ARTS 2963: Designing Musical Games

Arts Department, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Monday/Thursday, 12:00-1:50pm, VAST Lab, SAGE

Instructor: Rob Hamilton, West Hall 307

e: hamilr4 [at] rpi [dot] edu






One of the most exciting areas of music technology development is happening in the realm of gaming and interactive virtual space. Music and Sound Design play crucial roles in the design of gaming environments, narratives and flow. And as designers create ever more innovative game experiences featuring rich graphics, fast multiplayer networking and next-generation controllers, new techniques for creating immersive music and sound for games to complement and showcase these advances are not only possible but necessary.

This Studio class will explore cutting edge techniques for building interactive sound and music systems for games and 2D/3D rendered environments. To better understand the link between virtual space and sound, students will learn the basics of designing sound and composing music for interactive game spaces by designing and implementing rich musical games within the Unreal gaming engine. Coursework will require the ability and desire to code game logic and design game environments. Techniques for integrating sound and music within games including game-centric middleware tools like FMOD and WWISE, interactive sound synthesis and computer networking using Open Sound Control will all be explored.

Working in teams or on their own, students will design their own music-rich game experience, compose music, design sound material, and implement their own playable musical game experiences.


Students will explore the artistic role of music and sound in gaming by building their own interactive sound and music-rich games and 2D/3D rendered environments. Within the context of their own creative game projects, students will learn the basics of designing sound and composing music for interactive game spaces. Using workflow programming languages and software tools, students will program basic gaming interactions, link them to interactive audio software, and create a musical gaming experience.


    Students who successfully complete this course will demonstrate...
  1. an understanding and appreciation of game design and musical creation through an awareness of the many disciplines underlying the field including: software design and programming, interaction design, listening skills, musical theory, musical acoustics, digital audio theory, and digital signal processing.
  2. basic technical facility in the areas of game development, audio recording, editing, sound synthesis, software development and post production.
  3. creativity and resourcefulness through the creation of musical game environments and composition of your own sonic projects


Evaluation is based on the following:


You will be required to present some of your assignments to the class, to show your work within the software environment you used to create it, and to engage the class in discussion of your work. When you are not presenting your own work, you need to be attentive to whoever is presenting, and to engage them in discussion of their work. Failure to participate in class will lower your grade.


You must attend class to succeed in this course.

  1. Since much of the class is focused on listening to and discussing work in class, attendance is mandatory.
  2. ** More then two unexcused absences will affect your grade, detracting 1/2 grade each additional 2 unexcused absences. **
  3. Absences can only be excused by a letter from a medical doctor or from the Dean of Students' office.
  4. Late arrivals are very disruptive - continued late arrival will affect your grade.
  5. It should go without saying but no use of mobile devices or personal computers during class time (except for as required by the coursework itself) is acceptable. Continued violations will be treated as an unexcused absence.


Collaboration between students in this course is strongly encouraged. Likewise, students are encouraged—indeed, to some extent required—to exchange ideas, opinions and information . You are also encouraged to help each other in the lab and with performance, production, and presentation of composition projects.

Plagiarism of any kind is in direct violation of University policy on Academic Dishonesty as defined in the Rensselaer Handbook, and penalties for plagiarism can be severe. In this class you will be expected to attribute due credit to the originator of any ideas, words, sounds, or music which you incorporate substantially into your own work. This applies particularly to citation of sources for sonic "samples" included in your compositions.

Submission of any assignment that is in violation of this policy may result in a grade of F for the assignment in question. Violation of this policy will be reported, as defined in the Rensselaer Handbook


Students requiring assistance are encouraged to contact Disability Services: to discuss any special accommodations or needs for this course.


The proposed course topics and schedule will be as follows (take note of project due dates!). Based on class progress and interests, this schedule is subject to change. Special topics, guest lectures, supplemental reading, listening and additional assignments to be announced.

Week 1:
Thursday, 8/31
Introduction: Designing Musical Games :: Gaming Musical Design
- The role of sound and music in games; filmic influences; spectra of interactivity
Week 2:
Thursday, 9/7
Sounds in Game Space: 1 (Overwatch), 2 (Limbo), 3 (Dark Castle)
Samples: N64 Samples (Reddit), Drum samples (ChucK)
Audacity: editing and processing sound files (download)

Introduction to Unity: tutorials
Basics of sound in Unity: AudioClip, Audio Source Documentation, Listener
Videos: Audio Listeners and Sources, Audio Mixer, more...
Manual Link: Audio
Roll-A-Ball demo project (tutorial, project)

Weekend Reading: IEEE Computing Now "Virtual Musical Instruments" - Choose (at least) 1 paper from this list, be prepared to discuss 2 parts of the project you thought were good and 2 that you thought were not so good. (videos: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6)
Week 3:
Monday, 9/11
Unity Audio pt. II: AudioMixers and AudioGroupsexposing parameters, filters/FX, scripting audio playback collision + pitch and volume randomness, tutorial
Week 4:
Monday, 9/18
Bi-directional communications (action -> sound, sound -> action)

MidiJack: MIDI Input to Unity
C Sharp Synth for Unity
Unity Midi

Audio Input:
Microphone input
Audio Analyzer

FFT/Pitch Detection: AudioListener.GetSpectrumData
Week 5:
Monday, 9/25
Assignment #1 Due/Presentations
Week 6:
Monday, 10/2
Open Sound Control: specification, namespaces
OSCsharp C# classes, integration with Unity
PD + Unity: Roll-A-Ball OSC demo project (download)
Week 7:
Tuesday, 10/10
Pure Data: Sampling, audio file playback, buffers, timing structures, step-sequencers, graph-on parent


Bi-directional OSC Communication with Unity

Assignment #2: Audio-Only game (Due 10/26)
For this assignment, build an interactive music game where the primary player interaction and gameplay is conveyed via sound and music. For this project your audio engine should be built within Pure Data.

The game can have no visible user-interface or a minimal user-interface, the choice is yours. What is important is that information you wish to convey to your players in primarily conveyed via sound and music.

Your game can be built entirely in Pure Data or you can use Pure Data as the audio backend to a front end built in Unity, MobMuPlat, or any other OSC-capable interface.

Week 8:
Monday, 10/16
Guest Lecture (TBD)
Week 9:
Monday, 10/23
Week 10:
Monday, 10/30
Week 11:
Monday, 11/6
Week 12:
Monday, 11/13
Week 13:
Monday, 11/20
Week 14:
Monday, 11/27
Week 15:
Monday, 12/4
Week 16:
Monday, 12/11