After numerous attempts at forming/joining jam teams over various discord servers, and wishing that I knew how to code a little better, I finally found a team for Alakajam 4, the second game jam to date that I have participated in. Following on from Symphony of Bones, where I focused primarily on composing the score over anything else, I wanted to adopt more of a sound design role in whichever game I made next, to expand on my foley and implementation skills. Ultimately I was really happy with my contribution, and thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to go full on 'Ben Burtt’, helping to bring a cute 3D fighting robot to life.
The theme for the jam was ‘Falling’, which our team extended to ‘Falling Apart’ after some brainstorming. Inspired by tamagotchi style pet-simulators, we decided upon our concept:
“In the distant future, Robot Combat is now the world’s most popular sport. You have been hired to maintain Robots in the garage of a Robot Maintenance Centre. The owners of the machines almost never interact with them. You are their only contact day to day. Media outlets deny that the robots are able to feel or even communicate with humans. Having spent so much time with them you know otherwise.”
The desired character of the robot fell somewhere on a spectrum from brutal/industrial to cute/cuddly, so even before the specific animations were decided I had a palette of sound to work with. I took my trusty Tascam recorder and harvested as many mechanical sounds as I could from my newly moved into house in Dublin. Luckily, the owners had plenty of what I needed - an old radio, an old printer, lots of old metal - plenty to build a foundation for the robot’s movement and internal mechanisms. To add cute to the mix, I designed a monophonic synth patch to mimic R2D2 style bent beeps and boops, which I layered over the movement. The sounds were manipulated mainly with a frequency shifter in Ableton, which allowed me to emulate the speeding up and slowing down of the mechanisms, in order to eventually sync up the sounds with the animations in an iterative process of sharing work.
For the music, I went for a casual, almost Wii Sports vibe, using funky synth chords, arpeggiated melodies and some assorted ‘workshop’ samples to fill out the ‘mechanic’s atmosphere. The music loop was split into three levels of intensity, which would increase or decrease depending on the condition of your robot. This was achieved through a simple adaptive music system designed in Fmod, where each level of intensity would fade in or out when a certain value was reached on a ‘progress’ parameter that was integrated into the game in Unity.
Overall, the reception to the finished game was mixed - generally the gameplay, or lack thereof was criticised for not giving the player enough control or choices. However, the art direction and the audio was well received, with high praise for the character and ‘cuteness’ of the robot. I was overall pretty proud of my work, and despite the lack of the depth of the game itself it served as a good showcase of sound design and style. A goal for the next game I work on is to take even more control over the implementation of the audio, and use more of Fmod’s interesting and advanced features, as well as focusing a little more on optimisation (WebGL and Fmod didn’t always play nice with this project).
You can play Falling Apart at https://alakajam.com/4th-alakajam/405/falling-apart/.
Just over 2 weeks ago, I participated in my first game jam - where artists, programmers, designers and musicians like myself come together to create a brand new game, often in a very limited timeframe. This jam however, was 2 weeks long, which actually gave quite a lot of breathing room for idea generation and allowed a little more ambition than the 24 or 48hour jams that I had heard about.
Music Game Jam 2018 was, as the name suggests, themed around making a game that heavily implements music in its design, whether its deeply integrated into the mechanics, a focal point for the narrative or simply an origin of inspiration for the game. I went into this game jam pretty blind, but ended up learning a lot about workflow, iterations on ideas and composing for ‘player experience’.
After some early roster changes, we had a solid team comprising a talented artist, a competent programmer and myself. The victor of the early brainstorms was an idea I had pitched called Counterpoint, which was based on a fusion of Megaman style Run’n’Gunning mechanics and a Guitar Hero-like rhythm game concept, where a player would run around and shoot enemies to the beat of the music. Although my initial concept was vague, the input from the rest of the team quickly shaped it into an achievable idea, built mainly around the spooky antagonist Johannes Bones, Symphony of Bones.
I was pleasantly surprised at the level of input I had in the inception of game’s design, as I had gone in with the preconceptions that I’d be composing the music based on the idea of the ‘game designer’, rather than it being the collaborative effort that is was. Due to time-restraints the concept was slimmed down, and some corners were cut to meet the deadline, but I’m still pretty pleased with how the idea shaped out.
My main responsibility within the jam was creating the main level track, alongside some SFX (a lot which is yet to be implemented). Composing the main level track required an interesting and new approach to composition for me, as I was essentially outlining the level design with the structure of the music. I had to think of melodies with respect to how the player would ‘play’ them, or how they might sync up with boss attacks or mechanics.
We ended up splitting the level into alternating sections of screen-scrolling platforming and static screen boss fights. Therefore the music was divided this way, with atmospheric, tension building sections for the platforming, and breakdown sections with obvious rhythmic and melodic cells that could sync up to game mechanics. The final section, written for the final boss-fight, was longer and included more phases, leading up to a final climax and victory. As the game was built around the music, various iterations were made between the level design and the music, until the gameplay felt right - a good balance of Run’n’Gun difficulty and player-felt ‘musicality’.
We submitted the game as a WIP for the deadline, as we want to refine the mechanics, implement SFX and generally polish the level in the future with an update. We may also work on some new levels, introducing new genres of music, more interesting mechanics and a new atmosphere.
Here’s a link to the submission: Symphony of Bones, for the Music Game Jam 2018
What Do I Write About?
Anything and everything relating to my experience in the world of sound design, music, film, video gaming and art.