Tag Archives: Why is the Princess Inside of a Magic Forest

“Why is the Princess in a Magic Forest?!” Part 3

(This is part 3. Please read parts 1 and 2 first.)

Between finishing the previous rewrite with the new strings and now, I had purchased brand new woodwind, brass, and orchestral percussion instruments. If you listen to the soundtrack to “Magic Forest”, you’ll notice an obvious heavy emphasis on woodwinds in the score. However, brass and percussion also feature quite prominently. Brass is the most important element in “The Boogeyman” theme. Tonal percussion (especially the glockenspiel and timpani) appear throughout, and non-tonal percussion is everywhere as well. I fought with the idea of doing yet another rewrite using these new, beautiful sounding instruments. In the end, I really couldn’t not do it.

I went back in to each of the tracks one last time, and started swapping out the old woodwind parts for my newly acquired woodwinds, brass, and percussion.

These new instruments are very realistic sounding and have many articulations. It was not as simple “swap A for B and call it a day” type of thing. Not only did I have to choose which articulations worked best for the performance, I also started noticing various parts in the composition itself that didn’t sound very good to me. The realism of these new instruments began to expose parts of my composition that didn’t actually work very well. The old instruments’ low quality must have sort of masked the “mistakes”. I actually ended up rewriting quite a few of the woodwinds’ parts, and am very happy that I did so. These new versions sound so much better.

With new instruments comes a new necessity to remix the whole piece again. So, one last time, I went back into the audio and applied new EQ, compression, etc. etc. I’m really happy with how everything is sounding now, and, looking back at the previous version(s) of these tracks, I can’t believe that I was going to happily release them as they were.

The final step to this process was mastering. In the past, I’ve always taken care of this step myself since the music I’d written wasn’t commercial. I was just writing for fun. However, after the amount of time and effort I spent on this soundtrack, I wanted to make sure that it was properly mastered so that it would work well in both the game and also as a soundtrack release. Luckily, my friend Chris Muggli-Miller recently started a mastering business called High Score Mastering (http://highscoremastering.com/). I had them to the work and I’m very pleased with the results.

All that is left is to wait for Michael to finish the game so that we can finally release this game and music to the world!

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So, that was my experience writing the soundtrack to my first game. If you’re reading this blog before the game and soundtrack have been released, I apologize that I can’t share the actual music with you yet. I’m very excited for you to play the game and I hope you feel like the music compliments the game’s world well.

If you have played the game and heard the soundtrack, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please comment below anything you might have to say about it. Also, if you have any questions for me, please feel free to post them as well. I’ll do my best to answer them.

Thanks for reading.

-Chris-

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“Why is the Princess in a Magic Forest?!” PART 1

It has been my dream to compose music for video games for a long time. Last summer (the year 2013), I was particularly motivated to somehow land a job writing for a game. I didn’t care what it was. I had been writing music for too long to have it just sit, unheard, on my computer hard drive. So I sent out a message on Facebook asking if anyone knew someone who was making a video game and needed a composer. A friend of mine who I studied with at Kyushu University a few years before was classmates with a guy named Michael who was currently hard at work making a game. Turns out he was doing everything from programming, to level design, to art design entirely by himself. Luckily for me he was in need of a composer. My friend put us in touch and we started communicating via Facebook.

Michael was working on a kind of puzzle game that he called “Why is the Princess in a Magic Forest?!”, or “Magic Forest” for short. When I first got in contact with him he had the basic gameplay mechanics in place, and some very rough-looking sample videos showing character movement, bad guy interaction, and general play mechanics. The actual visuals at that point were pretty much just stock models and bare grids. But I got a good idea of how the game was supposed to play.

He explained a little of the story and setting to me and asked if I’d like to write the soundtrack for the game. Of course, I gladly accepted.

I believe that it was that very night that I started work on the very first composition I would write for “Magic Forest”. I was picturing a dark, eerie forest that the main character would be making his way through. I wrote a melodic, yet somewhat dark and somber theme. I spent quite a few nights on it and was very anxious for Michael to hear it. I sent him the file and he gave it a listen.

His response: “I have to admit, I really like this piece. But it’s doesn’t exactly fit the world I have envisioned for the game.”

It turns out that, yes, the game is going to be set in a magic forest, but the overall feel of the game is less foreboding, and more whimsical and comical.

So that’s what I get for being too anxious and starting on the music before even seeing any concept art for what the game will look like visually.

It was a very good lesson that I learned right away. A game’s visuals are a key component in determining how to structure your music. You can’t rely on your own conception of what you feel a magic forest would look like. It may be the case that your image is entirely different from that of the game’s creator. Ultimately, it’s the creator’s vision that trumps and you must work very closely with them in order to settle upon a tone that works with his or her vision for their game.

I had been writing music just for the sake of writing music for so long that, while slightly disappointed that the piece I wrote wouldn’t make it into the game (though I should mention that I am planning on putting the track up on my Youtube and Soundcloud page so you all can hear it at least), I wasn’t really fazed. Michael described a little more to me about the game’s visual style and showed me some sketches and concept art he’d done. He asked for a more expressive instrumentation and a more whimsical feel, especially for the opening levels. He intends to divide the stages into sets of ten levels: the first ten being more the outskirts of the forest, the next ten actually inside the forest, then gradually getting deeper and deeper inside.

I got to writing a new theme, looking at the concept art for reference and inspiration. I utilized expressive strings and woodwinds, tuned percussion and harps. This would become the music that is played during stages 11 through 20.

In my current job I’m lucky enough to be able to take off about six weeks in a row during summer, so I continued writing almost every day throughout that summer vacation. I wrote the theme for the first ten stages, which Michael wanted to be even more whimsical than the previous theme I had completed. I then moved on to the main menu music, followed by some a dark, brass and percussion heavy “boss” theme for a special type of stage in the game. The last piece I wrote was the music for stages 21 through 30. The difficulty of the puzzles gets higher and higher as you progress, so the amount of time the player will spend increases the further in the game you get. Knowing this, I wanted to make a relatively lengthy piece for these final stages. I spent the most time on this last piece, and it’s definitely the most ambitious one I wrote for “Magic Forest”.

I finished composing all five tracks over that summer, getting a lot of very helpful feedback from fellow composer Chris Muggli-Miller along the way (Chris and I run a composing blog together called Compose and Contrast). But, as is often the case, the first time you think you’re done with a piece, your rarely are.

In the next post I will talk about how my “finished” compositions went through more changes over the following months.

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