Friday, December 23, 2011

End of Year Madness!

Marvin's Mittens is really, honest-to-goodness, almost done. Finalizing all sorts of soundtrack bits, but it's very exciting to see it all come together. Also crazy that we're getting ready to put it out there... part of me feels like there are so many things to get done, so much polishing to do, almost like we're running out of time - even though we don't have a hard deadline, really.

Also, the Gunpoint music submission deadline is tomorrow, so I imagine we'll be getting some feedback soon. I'm hoping at least to be considered a contender, because I think what I did competes with a few other pieces the developer has highlighted as favourites. But music is so very subjective, and there are some very good entries. John Robert Matz really deserves to have his music in the game. I'm not sure it works best for in-mission, but it's AMAZING music, and it would be awesome for menus and maybe interacting with contacts. Everyone likes his main theme, but I think his Crosslink music is mindblowing. I can't remember if Hyperduck was the first (or only) submission to put in elevator music as basically a little audio gag, but it's totally brilliant (although overall I find it slightly darker than I would want the music for this game to be). Either way, so much cool stuff...

I was inspired to take a couple of little breaks from Marvin and elaborate on some of my own Gunpoint music:

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The End of The Quest for Epic

I think this last track will mark the completion of the musical portion of The Quest for Epic. I'll still need to do some mixing and mastering, but I'm thrilled at how well this has gone, and hope to make the full album available for download very early in the new year!

It's Super Effective:

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Dragon Puncher

In honour of my buddy Andrew punching a dragon to death in Skyrim:

Doin' It for Free(ish)

So Minecraft music composer C418 has done some tentative music for Gunpoint (not seriously, he says), and is using this to draw attention to the problem of game composers being horrendously undervalued. I'm filled with a mix of somewhat conflicting emotions here.

I've heard this argument over and over, that creative types (and this goes beyond music, I'm talking about artists of all stripes), must NEVER do work for less than it's worth. And usually, "what it's worth" is valued as a lot more than the source of work in question is willing to pay.

I'm a professional game composer with very real bills to pay and as such I am very sympathetic to this cause. Here I am, looking into indie work, and a flood of other people willing to do it for FREE show up to compete. Now, I try to let my music speak for itself, because I've gotten to the point where I can spend a couple of days, submit something, and feel that it has a very good shot at being the best. But there are two issues which that immediately raises:

1. how can I convince the developer that I'm able to not only make some cool sounding music, but also work with them to refine ideas and provide a highly appropriate custom soundtrack tailored to their needs? Lots of people can pull off a great sounding demo, but will be unwilling or unable to modify anything to fit the team's vision. They don't all bring a decade of experience working on music for major publishers, etc. How do I even convince people that any of that matters? Does it?


2. the fact that I probably should have waited to be paid about $2,000 to do as much work as I've already done.

Some would argue that I'm screwing myself out of dollars in the race to NOT MAKE MONEY.

One issue I have with this line of thinking is that it often comes from the established composers. Now these guys might already be commanding thousands of dollars per minute of music, they're well-connected and doing great work with good returns on that work. For them, it hurts them in negotiations when they're asking for big dollars and the developer/publisher/film studio can say "but we also have a quote to do the whole thing for $200 and a four week supply of skittles."

But what about the guys coming up from the bottom? The talented and hardworking musicians and producers (and graphic artists, modelers, level designers, writers and programmers) without the connections and resume of the superstars and industry veterans?

Maybe creative industries are experiencing something of a shrinking middle class. On one side, the enormous pool of increasingly professional-sounding amateurs, who dream of nothing more than getting their work into a real product; on the other the highly skilled veterans who support themselves with their efforts. But how to make that leap? Well, doing a smaller indie title for next to nothing (or nothing) is always going to look reasonable when you're on the first side of that divide.

I do get the argument that we should all demand to be paid better. But I also don't see a practical way to ever get the newbies to be charging what we all want to be making, short of someday organizing a real union or something like that. The simple math of the situation is that more people want these jobs than there are jobs. Sure, it hurts the overall quality of music going into games (and other media) if nobody can be supported to hone their craft full time, but I think this does happen. Raising awareness on this issue is a good idea, but I'm not sure it's a war that can't be won.

Back to Gunpoint... I can't get angry at Tom Francis. Here's a guy who, until quite recently, according to his blog, wanted to give his game away for free. Of course he's not going to advertise this as a big payout for a game composer. It might not make any money! In fact, I've taken EXACTLY the same stance when recruiting artists and level designers for my game. "Please, join up, work hard, and do it because you love it. If we make money, you'll get some, but don't do it FOR THE MONEY."

If you're a passionate hobbyist or indie developer with no budget, I see absolutely nothing wrong with asking for help. Either people will say no, or your vision will inspire others to join in. And along the way, speaking from personal experience, I've made some very good friends and seen several Marvin team members get industry jobs. It worked exactly the way it should have: we got stuff for our pet game project (ownership of which has really spread to the entire team, rather than just the instigators, I should note), and people getting meaningful experience and having a good time.

To be fair, C418 does acknowledge that a reasonable percentage can be a fair working arrangement, or even a percentage with some amount up front. And that's what I would hope for if I get to do the music for Gunpoint (or any other indie title). But I can also live with the "maybe nothing" that comes from the attitude that people playing the game are more important than dollars coming in.

So is it wrong if I agree to do some music for a game because it looks cool and I like the creator? Right or wrong, the offer still stands.

And I would humbly submit that my music is still among the best fits for the game from what I've heard. Though there have been some other amazing submissions.

By the way, I listened to some other C418 besides Minecraft for the first time today, and some of it is pretty fantastic. One would hope that people are just giving him money for that. But sadly, I'm one of the only people I know who actually buys a lot of the music they listen to. Another issue for another day...

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Music Inspired By (And Maybe For?) Gunpoint

So this guy is making this indie game called Gunpoint and it looks really awesome. So much so that I was inspired to make some music.

I apologize if you're looking for fully developed tracks - these aren't even complete game loops. But there are some pretty cool musical ideas here. The overall style is a mixture of film score and electronic grooves (my favourite things), skewed towards a sort of quirky neo-noire.

The first two tracks here are for mission briefings and menus, then it gets increasingly dark and groovy, with the "Casing the Joint" set for patrolling exteriors, and "Infiltration" loops for dodging security guards and moving around within secure buildings. The exterior music is a little more moody and varied, while the infiltration tracks have an almost constant, oppressive bassline to amp up the tension (you're on their turf after all). "Combat Stingers" would be musical sound effects for the incredibly brief moments where you take out a guard or they take you down. "Crosslink" is the special mode where you can rewire the buidling's security (and other) features, and as the developer has noted, this is your happy place, so it's a little safer and has a "I'm solving puzzles and getting things done" feel, if I've done my job. "The Escape" would be the track that comes on whenever you've completed your objectives and are, well, escaping.

Here's a video simulating how this stuff could be triggered in game...

(You don't get to some of the better musical moments because it changes so often - I'm not sure if that's a fundamental flaw with the structure of my music and/or the implementation I'm suggesting, or if this is just the developer playing the game and moving faster than your average player would. Might not be possible to tell without playing the game with this in it.)

That was a couple of pretty extreme days of recording to get this done to show off to Gunpoint's creator! Time for sleep.