Working With Game Composers Part 2 - Jam Sonic

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Working With Game Composers Part 2

In our post last week, we discussed some of difficulties in communication that can arise between a game composer and the dev team.  We also talked about the importance of defining the purpose for music used in your game.  This week, we will talk about the remaining elements that will allow you to get the best work from your composer, namely:  Emotions and Feel.


Since music is the language of emotion, it is much more natural to communicate about music by speaking about the emotions to evoke than it is to speak in terms of genre (although as we will see later, genre has it’s place).  Emotion will convey to your gamer what they should feel as they are watching your cutscene or playing your level.  Much like purpose, there are many options for the choice of emotion and often, a certain musical cue may call for a mixture of emotions.  For example, motivation, determination, fear, mystery, are all emotions that a certain game may include.  However, your game level may call for a mixture of emotions such as determination mixed with fear or fear mixed with hope in order for the musical cue to truly convey what the player should experience emotionally.  Emotions are the wireframe, the base, and the foundation on which you want to build your music around.  Get it right, and the player will care about the hero of the game, cry when a side character is killed, and yell out loud when they pick up the joystick when they go to battle.  Get it wrong, and they will be unengaged.

Mental State/Mood

Sometimes, evoking an emotion may not be necessary.  For example, for a puzzle game, you may not need your gamer to be charged up.  However, there may be a mental state that you want to induce.  Using the example of the puzzle game, you may want to induce a state of focus in the gamer as they concentrate on solving the puzzle.  Other times, it may be specific mood such as tranquility or serenity.  In either scenario, you need to designate what emotion, mental state, or mood you want to induce in your player so that the music can fill it’s role.


If emotion/mental state/mood are the foundation on which to describe your music, the feel are all of the other levels, finishings, and outer trappings that sit on top of the foundation.  To clarify, when we mean feel, we mean the aspects of music that correspond to a time, location, or genre.  For example, a song with Japanese “feel” can have many different emotions, but there are certain sonic elements that would give it a “Japanese” feel such as the instrumentation or the scales used.  While the emotional elements of a song communicates how one should feel emotionally, the “feel” of a song conveys a certain time or place.  For example, the feel of calypso can take someone mentally to an island or beach.  Feel becomes important to game audio because if the feel of your audio doesn’t match the visual aesthetics of your game, the sound and graphics will be out of sync (which can be an effect in its own right but is beyond today’s blog post).


Knowing both emotion and feel makes it much easier to communicate with your composer and to decide on what you want.  They become two variables that your composer can experiment with to compose tracks for your game.  They also also become your toolkit for assessing what your composers provides you.  For example, let’s say your song comes back and the feel fits your visuals perfectly but it’s missing the mark emotionally.  Maybe it’s the wrong emotion, or rather the emotion is not incorrect, but needs another emotion mixed into it to make it really move the gamer. In either case, you now have an easier time communicating with he composer to get exactly what you want.


Purpose, emotions, and feel are the keys to communicating clearly with your composer.  By keeping these 3 elements in mind, you get to the heart of what your music is supposed to do and make it crystal clear what you are looking for from your composer.