Horse Head - Retrospective (Godot Fire Charity Jam 1)
Music: Bandcamp, Soundcloud, YouTube
Gameplay: Game link
What was by far the longest game jam I have participated in so far, the Godot Fire Charity Jam #1 was an entire month-long jam for October 2021! I managed to advertise early and found a team right at the start of the project - a couple of folks who were already teamed up and ready to go who required a composer. We chatted briefly and it turned out that I'd be able to stretch those musical muscles even further as the theme and game ideas were pretty "out there" but I absolutely loved the premise. Something psychedelic and cyberpunk-style with fitting music and sound effects to match that as it was going to be an endless runner.
We talked about what sort of music we'd like to have in a game like this. Hotline Miami's soundtrack instantly came to mind, with a mixture of slower-paced negative space usage along with some absolute bangers in that synthwave/darkwave style. Particularly Jasper Byrne's Voyager and Dag Unenge's Winding Theme #1 from the second entry in the series. A suggestion for the boss and faster-paced sections was a compilation of progressive trance music which I've always had a difficult time categorising. It definitely fit in with the theme and thoroughly enjoyed the example and hoped that I could combine the two reference points to come up with some varied music to use in the game.
With a whole month ahead of us, I begun my voyage into the unknown over what I could possibly create, given a rather new genre and task for myself.
I can't complain about the progress that I made in the first week. I had some solid samples for the main "Material World" theme and the puzzle section for the player, which were both well-received and fit the style that we were initially looking for so that went down well. While it can be nice to have some setbacks early to get a feel for what both parties are looking for in the project, it also feels great to get some positive feedback straight away - it justifies the feeling that you were both on the same page during initial discussions and usually bodes well for the remainder of the time you spend communicating together.
About a week into the process, I managed to get ill which pushed back progress for an entire week. It should have been more really but I felt that I had to get back to writing some music eventually and was itching to do some more with it. Whether that was the right decision overall is up for debate but the fact we still got something completed in time partly justifies that. It was rough and I'm still recovering with some after-effects but hope to be back to my best soon.
Coming back to the action, there were some issues with time constraints when it came to the game. This meant that both the boss and puzzle worlds were both going to be cut from the game, with the material and spiritual world themes remaining along with a short menu theme. Unfortunately, I had just completed and looped the puzzle theme and was making a stab at the boss theme but all wasn't lost. The puzzle theme could be parked and still released as an unused track. The challenge now was trying to turn the remnants of what I had left into a main level theme that was far more upbeat and intense. That and the fact that no progress had been made on the spiritual world.
My re-attempt at the main theme went down well, with the building intro being chopped down in favour of getting straight into the action without delay. However, the most difficult hurdle was the sweeping burnout that I could feel approaching as I got down to that final track. My first attempt was poor - it didn't fit at all with the theme and the instrumentation was clearly off. I could do so much better with this and I gave it another shot. The introduction of a more prominent snare sample was enough to get things flowing and eventually came up with something that was passable for the time we had left on the project.
Another first for me was tackling the difficult issue surrounding sound effects or SFX. We were running out of time for the submission deadline when it came to the development side so I offered any assistance to free up some time for them to take off a bit of that workload. I was tasked with sourcing some samples for the character's movement and actions. I also created some menu effects and a short projectile sound in SunVox using similar instrumentation to that which I'd used in the music itself which added to the feel.
The guys submitted with plenty of time to spare and we were probably just about done a couple of days beforehand. The page on Itch.io itself looks great and the overall polish, look and feel of the game is extremely vibrant and striking.
I had a few teething problems bringing my music up to an incredibly upbeat and fast-paced level, as I so frequently work with slower-paced and atmospheric tracks but after everything we went through, I think it was the best that I could do given the circumstances. The theme that I'm most proud of was actually the puzzle theme, despite it not being included in the game itself. While I'm pleased overall with how things turned out, there was still a lot of improvement that could be made for the in-game tracks, particularly the main material world theme. The balancing was a little bit off and this was a situation where had I had more experience and familiarity when it comes to the SunVox interface, I could have produced something far more coherent and complete. Next time, things will come together more cleanly.
Since this was my first attempt handling the balancing of the SFX and music together, I unfortunately had made the music a little too quiet during the normalisation process. I shouldn't have mixed down the soundtrack itself and left that as I'd initially composed it but that's a lesson learned. It's great knowledge for next time and I have a lot to carry through to the next project in this regard, should the situation require it at all.
The game actually managed 11th place overall in the end, after different calculations were made instead of Itch.io's interface causing issues for the original organiser(s). 5th place for the music and SFX pleased me a lot as well - top five for audio isn't too shabby!
It was a stark reminder for me to take care of my physical and mental health, which showed cracks during the jam. Even though I eat and exercise well every day, that still doesn't mean that my body is bulletproof. Burnout is real. Overworking is real. Stress is real. It's time to take account of the things that my body truly needs to replenish itself with, in preparation for when (and if) the same situation occurs.
Thanks again to Nonunkown and Leo Bersk for allowing me to work with them on the project. The interactions we had together we always positive and full of energy. I'd happily work with them again on a future project, should the situation arise at all.
For me, I'm actually writing a cover for the OST Composing Jam: PASTIME I, based off of the credits theme from the video game Shatter - "Homeworlds" by the incredible Module. More to come on that soon!Tagged as: retrospective
Published on: Tuesday 09 November, 2021