The Creativity of the Video Game Composer Needs To Be Flexible

People assume music is all about which instruments and notes or chords you use and how fast or slow you play them. But I can tell you there’s so much more to it than that.

When you’re composing for a video game or for a podcast or brand, far more thought goes into the composition process than most would realise. It really is a specialised task that requires a willingness to allow your creative whims to play second fiddle to the creative vision of your client.

And that is not always comfortable – especially for the hobbyist musician who is used to creating based on their own ideas without restriction or reservation.

When I sit down to write a piece of music for a client’s project, so many different considerations go into the decision I make. The creative process when you’re working with a client with a creative vision of their own is one of collaboration.

This goes for where to draw more heavily on the client’s creative vision and where the client has encouraged me to use creative license. On top of this, how I’m executing the decisions I’ve made goes a long way too.

Once the decision has been made of whether we’re going for orchestral, electronic, chiptune, hybrid or something else, some of the things I’m looking at are:

🔥 How will I capture the mood or the feeling the client is looking for?
🔥 How can I translate the mood the client is looking for into the music in more ways than one?
🔥 Which instruments or sounds are best used to capture what the client is looking for?
🔥 What can I do with those instruments or sounds that brings out the feeling the client is looking for and put it front and centre?

And that’s the tip of the iceberg.

The Video Game Composer Understands the Value of Flexibility

Here’s the thing, every single one of those points speaks to one thing…

💡 When you’re composing for a client, the creative process exists to serve the creative vision of the client

As a creative, it can be a challenging learning curve to recognise you have to trust your creative instincts without letting them get in the way of what the final work needs to be.

I’m very fortunate that 9 times out of 10, when I deliver work to my clients, they are thrilled by what I’ve created and can’t find a critical word to say about it.

An example of one such track is here:

But sometimes, it takes some adjustment to get it right for the client.

💡 The truth is: Creativity without flexibility – creativity that is unwilling to challenge itself – is often an ego trip.

🔥 Creativity at its best sees no bounds to how it can express itself.

🔥 Creativity at its best doesn’t old tight to old ideas.

🔥 Creativity at its best is ready to explore.

And, in this way, creativity help the video game composer bring their clients’ creative visions to life in new and exciting ways every time.


MUSIC FOR GAMES: Creativity Flows When Restrictions Are Imposed


Recently, I created a chiptune music pack I’ve just released on

It’s been such a fascinating exercise in stripping back the composition process. The challenge was:

  • No fancy orchestral instruments.
  • No lush reverb.
  • Just very basic sounds like the old chiptune music in my Gameboy Color growing up.
  • If I wanted to get a specific sound, I would have to use only the VST that would create authentic chiptune music. My own creativity would have to lead me to new places.

But if my life of second-hand instruments from the family shop and finding free VSTs online has taught me anything it’s that some of the best creative moments come when you have restrictions in place.

In fact, what I found while writing this chiptune music was that it’s really the subtle changes you make to the sounds you use which create a kind of emotional language in the music.

So much of the creative process is about listening intently to what you’re creating and letting yourself feel into it. That’s how you get the emotion to come across.

It fascinates me how, with music, what seems like a small, simple change can accomplish so much.

For one track that was intended for a dream-like sequence, I made is so the lead instrument had a very slow attack so instead of the sound starting right when I hit the note, it would fade in slowly.

That turned a sharp sound into something like a will-o-wisp for the ears. Gentle, breathy.

So much of the creative process is about listening intently to what you’re creating and letting yourself feel into it. That’s how you get the emotion to come across.

This chiptune music pack has about 21 loopable 1-minute tracks in it.

I’m considering doing a Vol. 2 because it’s honestly just been so rewarding to get back to basics while composing and create something that reminds me of those years playing Pokemon Yellow or Rayman on my Gameboy Color. And it’s been so fun too.

If you want to have a listen to more of the music or grab the pack for your game, click here.

If you’re interested in hiring a video game composer to create bespoke music for your video game, click here.



We think so much in terms of what we can get these days, especially when it comes to money.

In a big way, broadly speaking, I think the spirit of collaboration has taken a back-seat to the urge of personal success.

We’re encouraged to think in terms of reciprocity by the predominant culture.

There’s a stark contrast between the attitude of musicians in a local community in my home-town and the attitude of musicians in the big money music industry.

At my local ‘gig club’, the spirit was one of collaboration.

People acknowledged their influences and where they would take ideas from and yet there was an understanding that your contributions were your own.

These days, you only have to look at the myriad accusations of plagiarism when people attempt to pass others’ ideas off as their own without actually giving credit to the creatives who’ve influenced them.

The attitude is one that I think we see all the time. Clambering over each other to get what we want.

But then, to be fair, why wouldn’t people be like that?

This kind of an attitude, and the very worst humanity is capable of, is often encouraged in our society, if not actually rewarded.

Real connection, offering support and encouragement, showing up for the people you connect with and giving what you can goes a long way.

It puts our common humanity and collaboration first and relegates the self-serving grappling that probably quite often puts people off working with us anyway.

It’s about letting your human values prevail over your desires for personal gain, without negating the need for mutual gain as a necessary outcome of collaboration.

  • It’s a big part of why I’ve set up my tiered pricing approach the way I have on my site – so whatever level developers are at with their funding, as long as they have *some* funding, I can help them in one way or another.

I do believe that, instead of *only* thinking about what you can get back, it’s much better to think in terms of collaboration and giving support.

If that’s an attitude everyone involved takes, then people feel valued and energy otherwise expended on protecting your own interests can go towards realised shared outcomes.

Perhaps that’s easier said than done. I know we’re not all in the position where we feel we have all that much to offer, before reaching our limits.

I know, from my own personal experience, how hard it can be to feel ready to give when your bucket feels empty.

Professionally, I do believe that, instead of thinking *only* in terms of taking/being taken from, things improve for everyone when, as self-possessed individuals who recognise we have something of value to offer, we think in terms of collaboration and sharing in our mutually desired outcome.

That way, we can lift each other up as we all go onwards towards those things that matter most to us all.


When You Need Adaptive Bespoke Music But Don’t Have The Budget For A Video Game Composer

I’ve been talking to a lot of Indie Game Developers lately and something I’ve heard a few times now is that during the development process, sacrifices have to be made.

And when funding is an issue, yet more sacrifice is required.

Budget versus creative vision can end up being a process of deciding between what you want to make and what you actually can make with the funding available to you.

Too often giving up bespoke assets in favour of stock assets seems like a no-brainer. And it can be. But often what you save on tailored design, you pay for in hours spent trying to make the stock assets work for you and fit into your creative vision.

Or worse, you pay for it in time spent curtailing disappointment when the best you can do with stock assets is nowhere close to what you hoped you could create.

And this is especially the case when your vision for the game requires a high level of interactivity and adaption to the player’s input.

But the question remains, what resource do you have enough of to invest in audio? Time or money? If you have an excess of time, wrangling stock assets into a coherent art style or gameplay flow is more doable. But if you’re strapped for time, hiring a specialist video game composer so you can free up your mental RAM for other tasks is the wise choice

Manging Expectations When Bespoke Music from a Video Game Composer Doesn’t Seem Like An Option

Here’s the thing: Bespoke music is the way studios tend to go when their game needs adaptive music.

As a video game composer, obviously that’s music to my ears. And I’m always ready to jump on a new project.

But I also know that for indie studios working on their first game – or first few games – funding is often a struggle.

And that can mean sacrificing key aspects of your creative vision to actually end up creating a game that will ever get published. And not just end up stuck in the endless loop of doom, bounding between creative revisions at the behest of perfectionism and brainwaves for how the game could be even better.

Sometimes it’s about using the resources available to you, within your restrictions, and making something that is both finish-able *and* something you’re proud of ←

Often what you save on tailored design, you pay for in hours spent trying to make the stock assets work for you and fit into your creative vision.

With that in mind, I’ve started work on some music packs for indie devs who haven’t quite got the budget for a full soundtrack of bespoke music from a video game composer but still want something that’s as dynamic and modular as possible.

You know, music that makes the game better, more memorable. Music that brings out the best in the game. Not just something that *kind of* works pulled from a library somewhere.

I’ve created two so far – one for ‘adventure’ and one for ‘magic and mischief’. They’re ideal for light-hearted fantasy games, as you can hear in the video below.

I’ve created the video below to introduce the adventure pack. I hope it excites you as much as it excites me.

If you want to grab the pack for your game, click here.

If you’re interested in hiring a video game composer to create bespoke music for your video game, click here.

The Video Game Composer That IMPROVED Star Wars’ Music

Dark Music: A Video Game Composer’s Dream

This Game IMPROVED Star Wars’ Music by taking it to places the movies never dared to explore.

Working on Emberlight’s music has given me the opportunity to create some really dark video game music.

That kind of darkness in music is something I fell in love with when I first heard the music for Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II back when I was a kid.

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II cover art used under Fair Use.

My step-dad had it on PC and when I’d go over there at weekends, I’d just sink hours and hours into it the game, over and over again.

It’s such an amazing game and the music goes beyond the Star Wars music we know and love from the movies. For those of you who played the game, I think you’ll agree, it goes without saying that as a video game composer, Mark Griskey just nailed this soundtrack.

The game’s dark twisted music takes John Williams’ fantastic work in the Star Wars movies as a jumping off point and goes to incredible new places…

If you’ve never heard the music for KOTOR II before, listen to this while reading and you’ll see exactly what I mean.

The music for KOTOR II is every bit as cinematic as Williams’ original score and yet it goes to places the Star Wars movies’ music never went to. And that, I think, is because this game, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II, went to places with its story and its characterisation that the core Star Wars movies never explored as well as they could have.

Obsidian Made The Right Choice With Video Game Composer Mark Griskey

If Obsidian had just gone, “Right, we need Star Wars music, so we’ll get a few tracks that sound like Star Wars” we would have had a soundtrack that was… Good. Alright but not breaking any new ground. And it would have done the job. But what they got with Griskey as their video game composer was next level video game music.

What we got was a soundtrack that, yes, fits seamlessly into the Star War musical canon but also told a story of an even darker side of the force than we had seen in the movies.

KOTOR II is a game that explores light and dark but also shades of grey in between that the films – to this day – have not even begun to consider. Where the hollywood movies have always played out good versus bad black and white stories, KOTOR II did something special.

And Mark Griskey did what all good video game composers do, he elevated the game’s core. He brought out the best in the game and elevated its story with what has, at least for me, become unforgettable music.

The music of Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II is a video game soundtrack that captures the Machiavellian impulse of its antagonist precisely. And there’s a richness and depth that could only have been achieved by leaning into the darkness already present in some of Williams’ Star Wars music and then some.

In this way, KOTOR II’s music underlines what sets it apart from the music of its older sibling KOTOR I and from the original Star Wars canon. KOTOR II is not afraid to explore the true power of the dark side of the force. And it’s not afraid show the middle ground between the light side of the force and the dark side of the force.

And I for one am very excited to revisit this incredible game when the remake is released.

When Video Game Composers Do Dark Video Game Music Well

My love for the darkness music can portray started with Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II but it was only compounded when I played through games like Dragon Age: Origins.

Dragon Age: Origins cover art used under Fair Use.

In Dragon Age: Origins, you hear the work of a video game composer who truly knows their stuff. You hear mastery, even with the technical constraints of the time. (Digital orchestras and sample libraries just weren’t what they are now back in 2009)

The layers of yearning and loss Inon Zur built into what was also an incredibly dark soundtrack is part of what made Dragon Age: Origins such an unforgettable for so many. It underscores the game’s powerful story. A story of sacrifice, duty and courage in the face of near insurmountable odds.

That is how, when a video game composer does their job well, can elevate a video game and give its story a whole new level of depth. That’s how, when a video game composer does their job well, they can bring the best out in a video game and put it front and centre for all to hear – and feel.

When I turned my hand to Emberlight’s music, I brought that love of darkness in music with me.

As a video game composer, creating Emberlight’s music continues to provide me with opportunities to explore these emotional depths and write them into music. It continuous to provide me with opportunities to bring out the most thrilling and moving aspects of the game and illustrate them in the game’s music.

You can check the music I composed for Emberlight here.

If you’re interested in hiring a video game composer to create bespoke music for your video game, click here.


The Study That Makes The Video Game Composer

Over the course of about three years, I set about studying the work of the video game composer Jeremy Soule for The Elder Scrolls video game series. It was an intense study and a particular challenge on account of musical notation not being my strong suit.

I’m pretty much a self-taught musician and despite having two granddads who play the organ (one of whom was even a teacher for years and years) and despite going to college to study music business and performance, I never quite managed to master reading music, not notating.

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Promotional Art of a member of the Imperial Watch grimacing at some criminal scum from The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion

From the outset, this study of Soule’s work for TES was going to be a challenge. But it was one I was eager to take on. It was The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion that made me truly fall in love with video games and video game music, you see. And it was Soule’s work on the series that, in my first years even entertaining the idea of being a video game composer, I sought to emulate.

To this day, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion’s soundtrack remains one of my favourites – if not my number one favourite. It’s so filled with life and joy and an almost spiritual affection of existence. Which may have something to do with Soule having written it after surviving a car accident. You can almost hear the gratitude for being alive in the music.

Alas, by the time I sat down to study Soule’s work as part of my quest to become a video game composer in my own right, there was something about the Oblivion soundtrack and the technology Soule had available to him at the time to create it that made it feel dated.

Moreover, Skyrim was quickly becoming a mainstay of the RPG genre and its music went above and beyond my expectations as a fan of the series. So, it would be Skyrim that I would take to studying.

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Riverwood, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

During this quest to become a video game composer, during this years long study of Soule’s work on Skyrim, there were three things that stood out to me as defining features of the soundtrack. Things which are present to a lesser or greater extent in his previous works but nonetheless things which make Skyrim’s music the unforgettable video game soundtrack it is.

In this article, I’ll share with you the two lessons I learned from my years long study of Jeremy Soule’s work on my quest to become a video game composer in my own right.

The Video Game Composer Must Be A Singer/Songwriter Too

Video game music is a whole medium of its own but across all music that really sticks with huge audiences, has one reoccurring quality. Be it rock, pop, folk or instrumental orchestral video game music, the melody is the thing.

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Afoot a Dwarven Ruin in Morrowind

On initial listening, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim’s soundtrack is not one that stands out as being driven by its melodies. At least when compared to its predecessors Morrowind and Oblivion. Skyrim’s soundtrack is one of soundscapes – swelling strings and yearning notes that ring out fade off into the distance.

And yet, upon closer inspection, those memorable melodies of Morrowind and Oblivion haven’t gone anywhere. In fact, they are just where they’ve always been but this time with a whole new level of finesse – and immersed in a sea of swelling sounds. But we’ll circle back around to those soundscapes.

During my years long study of Soule’s work as a video game composer on the Elder Scrolls series music, one thing I kept coming back to – time and time again – was that his melodies are both moving and familiar, simple and filled with emotion.

This is true in Morrowind’s soundtrack too, and in Oblivion’s. But it hits a sweet-spot with Skyrim. Soule’s melodies for Skyrim’s soundtrack are memorable because they are lyrical. They capture your attention and imagination, not because they are in your face and modulating through key signatures, but because they are delicate and paced.

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Nirn’s two moons, Massar and Secunda

What Soule does so well, however, that so many other video game composers seem to struggle with, is that he creates music befitting a fantasy role-playing epic with none of the cliches, none of the tropes. It feels like fantasy but it doesn’t feel like you’ve heard it before or like it’s copy and pasted from renaissance fair’s bard’s setlist.

The melody in Far Horizons is a stationary summons from a great distance, reaching out across the landscape. The twinkling piano in Secunda is like a delicate game of hopscotch down the piano. Their simple melodies repeat through variations that are not just lyrical but sing-able. And this is where the video game composer must become like the singer/songwriter.

It is the video game music that calls the players back time after time. When the intricacies and reward chemicals of immersed game play are gone from the player’s mind, a simple, singable melody – pregnant with feeling – can bring players back time and time again.

The Video Game Composer Must Have the Courage to Feel

The video game composer must have a mastery of feeling. And, in music, feeling is the atmosphere you create and the way you express ideas through your musical choices.

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Something I find myself saying often, as a musician with my roots as a songwriter, is that composing music for video games as a video game composer almost turns the process of creation inside out.

When you’re writing a song, you write from the inside out. You reach inside of yourself and find a feeling and then use the music to channel this feeling into art. When you’re a video game composer and you’re composing music for video games, your starting point is entirely different. Instead of starting from a feeling you have and having the creative process be an open-ended process of creative exploration, you’re starting from an outline, intention or feeling someone else needs you to write music towards.

Writing a song, you’re writing from the inside outwards. As a video game composer, you’re writing from the outside inwards.

The former is ideal when you’re writing an album of songs that exist purely as the product of your own emotional exploration, or a message you want to convey. The latter, however, requires a familiarity with your own inner emotional landscape and knowledge of how best to translate that into music.

Here, music theory can help pave the way but at the end of the day, it’s where you’re willing to go to in your own feelings, in your own emotional landscape, that will be the last word on the range of music you’re capable of creating.

If you shy away from melancholy, for instance, your music may never reach the hearts of the listeners in quite the way it could. And melancholy is front and centre in Skyrim’s music.

What Soule shows us with his music for Skyrim is that he knows melancholy well. But the feeling of Skyrim’s music is embedded in its sweeping, layered chords just as much as its delicate melancholic melodies.

Video Game Composer, Music For Games, Video Game Music Composer, Bespoke Music, fantasy rpg, the elder scrolls skyrim, video game music, Andey Fellowes
Eastmarch, a panorama by Nacui on DeviantArt

And what Soule does with those chords is not what most composer – video game composers or otherwise – might do. Rather than moving whole chords, 2-3+ notes at a time, the chords step gently, one note at a time into new formations. And as each note moves, the colours of the music change too.

Coupling this subtle stepping technique with the way Soule layers together pads, string and often choral voices, to create a thick, rich bed of texture, what results is nothing short of a soundtrack as immersive as the game it was written for. Not to mention that this is merely the accompaniment to the yearning melancholic melodies which play out delicately atop them.

The Video Game Composer’s Masterclass

Just about any skilled video game composer with a decent library of music available online can serve as an informal masterclass to the aspiring video game composer who is eager to learn.

In 2016, that was me. And while I’m not done learning by any stretch of the imagination, what I learned from my study of Jeremy Soule’s work has gifted me an insight into video game music that has been invaluable for me as I’ve gone on to become a video game composer in my own right.

What Soule has done so well with The Elder Scrolls series is to create music that is so completely the music you would expect of a fantasy RPG in a historical setting and yet something that subvert those expectations so beautifully time and time again. This is video game music at its best. It is apt for the escapism of a video game while remaining unceasingly human and real.

And a huge part of that is avoiding those fantasy tropes we’ve all heard time and time again in melody and letting the swelling soundscapes speak for themselves as they gently guide you to new and beautiful locales in game. And isn’t that just the perfect match for an Elder Scrolls game?

A beautiful, unforgettable video game experience which subverts expectations and leads you somewhere more beautiful than you expected to find yourself.

A Video Game Composer is Born

When I set out to study Soule’s work, I did so in part because I wanted to write some music for a Skyrim mod I was creating at the time. The mod, like a lot of rookie projects in game development suffered from a classic weakness: I bit off more than I could chew and tried to make something I could never finish. But it wasn’t all for nothing.

The Skyrim mod died a slow death but the music lives on. In fact, it’s now up in my Limited Exclusivity Video Game Music Library here on my site. So, if you’re making a fantasy RPG and you want music for your game that hearkens back to the best parts of Skyrim’s music, you’re in luck. Or, if you’re just a bit curious what the fruits of my years spent studying Soule’s work on Skyrim yielded, you’re in luck.

Just click here and you can listen to hours and hours of my music, inspired by Jeremy Soule’s work on Skyrim.

And if you’re interested in bespoke music for your video game, click here.

When Dad Comes Home, Nothing Will Get In This Boy’s Way

A young boy watches wide-eyed on the hill above his hometown. In the distance, but nearing ever closer, is his father. He’s arriving home from a long trip away to a place his mum won’t talk about to do things his mum won’t tell him about until he’s own enough, whenever that’s supposed to be.

Gazing intently, he makes out his father’s figure. They’re close to the town gates now. The boy leaps into an uneven run down the narrow winding paths, past the orchards and thatch-roofed houses and onto the busy streets of the town.

He turns the corner to find a toppled cart in the way. There are apples everywhere, split and rolling. Wasps, sniffing out the fresh fruit make a bee line for the sticky mess.

Past the cart, and through the crowd, the boy spots his father, his green patchy jacket held over his shoulder. Brow furrowed, his dad looks about for him.

Impatience grips the boy. He hops on the spot. From foot to foot, he hops, squirming as he looks around for a way past.

There it is.

He leaps into action. Pursing his lips, he launches himself up onto the felled cart, swatting away greedy wasps with his free hand.

The owner of the cart shoots him an angry glare. Startled, the boy slips on the apple juice soaked wood of the cart. It rocks beneath his feet as he lets out a cry. Apples fly in all directions.

“You!” shrieks the owner of the cart. It was Mr. Hebbage, who’d caught him stealing from the orchards just last week.

But there was no time to try to calm Mr. Hebbage down again. His dad was at the gate and this would be the first time he’d seen him in months.

The boy leaps up to grab the supports of the balcony above him. And with the quickly drying apple juice lending his hands a little extra stickiness, he swings back and then forwards.

For a moment, he’s weightless. Time slows. In a swarm of wasps, as Mr. Hebbage grabs at his ankles, the boy flies through the air, waving his hands around him like the limbs of a scrawny apple sapling in a coastal storm.

His feet hit the stone path and he throws himself into a sprint. Swatting at the stinging bugs and swerving through the crowd as he leaves Mr. Hebbage behind. His dad is only paces away. And as the people part, he father turns towards him. His eyes catch his son’s and, without looking away, the boy grinds to a halt.

Panting, sticky and smelling of apples, he had made it. And dad was home.

A Temple of Mystery – Composing the music of The Last Crystal

The Spirit of the Temple

When I set about creating the music for The Last Crystal, a co-op puzzle adventure game, Marc (Marc-Antoine Desbiens, Game Designer and Co-Producer) and I talked at length about his team’s vision for the game and what it needed musically to support the enticing world they were building. We talked a lot about discovery and exploration – two themes that are central to The Last Crystal. About we talked about what made the setting of The Last Crystal unique.

The more we talked, the more the idea of mystery came back. But that wasn’t all the temple was. It was more than that. It was ancient. It was powerful. And with this ancient power, there came a mystique and a majesty. This was a place that tested those who set foot in its halls. This place demanded respect. And it was this picture of the temple which guided my hand as I worked to compose what became the main theme for The Last Crystal.

A New Journey

In the opening moments of the piece, a timpani roll leads us into a huge melodic statement right out of the gate. The magnitude of the temple is established. Its size, its majesty.

The leaping and rising melody then hangs gently as it fades while a distant flute plays out a flitting reference to the ancient setting of the game. We stand before a great temple, in the deep forested unknowns. Magic hides away within. And, as these opening moments of the piece soar proudly, we behold the majesty of the temple for the first time.

The Last Crystal, video game, soundtrack, fantasy, co-op, puzzle, adventure

As the dynamics die down, majesty gives way to mystery. We step forward, darkness hides many a threat. The reverberating harp, bass drone and quivering tremolo strings accompany our first steps inside the temple – filled with questions, curious and wary. We hear the tapping of far off percussion. Shuddering and trilling strings support the rhythmic stabbing staccato strings.

An oboe enters. The rhythmic elements solidify as we begin to feel confident in what we can expect going forward. We’ve seen the place now, we think we know it. Whatever it throws at us, we can handle it. The steady rhythms accompany the machinations of the mind as we work through the puzzles the temple throws at us. But in the darkness, the mystery yet lingers.

Discovery and Danger

What was really important to get across with the main melody itself was the spirit of the temple, the mood of the place and that sense of fascination present throughout the game – that drive to go deeper, to discover more and to, eventually, reach The Last Crystal.

The main theme rises in discovery and majesty and falls into courage and optimism. Throughout the piece, distant percussive hits decorate the rhythms and melodies. The various decorative elements shiver and tremble in the distance. They hearken to the ancient, mystical origins of the temple. And they allude to what lurks around every corner, hides in every shadow and waits with baited breath for intruders.

The Last Crystal, video game, soundtrack, fantasy, co-op, puzzle, adventure

Whenever I’m thinking about the larger musical world of a game, consistency is important. With a game like The Last Crystal, it’s key that the music feels like a cohesive part of a larger world and supports, even enriches, your experience as you explore the game world and familiarise yourself with the various gameplay dynamics and the story the game has to tell.

As I moved on from the main theme and began to compose for the different in-game environments and encounters, I paid special attention to the kinds of musical movements I employed. I scattered fragmented pieces of the main theme throughout each new piece and even built entirely new melodies from the basic idea that you can hear in the main theme for the game.

In ‘Lively Woods’, the melody lends itself to a much more vibrant and quintessentially ‘fantasy’ mood. In ‘Danger Ahead’, the main theme is both used as a fragmented basis for a new melody and in part, in its original form before it peels off and dissolves into the established melody of this battle piece.

In ‘Discoveries’, we hear it become the gentle tinkling rhythmic basis for the piece played on delicate piano and duplicated higher up by the celesta. And again, like in the battle music ‘Danger Ahead’, we hear the melody fragmented and then folding into the layers of the music once more.

The various decorative elements shiver and tremble in the distance. They hearken to the ancient, mystical origins of the temple. And they allude to what lurks around every corner, hides in every shadow and waits with baited breath for intruders.

The Last Crystal

All-in-all, the music for The Last Crystal had to honour the spirit of the temple and the experience of mystery and discovery you enjoy as you explore what the game has to offer.

Whether you’re solving puzzles, evading traps or running from the many dangers in this ancient and powerful place, the soundtrack is right along with you. It was written to be a loyal, memorable companion on your journey through The Last Crystal – One that brings you back to the world even after you’ve put the game down. And one that, when you think of the temple, has you humming its theme.

Visit The Last Crystal website to find out more

Listen to The Last Crystal OST on Soundcloud

The Last Crystal, video game, soundtrack, fantasy, co-op, puzzle, adventure

Rivendell – Essential VGM #2

Essential VGM #2 – “The Lords of the Rings Online”

Lord of the Rings Online is generally considered to be more loyal to the Lord of the Rings books than the Peter Jackson films. And it’s a wholly immersive Middle Earth experience despite being now over a decade old. However long it’s been around, LotRO has been lovingly tended over the years. And its music forever revamped and re-imagined.

Lord of the Rings Online official game art

Like most MMORPGs, LotRO has had its share of composers. Geoff Scott, Brad Spears, Egan Budd, Stephen Digregorio and Chance Thomas. All have done their part in contributing to the musical world of LotRO and the legacy of Tolkien. And every piece of music fits seamlessly into the world Turbine have built over the last 12 years. And each piece, eternally bound to the LotRO experience for many an adoring player, carries them right back to Middle Earth and to Tolkien’s ‘Secondary World’.

The piece I want to look at today is one for Rivendell. In its original form, we heard the piece as composed by, I believe, Stephen Digregorio. (I think it was Digregorio though, given how many composers have worked on LotRO over the years, it’s been difficult to pin down exactly who wrote what.) And then, in the 10th Anniversary re-orchestration of many of the game’s memorable pieces, we hear an arrangement by Chance Thomas – the mind behind the fantastic soundtrack to the ‘Riders of Rohan’ LotRO expansion.

The Last Homely Home [Analysis]

When I think of the elves at Rivendell, I think string arpeggios. Mystical, ambiguous and ethereal. It’s hard to talk about Lord of the Rings music without mentioning Howard Shore’s incredible work on the Peter Jackson films. In fact, it’s his choices when composing for Rivendell for the Fellowship of the Ring that has bound the sound of phrygian arpeggios to Rivendell. It makes sense then that, when we hear the opening notes of the original orchestration of LotRO’s Rivendell theme, we hear similar, albeit higher, string arpeggios.

In Chance Thomas’s re-orchestration however, things are different. Instead of the confident string signature of the elves, we hear a timid, breathy flute. Alluring and one with the ambient fx layered into the track, the flute turns a string statement into a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment in the woods. The light of a spring morning, flickering between new leaves and heating the ground for the first time since the cold of winter turned to leave.

Rivendell in LotRO

For me, this change from strings to flute is the perfect choice. The strings return later as we see but from outside the home of the elves, Rivendell is a place of mystery and of the arcane. This quivering flute, grace notes and all, captures the spirit of the elves. A magical folk in a world no longer for them. A wise and reverent people abiding in ‘the last homely home east of the sea.’

When you hear this flute, dipped in the gentlest of atmospheric reverb, it is as if you are being called onwards by a distant voice. And when at last it fades, the strings come up to meet you. Behind, the woodwinds support the new lead in chords, pulsing gently for the first part of the melody. Then, from beneath, the cello swells into counterpoint before too folding into chordal support in the low pitches for the rising melody.

Accompanying the lower strings now is our brass section. Providing weight to the lower sounds, like the rocky gorge at the edge of which Rivendell was built, this low brass hugs the listeners ear. And as the melody rises to its zenith, and the cello provides counterpoint once more, you can almost hear the soft voices of the elves. ‘Welcome to Rivendell’.

Rivendell in LotRO

A cymbal rush and the life of the town is taken into the music. Staccato woodwinds provide the chirping of the birds in the trees while the lower strings drive the piece forward with a deeper melody alluding to Shore’s Rivendell theme. Scattered woodwind pulses decorate the piece then as the higher strings take precedence once more.

For but a moment, the scattered woodwinds continue before lulling into middle range chordal support for the body of the sound, the lower brass. And as the brooding brass gives us a touch of the hidden power of the elves at Rivendell, our lead strings calls out in question. A four note motif which is, in turn, answered by the cello and a higher string answer of the question. And as the lift of the piece gives way to a dynamic ebb, we hear the brass echo the motif in its lower voice. Following the syllables, you can almost imagine it being a concurrence of the phrase, “And so we go on.”

And in the closing moments of the piece, we hear the breathy flute return for a fragment of the opening passage. A final farewell from the elves as the fellowship goes onwards towards the new and old alike. Though their destination is known, what they may face will not be. And as they go on, they say goodbye to the last homely home.

Suggest a track for Essential VGM

Which video game music do you think is Essential listening? Comment below and include a link! All suggestions will be considered for future posts.


Lord of the Rings Online ‘Rivendell’ Original:

Lord of the Rings Online 10th Anniversary Soundtrack by Chance Thomas on Spotify:

Rivendell theme by Howard Shore for The Hobbit:

All’s Well – Essential VGM #1

Essential VGM #1 – “The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion”

Few pieces of music have the capacity to both encapsulate a moment in the listener’s life while immersing them in a whole other world at the same time. ‘All’s Well’ by Jeremy Soule for The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion does just that. For so many people, the story is the same. “Oblivion was my first Elder Scrolls and I didn’t know what to expect. But when I left the Imperial City Sewers, I fell in love.” My story isn’t all that different in many respects.

A Country in a Box

When I discovered Oblivion, I fell in love. I found it for £10 in a local game exchange shop. I had no idea what I was in for when I sat down to play it that day. Needless to say, my eyes were opened. This intricate world, filled with unique characters – each one with a story and a life of their own. Dark secrets as compelling as the sprawling forests were beautiful. And it was in Cyrodiil that I fell in love with video game music. And one piece in particular draws me right back to that time in my life and the cities of Cyrodiil that I came to know so well.

All’s Well is delicate and sweet. You hear it in the cities and towns of Cyrodiil, a musical signal. “Here, you’re safe. Here, you can rest.” Unless you’re a lawbreaker, then it’s all over.

A Three-Part Serenade [Analysis]

A deep string drone fades in for two harps to set the scene. Twiddling, the lead, basking in a bed of reverb, plucks out the tender melody of a home well-kept and lovingly preserved. Beneath, the second harp moves gently laying the rhythmic foundation in accents. And when the lead rises, the counterpoint does so too. The strings behind dance up to a higher sustained note.

When the flute arrives, it brings with it the whim of a butterfly, fluttering over the city walls to rest on the nape of a flower’s head. Flitting, like the harp in lead before it, it continues to drive home the busy, fickle nature of the proud cyrodiilic people at rest in their homes, away from the world. When the flute takes centre stage, a harp supports it as it supported the lead before, in accents, continuing on and giving body to the notion of stability in the cities of Cyrodiil.

Soon, the lead harp from the initial passage falls into its familiar melody. But this time, it rests in the background while the foreground is occupied by the reverberating flute in legato. But in time, the supporting harp brings itself to the forefront as lead for but a moment before seamlessly lulling into chordal arpeggios over which the higher harp lead takes precedence.

Finally, our initial twiddling harp melody returns. Gentler this time, it’s statement is made. This time, we hear it ebbing and flowing like countryside winds curving over great valleys only to reach the towns as a breeze, rising and falling, the breath of the realm. Behind, the strings roll back into their drone as, together, all sounds fade to silence.

A Legacy Without End

In video game music, the intention is always to support and enrich the content of the game. In some cases, the composer does their job so well that they elevate the game beyond reasonable expectation.

There’s no debate. Soule’s contribution to The Elder Scrolls series has made it what it is. It would not be what it is today without Soule’s music. It has elevated these games into timelessness. A gift to the industry and a gift to all those who keep coming back time and time again, even after so many years.

Oblivion is an incredible game with or without the music (I tested this when I used to get up super early to play it but put it on mute so I didn’t wake up anyone else in the hours). And although Skyrim is the game that the world continues to talk about and play (and Bethesda keep on re-releasing) Oblivion, and Soule’s music, will always have a special place in my heart.

And whenever I’m walking a quite road in the fading light of the day, I can’t help but hear the delicate harp of All’s Well in the back of my mind.

In a world as tense as ours today, this game and it’s music has been my happy place more often than not. And it stays with me now, over a decade later.

A New Era (Updated February 2022)

I’ve always loved Soule’s music for the Elder Scrolls series. The Oblivion soundtrack has been one of my all time favourite soundtracks and I promise that’s not just for nostalgia reasons. But playing The Elder Scrolls: Blades (a mobile game set in the same universe) recently has made me excited to see what other composers will bring to this rich and vibrant world of stories and player-crafted memories. Specifically, I’m excited to see what more Inon Zur might bring to the Elder Scrolls, if he ends up composing for The Elder Scrolls VI.

Zur always delivers. There’s no debating that. And after Brad Derrick and Rik Shaffer’s contributions to the Elder Scrolls universe for ESO, it’s exciting to see different creative contributions to a world that has such a special place in my heart.

Suggest a track for Essential VGM

Which video game music do you think is Essential listening? Comment below and include a link! All suggestions will be considered for future posts.


Jeremy Soule’s ‘All’s Well’ on Spotify: