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The Technical Composer - Middleware as an Instrument, Adaptive Music and VR - Part 2 - Elias

Here is Part 2 of the presentation that I gave at the recent GameSoundCon in LA a few weeks back. In this part I introduce the experiment I performed to compare the functionality of three of the most popular middleware solutions for adaptive music.

This article was originally published on Designing Music NOW on November 23, 2015.

In Part 2 of The Technical Composer, I am going to dive headfirst into the first of the three middleware that I am comparing for adaptive music.  The goal of my experiment is to objectively and scientifically test the same adaptive music system with three different middleware, EliasWWISE and FMOD. I start with Elias since it is the most intuitive interface for us musicians to understand. It looks a bit like Ableton, but that is where the similarities end.  It's functionality and purpose are squarely focused on getting great sounding music into video games.

In this article I am going to set up the system in Elias, along with a new feature called "tonal stingers" which allows us to add leitmotifs to our music. In Part 3, I will show how the same adaptive music system is ported to FMOD and WWISE so that we can compare them.

If you missed Part 1 of The Techincal Composer, you may want to review it first as it also has a demo of the Space Theme and the Blade Revisited theme in Elias for you to review two different modes that Elias offers, "exploration" and "objective."

This video is a short overview of the main features of Elias as well as a more in-depth discussion of "tonal stingers" and leitmotifs.  For a more detailed tutorial of how to set up Elias, you can check the "Further Reading" section below.

Here is an overview of the things I go into in the above video:

Intro to Elias and Setup of the Adaptive Music System

In the above image, you can see how Elias would handle a hybrid vertical and horizontal approach. The horizontal elements are the scenes, Walk, Chase and Battle.  Within each horizontal scene are multiple vertical layers.  In the original theme, there were actually a total of 38 layers, but I had to simplify it for the purposes of our experiment.  I found that when porting to FMOD and WWISE that you have to do so many manual tweaks and tasks for each layer, that it became very time consuming to do what Elias does out of the box.

One important note is that in the current version of Elias, all the songs in a theme need to have the same tempo.  As you will hear in the video, this does not mean that all the songs will sound as if they are playing at the same speed - this is because on the walk theme, I use longer notes, and by the time we get to the battle theme, I use more eighth and sixteenth notes, giving the illusion that it is a faster tempo.  Another way around this is to have your different songs in different Elias themes so that you can have as many tempos as you like.  Then when you transition between each song, you can use silence, or some transitional element to play between them.

For example, if you were using Elias in conjunction with FMOD or WWISE for sound effects, mixing and profiling, then you could trigger those transitional elements using FMOD or WWISE.  The music and vertical layering would be handled by Elias, and the horizontal switching could be done easily using FMOD or WWISE.

Tonal Stingers - Leitmotifs

In the newest version of Elias, they added in a feature called "tonal stingers."  These let you add musical themes or leitmotifs that can be triggered by events in the game.  Prior to this feature being added, stingers had to be of the percussive or transitional type.  Now you can set custom agility beatpoints that tell each stinger on which measure(s) they are allowed to play.

Here you can see how a group of stingers can be assigned to specific measures in the song.  For example, the Chase- Hero stinger can play on measures 1, 5, 9, 13, 17 and 20.  Tonal stingers of the same type can all live in the same track - just right click on the stinger and you can set individual custom agility beat points for each one!

As an example of this, in Blade Revisited, my hypothetical bounty hunter (Hero) is on a quest to capture the evil Gothmong.  As he walks through the techno-slums searching for Gothmong, he may spot Gothmong in the distance.  When this happens, a Gothmong tonal stinger would play.  Then, the chase scene begins, and each time our hero performs a cool action, like jumping over the gap in two buildings, then a Chase-Hero stinger would play.  In the Battle scene, anytime the Hero gets the upper hand, a Battle-Hero stinger would play and anytime Gothmong gets the upper hand, then a Battle-Gothmong stinger would play.  Since a song could have many different chord changes, you want the leitmotif to play in the correct chord harmony, and setting up tonal stingers allows you to do this with perfect accuracy.

Links and Further Reading

Middleware Downloads and Tutorials:

Tutorials about Elias on Designing Music NOW:

Composing Adaptive Music with Elias - Part 1 - Introduction

Composing Adaptive Music with Elias - Part 2 - Advanced Features

Composing Adaptive Music with Elias - Part 2 - Advanced Features

About the Author

Dale Crowley is a Technical Composer at Gryphondale Studios and the founder and co-managing editor at Designing Music NOW.

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