Game Music, Music Production

Theme Continuity in Game Audio: An Open Plea

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The idea of motif and theme continuity is an important one. Much like a writer, thematic phrases allow composers to build and tell a story. However, as George “The Fatman” Sanger describes in Tasty Morsels of Sonic Goodness, one of the mistaken assumptions for the intermediate-level composer is “I should repeat my musical themes in order to emphasize them, just as I learned in composition class.” The thought is that repetition and reiteration of themes can be grating on the listener (to say the least). I mean, how many times can you listen to the same melody over and over again before you just mute the game and listen to your MP3’s? It happens quite a lot—and, in my humble opinion, mostly in the video game industry.

But fear not! I’m going to suggest taking a different approach to thematic writing in your soundtrack. Normally composers consider melodies to be themes as melodies are the most obvious channels for communicating the theme. But if you think about it, melody is only one of several components to a composition, right? What about harmonic intervals? Rhythm? Instrumentation? Register? If you really think about it, there are a LOT of puzzle pieces to a composition. So naturally, that means that all of these ‘puzzle pieces’ are part of your theme.

You can use any one of these elements to reiterate and develop themes. Take a look at this demo piece that I put together to show this. Notice how the melody drops out in the second part of the piece, but you can still feel continuity between the first and the second parts. This is because I am reiterating the theme in a variety of alternative ways…mainly rhythmically and harmonically.

Going to War

So, fellow video game composer, I implore you. Don’t make me sit through hours of gameplay where I listen to the same theme every time I see the bad guy. Switch it up and make the score an interesting, organic tapestry of storytelling!

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