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German Whale of Mystery

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As I mentioned in my last blog post, I decided to participate in a month-long Game Jam sponsored by the Baltimore Indie Games group. The theme of this jam was “Random Name Generator,” and thus each group was tasked to click a button to receive a name, and if they liked the name, make a game out of what they were given. My group decided to generate about ten names we liked, which we voted down to three, which we voted down to one: “German Whale of Mystery.”

Before I get into the details of the game, my team consisted of my friends Stephen and Andrew, a group of three computer science students from American University, and me. Stephen was charge of the art, I did the music and sound, and the others worked on programming. Some of you may be thinking that a six-person group is quite large for a game jam, but it worked for us because our programmers didn’t have a ton of experience in game design. It ended up working well for us!

As for the game itself, German Whale of Mystery is a stealth platformer set in World War II, where a whale is infiltrating the Nazis’ base to defeat (who else but) Hitler. In order to successfully reach Hitler, the whale must avoid guards by hiding behind objects and donning costumes to move from level to level in the Nazi stronghold. If a guard catches you, you meet your end in gruesome fashion.

If you’d like to play our game, do so here! Be sure to read the description at the bottom of that page for the controls.

Focusing solely on the music, I ended up creating five tracks for this game:

1. The Duke of Whales

“The Duke” was my first track for the game both in concept and in creation. If you played the game, you probably thought it strange that the level theme had such a definite ending—there’s a reason for that strangeness. This tune was originally intended to serve as its title theme, but after seeing the animation of the whale moving, I swapped it with “Blubber Blues,” which you’ll hear next.

My original concept was that, since we were doing a game set in World War II, I should write a big band piece. In order to represent the whale, I decided to make the bari sax the featured instrument. Now, I wouldn’t say that the tune is a period piece by any means – it wasn’t done particularly in the style of big band tunes from the ‘40s – but it gets the point across.

This tune, like most of the others, was written in Finale and features no production edits. Not only did I want to keep the tunes sounding “lo-fi” due to the game’s art style, it was in my best interest in terms of time to keep the production value low.


2. Blubber Blues

Though the title suggests that it might be a traditional blues, it’s really just a blues-tinged piece. As I mentioned above, I wrote this one as a level theme, thinking it should be good sneaking music. It turned out, however, that the whale walked quickly and with confidence, so the tune no longer fit. Luckily, it went well with the art on the title screen.


3. Folk Whale

The first costume that the whale encounters is the lederhosen garb. I set out to write a polka and came up with this, which is more of a polka-esque romp that captures the utter silliness of the game.


4. Scotch and Ginger Whale

The second costume we came up with was a fancy suit, complete with top hat and monocle. I went with a harpsichord on this one as opposed to something more complex like a string quartet because I needed to bust something out relatively quickly. It wasn’t necessarily “fast” to write a solo piano piece, but it did save me some time. To extend the tune’s length without writing all new sections, I wrote an alternate left hand part and sandwiched it between two instances of my original idea.


5. Fin (Game Over)

This tune turned out to work well for both the “You Died” and the “You Win” screens. I had written some goofy lyrics for it and thought to record myself singing in four-part harmony, but didn’t have the time, unfortunately. I spruced this one up in Logic because the Finale vocal samples were just too horrible and the program’s mix wasn’t passable.

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There you have it! I’m going to work on cleaning up these tunes a little bit in Logic so that I can be prouder to have them up on my website, but otherwise, I’m happy with the way they – and the game – turned out. I can’t wait for my next game jam challenge!

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Musings on “The Blitz”

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Note: All of the pictures are of stuff I’ve been listening to recently–they have no real relevance to the actual content of the post.

Final Fantasy Tactics OST

Hitoshi Sakimoto & Masaharu Iwata – Final Fantasy Tactics OST

Since putting the finishing touches on my demo and constructing my new website, I’ve been on an “e-mail blitz,” cold-calling every game company whose contact information I can get my hands on to get myself out there and nail down a gig.

It’s been an interesting experience. Hopping from one website to another, you get to see many business types and practices. For instance, I thought it would be relatively easy to go on a company’s website to find contact information and the name of the person whom it would be best to contact. Most companies have either a contact page or an e-mail address listed, but some you really have to dig for. I’m not talking about just industry giants like Capcom or Rockstar Games, either, which is a bit strange.

What I find most surprising, maybe, is that lack of information about the developing team, especially with smaller companies. Though it’s certainly not a deal breaker, I am more inclined to feel good vibes about a company that enjoys putting their talented staff out in the open on their website, even if there’s just a list without any fancy pictures or silly profiles. Maybe it’s a bit old-fashioned or something, but I expected it, maybe due in part to my old employer having a full staff listing on its website. Now, having every staff person’s e-mail address and work number up *did* bring in its fair share of unsolicited, zany calls and e-mails, so maybe that website isn’t the best model to follow; however, there is a happy medium to be found.

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Maria Schneider – Winter Morning Walks

There are two other types of websites that I really like. First, you have the websites that look effing awesome. My favorite one so far has been the website for Untold Entertainment (hover over “About” to see the best part). Even though some of the links don’t work, I’m willing to look past the site’s flaws and am happy to hunt for the information I need.

Second, you have the websites that link to other developers that they like. Having the want and will to publish those links of apparent competitors says a lot about the company to me; it says that they’re interested in being part of the larger game community and that they exist not only for themselves—those are the kind of companies that I really want to write for and help succeed.

On the other side of the coin, you have the companies that scream “avoid” right off the bat. More

“Behemoth”

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Behemothffix

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The work below is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License and ©2013 Gregory Weaver.

About a month or so ago I was thinking about what kinds of tunes I hadn’t yet written that I should write for my demo. The most obvious of the missing genres was a film-like tune—an epic tune fit for cinema in the ilk of Lord of the Rings or even the soundtrack to Skyrim.


Granted, my tune sounds absolutely nothing like the Skyrim tune above, haha, but I was certainly thinking in terms of having that BIG sound… a big, epic sound with a lot of brass and space and all that good stuff.

I’m sure that you’ll get that impression from the beginning of my tune, “Behemoth,” but it kind of devolves from sounding like a film piece into sounding more like a piece of game music. I committed to this transformation right after I wrote in a part that sounded game-y, especially because it opened up new possibilities and allowed me to put in ideas that wouldn’t have made sense if I wanted to continue to think in terms of film. Very early on you’ll hear the entrance of some pointy-sounding flutes, for instance—those came from the removal of the film restriction that I had put on myself.

So because the music started to sound more like a game I decided to think of it in the context of a game. The original sound was intended to be “epic battle;” thinking about games, some of the most epic battles take place when you’re fighting bosses. Thus, I started to imagine a giant beast – specifically that which looks like a behemoth from the Final Fantasy series – bursting into a room ready to chomp you in half.

And with that…

 “Behemoth” on SoundCloud

While the brass is more representative of the “epic beast boss battle,” I wrote the woodwinds as if they were harbingers of insanity or twistedness. They’re meant to put the player on edge or even scare him or her a little. This idea was almost assuredly influenced by a couple of different Final Fantasy tunes.

“Kefka’s Theme” from Final Fantasy VI will always come to mind when thinking of a tune that is supposed to represent someone truly evil and insane. On its own, one may not hear those villainous attributes, yet when the player hears the theme played as Kefka, for example, poisons Doma, it really gets under his or her skin. In affecting the player in such a way, the true genius of Uematsu ‘s writing comes out. Start the below video at 6:01 to see what I mean. More

Adding to the ‘finished’ stack…

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The works below are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License and ©2013 Gregory Weaver.

Hey! It’s been awhile. I’ve got two tunes for you to check out.
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Fanfare and Jubilee (Remastered)

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This was actually completed about three weeks ago…

If you compare it to the original versions of the tune you’ll find some changes in the actual composition (as opposed to the sound), but nothing too significant. Mainly, I made the ending shorter so that the listener wouldn’t lose interest. I had thought before that the buildup to the large section that features all of the instruments playing together would be a good idea; however, even I as the composer was fatigued by hearing just one instrument come in at a time. Also, you’ll notice that the trombone starts off the buildup instead of the trumpet, and the percussion doesn’t take extra time to build up either. I think you’ll agree if you compare the two that it was in every listener’s best interest to shorten that section.

While this tune is technically final, having sought out some criticism of it I learned from other composers that they find the mix too dry. While I set out for a drier mix, I am going to run with the suggestions and see how I can improve the sound of the piece by altering the reverb to give it more depth.

(“Fanfare and Jubilee” on SoundCloud)
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A Binding Harmony

This next tune was written for the TIGSource Musical Challenge XXIII. You might recall that I entered one of the challenges a while back with my tune “Mr. AC (Keep Your Cool).” For that tune, the challenge was to make a thirty-second looping battle theme; for this, things were a bit less constricting. The challenge was, simply, to create a love theme. More

Mid-April Status Update

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The works below are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License and ©2013 Gregory Weaver.

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Cat’s out of the bag: I don’t work 24/7 all the time.
Here Jen and I are enjoying the cherry blossoms in our nation’s capital.

Hey everyone,

I haven’t posted in about a week and a half, so I thought I’d better give you an update.

First, the music stuff: I am in the process of both remastering old tunes and writing new ones. In fact, I have a list of two tunes to remaster and nine tunes to finish writing, which is a lot of stuff. You might think that I may have spread myself too thin and to that I say you might be correct, haha.

The dilemma is one that isn’t old; namely, I’m caught between wanting to finish up tunes and churn out new ideas. Finishing is two-dimensional problem that I imagine many of us aspiring artists have: one, I always ask myself, ‘Is this even worth finishing?’, and two, I sometimes feel like I’m spending too much time on one idea rather than creating fresh ones, which makes me think of number one’s question again. The answer to that question, by the way, is ‘YES’ 95% of the time simply because I need to practice finishing writing as well as the whole production gig. I refuse to abandon these tunes even though I get scatterbrained and succumb to writing new ideas instead often. The answer to the second? Simply get better and faster, which is done by finishing tunes, and stay focused. And you may think that have a list of nine tunes to finish would warrant me saying enough is enough, leading me to blast through finishing one or two, but no… no, that doesn’t work; no urge to create new things is assuaged.

But hey, the remastered version of “Fanfare and Jubilee” is coming along. Check out what it sounds like at the end of today. Lots of work still needs to be done, of course, including adjusting dynamics, volume levels, articulations, and more, but I think you’ll like it:

Original: 

Remastered:
As for new stuff, one point of note is that I’m trying to write tunes that are a little longer, have more space, and are less dependent on being driven by one stand-out melody. More

Woods Theme (Remastered)

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The works below are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License and ©2013 Gregory Weaver.

woods

It’s been a long time coming, but I finally got around to remastering the first track that I ever did for this blog, “Woods Theme” (or “Theme for the Woods,” as I called it in earlier posts).

I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: I usually do my larger-scale compositions in Finale first, which doesn’t have quality sound samples. So, I always aim to go back and remaster the tracks I write in Finale by putting them into Logic and using better samples, as well as by making my own mix instead of using what Finale does automatically.

It feels good to get one under my belt. It’s definitely not my favorite part of the creative process, but it certainly is fulfilling when you finally feel satisfied with a mix. There’s so much to be very meticulous about, and if you don’t have a ton of experience in that world, it can be maddening. Luckily, I have the time right now to stop, let my ears rest, and then resume later, which makes things better on the mental side. Arguably, there’s always that looming “just get it done!” approach that is very effective for the mind and for productivity [which I skimmed right over]; however, at least for this tune, I wanted to make everything perfect. And I kept on learning up until the last bounce as a result.

Remastered (Logic): 

Original (Finale): 

“Woods Theme (Remastered)” on SoundCloud

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I even set the remastered version to someone’s walkthrough of The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, below:

While you all have heard some of my other final cuts on tunes that have been produced in Logic, you hadn’t yet heard an orchestral piece. As you might imagine, it can take longer to do the production on a piece the more instruments one has because s/he has to make sure that everything is the right balance in every section of a tune. When conducting, a live orchestra, one has the benefit of the musicians knowing what dynamics to play when. They also know how hard to play notes and how to emote passages in the best manner. Everything melds together well due to a combination of the players’ training, what’s written on the score, and what the conductor is doing. More

Interludes: Happy Tunes

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The works below are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License and ©2013 Gregory Weaver.

Being that I’m a little over two weeks away from entering into the third month of my sabbatical (crazy to think about that), I decided that I need to get serious about finishing and mastering some of my older ideas.  I’ve got a couple of new tunes in the oven, but cranking out tunes in Finale that sound synthy doesn’t do me very much good in terms of marketing myself in this day and age.  Here are two tunes that I recently finished, both of which might be a bit uplifting:

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 “Happy-Go-Lucky”

Mario Kart Title


“Happy-Go-Lucky” on SoundCloud

I wrote most of “Happy-Go-Lucky” a while back, but had a lot of cleaning up to do with it. Originally it didn’t include drums and it sounded very bare. There was just too much space! I thought that I needed some chordal textures at first because the bass sound was holding down a rhythmic base, but I was completely wrong–drums were the answer, and I knew it immediately after I put them in. Gotta give a shout-out to my old professor, Robert Jospe, since I knew what rhythm I wanted to use. Thanks for teaching me how to groove, Jos!

This tune is meant to be the title screen of a racer, and while I was thinking more “F-Zero” at first, David Graey commented on my SoundCloud, saying that the tune reminds his of the Mario 64 race theme (though he’s not sure why, and I’m not totally sure why either, to be honest, haha). I decided to make the picture that of a Mario Kart title screen as a happy medium between his interpretation and my own.

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“Monday’s Theme” (final edition)

Harvest-Moon
“Monday’s Theme” on SoundCloud
*Bonus points to whoever locates and correctly identifies the musical quote in this tune!

You might remember this little diddy back when I first posted about it last January. From that post: More

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