Development Diary #3: Music Beginnings

I started working on the music for our second game before we knew we would be making a sequel to Cally’s Caves.  This is mostly due to the fact that I’ve always been into making music using Propellerheads’ Reason software, as well as playing guitar and piano in my spare time.  In the lull between games, I knew I could be productive by just making some songs and experimenting with different sounds and chord progression ideas.  I was proud of the music from Cally’s Caves and wanted to continue to make tracks since I find it very creatively satisfying, even if my ears are the only ones hearing it.


The general feel of the soundtrack in Cally’s Caves was not exactly coherent, it was a melange of upbeat, hyper tracks, and ambient, atmospheric ones.  I liked the way the music evoked different moods in the different levels, but I know I can do better this time around, and give the soundtrack more of a coherent feel.  That being said, my musical process remains the same, and it always begins with a guitar or piano.

(note – this diary links to my soundcloud for the tracks I’m writing about, since WordPress doesn’t like audio files)

“Lloyd’s Theme” was one of the first tracks I composed for Cally 2, and I came up with the idea while noodling on my guitar.  I eventually came up with the verse and chorus riffs, which are incredibly simple (and not very well-played in the recording).  Lloyd is a character that helps Cally learn the systems of the game, and appears at many different points throughout Cally 2.  He’s always sitting there, playing guitar, and I wanted a guitar-based theme to play every time he shows up, so the player hears it and knows a tutorial is sure to follow, a Pavlov’s dog kind of situation.  After recording the acoustic bits, I fed them into reason, sequenced them, and created a simple drumbeat, bassline, and synth melody to round out the track.  It’s very simple, but that’s the feel I was going for, and I hope that it will come across like Lloyd is playing the guitar in the final product.

The next track I worked on was the “overworld theme.” I began this track by recording a simple F-Am chord progression for the verse, and C-F progression for the chorus.  A key idea I wanted to hit on was to have the mood of the music in Cally 2 be pretty dark, but every once in a while have a triumphant, happy sounding section to give the player the feeling that they are succeeding in their quest.  This track is pretty ambient, using a lot of pad synths to fill in the background behind the guitar.  There are several other guitar parts that come in in the later verses and choruses, but I tried to mix them subtly, so the main star of the song would be the basic guitar chords, and the high electric piano synth that carries the main melody.  Another trick I used was having the electric piano playing the same melody throughout the verse and the chorus, something that works when you have a 2 chord verse and a 2 chord chorus, all in the same key.

The “Explore” track was mostly influenced by my constant listening to the various soundtracks for one of my favourite games, Fez.  The original soundtrack for Fez was composed by Rich “Disasterpeace” Vreeland, and it was so good, several remix albums were released in the following year.  In the track “Puzzle,” Vreeland utilizes a synth line that is strongly filtered, then slowly raises the frequency of the filter to make the synth more audible (at least I think that’s what he does), and that simple line was stuck in my head for weeks.  The “Explore” track doesn’t sound like anything in Fez, but there’s one synth line that utilizes the filter trick.  Aside from that, I used a plodding bassline, a downbeat drum pattern, and lots of pitch bends and atmospheric pad samples to try and give the song some depth.  This song doesn’t use any real instruments in it – it’s all soft-synths – but I hope it retains a strong sense of melody.  It also ditches the verse-chorus formula and just uses a single chord progression, while cycling instruments in and out for variation.

“Level 37” is a track that is actually going to be used in Level 1, a decision made after I gave it it’s title.  The feeling I wanted to go for with this track was “modernized 80’s action movie,” and the song’s main function is to get the player hyped up to play the game.  To do this, I utilized a slow tempo drum beat with a ton of synths on top.  As you can hear, most of the synths are heavily low-pass filtered for the first 16 bars, and as the bars progress, the frequency of the filter is increased to get the feeling of amping up.  At the 16 bar mark, a brass synth plays the signature line of the song, and this is hopefully what evokes the 80s action movie feeling the most.  After the first “chorus” plays out, the filter is re-applied and some bit-crushed video-game sounding samples kick in.  Overall, I’m really happy with how this track plays out and I think it’s my favourite track on the soundtrack for Cally 2 thus far.

The main lesson I’ve taken away from working on the music for both Cally’s Caves games is that making video game music is more about pursuing a “feel,” rather than using specific instruments.  I’ve used very little chip-tune instruments, and managed to incorporate organic instruments with soft-synths, and hopefully this sound will go over well with gamers.  I hope that by going for my own sound rather than emulating traditional video game music, Cally’s Caves 2 will have something unique going for it, rather than the soundtrack just sounding like a rehash of other game music.  Only time will tell!

We are 2 and half months into the development of Cally’s Caves 2, and the music is 80% done for the game.

(note: This diary looks at a small sampling of the music for the game.  You can check out most of the completed tracks for the game here, and I will probably do another music post down the line)

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