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  • Hybrid Dynamic Structures For Game Music Composers

    [01.04.22]
    - Winifred Phillips
  • Delighted you're here! I'm video game composer Winifred Phillips, and I'm very happy you've joined us for this latest entry in my series of articles based on the lecture I gave during the Game Developers Conference 2021 - From Spyder to Sackboy: A Big Adventure in Interactive Music! 

    Over the previous year, I had the privilege of working with the expert development team at Sumo Sheffield on music composition for two fantastic projects - Sackboy: A Big Adventure for PS5/PS4, and Spyder for Apple Arcade. (Above you'll see a photo from one of the sections of my GDC 2021 lecture in which I'm discussing the Sackboy project). Both Spyder and Sackboy included ambitious dynamic music systems that deployed multiple techniques to instill the greatest interactivity into these musical scores. 

    There was a long list of common strategies between the two projects. However, there were also quite a few fundamental differences in the music design of the two games. For my GDC 2021 presentation, I compared and contrasted the dynamic music models of the two projects. The experience of jumping from one dynamic music approach to another was both challenging and invigorating for me during my composition work on the two games. It provided me with a lot of great material for my presentation, and I'm happy to share these observations in this series of articles.

    If you haven't had a chance to read the previous three installments of this series, you can first read the article about how song structure can be integrated into a horizontal resequencing framework. Then the second article expands the discussion of horizontal resequencing with an exploration of the role of dynamic transitions. In the third article, we take a look at how vertical layering is deployed in its purest form.

    So far, we've discussed these first three items in our list of six dynamic music implementation techniques, focusing on practical applications from the two projects developed by Sumo Digital. We left off with an exploration of how the Spyder video game used pure vertical layering during level exploration and during missions in order to indicate player progress and keep the music from feeling repetitive. While horizontal resequencing slices a track up into segments to accomplish the same tasks as vertical layering, it must do so by fragmenting the composition. A pure vertical layering approach can instill the same sense of progression and variety without needing to slice up the music into segments.

    But what if we want to do that anyway? What if we want a hybrid horizontal-vertical system?
    Is that possible? Can we have both segments and layers at the same time, in the same track? And will that allow us to get the most interactivity out of our game music? Can we essentially have the best of both worlds?

    Turns out, both Spyder and Sackboy: A Big Adventure answered that question with a resounding "yes." However, each project addressed the issue differently. In this article, let's focus on Sackboy's hybrid horizontal-vertical approach.

    The Dynamic Implementation bullet list, included in an article series based on the lecture given by video game composer Winifred Phillips during GDC 2021. The list includes dynamic implementation strategies.


    For the "Sink or Swing" level of Sackboy: A Big Adventure, I composed an original symphonic-style waltz. The three/quarter time emphasized the awesome kinetics as Sackboy swung gracefully across the level. As Sackboy progressed, the Waltz of the Bubbles used both horizontal segments and vertical layers for musical interactivity.

    A header image used during a discussion of the Waltz of the Bubbles track composed by award-winning composer Winifred Phillips for the video game Sackboy: A Big Adventure.


    The track was broken into seven horizontal segments that progressed as Sackboy traveled through the level. Periodically, the overall mix changed to either subtract or add the vocal choir on top as a new music layer. This worked to inject some variety into the mix. Let's see what that was like.  

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