Sound of the Game

As in movies, music in mobile games has proved its importance in establishing the mood and tone and as a tool to convey a certain experience to the players. Much like video games, each mobile game has its own special vibe and story to tell, whether through the gameplay, the art or the music and sound effects. Undoubtedly, game developers aim to bring life to their games through original and amusing music and to offer users an entertaining gaming experience.

The right music has the power to take you to another place and get you completely absorbed in the fantasy world of the game. Music in gaming has to fulfill various functions as well as being fun to listen to. It has to evoke an emotional response and at the same time to communicate the simplest information to the player. For example, a special sound effect when winning a level or a prize.

Given the significant role music plays in shaping player’s gaming experience, I sat for a chat with Oded Kovach (Music Composer and Sound Designer at Ilyon) in his recording studio to get a glimpse into the creative process behind creating music for games.

What can you tell me about music in gaming?

A game’s soundtrack is an extremely important element because it gets you in a certain mood and it’s something that stays with you even for years. A melodic line characterizes the game and also draws the attention of players. The Angry Birds theme music is a great example of a modern catchy melody that has become easily associated with the game. People remember games and usually go back and play them again because they have in mind this unique melody which they hum for years after. Just think about it, who can’t recognize and hum the Super Mario Bros tune? This memorable and familiar sound to gamers has the ability to take you back in time straight to your childhood cheerful days. It’s one of the special functions of music, that it can trigger all kinds of memories related to a certain place or time.

What do you usually start with when composing?

I need to get some basic information about the game so I usually will play it myself, go through the game’s art and talk to the game designer to get more details. In case I haven’t decided on the musical style, then I generally play on the midi controller, checking different sounds and trying to pick one that sounds good. Sometimes I take a break and go for a walk and just hum to myself until I get inspiration. The idea is to find the basic melody which I will use to compose the entire track. Once I have the basic melody in mind, the rest just flows naturally. In a way, the music is like telling a story, it’s a form of expression which conveys experience and I have to find the proper “words” in order to create a certain reality for the players.

What is a typical workday like for you?

It varies, for me the whole experience is like a rollercoaster. Some days everything is working great and I feel on top of the world and on other days I may feel stuck. Being a musician, first of all, is getting the chance to do what I truly love and passionate about so inevitably my work involves emotion. If I am looking to affect other people’s emotion then I have to test it on myself first and see how a certain melody makes me feel.

Because the working process is very emotional, you need to know how to balance everything or else it can get pretty tiring and emotionally draining. I usually find the balance I need when I am working on the final mix for the game. Basically, this is the stage when I just put everything together – the drums, the guitars and the sound effects and check that all the musical elements sit well together. This process is often more relaxed and even quite meditative.

What is the effect music have on players?

The advantage of music over other forms of media is the fact that you can change people’s feelings. If a game has a calming and soothing melody, for example like “The Streets of Whiterun” tune from The Elder Scrolls V. Skyrim video game, it will be easier for the player to immerse himself into the game world and fully experience it. Music is a great tool which can create the atmosphere within the game, whether it’s dramatic, fun or simply be relaxing. As a music composer, I often think about the players, about their experience and how I can help to shape it. Most of the people won’t even notice just how much the music affects them, it usually stores in our subconscious.

Also, when writing music and sound effects for mobile games you need to make sure that you can come up with a melody which will not irritate the player but rather will encourage him/her to continue playing. The melody and the sound effects usually come together and work as one unit which contributes to the general gaming experience. The sound effects emphasize the action, what’s going on in the game. You all know that positive and “happy” sound you get when you complete a level or win some special item.

Music is a great way to interact with players, let them know that they are doing well or just give them reassurance and encouragement to continue playing, even when they have lost a level. In my view, music is what gets you into the world of the game and the sound effects make you feel yourself in the game. You play and realize that the game is responsive, each action you make has consequences and it makes the game feel more alive and real.