All art used in this entry is by shunao! This entry ended up longer than planned. Scroll down to TLDR for true post mortem.
"yeah we dont know how big it will be but we're also not gonna try to make anything huge when it's only a two-day event lol!"
On Tuesday, Lyn (shunao), a long time friend and collaborator hit me up on discord to see if I wanted to participate in a game jam. I'm always down to work with Lyn (pretty much no matter what), and said yes without a second thought. Our third team member, Thernz, was an acquaintance I had met briefly once before at an anime convention a while back, so I was really excited for the chance to work with them and get to know them better!
The Ludem Dare was to take place that weekend, and I knew that on Friday I'd be flying up to the Bay Area to speak at a conference on Saturday. Oh well, guess it'll be one of those weekends. My first question for her was the scope of the project - I didn't want to do the team a disservice by delivering badly rushed assets when they could simply ask another audio person to focus all of their time and energy on the project. But when Lyn told me an estimate of around 3-5 tracks, I figured I could do it and pull in additional help from friends if need be. It's just a game jam, but I always want to deliver the best that I can. She told me she'd add me to a group chat with our other team member Thernz come Thursday or Friday when the official theme for the jam had been selected.
Shout out to my roommate David for driving me to the airport at 4AM. He a real one. That's really all this paragraph is for.
At around 6PM, Lyn invited me to the team chat with Thernz. The theme had been announced as "Your life is currency". The two of them spit-balled ideas, meanwhile I was off watching Endgame with my dad and trying not to fall asleep. As soon as the movie was over, I opened my phone to check all the updates I had been missing, and was starting to brainstorm ideas for the audio. Based on the sketches and the gameplay mechanics, I knew I wanted to take things in a Touhou direction. I also loved the spooky Halloweeny theme of it all, and knew that would be my gateway into keeping things cute.
"ill listen to some bullet hell osts n get to sketchin out themes n stuff! thinkin high energy boopyboops with spoopyspooks"
I set my task list to be tracks for the title screen, game over, a stage song, and possibly a shop theme. It was a small game, so I decided on having one motif/theme for the whole game, with different instrumentation and arrangements for each respective part of the game.
In retrospect, I think this was one of the choices I made that was very successful. Knowing and planning the scope of my responsibilities from the very beginning helped in determining how long to work on each task. It also helped having such solid team members knowing the exact mechanics and specific levels we were shooting for, so that I could figure out how to tie them all together from day one.
For most of the day, I was at a conference for women in the music business. I gave a talk with fellow colleague, Angelica Garde-Advincula, on music in the game industry from aspects of the business development, to non-linear composition, to implementation.
After around 4PM, I checked in on the group chat to see what I had missed - I really can't emphasize enough how amazing and efficient these two are at getting things done. Lots of progress had been made, and I got straight to finishing up my first sketch of the stage theme. It was the most important track as it included the main gameplay, so I knew I was going to spend just a bit more time on it than the other tracks.
At around 7PM, I checked in regarding the direction of the stage theme for the first time.
"hey i'm going in a metaly direction i hope that's ok? like touhou metal inspo... i just thought the juxtaposition between cute af vampies vs HIGH OCTANE GTRS would be funny"
First sketch of stage theme
I couldn't have asked for a kinder response from the two of them. big wow.
Why did I wait until Saturday night to mention the specifics of my stylistic ideas when I had kind of decided on them Friday night?
Sometimes, you have an idea you're 99% sure will really, really work. But sometimes, it's hard to convey that idea in a way that will truly read coherently to the rest of the team, so I like to wait until I have a relatively solid sketch to make my point. Another crucial factor of this decision was my history of working with Lyn - I know her musical tastes and game design influences hehe... I know this play is a bit risky sometimes, so in the future I will continue to gauge the circumstances and come clean with my ideas depending on the dynamic of the team.
Luckily, they really liked the track I wrote for the stage theme. Success! After that, I quickly whipped up a goofy game over track and they liked the contrast.
"i can definitely see this playing as the shopkeep gf is patting mc's head while she passes out" - Lyn
First/final draft of game over theme
After arriving back in LA from a 7AM flight =_= and taking a quick power nap, I got right to figuring out my game plan for the day. Title and shop themes, and maybe getting started on some SFX and VO.
Art and programming was looking great, Thernz and Lyn were smashing it. I kept up with the latest builds Thernz was pushing and made sure audio was cohesive with the visuals and mechanics of game. Lyn posted her visual sketch for the shop.
"i'm torn between going wii shop, super spy, hip hop, or elegant harpsichord for the shop...MEDUKA"
I felt like I had a couple of different routes I could take based on the visuals of our lovely shopkeeper. They were sassy, stylish, and mysterious, so I wasn't sure which direction to take at first. After playing with some new instruments and seeing the final character design, I took it in a really quirky spooky route, and decided to throw some alien vibes in with the Theremin-like instrument. Worked for the team!
First draft of shopkeep theme
"i think it fits tbh cause shopkeep is a mystery" - Lyn
After that, I sketched up and sent along a title theme that I wasn't really happy with, but knew I was wasting too much time on. I gave Thernz a loop form of it just to get the system built and implemented into the game.
I can't lie, I was starting to feel the effects of sleep deprivation after this point. I wish I had had more energy to rewrite the title theme or work on some SFX or VO, but I watched Game of Thrones and took a nap. I woke up later that evening and cleaned up the tracks, printing .ogg loop forms of the stage, shop, and game over themes.
In retrospect, this is something that could and should have been done in the same session as writing the tracks. It wouldn't have taken much time at all, and I always find that making loops of tracks immediately after writing them is the best policy.
First draft of title theme
Today would be focused on SFX, VO, and hopefully, rewriting the title theme. I really wasn't a fan of that first version.
After discussing details with Lyn and Thernz, I made a list of all of the SFX I had to make - this was another thing in retrospect I learned from - this list should have happened Friday night. I had a rough idea, but writing assets down helps you realize exactly how much you have to do. I like to list my tasks from most to least time consuming, while also taking into consideration highest to lowest priority, as well as bang for your buck assets. For example -
I quickly whipped up the SFX and sent them along. SFX are not my strong suit so I took a little longer than necessary; I'm a composer at heart, but I wanted to give sound design a shot. (It was a game jame after all.) I grabbed and played through latest build taking notes of sounds I had missed, and quickly made and sent those along.
It was time to pretend to be a voice actor. I went into the closet, tried my best anime voices, and sat back down in Pro Tools to clean everything up. I was super embaressed on the outcome of them, but I tried my best. We could cut anything that was awful, haha. I zipped all of those files up and sent them along to the team.
My two favorite lines of VO for our lovely shopkeeper
There was still time to redo the title theme!!!!!!!! WIN!!!!
This time, I started from scratch and just wrote the track in about 15 minutes. I didn't think about it and it turned out way better than the first sketch. Thank goodness for autopilot composer brain. Pretty sure we got all of those assets implemented in the nick of time, because before we knew it, we had to wrap it up.
Second and final draft of title theme
Thanks for reading! I'll be uploading the final versions of this soundtrack onto Soundcloud and Bandcamp soon.
What worked well?
I knew how long to take on a task. I put my foot down when I knew I was running in circles, and focused my efforts on something else.
Team trust was also a huge factor. We all got along very well and trusted each other's skills and instincts.
What slowed down productivity?
I didn't make an asset list for SFX or VO. I should have done this day one.
I also had a lot of prior commitments over the course of the jam - maybe I should have brought on a sound designer and VA - for a more serious project, I definitely would have.
Next time, I'll be sure to print loops immediately after printing full versions (for team approval/listening). Small but highly time conscious detail.
Thoughts on alterations to carry forth for future projects.
Establish scope of project from beginning, deciding on number of tracks/levels.
Write theme first and formost. Establish moods of each track/level.
Minimizing drawbacks Next time, I'll be sure to -
Make and share asset lists with keynotes on a google sheet with the team. Sounds tedious, but it'll save a conversation(= time).
AB the levels of all of the SFX and VO. Things are unbalanced and it would have taken 1 minute to just check levels.
Put an EQ on the master and notch the problematic ranges to at least give some semblance of mix. I know this seems to be kind of looked down upon? But something would have been better than nothing. I also noticed that Game Maker adds a weird filter and/or intense compression to the audio, so I'll take that into consideration the next time I work with this engine.
I'm so grateful to have participated in this jam with Thernz and Lyn, thank you for inviting me to be a part of your team! Looking forward to our next collaboration! :)