Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Making the Disposable Heroes soundtrack

DFB_blgThis blog post was written for the Disposable Heroes blog site

Each time Evilized Games' Ben Aprigliano unveils his latest idea it always quickly develops into an exhilarating rollercoaster ride of creativity and comedy. The pace at which it builds is truly impressive, and it always grows and develops beyond recognition in even just the comparatively short time I get to work on the project.
An ever-present feature of Evilized productions is a penchant for pitting tragic characters against seemingly insurmountable circumstances; trapping hapless protagonists in some grossly diabolic environment with a series of either deadly foes or devilish machines – frequently both – to avoid and evade.
In Disposable Heroes you have the same set of ingredients but - in my personal opinion - this is the man's finest work to date. It's got everything you would expect from an Evilized Games title; it's powerful, it's high-octane, stylish, bold and confident yet wonky and bizarre, full of charm and imagination and - of course - laced with cheeky, irreverent humour.
OMG_pitchfork_demonsI always enjoy playing the games Ben makes – even in their early forms – but in the case of Disposable Heroes I was absolutely, completely, utterly hooked, and indeed remain so to this day. With its addictive gameplay and delightful characters in a charming, stick-man cartoon world, I think this one has the potential to be very popular.
So, eulogy over, how do we tend to get going from the perspective of the music? After the initial discussions about a project, my first (ideal) step in working with any developer is always to play through the game, to immerse myself in the world they have created, to get the feel for what’s going on. That's not always possible of course but in this instance it certainly helped to align the aural experience with the on-screen action.
Garden 1280
The characters in a game really help set the scene from a music perspective, and the characters in Disposable Heroes - the good guys and the bad guys - are fabulous. Of course, these guys think they’re the greatest however ambition in this case sadly falls far short of ability, and the whole 'village idiot' thing really helped in deciding on the style and tone of the music.
Whether it’s the Orc, who is perpetually desperate to help but ultimately utterly useless; The Gladiator, who wants everyone to think he is both mighty and courageous, whereas in fact his bombastic bravado conceals a crippling cowardice that will result in him always putting himself behind his comrades when there’s a battle on; The Wizard, who expends far too much time and energy berating the others for their lack of knowledge of scientific formulae, or the Princess who believes herself to be above being seen with any of the rest of them, their ‘perception of self’ for me doesn’t quite reflect reality, and it was this kind of fantastical feeling I wanted to convey with the main theme and interludes.
Mine 1280When trying to find the sound for Heroes it was clear from an early stage that we were looking at something along the lines of 'Robin Hood –Prince of Thieves', only drawn in Crayola.
That’s why you’ve got this pantomime, mock heroic approach. It’s got to be larger than life but also a little but wayward and silly, and the theme tune is a good example of what I was trying to achieve.
Ot is certainly fair to say that the characters and the environment have helped - even encouraged - the music to be rumbunctious yet awkward, bold yet relentlessly sticky-outy.
To my mind it represents the swashbuckling nature in which the Heroes throw themselves senselessly into the diabolic challenges that confront them.
From the opening market scene to the castle and beyond, I was happy with how it was all beginning to take shape, content with how the theme music partnered with the on-screen action.
Indeed, the theme music seemed to work so well with the adventure that I thought the job was mostly done however as the game grew beyond all initial scope, with more levels and concepts added, including a series of mini-games, it became clear that the list of tracks would need to increase significantly too, to keep things fresh and suitably entertaining. Indeed, what was originally set to be a fairly straightforward three or four track job has since developed into what is now a 10 tune soundtrack.
Aside from that of course, frequently in games, a shift in the music - even if only at a subconscious level - signifies the extent of progress in the game, so the soundtrack needs to be as deep and layered as the game itself.
Working with Ben on the voice parts was pretty fun too, from writing the dialogue to finding the right actors. What it does mean is that we've now got a whole load of things in there that are designed to add to the characters' personalities, the overall humour of the game and particularly the 2 player experience. You can read more about the process of doing the voice parts here.
A wonderful feature of Disposable Heroes is the minigames that you find, a break from the top-down style of the core levels, each of which pits you against new challenges; from the collapsing castle to a trebuchet assault.
I certainly was of the opinion that the minigames should have their own themes, so that’s what they’ve got, and they were a lot of fun to make. There’s one to match each of the five minigames that you encounter amidst the 70 or so main levels.
From the tentative, awkward steps of 'Eine Kleine Knight Music' which accompanies the part where a section of the castle is collapsing, to time travel to Planet Earth in the year 1995, from the falling tune right through to the drama of the trebuchet level towards the end, I’ve aimed to reflect the identity of each mini level in musical form.
Time-travel 1280
This is where knowing the game inside out (and, wherever possible, the workings of the mind of its creator) helps in knowing how far you can push things. For example, some might have opted to pay homage to medieval themes but having made the buccaneering Disposable Heroes theme, I was keen to play around with some musical styles – the level where you travel to 1995 was a no-brainer (a bit like the Heroes themselves you could say…) and gave me an opportunity to revisit the music of my 'youth', but for some reason the first time I ever saw the minecart chase I knew it had to have a hillbilly bluegrass tune. That was quite a challenge to make, given that I neither own nor play the banjo (it’s one of those instruments that digital audio never seems quite to be able to replicate in as authentic a manner as I would like), but I think I got away with it.
The game launches in Early Access on 1 October so there's a little more to do yet but it's an exciting time - I hope you enjoy the game and I hope that the soundtrack provides a fitting accompaniment to the wacky world of the Disposable Heroes.
You can find David Burrows on Twitter @davidfburrows
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David F Burrows
Composes music for videogames. Dabbles in topiary. Frequently mistaken for Doctor Who.