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Identity in trailers, cutscenes and cinematics (for the game music composer)

Emphasizing brand identity using game music - 3rd in an article series on music for trailers, cutscenes, and cinematics, by composer Winifred Phillips.

By Winifred Phillips | Contact | Follow

Hello there! I’m video game composer Winifred Phillips, and I’m glad you could join us for the continuation of our four-part discussion of traditional “scoring-to-picture” techniques within a video game project. We’ve been examining the music needs of cinematics, cutscenes, and trailers, with an eye towards pinpointing specific goals that music can achieve. Those goals include:

  1. Characterization
  2. Information
  3. Identity
  4. Narrative

In our previous articles we thought about how music can accentuate the believability and importance of characters, and how music can help players absorb and digest information. So let’s move on to the third item on our list of goals:

Identity

Now that we’ve discussed how linear music can help a game convey both information and characterization, let’s take a look at one of the most ubiquitous uses of linear music in game development – the trailer.


Many game trailers use licensed music that has nothing to do with the game, and some game trailers simply employ in-game music that has been edited to fit the visuals. However, there are times in which a game developer will commission custom music specifically for a trailer. I’ve taken on these commissions repeatedly, and they’re always an interesting challenge. During these commissions, I may be scoring the trailer of a video game that also features my music during gameplay, but that isn’t always the case. Regardless, my job as a trailer composer is to help reinforce the game’s identity, in the hopes that viewers will be excited to play it. The trailer essentially tells viewers what the game is, and why they should care. Essentially, the composer’s job is to do the same.

I went into a bit more detail on this topic in my book, A Composer’s Guide to Game Music, so here are a couple of excerpts that pertain to trailers:


Cover of A Composer's Guide to Game Music


“If we are asked at the end of the project to create original music for a game trailer or commercial, this request is likely to pertain to the marketing and public relations efforts of the publisher rather than the development work of the team. Sometimes, in the effort to orchestrate a buildup of excitement prior to the release of a game, a series of trailers or commercials are created. In many circumstances, these videos feature music already written for the game and do not require any new material. However, it is possible that the public relations and marketing departments will need us to supply new music for this purpose. (Chapter 9, pg. 154-155)

“When the game developer and publisher begin using our music heavily in their trailers to reinforce the identity of their brand, we can take that as the most sincere compliment we’ll receive from the development and publishing team. They consider our music to be an iconic expression of their game.” (Chapter 6, pg. 113-114)

DC-Dual-Force-696x366-1.jpg

The DC Dual Force trailer premiered during the DC Fandome event – a one-day online convention packed with all the top DC-related announcements and news pertaining to related projects (including the forthcoming DC Dual Force game). The game starred all the best and most awesome DC characters – such as Wonder Woman, Superman, Batman, and The Flash. So, of course, the game warranted a thoroughly epic trailer. Of course, DC fans are well aware of the famous musical motifs for these popular characters, but the game’s trailer wouldn’t have access to any of those. Nevertheless, it was my job to create an original musical score that would stay true to the identity of these great DC characters and resonate with fans.

DUALFORCE-League.jpg

After studying the history of music for DC Comics projects, I focused on brass-led, triplet-driven heroism for the instrumentation. For structure, I leaned heavily into the kinetics of the trailer, constructing the music to move in concert with the way the visuals were cut, and the way characters and objects flew in and out of frame. Everything I did with the music was designed to instill tons of assertive oomph into the trailer, to correspond with the identity of the franchise. Let’s see how that worked:

Now as a contrast, let’s look at a very different trailer that nevertheless pursues similar goals. Horse Club Adventures is a game franchise based on the expertly hand-painted figurines created by Schleich. Developed in Germany by Wild River Games, this equestrian video game series premiered in 2021. Because of the tremendous international success of the first game, Schleich and Wild River released a new entry in the franchise in the fall of 2022.


Horse Club Adventures logo


As the composer of the in-game music for the franchise, I was commissioned to create music for the announcement trailer that would precede the release of Horse Club Adventures 2. Here is another example of a trailer needing an original musical score that would stay true to the identity of a well-loved franchise and resonate with its fans.

Art for Horse Club Adventures 2 Hazelwood Stories


Like the DC Dual Force trailer, the Horse Club Adventures 2 announcement trailer doesn’t present any appreciable narrative. Instead, it focuses solely on the core gameplay mechanic of riding horses through an idyllic environment. In composing the music, I kept the style narrowly focused on a relaxing folk-music sound, but structured the composition to build intensity based on the way the trailer is edited. Starting with a flourish that emphasizes the company logos, the music weaves guitars, harps, ukuleles and bells into a peaceful rhythm that escalates when the riders urge their mounts into a gallop. Piano arpeggios warm the texture as the trailer cuts to a wider view of the charming town, and then the music ramps up to an assertively thematic finish as the game’s logo appears. Everything about the musical score leads directly to the logo reveal, reinforcing the identity of the project. So let’s see what that’s like:

With that, we’ve concluded this examination of the ways that music can emphasize a game’s identity during a visual presentation such as a trailer. In our next article, we’ll be exploring how music can support and propel a cutscene, cinematic, or trailer that is specifically focused on the narrative element. Until then, thanks for reading!


Photo of author Winifred Phillips

Winifred Phillips is a BAFTA-nominated video game composer whose latest project is the Jurassic World Primal Ops video game (the official game of the blockbuster movie Jurassic World Dominion). Other recent releases include the hit PlayStation 5 launch title Sackboy: A Big Adventure (soundtrack album now available). Popular music from Phillips’ award-winning Assassin’s Creed Liberation score was featured in the performance repertoire of the Assassin’s Creed Symphony World Tour, which made its Paris debut in 2019 with an 80-piece orchestra and choir. As an accomplished video game composer, Phillips is best known for composing music for games in many of the most famous and popular franchises in gaming: the list includes Assassin’s Creed, God of War, Total War, The Sims, and Sackboy / LittleBigPlanet. Phillips’ has received numerous awards, including an Interactive Achievement Award / D.I.C.E. Award from the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences, six Game Audio Network Guild Awards (including Music of the Year), and three Hollywood Music in Media Awards. She is the author of the award-winning bestseller A COMPOSER’S GUIDE TO GAME MUSIC, published by the MIT Press. As one of the foremost authorities on music for interactive entertainment, Winifred Phillips has given lectures at the Library of Congress in Washington DC, the Society of Composers and Lyricists, the Game Developers Conference, the Audio Engineering Society, and many more. Phillips’ enthusiastic fans showered her with questions during a Reddit Ask-Me-Anything session that went viral, hit the Reddit front page, received 14.9 thousand upvotes, and became one of the most popular gaming AMAs ever hosted on Reddit. An interview with her has been published as a part of the Routledge text, Women’s Music for the Screen: Diverse Narratives in Sound, which collects the viewpoints of the most esteemed female composers in film, television, and games. Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

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