I gotta say, the music in this game is phenomenal.
Audio Post-Mortem: Rainbow Jam 17
Studio Thumpy Puppy - Music / SFX
Track 1 - Title Screen
Lindar: This is actually a refined version of a sound test I did to find the correct sounds for the game. The very first thing I thought of was taking the classic gendered choir presets of an old electric organ and playing them in unnatural ranges for what they're meant to represent, i.e. playing the masculine voices at the top end of the register and even artificially stretching them up, and playing the feminine ones at the very bottom of the register and stretching them down to bass notes at some points. From there I had just come off of another successful project for Ludum Dare called "The Dying of the Light" where I made heavy use of harp, and so I just kinda defaulted to that until I could think of something better and then never changed it. The final thing I did was bit crush everything; originally I applied it directly to each channel, but it distorted the mix a little too heavily, so I funneled a copy of everything over to a single channel that did all the bit crushing (and then that lightly hit the reverb channel itself) so the instruments still came through clearly, but so did the digital distortion. I feel like, in the end, the harp with really long sustains was a good choice to convey the surreal feeling of the atmosphere.
Alexandra: This was actually one of the biggest pains to deal with all in all. Originally every note sustained until the very end, which overloaded the distortion and reverb channels until it was this clipped squeal. I spent probably an hour or two changing the note lengths and doing volume fades until it stopped screeching. I also spent longer than I care to admit figuring out exactly when to cut out the distortion on the harp and exactly how reverb-y the whole thing should be. I ended up soaking the whole track in reverb because it's supposed to sound like this detached surreal experience, like your senses are swimming.
Track 2 - Story
Lindar: Taking a page from my sister's book, I kinda just did this by ear and figured out how to use it after I got something that "just sounds good", which ended up being a sort of ascending bass note and a drone. The basis for the chord structure is a chromatically ascending bass note that is obviously moving, but not with any great purpose, and two repeating notes, C and D, a static repetition. In concert they give each other some context, but they're still ultimately aimless. The static has some clever rhythmic gating so you stay aware of it, so it doesn't fade into the background as part of the instruments, because it's there on top of everything and you never get to forget about the static. The vocal tracks stretch into odd and obscene tones, performing vocal gymnastics that are unnatural and even impossible, trying to attain some impossible goal of performance. (This is some of the most pretentious junk I've written in the last decade I'm almost sure of it.)
Alexandra: Drums drums drums. For this I absolutely slammed the heck out of a pretty vanilla tightly mic'd acoustic drum kit. The kit got mixed on a single channel, run through its own bit crusher, then a hi-pass for some sweeping effects and to dynamically control the low end, and finally slammed through a bandpass so it sounded like listening to a 7-bit DPCM noise kit playing over an old telephone, completely distant and removed. I ended up writing all the drums after I applied the effects, so listening to what I wrote with all the effects turned off is a laugh riot.
Track 3 - Overworld
Lindar: I ended up playing a slowed-down version of the chords from Story and kinda just improvised a little bit on piano and violin. A lot of the inspiration for the piano piece came from the second half of Story, and the rest was just "Okay, I can't just play a slowed down version of the harp part and nothing else. What would sound good here?" and I just kinda kept trying things until I figured out that piano worked, and then just played a note and then kinda did it half by ear. The violin was intentionally drawn out and soaked in reverb to sound ethereal and moaning, with lots of glissandi and scratchy low end. To be perfectly honest I'd like to say there was some deeper meaning in cutting off the bit crusher track for the latter portion of the song, but it was really just because I wanted the piano piece to shine, it sounded like garbage going through the bit crusher, and it being the only non-crushed thing made it fade into the background (which you can notice early on because it's playing the entire time, it's just lost in the noise).
Alexandra: At this point my job was mostly done. I did a very barebones drum track, ducked the kicks a lot so it still had a 'kick', but didn't interrupt the delicate music going on, and added some extra echo/reverb on the click/clap/snare sound to make it sound really distant and give it some good texture. The rest was making sure levels were good, that nothing got too reverb-y, and that the piano really came through in the end, but the whole thing still looped.
Track 4 - Credits
Lindar: My amazing colleague and previous collaborator Thyl who I desperately want to hire full time graciously took my weird aimless chord progression and turned it into this masterpiece that I fit to the final instrumentation and then noodled all over with a weird synth lead. I was completely in awe of this wonderful progressive piece that came from an aimless progression and turned into this uplifting and hopeful thing that just ended on this huge question mark because... I mean... at the end of the day you escape Planet Dysphoria for a little while, but it's always there.
Alexandra: Ugh, this was an amazing piece and I spent so long checking levels and noodling with the effects on the synth lead, changing reverb levels, getting weird swells, and then I still had to balance everything in the mix. In the middle there's this really weird jazz lead that Thyl did that I ended up putting on the synth vocal track and firm-panning each to a different side so they could still shine without interrupting the dynamic range of the piano, which felt like a really important part, like it was building up to this triumphant victory, and then it resolved to this sort of peaceful outro.
Hidden Track - Distress Signal
Lindar: Thyl originally sent me an original piece as a contribution to the OST, but it ended up sounding a little too peaceful. I ended up minor-ing all of the chords and otherwise leaving it as is. The gating effect on the distortion track makes a reprise here and holds a secret message. This didn't end up making it into the game, but it was fun to make. The sound of anxiety incarnate that builds in the background is absolute genius on the part of Thyl.
We couldn't have done this without the help of Tamlyn Phoenix, our resident '-of-all-trades' at Studio Thumpy Puppy, who helped with recording, foley direction (we got some fantastic walking sounds), and coming up with all kinds of creative ways to represent the sounds of things in the game. A few of the more interesting effects include:
- Pill bottle.
- A literal bottle of estradiol.
- The original effect was a little too long, but it included an opening and closing sound with a heavily reverb'd inhale on a CBD vape.
- Picking the lock on the lab.
- An actual lock pick (a rake) running through a padlock.
- ...because we're juvenile delinquents.
- A very compressed deadbolt turning.
- A very compressed doorknob turning.
- An old capo being squeezed.
- An actual lock pick (a rake) running through a padlock.
- Walking outside.
- Walking on dry rice on an office chair mat.
- The hatch opening.
- A steak iron being scraped against a heavy griddle and then dropped.
- The teleporter.
- A harmonica with some natural tremolo.
- Several more layers pitched up and down.
Things we'd like to do better...
Lindar: I would love to have gotten actual recordings of trans people singing, but time, energy, and resources did not permit. A lot of the music was, regrettably, done at the last minute, and I would have liked to take my time, though I always seem to work best under pressure. If I knew my way around Wwise, how it integrates with Unity, and had a bit more time, I would have liked to do more with the sounds in general. My original idea was to have the harp track as a constant and different tracks would fade in with proximity to objects in the environment, but I didn't have the time, and for the very small scope of the game that's not something that would have been fully appreciated had I actually implemented something like that; not a whole lot of time is spent in a given area, so a given track probably would have been heard for a couple of seconds before moving on. I think if we end up redoing this as a bigger release I might revisit this idea.
Alexandra: As always, my biggest regret is that I have to mix on headphones. This soundtrack kicked ass and the only thing I would do better is mix on better equipment and record more, sequence less. The harp could have been acoustic guitar (we have a very nice classic Japanese Yamaha in the studio) and so much more could have been played live if we had the time and energy (i.e. didn't have to work around day jobs and noisy neighbors). Also next time I'd like to have a field recording kit for doing the SFX, because carrying around a laptop and a really poor quality USB mic is not my idea of a great time.