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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Video Game Composers: The Tech of Music in Virtual Reality (GDC 2018)

Video game composer Winifred Phillips, pictured in her music production studio.

By Winifred Phillips | Contact | Follow

The Game Developers Conference is almost here! I’m looking forward to giving my presentation soon on “Music in Virtual Reality” (Thursday, March 22nd at 3pm in room 3002 West Hall, Moscone Center, San Francisco).  Over the course of the last two years, I’ve composed a lot of music for virtual reality projects, some of which have already hit retail, and some of which will be getting released very soon!  As a result, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what role music should play in a virtual reality game. During my GDC talk in March, I’ll be taking my audience through my experiences composing music for four very different VR games –the Bebylon: Battle Royale game from Kite & Lightning, the Dragon Front strategy game from High Voltage Software, the Fail Factory comedy game from Armature Studio, and the Scraper: First Strike RPG-Shooter hybrid from Labrodex Inc.  In preparing my GDC presentation, I made sure my talk addressed some of the most important creative and technical hurdles facing video game composers working in VR.  However, time constraints ensured that some interesting info ended up ‘on the cutting room floor,’ so to speak.  So, I’ve written two articles that explore some of the best topics that didn’t make it into my GDC presentation.

My previous article focused on some abstract, creative concerns facing video game music composers and audio folks working in VR.  In this article, we’ll be turning our attention to more concrete technical issues.  Ready?  Let’s go.

New Binaural Developments

Illustration of popular binaural developments in VR audio, from the article by composer Winifred Phillips for video game composers.VR games currently focus on binaural audio to immerse players in the awesome soundscapes of their virtual worlds.  As we know, binaural recording techniques use two microphones, often embedded in the artificial ears of a dummy head (pictured right).  By virtual of the popular binaural recording technique and/or binaural encoding technologies, game audio teams can plunge VR players into convincing aural worlds where sounds are spatially localized in a way that conforms with real world expectations.  The technology of binaural sound continually improves, and recently the expert developers of the Oculus Rift VR headset have refined the quality of their VR sound with two significant upgrades.

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Video Game Composers: The Art of Music in Virtual Reality (GDC 2018)

Video game composer Winifred Phillips, pictured in her music production studio.

 

By Winifred Phillips | Contact | Follow

Once again, the Game Developers Conference is almost upon us!  GDC 2018 promises to be an awesome event, chock full of great opportunities for us to learn and grow as video game music composers.  I always look forward to the comprehensive sessions on offer in the popular GDC audio track, and for the past few years I’ve been honored to be selected as a GDC speaker.  Last year I presented a talk that explored how I built suspense and tension through music I composed for such games as God of War and Homefront: The Revolution.  This year, I’m tremendously excited that I’ll be presenting the talk, “Music in Virtual Reality.” The subject matter is very close to my heart!  Throughout 2016 and 2017, I’ve composed music for many virtual reality projects, some of which have hit retail over the past year, and some of which will be released very soon.  I’ve learned a lot about the process of composing music for a VR experience, and I’ve given a lot of thought to what makes music for VR unique.  During my GDC talk in March, I’ll be taking my audience through my experiences composing music for four very different VR games –the Bebylon: Battle Royale arena combat game from Kite & Lightning, the Dragon Front strategy game from High Voltage Software, the Fail Factory comedy game from Armature Studio, and the Scraper: First Strike Shooter/RPG from Labrodex Inc.  I’ll talk about some of the top problems that came up, the solutions that were tried, and the lessons that were learned.  Virtual Reality is a brave new world for game music composers, and there will be a lot of ground for me to cover in my presentation!

In preparing my talk for GDC, I kept my focus squarely on composition techniques for VR music creation, while making sure to supply an overview of the technologies that would help place these techniques in context.  With these considerations in mind, I had to prioritize the information I intended to offer, and some interesting topics simply wouldn’t fit within the time constraints of my GDC presentation.  With that in mind, I thought it would be worthwhile to include some of these extra materials in a couple of articles that would precede my talk in March.  In this article, I’ll explore some theoretical ideas from experts in the field of VR, and I’ll include some of my own musings about creative directions we might pursue with VR music composition.  In the next article, I’ll talk about some practical considerations relating to the technology of VR music.

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