Game Developers Conference: Ask Me Anything about being a video game music composer

Promotional photo used in connection with the Ask Me Anything session with video game music composer Winifred Phillips, taking place as a part of GDC Summer 2020.

By Winifred Phillips | Contact | Follow

Hey everyone!  I’m videogame composer Winifred Phillips.  GDC 2021 is coming this July 19th to the 23rd, and I’m excited that I’ll be giving a talk during this year’s conference!  My talk is called, From Spyder to Sackboy: A Big Adventure in Interactive Music, and I’ll be sharing more details about my talk as the conference gets nearer.  Once again, GDC will be a fully virtual game industry event this year.  I think all of us who have participated in GDC’s awesome online events over the past year have really enjoyed the experience.  Considering the long list of structural and logistical changes that had to be made, it’s amazing how smoothly everything went!

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Composer Interview: GDC Showcase Game Music Q&A

Pictured: video game music composer Winifred Phillips, at the Moscone Center in San Francisco giving her GDC speech. This photo is included in the article about the GDC Showcase event in 2021.

By Winifred Phillips | Contact | Follow

This March, the GDC held their first-ever Showcase event.  This online gathering provided the game development community a chance to get together and share expert knowledge in the time window usually occupied by the full-fledged Game Developer Conference in San Francisco.  Completely free of charge, this event featured talks fromThis image includes the time and place details for the GDC Showcase lecture, Homefront to God of War: Using Music to Build Suspense, given by award-winning video game composer Winifred Phillips. the GDC Vault: a repository of lecture videos from the long history of the conference.  During Showcase week, GDC curated a selection of lectures from their illustrious history and spotlighted those talks in live-streams accompanied by enthusiastic text discussions in an accompanying chat box.  One of my lectures from a previous GDC event was featured during this GDC Showcase, and I was happy to participate in the chat discussion, answering questions and providing additional resources.  My lecture was entitled, “Homefront to God of War: Using Music to Build Suspense,” and you can watch the entire video of my lecture for free at this link in the GDC Vault.

While the videos remain a part of the GDC Vault, those chat discussions from GDC Showcase are no longer available in any form.  I found the chat conversation during my lecture session to be lively, intelligent and tremendously worthwhile, so I preserved the text of the discussion and I’d like to share portions of it here. As we all know, these sorts of text-chat discussions don’t really allow for lengthy answers, and often the questions fly by so fast that there’s little time to elaborate on ideas.  With that in mind, I thought I’d expand on some of the topics brought up during my GDC Showcase session.  You’ll see that I’ve organized this article under topic headings, quoting the original chat excerpts and then adding a few additional thoughts to flesh things out.

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Composer Interview: Examining the Craft of Video Game Music Composition

Photo of video game music composer Winifred Phillips in her music production studio. This photo illustrates the awards and accolades received by the music of the Spyder video game.

By Winifred Phillips | Contact | Follow

Glad you’re here!  I’m video game composer Winifred Phillips.  Last year, I participated in an online discussion session during a popular live-stream chat event hosted by Video Game Music Academy.  The lively conversation that took place there seems worth sharing at this point.  What follows is a partial transcript of the most substantive conversation from that hour-long session.  I was interviewed by public school music teacher Daniel Hulsman.  At the time, one of my projects had just released – the Spyder game for Apple Arcade – which had won a Global Music Award that year and was also nominated for a NAVGTR Award (pictured above).  Much of the discussion focused on that project, but it also touches on my work in other games, and the topics broaden out to encompass more of the top issues pertaining to the craft of video game music composition.  You’ll see that I’ve also included a few videos here and there to supplement the transcript and illustrate the discussion.

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The Big List 2021: Resources for Game Music Composers

Photo of game music composer Winifred Phillips, pictured in her music production studio at Generations Productions LLC. This photo was taken while Phillips was delivering her presentation for GDC 2020.

By Winifred Phillips | Contact | Follow

Glad you’re here!  I’m videogame composer Winifred Phillips, and every year I compile a “big list” of the top online resources available for game audio folks.  It’s an evolving list that expands each year as more awesome professional tools and great networking opportunities become available.  However, before we begin, it’s important to acknowledge what the Covid-19 pandemic has done to our industry this year.  While the games themselves are as popular as ever, those of us making assets for these games are working under extraordinary circumstances.  It’s harder than ever to meet face-to-face, and our community can feel a bit fractured and distant.  With that in mind, let’s kick off this list with a look at how we’re connecting with each other in the time of the coronavirus, exploring how conferences and events have adapted to our socially-distant world this year.  In doing so, I’ll be sharing some videos from conferences that took place entirely online, including the full-length video of the talk I gave in 2020 at the Game Developer Conference (pictured above).  After that, we’ll once again explore the best available resources in the form of online community groups, software applications, and academic institutions with wellsprings of expert knowledge to share.

So if everybody’s ready, then let’s get started!

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Video Game Music Concerts in 2021

Photo of video game composer Winifred Phillips, pictured standing in front of the official poster for the Assassin's Creed Symphony concert tour.

By Winifred Phillips | Contact | Follow

Hi!  I’m videogame composer Winifred Phillips.  These are the times that try our musical souls, with live concerts enduring an avalanche of cancelations and postponements due to the Covid-19 pandemic.  For our community as game music composers and game audio pros, this means that most video game concert tours have gone silent.  As one of the composers whose work was featured in the Assassin’s Creed Symphony World Tour, I was honored to join the players onstage during the Montreal performance last year (pictured below).  It was a thrill to have my music from Assassin’s Creed Liberation performed in Berlin, Milan, and all around the world.

Photo of game music composer Winifred Phillips onstage during the Montreal performance of the Assassin's Creed Symphony worldwide concert tour.

Now, I’ve sadly watched as the coronavirus postponed the entire UK leg of the tour, with no resumption date as of yet. This fate is common to live concert events around the world.

While we all have reason to be sad about this, there is some light in the darkness.  A few touring companies and orchestras have nimbly shifted to online live-streaming events as a way to sustain their fan bases and keep enthusiasm alive through the Covid-19 pandemic.  Other video game music shows are holding things together while continuing to sell tickets, with optimistic plans to resume their in-person tours later in 2021.  As both game audio pros and game music fans, we all want to enjoy and support this music, so let’s check out what’s happening this year in the world of VGM concerts!  We’ll start by taking a look at those organizations that have moved their concerts online with live-streamed events.  After that, we’ll check out the concert tours that are still selling tickets with hopes to return to their stages sometime later this year.

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Getting your big break – 2021 edition (Video game music composer)

This photo depicts game music composer Winifred Phillips working in her music production studio at Generations Productions LLC on the musical score of the Sackboy: A Big Adventure game from Sumo Digital. Winifred Phillips is an award-winning video game music composer whose credits include games from five of the biggest franchises in gaming (Assassin's Creed, God of War, Total War, LittleBigPlanet, The Sims).

By Winifred Phillips | Contact | Follow

Delighted you’re here!  I’m video game composer Winifred Phillips, and this past year has been particularly busy for me.  I’ve released several projects this year, including Sackboy: A Big Adventure (my latest, pictured above) – and I’m very pleased that my Waltz of the Bubbles composition from Sackboy: A Big Adventure just won a Global Music Award, and is nominated along with the rest of the game’s soundtrack in this year’s NAVGTR Awards!  In between projects, I’ve given three virtual talks this past year at the Game Developers Conference in March, the VGM Academy Live event in April, and the GDC Summer event in August.  Popular events like these are great opportunities to touch base with the community and exchange ideas about the art of game composition and the business of being a video game composer.

All during this time, I’ve been keeping up with this blog, writing monthly articles that explore different topics of interest to us as game composers.  In addition to the regular monthly entries, every year I write an article that tries to answer the question, “how does an aspiring composer break into the video game industry?”  This is the question I’m personally asked most often, and it’s one I always struggle to answer.

Part of the reason for this is that my own “breaking into the business” story is so unusual.  My first video game project happened to be a triple-A blockbuster (God of War from Sony Interactive), The logo of the original God of War video game from Sony Interactive Entertainment. Game music composer Winifred Phillips was a member of the music composition team for this video game.and I was able to land the gig because an example of my work landed on the desk of a music supervisor for the project at exactly the right time.  What are the chances of that?  It’s akin to being struck by lightning, and I certainly can’t advise young composers to depend on that kind of lightning to strike.  But I don’t want to leave hopeful young composers in the lurch either.

So every year, I revisit the subject, trying to learn what helpful advice might be offered by virtue of the common wisdom that exists at the time.  In expert articles and community posts, the subject is ceaselessly examined and reconsidered.  It’s an evolving conversation that shifts in subtle but appreciable ways from year to year.  So this is the 2021 edition, in which I share the interesting observations I’ve gathered from online sources during the previous year.  Hopefully, this article will provide some guidance and support for those who are embarking on their own game music careers. But first, in case anyone might like to hear a fuller retelling of my own “breaking into the business” story, here’s an interview I gave in 2011 with GameSpot in which I recount how I landed my first gig.  The relevant discussion begins at 4 minutes and 15 seconds:

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Video Game Music Composers: The Timed Challenge (Pt. 2)

A photo of game music composer Winifred Phillips working in her music production studio on the musical score of the Spyder video game from Sumo Digital.  Winifred Phillips is an award-winning video game composer whose credits include games from five of the biggest franchises in gaming (Assassin's Creed, God of War, Total War, LittleBigPlanet, The Sims).

By Winifred Phillips  |  Contact  |  Follow

So happy you’ve joined us!  I’m videogame composer Winifred Phillips.  Welcome to my two-part article series on the process of composing music for timed challenges in video games!  Since timed challenges are a popular gameplay mechanic that has featured prominently in my most recently released project (The Spyder DLC missions), I thought it might be interesting for us to take a closer look at what makes a timed challenge tick!

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Video Game Music Composers: The Timed Challenge (Pt. 1)

Working on the music of the Hades' Star video game, video game composer Winifred Phillips is here pictured in her music studio at Generations Productions.

By Winifred Phillips | Contact | Follow

Welcome!  I’m video game composer Winifred Phillips, and in this month’s article, I’d like to go into some depth about an interesting aspect of our work as game composers – creating music for timed challenges.  In timed challenges, players must complete a set of tasks within a limited window of time.  Over the years, I’ve created music for lots of timed challenges featured in highly divergent projects, from the darkly strategic space battles of Hades’ Star (pictured above), to the wacky assembly-line mayhem of the Fail Factory VR game, to the brand-new DLC release from one of my most recent projects — the Spyder video game. It was this most recent release that actually got me thinking a lot about how difficult timed challenges can be for game composers.

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Game Composers and the Importance of Themes: Interactivity in Game Music (Pt. 5)

This photo includes video game composer Winifred Phillips working in the Generations Productions music studio. Phillips' credits feature entries in such popular and famous game franchises as Assassin's Creed Liberation, God of War, LittleBigPlanet, The Sims, and Total War.

By Winifred Phillips | Contact | Follow

Hey everybody!  I’m video game composer Winifred Phillips, and welcome to the fifth and final installment of my article series based on the presentation I gave at this year’s Game Developers Conference in San Francisco.  My talk was entitled “From Assassin’s Creed to The Dark Eye: The Importance of Themes” (I’ve included the official description of my talk at this end of this article).  In my presentation, I discussed the music I composed for several video game projects, including Assassin’s Creed Liberation (Ubisoft), God of War (Sony Interactive America), LittleBigPlanet (Sony Interactive Europe), Homefront: The Revolution (Deep Silver), Speed Racer (Warner Bros Interactive), Spore Hero (Electronic Arts), and The Dark Eye: Book of Heroes (Wild River).

If you missed any of the previous articles in this series, you can find them here:

In the previous installments of this series, we discussed the importance of repeating musical themes, using the variation technique and fragmentation to support different gameplay types.  So now, let’s explore what happens when musical themes are employed within more complex interactive music systems.

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Game Composers and the Importance of Themes: Recurrence and Rationale in Game Music (Pt. 4)

Photo of composer Winifred Phillips at work in her music production studio at Generations Productions. Phillips' work includes several famous and popular games and game franchises, including God of War, Total War, LittleBigPlanet, Assassin's Creed, and The Sims.

By Winifred Phillips | Contact | Follow

Glad you’re here!  I’m video game composer Winifred Phillips, and welcome to the fourth installment of my five article series based on the presentation I gave this past March at the first-ever completely online Game Developers Conference!  My talk was titled “From Assassin’s Creed to The Dark Eye: The Importance of Themes” (you’ll find the official description of my talk at the end of this article).  In my presentation, I explored the thematic content in music I composed for several top video game projects, including Assassin’s Creed Liberation (Ubisoft), God of War (Sony Interactive America), LittleBigPlanet (Sony Interactive Europe), Homefront: The Revolution (Deep Silver), Speed Racer (Warner Bros Interactive), Spore Hero (Electronic Arts), and The Dark Eye: Book of Heroes (Wild River).

If you missed any of the previous articles in this series, you can find them here:

In the last article, we discussed theme fragmentation and variation.  So now let’s consider how themes can best enhance different types of gameplay.

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