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Music

EveHeader

This was an eventful month! Following my devblog post last month, I started sharing the project on a couple of game dev forums, and through a logical process which eludes me now 30 days later determined that a) I wanted to have the first chapter of the game complete by the end of 2017 and b) that in order to do this I should create a complete task-list and schedule for the project up to that point. This ended up taking me a few days, but I really feel like it was worth it. I now have, printed across 12 pages, a fairly comprehensive list of work that needs to be done in order to complete the first chapter of the game. There’s going to be four chapters total, so a lot of work will remain to complete the game even after all this, but the scope of the work will be determined and I’ll know how much time and effort it takes to create finished content for the game. All major gameplay bugs should get eliminated through this process, and all fundamental design code will be firmly in place.

I broke the schedule up into a total of five three-month blocks, one for the rest of this year and four others for next year. Currently, for this year’s block, I have 24/53 tasks completed or otherwise resolved. I also have a few tasks which I had to add to the list which aren’t accounted for there, as well as a few that are partially complete, but it’s still good progress and I’m proud of how quickly I’m getting the work done. Now, I expect some future tasks to be quite a bit trickier, and I also expect many unforeseen tasks to crop up, but that’s why I’m trying to get ahead of schedule now – as well as acknowledging that December is likely to be so busy with other stuff that I’ll probably only be able to work for half of it.

The biggest task accomplished over this month is the attack animations. All right-facing attack animations are complete – well, except for the occasional mistake or two still to be fixed, a few of which I’m noticing as I watch the attack montage play below. About half of the left-facing attacks are complete as well, and they should progress more quickly on average now that I have the right-facing attacks to use as template and I’ve got so much sprite creation practice. There were a few big sticking points: I realized after mostly completing them that the original standing attack animation was a) boring and b) functionally redundant with the running attack animation. I’ve since replaced the former with the latter, but fortunately not all was lost: I was able to use the standing attack frames to resolve another issue that had cropped up. When I changed the crouching position of the right arm some time ago, I invalidated the entire swing arc of the primary crouching attack animation prototype. However, the new arm position made perfect sense for the motion of the unused standing attack animation, so I just pulled the torso from those frames into the crouch animation. I still had to redo the leg positions from scratch, but it was a nice shortcut into creating a good expressive attack.

attackmontage

I’ve also been working on the music for the game. The first few areas largely have completed music tracks already, since I created music concurrent with them to figure out the tone I was going for, but as I made that music like five years ago there’s a lot of rough edges in those old tracks and they’re not necessarily well set up to work with the systems I want to have in place for the game. That is to say, I’m not planning on just creating a loop for each area, but having some degree of adaptive music based on where specifically the player is in an area and what the game state of that area is. Thus, I’ve been remastering the old tracks, making small composition tweaks, and rearranging the parts to make jumping between them work better. Fortunately, I found that by setting timers and jump points, I could very elegantly skip between segments of an adaptive track to switch playback to a new section. Less fortunately, I discovered that a track with tempo changes and heavy use of delay effects is probably the least optimal type of track to feed into such a system. Still, it’s functional for now, even if some of the track transitions sound a bit odd. I’ve at least proven out the basic concept and built the architecture: If I need to change things up a bit later to resolve these issues, it should be quite feasible.

hills

I’ve also been working on tilesets and backgrounds here and there. I made this background very desaturated to create a clear delineation between background areas and gameplay areas, and also to reinforce the misty feel I was going for, but I worry a bit about how well it will work with the extremely vivid and saturated caves background I made before. I really love playing with color in unexpected ways, like I did with making the distance in the caves background a dark vivid red, but consistency is important as well. In the end, that’s something I can only figure out by getting the assets into the game and playing around with them and seeing what works. Really, though, changing palettes is incredibly easy compared to creating new assets, so it probably won’t be a big deal at any rate.

In addition to the backgrounds, I’ve created a number of the transitional tilesets necessary to blend different tilesets together. Now I can have grass tiles next to stone tiles next to dirt tiles without them looking like artificial grid-based garbage. There’s still some gaps in there, tiles that I’ll need to create that I haven’t noticed I’ll need to create, but I can build out most of the environments I want to now, at least at a degree of rough detail.

Over November I plan to finish out all of the character animations and start creating detail assets for the first section of the first chapter – Mostly just different kinds of grass and stone to start with but, again, in many of these cases I won’t know what I’ve forgotten until I get there and find I don’t have it. Still, finishing this game, as distant a goal as it remains, feels more concrete and feasible now than it has in a long time.

 

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I’ve ended up on an impromptu vacation due to someone else cancelling. This wouldn’t necessarily keep me from writing a post, but no ideas have readily sprung to mind and I haven’t had the motivation to wrack my brains for any. But that’s fine, because it turns out it’s been a long time since I’ve done a music post, which means both that I’ve been good about posting regularly so I can feel okay with missing one and that I’ve got a fair amount of music ready to go here for just such an occasion!

I got the piece I wanted to post today up to around 1300 words, with 2/3rds of the outline left to fill, and realized I wouldn’t be able to finish it in time.That’s okay, though, because I just finished a piece of music; so now I can take the good ol’ musical coward’s way out once more.

While I’d wanted to do vocal tracks this year, I’m finding that more challenging than anticipated. I wrote the lyrics, I wrote the melody, and then when it came time to actually record some singing I hit a wall. I have a very hard time speaking into microphones, to the point where it’s kind of a phobia, and while I was hoping that this would be something I could just kind of power through in the moment it’s clear that I’ll have to go for a more circumspect approach. Towards that end, and for other reasons, I’m going to try to get into game streaming, particularly my playthrough of Dark Souls 3. I’ll be doing test streams this week: I’ve already tested my video and it’s working decently as long my internet connection holds (it gets a bit finicky), but I’ll need to get my audio set up, something I’ve been kind of dragging my heels on (for some reason). Once I get things set up in a way I’m comfortable with, I’ll start announcing streams on twitter. In the meanwhile I suppose I’ll be doing more instrumental tracks.

I’ve also been working on getting a new site set up. This is kind of a tricky decision, though, since as much as I’d like to get a more proper and permanent set up through which to promote the game and my work, I already have a fair number of followers on here, and am concerned that they won’t make the jump to a new site. Alternately, I could double down on this version of the site, put together some proper front pages, tidy everything up and make it look nicer and more professional, and then pay to have wordpress remove their part of the domain name and remove all the ads. That might be a better solution, but probably wouldn’t result in as nice a site and might cost me some fine control. I haven’t decided, but probably by end of month I’ll get a proper domain set up, on one service or another.

Anyway, sorry there’s no piece this week, but next week’s will probably be a doozy. By my standards anyway, since I tend to usually keep things pretty short.

 

I feel like there’s a hole in the way we discuss soundtracks. We talk about using certain instruments or techniques to evoke certain kinds of emotions and associations without ever talking about the specifics of how we do that and why it works. I can’t tell if there’s some big conversation going on about this I’ve somehow managed to miss or if this is just something that somehow doesn’t get talked about, and a quick google search has turned up nothing, so let’s just get into it and if it turns out this is actually its own field of study with its own terminology then I’ll just have to look like an idiot later.

Okay.

So we’ve been trying to use music to evoke complex ideas for some time. Symphonic Poems, symphonies created to evoke a given piece of art or poetry through music, stood itself apart from earlier forms of music, which were either meant to accompany the opera or ballet or were meant to be purely musical exercises, not related to evoking any emotion or idea in particular. Of course, once we had film, we found that it was kind of weird and awkward to sit there and watch something in spooky silence, so we started playing music to accompany it, and soon the music also included rough foley effects. This was the precursor to the modern soundtrack, the music that accompanied non-musical action, baked straight into the movie – not singing, not dancing, just a couple having a heartfelt conversation about where their lives are going or a man walking away from an explosion.*

Music, even without lyrics, has symbolism. The most obvious form of this is mimicry: If you want to evoke an icy environment, use crystalline sounding instruments like chimes, or thin windy instruments that sound like the wind through the snows, or abrupt snapping percussion that sounds like ice cracking. The second form of this is onomatopoetic, using sound to evoke an environment or action in a less direct way – this can be difficult to quantify, but the famous Jaws theme is an outstanding example, the slow insistent motion evoking waves and the gradual crescendo to something faster and more insistent evoking something terrifying moving underneath them. The third, and probably actually the most common, is the associative: We associate sexy ladies with saxophone solos because we associate saxophone solos with sexy ladies. Among other things, this frequently provides a handy musical shortcut to communicate what era a flashback or period piece takes place in, though anything past 80 years ago is likely to be interpreted by a modern audience as “I dunno, in ye olde days sometime.”

A curious effect of the last is that, because it’s quite easy to create an association like this, the composer can create her own internal symbolic logic. For instance, Peter and the Wolf gives each character their own musical instruments and theme. Giving a character their own theme or leitmotif is a popular composer’s choice, something that can communicate bits of plot very easily, such as by using variations on a character’s theme during a scene where they appear in disguise. This was actually used often for humorous effect in the comedy series Arrested Development, establishing a short musical sting for a particular character/plot element and then playing it at unexpected moments when that element came up later in discussion (it may have been that part of the reason for this show’s lackluster success were that many of its jokes were too subtle to register as jokes to an audience not paying attention.)

Maybe a big reason this doesn’t get talked about much is that, as with the Arrested Development example, no matter how much the composer thinks about this, no matter how hard they work on it, few in the audience seem to notice the effort. The early areas in Monkey Island 2 have a lovingly crafted adaptive score, where each character has their own variation on the main town theme, with characteristic instrument choices and a bunch of detailed musical transitions, and these are sometimes reprised in later parts of the soundtrack – it’s unlikely we’ll ever see its like again in a game, since it was such a massive effort for a result that almost no one noticed. Inception cleverly used a musical motif, slowed down progressively, to viscerally communicate an idea about how its world operated – a motif since appropriated by other films going for that ‘epic movie feel’ without any appreciation for the original symbolic logic of its use.

Maybe most audience members just don’t give a shit about soundtracks.

The thing is, if soundtracks have meaning, it’s possible for soundtracks to have unfortunate and unintended meanings. I saw the play The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, a play about an autistic teenager: The soundtrack seemed very intentional, using arpeggiatic constructs to evoke a sort of mathematics-tinged outlook and loud overwhelming distorted sounds to evoke the idea of being painfully overstimulated. It also had a kind of glitchy aesthetic to it, which struck me as odd. Was this intended to suggest that he was like a computer? Or, worse, a poorly programmed computer, or a malfunctioning one? Well, most likely it’s just that the composer associated these sounds with math and rational thinking, but in that specific context it had some rather unfortunate implications…

To me, anyway. I’m the only one who notices these things, apparently.

*I may be entirely off-base as to the musical history here. As I said, I wasn’t sure what search terms to use to do more research on this stuff.

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Over the last year, I wrote a piece of music each month with the intent of collating all of them into an album. Most of these I’ve put up on the blog as I went, generally as a sort of consolation prize whenever I felt too tired or uninspired to write a new article. Well, now it’s 2016, and having spent the last couple of weeks ordering these tracks, polishing them up, and mastering them, the time has come.

I actually decided that all 12 tracks together were a bit unwieldy as an album, though. 75 minutes is a long time to ask someone to sit still and listen to instrumental music, and some of the tracks didn’t really feel like they fit into the overall flow of the album. Thus, alongside the main album, I’m also releasing a free mini-album. These are, respectively, “From Spare Parts and Parts Unknown” and “Please Don’t Make Me Leave”. Of course, both are free to stream, but if you’d like to download the mini-album, for use in portable devices and whatnot, it’s free for those purposes as well.

if you enjoy either or both of these albums, please consider purchasing them and/or recommending them to your friends. I spent a lot of time trying to make these as good as I could, and I hope that there will be an audience who enjoys listening to them as much as I enjoyed making them!

Some people make art like glass, venting their heat against the earth until it gives way, melts and fuses, and giving it shape through the circumstances of wind and breath that brought it into being.

Some people make art like a diamond. The tension in their chest and throat just gets greater and greater until the dust in them compresses into something hard, perfect, shining, and full of facets.

Some people make art like a pearl. They take a fragment that hurt them a long time ago and coat it bit by bit until it becomes something beautiful, soft, precious, but not forgetting the sharp edges that once made it cut

I guess I’ve been all of those to one degree or another. Mostly, nowadays, I find myself making art like a bad tooth: It hurts coming out, but not as bad as it did when it was in, and after I just leave it there on my pillow and hope that somewhere out there there’s someone willing to pay for it.

I tried to write something about why I’m not going to write something, but even that turned out to be too much writing. So instead I wrote this.

Here’s some music instead of words.