Hey everybody! I’m video game music composer Winifred Phillips, author of the book A Composer’s Guide to Game Music. Since the publication of my book by the MIT Press, I’ve maintained a monthly series of articles designed to expand upon the content of that book and enable further exploration of related topics. Inspired by my more recent video game projects in popular franchises such as Jurassic World, Lineage, and Sackboy, these articles have delved into subjects ranging from interactivity, to music theory, to business and networking.
The sheer number of articles has necessitated the inclusion of a navigation tool, so I now include an annual “Big Index” that can assist us in finding our way through the content that’s accumulated over the years. What follows is that index, organized by general subject matter. New to the index are articles from the past year that have engaged in more detailed and technical discussions of music theory-related topics, with deep dives into non-diatonic construction that included atonal and polytonal composition. I’ve also included the transcripts of my interviews with National Public Radio and the BBC that took place in 2023.
These are articles that explore different aspects of dynamic music construction. As an example, here’s an excerpt from the article Horizontal Resequencing & Song Structure for Composers:
“Linear music is a single contiguous unit, like a straight line moving in one direction, with a beginning, middle and end. But dynamic music is more like a maze that can move in many directions with lots of divergent possibilities. The art of interactive music creation and implementation is not just about understanding and deploying interactive music systems. It’s also about looking at the nuts and bolts of these systems and seeing all of those divergent possibilities.” (Read more here)
Dynamic Music Case Studies
Dynamic Music General Concepts
These articles consider the power of music to influence the functions of the brain. Here’s a quote from the article Video game composers can make you smarter:
“Can video game composers make you smarter? Well, video gaming can be a pretty cerebral activity, requiring astute problem-solving skills and disciplined concentration in order to excel. That’s especially true for any game built around strategic and/or tactical gameplay, such as real-time or turn-based strategy, tactical shooters, multiplayer online battle arenas (MOBAs), and online collectible card strategy games. To succeed in these types of games, players must assess the current situation and formulate a plan that accounts for future developments and variables. Without this type of tactical forward-thinking gameplay, a gamer has little chance to win. So, can music enable gamers to think tactically, stay focused and make smart decisions?” (Read more here)
What follows are articles that discuss the business skills needed to succeed, such as those explored in the article Communication Tips for the Video Game Music Composer:
“Far from just a valuable personality asset, the ability to communicate well must be considered a top priority: as intrinsically valuable as rock-solid competency, awesome artistry or compelling vision. Good communication amongst team members can make or break the development of a game. As game audio pros, we share this in common with our coworkers in other segments of the game development community. However, it becomes especially important for us to focus and emphasize good communication when we’re working remotely as independent contractors.” (Read more here)
In these articles, we consider the power of game music to elicit responses in players, and the best techniques to make our music as impactful as possible. Here’s a quote from the article Game composers and the importance of themes – the Hook in Game Music:
“Music is a super-mnemonic. It makes us remember things, and it does it better than most anything else. Just like smells can bring back really detailed memories, music can do the same thing. And the fact that we hear game music while we’re participating in something active and engaging means that the music has an even better chance of being remembered. Active experiences are proven to be remembered better than passive ones. This means that game music has a unique ability to define the identity of a game, and help players remember it. However, in order for the music to remind players of the game, we have to make sure that we compose the music to be as memorable as possible.” (Read more here)
Music Theory in Game Composition
Music Composition: Themes and Variation
Music Composition: Thoughts on Style
Music Composition: Research and Technical
These articles represent both an archive of great video game-related events, and a collection of interviews discussing the craft of game music composition. Here’s a quote from theBBC Sound of Gaming Interview article about how music induces tension and stress in listeners:
“Wilhelm Maximilian Wundt was one of the first psychologists. He was the first scientist to call himself a psychologist, and he created a bell curve that he called the Wundt curve. It’s the idea that any stimulus in our lives falls into an array of categories, starting with something that’s very simple and familiar. And when things are too simple and familiar, they’re boring! But as things move into more complexity and more novelty, they become more interesting, and those sorts of interesting elements are pleasurable for us… But then, as things move further and become more and more complex and more and more novel, it starts to work on us in a way that doesn’t feel pleasurable. We start feeling anxious and tense about it. We start to stress about it. It increases our trepidation. It makes us feel like we’re in danger, like we’re not safe. And that’s moving out of that Goldilocks zone into the outer end of the bell curve.” (Read more here)
These articles discuss the impact of Virtual Reality on our work as game composers and game audio professionals. Here’s an excerpt from the article Composing Video Game Music for Virtual Reality – Comfort Versus Performance:
“We’ve probably all heard about VIMS – visually induced motion sickness. Unfortunately, it’s a pretty famous obstacle in VR game design, causing tons of consternation for game audio experts. So, can video game composers help? Can music be used to combat motion sickness? Actually, yes. The US Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the use of music to relieve motion sickness. Music has been shown to appreciably decrease symptoms of nausea for people in moving vehicles. Going further, according to a study at the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute, music significantly reduces nausea induced by visual stimulus alone. The conclusion is – music can be an awesome treatment for VIMS – but it can’t be just any music.” (Read more here)
VR Physiology and Perception
VR Technology and Resources
As I mentioned at the top of this article, I wrote A Composer’s Guide to Game Music to provide a resource for game music professionals, and many of the topics dicussed above are further explored in this book. It’s available from the MIT Press, in many public libraries and universities, and is also available here.
That brings to a close this year’s edition of The Big Index! I hope it makes for easier navigation through these articles. Thanks for reading!
Winifred Phillips is a BAFTA-nominated video game composer. The music she composed for one of her most recent video game projects (Horse Club Adventures 2: Secrets of Skeifa Island) won two Global Music Award Gold Medals, two NYX Gold Awards, and is currently nominated for a Society of Composers and Lyricists Award. Music from Secrets of Skeifa Island is included in her latest album release, Ancient Heroes, released by the BMG record label 1 Revolution. Other recent game releases include the hit PlayStation 5 launch title Sackboy: A Big Adventure (soundtrack album now available). Popular music from Phillips’ award-winning Assassin’s Creed Liberation score was featured in the performance repertoire of the Assassin’s Creed Symphony World Tour, which made its Paris debut with an 80-piece orchestra and choir. As an accomplished video game composer, Phillips is best known for composing music for games in many of the most famous and popular franchises in gaming: the list includes Assassin’s Creed, God of War, Total War,
The Sims, Sackboy / LittleBigPlanet, Lineage, and Wizardry. Phillips’ has received numerous awards, including an Interactive Achievement Award / D.I.C.E. Award from the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences, six Game Audio Network Guild Awards (including Music of the Year), and four Hollywood Music in Media Awards. She is the author of the award-winning bestseller A COMPOSER’S GUIDE TO GAME MUSIC, published by the MIT Press. As one of the foremost authorities on music for interactive entertainment, Winifred Phillips has given lectures at the Library of Congress in Washington DC, the Society of Composers and Lyricists, the Game Developers Conference, the Audio Engineering Society, and many more. Phillips’ enthusiastic fans showered her with questions during a Reddit Ask-Me-Anything session that went viral, hit the Reddit front page, received 14.9 thousand upvotes, and became one of the most popular gaming AMAs ever hosted on Reddit. An interview with her has been published as a part of the Routledge text, Women’s Music for the Screen: Diverse Narratives in Sound, which collects the viewpoints of the most esteemed female composers in film, television, and games. Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Threads.