Segmentation for Modular Game Music (Composing for Lineage M: GDC 2022)

Pictured working in her music studio at Generations Productions, As a video game composer, Winifred Phillips' credits include games in the franchises The Sims, Total War, Assassin's Creed, LittleBigPlanet, and God of War. In this photo, Phillips is pictured at work in her music production studio.

By Winifred Phillips | Contact | Follow

So happy you’ve joined us!  I’m video game composer Winifred Phillips, and this is the fourth article in my series based on my Game Developers Conference 2022 presentation, “Composing for Lineage M: Modular Construction in Game Music.”  I’ve included the content of my GDC lecture in these articles, along with the videos and some of the images I used in my Powerpoint presentation during the conference.

In the first three articles of this series, we discussed the port of the popular Lineage PC game from 1998 to mobile devices under the name Lineage M, and the subsequent launch of brand-new content for this world-famous game in the DLC release Lineage M: The Elmor.

This is an official promotional game image supporting a discussion of game music composition within a modular system, as described by video game music composer Winifred Phillips.

I described what it was like creating new music for this venerable game over the course of those three articles.  By developing a music system with a modular approach, the awesome audio team at NCSoft and I sought ways to best maximize the utility of the music for Lineage M: The Elmor, while accommodating a game engine designed in the 1990s.  You’ll find all these ideas discussed in detail in these three articles:

Part One: Techniques for Modular Game Music (Composing for Lineage M: GDC 2022)

Part Two: Structure for Modular Game Music (Composing for Lineage M: GDC 2022)

Part Three: Stemming for Modular Game Music (Composing for Lineage M: GDC 2022)

We just concluded our discussion of the role that stemming plays in the modular approach.  In general terms, we’ve explored how rhythms, melodies, countermelodies, and instrumentation can be structured as discrete components intended for multiple configurations. In the case of Lineage M, the game engine wouldn’t accommodate a dynamic implementation – but we did have the ability to compile the modules and then prepare a large assortment of configurations as one-shots. Everything was in the same tempo and key – all the modules were compatible – we had lots of options.

While dynamic construction is primarily designed to allow music to react fluidly to gameplay, it also extends the utility of music by maximizing every single aspect of it. If the original composition is constructed with a modular approach, it becomes immediately more applicable to multiple circumstances in-game. For Lineage M, the expert audio team at NCSoft and I used the modular approach to avail ourselves of as many of the options afforded by dynamic construction, despite the limitations.

This image illustrates how a modular approach allows music to become more applicable to multiple circumstances in-game, as described by video game composer Winifred Phillips.

So now, before we begin looking at the implementation of this system in the game, I first want to talk a little bit about the global menu music I composed for Lineage M: The Elmor. Unlike in-game music, global music is designed to accomplish intrinsically different objectives, so it has to be approached from a fresh perspective.  I discussed the definition of global music in my book, A Composer’s Guide to Game Music (The MIT Press):

This is the cover of the MIT Press book A Composer's Guide to Game Music, written by video game music composer Winifred Phillips.

“We all know that the word “global” refers to something that pertains to the whole world.  For our purposes, a global track is a piece of music that can be played anywhere in the game.  Such music has no stylistic connection with any particular in-game site or event, and would be appropriate in any location or circumstance.  These tracks tend to be heard most frequently and therefore are very important in defining the musical style of the game… A menu track is a piece of music triggered whenever the player activates a type of options list that temporarily pauses the action and simultaneously blocks the player’s view of the game…. As long as the menu can be accessed throughout the game, it can be considered global.”  Chapter 9, pages 148-149)

In Lineage M: The Elmor, the global music consisted of compositions for the user interface menu and the game’s splash screen (i.e. the top screen that appears immediately when players launch the game). Unlike the in-game music, these UI and splash screen compositions made a sharp departure from the key and tempo that governed the rest of the musical score. Nevertheless, the user interface music was also a modular construct; so let’s explore that.

Like the in-game music, the user interface music consisted of a collection of modules. Since the music wouldn’t be used during gameplay, we focused on thematic rather than kinetic utility. We didn’t need lots of variety in terms of pacing – the rhythm wouldn’t need to scale broadly between different levels of tension and excitement. Nevertheless, the music was going to be used for multiple menus and during some storytelling moments, so it had to be flexible for those purposes.

In composing the user interface music, I focused primarily on sections as the primary modular unit. The music is highly sectional, with lots of contrasting thematic content including choir. This was also an opportunity for me to have some fun with the overly gothic aspects of this game.

This illustration supports a discussion of the modular system applied to user interface music in a video game project, composed by Winifred Phillips (BAFTA-nominated video game music composer)

Since Lineage M: The Elmor revolves around a Grim Reaper-inspired character, I based the user interface music on the Latin text of the Requiem mass, specifically focusing on the portions that describe an ultimate judge delivering justice during the day of reckoning. The idea seemed thematically appropriate.

This image includes the lyrics of the user-interface music for a project discussed in this article, written by game music composer Winifred Phillips.

I’ve included the full Latin lyric and English translation for the user interface music below:

LATIN

Dies irae, judex est venturus!

Dies irae, dies illa!

Quantus tremor est futurus,

Quando judex est venturus!

Juste judex ultionis,

Donum fac remissionis!

Rex tremendae majestatus!

Culpa! Culpa rubet vultus meus!

Quid sum – quid sum miser tunc dicturus?

Quantus – quantus tremor est futurus!

Quando judex – judex est venturus!

Dies irae!

Quando judex est venturus!

ENGLISH

This day of wrath, the judge shall come!

This day, this day of wrath!

How much trembling there will be,

When the judge shall come!

Righteous judge of vengeance,

Grant the gift of release!

King of awful majesty!

Guilt! My face reddens with guilt!

What shall I – what shall I, a wretch, say then?

How much – how much trembling there will be!

When the judge – the judge shall come!

This day of wrath!

When the judge shall come!

When the music was used during the game’s launch screen, the modular system focused on the most thematic sections of the score, leaning heavily into the choral passages. Here’s a video of the game’s launch screen, so that you can see how that works.  The Latin here translates as, “This day of wrath! How much trembling there will be, when the judge shall come!”

Having the music under the launch screen convey strongly thematic content was a great way to assert a musical identity for the game, and convey an inherent sense of mood and momentum. The music was also written in distinct modular sections, which allowed for the order of musical ideas to be juggled around. When moving forward into the character selection menu – the user interface music shifted its order, deleting some of the thematic passages, so that the music could focus more narrowly on orchestral content:

This is a simple example, but a great way to show how the same piece of music can accomplish different tasks depending upon what content is emphasized, and what content is omitted. The Splash Screen communicates identity and personality by virtue of the assertive choir passages and the liturgical influences. The character selection menu focuses on kinetic energy and a more modern swagger, with the guitar power chords and the string ostinatos.

While choir passages were deemphasized in character creation, they came back in-game during a narrative cutscene. This was a situation in which using only one modular element from a larger composition worked very well. In this narrative scene, the choir from the Splash Screen music was used completely by itself.

This illustration supports a discussion focusing on how one modular element from a larger composition can be isolated and used during user interface music, in this article written by game music composer Winifred Phillips.

Hearing that choir singing the Latin text of the Requiem Mass a capella conveyed a nicely spooky atmosphere while the player character interacted with the Grim Reaper. So let’s check that out:

A modular system like this one is all about transformations. Music is built up in complexity, broken down into simplicity, disassembled into components, mixed and matched to create new textures and musical ideas. A full mix will have a dramatically different emotional impact in comparison to the same music broken down into just a few structural elements. And those structural elements – an isolated melody line, a repeating pattern, a fragment of rhythm – those things feel dramatically different when removed from their original contexts and transplanted elsewhere in the game’s musical score.

This graphic flowchart illustrates how the transformation of musical ideas is facilitated by a modular design. The article was written by Winifred Phillips (video game music composer).

In our next article, we’ll be delving into practical considerations for the modular system during gameplay.  Until then, thanks for reading!

 

This is a photo of game composer Winifred Phillips, working on her projects in her music production studio.Winifred Phillips is a BAFTA-nominated video game composer whose latest project is the Jurassic World Primal Ops video game (the official game of the blockbuster movie Jurassic World Dominion).  Other recent releases include the hit PlayStation 5 launch title Sackboy: A Big Adventure (soundtrack album now available).  Popular music from Phillips’ award-winning Assassin’s Creed Liberation score was featured in the performance repertoire of the Assassin’s Creed Symphony World Tour, which made its Paris debut in 2019 with an 80-piece orchestra and choir. As an accomplished video game composer, Phillips is best known for composing music for games in many of the most famous and popular franchises in gaming: the list includes Assassin’s Creed, God of War, Total War, The Sims, and Sackboy / LittleBigPlanet.  Phillips’ has received numerous awards, including an Interactive Achievement Award / D.I.C.E. Award from the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences, six Game Audio Network Guild Awards (including Music of the Year), and three Hollywood Music in Media Awards. She is the author of the award-winning bestseller A COMPOSER’S GUIDE TO GAME MUSIC, published by the MIT Press. As one of the foremost authorities on music for interactive entertainment, Winifred Phillips has given lectures at the Library of Congress in Washington DC, the Society of Composers and Lyricists, the Game Developers Conference, the Audio Engineering Society, and many more. Phillips’ enthusiastic fans showered her with questions during a Reddit Ask-Me-Anything session that went viral, hit the Reddit front page, received 14.9 thousand upvotes, and became one of the most popular gaming AMAs ever hosted on Reddit. An interview with her has been published as a part of the Routledge text, Women’s Music for the Screen: Diverse Narratives in Sound, which collects the viewpoints of the most esteemed female composers in film, television, and games.  Follow her on Twitter @winphillips.

Stemming for Modular Game Music (Composing for Lineage M: GDC 2022)

Video game composer Winifred Phillips was nominated for a BAFTA for her work composing music for the LittleBigPlanet franchise (other projects include games from the franchises Total War, The Sims, Assassin's Creed, and God of War). Phillips is pictured her working in her music production studio at Generations Productions LLC.

By Winifred Phillips | Contact | Follow

Welcome!  I’m video game composer Winifred Phillips.  I’m glad you’re here for this third article in my series based on my Game Developers Conference 2022 lecture, “Composing for Lineage M: Modular Construction in Game Music.” My GDC presentation explored the top creative and technical challenges of creating a flexible music system for a game with a retro design.  This article series shares most of the content of that GDC presentation, along with the videos I included in my presentation at the conference.

In the first two articles of this series, we explored the power and awesome popularity of retro gaming.  We reviewed the history of the world-famous Lineage video game franchise, including how the original Lineage PC game from 1998 found its way to modern mobile devices in 2017 under the name Lineage M.  I shared my experience as the chosen composer of the music for a new DLC release for Lineage M, and what it was like composing the first new gameplay music for the original Lineage MMORPG in over 24 years.

An official game logo and cover image, as included in the article written by video game composer Winifred Phillips.

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Structure for Modular Game Music (Composing for Lineage M: GDC 2022)

BAFTA-nominated video game composer Winifred Phillips is pictured here working in her music production studio at Generations Productions. Phillips' video game credits include music for games in the famous franchises Lineage, Total War, God of War, Assassin's Creed, LittleBigPlanet, and The Sims.

By Winifred Phillips | Contact | Follow

Hey everybody!  I’m video game composer Winifred Phillips.  Thanks for joining me for this second article in my series based on my Game Developers Conference 2022 lecture, “Composing for Lineage M: Modular Construction in Game Music.”  In my GDC presentation, I discussed my work composing music for a recent installment in the famous Lineage franchise (one of the most popular MMORPG game series ever made).  This article series will share the content of that GDC talk, along with the audiovisual samples I included in my presentation at the conference.

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Techniques for Modular Game Music (Composing for Lineage M: GDC 2022)

In the Generations Productions music studio, video game music composer Winifred Phillips is pictured here working on projects. Phillips is best known for composing music for games in the franchises Assassin's Creed, Total War, God of War, Lineage, The Sims, and LittleBigPlanet.

By Winifred Phillips | Contact | Follow

Hello there!  I’m video game composer Winifred Phillips.  At the most recent Game Developers Conference, I was pleased to present a lecture as part of the conference’s audio track.  GDC is a top video game industry conference, packed with expert sessions supplemented by an array of awesome opportunities to network and learn.  Whenever I give a GDC presentation, I like to include the content of my lecture in my articles here, so I’m now kicking off a five-part series of articles based on my presentation in March!  In these articles, I’ve included the substance of my GDC presentation, along with most of the multimedia materials I used to illustrate concepts during my lecture.  So let’s get started!

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Video Game Composers: Thematic Approaches to Game Music (GDC)

Pictured working in her music studio at Generations Productions, Winifred Phillips is a BAFTA-nominated video game composer of music for games in the franchises God of War, Assassin's Creed, Total War, Lineage, LittleBigPlanet, and The Sims.

By Winifred Phillips | Contact | Follow

Hey everyone!  I’m video game composer Winifred Phillips, and I’m excited to share that I’ll be giving a talk at the upcoming Game Developers Conference!  My talk is entitled, “Composing for Lineage M: Modular Construction in Game Music,” and it’s taking place on Wednesday March 23rd at 10:30 am PT (1:30pm ET).  In my presentation, I’ll be focusing on my experience composing music for a game in one of the most successful video game franchises of all time – the Lineage MMORPG franchise from NCSoft.  During my talk, I’ll be sharing details of the music composition process for this awesome project, including how thematic content was incorporated into the matrix of musical components that formed the structure of the Lineage M musical score.

I won’t be getting into much detail about the substance of my upcoming GDC presentation in this article.  However, it occurred to me that musical themes are a popular discussion topic that has come up in many of my past GDC presentations.  With that in mind, I thought I’d offer a short review of the subject, including some content from a few of my previous GDC talks.  I’ve confined this discussion to my GDC sessions that are now available to view for free in their entirety via the videos list in the Game Developers Conference Official YouTube channel.  You’ll see that I’ve embedded the full-length YouTube videos of those talks below, in case you’d like to see the lectures in their entirety.  For each of these presentation videos, I’ve also included a few short lecture extracts that touch upon the relevant subject matter.  So let’s get started!

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Hybrid Linear-Dynamic Music for Game Composers (From Spyder to Sackboy: GDC 2021)

This captured image from the GDC 2021 lecture of video game composer Winifred Phillips includes details of a discussion of the music of the video game Spyder.

By Winifred Phillips | Contact | Follow

Glad you’re here!  I’m video game composer Winifred Phillips, and I’d like to welcome you to the sixth and final installment in my article series based on my GDC lecture – From Spyder to Sackboy: A Big Adventure in Interactive Music!  Last year I had the privilege of working with Sumo Sheffield on music composition for two projects in simultaneous development – Sackboy: A Big Adventure for PS5/PS4, and Spyder for Apple Arcade. (Above you’ll see a photo from one of the sections of my GDC lecture in which I’m discussing the Spyder project).  Both the Sackboy and Spyder projects incorporated highly interactive music into their design.  While both projects included the basic dynamic models of horizontal and vertical structure, they each brought new twists and quirks to these ever-popular music implementation methods.  Since I spent a lot of time bouncing back and forth between the two projects, I got a chance to see how malleable interactive music systems can be when employed creatively.  Now, I’m glad to share my best experiences and observations creating music for these two awesome projects!

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Hybrid Dynamic-Diegetic Music for Game Music Composers (From Spyder to Sackboy: GDC 2021)

During the Game Developers Conference 2021, video game composer Winifred Phillips delivered a lecture that included a discussion of her music for two projects, including the project pictured here (Spyder for Apple Arcade).

By Winifred Phillips | Contact | Follow

Hi!  I’m video game composer Winifred Phillips.  Welcome to installment five in my series of articles based on my lecture, From Spyder to Sackboy: A Big Adventure in Interactive Music.  In delivering my presentation at this year’s edition of the popular Game Developers Conference, I based my lecture content on my experiences composing music for two projects in simultaneous development at Sumo Sheffield – Sackboy: A Big Adventure for PS5/PS4, and Spyder for Apple Arcade.  (Above you’ll see a photo from one of the sections of my GDC 2021 lecture in which I’m discussing the Spyder project).  The music design for these two games included multiple dynamic systems that were both complex and ambitious in scope.  While they both relied on some of the most tried-and-tested strategies for musical interactivity, they were also quite innovative in their own distinctive ways.  While composing music for these projects, I had the opportunity to see how flexible dynamic music models can be.  I learned a lot from the experience, and it was really interesting to explore the similarities and differences during my GDC 2021 lecture!

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Hybrid Horizontal-Vertical Structure for Video Game Composers (From Spyder to Sackboy: GDC 2021)

This screen from the GDC 2021 lecture of video game composer Winifred Phillips was taken during the discussion of how success is recognized by the dynamic music system.

By Winifred Phillips | Contact | Follow

Delighted you’re here!  I’m video game composer Winifred Phillips, and I’m very happy you’ve joined us for this latest entry in my series of articles for video game composers, based on the lecture I gave during the Game Developers Conference 2021 – From Spyder to Sackboy: A Big Adventure in Interactive Music!  Over the previous year, I had the privilege of working with the expert development team at Sumo Sheffield on music composition for two fantastic projects – Sackboy: A Big Adventure for PS5/PS4, and Spyder for Apple Arcade.  (Above you’ll see a photo from one of the sections of my GDC 2021 lecture in which I’m discussing the Sackboy project).

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Pure Vertical Layering for Game Music Composers (From Spyder to Sackboy: GDC 2021)

This image is captured from the GDC 2021 presentation of award-winning video game composer Winifred Phillips.

By Winifred Phillips | Contact | Follow

So happy you’ve joined us!  I’m video game composer Winifred Phillips, and I’d like to welcome you to the continuation of this series of articles based on my lecture from GDC 2021 – From Spyder to Sackboy: A Big Adventure in Interactive Music!  Using the example of two of my projects from the previous year, I explored the contrasting models of dynamic music design employed in two games –  Sackboy: A Big Adventure for PS5/PS4, and Spyder for Apple Arcade.  (Above you’ll see a photo from one of the sections of my GDC 2021 lecture in which I’m discussing the Spyder project).  Both Spyder and Sackboy were developed by Sumo Sheffield and featured whimsical characters and situations.  Each of the two projects had a long list of music requirements and strategies that were dramatically different.  In composing music for these two games, I learned a lot about the flexibility of dynamic music systems.  Since I worked on music for both games simultaneously, it was fascinating to make comparisons between the two projects after the fact.  Preparing my GDC presentation became an exercise in understanding how flexible video game music can be.  If you haven’t had a chance to read the previous two installments of this series, you can read first about Horizontal Resequencing and Song Structure, and then Horizontal Resequencing & Dynamic Transitions.

As we discussed in the previous article, interactive music design is highly contextual. The circumstances dictate our choices.  No single method can be considered the best way, or the right way. Working on these two projects at the same time, I came across this idea over and over again.  

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Horizontal Resequencing and Dynamic Transitions for Game Music Composers (From Spyder to Sackboy: GDC 2021)

From the GDC 2021 presentation of video game composer Winifred Phillips, this image depicts the section of Phillips' lecture discussing horizontal resequencing in both the Spyder and Sackboy: A Big Adventure videogames.

By Winifred Phillips | Contact | Follow

Welcome!  I’m video game composer Winifred Phillips, and I’m happy you’ve joined me for the second installment in this series of articles based on the content of a lecture I gave during the Game Developers Conference 2021.  My talk was entitled, “From Spyder To Sackboy: A Big Adventure in Interactive Music.”  In my presentation, I compared and contrasted the interactive music design of two of my video game projects from the previous year.  Both projects were developed by one of the game industry’s top development studios – Sumo Sheffield.  Both projects included ambitious dynamic music systems, using similar techniques and approaches.  However, there were lots of differences in the execution of those techniques.  This series of articles explores the similarities and differences between the dynamic music design of the popular Sackboy: A Big Adventure game for PS5/PS4, and Spyder for the new Apple Arcade (a great platform for supporting larger-scale game development for iOS).  (Above you’ll see a photo from one of the sections of my GDC 2021 lecture in which I’m discussing the music systems of both of these projects).  If you missed the first article in this series, you can find it here.

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