that you don't have to be a proficient keyboard player to get a lot of use out of a MIDI keyboard. You're a musician, so you're able to pick out melody lines on a keyboard. You can record just one measure at a time even - I often do that. You have the next bit in your head, you play it and record it - if some notes are just too far out of the pocket, they're easy to correct in the Piano Roll View. So - if you don't have a keyboard, I highly recommend you get one, even one of those small things with just a couple of octaves.

--Also, with a keyboard, MIDI CC data can be recorded in real time. That's 100 times faster than drawing it in, and the results are much more natural. It's so easy to play back a project, and record the volume performance for each instrument in real time with either CC1 (Mod Wheel) or CC11 (Expression Pedal).

--Inserting notes by hand doesn't mean the notes Have to be quantized. In the Piano Roll View, all DAW programs have a grid that show you the measures graphed out according to the note value. You can see where the quarter notes go, where the eighth notes go, and so on. TURN THE SNAP-TO-GRID FUNCTION OFF and just aim your cursor to the area where you know the note's supposed to be, and put it in - It'll be a bit off, and that's exactly what you want - Instantly not-quantized.

--If you're dealing with things like 32nd runs, then it can be easier to go ahead and have the Snap To Grid function on, but then there are routines most programs have which will introduce a randomization to the start times of the notes. I use Sonar, and there's a Random Time filter. If I've had to do a a section with quantization due to especially tricky timing, like 16th note triplets or something like that - I'll select that section, run the filter, and it instantly shifts notes randomly, some forward, some backwards.

--Hand inserting notes results in velocity values at all the same level, and of course that's another factor adding to the mechanical sound of the results. Those need to be edited by hand in the PRV. In Sonar, you can sweep through, editing the values of large groups of notes at a time, and there's also a Velocity dialogue that can add randomization, percentages etc - I'm sure Cubase also has something of the sort.

--When working with velocity values, remember that the higher the value, the sharper the attack, and vice versa.

So, if you're only doing pieces by hand inserting notes, you can still work in a way that doesn't lock you into quantized results. In the MIDI realm, slightly sloppy is MUCH better than robotically perfect. Carefully study any professional recording you care to name, and you will hear how an important part of the live sound of an orchestra/band is that none, and I mean NONE of the musicians are starting notes at absolutely precisely the same time. That kind of natural imperfection is wise to emulate.

Arun Sol - Composer wrote:...I have no idea about the programming element of incorporating music into the game: this will be done by the others in the team...


Ah, Ok - That is one thing I've wondered about concerning game music - I thought maybe the musician/composer had to know all the intricacies of getting the loops working with the game. But I suppose you Do need to be concerned with the beginning and ending of a section? - I mean, the end of a given segment needs to lead smoothly back into the beginning so it's smooth, right? Or maybe you tell the team to loop it back to a certain measure, after an intro for instance, so that the opening bit isn't repeated?-- Do you have to be concerned with how one theme flows into another, so that the segments sound good together no matter in what order they're triggered? - You can see, what all is involved is still a bit mysterious to me.

Anyway - You're doing really nice work. Hope there's some useful stuff for you in this new post. Hope to see you here at the Forum again soon!

Randy
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Garritan Organs demos of all 75 stops

"Dorian Gray"

Hardware:

Roland A-800 MIDI keyboard controller
Alesis i|O2 interface
Gigabyte Technology-AMD Phenom II @ 3 GHz
8 Gb RAM 6 Core Windows 7 Home Premium x64
with dual monitors
User avatar
rbowser
 
Posts: 494
Joined: December, 2013
Reputation: 50
Software Owned:
ARIA Player v1.626
ARIA Engine 1.665
GPO4
JABB 3
COMB 2
Instant Orchestra
Garritan World
Garritan Classic Pipe Organs
Garritan Harps
Garritan Authorized Steinway
Garritan Stradivari solo violin
Garritan Gofriller solo cello

Sundry soft synths:
Dimension Pro, EZDrummer, over 50 others

Sonar 8.5 (have but don't use Sonar X1)
Sony Sound Forge 10
Sibelius 7

Video editing: Cyberlink Power Director 11

Re: Writing for a pirate-themed video game

Postby Arun Sol - Composer » Thu Mar 13, 2014 9:14 am

Wow Randy: another incredibly generous and informative post :)

Rather than reply straight away, I'm going to - and have already begun to - experiment with many of your suggestions. It is a slow but exciting learning process and once I have some more concrete responses in the coming weeks, I'll post in detail. But I just wanted to write to say a massive "thank you" and that, once I again, I truly appreciate your help! Stand by for updates...
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