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Types of Game Music 4 – Cinematics

November 21, 2010

“Cinematics are merely mini, in game movies. They are used as part of opening sequences, transitions between game levels, advances in the storyline and a multitude of other functions that require moving pictures. From a scoring point of view, it is exactly like composing for a film, that is, a linear presentation that flows from start to finish in a pre0scripted fashion. The music will serve the same purpose: creating a mood, setting the pace, highlighting pot shifts, and adding tension and excitement to all of the appropriate spots.” – Aaron Marks, the Complete Guide to Game Audio.

Frequently a lot of film composers are asked to compose for games that rely a lot on Cinematics to tell their story. “Gaming giant Capcom has enlisted the talent of noted sci-fi composer Bear McCreary to create the score for their highly anticipated third-person shooter game Dark Void.” –

Cinematics are different from most of the other types of game music I’ve looked at because they are not unique to video games per se. All though of course the context of a video game cinematic is different from a film or animation, the same principles apply when composing for them. But they deserve serious consideration from composers because Cinematics are increasingly being used more and more in today’s big blockbuster games.

“The game ended up with 30 Cinematics running about 50 minutes.” – C.J. Cowan, cinematics director for Bungie Studios, on Halo 3. (

So you can see that video games these days, as well as requiring scoring for the actual game-play, menus, credits, title sequence etc, can also require a small films worth of narrative scoring to. Therefore it’s extremely important that video game composers are adept at scoring to the moving image.

(I should mention that in-game Cinematics are only usually in higher end, big budget titles. Smaller games, such as for the iPhone or flash games will not have Cinematics)

I recently saw the Dragon Age 2 trailer, which I thought was a good example of cinematic scoring in context:

The Cinematic is obviously a big budget affair, regarding the animation and production values, and the scoring for it matches that, being similar to what we might find scored for a trailer for a big-budget Hollywood film.

But differently from film scoring, game Cinematics are still part of a game, and they make up a small part of a larger whole. Because of this, as well as the context of the Cinematic being observed (the context of narrative scoring), the rest of the games soundtrack will still have to be taken into account so that it fits with the rest of the game’s music. This is important to take into account because a game cinematic can potentially occur at any time during game-play, and if the transition from the in-game music’ to the cinematic music is awkward, or not smooth, it will have a detrimental and will be glaringly obvious to the player and take them out of the ‘moment’.



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