shawn's blog

Experiments with music

Posted in Music, Other by Shawn on April 25, 2013

I’ve been working on a new project which has been full of a number of experiments. From musical experiments, to hardware, to controls, and even how players will interact with each other. My biggest fear with this current project is whether or not I’m trying to branch out too much in regards to too many unexplored areas in a single project. Now, these are things that many people have tried, or may have attempted, in the past, both successfully and unsuccessfully. Whether or not I’ll emulate the path of success has yet to be determined, but I hoping for the former.

I’ve been trying to compose and create music for quite some time now, before game development, so the musical experiments may be the area that I am currently the most comfortable with. What I’m trying to do can actually be compared a bit to a previous project, Tone Def: Revenge of the Square Bots (sidenote: I think that game is actually going to be a free game with volumes added at later dates…..). TDROTS required a bunch of music shifting and blending. Music had to fade in and out, while sounding good. What was easy about this, however, was all I needed to do was create individual song which could basically be stripped for parts as I put them in the game. The song would be composed, then I would import the bass track, the harmony tracks, and the melody tracks separately. When you would start playing, you would know that there was something missing, thus, leading to a more rewarding feeling when you eventually progress far enough in a level to where the entire song is playing. Normally, this meant that you were doing well in the game, so in addition to receiving the explicit rewards of a job well done, you were rewarded with a full musical piece which enforced the success of destroying your enemies. On the flip-side, when you did not perform as well, the songs felt rather empty and lonely, begging to have a harmony or melody to accompany it.

Now, with the new project, I’m starting out in a slightly similar position. You still have an effect on the music that plays in the game. However, the music is not a secondary indicator or whether or not a player is doing a good job or whether they’re failing. Rather, the music corresponds to a certain option that the player has picked.

To explain in more detail, there are two players in the game, and they each have the same set of options. For now, let’s call them, Red, Green, and Blue. When a player chooses Red, then they will hear track 1; green plays 2 and blue plays track 3. Players can cycle between these options as often as they would like, and the tracks would follow them as they cycled the colors used in this example. They could even both choose Red, and both have track 1 play at the same time.

The experimental part, for me, comes from trying to create a song that will sound like a complete musical experience as long as it always has two tracks playing at the same time. This means that any combination of two tracks will need to complete the auditory experience. The individual tracks need to be compelling enough as to where it can be played with the accompanying drum track (which is played throughout an entire song, regardless of options chosen) and stand on it’s own. However, if also needs to be compatible with a different track, for example, if player one currently has Red, and player two currently has Green.

I’ve also placed a few restrictions on myself in order to try and keep this from getting out of hand. I have a tendency of making things overly complicated, and the same goes for songs. It may start with adding a bell or two, and end up with multiple synths paralleling what the strings just played, except, this time, in time to the new drums that came in halfway, as opposed to the original set of drums. Instead, what I’m planning on doing is always have a drum track that plays consistently throughout a level, have a bass track as a musical option, and have a melody/harmony mix, either composed of one or two instruments. In the song I’m working on now, I have the drums and bass, while the melody and harmony are handled by the same instrument.

In addition to the tracks complimenting each other, they need to be shuffled in and out rather quickly, akin to a DJ mixing up an individual track. Quite often, a DJ will take out the bass of a song, or the vocal melody, which simplifies a track, while still keeping it interesting. Or they may mix in the harmony of a different song to the one that is currently playing. What I need to do with this project is balance them both carefully. Furthermore, it needs to be determined whether or not this musical shifting is actually something that fits in the overall game, or just sticks out like a sore thumb, detracting from the entire experience. I will say that during some moments, such as when both players choose the same colors, the track playing does get amplified, since there are two audio sources playing the same track. It seems to create the feeling of, “Hey, there’s something a bit more direct that we need to take care of”, and it actually does reflect the current state of the game if players find themselves forced to pick the same option.

But that’s it for now. I do hope to continue this musical experiment, and really do hope that it is successful. Of course, only time, and play testers, will tell. Over the next week or two, I may put up some samples of music that I’m working on for this project.

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