Leveling Up: On Saturday, June 3, a special event will take place at the Plaza del Sol, California State University, Northridge. Nine composers of video game music, all women and/or people of color, will see their performed by the Helix Collective at a special concert called Level Up, presented by the Helix Collective and the Composers Diversity Collective.

Two of those composers performing are Chase Bethea and Winifred Phillips. Bethea will see his music for the STEAM game Stardander: School for Witches go public in October and that will be performed at the concert, as will Phillips’ award-winning score for Assassin’s Creed: Liberation.

Chase Bethea Photo by Matt Ehnes

Chase Bethea (Matt Ehnes)

Bethea was composing music on the alto saxophone in seventh grade, and started composing for games in 2008.

“I was always told that my music sounded like it should be in video games since the early 2000s,” Bethea says. “I already had the signature sound, but to do it properly I realized that I have to go to school. I did that, and before I left, I said that I’m going to work in games, I’m going to have a game project I’m working on before I graduate. I bought a book called The Complete Guide to Game Audio by Aaron Marks. I read half of the book, I posted two of my pieces on the Game Dev Forum that was up at the time, and I landed my first gig that was paid and it shipped, and it was called Electron Flux.”

Winifred Phillips Photo by Winnie Waldron

Winifred Phillips (Winnie Waldron)

Phillips was a composer for NPR before making the switch to video game music.

“I started out as a composer for National Public Radio, for a series of dramas on their network called Radio Tales,” she says. “They dramatized classic works of literature for the radio, like War of the Worlds, Fall of the House of Usher, and Beowulf. That was a lot of fun. After we’d done about 100 episodes of that series, I started thinking about what was going to come next for me. I’d always been a gamer and enjoyed games, and there seemed to be a lot of simpatico between my work for NPR and the kind of work I might do in gaming. They’re big lush stories, larger than life, mythological characters in situations, and things like that, which have always appealed to me. So I started looking for a way to reach out to video game development teams, and I just happened to have some really good timing. When I reached out to Sony Computer Entertainment America, they were looking for composers for the original God of War.”


Both agree that scoring a game is very different to scoring a movie, or a TV or radio show.

“In my case, I’m doing something called Interactive, Dynamic and Adaptive Music,” Bethea says. With the ambiguity of not knowing how long a player’s going to be in a certain space or what mechanic they’re going to set off, typical game loops will be an entire track that comes back around, but what I’m doing is coming out with layers. Maybe it’s only the percussion and synth playing, and then maybe the strings come in at a different time. Specifically for Stardander in this case, I actually did design that type of system because there’s spells involved – earth, fire, wind and water – and I have instrumentation representing those spells during a battle.”

“Composing for video games is really about thinking outside the box,” adds Phillips. “Instead of composing a linear piece of music that has a specified beginning, middle and end, you’re creating music in component parts that can be disassembled on the fly by the game engine and then reassembled into lots of different configurations depending upon what the player’s doing at any given time. It’s gotten more and more complex and responsive as the years have gone on, and now there are lots of different methodologies for the interactive implementation of music. In my book A Composer’s Guide to Game Music, I go into a lot of detail regarding the different methods of implementation.”

Phillips also has worked on games tied in with movies such as Charlie & the Chocolate Factory or Jurassic Park. One might think that she’d have to work with the score from the movie, but that’s not always the case.

“Most of the time, for instance with Charlie & the Chocolate Factory and other projects I’ve done like Shrek the 3rd, the Da Vinci Code, the game is usually completed well in advance of the film just because of the time, the scheduling,” she says. “Game development takes a lot longer. So the music has to be completed much earlier. I had no idea what they were going to do musically with those films. With one project, Speed Racer for Warner Bros Interactive, the score for the film and the score for the game were radically different. I was doing a combination of a ragtime jazz influence mixed with hardcore techno. When I heard the score, it was entrenched in the sound of the original animated series, which had nothing to do with what I had just created. It really differentiated the experience you had playing the game as opposed to watching the film. Which really makes sense. They’re very different art forms anyway. The music is serving a different purpose, so it needs to have a different feel.”

It’ll be fascinating to hear all of that work from Bethea and Phillips, and the other seven composers, at Level Up.

Leveling Up: Level Up takes place at 3 p.m., on Saturday, June 3, at Plaza del Sol, California State University, Northridge. Ticket Link: https://tinyurl.com/leveluphelix

Assassins Creed Liberation

Assassin’s Creed: Liberation (Ubisoft)





































































































































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