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Do you really need super realistic instruments to be a video game composer?


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Over the years, I've been composing a lot of music as a hobby. I might want to get into freelance composing. But one critique I've often heard is that the samples I use aren't realistic enough. Do you really need super realistic samples to be a video game composer?

I mean I've seen a lot of very successful games where the music obviously wasn't made with realistic samples; such as Sonic Mania, Shovel Knight and various indie games.

So I guess my question is, do I really need ultra realistic sample libraries to get into game composing?

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I'm not a commercial games composer, but I'd say it really depends on the type of game and the overall sound needed to make that game work. You already mentioned a few (pixel based) games that work well with retro sounds, and then sample quality isn't really a thing (especially if you're just using/emulating old sound chips). A modern looking game will usually require a more modern sound, with more polished samples though. It's just expectations that people will have, based on a game's art style and gameplay, I guess.

But at the end of the day -in my opinion- the samples are just a tool, and it's the composition and arrangement and how you write for/use your samples that will make a big difference. Better samples just make your life easier.

Edited by Jorito
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i find this very interesting:

https://www.lexaloffle.com/pico-8.php

it's like a fake console/programming environment for the creation of 8/16-bit-ish games. all the tools for game making are supplied in the program, and that apparently includes a little tracker & synth for the creation of fx and music tracks. some of the games you can play on the front page are really quite good.

i plan on buying it and at the very least see if anyone wants a music collaborator, sometime. possibly try some game making myself. seems cool as shit.

 

you know, just something out of left field, an environment where sample libraries and such are totally out of the equation.

 

 

to answer your question generally, if you wanna be able to enter into a broad spectrum of possibilities from amateur to semi-pro or even professional games, then a decent all around library seems essential for reasons of flexibility and well-roundedness. but that doesn't mean that you need e.g. this 50 gb string library with all the articulations and such. if you know how to use stuff optimally, then say what's included in kontakt or whatever is enough to compose good stuff for pretty much any game...unless you really want those 50 gigabytes of sforzalando pizzacutters because you got something very specific in mind with them.

(this is not a recommendation of kontakt. it's just the first thing that comes to mind.)

Edited by Nase
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  • 1 month later...

Okay so big caveat, I've spent my single adult life with no responsibilities collecting thousands of dollars worth of libraries even though I don't work in the industry...or have anything to do with it haha. So I think I should at least clarify I may not follow what I'm about to say...but it may also give you some tips on what these libraries won't do for an amateur like myself.

I don't think you necessarily need to have many expensive, "realistic" sounding libraries. I do think that many great, versatile libraries do have fantastic realism to them, but I don't believe not having many of them will stop you from making good stuff. 

Firstly and most obviously, it will depend on your target genre of music. I don't think having spitfire symphonic strings and chamber strings along with other string libraries will help you if you make primarily electronic music. However, maybe having one of the cheaper ones like Audio Imperia's Nucleus could open up your possibilities and the like.

Secondly, it will depend on your skillset. I'm more of a collector (don't judge me >_<) so i don't mind excess but it doesn't help me make better music. It helps with realism I guess...well, not I guess. It does, but it's possibilities are often limited by my own skills. Those have expanded as I've grown more comfortable and more experienced but it's been a tough road learning how finicky these things can be! Another...weird consequence is excess can leave you wanting more and doing less with what you already have. There are very good libraries I rarely use anymore. I like having them because I'm weird but I also realize that sometimes I actually forget I can use them. This is not a good road to go down I think but if you are aware it's okay.

Anyway, lastly I think you really have to watch out for what is realistic in terms of performance of the libraries and what may be... overstated or hype. I don't like to call out any libraries but there are many people who are disappointed with 8dios Majestica for example. I actually find use in the fact that it lacks realism sometimes and can give me an aggressive synthetic sound. Same thing with Spitfire's ultra smooth sounding strings at times. You just gotta get more experience to really tell what is a bit of hype and how libraries act outside of a demo video. Also how they act in the hands of, again, an amateur like myself!

I hope this helps some. I can give recommendations on what I use and daily drive, as well as things I use rarely, and stuff I don't use at all but I own...for better or worse. For me it's all gravy because I got so many cool things to fiddle around with. But I think it's worth looking at what you actually utilize etc.

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Just like Jorito already said: It really depends on the type of the game and the kind of music that players would expect for this game.
It might be kinda impossible for a composer, who only owns some NES-like chiptune samples, to create some convincing soundtracks for modern RPGs like the Final Fantasy 7 remake.

But...

Compared to the video game composers who created soundtracks for the NES video game console back then, you have some big advantages (even with similar samples) as a contemporary composer.
Today you can use much more complex DAWs with a lot more functions, much better VST plugins for sophisticated sound design and - of course - very good DAWs with no meaningful restrictions concerning the amount of MIDI tracks you can use within one single soundtrack.

So, with some rad composer and sound design skills, you might be able to create a soundtrack with a great atmosphere even with the dullest sounding samples as a base.
And that's something which can really ignite your creativity and ingenuity. 

On the other side, you can own the most sophisticated samples - but without the necessary knowledge for using your DAW to the fullest, without the necessary music theory, listening experience, composer, sound design and mixing skills or a bigger creative spark inside, you might not be ready to compose greater soundtracks.


So, before buying too much stuff at once, I'd rather buy a decent DAW (definitely a full version without restrictions) and rather invest some money in a faithful home studio first, then read through the manual of your DAW from time to time and try out preferably all of the functions in it, read through basic and advanced music theory or special topics like composing and mixing - and work with the basic stuff you already have.

Work with it, try out new and crazy things in your compositions, master it - until you feel that you have almost fully exploited the potential of your samples and plugins.
Maybe try with some basic plugins and rad sound designer skills to let an electronic sax synth sound like a real sax - might be a tough goal... but not a totally impossible one.

And then master it again on the next levels.


If you can manage to create really satisfying solutions for every problem or vision even with the simplest musical equipment, you might already be on a good way to become a great composer one day.
So, I'd really try to master the things you already have before you buy too much new VSTi stuff.

"Living more in being than in having" might be also as a composer a good mantra to start with.

It might deeply relax you in front of all the things you can buy in this big world, eases your heart and brings it down to earth.
And on the other side, it can ignite the creativity and the inner fire of your composer soul.


If you got to this point, you might have saved some money during your material asceticism.
And if you buy a good VSTi then, you might enjoy it much more because you will see much more possibilities when working with it at your compositions.

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11 hours ago, Master Mi said:

Just like Jorito already said: It really depends on the type of the game and the kind of music that players would expect for this game.
It might be kinda impossible for a composer, who only owns some NES-like chiptune samples, to create some convincing soundtracks for modern RPGs like the Final Fantasy 7 remake.

But...

Compared to the video game composers who created soundtracks for the NES video game console back then, you have some big advantages (even with similar samples) as a contemporary composer.
Today you can use much more complex DAWs with a lot more functions, much better VST plugins for sophisticated sound design and - of course - very good DAWs with no meaningful restrictions concerning the amount of MIDI tracks you can use within one single soundtrack.

So, with some rad composer and sound design skills, you might be able to create a soundtrack with a great atmosphere even with the dullest sounding samples as a base.
And that's something which can really ignite your creativity and ingenuity. 

On the other side, you can own the most sophisticated samples - but without the necessary knowledge for using your DAW to the fullest, without the necessary music theory, listening experience, composer, sound design and mixing skills or a bigger creative spark inside, you might not be ready to compose greater soundtracks.


So, before buying too much stuff at once, I'd rather buy a decent DAW (definitely a full version without restrictions) and rather invest some money in a faithful home studio first, then read through the manual of your DAW from time to time and try out preferably all of the functions in it, read through basic and advanced music theory or special topics like composing and mixing - and work with the basic stuff you already have.

Work with it, try out new and crazy things in your compositions, master it - until you feel that you have almost fully exploited the potential of your samples and plugins.
Maybe try with some basic plugins and rad sound designer skills to let an electronic sax synth sound like a real sax - might be a tough goal... but not a totally impossible one.

And then master it again on the next levels.


If you can manage to create really satisfying solutions for every problem or vision even with the simplest musical equipment, you might already be on a good way to become a great composer one day.
So, I'd really try to master the things you already have before you buy too much new VSTi stuff.

"Living more in being than in having" might be also as a composer a good mantra to start with.

It might deeply relax you in front of all the things you can buy in this big world, eases your heart and brings it down to earth.
And on the other side, it can ignite the creativity and the inner fire of your composer soul.


If you got to this point, you might have saved some money during your material asceticism.
And if you buy a good VSTi then, you might enjoy it much more because you will see much more possibilities when working with it at your compositions.

 

Such a good...really good amount of wisdom here. I wish there were like posts we could archive to help new composers or lost ocremixers. You bring up a lot of critical points and the one that resonates the most for me—and they all resonate strongly—is the point about appreciating what you have. As a collector I like having lots of vsts to fiddle with but as a composer it can get me in trouble if I don't spend enough time getting the most out of what I have.

It's why I like doing these "remaster" projects where my goal is not to add myself in but to make a midi of a game soundtrack feel new and modern. It takes away my need to be too creative and helps me focus on the ins and outs of my libraries and my DAW. Over time I've gotten to find which of my libraries are my workhorses that I really like to employ and actually slowed down my desire to get more things. I can't actually say less is more from the heart but I do believe more is less if you don't have the ability to employ them properly.

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What might also help you to get a deeper imagination of what your VSTis and synths are capable of pretty fast is by writing a little test MIDI as just a simple sound check music project.

This MIDI should be around 25 to 30 seconds long, play within around 1 or maximally 2 octaves and contain at least following things:

1) a little groovy melody sequence which contains a big variety of velocity dynamics which you can set for each note between the values 1 to 127 (so, for example, create a melody line where the values of the following notes are around 85, 62, 90, 112, 127, 103, 74, 54, 27, 1, 16, 33, 49, 95, 57, 68 - with the help of this you can get a glimpse on how much effort the developers put in the sampling of different velocity dynamics and different expressions which come with it)...
2) a few chord progressions ('cause VSTis and synths may sound very different with just a one-line melody and complex chords - so, you can get a better vision for the later use of the VSTi or synth in your later music projects)...
3) and at least one very long (around 15 seconds long) legato note (with the help of this you can check out how the long played notes will behave - depending on the VSTis and synths I have checked and which I use myself, legato notes of different VSTis and synths might behave kinda differently - so, some will just fade out in silence after a while, some might behave like endless loops which won't drop the volume at all and others tend to behave rather irregularly but can create pretty cool effects sometimes.


With such a little self-written test MIDI, you can get a very quick and deep look into the potential of the samples behind your VSTis and electronic synths.
Just select the VSTi or synth you want to check in the track with the test MIDI, and then maybe set the right octave of your notes to match the VSTis and synths.

 

Make sure that you have activated the loop mode on your MIDI object (so that it will be played over and over again).
After a preset of the VSTi or synthesizer has been played completely through the MIDI object, check the various key combinations of your VSTi or synthesizer for the next passes and then move on to the next presets.

At least that's what I do after I want to check out some new (or old) VSTis and synths in a very fast and efficient way.

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the POint aboUT using your DAW optimally is great InDEED:

imAGINE if all composers for SNES, N64 And SiMILar CarTrIDGE BASeD, sAmpler UsiNG, spAcE SaVinG midi-like sySTemS WERE OFFEReD TO REMasTer THeIR OsTs fOR A FAntaSy consOle that ofFERs All THe miXING wiZArDRY of SAY, a modern cubase, But the BASe sAmPles anD SAmPliNg funCTIonaLitY HAVE to stAy the Same. IT WOULD BE quite interesting.

(there's ReAlLy A KOBOLD INSide MY KEyBoARD DoINg capsLOCK sHenaNigANS, I KiD yoU NOT; bUt I aM running with it.)

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  • 2 weeks later...
On 3/11/2022 at 7:03 PM, Nase said:

the POint aboUT using your DAW optimally is great InDEED:

imAGINE if all composers for SNES, N64 And SiMILar CarTrIDGE BASeD, sAmpler UsiNG, spAcE SaVinG midi-like sySTemS WERE OFFEReD TO REMasTer THeIR OsTs fOR A FAntaSy consOle that ofFERs All THe miXING wiZArDRY of SAY, a modern cubase, But the BASe sAmPles anD SAmPliNg funCTIonaLitY HAVE to stAy the Same. IT WOULD BE quite interesting.

(there's ReAlLy A KOBOLD INSide MY KEyBoARD DoINg capsLOCK sHenaNigANS, I KiD yoU NOT; bUt I aM running with it.)

 

This sounds like the president in FFVIII (☉。☉)!

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