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.

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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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Diegetic sound and music for the video game composer (GDC 2021)

Photograph of video game music composer Winifred Phillips in her music production studio. This photo illustrates Phillips' work on two popular video games developed by Sumo Digital.

By Winifred Phillips | Contact | Follow

Hello there!  I’m video game composer Winifred Phillips.  Next week, I’ll be giving a lecture during the Game Developers Conference 2021 event.  During my lecture, I’ll be talking about the music I composed for Sumo Digital for both the Sackboy: A Big Adventure and Spyder video games.  My lecture is entitled, “From Spyder to Sackboy: A Big Adventure in Interactive Music,” and will take place on Friday July 23rd at 3:40pm PT.  Although GDC is still an all-virtual affair, the event does provide lots of opportunities for experts within the game development community to share their knowledge, coupled with forums enabling game audio folks to network and learn from each other.  In addition to my prepared lecture, I’ll also be participating in a live Speaker Q&A that will take place right after my presentation.  It should be a lot of fun!  Really looking forward to sharing my experience working with Sumo Digital simultaneously on these two fantastic games.

The famous logo of the Sackboy: A Big Adventure video game, as included in the article by award-winning video game composer Winifred Phillips.

This was an incredibly rare and awesome opportunity for me to compose music for two projects simultaneously in development by the same company.  Because of this, I found the comparisons between the two games fascinating.

My talk will delve into the mechanics of the dynamic music systems in both games, An image of the official Spyder video game promotional poster, as included in the article by video game music composer Winifred Phillips.showing how a comparison between these two projects can shed some light on the utility of the top interactive techniques and strategies.  While comparing this list of interactive music techniques provided me with a lot of material for my GDC lecture, there were other ways in which the two projects were similar.  I thought I’d share some brief thoughts on one of the other common threads I found between these two Sumo Digital games.

As composers, we’re often asked to provide a general atmosphere that adds either character to gameplay or distinctive flavor to menus.  If it’s a horror game, maybe we’re being asked to provide a crushingly heavy drone of doom during tense exploration, with soul-shuddering tone clusters bubbling up from the darkness and then sinking back down into the murky depths.  For a whimsical game, we might be creating airy, open textures with little mischievous accents from the mallets or woodwind section… or maybe we’re creating a brightly whimsical melody for an opening menu or splash screen.  If it’s a fantasy roleplaying game, we may be providing softly ambient tracks for exploration, with a pensive flute wandering gently through Gaelic figures.  Or maybe we’re creating a thunderously epic main theme for an opening menu, designed to emphasize the world-shattering stakes of the adventure to come.

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