Exploring Indie Game Music

Exploring Indie Game Music

 

I love how progressive and dynamic game music/game audio is – and the constant flux and advancements keep pushing you as a composer to stay ahead of the (pun coming up) – game and create new and interesting compositions to keep your audiences engaged. Indie Games are a genre of games that showcase amazing talent and some truly cutting edge audio. Let’s look a closer look at this genre-

Indie Games really became popular round about 2011/12. Some small game studios developed and released their own games, and they were so highly addictive and popular that it spurred on this Indie Game movement. Before this revolution, many developers thought you had to go and work with a big studio to be successful as a game developer until they realised the beauty of producing a game themselves or as part of a small team. Not only could they make their own game, but these games had the potential to be huge successes. Platforms like STEAM and the Humble Bundles have helped push and grow the movement by giving the little guy a platform to sell to their audiences.

Before this revolution, many developers thought you had to go and work with a big studio to be successful as a game developer until they realised the beauty of producing a game themselves or as part of a small team.

So, the rise of Indie Games has not only introduced us to some awesome games regarding development or graphics, but there are also some stellar composers born from the movement. The crazy cool soundtracks, I believe, can often be attributed to the close communication required with small teams, driven by a common passion to develop something for more than a paycheck. Another reason I’m so fascinated with this scene is that a lot of these Indie Games remind me of games that I used to play when I first got my hands on some video games – gotta love the power of nostalgia!

Here are some of my favorites. Give them a spin, check out their game functionality and then also take a close look at how the sound and music help enhance the experience of these games. By playing games, you’ll get a better understanding of music’s role, game functionality and what makes a great game, well, great. If you want to get into the Game Music World, start researching with some hands on gaming!

I’m sure everyone has their own flavour of games they like, but hopefully, you’ll find these as inspiring as I have –

By far my favourite indie game is Fez.

 

Developed by Phil Fish and Renaud Bedard, Fez was released through Polytron in 2012. It’s a 2D platform-style game, with a 3D component. When you press the keys A and D and swivels the world around giving this 2D world a 3D flavour and also creates some interesting puzzle solving conundrums.

This game reminds me of some of the old school NES games and what’s even better is that the composer Rich Vreeland (also known as Disasterpiece), has produced an awesome chiptune style soundtrack to compliment the retro look of the game. These songs have been beautifully composed and arranged, and enhance the game experience. And even better I see that Rich is a Logic user (one of my favourite DAWs), and used the Massive synth (and one of my favourite software synths) quite extensively on this soundtrack. So it’s inspiring to know that these are tools within a music composer’s grasp.

 

Another favourite Indie Game of mine is Limbo.
 

This is quite a dark, haunting side-scroller puzzle game released by PlayDead games. The player has to guide a little boy through dangerous environments and traps to get to his lost sister and be careful; there’s some creepy and scary stuff around. It appears to be a simple greyscale 2D game, but the graphics and visual game movement give it an awesome modern feel.

There isn’t really music to this game. It’s more about the ambient background sounds composed by Martin Stig Andersen that create the dark, sombre mood. It’s a great game to play to hear how the ambient background places you in a particular space, and how the sound effects add to the experience of the game. Andersen’s use of pads and sound effects create this lonely, dark world and the minimal sound palette really adds to the level of game immersion.

 

Andersen’s use of pads and sound effects create this lonely, dark world and the minimal sound palette really adds to the level of game immersion.

 

 

Thomas Was Alone, is also another super simple game that reminds me of my old 80s and 90s favourites.

 
 

 

Created by Mike Bithel, the main character, Thomas, is a simple red square, and he needs to roam his world and find other shapes, like squares, triangles and circles to help him solve puzzles. The music was composed by BAFTA nominated composer, David Housden. It’s a combination of acoustic and electronic instruments playing very simple melodies and phrases, but don’t let the simplicity fool you – they’re super catchy. It feels like you’ll be humming the lines forever after a game play.

The game has amazing dialogue that accompanies it voiced by Danny Wallace. His voice gives this basic red object an actual character. You start developing feelings for this little red block, and the dialogue helps guide you so that you can progress in the game.

 

 

The game has amazing dialogue that accompanies it voiced by Danny Wallace. His voice gives this basic red object an actual character.

My favourite game on iOS is Monument Valley.
 
 

With its use of Escher style architectural puzzle solving and stunning almost dreamy graphics, Monument Valley will have you hooked as you try to navigate the changing and warping architectural paths.

The composer, Stafford Bawler, has written beautiful pieces that complement the amazing graphics. Plus, he has used some simple but interesting ways to use music scales to solve puzzles. For example, the one part in the game, as you match up a piece in the path it plays a different harp note in a scale. So it’s musically pleasing and helps you solve the puzzle.

With its use of Escher style architectural puzzle solving and stunning almost dreamy graphics, Monument Valley will have you hooked as you try to navigate the changing and warping architectural paths.

So what draws me to these games? Yes, the nostalgia of my 80s childhood, but couple that with the beautifully composed and thought out soundtracks – and I’m hooked. These Indie Games make me want to compose and play, and play and compose – catch 22 – which one first?

I have to be honest, when I got into game music production, I stopped playing games for a while as my addiction was the music software itself. But (thankfully) the Indie Game movement revitalised my interest in games, plus I heard some great new composers through the game, which I now listen to on a regular basis. With all the niche markets in the game music industry, there are so many possibilities for composers to get creative!

So take a play through some of these games. Get inspired by Fez’s chiptune style soundtrack. Take a listen to ambient backgrounds with Limbo. See how interesting dialogue can be in a seemingly simple game like Thomas Was Alone. And see how musical scales and theory can be used in gameplay like Monument Valley.

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* If you notice  that any of the youtube links have broken please do let me know. Images copyright the respective game designers.

To MIDI or Audio, That is the Question

To MIDI or Audio, That is the Question

So should you be working solely with MIDI or should you be bouncing out your MIDI to Audio when you’re finished with your idea? Well, MIDI has a lot of flexibility. You can also easily go back and edit the MIDI data. For example, if you want to change a note in the melody you can quickly jump back to that MIDI part and edit the note data. This isn’t as easily done in audio. But that’s also the other problem with MIDI. By not exporting out your MIDI to audio, it leaves it open to always being edited which can leave parts unfinished due to this nature of MIDI and its (endless) editing capabilities.

So let’s go over some advantages of exporting out your MIDI to audio when you’re happy with the MIDI performance.

1. Compose Faster: Export While You Go
By exporting your MIDI to audio, you can move on and focus on other tracks. What I like to do is mute the MIDI part and disable the MIDI instrument to save on processing. This way I can always jump back if I really need to, but solidifying the performance to audio allows me to move on.

2. Get a Clear View of the Waveform
By exporting out your MIDI to audio you also get a clear view of what the waveform is doing.

For example, check out this Native Instruments Rise and Hit MIDI Note. You can’t really tell where the crescendo and impact of this riser sound is.

Now if I bounce it down to an audio track, I can clearly see where the sound is at its peak. Now I can just take this audio part and nudge it so that the Impact part lies on a bar change, this way making sure it’s in time with the song. Some sample libraries’ patches aren’t always in sync with the DAW. So definitely bouncing out your part gives you more control over the timing of that part.

3. Apply Extra Processing on Audio
Another nice thing to do is to export out the part and then apply some extra processing to the audio. For example, let’s say I have a cymbal hit with some reverb. I can bounce this part out to audio including the tail of the reverb on the cymbal hit. Then I can apply some extra audio processing to this, maybe some bit crushing and chorus. Then export this out again to an audio part. There’s something gratifying about doing destructive processing to audio and then moving on. Plus, by exporting these out as audio parts, you can build up your own unique library of processed sounds that you can use in other projects

So those are my thoughts on MIDI and audio parts. Both have their pros and cons. You’ve got more flexibility with MIDI, but this can also be a hindrance as well. So why not try bouncing down your MIDI parts to audio, and get moving with your music productions. Try this out in your next song and see how it works.

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