Computer games music includes just about every genre of music - from basic beeps through pop, rock and electronica to lush symphonies.

How do you make it? What do you use? How does it go together? We thought you might be interested in answers to some questions so we polled a few companies and got good replies from Computer Artworks in England and Lost Boys Games in Amsterdam (now Guerilla - Aug 03). Our warmest thanks to Joris de Man and Nancy Gatehouse of Lost Boys Games and Keith Tinman and Carolyn Seager of Computer Arts.

Computer Arts


Titles: The Thing, Organic Sound to Light

website interest: William Latham art

platforms: PC, PS2, Xbox, online

Base: UK

Audio Engineer/Composer:

Keith Tinman



Lost Boys Games


Titles: Knights, Call of the Dragonfly, unnamed for SCCE,
handheld thro formula

website interest: 'Knights' Theme Music (preview) MP3 [3 Megabyte]
performed by the Moscow Symphony Orchestra.

platforms: all next gen console and PC

Base: Amsterdam, Netherlands

House Composer: Joris de Man


How did you start in games music?

Keith Tinman
It was through my brother actually, he's a games programmer, he was working for a company called Thor software in 1985, they were looking for a composer and Robert, my brother put my name forward to the MD, I was interviewed and got the job!
What a lucky break that was, since that day I have been in full time employment with the following companies, Odin, Special FX software, Ocean Software, Infogrames and I'm still currently at Computer Artworks

Joris de Man

I started out as a demo musician on the Atari ST scene; one summer holiday I was offered a freelance assigment to do some music for a CDI game. That led to more assigments, and soon afterwards I was offered a fulltime job. Then one day I hopped over to England to visit the Future Entertainment show, where I bumped into one of the Bitmap Brothers. I gave them a demotape, and half a year later I was hired by them; the rest, as they say, is history.

What sort of equipment do you use?
Here's a rundown of some of my setup:-

Yamaha 02R Digital Mixer
Yamaha Promix 01 Digital Mixer
Clavia Nord Lead II Rack
AKAI S5000 Sampler
Roland JP-8000
Roland Jupiter 8
Roland MVS1 Vintage Synth Module
Kurzweil K2000 Rack Sampler
Moog Rogue Mono Synth
Novation Bass Station Rack
Alesis Midiverb IV
Midiman 8x8 USB MIDI Interface

PC Running Cubase
Sound Forge 4.5

All my composing is done on a Macintosh G4, running Logic Audio Platinum. For mixing I have 2 Protools sets, and I use a PC for Gigastudio (a software sampler) and conversions. Apart from that a Yamaha digital mixer and various synths and outboard gear.


Do you have any special hardware or software tools that you've
developed for the job?

Not really, I just use the equipment as it is.


We (the programmers and myself) have developed various tools for the PC. One is a Gameboy music system, which we've used for 2 gameboy projects now (Candy Fluffy and Rhino Rumble Puzzle). It consists of a gameboy soundeditor and a tracker conversion tool. The other is an interactive streaming music system that allows the playback of cd quality music that changes according to in-game situations. A musictool for the Gameboy Advanced is also in development.
Next to that I really enjoy creating my own (musical) sounds, and programming synthesizers.

What is the process of producing games music? Is it iterative
or do you start with a fairly set 'spec'?

The process of coming up with ideas for games is relativly simple, I start by reading the D&P for the game if the games not that advanced in development, or by playing it if it's at a playable stage, As I play or read the D&P, I try and get some clear ideas ticking over in my head for music style, I usually come up with ideas by humming along to my self in
my mind. I think getting ideas in this way really works, you are getting direct inspiration from the game as you read or play.

Once an initial idea has bloomed I go away and start the test track in the studio.

It really depends on the project; funnily enough, the gameboy projects I've worked on have been much more specified than the 'bigger' projects we have in development. Since I start pretty early on some projects, because I work in-house, it tends to change somewhat as the project changes. It allows you to get a much better grasp on what the project is about then when you come in at the end. Mostly I'll be given a simple brief, and then I just go away and do my thing for a while; then we discuss whether the approach is working or not.

Who decides what style of music should apply to a game?

I have a total free reign in this department, but I'm always open to other peoples ideas, I usually put together a rough version of a track, then play it to various people in the design team, sort of a testing period as with a record, I digest people's views about the track and make alterations accordingly. I find this the best way to work as you can
sometimes get interesting ideas from a collective of people.
The lead designer and the composer usually decide this. The designer will often have an idea about what kind of music he would like to hear in the game, and more importantly when and where. We discuss different options, and sometimes I might be able to come up with some ideas the designer hasn't thought about. Often I'm left to my own devices, but I've been fortunate enough that they've liked most of the stuff I've come up with.
What is your background in music?
I am self taught musically, I started as mentioned previously writing music for the early computer platforms i.e. Spectrum, C64, Amstrad computers, from that point I have literally taught myself everything, I think there's nothing quite like teaching yourself a skill. If you have enough determination to do something you will find a way of capturing that skill, but having the ability to compose music is, well, I think it's a natural gift, being able to use and understand the equipment is the easy
part! Composing 'Chip' music for consoles is a art form in it's self, you are always trying to squeeze samples in to the really small amounts of RAM available, and of course still make it sound as if it's a CD track playing.

So from the humble early generation of computers I have worked my way up through the various consoles and computers to today's recording equipment.

I come from a very musical family. My father is a teacher at the Royal Conservatory in The Hague, and a contemporary classical composer as well, my mother is a harpsichordist, and my brother a multimedia composer. When I was six, I started playing the violin; I played in an Orchestra for a short while as well. After studying Sonology for a year, I started a study in Music and Technology, but left after six months for a job offer I received.


Is the music ever platform specific? If you're going for multiple platforms, do you go for the max on each or seek a commonly workable approach (leaving aside WAP games and such)?


Yes it can be, if you have a project that is going across all formats then you have to have some sort of master plan, I approach this by composing the tracks to the highest detail available, i.e. CD audio, then I scale down the tracks for the various platforms, so imagine going from CD format
to Game Boy, this obviously is going to be quite difficult, so you must keep this in mind when you are composing the tracks, you basically can't rely on big keyboard sounds to deliver your music, because how will you make this sound on a feeble Game Boy! The trick is to get the balance of big sounds and also have some basic melody or theme which you can use a rudimentary starting block on all formats, this makes your job a little easier, basically you just use the same MIDI data and strip back the channels you can't use, with the bare essentials intact you can then start to work on building the music to make it sound good on the platform you are working on.

It really depends on the project and platforms, but overall I try to do the best for each platform. I've never farmed out work to someone else because I didn't want to do a specific platform; I think each platform and it's limitations is a challenge. At one point, for instance, I was alternating between writing a piece to be performed and recorded with the Moscow Symphony Orchestra, and writing chip tunes for the Gameboy Colour. I find the extreme contrast between some platforms very interesting and challenging. Writing a good chiptune can be equally as challenging as writing a symphony.
So yes, I guess you could say I go for the max:)
Do you have a favourite platform right now?
Playstation 2, but I'm waiting to see what the new consoles are going to offer on the audio front. Not really; most platforms are getting pretty similar in terms of audio abillities. I'm very interested in finding out more about the Xbox soundhardware; I heard it was developed by Nvidia as well, which is interesting since they don't have a history of soundcards or things like that. But the spec looks pretty good.
My preference would probably be the PC right now, because you don't have to deal with a memory footprint; you can pretty much take it as far as you want to go. On the other hand, you never know what kind of soundcard a consumer has in his PC, in that respect, the consoles have the advantage.
Would you like to see computer games music treated as an artform like
film soundtracks? Or is this pie in the sky?
Yes, I would like to see this happen eventually, as technology progresses we are facing more and more of a challenge, music for games will soon be comparable to film sound tracks, possibly even more so as a film sound track has a predetermined flow, the film composer knows what's ahead, so they can adjust the feel very easily, with a game you have to have predetermined pieces of music which can join seamlessly and be called upon at any time.

Incidentally, a colleague of mine, Toby Stenberg actually wrote his university dissertation on this subject before he joined the company.
I don't think it's a pie in the sky at all, if you consider that gamemusic now has the chance of winning a Grammy.
Unfortunately the gamesindustry still doesn't seem to take gamemusic very seriously, even though it's a third of the gameplay experience. Bigger budgets for gamemusic could mean better gamemusic as well.
Gamemusic can be treated as an artform, if it is done well; allthough I wouldn't put gameboymusic in that realm (I would call that skillful sooner than artful:), there is some gamemusic out there that truly would deserve to be called artistic of artful.
Outcast, for one, is one of those games.


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