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Recurrence and Rationale in Game Music: Game Composers and the Importance of Themes (Pt. 4)

Fourth of a five-part article series based on composer Winifred Phillips' talk during the GDC 2020 online conference in March: "From Assassin's Creed to The Dark Eye: The Importance of Themes." Included: a discussion of recurrence, including rationale.
Photo of composer Winifred Phillips at work in her music production studio at Generations Productions. Phillips' work includes several famous and popular games and game franchises, including God of War, Total War, LittleBigPlanet, Assassin's Creed, and The Sims.
By Winifred Phillips | Contact | Follow
 

Glad you're here!  I'm video game composer Winifred Phillips, and welcome to the fourth installment of my five article series based on the presentation I gave this past March at the first-ever completely online Game Developers Conference!  My talk was titled “From Assassin’s Creed to The Dark Eye: The Importance of Themes” (you'll find the official description of my talk at the end of this article).  In my presentation, I explored the thematic content in music I composed for several top video game projects, including Assassin's Creed Liberation (Ubisoft), God of War (Sony Interactive America), LittleBigPlanet (Sony Interactive Europe), Homefront: The Revolution (Deep Silver), Speed Racer (Warner Bros Interactive), Spore Hero (Electronic Arts), and The Dark Eye: Book of Heroes (Wild River).

If you missed any of the previous articles in this series, you can find them here:

In the last article, we discussed theme fragmentation and variation.  So now let’s consider how themes can best enhance different types of gameplay.

Recurring themes

An image depicting the official logo of the Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole IP. This image is a part of the five-article series written by Winifred Phillips (video game composer).

We typically see recurring musical themes used most frequently in story-driven games - especially during cinematics and cutscenes.  For instance, when I composed the music for the Legend of the Guardians video game, I made sure that the main theme melody was prevalent during the game's start sequence and in the cinematic opening credits:

However, the role of thematic music goes beyond cinematic uses.  While themes can propel a storyline, using themes more frequently can also reinforce the identity of the game we’re scoring, and serve as a musical signature for it.  For instance, while the main theme was important during cinematic sequences, the main theme melody was also used during combat:

Image depicting the official logo of the Speed Racer video game, as included in the article written by popular video game composer Winifred Phillips.Themes can work during action, even in a game that isn’t driven by narrative.  A good example is the music I composed for the Speed Racer video game based on the movie from the famous Wachowski siblings. It’s not a story-driven game, but nevertheless my main theme melody is all over the place – in the opening cinema, during the races, and even in the end credits:

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