6B Wednesda October 1 2014 // The Statement
More than just a soundtrack: The music behind video games
by Amrutha Sivakumar
the thought bubble
From three-dimensional gameplay to
motion-detection, video games are on the
move to enhance your recreational experi-
ence. Whatsome people may not realize, how-
ever, is that what they're hearing while they
play is evolving all the time too. Video game
music is a world of its own - just ask School
of Music, Theatre & Dance Lecturer Matthew
By introducing students of all academic
and musical backgrounds to the concepts that
underlie the conception and production of
game tunes, Thompson's new course "Video
Game Music,"has created alens through video
games that can be musically appreciated. The
course introduces students to the 50-year
history of music in video games, eventually
equippingstudents with the skills needed to
composetheir owngame sounds.
Thompson, in an interview with The
Michigan Daily, said a professional game
composer's goal is to make the music essen-
tial to the game play while making sure
players feel engaged with the sounds.
"Suppose you're walking through a maze
and a bass comes in, keep going the right way
and then a drumcomes in,keep goingthe right
way and there's some strings that come in," he
envisioned. "You're getting this aural rein-
forcement very subtly while you're complet-
ing this task and that you're doing something
Going on to describe the stochastic process-
es behind a person's video game experience,
Thompson started singing out how a generic
cheery game backdrop might change into a
minor key or come to a finish as a player loses
a life or dies. On the other hand, a success in
the game might result in faster victory music.
"The audio choice is going tobe determined
by player decision, so that's out of your hands.
It's totally opposite from how music usually is.
You have to compose the music in a way that
it can go to any place depending on what's
Thompson said the School of Music, The-
atre & Dance often looks for ways to offer
music classes to non-music majors due to the
broad appeal of music appreciation classes.
Teaching more technical terms - such as tone,
dominant and form - could be more compre-
hensible to students when taught with video
games as the reference point. The Michigan
Daily speculated in 2001 that ifa random stu-
dent were asked to sing the Super Mario Bros.
theme song, they would be likely to know
"I've always played games since I was a
kid," Thompson said. "The music is so repeti-
tive, and so the plus as a teacher is that those
stuff has been drilled into people's brains,
unlike a Beethoven Symphony."
For University alum Jen Remington, the
goal was always to graduate from the Univer-
sity s Performing Arts Technology program
and go into scoring film music in L.A. But after
serving as an assistant to several composers
and building up music industry connections,
she found herself a place in the composition of
video game music.
"I had such a positive experience working
for other composers that I learned a lot, things
that I never knew," she said. "You can learn a
lot from things online, books and YouTube,
but there's nothing better than being an
ing music for
film and for
video games is
the duration of
and the way video ILLUSTRATION BY
game music has to
be composed to loop. For Remington, the big-
gest difficulty in adapting to the style of video
game composition was that the ending of the
piece had to be able to seamlessly connect to
the beginning without hearing a "click or a
Remington said all ofher contracts had been
on a work-for-hire basis. Though she had tried
to negotiate royalties for her compositions in
the past, Remington said she had learned that
it wasn't like the industry to offer musicians a
percentage of the games' revenues.
"Video games make a lot of their sales
within the first three months, and then the
sales die out. Film and TV plan reruns and go
into syndication, and you can get royalties for
years and years," she explained. "Because the
way video games are sold, I think it's smarter
forthemtokeep theirmoney- that's the main
Despite a growing video game culture
among University arts and music students,
Wolverine Soft, a student organization dedi-
cated to growinggame development culture at
the University, has found it difficult to keep a
steady inflow of musicians into the club.
The coding process typically takes longer
than the time required for composition, Engi-
neering senior Austin Yarger, president of
Wolverine Soft, said, which caused some stu-
dent musicians to lose interest in the process.
He estimates that there are currently three to
eight active musicians in Wolverine Soft.
While Silicon Valley gaming companies
traditionally have long pre-production ses-
sions where artists draw up extensive blue-
prints to convince executives to invest in
a two to three-year game creation
process, University games have
shorter turnovers, Yarger
In 48-hour "game
of four - tra-
an artist and
- spend a few
tualizing a video
game idea that is
unique, fun and
the engineers code
the initial proto-
types, the artists and musi-
cians work simultaneously
to draw concept pieces and
create game's sound.
"It is unfortunately a
struggle," Yarger said
of recruiting arts and
MAGG I E MILLER music students into Wol-
verine Soft. "When you think
of video games you think of how visual they
can be and how there's a need for those stu-
dents, typically we have the need for arts and
Mark Maratea, senior engineer at Electron-
ic Arts, one of the world's'largest video game
publishers, and university recruiter, said the
EA recruiting team was actively looking for
highly qualified musicians from the Univer-
sity to enter their workforce. For these posi-
tions, Maratea said a musician's application
should include a portfolio and a demo reel
demonstrating their ability to create a variety
"For most traditional games that is a sound
effect and music based thing, they will author
their own sound, usually in a small studio
with drums and guitars, and they will track
the soundtrack and the sound effects live,"
he described. "They will monkey with things,
and they will record the voice-over tracks and
give the audio direction."
One of Wolverine Soft's leading missions is
to increase a student's ability to be placed in
the video game industry. By bringing in large
corporation such as Lizard Entertainment and
EA to their mass meetings and campus career
fairs,Wolverine Soft has been able to place one
to three students into the video game industry
"We definitely try and get those companies
to come in and look at our Michigan engineers,
Michigan artists, designers and musicians,"
Yarger said. "It's definitely very competitive
though, like it is in Hollywood or any form
of entertainment, but we have had successful
placements. I think the takeaway is that it is
very competitive but still possible."
Remington, who graduated in 2000 not
long after the program was first offered to
music concentrators, commended PAT for its
"avant garde" take on music education and its
interdisciplinary courses. Her now-husband,
who also graduated from PAT, was able to use
his broad PAT education to secure a job in the
film industry when record label jobs were hard
to come by.
Despite the School of Music, Theatre &
Dance's focus on more mainstream music
forms, Thompson said he believed that study-
ing many of the University's classical music
options was not wasted when a student decid-
ed to pursue an alternative industry upon
graduation - citing an example of how study-
ing Shakespeare could help theatre majors
when they auditioned for shows such as Sat-
urday Night Live.
"We understand that multimedia and
music is a path going forward," Thompson
explained. "To turn a blind eye to it, nobody
wants to do that. Could we have more modern
classes? Yes. Are we talking about that kind of
stuff? Yes. "
Janet Rarick, associate professor of music
career development at Rice University, cur-
rently administers several courses at the
Shepherd School of Music that enhance music
students' career development early in their
collegiate career. She said she believed that
one reason many music school students find
it difficult to discover alternative careers in
music is because of their lack of career focus.
"It's 'I've got to be really, really good and
I don't have time to deal with that right now.
I've got to learn my music and I've got to prac-
tice,' " she explained. "Students graduate, and
winning a job in an orchestra is very difficult
at this point. For most people it's a long road,
and it's very expensive."
On the other hand, while institutions such
as Carnegie Hall have begun to offer fellow-
ships and programs in career development,
Rarick said these programs are also very com-
"If you're going to do something on an
alternative.basis, you're basically starting a
small business," she said. "There isn't the kind
of framework that science and industry has
for students, we don't have that in the music
world. It's not built into the industry."
"The successful people are the people in
alternative kind of ventures who are able to
see where there is a need for something, and
I think this is crucial," Rarick stressed. "Yor
have to see what is missing in our current arts
environment and does that interest you to try
to fill that void."
"I'm a mechanical engineer, but for now I'm staying home with the baby. I
love being a stay-at-home mom. I wouldn't change that for nothing."
-ANN ARBOR RESIDENT ELIZABETH COLON WITH ARMANDO COLON
on the record
"It is a critical lesson to us about how vigilant and
disciplined we must always be to ensure student-athlete
safety. As president, I will take all necessary steps to
make sure that occurs and to enforce the necessary
accountability for our success in this regard.'
- President MARK SCHLISSEL, in a press release regarding
Quarterback Shane Morris, who was played in thegame against
Minnesota this past Saturday, despite his mild concussion.
"In my judgment, there was a serious lack of
communication that led to confusion on the sideline.
Unfortunately, this confusion created a circumstance
that was not in the best interest of one of our student-
- Athletic Director DAVE BRANDON, in a 1 a.m.press release,
also regarding Michigan quarterback Shane Morris.
"Although a small nation, it can provide a great
contribution with its model for religious tolerance
and coexistence and of accepting the others who are
- President ofAlbania BUJAR NISHANI, who spoke at
Rackham Graduate School on Monday.
One student was
a high school
shooting at 3
at Fern Creek
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identity of the
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Tuesday that the first case of Ebola has hit the
United States. A patient traveling from Liberia
to Texas to visit relatives contracted the
disease, and has been quarantined.
The actor was married to British activist
and lawyer Amal Alamuddin this month.
Alamuddin is famous for representing
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and
Ukrainian minister Yulia Tymoshenko.
Shortstop for the
New York Yankees
Derek Jeter had
his final at-bat at
Fenway park last
week, bringing to
an enda first-ballot
career. Jeter was
Rookie of the Year
in 1995, hit .310
lifetime and had
over 3,000 hits in 20
season in New York.