Top 3 tips when writing music for video games
If the chords and melody work on a piano, most of the time, it translates to other instrumentation. I aimed to write the most memorable melody possible that would be used as a recurring motif to complement certain points in Moira’s story. So, it was incredibly important to nail it from the start, and make sure the music returned to this core emotion throughout. Here’s the orchestral version of “Journey of the South.”
Tip 2: The motif is your friend
Once you have a strong melody in place, it’s really important to place it at pinnacle parts of the story. Use it wisely!
It will create a sense of nostalgia and emotion. Take “Aeris’s Theme.” During Final Fantasy VII, whenever something important happens to the character, the melody is dropped in, and players form an emotional connection with it as they do the same with Aeris. When she dies, and the melody returns, it feels like a final goodbye, and a reminder of what you’ve been through with the character.
This is a pretty subconscious process – as a player, you’re probably only aware of hearing the theme about half the time that it occurs, but it’s there, working its magic! And it may not appear in exactly the same form. It’s about deriving motifs from the original theme – different enough to feel clever and versatile, similar enough to direct your mind back to that emotion.
For example, compare “Aeris’s Theme” and “Flowers Blooming in the Church.”
Listen and see how they have essentially the same melody from “Aeris’s Theme”, despite the different structure and slight variations. And here are a couple of examples from the CotS trailer. The heroic theme is there, which I later strip back to piano-only.
Tip 3: Keep it seamless, yet interesting!
A smooth player experience is important when writing music for game, but so is mixing it up if you really want players to connect with the music and respond with emotion.
These people have lent you their ears for a considerable period of time – if you give them a two-minute loop that repeats itself at uninspired moments, and jars with their gaming experience you could turn them off quite quickly (I’ve had this many a time with certain games!) They could potentially hear the same song dozens of times – don’t hit them round the head with it!
A series of subtle surprises is key, and something players always appreciate. Introducing new ideas is an integral tool for keeping users interested in the game, encouraging them to keep playing by enhancing the experience.
Take the boss theme for CotS. The rest of the soundtrack for the game is largely orchestral, so here, I wanted to heighten the drama by introducing electric guitars and picking up the pace. People need to feel transported into a new “place”, and experience a sense of urgency and pressure.
And, crucially, notice how when I repeat the verses, I swap in and out new instruments (can you hear the eerie piano notes?) and in the final chorus, I double up the number of drum kicks, to keep up the excitement. I also almost completely drop the song just before the final chorus, which amps up the impact when it comes back in.
So, those are my top three tips for writing music for game. Thanks for reading!