Vincent Webb, composer and sound designer chats to us about creating the soundtrack for The Adorables.
How did you get into making music?
Like a lot of people I started out learning piano and playing in groups from an early age. I owe a lot to my mum who patiently sat through lesson after lesson with me. Before that I remember banging upturned pots with chopsticks (I broke a lot of chopsticks) and playing keyboard with my dad who’s a great improviser. I got a few scholarships while I was in school which helped to fund all the extra music lessons and instruments - drums, piano, saxophone, guitar... At the same time, as an only child I guess I spent a fair amount of time on my own and games, computers, technology all played a big part in my early life. After a while I guess its natural that the two streams began to run together. I started getting into computer music when I was around 17. I can hardly believe I’m already doing this full time, its a dream come true!
What’s you’re experience of gaming? What are you favourite games to play?
I’m a little young for true 8bit, my main console of choice growing up was the N64, I’ve always been a bit of a Nintendo fanboy... I still find the N64 music really inspiring (Ocarina of Time..’nuff said), the way the technology is limited just enough so the compositions sound sophisticated and musical but never cluttered. Nowadays I mainly play indie games on my mac. I’m a big fan of the ‘Not Games’ movement and art games in general. I also enjoy a good puzzler. Braid and Machinarium are both excellent. Sorry, not very original choices!
At what stage did you start creating the music and sounds for The Adorables? Was the game at early concept stage or were you able to see the characters and environments before starting?
Matthew sent me a rudimentary demo with the main game mechanic in place, as well as a lot of concept artworks and backstory to help flesh it out. I had style guidelines for each of the environments but I was more or less free to ignore them completely if I wanted! Thumbstar were fantastic to work with in that respect, I had a lot of creative freedom.
The sounds associated with the characters and the relaxed ethereal music fits so well it’s hard to imagine the game without it. Where do you start to build the right sound for both the look and style of the game?
I don’t have any standard approach but in the case of Adorables, the moment I saw the graphics and read about the concept I was reminded of a song by my friend Kinzli, called ‘Stargazing’ from her album Down up Down which I played on a few years ago. The song is a complex collaborative work and I knew I wouldn’t be able to recreate anything like it by myself. Still, it had the perfect mix of innocent wonder and retro sci-fi crossed with a sort of makeshift/DIY feel.. I just couldn’t get the melody out of my mind so with Kinzli’s permission I ended up using a simplified version of that track as a foundational theme. The rest of the soundtrack fell into place after that. I used fragments of the melody throughout the game and made an 8bit tribute version for the training stage. I want to thank Kinzli and recommend anyone reading this that you check out her music immediately! As for the Adora sounds, I spent a lot of time trying out different ways to make them talk. At first I experimented with giving them a tape recorder kind of sound as a sort of audio equivalent to the handmade cardboard visuals. I also tried using some recordings of sleigh bells and windchimes through a toy voice modulator to give them a ‘starry’ quality. In the end though we needed something a bit friendlier and warmer. Lottie spent a day in the studio recording a huge variety of different syllabic sounds with me suggesting things as we went. It was a fun but gradual process and worth all the extra effort I think!
Did you consider pace of gameplay when writing the music? It feels like a perfect fit!
Thanks! Yes, It struck me that the Adoras seemed to enjoy their jobs - for them the whole thing seems like a sort of playful ritual, where they’re not too stressed or under pressure. Thinking about the role of the player/protagonist in the game - the emotions you want them to be feeling - that’s always my first priority. Then there are things like creating empathy and the sense of a broader, unified game world. All of this is information which audio can communicate far better than visuals.
Music and audio in games has been a rapidly developing field. From the days of bleeps and bloops through full orchestral scores, back to bleeps and bloops for mobile games and now that field too is becoming more advanced and complex. How do you get the balance right between simplicity and depth?
Creatively speaking I find game music’s unique musical history very liberating. Its like I have ‘permission’ to mash together loads of different musical genres and break all the rules I learned about in music college - ‘get away with’ things I could only ever do in a game. In one sense it is easier to create something with a unique (‘deep’) connection to the game because of this stylistic freedom. Technologically of course, I don’t have the same limitations as an early audio developer but I still really respect that old-school ethic. I often try to force certain limitations on myself for a more unified result. On the whole I think game music fans are still very critical of ‘fluff’. Precision, cleanliness and economy are still a big part of a lot of modern game soundtracks. Its quite Japanese I think.
We love the music in The Adorables. Do you plan on doing more music for games?
I certainly hope so! I’ve written tracks for a lot of different things over the years, but I always feel a special connection to the game projects I’ve worked on.
Where can we hear more of you in the meantime?
My new game audio alter-ego site is up and running, called ‘blipcat’ where I hope to be posting tracks and other game music related bits and bobs on a fairly regular basis.
Please do go and check out Kinzli & the Kilowatts for more music like ‘Stargazing’.