Tesseract: An Acoustic FEZ Album

This year marks the fifth anniversary of the indie game FEZ. On top of being a great exploration and puzzle game, FEZ has a wonderful electronic soundtrack created by Rich “Disasterpeace” Vreeland. To help celebrate the puzzle game’s anniversary Materia Collective has released an album of acoustic covers of the game’s soundtrack titled Tesseract: An Acoustic FEZ Album. As part of Materia Collective I contributed a cover to the album.

There are a few reasons for restricting this album to an acoustic direction for the arrangements. First, by distancing the album from the electronic sounds of the original music, it gives the album a distinct sound. Taking a soundtrack that existed in the realm of synthesizers and digital effects and bringing it into a world of acoustic instruments makes for a much different listening experience. It also forced those of us creating arrangements to come up with different approaches for interpreting the melodies and harmonies of Rich Vreeland’s score.

I also think that it was good to avoid synth remixes of FEZ, since there are already some excellent electronic re-imaginings of the soundtrack on albums like FEZ: Side F and FEZ: Side Z from the game music remix community. With Tesseract, we are taking the music in a less explored avenue.

My arrangement on this album was for the track “Progress.” Much of the music in FEZ has a minimalist composition structure, with “Progress” in particular having some similarities to the music of composers like Steve Reich. The music is constructed out of multiple ostinatos and rhythmic patterns that stack and build on top of each other. In the actual game, these adapt and shift in real time with the gameplay. For the arrangement I stuck with the structure that Rich Vreeland created on the official soundtrack.

Since this arrange album was emphasizing the use of acoustic instruments, I did as much of the track with live instruments as possible. Normally I use virtual instruments for the music that I create, so tracking live audio for a majority of a project was a new adventure for me. The guitars, bass guitar, organ, and bits of the percussion were performed by me live, with the remaining accompaniment instruments played with sample libraries. My idea was for the music to sound like an improvised jam session, using the guitars, bass guitar, and percussion to provide a steady backing texture, with the other instruments soloing over them.

 

The two instruments that I knew had to be performed with real instruments (as opposed to samples) were the flute and trumpet, since I had arranged them to have the melodies that play over the other instrument’s rhythms and chord patterns. I was delighted to bring my Materia Collective friends John Robert Matz, on trumpet, and Yishan “Catboss” Mai, on flute, for this track.

This was my first time having other musicians contribute to one of my tracks, and I’m kicking myself for not doing it sooner. Their performances really brought the quality of the arrangement to the next level, and I will definitely be bringing Materia Collective members onboard for future arrangements when possible.

Tesseract: An Acoustic FEZ Album was quite fun to work on and a great learning experience. There are some great arrangements featured on this album. Be sure to check it out if you’re a fan of the original FEZ soundtrack or enjoy acoustic music arrangements. You can find the Tesseract: An Acoustic FEZ Album on Bandcamp, Spotify, and iTunes.

Train Jam 2017 Albums

On my way to the 2017 Game Developer’s Conference, or GDC, I took part in the Train Jam. Like all game jams, Train Jam is an event for game developers to get together and make a game in a limited time with specific restrictions. The Indie Train Jam takes place on a the Amtrak California Zephyr line running from Chicago to San Francisco. The trip was a 52-hour journey across the western half of the United States that resulted in some fun collaborations and interesting games.

As with many game jams there was a mix of artists, programmers, and audio people all working together to create games within the time limit. On this jam we had more than 20 composers/audio designers participating among the 300 game jam attendees. By the end of the Train Jam, over 70 games were finished.

Charlie McCarron, one of the other composers on the Train Jam, had the great idea of collecting all of the songs created by the composers during the jam, and putting them up as a set of albums on Bandcamp for free. There are over 60 tracks created by the twenty or so composers that participated in the event.

The music is divided into five different albums, with each one representing a music genre of sorts. For example, my piece from the game Chicken Fight is on the Train Jam 2017: Chip album, since I went for a retro synth style on that track.

 

The games from Train Jam 2017 can all be played on the itch.io website and you can find all five Train Jam 2017 albums on Bandcamp. There’s some excellent material here from all of the composers who participated. A special thanks to Charlie McCarron for taking the time to gather all of the music from the composers and assembling everything into a coherent set of albums on Bandcamp. The Train Jam was a lot of fun and I hope everyone enjoys the games and music that we created.

Brain + Brawn Is Out Now!

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I’m happy to announce that one of the games that I’ve created audio and music for has received a release for iOS on the App Store. The game is titled Brain + Brawn and was developed by Rohit Crasta and David Wallin.

Brain + Brawn is a space themed puzzle game where you guide two robots through a spaceship to reach their color coded goals on each level. You move the robots by swiping the screen to switch the gravity in the spaceship, causing everything on screen to move in the chosen direction. The robots, named Brainy + Brawny, have different abilities for solving puzzles. For example, the smaller robot Brainy is capable of turning on switches and passing through tight passageways, while the larger robot Brawny can crush aliens and smash through certain blocks.

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I composed two pieces of music for the game. One is calming electronic music box like melody for the menu area. The other track is a more energetic synth piece that is heard while you play the main game. I’ll be putting up an official soundtrack soon, with some extra piano arrangement versions of the tracks.

In addition to the music, I created the game’s sound effects. The sounds are all designed to have a musical quality. For example the sounds for Brainy activating the switches are tones in the same key of the music. The developers wanted to have sounds that matched and blended well with the music, so it was an interesting challenge to create a seamless audio experience between the music and the sound effects.

Brain + Brawn is currently available on iOS through the App Store for $1.99. Definitely check it out if you’re a fan of puzzle games. I’ll update when the game is released on more platforms.

Zodiac: Final Fantasy Tactics Remixed

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One of the groups that I’ve recently been involved with is a music arrangement group called Materia Collective. The collective comprises of musicians, composers, and arrangers who come together to create albums that cover the music of various game titles. A majority of these albums focus on a single game soundtrack like Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture or Undertale. Other arrange albums have a wider range like Mobius, which covers music from multiple Sonic the Hedgehog games or charity albums like Multiplayer III: Wave, which emphasized water themed game music to tie in with the water charity the album raises money for.

This year I had the opportunity to arrange two tracks for Materia’s latest Final Fantasy arrangement album Zodiac: Final Fantasy Tactics Remixed. The album focusses on the music of the first Final Fantasy Tactics game written by Hitoshi Sakimoto and Masaharu Iwata.

Like many of the previous Materia Collective albums, there’s a wide variety of styles present in the arrangement of the tracks. Everything from rock, jazz, classical, to synth genres are represented on this album, so there’s bound to be something from the 60+ arrangers that speaks to you no matter what your music tastes.

I arranged two tracks for this album. The first was a piano arrangement of the battle theme “Antipyretic.” I’ve always enjoyed the official Final Fantasy Piano Collections arrangements and I wanted to do something similar for one of the pieces from Final Fantasy Tactics.

 

The second arrangement I created was a synth/orchestral hybrid version of “Requiem.” The original track is calming and tranquil, so a synth hybrid sound seemed like a natural fit. This track was recently nominated for an award at the Game Audio Network Guild’s Remix Competition at MAGFest 2017. While it didn’t win in the end, it was an honor just to have the piece considered in the first place.

 

In addition to my arranging work, I contributed a few vocals on the track “The Bwak Choir Cadets” as part of The Bwak Choir. The Bwak Choir is a “Muppet-style chicken chorus” and is the brainchild of Materia Collective member Bonnie Bogovich. The first Materia Collective album Materia: Final Fantasy VII Remixed featured an arrangement of “Waltz de Chocobo” from the group and there was even a music video.

For the Zodiac album, Bonnie arranged the track “Cadets” to be sung (clucked?) by the Bwak Choir. Contributing to the Bwak Choir for the first time was a fun change of pace from the other work I was doing for the album, and listening to the finished product is something that will always make me smile.

 

The Zodiac: Final Fantasy Remixed album has a ton of great music covers from some incredibly talented artists. If you are a fan of the original soundtrack or a game music fan in general, you’ll want to check this one out. You can find the album on iTunes, Google Play, and Spotify. You can also find out more about Materia Collective and the various albums that the group has released on the Materia Collective home page.

Multiplayer III: Waves

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Over the summer, I had the opportunity to contribute a game music arrangement to an album created by the Multiplayer Charity. This group comprises of musicians, mixers, composers, and arrangers who come together every year to produce a charity album. This year’s album Multiplayer III: Waves was created to raise money for Water.org.

Since this year’s chosen charity is an organization dedicated to providing clean water, all of the game tracks being covered in this album are water themed. The source material for the project comes from a variety of games including Chrono Trigger, Banjo Kazzoie, Sonic Adventure, and Assassin’s Creed. Like many of the other Multiplayer Charity and Materia Collective albums, the music genres represented are quite eclectic. These genres include ambient synth remixes, energetic rock and metal covers, and relaxing acoustic arrangements.

The piece that I selected to arrange for the album was the track “Submerged” from the game Earthworm Jim. The track, originally composed by Tommy Tallarico, serves as the background music for the game’s underwater levels “Down The Tubes” and “Tube Race.” Earthworm Jim was a game that I really enjoyed playing back in the Genesis and Super Nintendo era, so this was a fun opportunity to revisit that game’s soundtrack.

The original “Submerged” track has a natural upbeat bass groove throughout its run, so arranging it as a rock track seemed like a natural fit. The original version also reminded me of the scores from spy movies like Mission Impossible, so I ended up featuring the flute quite a bit for this arrangement.

A lot of great game music is represented on the Multiplayer III: Waves album, so definitely check it out if you’re a fan of the genre. There are some incredibly talented musicians featured on this album, and it was an honor to be able to contribute to the album and raise money for a good cause. All of the profits from Multiplayer III: Waves goes to the Water.org charity. You can get check out the the entire album on Loudr, iTunes, and Spotify.

GDC 2016 Recap

GDC_30_logos_v2Last month I attended the 30th annual Game Developers Conference out in San Francisco. This was my second time going out to the event and this time I was able to attend for the entire week. There was a lot to see and do, so I kept myself very busy throughout the week.

I arrived in San Francisco a few days before the convention since I was part of the Indie Train Jam, which I’ll be writing about in more detail later. It turned out that the hostel I was staying out was one of the go-to places to stay for most of the indie game developers. So before the main event had even started I got to chat and mingle with a bunch of cool people in the game industry.

Once the convention started on Monday, I didn’t waste time getting involved in events. One of the meet-ups that I found out about during last year’s GDC was the early morning game audio gathering at a coffee shop called Sightglass. This was a meet-up where members of the game audio community would discuss the upcoming events at GDC that concerned our discipline as well as share the knowledge we had gained from attending sessions the day before. These took place again this year and it was great to be able to participate for the whole week this time around.

These meetings were especially helpful for me since I did not have the more expensive Audio Track Pass for GDC but the Expo Pass, which would only get me into the main halls and a handful of sponsored talks. Being able to arrive at Sightglass every morning and hear the specifics about the talks that I couldn’t attend was immensely helpful to me, but it also promoted further conversation about the topics that were covered.

This GDC was a big year for the promotion of virtual reality or VR tech. We had plenty of discussions about audio’s importance in VR experiences and many of the difficulties involved with making believable and immersive experiences. One of the interesting discussions we had was about music and whether it could be present without feeling jarring to the player in the virtual world. There are clearly a lot of questions and unknowns about the new technology and it was great to hear different opinions from professionals in the field about these new challenges.

Wednesday of the GDC week saw the opening of the expo floor and as I suspected the big thing was VR. Sony ended up announcing the price of their VR headset to compete with the other companies. I had the chance to check out the Google Cardboard VR, the cheapest of the options, and the Samsung VR headset which only works with Samsung’s phones. Even though they were the cheaper and less high-tech options for VR, the effects were still present. Each set worked well even if they weren’t as impressive as the Oculus Rift models I’ve tried out before. I unfortunately didn’t get a chance to try out the Sony VR or the HTC Vive at the show. Personally, I’m still skeptical about how well these headsets will do as the new must-have gaming devices, but we’ll see what happens.

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One of the events that I was able to attend this year was the Game Audio Network Guild ( or G.A.N.G.) Awards. Just like any big award show there were tons of categories, including awards for sound, audio design, and best original soundtrack. This year’s big winners were Jessica Curry for her amazing work on the music for Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture and Gareth Cocker who also received recognition for his soundtrack for Ori and the Blind Forest. The game Gathering Sky also won three awards that night. To end the evening, Marty O’Donnell, composer for the Halo series, received the G.A.N.G. Lifetime Achievement Award. It was fun to be in the audience and to watch many of the game audio people that I look up to receive recognition for their work.

O'Donnell Award

Outside of the main events of GDC I spent plenty of time talking and networking with fellow game audio people. There were a few parties including a pre-GDC bar crawl event and the IASIG (Interactive Audio Special Interest Group) mixer on Wednesday night at the Thirsty Bear. They were a great opportunity to chat with other people in the field, talk about projects that we were working on, and just a great way to have a good time. Much like the early morning meetings at Sightglass everyone was incredibly friendly and willing to share knowledge about various subjects within the field. I met people involved with voice acting, sound design, audio programming, and of course fellow composers.

The big thing that will continue to stick with me from this year’s experience is how amazing and welcoming people in the game audio community are. Everyone was helpful and friendly, always willing to share their knowledge, and they made me feel like a part of the community. I made a lot of connections and new friends that I will honestly miss hanging out with. This GDC was a fantastic experience and I can’t wait for the next time that I can meet up with these people again. In the meantime, I have plenty of work to do and hopefully some new projects coming down the pipeline.

GDC and PAX East 2015 Recap

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It’s been far too long since I’ve posted on here. Sadly, this poor blog gets a little neglected when I’m busy. I’ve finally found some time to talk about what I’ve been up to for the past few months. There’s plenty to talk about, so I should probably get started.

First, I had my trip out to the Game Developers Conference out in San Francisco. This was my first time out to the city and the first time to the GDC event. I’m happy to report that it was an absolute blast and was unlike any other game event I had ever attended. I ended up meeting a ton of people, both veterans of the industry and newcomers like me.

In addition to meeting a lot of people and networking, I learned a lot from people who are actively involved in game audio, who were more than happy to chat with me and discuss everything from workflow to marketing and everything in between. I also ran into a bunch of peers that I had previously met at other game events on the east coast. Overall, I learned a lot, had a ton of fun, and made some new friends along the way. I’ll definitely be going back next year if I can.

I unfortunately couldn’t stay for the full week of GDC, due to PAX East being on the following weekend. I, and several other game people, ended up leaving San Francisco to get into Boston that Friday. I took a “red-eye” flight to get to PAX East on time to do some coverage for Original Sound Version. With only about three hours of sleep, I was dead tired by the end of the first day of PAX East. I made it through the rest of the weekend alright, but I think that’s the last time I’m going to attempt attending two events back to back like that. The next time that GDC and PAX East happen on the same week, I will be staying at GDC if possible.

Over the summer I managed to pick up a few game audio gigs. I won’t be able to go into much detail about them for the moment. I’ll likely have something up about them once the work on them is done and when the projects are closer to being released. I might even do some sort of post-mortem analysis of the audio work here on the blog.

In the meantime I’ll be getting to work on these new projects. I may get a few new tracks up on Soundcloud and this site as well, if my schedule goes smoothly this month.