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  • Video Game Music: A Developer's Guide To Finding the Perfect Track

    [01.12.21]
    - Kent Carter

  • Clue into the library's existing tags for help.
    If you're having a hard time thinking of descriptive key words, take a look at the words tagged in one of the tracks already on the library's website, to see what that company likes to use. For example, they might not tag any of their tracks with "angry," but do use "aggressive," so you'll know to use that word in your searches instead.

    Look for the Stems!
    If a library track includes stems, the music can actually be highly adaptive to game play, using the vertical technique. Stems are audio files of the different instruments that make up a music track. You can line up all of the stems in your audio editor and edit them so they all have the same loop point. Then you can play all of the stems at the same time in your game engine or audio middleware. As the looping stems are playing, the developer has the option to procedurally adjust the volume levels of the stems based on gameplay. An example of this is Cities: Skylines, where energetic music elements are faded in as you zoom into the city, and likewise faded out as you zoom out into the clouds.

    Using STEMS in a Vertical Technique

    You can also use looping stems to build in energy as gameplay progresses. For example, you can mute everything but the synth pulse first to create a little mood, then bring in the guitar and snare to give it some movement, and, finally, bring in the rest of the instruments to have the track at its full sound when the game's action kicks in.

    Consider a Looping Tool.
    While some libraries, as I mentioned, do include pre-looped tracks, you're not limited to use only those. There are some free, simple-to-use audio editing tools and many great tutorials on the web for learning practices to get a great loop. Often it's as simple as truncating the part of the track you like and then adding few milliseconds of a fade-in at the beginning, and a fade-out at the end to make the loop point smooth. If you are able to harvest more than one loop from a music track, you can use these in a horizontal adaptive technique by bringing them in and out depending on what is happening in the game.

    BGM typically plays a supportive role in game play, so it's good to find tracks with sections that don't have a strong melodic element, silent spots or any noticeable musical build. The music really shouldn't be a distraction unless it is intended to be so. You'll also want to make sure there is enough length of a suitable section for it to loop successfully. Loops that are too short can feel repetitive quickly and cause a distraction. It really depends on game play, but this is typically true of loops less than 30 seconds. 

    Looping Music for Video Games

    Today's library music, with a quality as high as any music out there and often used by Hollywood film and television productions, provides developers a cost-effective option to elevate their games. All it takes is a little bit of prep, some helpful tips and the willingness to simply experiment and see what works best.

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