Hi, guys! My name is Juliane and I’m in charge of audio here at Cat Nigiri! Today, I brought to you some thoughts on music!
A little context…
One of the essential parts of giving consistency to an audiovisual narrative is, precisely, the audio. Because of this, several strategies for allocating a sound discourse in a fictional world have been developed over time. In the specific case of electronic games, there’s the dynamic audio feature in which sound parameters of the music track (the music itself) and the sounds that comes from interaction (sound effects of in-game events) react to specific triggers within the gameplay.
However, many games choose not to use dynamic music tracks, seeking a narrative and aesthetic consistency within the very structure of looped musical form, such as in the case of the iconic Super Metroid music track (of which I am a particular fan). It is in this compositional style on which the musical tracks of Necrosphere and Keen games are based.
On indie games with retro aesthetics it is common to resort to chiptune in tones and musical arrangements. In Necrosphere it is no different: we have a strong reference to this aesthetic that was born of musical limitations from old consoles. But this is not new in contemporary indie games; on the contrary, chiptune ends up being the commonplace of pixel art games soundtracks.
What we thought
Having said that, I do not consider Necrosphere score to be a purist example of chiptune art, nor do I intend to. On the contrary, the pretense here is to use the commonplace of this aesthetic in order to subvert it – as when, for example, we hear various synthesized hi-fi instruments (and even a sample of a Terence McKenna speech about life and death), starring in the soundtrack as much as the low resolution tones. The goal was to create a musical discourse that’s independent from gameplay but that yet was part of the fictional world without being redundant, and trying to always bring some element that added to the enjoyment of the player.
Necrosphere is not an easy game. It is exhausting, so to speak. But after you try, die, try, die, try again … you end up noticing things that go beyond gameplay. In carefully placed details, contrasts and nuances; in the references of films, series, philosophy and existentialist questions. After all, a game is essentially a way of expressing and reinterpreting our lives, our realities. The speech of Terence McKenna (writer, orator, philosopher, ethnobotanist, psychonaut, and art historian) comes in handy when it comes amidst the slow, melancholic music of the purple region – music that by itself is already a stark contrast with the rest of the score. He says:
“I often like to think that our map of the world is so wrong that where we have centered physics, we should actually place literature as the central metaphor that we want to work out from. Because I think literature occupies the same relationship to life that life occupies to death. In the sense that a book is life with one dimension pulled out of it. And life is something which lacks a dimension which death will give it. I imagine death to be a kind of release into the imagination in the sense that, for characters in a book, what we experience is an unimaginable degree of freedom”
Necrosphere being where you go when you die – and you’re not dead or alive! – we can say that this unknown place is literature, the imagination that McKenna uses as an analogy. Literature, Dream, Imagination, Death, Necrosphere. Several words to describe a single concept.
It is also important to note that not all songs were originally composed for the game: on the soundtrack, tracks 4 (They Live – Green Theme), 7 (Let’s Rock – Inner Seal Theme) and 8 (Istanistan – Ending Theme) were composed by the game creator and designer Caio Lopez, at different times long before Necrosphere was born, each tone being rearranged to match the aesthetics proposed throughout the game.
When looking at Keen, which is currently being developed, we have a mixture of very different instruments and intentions from Necrosphere. Keen’s music is inspired by and make references to Japanese Studio Ghibli’s animations soundtracks, made by Joe Hisaishi’s, mixed with traditional Japanese music, and also soundtracks from movies set in modern Tokyo, filled with neon signs such as Enter the Void alongside with elements of counterculture and electronic music and synth pop.
In terms of tones, instruments such as flute and glockenspiel (or “shiny”, as I usually call it) were used to represent the childish aspect of the main character; Virtual instruments such as guitar, bass, drums and saxophone to contrast with elements of progressive rock, jazz and film noir, as well as various synthesized tones inspired by the universe of super-technological cities like Tokyo.
The main point is to gather all these references so that all the intentions of the game are clear – contrasting, but not divergent. The goal is to portray the fantastic universe in which Kim, the main character, lives. The weight of having to deal with the responsibility that is to save her village but at the same time the lightness, playfulness and, even the onirism of skating your rollers while facing bad characters in a place full of colors, lights and sounds.
That’s it for today, guys! Hope you like it and for everyone that feels like listening to some Necrosphere tracks, don’t even blink: