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Strategies for Modular Recreation Music (Composing for Lineage M: GDC 2022)

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By Winifred Phillips | Contact | Comply with

Hiya there! I am online game composer Winifred Phillips. At the newest Recreation Builders Convention, I used to be happy to current a lecture as a part of the convention’s audio monitor. GDC is a high online game business convention, full of professional periods supplemented by an array of superior alternatives to community and be taught. Every time I give a GDC presentation, I like to incorporate the content material of my lecture in my articles right here, so I am now kicking off a five-part collection of articles based mostly on my presentation in March! In these articles, I’ve included the substance of my GDC presentation, together with many of the multimedia supplies I used for example ideas throughout my lecture. So let’s get began!

I would prefer to share a few of what I realized composing music for some of the well-known and profitable online game franchises of all time. In 1998, NCSoft launched the lineage MMORPG – the primary sport in what has now develop into one of many highest-grossing online game collection ever made. This is what the field artwork appeared like in 1998:

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There have been eight video games up to now, and whereas the lineage collection has been profitable in America and Europe, it is an absolute monster hit in Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. In lineagegamers combat their method by dungeons, kind events to defeat monsters, and undertake large world raids.

So why are we speaking a few sport that is over 24 years previous? Properly, as everyone knows, retro gaming has made an enormous mark in our business. Video games from the early days are getting new releases, proper alongside new video games which can be designed to look, sound and really feel extremely old-school and lo-tech. And it seems that players are completely happy to embrace pixelated visions of our previous – as a result of a slew of those retro-style video games have became large success tales.

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And that brings us to the topic of our discuss right this moment.

As sport composers, the massive majority of our tasks contain extremely interactive music methods – so we’re primarily skilled to suppose that method. We’re on the bleeding fringe of audio know-how, and we’re continuously innovating and experimenting with new instruments and methods to make our music as dynamic and responsive as potential. We’re all the time trying to the long run. So what occurs when we now have to show our consideration to the previous as a substitute?

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In 2017, NCSoft determined to show again time by porting the unique lineage sport to cell platforms underneath the title Lineage M, full with the old-school feel and look of the unique sport. This retro launch rapidly grew to become the best grossing title within the franchise. So standard, the truth is, that gamers needed to maneuver their thrilling sword-and-sorcery adventures off their cell gadgets and onto their PCs. So NCSoft launched the cell sport on its PC emulator service… and identical to that, the unique lineage from the nineties was again on thousands and thousands of PCs, and extra standard than ever.

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That is the place issues take an attention-grabbing flip. June 2021 marked 4 years for the reason that launch of Lineage Mand NCSoft celebrated by providing some expansive DLC content material, together with the primary new playable territory for lineage since its preliminary PC launch in 1998. NCSoft employed me to compose the music for the DLC launch, and it was an enchanting expertise. I will be sharing what it was like engaged on this undertaking over the course of those 5 articles, so let’s begin by testing the primary new in-game content material launched for lineage in over 24 years, together with a number of the music I composed for the sport. This is a take a look at Lineage M: The Elmor.

Lineage M was some of the uncommon tasks I’ve labored on. The DLC sport consists of a number of model new content material, however it’s all developed to work inside a sport engine that is over 24 years previous. So the music could not be structured with trendy methods, as a result of the sport engine was designed just for linear music tracks known as one-shots. I wrote about any such linear sport composition in my e-book, A Composer’s Information to Recreation Music (The MIT Press):

This is the book cover of A Composer's Guide to Game Music, published by the MIT Press and written by game composer Winifred Phillips.

“The In-Recreation One-Shot: it is a monitor that will probably be triggered throughout gameplay however won’t loop. It’s going to due to this fact be written with a starting, center, and finish. Nevertheless, just like the linear loop, the music of the in-game one-shot monitor have to be written to accommodate any exercise that will happen whereas the music is taking part in. We must always do not forget that the ending of a one-shot monitor might not essentially occur in probably the most advantageous second, as the character of gameplay at that time will probably be not possible to foretell. With this in thoughts, the composer ought to stay conscious of the ensuing vacuum that will probably be created by the ending of the one-shot monitor and construction the ending to progressively diminish so that it’ll mix away into the final ambiance.” (Chapter 10, Web page 182)

So in response to this definition, the linear one-shot monitor performs as soon as, after which ends. The sport engine of the unique lineage sport was constructed round any such monitor, so there could not be any loops, or horizontal segments, or vertical layers. There could not be something dynamic or interactive… however it was nonetheless a sport. And a sport ought to by no means be scored in a purely linear method, like a TV present or a film. As sport audio execs, we had no intention of doing it like that.

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Normally, sport composers take conventional linear methods and apply them inside an interactive framework, however right here, it was the precise reverse. The audio workforce at NCSoft and I took interactive methods and utilized them inside a linear framework, as a way to make these one-shot tracks work higher within the context of a online game. And step one was to plan every part rigorously, intimately, utilizing a modular method. However earlier than we begin to checklist the small print of what the modular system was and the way it labored, let’s first get acquainted with the story of the sport.

In Lineage M: The Elmor, you’re a noble warrior charged by your nice king to defend the traditional snow-bound metropolis of Escaros in opposition to relentless assaults from hordes of the undead. Throughout this time, you’re out of the blue overcome by a imaginative and prescient of the Grim Reaper himself, who presents to make you omnipotent, in case you comply with combat his battles his on earth. In agreeing, you’re reworked right into a stern hooded determine with demonic powers, wielding an unlimited scythe. Thus armed, you’re completely geared up to ship the undead monstrosities again to their everlasting relaxation.

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The musical type of Lineage M: The Elmor wanted to mirror the bombastic sword-and-sorcery type that had been established inside the unique sport, whereas infusing some gothic horror into the combo. And whereas each monitor composed for this DLC sport wanted to convey these components of story and magnificence, additionally they needed to conform to a modular building. So let’s now talk about what modular means within the context of sport music.

Composing for video games is all about rising the utility of our tracks, in order that they will match into a number of conditions. To ensure that this to occur, we break music up into a number of element components – like separate items (or modules) which can be mixed to kind a bigger, modular building. Early on within the planning levels, the Lineage M audio workforce and I made a decision to use the same philosophy right here. Earlier than we take a look at how the music functioned throughout gameplay, let’s first take a more in-depth take a look at the music itself, in order that we will take into account its modular building.

Whereas there are many completely different tracks in Lineage M: The Elmor, they’re all composed of interchangeable items (or modules) which can be all suitable with one another. The person sections of the composition, together with their rhythmic content material, their melodies and countermelodies, and even their instrumentation – these are all handled as modules – combined and matched in a number of configurations as a way to finest assist gameplay, and this requires a typical key signature and tempo that allows the modular method.

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So let’s first take heed to only a few of the modular parts, randomly chosen so we will start to see how they’re structured for compatibility.

You may see that every part is designed for compatibility. As an example, I composed the entire gameplay music for Lineage M in E minor at 130 beats per measure – it is all structured round these two immovable components. This allows the modular building, and there are execs and cons to this method. Having a cohesive tonal middle and pacing helps to instill aesthetic unity into all of the in-game tracks. Because of this, utilizing a typical tempo and key signature is a widely known technique employed by trendy dynamic musical scores. Nevertheless, the problems raised by this system will be tough to resolve. We have to take care that there is nonetheless variety and variation, regardless of the widespread tempo and key signature, and discovering an answer to this downside has confirmed to be an actual problem. Partly two of this text collection, I am going to talk about how this challenge was resolved within the music for Lineage M: The Elmor, and the way the modular method supplied instruments to introduce selection and novelty into the sport’s musical rating.


Winifred Phillips is a BAFTA-nominated online game composer whose most up-to-date undertaking is the music for one of many newest blockbuster releases within the lineage collection (one of many highest-grossing online game franchises of all time). Current tasks embody the hit PlayStation 5 launch title Sackboy: A Huge Journey (soundtrack album now accessible). Phillips’ standard and award-winning Murderer’s Creed Liberation rating was not too long ago singled out by GameSpot as their favourite within the franchise, naming it one of many “finest online game soundtracks you’ll be able to stream.” As an completed online game composer, Phillips is finest recognized for composing music for video games in 5 of probably the most well-known and standard franchises in gaming: God of Struggle, Complete Struggle, The Sims, Murderer’s Creed, and Sackboy / LittleBigPlanet Phillips has obtained quite a few awards, together with an Interactive Achievement Award / DICE Award from the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences, six Recreation Audio Community Guild Awards (together with Music of the Yr), and three Hollywood Music in Media Awards. She is the writer of the award-winning bestseller A COMPOSER’S GUIDE TO GAME MUSIC, revealed by the MIT Press. As one of many foremost authorities on music for interactive leisure, Winifred Phillips has given lectures on the Library of Congress in Washington DC, the Society of Composers and Lyricists, the Recreation Builders Convention, the Audio Engineering Society, and lots of extra. Phillips ‘enthusiastic followers her showered her with questions throughout a Reddit Ask-Me-Something session that went viral, hit the Reddit entrance web page, obtained 14.9 thousand upvotes, and have become some of the standard gaming AMAs ever hosted on Reddit. An interview together with her is now featured as part of the Roulette textual content, Girls’s Music for the Display: Numerous Narratives in Sound, which collects the viewpoints of probably the most esteemed feminine composers in movie, tv, and video games. Comply with her on Twitter @winphillips.