MUS15 University of California: San Diego

Video Game Music and Sound Design

Course Description

In this course, students will examine the role of music and sound design in interactive media (i.e. video games) by surveying the historical, technical, cultural and aesthetic concerns of game audio and music. Throughout the quarter, students will hear presentations from several industry composers, sound designers and programmers.

Course Information
Name Lecture/Section Lecture/Section Location Office Hours Office Location Email
Andrew Allen Tues/Thurs
CPMC136 Tues/Thurs
Powell-Focht Bioengineering Hall, 2nd floor lobby
Paul Hembree Wed 10:00am-10:50am (A03)
Fri 11:00am-11:50pm (A06)
CPMC136 (Wed)
CPMC145 (Fri)
Tues 2:00pm-3:00pm WLH2148
Putu Hiranmayena Mon 10:00am-10:50am (A01)
Mon 11:00am-11:50am (A02)
CPMC136 Fri 12:30pm-1:30pm CPMC245
Fernanda Navarro Wed 12:00pm-12:50pm (A04)
Wed 1:00pm-1:50pm (A05)
CPMC136 Thurs 11:30pm-12:30pm CPMC243


Student grades will be determined by an assessment of their critical listening skills and course mastery on two examinations as well as participation in discussions and concert reviews, and, (as extra credit), their scholarly/creative research into a topic of video game audio of their choice. The points-breakdown and grading rubric are as follows:

Grading Rubric
Lecture Section Midterm Exam Final Exam Project
(extra credit)
25 25 25 25 10 100


Students will be expected to regularly attend lecture. Attendance will be checked periodically. Students are required to notify their TA prior to any absence for them to be excused. Failure to notify your TA before absence will result in an unexcused absence.


Students are expected to attend their assigned section and to participate in the section's discussions and weekly reading and homework assignments. Students must be present and actively engage in discussions in order to receive full participation credit. Failure to participate in discussions will result in a deduction from your Section score, regardless of your attendance.

Midterm Exam

A midterm exam will cover the first half of class' lecture topics. Students can expect several multiple choice and short answer questions as well as an essay /response question.

Project (Extra Credit)

If a student would like to recover points lost either from their midterm exam score or from their lecture/section score, they may makeup up to 10 points by completing an extra credit project/paper. The project must demonstrate a proficiency with video game audio in some creative, technical and/or analytical way. Students may propose extra credit topics to their TA and instructor. The criteria of the project will be determined per request by their TA and the course instructor. Only projects that successfully meet and exceed all criteria will receive a full 10 points of extra credit.

Final Exam

The final exam will cover the second half of the class' lecture topics. Students can expect several multiple choice and short answer questions as well as an essay /response question. Failure to complete the final exam will result in an automatic failure for the course.

Letter Grade Ranges
F D- D D+ C- C C+ B- B B+ A- A A+
0-59 60-62 63-66 67-69 70-72 73-76 77-79 80-82 83-86 87-89 90-92 93-96 97-100


Academic honesty is extremely important. Failure to acknowledge your sources for quotations, paraphrases, or ideas consistently and completely is plagiarism. You are expected to produce original work in this course. If you copy the words of another author (from a book, article, website, etc.) without quoting and citing the source, you are committing plagiarism--the appropriation or imitation of the language or ideas of another person and presenting them as your original work. If you buy or borrow a paper written by another person, you are cheating and plagiarizing. Neither will be tolerated under any circumstances. If you are uncertain about proper documentation of sources, you should consult with the TAs and me. Plagiarism/cheating will result in an F for this course and will be reported to the Academic Integrity Office.

Date Topic

Introduction and Overview

An overview of the expections and requirements for the course as well discuss what to expect in the weeks to come.


Video Game Prehistory

The (pre-)history of video games, how they came to be and from what origins they arrived.

Readings: Chapter 1


The 8-bit era: Digital Audio I

A primer on digital audio and sampling theory and some sonic examples.

Readings: Chapter 2


Special Guest: Ben Prunty

Ben Prunty, composer for the Indie strategy game FTL will be giving a talk about his music and the indie game scene.


The 8-bit era: Digital Audio II

A primer on digital signal processing (DSP) and synthesis, with sonic examples.


The 8-bit era: Sonic Analysis

A survey of some of the creative approaches in generating music and sound effects in the 8-bit era.


The 16-bit era: Wavetables

A discussion of second generation techniques and wavetable synthesis.

Readings: Chapter 3


The 16-bit era: Sonic Analysis I

A presentation of some of the highlights of musical and sonic vocabularies from the 16-bit era.


The 16-bit era: Sonic Analysis II

A (continued) presentation of some of the highlights of musical and sonic vocabularies from the 16-bit era.


Midterm Exam

An exam covering the first half of the course's topics.


Special Guest: Ken Jacobsen

Ken Jacobsen, composer for the Amazing Spiderman game series, presents on his work and life experiences.

Readings: Chapter 8


3rd Gen: CD-Quality Audio

A presentation of the techniques and implications of CD-quality recordings and a discussion about spoken dialogue and vocal performance in video games.

Readings: Chapter 4


3rd Gen: Sonic Analysis I

Analysis of the music and sound effects in third generation titles.


3rd Gen: Sonic Analysis II

Analysis of successful (and some not so successful) uses of spoken dialogue in games.


4th Gen+: Dynamic Audio I

A discussion of modern techniques and architecture of dynamic audio engines.

Readings: Chapter 7


4th Gen+: Dynamic Audio II

A deeper look at the techniques at the cutting edge of dynamic audio technology.


4th Gen+: Sonic Analysis

An analysis of modern titles that take full advantage of dynamic audio.



A look at the extramedial influences of video games in live concert music settings.

Readings: Chapter 6


Special Guest: Jeff Ball

Violinst for Mass Effect and indie composer Jeff Ball discussions his work as a composer and performer in the video game industry.


The State of the Art

A thorough look at the typical production pipeline and techniques involved in state-of-the-art music and sound production.

Readings: Chapter 5, 9


Final Exam

An exam covering the second half of the course's topics.

Game Sound

An Introduction to the History, Theory, and Practice of Video Game Music and Sound Design

Buy On Amazon
Title Composer Game Comments
Babu Yetu Christopher Tin Civilization IV performed by the Soweto Gospel Choir
Swanky Maximino Peter McConnell Grim Fandango uses the iMUSE technology
Klaymen's Theme Terry Scott Taylor The Neverhood
The Place I'll Return to Someday Nobuo Uematsu Final Fantasy IX medieval counterpoint
Prohibited Art Koh Otani Shadow of the Colossus
Nerevar Rising Jeremy Soule Morrowind a multigame motif
Wood Carving Partita Michiru Yamane Castlevania: Symphony of the Night neo-baroque
I don't want to set the world on fire The Ink Spots Fallout doo-wop
Killed by Death Akira Yamaoka Silent Hill
Amaterasu Returns Masami Ueda Okami traditional japanese influence
Prologue Masami Ueda Okami
In Awe of the Power Koh Otani Shadow of the Colossus
Dance of Pales Michiru Yamane Castlevania: Symphony of the Night
Still Alive GLaDOS/Jonathan Coulton Portal

Final Exam Study Guide

  • iMUSE
  • MIDI
  • CD-quality audio
  • Surround Sound
  • Room Acoustics
  • Binaural Audio
  • Stereo Panning
  • In-Game Musical Instruments
  • Rhythm Games
  • Examples of Terror in Silent Hill's audio
  • FF9 (motif, medevial connections, etc.)
  • Music Licensing (and some examples)
  • Symphony of the Night pluralism
  • Silence in video games
  • "Art Games"
  • Dialog Trees
  • Speech Synthesis techniques
  • Portal's Dynamic Audio
  • Braid's use of time
  • "Innovation vs. Refinement"
  • The Monomyth as applied to Journey's music
  • Music Sequencing
  • Chiptune characteristics
  • Physics-based audio