Author Archives: Walkerwhite

Applications for Game Design (Spring 2019)

With pre-enroll around the corner, I have now opened up applications for the game design courses next semester (CS/INFO 3152, CS/INFO 4152).  This post is not an attempt to promote more interest in these courses.  I will get twice as many applications as I can accept into the course; applications are extremely competitive.  But there are some new opportunities available for composers this year, and I wanted to bring them to your attention.

The courses are not designed to support composers that only work on music.  I do not have the training for this and large parts of the course would need to be rethought.  We only allow composers into the course when they can do one of the other three traditional tracks: programming, character art, UX design/testing.  We make the bar lower for good composers (so a programmer/composer is competitive with CS 2110 and does not need CS 3110), but we still require some expertise outside of music.

However, some groups in the past have asked if they can contract music out to their friends.  Not only have we allowed this, but these students were invited to our showcase.  In addition, if the game is accepted to a national game festival (like Boston FIG), I include these “contractors” when I offer to pay for the transportation costs.

This year, we have decided to make this a little more formal.  We have added an external member option to the application.  You can apply to join a team as a pure composer.  While we cannot enroll you in the full course, we can give you INFO 4900 (Independent Study) credit for joining the team.  The commitment is up to you.  We award 1 credit hour for each 2.5 hours of work a week.

If this interests you, I am accepting applications at the link above until December 15th.

Music of Stranger Things

Since winning an Emmy last year for their soundtrack to Stranger Things, Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein having been giving interviews about their development process. As a synthwave fan myself, I was originally planning to post these when we talked about synthesizers. However, many of the ideas that we talked about in Tuesday’s class come out in these interviews.  In particular, they show how thinking about sounds this way is relevant to commercial music and is not just an experimental art form.

There are two interviews of note, both which took place this past June.  The first is the Vanity Fair interview where they specifically talk about Stranger Things.

Vanity Fair Interview

Here are two things to look for in this interview.  First, they point out how they use atonal and microtonal sounds to create feelings of horror or action.  One of the sounds used was recorded on a field recorder that they carried around with them.  Related to the larger question of “what is music?”, they also explain why they prefer analog synths over modern computers; they feel that the irreproducibility of the experience is important to music as an art form.

The Spitfire Audio interview is a slightly longer interview where they discuss their history with the band SURVIVE.

Spitfire Audio Interview

In this interview they talk about how they got into computer music.  In the beginning, they would capture sounds with a field recorder and learn how to compose with these sounds.  This experience taught them to use analog synthesizers not just as tools, but as musical instruments.

An Unconventional Vistor

I am Walker White, a faculty member in the department of Computer Science.  I am also the person in charge of the game design minor at Cornell. I am going to join you all in the course for the semester.  I have almost 1000 students in my CS course this semester, so we will see how long that lasts.  But my goal is to remain with you until the end (and I have 80 TAs holding down the ship).

My interest in this course is to get a better idea of how musicians and audio engineers work.  I write a lot of software.  I have written a custom game engine for the courses that I teach at Cornell, and that includes a custom sound engine.  But software is only good if people use it, and so I need to understand more about the users of the software (both the creators and the programmers) to improve it.

The sound engine I am working on is a particularly interesting project.  All of the open source sound engines for games are 20-year old technology.  They can mix pre-recorded samples and that is about it.  If you want to do something more interesting and give more control to the audio designer, then you have to use one the commercial tools like Wwise or FMOD.  They will charge you for the number of copies you sell.  Last year CS 4152 had a student game go viral and get 700,000 downloads on Android, so that would have been very bad (they did not charge enough to cover a license if they needed one).

There is clearly a market for an open source solution between these two options and that is what I am working on.  The CS side is pretty intense — I have Masters students working with me.  But there may be some opportunities for collaboration here.


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