Development Diary #18: The Music of Cally’s Caves 3

Screenshot 2015-03-28 10.30.21

Cally’s Caves soundtracks have always been weird.  This is the result of the creative process being pretty open and non-restrictive.  I start with a feeling or general mood for a track, start writing, and hope the result is something good.  In the past, the result has usually turned out to be some weird piece of music that isn’t really genre specific, but somehow suits the game (although a lot of music gets cut along the way that doesn’t quite fit in).  People seemed to like the soundtrack for Cally’s Caves 2 a lot, so our goal with the music for 3 was pretty simple: create better, more memorable music.  We want to make the music more tied to the characters and story by giving characters and events specific themes (a technique used to great effect in our favorite TV shows like LOST and Battlestar Galactica).  We want the music be tied to the levels a bit more this time as well, to help give each zone a better sense of place.  More than anything, though, we just want to bring more weirdness to the game with some unique music.

Bera’s Theme

Bera is a new Character in Cally’s Caves 3, and like all the characters we wanted her to have her own theme.  Bera is one of the early bear enemies from Cally’s Caves 2, who Cally rescues and befriends near the beginning of CC3.  After this there are a few levels that Bera must traverse alone, and we wanted a song for those levels that suits Bera’s carefree attitude.

I started out making the little plinky melody you can hear behind the entire song.  Often this is a good way for an amateur like myself to ground myself in the key I’m working in.  It allows me to have a melody bed that I can layer other melodies on top of for variation.  If you listen to any Cally song, there’s a good chance there’s some simple unifying melody like this playing behind everything.  After that I established a rhythm with some “cheesy” chords as I think of them, C G A F and some variations, and started layering other instruments over top to create a richer tone.

Instead of going with chorus or bridge arrangement, There’s a two bar section between each verse where the C chord just plays and the rhythm is established.  We did have a chorus with completely different chords before, but ended up opting to go with the interstitial C bars with a littler low pass filter fade in at the beginning of the song for extra effect (side note: this low pass filter fade in would probably sound pretty nice for the title music at the start of a game).  So the song is basically 3 16 bar segments, each separated by two bars of the instruments playing a C chord.  Pretty simple overall!  We actually made a couple of videos to document the later part of the creation of this song, which you can check out here:

Herbert’s Lab

Herbert’s Lab is the second to last zone in Cally’s Caves 3, and therefore needs to have some frantic, upbeat music to help set its tone.  I have been messing around in A minor a lot more lately, and came up with this simple chord structure based on that (all of the Cally’s Caves music chord structures are extremely simple).  It’s A, G, D, F for the verse and C, G, D, F for the chorus, really basic stuff.

Screenshot 2015-03-27 15.28.40

However, there’s a nice tempo change in the chorus that I think helps make the song stronger.  A musician buddy of mine once told me, that all of my verse/chorus transitions should feel like the moment your car starts to drop after you drove off a cliff (a weird but apt analogy), and I think this song does that relatively effectively.

The Herbert’s Lab song also utilizes a lengthy outro, with some instruments that start fading in about halfway through the song.  I love when songs seem like they are hijacked but other instruments or weird chord or tempo changes, and due to this being a pretty long, fast-paced song, I thought it would be nice to have a slow outro with some weird hollow sounds.

Time To Reflect

This song is a for a meditative level with no enemies in it.  I linked it here not because I want to talk about it, but because it’s an excuse to link this video from Rich Vreeland, aka Disasterpeace.  He was the musician for the game Fez, and that soundtrack is my favorite album of all time.  He put out this workshop  on Youtube where he talked about how he made the sounds for Fez, and showed some techniques where he uses LFOs and envelopes to modulate sound in really cool ways.  Seriously, if you make game music, take 45 minutes to watch this video and it will change your life.

Rupert’s Theme

Rupert is another new character in Cally’s Caves 3.  He is Herbert’s (the main Bad Guy) son, who decides to help Cally because his Dad was always a jerk to him.  Over the course of the game, Rupert has a few scenes and talks about his relationship with Herbert, and we wanted to have a strong musical theme to go with that story.

There’s this chord progression that you probably know of.  Everyone has used it. It’s most popular use was after Gandalf died in Lord of the Rings.  I had tried writing a couple of songs in the month leading up to writing Rupert’s theme that were pretty close to those chords, and I decided to just try and use them in a way that was different from all the “epic” uses in popular culture.  So I tried to make the song as not-epic as possible.  It still retains some of the tension of the chord progression, but it also seems a bit more laid back and appropriate for the game.  There is also a little chorus melody to break up the main chord progression, and I think that helps make it feel less Lord of the Rings-y.

Lloyd’s Theme

There was a lot more guitar in Cally’s Caves 1 and 2 than there is in 3, but one song we definitely knew we needed guitar in was for Lloyd’s theme.  Lloyd is Cally’s hippy, guitar-playing friend who is essentially the games tutorial system.  His sprite is him standing there and playing guitar, so it wouldn’t feel right if he didn’t have some guitar music to go with it.  When messing around on the acoustic one day, I started getting into a rhythm with this verse and chorus chord progression:

G – A7 – D x 2

D – A7 – Bm x 2

I don’t know exactly what it is, but the way the A7 plays into things gives it a slight country feeling, and the way the chorus finishes has a nice sense of resolution of tension.  Behind the guitar there are some atmospheric pads layered to thicken the sound, and there’s a main organ melody that hits that same mid range as the guitar and plays off of it.  Again this song uses really simple chords, but we hope it will effectively help set the tone of Lloyd’s scenes in Cally’s Caves 3.

Float

The last song for this dev diary is Float, and it is actually a reworking of a song I made for a game jam a while ago.  It’s a simple verse-chorus chord progression using C, F, Am, and Em.  These are laid on top of a bed of some atmospheric synths with some heavy effects.  On top of all of that, a high, thin string melody defines the beginning and end of the song and helps the middle part feel more like a “break.”  There isn’t too much to say about the techniques used in the song, since it is so simple.  However, I feel like more than any other song we’ve posted so far, it captures the “feeling” we are trying to tap into with the music in Cally’s Caves 3.

Thanks for reading, we are still working hard to get CC3 out soon.  You can check out our post on the music for Cally’s Caves 2 here, and some more tracks on our Soundcloud.

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