Keyboard Magazine

Beep: A Documentary History of Game Sound!

August 2nd, 2016 | By Lance Hayes

Beep poster

I‘m very proud to be featured in the new book Beep: A Documentary History of Game Sound! A labor of love for Karen Collins and Chris Greening that has spanned half a decade of work and dozens of interviews with the top game audio talent of this and previous generations. Here’s more info from the Beep site:

The Beep Book is transcripts of interviews with over 100 game audio professionals from a range of areas of game sound’s history. The majority of the interviews were conducted as part of the Beep documentary film project by director and author Karen Collins. These are supplemented by interviews done for Video Game Music Online by Chris Greening. The book is ~410,000 words in length–a huge volume of material spanning decades of video game and pinball audio history. Interviews include artists such as Marty O’Donnell (Halo), George “The Fat Man” Sanger (7th Guest), Nobuo Uematsu (Final Fantasy), Yoko Shimomura (Kingdom Hearts), and many, many more. The interviews aim to explore the changing nature of game audio over time. Interviews are with people from all over the world, including Japan, USA, Canada & Europe, and took place from October 2014 to July 2016. They cover a range of expertise and experience levels, and include composers, sound designers, voice actors and directors, record labels, conductor, orchestrators, chip musicians, hardware and software creators, and more. 

If you’d like to check out my input, head over to Volume 1 page 215. Truthfully the whole thing is a marvel of deep dives and forward thinking that spans the entire history of games. A worthwhile read for the game audio enthusiast as well as students and anyone interested in hearing from a unique perspective on the development of the video games that have shaped our lives.

Beep is currently available on Amazon.

What Can We Do For You?

January 27th, 2015 | By Lance Hayes


Over the years I’ve had the good fortune to work on projects of all sizes for developers and publishers such as Microsoft, Activision and Nintendo. To assist me I’ve assembled a crack team of audio professionals and contractors. I’ve worked with the best on projects ranging from composing 8bit to orchestral soundtracks, creating original sound design and field recordings to implementation and more.

As an independent contractor I’ve spent years crafting audio that fits perfectly into titles so my team and I are focused on delivering great audio experiences. With award winning talent from projects that span next gen consoles, handheld and PC titles our skills range across the entire spectrum of audio disciplines, (a list of some of the titles we’ve worked can be found here). We specialize in bringing the sound of the games we work on to life.

We’re available for new projects, no game is too big or too small, Indie to Fortune 500. Please contact djdm at for more information to make your project’s audio stand out!

For the latest updates about the studio please see our Twitter and Facebook pages.


Game Audio Network Guild Award Nomination

February 19th, 2014 | By Lance Hayes


My “Next Level” series over at Andertons Music UK is designed to help newcomers to the game audio field find information that will be of service as they navigate their way though the beginning of their careers.

I’m humbled and honored that one of the articles from this series has been singled out; “How to Write Compelling Music for Games“, has been nominated for a Game Audio Network Guild Award for “Best Game Audio Article/Podcast/Publication”. Thank you to the Board at GANG, I look forward to the awards in San Francisco at this year’s Game Developer’s Conference!


Game Music Articles for Andertons Music UK

July 23rd, 2013 | By Lance Hayes

Anderton's Music

Series Update: The article “How to Write Compelling Music for Games” was nominated for a 2013 Game Audio Network Guild Award for “Best Game Audio Article/Podcast/Publication”. More info here

Original Post: Are you interested in learning about game audio and composing for games? How about a little dash of game business advice? Then I have just the articles for you! I’ve partnered with Andertons Music in the UK for a series starting with game audio basics and heading into other areas of interest. You can check it out here on the Andertons Music site. I’ll be posting weekly so check back often for updates and, if it helps, I’ll be posting when new articles go live on my Facebook and Twitter pages.


A Composers Perspective on Game Audio – Adaptive Audio Concepts and Work Flow

October 3rd, 2011 | By Lance Hayes

Note to Readers

This article is from the collection of blogs I wrote for Keyboard Magazine’s website in 2010 and 2011. For more information about Keyboard Magazine please go to their website.


A Composers Perspective on Game Audio – Adaptive Audio Concepts and Work Flow

I’m often asked, “What exactly is adaptive music?” With that in mind, this entry is dedicated to a core game-music production concept. I’ll do my best to offer up a basic outline and explain, with some examples, what adaptive audio is and a little about how it is created.

Non-Linear Music

One of the first things that game composers must tackle conceptually is use and application of non-linear music production. We all know that linear music is music that plays from one end to the other without interruption. By contrast, adaptive music is expected to twist and bend, lead and define on demand as the player moves through the game while maintaining structural integrity. That is to say it has to sound like music, communicate with the player and engage the listener while being custom-built by the action in the game. The very best does that so transparently you don’t realize you’re listening to a custom-created soundtrack.

On a very high level, adaptive music is best described as music that is created to augment or inform player actions or progress through a game. It is similar to the concepts of sound design in games where you create a set of sounds that play at a precisely orchestrated moment to enhance an action in the game (for example, the sound of a door opening when you open a door in the game). Music can function in much the same way to enhance the player experience.

What’s in a Name?

Adaptive music is also often referred to as “interactive” or “dynamic.” There is some debate and splitting of hairs about these terms, but the important thing to keep in mind is that they all mean a system of music that can be broken down and used in various capacities within a game. Properly implemented adaptive music by any other name can heighten the player experience and give rise to a musical score for the gameplay that can be at once unique under repeat play and allow for leitmotif development to occur naturally to varying degrees of refinement.

I prefer the title “adaptive” to the other options because this word is the most closely aligned to the actual process that takes place when the music is adjusting to gameplay. Adaptive music can result in a nearly endless series of possible types of experiences in a game. The sky’s the limit.

Before we move on, it may also help to know that “implementation” is the term used in the game industry to describe the process of placing, mixing, augmenting and managing the music and sound-design assets in the game audio engine.


If it’s well-conceived and implemented, adaptive music develops into a subtle audio experience that leaves the player unaware that the musical playback is following their progress or directing their actions. The idea is that the music is triggered in a way that will allow them to feel as if the score for the game is happening not because they are now in an area or experiencing an event that triggers a new set of music, but because the game is scoring their progress seamlessly in an effort to give context or clues. With that in mind, you can imagine how adaptive music could be employed to achieve almost any mood or result at any juncture during gameplay.


Adaptive music is designed and produced in a number of ways. The music itself can be created using virtually any approach, from one person in a studio or session musicians working up parts to full orchestral sessions with choir. Or all of the above blended together, as is the case with many soundtracks now. The approach is similar to other media at that point.

Depending on the nature of the project, the composer often has to keep the adaptive process in mind as he or she composes. You have to consider that the music will be played back in a non-linear fashion, and so that affects, among other things, use of modes, key changes, and tempo as you work up a track. You can still do all of those things, but the timing has to be pre-established so they don’t clash with each other and layers can play back-to-back or layered as stems.

After the loops and stems are established, they can be used in numerous ways. A common method is back-to-back triggered playback of loops or sections of music activated by player action or location in the game space. In that instance, the music is played back as complete blocks of audio, much like triggering block-type MIDI or sample files in your DAW.

Another approach is to use the stems as musical or percussive layers that can be flown in over a core composition stem to add enhanced tension, happiness, stress, excitement, and so on. Real-time DSP effects are sometimes used on the music to enhance the final sound and give it additional context. A popular example of that is a grenade going off in the game near the player, causing all of the sound and music to be ducked and run through a lowpass filter to simulate the short-term effect of temporary deafness.


Thanks to fellow composer and violinist extraordinaire Jeff Ball for suggesting this video capture from popular audio middleware FMOD that succinctly shows what is happening to the layers of music as situations develop in the game. You can’t see the gameplay from this perspective, but this is what’s happening behind the curtain if you look at the process from the viewpoint of the middleware. The music flows seamlessly from simple to complex and percussive, and from mellow to aggressive.

A great video (NSFW) of adaptive music being highlighted during actual gameplay was created by the team at WallOfSound as an example of their work on Mass Effect 2. They created a massive hybrid score that incorporated electronics and full orchestra seamlessly into the game. The video features work by Jack Wall, Sam Hulick, David Kates, and Jimmy Hinson, with audio implementation by Brian DiDomenico. If you want a good overview of the adaptive process, this video gives you an idea of what’s happening as the action ramps up. Keep an eye on the titles at the bottom of the screen to see how many events shape the music you are hearing as the soundtrack progresses.

From a different perspective, there is great example of using layers to create an adaptive score in this video interview (also NSFW) with Jason Graves. The whole interview is worth a look, but starting at 5:44 Jason shares some great information about his approach to layered adaptive score creation and how he developed those layers for his soundtrack for Dead Space 2. He also discusses working with the team at the studio.

Another fantastic illustration of an adaptive score is 2009’s “Flower.” Using a combination of synth- and orchestra-style cues layered together, composer Vincent Diamante created an entire interactive world of music that matches the beautiful images and simple gameplay from this elegant masterpiece.


The information here is really only intended to give you an indication of what adaptive audio is. Adaptive audio is an amazing, continuously growing frontier in games and increasingly in outside media. If you are interested in game music, this is one of the most fundamental concepts in the medium.


Pro Tip

The Sony PSN hacking event helped illustrate to many people just how deeply games and the game industry impact our everyday lives. When the 77 million user accounts suddenly became unavailable due to an intrusion into the Sony network, there was hue and cry and then some real-time issues when it became clear that credit card accounts had been violated. I was reminded—along with millions of others—that it’s a long dark night without Call of Duty: Black Ops, and for some there was no solution other than a trade in.

It will be interesting to see how this all shakes out for Sony, but they are back online now and hopefully this will all be a memory as once again players enjoy competing across one of the biggest game networks on earth.

Gear Tip

Michael Patti and Michael Barry at Cinesamples are hard at work on an exciting new brass library. Recorded by legendary veteran Dennis Sands at the Sony Pictures Scoring stage in Los Angeles, the CineBrass collection looks like it will be exceptional. The library features all the individual brass sections sampled with true legato transitions and a remarkable new articulations engine. Check out the CineBrass patches teaser video.

A Composers Perspective on Game Audio – Choice Notions

October 3rd, 2011 | By Lance Hayes

Note to Readers

This article is from the collection of blogs I wrote for Keyboard Magazine’s website in 2010 and 2011. For more information about Keyboard Magazine please go to their website.


A Composers Perspective on Game Audio – Choice Notions

I recently reached out to my composer brethren and friends asking if they would be willing to talk about their successes as composers. To my delight, everyone I contacted was excited to throw down some knowledge.

I suggested that because the road to achievement is different for all of us, it would be great if they would discuss some of the simple ingredients they’d found that helped them to maintain momentum in their careers and helped them achieve their goals.

I got back outstanding responses. The range of detail in the replies was great, and everyone had valuable insights into what it takes to make it in the game field and beyond.


Bill Brown (Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six, CSI New York, Bill Brown Music) – “I’ve found over the years that building a career in scoring for film/tv/games seems to be about the quality of your work and the quality of your relationships. I’m always striving to take things to the next level with every project I work on, and part of that is listening as carefully as I can to the vision of the director/producers/writers/developers and then reflecting back to them what I heard so I know we’re all on the same page. Great friendships come out of that level of listening to not only the words that are being said, but also to the meaning that is beneath the words.

Integrity is key. Always be true to your word, work hard, and you’ll continue to gain respect. And as far as I’m concerned, that is the foundation for everything else. If you make a mistake, take responsibility for it as soon as you find out about it. Don’t wait. It will come around sooner or later anyway, and it’s much better to be proactive in everything you do.

Know what will work best in any given scenario (study the masters and continue to innovate), but also be original and have fun with whatever you’re working on. I’ve found when I really enjoy whatever cue I happen to be working on and get really excited about it, that’s usually the same reaction I get from my collaborators.”

Jason Graves (Dead Space series, – “Be as well-rounded as possible. Don’t just focus on music composition in games. The more you know about any and all things audio, the more you will have to offer when that potential gig comes in.

I spent the better part of three years doing nothing but recording radio VO and mixing television shows and corporate video, which included recording live handbells, a country band, and every Republican politician in the state of NC. It wasn’t the most glamorous audio work, but it did keep me busy and I got paid. And most importantly, I was working in the world of audio and making a living.”

Marty O’Donnell (Halo, Bungie)

  • I took piano lessons since I was seven and didn’t quit in junior high
  • I studied classical music and played in jazz and rock bands with friends
  • I went to a music conservatory and got a Bachelor’s followed by a Master’s degree in music composition
  • I wrote and produced music and sound for TV/Radio commercials, films, and just about anybody who would pay me
  • I kept learning about new technology and paid close attention to what other composers were doing
  • I learned how to collaborate with other creative people
  • I played a lot of games
  • I got lucky

Will Loconto (Sega’s The Incredible Hulk, X-Men: The Official Game, Will Loconto Music and Sound) – “I hear quite a few people telling aspiring composers to “pick one thing and spend most of your time honing your skill at that one thing.” Taking that path, you end up constantly counting on somebody wanting to pay you for your “one thing.”

My advice is to always be learning, and always be flexible. Be able to deliver many things, whether that means creating something yourself or knowing when to hire someone else to help.

Also, don’t devalue your work by working for free just to get a credit. There are strategic times when working at a discounted rate might help you, but getting a credit on a title few people ever hear about does very little to advance your career and usually sets expectations that you are willing to work for little or nothing.”

Christopher Tin (First ever Grammy awarded for video game music for “Baba Yetu” from Civilization IV, Christopher Tin) – “I think there’s a simple work ethic that I subscribe to that helps me out. I’m a big hockey fan, and I watch a lot of hockey on TV.  When you see players get interviewed between periods, and the interviewer asks them how they felt about their last period, their last game, where they are in the standings, etc., the answer is always ‘We can’t think about that right now. We just need to think about the next shift and playing our game to the best of our abilities.

If you ask how that translates to a career in the music business, I’d say I try to have the same attitude. I try to focus on the project at hand and execute to the best of your abilities. I try to just focus on writing the best music I can at all times and not get distracted by all the other noise. Just focus on the job at hand. Take it one cue at a time, one section at a time, one measure at a time.”

Chris Rickwood (Ghost Busters the Video Game, Global Agenda, Chris Rickwood Music) – “One of my professors in college would always drill into me, “Practice the things you can’t do.” You know, learn something new then move on. It really applies to everything I do in my career. I’m constantly trying new techniques, reading new magazines, studying new music, watching new movies–anything to fill my creative bucket. Or when I’m writing, maybe I don’t open the same plug-ins, or use the same samples, or use the computer at all. I really crave things that I’ve never done before and really seek out something new every day.

There have been many times in my career when I’ve taken on a job and thought, “I’m not sure I can do this.” That’s when I would know it was going to be a fun project. Extremely stressful, but fun! And by the end I would totally level up my skills, so on the next project, I could push things even farther.”

Mick Gordon (The Last Airbender, Need for Speed Shift, Game Audio Australia) – “Number one is right place and right time, but you’ve often got to make sure you’re in the right place at the right time. I make sure I head to as many events, dinners, expos, and conferences as I can to meet new people and maintain existing relationships.

Consistency is probably the most important thing that someone should be aiming for. When you’re hired for gigs, clients shouldn’t have to worry if you’re going to deliver good stuff on time. Clients need to be able to rely on you to not just meet the brief but to exceed the brief and also exceed their expectations of you. If you’re easy to work with and are able to consistently deliver good material, then you’ll continue to get work.

Sam Hulick (Mass Effect 1 and 2, Heroes of Stalingrad, SoundGiants Inc.) – “What’s really helped me in my career is showing up at GDC every year and making valuable connections. And I don’t mean connections in the sense of having to know the right people, but what I mean is that it’s a small industry in the grand scheme of things, and everyone is connected somehow. Maybe the writer or level designer you really connected with goes back to his company and raves to the audio director about you. My point is, keep an open mind when networking, and don’t focus so much on business or landing work. Show up at GDC consistently so people remember you, be personable, make a good impression, and just have fun. The business stuff will happen naturally if you have the talent and professionalism to back you up.”

Jason Hayes (World of Warcraft, Diablo, StarCraft, – “I think one of the best things you can do as a musician trying to find work is to be extremely flexible with the kind of jobs that you’re willing to take. In the past I’ve worked in a music store keyboard department, played in a band as a touring musician, worked in a recording studio, and also written jingles for radio ads. So being willing and able to do a number of different things has been a good strategy for maintaining a semi-stable career in music. Also, if you want to work in the game industry, it can a good idea to try to get in the door in the QA department, or if you have the skills for it, the IT department. Because once you’re in the door you can start to talk to the developers about your interest in writing music, and you’ll be way ahead of everyone else who has to resort to sending CDs in the mail. In my experience, those CDs stack up really high in someone’s office, and it’s hard to get noticed that way.”

Tom Salta (H.A.W.X., Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands, Red Steel, – “A diversity of projects always helps me build and maintain momentum. I get bored doing the same thing over and over, so I always welcome opportunities that present me with unique challenges. It can be quite nerve-racking at times and can get me out of my comfort zone, but I know that for me, that’s when I grow. It forces me to try and experience new things that I never have before. That’s one of my favorite parts about what I do–having the ability to explore different styles of music and interact with a wide range of musicians and cultures that I’d normally never have the chance to in everyday life.”


Thanks again to everyone that took the time to contribute their wisdom. My only regret is that there wasn’t an opportunity to pursue further input from additional friends in the industry.

And because I got everyone else to pony up, I figure I should add my own two cents. Here are some simple ideas that augment what has already been suggested by my colleagues and have served me well in my career:

  • Throw yourself 110% into whatever project you have in front of you, no matter the size
  • Take on all challenges with a smile
  • Meet deadlines and beat expectations
  • Write music that resonates
  • Have heart and take chances

Pro Tip: Game Audio Book Club Suggestion

If you’d like to delve deeper into the world of interactive audio for games, look no further than Richard Steven’s and Dave Raybould’s The Game Audio Tutorial (Focal Press). It’s a newly released practical guide with projects and examples that cover both sound design and music implementation in games. It includes access to their website with tie-in lessons.

A Composer’s Perspective on Game Audio part 3 – Gearing Up

October 3rd, 2011 | By Lance Hayes

Note to Readers

This article is from the collection of blogs I wrote for Keyboard Magazine’s website in 2010 and 2011. For more information about Keyboard Magazine please go to their website.


A Composer’s Perspective on Game Audio part 3 – Gearing Up

I was going to spend a little time writing about interactive/adaptive audio this month, but since I get approached regularly about gear suggestions, I got kind of excited at the thought of talking about the tools of the trade.

This list focuses on core pieces of gear that you should consider having in your studio if you aim to be a well-rounded game composer. I realize that this list may seem somewhat pedestrian to some. This is a post for those starting out who want some idea about where to begin building a system for game work. As topics go, this one is inclined to sprawl, so I’ll just cover the basics.


At this point you can compose on a PC as easily as on a Mac. Most everyone is aware of the basic advantages so I won’t get into a comparative analysis between the two platforms.

You can definitely get by with one very powerful system to start out with, but you’ll eventually need more as your projects grow. A couple of multi-core computers with as much RAM as possible with good pro-level sound cards such as those from RME, PreSonus, Avid, Focusrite, etc., is a good start. But given today’s powerful systems, you can do a lot with just one when you are starting out so don’t despair if your budget doesn’t allow for multiple rigs.

Apple has a great channel established for media boxes and or you can talk with your pro audio dealer.

If you are going PC, they are fairly easy to build yourself, but if you don’t want to roll your own, you can have someone do it for you. There are a number of companies that specialize in custom DAW building such as ADK Pro Audio, PCAudioLabs, Sweetwater and VisionDAW. This is a great way to save time but can be a little pricey so do your research carefully and make sure you are getting everything you need. One upside to this approach is that you have the peace of mind that comes with being able to call someone if your DAW goes dark.

The Software

Assuming you are not going to start out with a lot of hardware synths and outboard gear you will probably be investing in software initially.

On the software side, you should focus on tools that will allow you to dive into a wide range of musical styles since it’s not unheard of to be asked for a sea chantey, a romantic string suite, and a hip hop treatment in the same week or in back to back projects. A DAW, an editor and lots of plug-ins are pretty standard fare for games, as they are in film and TV work these days.

In informal polling, the most popular DAWs tend to be Pro Tools, Cubase, Nuendo, Logic and Sonar. Additionally, Sound Forge and Audition are good editing focused tools.

On the music library and VST front, there are some great tools out there.

On the orchestral soundtrack side, you’ll want some orchestra, choir, percussion and piano software. Top choices are the East West, Project Sam, Tonehammer and Vienna libraries. There are dozens of other solid options out there as well but these tend to be the baseline sets that people tend to build on.

Synths-wise common solutions are Reason for synths, drums and the unusual and Native Instruments Komplete for everything VST.

Altiverb and the Waves plugs are common tools in the industry.

The Remote Rig

You’ll want a good laptop with a pro soundcard and/or a good handheld recorder and some decent large diaphragm microphones for sound creation. Many games require unusual concepts for their music and you should be able to source outside content quickly.

As an example, a title I recently worked on required me to create instruments from scratch. That is, I had to create them physically by building them, play them for recording sessions and take that all back to the studio for further manipulations. I did this out outside the studio and I didn’t have a lot of time to get in front of it so my remote setup came in very handy.

Also, sound design is ever present in the game audio world and you will undoubtedly be tasked with creating elements at some point. Having a good hand held or portable system is paramount to getting usable results.

For recording software Ableton Live, Reaper, Propellerhead Record and Pro Tools are among the established tools.

Widely regarded handheld recorders are available from Zoom, Sony and Tascam.

The Keys

As is the case for most composing work, an 88-note controller keyboard with some control surface tools, or an additional dedicated control surface, are standard tools. This is a no brainer for most readers of Keyboard so I only mention it to make the point that many sound libraries samples are scheduled across the entire length of a keyboard including key switching and instruments with huge ranges covering the entire seven octaves or more. Having less than 88 notes is going to leave you at a disadvantage, since you won’t be able to play the entire range of many instruments without skipping around the octaves.

The Middleware

For those not in the know, audio “middleware” is the tool used to integrate sound assets and music into the game engine. Middleware allows the game’s audio team to effectively playback music and sound design much as you would playback sounds in your DAW. Further, it makes specific calls for sounds that are tied to events in the game allowing the developers to create a custom soundtrack and sound design cues when they see fit based on progress within the game during playback.

I would highly recommend downloading some demos from their respective sites and spending some time learning about how they work. Two popular pieces of software in game audio middleware are FMOD and Wwise. Other popular tools are Microsoft’s XACT and the Unreal Development Kit.

The Wrap-Up

So there you have it. Again this is intended only as a primer. I’m sure that there are other ingredients to this process that people find useful. Feel free to chime in below in the comments section with additional tools or specific recommendations.


Postscript: The Game Developers’ Conference

I want to share a few highlights from this year’s Game Developers Conference which I attended a couple of weeks ago in San Francisco. It was a fantastic week as usual with many of the most talented people in the industry contributing to and taking in the various conference events at the Moscone Center in beautiful downtown San Francisco. It’s truly a rarified environment that’s charged with the electricity that only comes around once a year. There are other game events but this is one of the biggest specifically for the industry.

Among the Audio Track highlights this year, Marty O’Donnell’s wonderful keynote address stood out for its refreshing take on the creative process and what that process needs to survive in today’s game environment.

Another standout was Martin Stig Andersen’s lecture on his work from Playdead’s Limbo. For those that haven’t played the demo; if you have an Xbox and love dark puzzle games with unconventional highly effective audio treatments this is a must download.

GDC is all about socializing with your peers while learning new tips and tricks. The epic party atmosphere in the evenings tends to run late into the night at places like the W Hotel bar and usually proves that some of the best networking can unexpectedly happen in the oddest places. GDC remains one of the most important and fun events for anyone that’s interested in the game industry.

A Composer’s Perspective on Game Audio part 2 – Scoring Cut Scenes

October 3rd, 2011 | By Lance Hayes

Note to Readers

This article is from the collection of blogs I wrote for Keyboard Magazine’s website in 2010 and 2011. For more information about Keyboard Magazine please go to their website.


A Composer’s Perspective on Game Audio part 2 – Scoring Cut Scenes

Composing music for games is, in some ways, like composing for other media. One similarity that games share with linear media is scoring cut scenes. In games a cut scene is usually a small sections of pre rendered animation or live action content that is often managed like a short film. They are used for various reasons to propel the storyline, tell back-story, present montages etc.

Depending on the project, cut scenes are handled much the same as short pieces for film or television. Many will have original music, sound design, voice over and even Foley work. They can be quite sophisticated and are often one of the more exciting pieces from a game. This is why they are often used by the developers and publishers in the advertising campaigns. Few parts of the gaming experience are so distilled.

Examples (WARNING: Some of these clips contain spoilers.)

As an example of a high-end project with superb use of music and audio here is a cut scene from The Force Unleashed II. The editors have done a wonderful job of balancing composer Mark Griskey’s powerful choir and orchestral elements with the sound design in the scene.

Another great example of music and sound in a game promo/cut scene is Russell Shaw’s music blending with a fantastic voiceover and top notch sound design in the Fable III Intro Cinematic.

Composing and Mixing the Forza 3 Intro Cinematic

Closer to home, I thought I might talk a little about my experiences working on the Forza Motorsport 3 intro video. While not as epic as the previous examples, this cut scene was enormously fun to work on and was a hit with the millions of fans of the Forza franchise.

The intro video composition process started when I sat down with Landin Williams, the cinematic lead at Turn 10, and looked at a rough edit of the video. We talked about basic ideas and about the sound that they were looking for. This is different than the approach in most projects where you are often given the final edit already picture locked so that, ideally, no further editing takes place.

Back at my studio I sat down at my keyboard. I often start out playing piano to come up with some basic ideas, and then I work up the arrangements from those concepts. After I wrote some basic themes and ideas in the initial creative sessions, it was time to move over to the electronic tools. The drums were worked up using a blend of Battery and Reason. The synths were a combination of custom sounds from Absynth, Reason, NI Massive, and Arturia. As I often do, I used the sequencers in both Reason and Sonar on this project. I like the control that Reason allows you and how fast it is so I tend to use its sequencer alongside Sonar which is both a fantastic VST host and a good MIDI focused DAW.

As an interesting aside; while working on this piece I composed a number of tracks that, while not a perfect fit for the intro, wound up in use elsewhere in the Forza universe. One good example is this piece that ended up the trailer music for the FM3 “World Class Car Pack” (featuring Mike Caviezel on guitar and bass).

As the project neared completion we were getting down to content lockdown and the team was furiously working to get everything into the game. There was a lot of back and forth as we worked to get the perfect track for the feel of the game.

When Landin, the team and I had a direction that we liked and the video had come together more completely I would get edits via FTP, plug them into Sonar and compose to picture. Once we had an edit that worked I was able to focus on the finer details of the production. After that, the biggest time commitment became tuning the production to fit changes and team requests.

Once we had the track nailed down, I took the stems to the Turn 10 studios at Microsoft. The audio director Greg Shaw and I worked up a 5.1 mix that focused on balancing ambience and intensity. The car sound design was layered in on top of that and the end result is what you hear when you first start up the game and the cut scene fades in on your new car experience.

Final Thoughts

Cut scenes offer a unique opportunity in the game universe to present the player with a linear experience. For composers it’s a fantastic opportunity to emphasize or introduce the ideas you have for the core concepts in your soundtrack. In this example the intro cinematic cut scene in Forza 3 helped us set the tone for the soundtrack and the user experience. The cut scene challenge on FM3 was to meet team and fan expectations while reinforcing the user experience in an efficient constructive way.

In upcoming posts, I’ll be talking about interactive music which is where game music really shines. Also note that the end all, be all of game networking events in the US, The Game Developer’s Conference in San Francisco, is coming up at the end of February.


Pro Tip of the Month: On occasion I’ve talked to composers who haven’t picked up a game since Pac-Man’s rein and want to write music for games. If you’re interested in game audio you should probably play video games. Games in any format you can find including all of the major consoles, handheld devices, phones, pc, web, etc.  It is definitely one media that hands on experience is an unbeatable resource. This is not to say that if you are well known enough or your niche is fine enough that you can’t find work but for the rest of us it’s sort of a necessity. So get out there and rack up some points!

A Composer’s Perspective on Game Audio

October 3rd, 2011 | By Lance Hayes

Note to Readers

This article is from the collection of blogs I wrote for Keyboard Magazine’s website in 2010 and 2011. For more information about Keyboard Magazine please go to their website.


A Composer’s Perspective on Game Audio

Like many readers of Keyboard Magazine, I write music and create sound design for media. Historically, I’ve made a nice niche for myself with licensing, studio and soundtrack work. In 2005, I added game audio to that list and that quickly became my fastest growing market.

Since then, I’ve scored and created sound design for everything from casual games to AAA titles designed for the PC to handheld devices and major game consoles. This list includes small games to massive projects. I’ve been to a multitude of conferences, networking like crazy. I’ve also delved into the dark art of implementation and come out in one piece. In the end, I can tell you one thing with unwavering certainty; there is a lot to know about game audio.

I’ve spent a fair amount of time getting up to speed with current practices and standards. As I segued from game fan to game professional, one of the first things I had to wrap my head around was the scope of the gaming field and the role that composers play in it.

Interactive sound and music are big components in the current landscape, and they allow for some of the amazing experiences that make gaming such a fast growing, compelling and exciting medium.

Given the complex nature of the beast I thought that a little background might be helpful.

VG Music and History

It’s become common knowledge that games are the biggest selling entertainment format in the world right now. Since they are less expensive to produce than Hollywood blockbusters and come with a steeper price tag than going to a first run film, they are able to produce huge profits for the studios and publishers.

A popular comparison in profits this year has been “Avatar” and “Call of Duty Modern Warfare2”.  Avatar and CoDMW2, scored by Hanz Zimmer were both released about the same time and have both pulled down over a billion dollars in sales. What many articles don’t tell you is that the update to the franchise “Call of Duty: Black Ops” had the single biggest launch event of all time and has also scored over a billion dollars in sales for Activision.

Statistically speaking, in 2004, video games collectively became a $10 billion industry in the US alone. In 2009, they had grown to about $20 billion and this year’s sales are looking stronger than 2009.

But it wasn’t always that way. If you are interested in the historical development of music in this fledgling industry, there is a wonderful piece on GameSpot by Glenn McDonald titled “A Brief History of Video Game Music”. It covers everything from Pong to the early part of this century. And of course Wikipedia has articles on both the history of video game music and the history of video games. That should get you started.

Helpful Game Links

Some other good sources of game and game music information include:

IASIG  a nonprofit that is focused on creating standards and educating the game audio industry

Gamasutra one of the best sources of information on the net about game development fantastic source for breaking gaming news

Audio G.A.N.G. is a resource for composers and sound designers in the game industry and its membership votes on the annual GANG awards handed out at the Game Developer’s Conference in San Francisco every year

Down the Line

I have found that many folks at every level in this industry are generous, gracious and willing to share their knowledge. I’d like to think that this blog may be my opportunity to do the same for a new generation of composers looking for information on becoming game composers themselves.

In future blogs I’ll talk about the tools of the trade, specific experiences I’ve had and discuss some of the challenges that a composer faces when he is creating original pieces for use in games.

Lance Hayes