If you haven’t already done so, you can view, play, and rate Gulliver here: http://www.ludumdare.com/compo/ludum-dare-23/?action=preview&uid=7285
One of my primary goals for this round of LD was to make a game that would showcase my musical abilities. I did do some nice music for my LD22 game, One of a Kind, but it didn’t really allow me to use my “9bit” style of music that much, so I wanted to remedy that this time around. That meant making a game that featured multiple different environments/settings/levels, so that I could make different music for each–something I definitely took into account when I was drafting up the game design for Gulliver (it’s a metroidvania type shmup hybrid thingamajig).
The other thing I knew I wanted to do was to rely heavily on one or two thematic motifs to tie the soundtrack together and to make the melodies more memorable. This is a pretty common technique, used to great effect in a lot of games–for some reason bit.trip runner springs to mind, but there’s plenty of other examples out there as well. To practice this technique, I tried scoring an imaginary game in my latest entry for One Hour Compo, which is a weekly compo where participants get exactly one hour to create a song based on a theme. Here’s how that went: http://compo.thasauce.net/files/DDRKirby_ISQ__-_Insanity_Quest(OHC184).mp3
So, I didn’t start composing music until I was pretty far into things…a little past the 50% mark, if I remember correctly. The first song I composed was actually Upgrade Acquired. I knew I wanted a little ditty to play when you got a new upgrade (a la Metroid), and I had this small ditty running around in my head. I actually had to go to a social event right as I conceived the musical idea, but to keep it in my mind I reminded myself that it was similar to a bit from Edgar’s theme from FFVI. Luckily it worked and when I got back from my 4-hour event I managed to recall what the idea was, and put it down in the form of the short ditty. Nothing too special about it; just the main theme, the bass, an echoing arp, and some quick drums.
After that, I wrote Gulliver, the main theme of the game which plays at the title screen. This was basically me expanding on the theme idea and fleshing it out into a complete song. There’s a lot of suspended chords here, and it actually has sort of a forlorn “quest” feeling, if that makes sense. After the initial statement of the theme, I go into UNTS UNTS mode (a fairly standard thing for me) and throw in an arp and some more percussion. This is all pretty easy stuff for me.
Next was Prologue, the short ambient track that plays during the intro narration. I used a noise-based synth called Chimera in the background (hard to hear if you’re on crappy laptop speakers), and added echoed triangle-wave blips with heavy use of reverb for ambience. Used the same Ab->Bb->C bassline progression that you’ll see pop up again and again in the rest of the OST.
Next was Station Zero, the first level theme. I wanted things to start off with a pretty “groovin” feel so I started off with a drumloop, which is samplereduced at the beginning and fades in. The main lead at 0:15 is, of course, a riff on the main Gulliver theme, but this time with a much different feel. The breakdown at 0:44 is -also- a play on the Gulliver theme, yet in a sort of minor mode. Again, Ab->Bb->C in the bass here.
When I wrote Thicket I may not have been entirely sure what the jungle/biome/grass level was going to look like yet, but I was sort of thinking along the lines of lush and jungle-like, so I picked a “soundscape” preset from a VST called Alchemy that included some animal-like squeals in the back, and added a chippy-sounding arp on top of that. The drumloop I used here is also pretty jungle-like, so that adds to the feel. Of course, the triangle whistle that comes in plays off of the Gulliver theme (should I even have to mention it anymore?), though the bassline progression here is different.
Cavernous seems to be pretty well-liked. I used a mallet-type sample along with crunched drums to set the initial atmosphere, and here we go back to the Ab->Bb->C progression. When the main chorus comes in, there’s a gated choir pad in the background with a lowpass filter sweep on it which provides most of the texture. I took a little more liberty with the Gulliver theme here, so there’s a little more solo-type expression in the melody. By now you can start to see how all of these tracks are organized–intro section, then main chorus section, then delayering of sounds so that we can get back to the intro.
Next was Destiny, probably my favorite track on the entire OST. I wrote it before “Flesh”, because well…the first boss was at the cavern/cave level, and I was sort of writing these tracks as I went along (sort of as a break from the actual code). I start off with a mortal kombat-style bassline groove, dissonant chords for tension, and a 16th-note pulse wave bass to provide motion. Then we go into the chorus, where I add a house-style drum loop, sidechained strings, and the main melody, which I’m pretty sure is just a simple square wave. The great thing about chiptune-style leads is that they tend to really cut through the mix easily, as opposed to trance-style phat megasupersaw leads which can be trickier to mix into things. Anyways, the melody and progression here is pretty much identical to that of the main Gulliver theme, except twice as long in terms of musical phrases, because of the higher tempo. The expression in the melody is augmented mainly through automatic vibrato, pitch bends, and some grace notes. I have to admit, I actually got emotional as I was writing this piece, like halfway through the chorus I started choking up because the theme had already wormed itself into my head and this was an amazing variation on it.
I wrote Flesh when I was already super-tight on time, so I spent all of 9 minutes on it. (yes, 9 minutes) I slapped down an instance of the Ugo “Motion” synth that I use a lot for evolving rhythmic textures, put in a simple whistle-type melody, and added a drum loop. That’s it. A super-lazy track that really should have been better, but it does an okay job of setting the mood, and there’s only one organic/microbe area anyways so this isn’t that big of a deal.
Gulliver (Reprise) is the ending track that plays when you finish the game. A lot of people actually don’t get to hear the second section of this song because they press space and loop back to the main menu, but it’s got a nice lush piano+string rendition of the theme that comes in after the nostalgic/minimalistic 8bit version. You could say it’s inspired by the “Atop the World” track from the Tower of Heaven OST, which does the same thing. Btw, that OST is a superb demonstration of the “thematic reuse” idea, and is highly recommended. I was pretty lazy with Gulliver (Reprise)…I actually literally took the original Gulliver theme project file, copied it over, and replaced the instrumentation and cut out the UNTS parts while changing the tempo. Like I said, I was super-crunched on time here, so that was the best I could do, but hey–it ended up working out pretty well!
I made all of my songs using FL Studio, which conveniently keeps track of how long you’ve been editing each project file. So for those of you who are curious, here’s how long I was working on each track in the OST:
Upgrade Acquired – 17 minutes
Gulliver – 39 minutes
Prologue – 4 minutes
Station Zero – 32 minutes
Thicket – 18 minutes
Cavernous – 38 minutes
Destiny – 39 minutes
Flesh – 9 minutes
Gulliver (Reprise) – 17 minutes
Total time: ~3 hours, 33 minutes
Note that some of these numbers are probably higher than my actual working time, since I was probably multitasking on the actual code at some point, but you get the idea.
That about covers it for the music creation process! Next up I’ll be writing a little bit more about the design and code issues I ran into over the course of Gulliver’s development. In the meantime, if you have any questions about production techniques that I used or anything, feel free to ask.
Oh, and if you liked the 9-bit style of the Gulliver OST, there’s plenty, plenty more where that came from: http://ddrkirbyisq.bandcamp.com/
I’d personally recommend the “All in a Day’s Work” album. ^_^