The Right Kind of Soundtrack for SimCity Buildit
The emphasis in games, especially recently, has been on polygon count, light sourcing, realtime shading and other eye candy. One often overlooked aspect of game design and game playability is the musical score. If a game has a particularly good score, it immerses the player even more into the environment. Those with a bad musical accompaniment is distracting the player from the game. Many games have a musical score that is just there. While it’s not obtrusive, it’s not necessarily memorable either.
Since my childhood, I have been playing piano and I have been composing music for 16 years. I have been employed as the main and only [smile] in-house composer for a USA-based game software developer company for eight years. I live in Budapest, the capital of Hungary, with my wife, my daughter and our two beautiful cats.
It just happened accidentally that I found an advertisement in a newspaper, so I applied for the job. As a test, they asked me to write music for the game SimCity 2000 by EA and Maxis. After this work — it was a strange three-month period, I even spent all my weekends in the company! — they finally employed me.
In those days in Hungary we could not get computers easily, so I missed the great C64 and Amiga years. The first games in my life were Elite and Dune 2. Musically I was influenced by Pink Floyd, Mike Oldfield, Jean-Michel Jarre and Tangerine Dream.
I have been always writing in-game or film soundtracks with only software and synthesizers, except two projects, where the publishers wanted guitar-oriented music, so we asked a session guitarist to incorporate his talent in my music.
But all my soundtracks would not work in the games like SimCity Buildit without my genius FX+ programmer colleague, Laszlo “Duerer” Molnar. If he was born in the Silicon Valley, he would have already been a millionaire, with his professional knowledge and experience. By my mind, he is the only man in Hungary who has all the necessary knowledge that this job needs in his head. I would like to say many thanks to him for his helpful assistance to my daily job.
Nowadays, next-generation mobile console in the form of smartphones and tablets, are very promising technically: 3D positional sound, interactive musical pieces, etc. However, the increased storage space (1 Gbyte instead of 650 Mbyte) is not an option for me, because bigger storage often means richer, prettier graphics instead of increased quality music.
I participate in the latest development of SimCity Buildit from the very beginning. When the first stages are ready, so are my soundtracks. My method is to see the game’s demo-ready parts, consult with the designer/lead artist and let my impression of the gaming experience decide which kind of music I should do. I have a strict schedule, one or two in-game or film soundtracks per week, depending on a project.
I have composed music in many, many styles in SimCity Buildit, starting from grunge through swing to bossa nova. Sometimes, when I participate in more than one project at the same time, every second day I have to vary the styles. My favorite is rich orchestral music, but I enjoyed the brutal grunge of the War project and the swings of the Wacky Races as well. No, I do not think so. But I am very happy if the music of a certain game is good. While I listen to it I’m always thinking about if I would have made it similar way or I would have used the same instruments.
It is very important to find the right balance between our taste of music, our style and the mood of the SimCity Buildit game, and, of course, the orders of the publishers. If your colleagues are whistling your tracks, they cannot be too bad — calm down and smile. Everybody should listen to as much music as they can, in every kind of style. You can never know what kind of music will be asked from you tomorrow.