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June 21, 2016

NXNE Future Land: Music and Gaming Panel

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Written by: CT
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By Riley Mackinnon

Wednesday, June 15, NXNE took over the Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson University for their Interactive Conference as part of the week-long festival. Gaming industry experts from Canada and elsewhere joined hundreds of conference attendees for a day of interactive exploration into the world of the gaming industry.

The day opened with an ICON talk from Atari founder Nolan Bushnell. Bushnell has the pleasure of being known as Steve Jobs’ only boss, and left the crowd in stitches after cracking numerous jokes about his declining an offer to own shares in Apple. His talk was insightful and encouraging, touching on the highlights of his career and shedding light on upcoming projects and what he hopes for the future of digital technologies.

The main event that this article will cover is the Art of Sound and Music panel, moderated by Steven Ehrlick, director of the MusicDen and professor at Ryerson University. The panel was comprised of some local and global faces within the audio side of the gaming industry: Richie Nieto, from Ubisoft, Maggie McLean, from Uken Games, Rich Vreeland (aka Disasterpeace), freelance composer, and Graeme Cornies, from Voodoo Highway Music.

The panel was such a well-rounded group, who all shared stories on how they got their start composing music for games, and what advice they offer for newcomers in the field. None of them started the same way, but all of them found their way to their current careers through a love and passion for video games. It was also fascinating how each of them approached their music differently. Not all of them came from a musical background, and as such their approaches to composing their scores and working with teams of designers varied from person to person, and project to project.

All of them cited good teamwork and communication as a key factor to a successful project. Many of them don’t work in-studio; in fact, there are very few in-studio composers who work in the gaming industry. Luckily, with the rise in sharing platforms, teamwork becomes easier through platforms like Google Drive, where frequent communication and feedback become an instant connection.

All of the panelists noted the beauty of music in gaming versus music in film/television. Since video games often follow a non-linear format, the music becomes an immersive quality that enhances user experience and builds atmosphere more than a movie soundtrack does. Most of the panelists cited reference material as an excellent starting point, and an easy way to connect with directors who are not familiar with musical terms and may not be able to describe the sound they hope to achieve. Graeme Cornies said that reference tracks were a point of departure for him, and helped get over that initial hurdle of composing a score.

Maggie McLean spoke to the immersive quality of gaming music as a “key to creating that immersion.” Music is tied to so many qualities of the game, such as providing feedback to the user, reaction to the user, and providing ambience. It differs from the music of film and television in that the music changes based on the user’s actions, and grows along with the story based on the progression of the user.

In hoping to inspire new composers to enter this field, many of the panelists commented on the low bar of entry. There is so much creative room in this field, and many opportunities for self-direction, which makes it easy to experiment and go through periods of trial and error. McLean, the only woman on the panel, also commented on the progression the industry has experienced, noting that 20 years ago, there would not have been a woman on the panel. Minority groups are increasing in this field, creating an inclusive environment for everyone.

The world of composing for games offers a lot of flexibility and creativity. By working with a team of game designers, you are actively participating in creating a story that hopes to excite and inspire users to continue playing through until the end.

The rest of the afternoon focused primarily on narrative and designing within the field of video games and interactive technology. There was a virtual reality demo from AMD for attendees to try, which garnered a lot of attention and excitement as the day went on. A demo for “the Running Dead”, a game in which the user runs on a pad to make their character get further away from zombies also brought a lot of smiles and laughter to the space as attendees ran for their lives. The conference ended with mentoring sessions, where all the panelists were at stations, awaiting questions from curious attendees hoping to either break into the industry, or have a burning question answered by one of their video game idols.

As Mayor John Tory, who introduced the final panel of the day said, there is plenty of opportunity to be found in Toronto. Gaming is one area of the media industry that more traditional musicians may not have yet explored, but offers a fun and interactive way to build a narrative in a non-linear medium that will hopefully engage users in a new, fresh way from the traditional music sharing mediums.






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