Kenley Kristofferson

Composer.

Tag: indie games

VGM Wednesday (Friday) – “Com64” from “Sword & Sworcery”

“Com64” from Superbrothers: word & Sworcery EP, by Jim Guthrie and released in 2011.

This past week, I was recording the Episode 6 of the IRL Podcast with Francesca and Kyle.  This particular episode was about the Humble Indie Bundle V, which I talked about last week.  They also wanted to talk about the music, so they asked me to come on (from previous Into the Score experience, and I think that we’re always looking for reasons to podcast together because we always have a great time).

While we were discussion the music from Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP, Francesca brought up a piece that she says “she can’t listen to on the bus anymore.”  It’s a bonus track called “Com64” and, when I listened to it, I immediately knew why.

As soon as I started playing it, I started moving my body back and forth, bobbed my head and did some punch-dancing in my chair.

That four-on-the-floor bass (0:08)…

Then the kick (0:12), with the rhythmic noise tracks clicking on the upbeats (0:00)… GAH! What a solid foundation!

Then the synth groove comes in with the main riff with the bass in octaves… (:17)

Then the turnaround (0:36) right before the melody comes back in with octaves (0:41).

GAH! Dancing so hard!

I hope you’re all dancing so hard too! Also, it’s officially summer for teachers, giving rise to many days of crazy dancing.

Have the best time,
Kenley

VGM Wednesday – “A Proper Story” from Bastion

“A Proper Story” from Bastion, by Darren Korb and released in 2011.

So, the Humble Indie Bundle 5 was released just a few weeks past and it included this highly-praised game called Bastion.  I’d heard of it, but never played it.

It wasn’t until Francesca over at the IRL Podcast sent me a note and told me that Episode 6 is going to be on the music from the Indie Bundle and invited me on the show to talk about it.  Because Francesca is awesome and I want to promote indie games as much as possible, accepting was a no-brainer.  She really wanted to talk about two games in the bundle in particular: Sword and Sworcery and Bastion.

Well, better start playing them 🙂

Sword and Sworcery has been around for a little while and is scored by Jim Guthrie (who scored the fabulous Indie Game: The Movie), while Bastion is scored by Darren Korb.  Both games are spectacular and you’ll hear a lot about the music if you check out that ep of the IRL Podcast., but let’s start with Bastion.

Korb describes the music as “acoustic frontier trip hop,” which is right on the mark.  The strummy/slidy acoustic guitar gives it a real Western edge, especially the minor pentatonic opening riff of “A Proper Story.”  But it’s not only that, it’s the sliding into the chord shape that happens after it too.  So, even just in the first four bars, we hear the riff, then three slide patterns; the riff, then three slide patterns.

Right after that, the layers of electronic drum beats come in.  Deep kicks, synth cymbals and tambourine, then a synth snare on two and four.  During that sequence, the acoustic guitar part changes to a progression of

| Im     Im      | Im    bIII IV|

… which in itself is a rough-and-tumble rock progression.  However, the acoustic guitar that slides into the chord shape (of the Im chord) doesn’t make it feel like a rock riff, but almost like a cowboy one.

Then the mandolin and sitar come in and trade bars, like a call and response in jazz.  The mandolin brings in a bluegrass sort of feel, while the sitar (with its augmented seconds and 1/4 tone bends) incites a Middle Eastern flavour to the harmony.

It’s SO eclectic and we’re not even out of the first 30 seconds 😐

This is Bastion, now go out and buy it 🙂

(Then listen to the IRL Podcast in two weeks!)
Kenley

VGM Wednesdays – “Fluffy Sweet” from Cloud

“Fluffy” from Cloud, by Vincent Diamante and released in 2005.

Have you ever put down a game after a few hours (or minutes) or play and thought, “man, that was just so beautiful?”  That’s Cloud.

I was exposed to this game at an IGDA meeting in Winnipeg about four years ago and it really stuck with me.  Noah Decter-Jackson of Complex Games was leading a small presentation about indie games and the industry around it and one of his examples of alternative gameplay was Cloud.  The wiki describes the game better than I ever could…

The game centers on a boy who dreams of flying while asleep in a hospital bed. The concept was partially based on lead designer Jenova Chen‘s childhood; he was often hospitalized for asthma and would daydream while alone in his room. Assuming the role of the boy, the player flies through a dream world and manipulates clouds to solve puzzles. The game was intended to spark emotions in the player that the video game industry usually ignored.

It’s about the experience and that’s what I love about indie games.  I’ve been replaying Bit Blot’Aquaria on the iPad and it’s been such a great time.  The colours are lush, the music in headphones is immersive… Indie games don’t shortchange you on the emotional part of the game and it never feels contrived or forced like in some big budget films or games.

Anyway, back to Cloud.  Episode 14 of Into the Score (my podcast on the in-depth study of video game music) tackled this game and features a great interview with the composer, Vincent Diamante.  What a great guy and very generous with this time.  Definitely check it out.  He’s scored thatgamecompany‘s fl0w, Flower and Journey.

What I love about the game’s score is that the melodic theme is heard first in “Title” often present, but with strange harmonies below it that pull the listener in a different direction.  The title really sets up the brightness and happy feel of theme, which leaves room for the composer to mess with it as the game progresses.  In the second track from the game’s OST, called “Just About Ready,” the theme comes in at about 0:32 and it sounds nice, but is then followed by (what I think is) the VI chord with an appoggiatura, betraying the happy expectation that you thought was coming.  This is what the whole game does 🙂

When we listen to “Fluffy Sweet,” we hear the theme of the game being elaborated and decorated through the harp and piano.  Then what he does (and this is lovely), he turns the theme into the rhythmic ostinato upon which these lush, colourful and vibrant chords sustain overtop, creating this juxtaposing texture of rhythmic-but-consonant and harmonic-but-dissonant.

So much love for this score.  The game is free, you can download it here.

See you soon!
Kenley

VGM Wednesdays – “The Light”

“The Light” from Bit Blot’s Aquaria, released in 2007.

It is very rare in one’s life that they meet someone as creative and passionate about their art as Alec Holowka, one of the co-creators of Aquaria and head of the indie games studio, Infinite Ammo.  To meet someone who devotes every spare minute to art is really inspiring and he’s one of the two people that I know who can do that (the most-excellent Parker Campbell is the other).  I had the chance to have him on my show a few years back and the episode can be heard here.

Aquaria came out in 2007 as an indie game and was evolved by Alec Holowka and Derek Yu.  In a time where massive studios are using their armies of programmers and graphic artists to release larger-than-life games, it gives me profound happiness that two passionate human beings can make a game with the intent of telling a story and speaking to their audience and still be quite successful.

The game tells the story of Naija, a girl who is alone in a vast sea who seeks to uncover her past and explore the world beyond her home.  The game’s lush graphics, lovely voice acting, intuitive gameplay and evocative music make Aquaria more of an experience than the Metroidvania-style that sometimes gets lumped into.

“The Light” plays near the beginning of the game and really sets the tone: Polychordal ostinati, washes of strings on beautifully dissonant chords (both doubled in synth), pensive woodwind melodies (usually flute),  and a sort of pop chord progression and drumbeat that makes the whole seemingly orchestral setup very accessible to the player.

Buy this game and buy this soundtrack, please.  Your money will not be going to a relentless multi-national; but rather, two people who devote their lives to the medium and the art.