Identity in trailers, cutscenes and cinematics (for the game music composer)

Image of video game composer Winifred Phillips in her music production studio, regarding images from the DC Dual Force project.

By Winifred Phillips | Contact | Follow

Hello there!  I’m video game composer Winifred Phillips, and I’m glad you could join us for the continuation of our four-part discussion of traditional “scoring-to-picture” techniques within a video game project.  We’ve been examining the music needs of cinematics, cutscenes, and trailers, with an eye towards pinpointing specific goals that music can achieve. Those goals include:

  1. Characterization
  2. Information
  3. Identity
  4. Narrative

In our previous articles we thought about how music can accentuate the believability and importance of characters, and how music can help players absorb and digest information.  So let’s move on to the third item on our list of goals:

Identity

Now that we’ve discussed how linear music can help a game convey both information and characterization, let’s take a look at one of the most ubiquitous uses of linear music in game development – the trailer.

This illustration supports a discussion of game trailers, as included in the article by video game music composer Winifred Phillips.

Many game trailers use licensed music that has nothing to do with the game, and some game trailers simply employ in-game music that has been edited to fit the visuals.  However, there are times in which a game developer will commission custom music specifically for a trailer.  I’ve taken on these commissions repeatedly, and they’re always an interesting challenge.  During these commissions, I may be scoring the trailer of a video game that also features my music during gameplay, but that isn’t always the case.  Regardless, my job as a trailer composer is to help reinforce the game’s identity, in the hopes that viewers will be excited to play it.  The trailer essentially tells viewers what the game is, and why they should care.  Essentially, the composer’s job is to do the same.

I went into a bit more detail on this topic in my book, A Composer’s Guide to Game Music, so here are a couple of excerpts that pertain to trailers:

A Composer's Guide to Game Music is an award-winning book covering the art and business of game music composition. The book was written by Winifred Phillips (video game music composer).

“If we are asked at the end of the project to create original music for a game trailer or commercial, this request is likely to pertain to the marketing and public relations efforts of the publisher rather than the development work of the team. Sometimes, in the effort to orchestrate a buildup of excitement prior to the release of a game, a series of trailers or commercials are created. In many circumstances, these videos feature music already written for the game and do not require any new material. However, it is possible that the public relations and marketing departments will need us to supply new music for this purpose.”  (Chapter 9, pg. 154-155)

“When the game developer and publisher begin using our music heavily in their trailers to reinforce the identity of their brand, we can take that as the most sincere compliment we’ll receive from the development and publishing team. They consider our music to be an iconic expression of their game.”  (Chapter 6, pg. 113-114)

As we’ve discussed, the music in a trailer is often constructed as a method of reinforcing the identity of the game.  As an example, let’s talk about the trailer for DC Dual Force, a digital collectible card game featuring the heroes and villains of DC Comics.

An image illustrating the card selection from the CCG DC Dual Force, as discussed in the article written by video game music composer Winifred Phillips.

The DC Dual Force trailer premiered during the DC Fandome event –  a one-day online convention packed with all the top DC-related announcements and news pertaining to related projects (including the forthcoming DC Dual Force game).  The game starred all the best and most awesome DC characters – such as Wonder Woman, Superman, Batman, and The Flash.  So, of course, the game warranted a thoroughly epic trailer.  Of course, DC fans are well aware of the famous musical motifs for these popular characters, but the game’s trailer wouldn’t have access to any of those.  Nevertheless, it was my job to create an original musical score that would stay true to the identity of these great DC characters and resonate with fans.

A depiction of heroes from the DC Dual Force video game. This game is discussed in an article about music used in trailers, cutscenes and cinematics, as written by video game music composer Winifred Phillips.

After studying the history of music for DC Comics projects, I focused on brass-led, triplet-driven heroism for the instrumentation.  For structure, I leaned heavily into the kinetics of the trailer, constructing the music to move in concert with the way the visuals were cut, and the way characters and objects flew in and out of frame.  Everything I did with the music was designed to instill tons of assertive oomph into the trailer, to correspond with the identity of the franchise.  Let’s see how that worked:

Now as a contrast, let’s look at a very different trailer that nevertheless pursues similar goals.  Horse Club Adventures is a game franchise based on the expertly hand-painted figurines created by Schleich.  Developed in Germany by Wild River Games, this equestrian video game series premiered in 2021.  Because of the tremendous international success of the first game, Schleich and Wild River released a new entry in the franchise in the fall of 2022.

The logo image for the Horse Club Adventures franchises, as discussed in the article by Winifred Phillips, award-winning game music composer.

As the composer of the in-game music for the franchise, I was commissioned to create music for the announcement trailer that would precede the release of Horse Club Adventures 2.  Here is another example of a trailer needing an original musical score that would stay true to the identity of a well-loved franchise and resonate with its fans.

Promotional image for Horse Club Adventures 2, illustrating a discussion of the composition of trailer music for this project. The article is written by game music composer Winifred Phillips.

Like the DC Dual Force trailer, the Horse Club Adventures 2 announcement trailer doesn’t present any appreciable narrative.  Instead, it focuses solely on the core gameplay mechanic of riding horses through an idyllic environment.  In composing the music, I kept the style narrowly focused on a relaxing folk-music sound, but structured the composition to build intensity based on the way the trailer is edited.  Starting with a flourish that emphasizes the company logos, the music weaves guitars, harps, ukuleles and bells into a peaceful rhythm that escalates when the riders urge their mounts into a gallop.  Piano arpeggios warm the texture as the trailer cuts to a wider view of the charming town, and then the music ramps up to an assertively thematic finish as the game’s logo appears.  Everything about the musical score leads directly to the logo reveal, reinforcing the identity of the project.  So let’s see what that’s like:

With that, we’ve concluded this examination of the ways that music can emphasize a game’s identity during a visual presentation such as a trailer.  In our next article, we’ll be exploring how music can support and propel a cutscene, cinematic, or trailer that is specifically focused on the narrative element.  Until then, thanks for reading!

 

Video game music composer Winifred Phillips works 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, Facebook, and Instagram..

Information in trailers, cutscenes and cinematics (for the game music composer)

Winifred Phillips is a BAFTA-nominated video game composer, and the author of the book A Composer's Guide to Game Music. This photo depicts Phillips at work in her music production studio.

By Winifred Phillips | Contact | Follow

Hey, everyone!  I’m video game composer Winifred Phillips, and I’d like to welcome you back to our four-part discussion of traditional “scoring-to-picture” techniques within a video game project, and how these play into our work as game composers.  We’ve been looking at examples of cinematics, cutscenes and trailers to see how this kind of linear composition style accomplishes specific goals.  That list of goals includes:

  1. Characterization
  2. Information
  3. Identity
  4. Narrative

In our previous article, we took a look at how music can best emphasize and support characters during cutscenes and cinematics. By using linear music for the purposes of characterization, we can accentuate the distinct traits of important characters, or provide insight into their state of mind.

Now, let’s consider when our music composition goals are less emotional, and more utilitarian.  In this article, we’ll be moving on from characterization to take a look at how information is conveyed in linear cinematics and cutscenes.  When the primary goal of a cinematic is to provide players with important details, we can assist by composing music to support the way information is disseminated.  This can help players to better absorb all the facts presented.

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Characterization in trailers, cutscenes and cinematics (for the game music composer)

Photo of BAFTA-nominated composer Winifred Phillips at work in her music production studio. Phillips' projects include titles in six of gamings biggest franchises: God of War, Assassin's Creed, Total War, LittleBigPlanet, Lineage, and The Sims.

By Winifred Phillips | Contact | Follow

Glad you’re here!  I’m video game composer Winifred Phillips thanks for joining us!  As we all know, dynamic music has become a central focus of our craft as game composers. In our past articles here, we tend to focus on the awesome power of dynamic implementation to increase the utility of game music across lengthy gameplay sequences.  In-game music serves many purposes, so it must morph and change in order to best accommodate shifting circumstances.  However, no matter how interactive our in-game tracks may be, we inevitably run into situations in which dynamic music systems fall short.

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

In her music studio at Generations Productions, Winifred Phillips is pictured here composing music for her video game projects. 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

Delighted you’re here!  I’m video game composer Winifred Phillips.  Welcome to the fifth and concluding installment in this article series based on my Game Developers Conference 2022 presentation, “Composing for Lineage M: Modular Construction in Game Music.”  You’ll find the entire contents of my GDC lecture in these articles, accompanied by all of the included videos and some of the images from the Powerpoint presentation I used during my conference session.

During the previous four articles in this series, we learned about how NCSoft ported the original world-famous Lineage PC game from 1998 to mobile devices under the name Lineage M.  We discussed how the launch of brand-new DLC content for this mobile port raised an unusual conundrum.  How does a modern game composer create new music that will work effectively within a game engine originally devised in the 1990s?  In the previous articles of this series, we discussed the popular DLC release of Lineage M: The Elmor, and I described what it was like creating new music for such an awesome game with an amazingly long history and enduring fanbase.

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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.

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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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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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