Here is a second sneak peek at Chance Thomas’ upcoming book, “Composing Music for Games.” This time we get to look at excerpts from Chapters 4 and 5 in musical building blocks and pathing. Chance will be giving the Keynote address at Game Sound Con in LA tomorrow night, November 3. The title of his talk will be “Spoils of War: 10 Gems of Wisdom from 20 Years of Experience in the Trenches.” Hope to see you there if you are in LA!

The following excerpts are taken from the upcoming university textbook, Composing Music for Games: The Art, Technology and Business of Video Game Scoring (Focal Press), authored by Chance Thomas.

(From Chapters 4 and 5 – Basic and Advanced Music Scoring Techniques for Games)


“Consider for a moment a toy construction set for children. Legos, Tinkertoys, K’Nex – each of these toy building blocks can be instructive models for understanding how a complex game music score may be constructed from simpler component parts.

Think of each brick, spool or hub as a musical building block delivering certain musical function(s) within the score. Think of each stud, stick and connector as offering a hand-off from one core music function to another. For example, in the simplified figure below, the first block is an Intro. Its primary musical functions include setting the mood and establishing an aesthetic. It plays one time only when the player first enters the game world.

Next, the Loop block propels action for as long as needed within the boundaries of a defined emotional range. It continues to play while the current game state remains active. Finally, the Tag block plays one time when the current game state reaches a point of definitive conclusion, such as a victory or defeat. It’s musical functions include providing a contextual clue of finality and adding a bookend opposite the Intro, thus contributing to structural unity.

Now consider a slightly longer chain of components, as illustrated in the figure below:

The chain begins with an Intro block and a Loop block, as in the previous figure. But in this example the first Loop block is followed by a Transition block. The Transition block functions to propel the action in a new direction and provide a contextual clue that something in the game has changed. The transition block connects to a second Loop, which eventually terminates in a Tag.

Keeping the Lego/Tinkertoy/K’Nex analogy in mind, it is easy to envision how a component-based score of musical building blocks could continue to grow in size and complexity. Such a component based music score could address any number of game state situations and accompanying scoring requirements.”

“Imagine how pathing with such music blocks and connectors could expand outwardly in every appropriate direction, resulting in a virtually unlimited neural network of score options! The complexity, nuance, flexibility and functional impact of such a score would only be constrained by the composer’s imagination, time and resources.

Ah yes, resources. Game development teams and publishers tend to guard those carefully, especially when dealing with music.

Resource tightfistedness is not just limited to the amount of cash allotted to fund the composer’s creativity or production costs. Developers may also keep a short leash on the availability of software engineers to assist in implementation. Also, the amount of memory reserved for music assets has historically ranged from negligible to nominal. It seems that game score development is a continual puzzle of how to make the most effective use of limited resources. Building a music design endlessly outward is a luxury many composers will never experience. Fortunately, innovative thinking can lead to other effective approaches.

For example, what if there were ways to expand the pathing inwardly, so that each music block could provide functional variety and nuance even within its own node? What if opening up the metaphorical Tinkertoy music spool revealed additional pathing options on the inside?


When scoring blocks were first explained, it was easy to see how a music score could progress from one type of scoring block to the next. Each block represented a single piece of music underscoring a discrete emotional state or with a singular function to perform in the scoring chain. The music score progressed as it moved along the designated path from one block to the next, as illustrated in the following figure.

For the more advanced scoring techniques presented in this chapter, each scoring block will need to contain multiple pieces of music, as illustrated by colored subdivisions in the revised block diagram below.

Thus there may be themes and variations in the intro block. There may be several layers of music in the loop blocks. There may be optional choices in the tag and transition blocks. Such additional pieces of music provide the composer with enhanced flexibility to progress and vary the score as needed to meet the complex demands of modern game designs.”

© 2015 Chance Thomas, Focal Press (Oxford)

To learn more about Composing Music for Games, please visit this link:

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