Post feature RSS Composition Series- #1 What is a Soundtrack?

This article in our composition series covers what is involved in making a game soundtrack, specifically the one for Lord of Rigel.

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The soundtrack to Lord of Rigel, as you can imagine, has changed significantly since I first started making concept tracks at the end of last year. Better understanding of the lore, and the flow of new artwork since those first few notes has forced me to revisit old ideas several times, until I was happy with both the sound palette and emotion that now embodies the game.

So what is a video game soundtrack and what makes it different to writing a regular album or EP?

The role of the composer/musician is a simple one really, we are given the responsibility to bring a game to life; the Victor Frankensteins of game development. To make the player feel a certain way at a particular moment, connect with them on an emotional level and create an atmosphere that complements what is seen on screen.

In a lot of ways the craft of making albums and video game music is quite similar. Creating an overall aesthetic, a sense of continuity and pacing are important elements to both (although maybe not as much as it used to be with many albums being a collection of singles nowadays). The differences are mainly technical, and something that I find quite useful – a video game is full of ready made influences, from art to game mechanics, that help with the decision making process when sound shaping and arranging. Unlike with personal music projects where there are seemingly endless possibilities; limitations are good for focus. Something Brian Eno has touched upon when working in the studio, so there is certainly some truth to it!

The music for Lord of Rigel has been split into 7 sections – Menus, Ambient, Tactical Combat, Ground Combat, Species and Events. Each serves its own purpose and again this separation helps set a unique tone for each area of the game, giving the player auditory cues as to what is happening at that point.

I’ll go into more detail on each section in the coming weeks, along with what has influenced some of the tracks and why they sound the way they do.
For anyone looking to get into making music for games I can highly recommend the book I have just finished reading, ‘A Composer’s Guide to Game Music’ by Winifred Phillips. Also, keep an eye out for her videos and articles online for a wealth of information and advice.

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