• Toby Ellis

Introduction to Composition & Application of ‘Looped’ Linear Music in Video Games &#

Updated: Jul 18, 2019

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Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End (2016)


Welcome to article 2! True to my word, and much to my enjoyment I have been thoroughly analysing the fundamentals of composing music with the desire to be experienced in an interactive and linear setting. Something I want to delve into for my final major project in semester C of my MSc qualification and wish to make a head start here. The book written by composer Winifred Phillips (Assassins Creed III: Liberation, God of War, Little Big Planet 3A Composer’s Guide to Game Music has become a very successful and insightful read on this particular subject over the last few weeks, and there are a few important themes I would like to reflect upon and discuss. Mainly, unboxing how ‘looping’ music can be adapted to a linear game environment when confronted with certain non-linear situations.


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Phillips, W. A Composer’s Guide to Game Music. The Mit Press, London. 2014.


Music can be used as a powerful tool, and as we already know with its appliance to linear tendencies in film can contribute effectively in just this kind of environment. A Linear experience by definition, put simply in the words of the late esteemed film critic, Roger Ebert ‘seeks to lead you (the player) to an inevitable conclusion’ (Ebert, 2007) and can be found copiously in the realms of video games today. Linear experiences can offer ‘players a chance to partake in deeply emotional journeys and explore worlds of dazzling complexity’ (Phillips, 2014. p.157) whilst being able to focus on creating a style of narrative, and characterisation to an overall story arc that can sit deeper with the average player.


Famous for better communicating the story to the audience, sometimes musical score can lend just the right amount of ’emotional weight to concepts and characters and help(ing) in the attainment of immersion’ (Phillips, p.158) in todays gaming industry. Due to the significant uprise and popular reception for franchises in linear action adventure genres such as The Last of Us originally released on the PS3 (2013), to go on and produce a PS4 remaster (2014) and now sequel in early 2019, today there is a higher demand for more Linear based titles that can offer a compelling immersive storyline, combined with the recent demand of large open world levels and sandboxes is getting larger and larger by the year. And the experts in audio production & implementation are having to adapt to these challenges made in a more open, exploration style of gaming.


In terms of compositing loops cinematically, Winnifred Phillips breaks down the art of creating a linear loop by proposing five very important and significant techniques every composer should follow when writing for this purpose in video games, they are as follows:

  1. Perpetual Development – A series of transformations rising out of the original form.

  2. Compositional Dynamics – Music that attempts to create an effect of movement.

  3. Succession of Variations – The development of one or more themes in several successive variants.

  4. Repeating Figures – The construction of a musical loop around a single structural element.

  5. Slow Textures – The creation of either chords or tone clusters that gently swell and fade.

Now, watch this clip…


The ‘Sam Pursuit’ chase scene in the BAFTA award winning 2016 ‘Best Video Game’ Uncharted 4 is a superb example of where these points have been taken into account. Uncharted being cinematic based video game franchise that I have played to the bare bone and the music I hear gladly on repeat in my iTunes library. Written by composer Henry Jackman the overall soundtrack to Uncharted 4 is crafted using linear loops in such a way that it is always pushing the scene (or game state) forward. From the moment the action begins, so does the music. And as you move past each meticulously placed trigger point within the game, whether that be knocking down a particular enemy, passing a specific doorway, leaping from a balcony into the driving seat of a random commandeered vehicle, the music develops according to the action each player takes within his surroundings; adding a flavour of intensity and purpose to every action sequence in Nathan Drake’s adventures.


In an exclusive interview with industry expert Jonathan Meyer (Senior Music Manager at Sony Interactive entertainment), Music Producer and Project Manager of Original Score and Implementation of Uncharted 4, he takes us under the hood of the Sony music engine created specifically in the three-year production process of the music for ‘Uncharted 4,’ highlighting the music design and the challenges of updating a well-established franchise.



In this hour he talks about the revolutionary importance of Adaptive score. Covering the bases of:

  1. Historically Vertical Interactivity

  2. The Tension Thermometer

  3. Audible Fades

In Pro Tools Meyer briefly picks apart the A.I State driven system:

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A.I Musical State System for Uncharted 4 – Full Sail University Eighth Annual Hall of Fame Guest Speaker Jonathan Meyer


Above is an example of taking the fully developed, live recorded big and bold orchestral score, that has been cut it up into the smallest chunks possible (usually 8 to 16 bars worth of music) with tiny percussion hits and transition segments created mainly to deal with the seamless changes down in intensity. So from a big action segment for example, quickly down to a sparse ambient one.


Meyer also explains how they converted and developed upon a sound design scripting system to turn it into a new music scripting one so that with extensive lines of new coding hundreds into thousands of variations in one shots could be placed at specific hit points within the gameplay whenever they liked to compliment the action.

Screen Shot 2018-10-15 at 09.40.07

He also shared the importance in the creation of exit points in the music so that loops/tracks didn’t clash when proceeding one another. Combining the A.I states and player actions:

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I found this seminar and the breakdown of Linear loops particularly illuminating because it applies directly to my own work on soundtracks for videogames. I am currently working on a 3D animated concept story based indie game called ‘A Mouse’s Tail’, which involves our so far in such early development unnamed hero as a small woodland creature who adventures through a diverse range of in game scenarios including action pieces and puzzle games with a swashbuckling pirate based atmosphere. I am hoping to pitch the idea of a linear system but would like to do further research first to fully understand the pros, cons and/or the complications of developing a system such as this from the ground up. This I will look into further in next weeks blog.


Sources: 

  1. Ebert, Roger. 2007. “Games vs Art: Ebert vs. Barker.” RogerEbert.com. Last accessed September 9, 2012. <https://www.rogerebert.com/rogers-journal/games-vs-art-ebert-vs-barker>

  2. Full Sail University, (2017), Music of ‘Uncharted 4’. YouTube. Last accessed October 15, 2018. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0BH9Civ_jG0>

  3. Phillips, W. A Composer’s Guide to Game Music. The Mit Press, London. 2014.

  4. Playstation, UNCHARTED 4: A Thief’s End – E3 2015 – Sam Pursuit Gameplay | PS4. YouTube. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sB0xy74Zrj8> Last accessed October 15, 2018.

  5. STMED, (No Date), UNCHARTED 4: A THIEF’S END HD WALLPAPER 20 – 3840 X 2160 [ONLINE]. Available at: <https://stmed.net/wallpaper-231571> [Accessed 3 October 2018].

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