View Full Version : A question for all of the game composers out there...

05-07-2003, 10:43 PM
Hey everyone,

I am hoping that some experienced game composers out there might be able to share some wisdom with me on how to get things up and running for a video game project.

How exactly game composers write music and then format the music for games is almost a total mystery. I have scoured the web for months and have turned up very little, and there are not any books that I know of that cover a lot of common questions for a newbie trying to get projects up and running.

With that said, I am excited at an opportunity, with a long time friend of mine who is a software engineer for Disney, and who has pooled together his resources to start production on a PC based game, including me as composer and sound engineer. The problem is that I have almost no clue on how to do this.

More specifically, he wants 90% of the music to be midi playback through MS Direct Music. I have downloaded MS Direct music Producer and find that program to be as confusing as they come. I understand that I can create DLS libraries and in those have my own sampled instruments, and I have done this through Awave using samples that I used in Kontakt along with a midi file exported from Cubase, but then playing back through Direct Music Producer everything sounds horrible.

I have been allocated 12 MB so far for any given time during the game for those sampled instruments, but I believe I can load different instrument sets, or Bands, at any time as well. The other 10% of music isn’t a problem because I can approach that in my normal way.

Obviously this is not something that can be covered in a simple message thread but if any game composers could offer some advice on how to approach a project similar to this and the tools that are useful to have on hand, including software apps, I would appreciate it. I need to know what are the strongest working setups for game composers.

I am running:

Cubase SX
GigaStudio, no additional sample libraries yet
Kontakt, a ton of SF2 samples and stuff from the box.
Awave, current version
Acid Pro
Tons of VST soft synths, Absynth, FM7, etc…



05-07-2003, 11:08 PM
“I have downloaded MS Direct music Producer and find that program to be as confusing as they come.”

WAAAa ha ha ha. Boy, it that the truth. I have gone to TWO all day Microsoft sponsored MSP sessions, and I am finally only a little confused. There are many ways to use it, but the good news is there are a few projects out there you can explore to find out how to use this monster. A new book will be out soon to explain the MSP beast and, well a few more suggestions first:

Get the book called “Game Audio” by Aaron Marks. Hit the book link:
http://www.onyourmarkmusic.com/navigate.htm (\"http://www.onyourmarkmusic.com/navigate.htm\")
It does not answer all questions, but it answers a whole heck of a lot. No MSP information, but it covers all the other bases.

Join G.A.N.G. Game Audio Network Guild:
http://www.audiogang.org/ (\"http://www.audiogang.org/\")
The bbs has many experts in MSP as well as link to projects. So do some searching. Ask some questions.

Oh, and DLS libs will be an issue. So far, Sonic Implants has the best.

Hmmm. Texas. A hotbed of game music activity.

KingIdiot is our resident MSP expert here, and he should soon chime in.

05-08-2003, 06:37 AM

Thanks for some great info...I was aware of G.A.N.G. but forgot to check that out as a resource. And the book suggestion sounds like it will have some useful tips.

05-08-2003, 12:21 PM
I would seriously consider writing the music yourself and working with a contractor who knows DM. It\'s a job in itself to figure out and implement, and it sounds like you\'ll have your hands full as it is doing both sound and music.
Good Luck.

05-08-2003, 12:43 PM
KingIdiot is our resident MSP expert here, and he should soon chime in. <font size=\"2\" face=\"Verdana, Arial\">Nope, definitely not. Dont know much about it at all actually. I\'ve only done console stuff, never done a PC game (actually doing music for one right now, but its multiplatform and I\'m just supplying the music).

I would warn you tho, be carefull with converting other lisenced samples to DLS and offering them in a game. It is illegal in most cases, and there have been some issues from the bigger manufacturers.

You can lisence DLS sound banks for your games from Sonic Implants. Better safe than sorry.

Or create your own from scratch or analog synths.

05-08-2003, 01:14 PM
The reason behind the DM choice was becuase of the lower CPU overhead vs. streaming CD or MP3. Also, DM does allow for a more interactive musical score. It is definately ambitious on our part to go for that approach. But we feel the interactivity of the music will help set the game apart. Also, there was some concern with licensing I believe, with trying to stream mp3...is that correct?

I appreciate the tips everyone is giving but I am still curious on setups that everyone is using for game audio, software apps, etc. Is everyone just composing CD or MP3 audio for games? What about console game composers, for instance with the XBOX? If I am not mistaken I think the XBOX uses something simular to DM?

And I am using free samples so far for converting to DLS...but thanks for the heads up.


05-08-2003, 04:21 PM
Interactive music is definitely the way some are moving. I know one huge publisher is asking for all new music to be interactive. I\'d say 75% percent of my work has been CD audio and much of the rest is PS chip music for which I\'m increasingly being asked to do interactive scores. It\'s an interesting challenge, as is fitting all the samples into 200k of PS memory with every loop needing to be a multiple of exactly 28 samples, 20 voice polyphony and the most brutal audio compression in the known universe! I LOVE IT!!!!

I think it\'s worth learning how to use all these tools rather than farm the work out. If you compose a piece of music using all the latest and best libraries and THEN have to squeeze it into the PS2, Xbox or whatever it will suffer much more than a piece composed using the final sounds. Turning great sounding CD audio using multi gigabyte Gigastudio libraries into great sounding chip music, Direct Music and so on is a nightmare and if someone is doing it well you will be paying them a lot of money to do it! I find I get much better results composing with the final samples. I actually have an old Mac set up with the Sony audio tools and PCI card for doing PSX stuff. It\'s effectively a Sony sampler!!!! If you can find a way to do this with the MS Direct Music stuff then go for it IMO. You will also get the job done much faster working this way.

All these tools often seem daunting to start with and are often crash prone and frustrating to use. However someone has to master them so it might as well be you!!! There\'s always someone waiting in the wings to do the job if you can\'t.

I agree with King about being careful about what samples you use!!! Read those license agreements VERY carefully!!!!! If in doubt, DON\'T use it.

05-08-2003, 11:23 PM
Any particular reason why being forced into doing Direct Music for? I\'d push back some to see if you can do CD audio, or at least mp3, ogg vorbis, or some other compressed format instead. If you were working on something like Playstation or GBA, I\'d understand, but for the PC...? Granted, if you\'re darn good, and know how to work it, you can get some impressive results, but why limit yourself like that? Or, if he wants totally interactive audio, but still, there\'s other options for that as well.


05-09-2003, 09:19 AM
And I also hope your getting \'free\' sound banks from a reliable source, not just \'off the web\', unless you like to find out exactly how much of your \'free\' stuff really isn\'t free at all.

You could also use Ogg Vorbis for steaming, as it\'s free, and better sound quality than mp3\'s anyway. Eating up too much resources on the PC is really becoming a thing of the past though as powerful as systems are now. If you do CD audio, you really don\'t have cpu resources being eaten up.

I\'d jump right into DM as soon as you possibly can though if this is going to be required. It\'s buggy, so better to know workarounds now than right before crunch time.


05-09-2003, 09:41 AM
ahhh Interactive music..... memories.....nightmares.... images/icons/wink.gif

DM is definietly the one to turn to for Interactive music it seems. I\'ve read a bit of what it can do, and anyone with some serious Music Theory and with a generally good concept of how things \"can work\" in terms of programming AND with the throught process that can keep up with creating \"branches\" in musical cues....should be able to do wonderful work ;P

As for Consoles, with interactive music (aside from the Xbox, which I believe can use DMP), you have to have custom build audio/music engines. We used one on Sly that was built by SONY. Crystal Dynamics has their own interactive music engine, as do others.

Marsdy\'s right tho. Fitting everything into 200-400k banks is not fun (SFX always get the priority it seems...unless your in Japan working on an RPG). Not to mention giving yourself enough variety to make the interactive music seem \"varied\" instead of static with simple key/modal changes.

Then add to the fact that you\'ve got to reprogram each audio bank in to multiple formats...blah blah..etc etc... not fun on a BIG project.

This is why many developers go for a specific multiplatform Audio Engine that can be liscenced for your game. Way quicker than working with proprietary developers tools across multiple platforms.

Good luck with this. I think creating interactive music is something that may end up sounding \"forced\" for specific styles of gameplay. the game itself has to be paced correctly otherwise you end up with too much of an \"on/off\" feel. But if you dontt do enough in the variations, it becomes too subtle for bigger changes in the game....in which case you ned to make sure the programmers/coders have enough time to put specific triggers in the places you want.

its all fun images/icons/rolleyes.gif


05-10-2003, 07:57 PM
\"You could also use Ogg Vorbis for steaming...\"

I am seeing more requests for .ogg format. The Epic game engine, for instance, can only stream .ogg files.

I dread climbing higher on the DP learning curve, but its gotta happen. Its probably a matter of survival now...

Joris de Man
05-11-2003, 04:08 AM
As far as I\'m aware, .ogg is similar to mp3 but with a lower cpu overhead and non of the licensing issues that you might have with mp3.

Edward, I would re-examine with the guys you\'re doing the game with what they really need in terms of music and interactivity.
CPU overhead for streaming music on a PC these days is going to be pretty minimal, esp. compared to graphics (which usually get the front seat) and AI (funnily enough routefinding and such can be notoriously cpu heavy in a 3d world).

Find out what the minimum spec CPU for the game is (what kind of processor speed, how much memory, how much disk space) and what kind of resources the game will need for other areas such as graphics and AI, and make a decision based on that.
I can understand DLS and midi from a console point of view (PS2 and such), although even then I wouldn\'t go anywhere near it. It just doesn\'t compare to properly recorded and mixed music, and there are alternatives, although it would require some programming effort.
One option would be to make the same piece of music with varying levels of intensity, and x-fade between them dependent on the situation of the game. These could be adpcm compressed streams (a lossy medium quality compression scheme with very low cpu overhead, used on the ps2) interleaved into one file that is streamed.
In roughly the same space as a regular 44k 16 bit red book audio track you could fit up to 4 different adpcm streams.

I\'m currently working on a ps2 title and decided not to go the DLS route. Sound Memory is tight enough as it is, esp. when using reverb.
Streamed music might not deliver the same kind of interactiveness that DLS can, but will beat it any day of the week when it comes to impact and soundquality, IMHO.