The other day, I was giving a lesson on writing music to picture, and I came across an analogy that I thought illustrated well the way that I approach scoring games & films. When scoring a game or film, the picture/gameplay/dialogue/sound effects are essentially your “melody.” Most of the time, those aspects, rather than the music, will be in the foreground of the audience’s attention. Your job is to write musical accompaniment for that “melody,” almost like a concerto or a sonata for soloist and piano. Of course, a soloist will take breaks to breathe for a couple of moments throughout any such work, and at this point the orchestra or piano can come to the front and really sing out for a bit, responding to and/or foreshadowing the action. Most of the time however, it needs to play a support role.
There’s still a virtually infinite number of ways this process can be approached, of course. You can make your score more of a dialogue with what’s happening on-screen. Perhaps it’s enhancing what’s present, or providing contrast. Perhaps for some time the role is reversed, and the on-screen action has to become more repetitive or contemplative, at which point you’ve now been given accompaniment and can write a “melody” to soar over the top of it.
But regardless, writing music to picture requires an awareness of how your music is functioning, of what your limitations are, of the pacing of a scene or of the gameplay. Music will affect this, either playing into it and enhancing it, or acting as a counterpoint to it, or both, or neither.
Awareness and intention, as in so many things, is crucial.