I've been grading some quizzes over the holiday and love the fact that teaching video game music gives me a chance to learn from the students. I've only played Guitar Hero a few times-- I don't really like music games (probably because I'm playing enough music in real life!). On the quiz, I played a little of Eye of the Tiger from Guitar Hero. Several of the students commented that the mixing was different in the game from what it is in the original song. I'd never thought about that at all, but I definitely agree as I listen to it again, not only are there more sounds added (crowd cheering, clapping, etc), but also the vocals are ducked from the original version. Would this change depending on what instrument you're playing? Probably, but I need to do more research to know for sure.
So the semester at UM is roughly three weeks away from wrapping up and my class is (hopefully) working on their final game audio projects. I've asked them to each make 90 seconds to 2 minutes of game audio with extra credit possible for students who create double that amount. While a small portion of the grade will be based on "crafty" work-- that subjective thing that happens in arts teaching-- the vast majority of the music will be for projects that make sense. By this I mean, if the students have said they're writing music for a FPS, that the music doesn't sound like a cartoony platform game for kids.
For inspiration, I've suggested that the students use artwork, other music, or perhaps a written description of the scene(s) they're scoring. Other possibilities exist as well. One of the biggest boons of this game music work is the possibility for interdisciplinary connections. So, today, I took a few of my interested (and available) students over to a game design class in the Engineering school and heard pitches about some of the student games. One of them jumped out at me as being cool and so I'm planning to write some music for it, which will be my first attempt at game music. I'm really excited by the possibilities and I think several of my students are as well. It's really cool to hear the concepts described and have the game teams discuss what they are thinking about in terms of audio. A couple of teams had temp tracks they'd been playing to already and were looking for things "close to that." Some had playable footage and others were more in a screenshot stage. All in all, it was a very cool as it adds a big pinch of realism to the class.
I've been really happy with how the class has gone so far. This weekend I get to grade some quizzes that the students did on Thursday. The initial quiz the class did had amazing results. I was really happy to read that they're listening very intently to the music and definitely thinking more about when music plays, how it transitions, and why. This time around, I asked more about how various audio jobs shaped the sound in a scene, where a design team might find inspiration for sound, and various audio distinctions across game genres and platforms. Looking forward to seeing what they came up with.
The rest of the semester after Tuesday (which is mobile/social gaming) is devoted to answering questions about the final project (composition quest!) as well as topics of student interest. I'll be sure to list the topics they ask for more info on here.
A couple of weeks ago, I won another grant to do mainly with video game music studies. The grant will allow for me to travel to GameSoundCon and get training in Wwise next November. It'll also provide funding for travel to the inaugural North American Conference on Video Game Music where my paper, "Teaching Music Appreciation through the Lens of Video Game Music: a retrospect," was chosen as a presentation. I'm excited for both conferences; a little nervous about the NACVGM as well.... I've never given a paper at an academic conference before, but I have attended a few. It should be an interesting experience.
This Friday, I'm taking some of my students over to the Engineering school at UM to a class where Computer Science students are designing games. Since my students have a final project of creating game audio and these CS students have to create a game as a final project, I'm hoping that we can work something out where the two work together. UM is all about cross-discipline events these days, so this is an exciting chance for that. Looking forward to it.
I just heard the NPR story "Calling the Shots: Realistic Commentary Heightens Video Games" on their website. It's always nice when a story focuses on game audio, since most mainstream media stories about games deal with graphics and storyline. One of my favorite parts of the story is hearing how the commentators create the dialogue for the game by listening to pre-recorded audio and reacting to it as they would in a live game situation. I played FIFA a bit this summer and it was close to feeling authentic with the dialogue, but I'm hoping these new games/ consoles take this game audio feature to the next level. The timing of the story is perfect considering that the PS4 and Xbox One are just coming out for the holiday season. I look forward to hearing more from these systems and the latest generation of game audio.
Today in class, I asked the students about their favorite scenes that had music making as a part of them. One of the students mentioned the end of Ocarina of Time, where Ganon plays the organ. You hear the organ play throughout the beginning of this video, but there's a big increase in dynamic once you enter the chamber where he and the cutscene ensues (5:20 in this video).
I'd totally forgotten about this scene. I love moments in video games like this where music making is a part of the onscreen action! What are your favorites? Leave me a note/ link in the comments so I can check them out.
I've been playing a bit of Skyward Sword recently, listening for thematic transformation in Groose's theme, which I remember noticing on my first playthrough. While doing this, I almost noticed the most interesting connection between the startup sound and the main theme.
Here's the Skyward Sword Main theme. Listen especially to the first four ascending notes at 11 sec. Notice the pattern of them: long-- short-short-short.
Now give a listen to the first six seconds of this video, the very first four sounds you hear when you start Skyward Sword where the Wii remote is calibrating. Notice the same first four notes of an ascending minor scale? The same long-- short-short-short pattern?
Of course, this could've sounded like anything, but how clever to have it sound as the main theme of Skyward Sword? A very subtle, clever use of the main theme motive!!!
My students are always sending me various game music links that they find interesting. I'm usually floored by these videos and have no idea they exist! Here are two recent ones that I've really enjoyed.
Smooth McGroove has a ton of awesome videos where he makes a cappella arrangements of various game music tracks. I've listened to numerous ones and think they sound incredible! Really glad to hear these!
Here's another one that where I'm not sure I understand exactly what's happening technically. That said, it's clear that MIDI data and Tesla coils are somehow working together to create a musical and light show.
Both of these project represent labors of love that required lots of time to program, perfect, and perform. Congrats to the creators!