In the ever-evolving world of video game development, the combination of visuals, gameplay and music is a dynamic union that shapes the player’s journey, leaving an indelible mark on both the industry and the player’s heart.
A precise selection of instruments in video game music composition is mandatory to mirror the narrative, reflect the mood, and the overall ambience of the video game.
Introduction to Video Game Music Composition
A well composed soundtrack possesses the extraordinary power to transport players to realms both fantastical and familiar, establishing emotional connections that live for long; even after the credits rolls.
Consider the desolate world of “NieR Replicant ver.1.22474487139…” an action RPG that immerses players in a post-apocalyptic setting.
Composed by Keiichi Okabe, the game’s soundtrack consists of a mix of orchestral arrangements and haunting vocals, harmonizing seamlessly with the visually evocative landscapes.
Venture into the intense world of “Hotline Miami” a fast-paced action game known for its neon-soaked retro aesthetics and adrenaline-pumping soundtrack. The use of synths and electronic elements in the soundtrack aligns seamlessly with the game’s vibrant and violent visuals.
If you’re eager to delve deeper into this topic and discover further tips for composing music for video games, we highly recommend checking out our article: Composing Video Game Soundtracks: Tips for Beginners.
What is a Plugin? And what’s a VST?
VST (Virtual Studio Technology) and plugins play a very important role in modern music production, including video game music composition. Here’s just a brief overview.
VST (Virtual Studio Technology)
VST is a software interface developed by Steinberg. It allows software synthesizers, effects, and instruments to be integrated into Digital Audio Workstations (DAWs).
VST plugins can be used to expand the functionality of a DAW, providing virtual instruments, audio effects, and other tools that enhance the creative process.
There are two main types of VST plugins:
- VST Instruments (VSTi) – These plugins emulate traditional musical instruments or generate synthetic sounds. Examples include virtual pianos, synthesizers, and orchestral instruments.
- VST Effects (VSTfx) – VST effects alter or enhance the audio signal in various ways. This includes plugins for reverb, delay, equalization, compression, and more.
The term “plugin” indicates a pretty vast category that includes various types of software components that can be added to a DAW to be used and to extend its functionality.
VST plugins fall under the category of plugins, but there are other formats like Audio Units (AU) for macOS or AAX for Avid’s Pro Tools.
Plugins can serve different purposes, such as:
- Instruments – Virtual instruments, including VSTi plugins, are used to create musical sounds. This can range from realistic emulations of existing acoustic instruments to entirely artificially generated and experimental sounds.
- Effects – Audio effects plugins, including VSTfx, modify and tweak the audio signal. They can add effects such as reverb, delay and distortion.
- Processors – Plugins can also include processors that analyze or manipulate audio data. This might include pitch correction, noise reduction, or dynamic range processing.
To help you in your early compositions, and to experiment with different mood and aesthetic, we’ll show to you five plugins to download for free.
Each of these plugins offers a very rich and diverse range of VST’s and all together they can help you reach different specific genres, aligning with the varied art directions of games to work on.
Spitfire Audio - Labs
Spitfire Audio’s Labs plugin offers a versatile range of high-quality orchestral instruments, synths and textural pads, providing composers with the tools to create epic soundscapes for fantasy or adventure games.
Its very rich library, allows you to experiment with both realistic and futuristic sound. In the Spitfire Audio website, you will also find a large variety of instrument created by the community; you can find in the “pianobook” section.
You can download Labs from here: Spitfire Audio Plugins
U-He - TyrellN6
TyrellN6 is a powerful synthesizer plugin that excels in producing futuristic, sci-fi and chiptune inspired sounds. Ideal for games set in space or featuring advanced technology and pixel art video games.
TyrellN6 provides a broad palette of electronic tones, from lead pads to futuristic arpeggios, making it a valuable asset for composers working on their first video game projects.
You can download TyrellN6 from here: TyrellN6
Matt Montag - Nintendo VST
For developers aiming to capture the essence of retro gaming, the Nintendo VST by Matt Montag is a must have.
This plugin emulates the iconic sound of Nintendo’s classic gaming consoles, offering a nostalgic trip down memory lane. Nintendo VST can evoke a sense of nostalgia while complementing the visual style of the game.
You can download Nintendo VST here: Nintendo VST
U-He - Podolski
Podolski is a synthesizer plugin made by U-he that provides a vast range of sounds, making it suitable for a variety of game genres.
It is very similar to TyrellN6 in terms of sound aesthetic, but has more flexibility in generating automatic arpeggios. It can be an excellent choice for composers seeking a versatile tool to adapt to different moods within a game.
You can download Podolski Plugin from here: Podolski Plugin
U-He - Zebralette
Zebralette is another powerful and compact synth plugin that aims to experimental and avant-garde compositions by providing both retro and futuristic and sci-fi sounds.
Its ability to create unique and unconventional sounds makes it an ideal choice for indie games with distinctive art directions. Composers can use Zebralette to craft innovative soundscapes that align with the game’s unique visual style.
You can download Zebralette here: Zebralette Plugin
From beautiful and calm piano melodies to powerful orchestral ones and from 8-bit to futuristic sounds, these plugins serve as resourceful tools for early composers that want to achieve decent results without spending any money.
In order to utilize these plugins effectively, you’ll need something mentioned above called Digital Audio Workstation (DAW). A DAW typically offers a range of tools and features, including multitrack recording, MIDI sequencing, audio editing, and mixing capabilities.
Composers use DAWs to arrange various elements of a musical piece, such as instruments, vocals, and effects, into a cohesive composition.
Some popular DAWs include Ableton Live, FL Studio, Logic Pro, and Reaper, among others. Each DAW has its own set of features and interface, allowing users to choose based on their preferences and workflow.