This is a 'part 2' of sorts, written by Ghosty.
So as I recall, it was late fall of 2015, and I had just set up a DAW on my desktop for the first time. I was poking away making a tune just to test and to see how the process works. I sent it off to Polly and soon she says she "has to use me for a videogame soundtrack", and I went "Sure, that sounds cool!". A number of months later she says she's started on a game. She has me read the design document - this sounds like fun! She'd like to talk about what she's picturing in terms of vibe for the tunes, links me some NES
tunes - I forget which - but I know one was from Journey to Silius
and I have a listen. The tunes she'd picked sounded pretty sparse and atmospheric, and those were the words I used to descibe them back. So those two words became the mantra going in.
Perhaps a week or two later, she has me download the first prototype. Next thing I know she wants me to draw what the interface should look like! But I still don't really know what we're making here? I mean, we're making a silly Roguelike parody, but that's about all the concept I have. No, "draw an interface", she insists. Okay then. What followed was the purpley mock-up in the previous behind-the-scenes, and ultimately my start on this project.
Before long, she's put together the title screen, the ultimately removed-before-launch "Welcome to the this
."-screen and first floor. (Oh yeah. Screen flashes are a LOT easier than making particles. Good thinking, Polly!) So I get to work, repeating "sparse and ambient" in my head, not really knowing what I'm going to make or what's going to fit. Also, how do you make a tune that loops
?? How long should these things be? '30-45 seconds is fine!', says Polly.
I have this airy synth patch I think sounds cool, and I picture this dark drafty dungeon. Hey, atonal's got to work, right? This could be a bad Doom Metal riff if it were power chords on a downtuned guitar, but no it's a wispy airy synth patch. Pitch-shifting a shaker is also fun. For some reason it makes me think of Super Mario 64
. And there we have the first track for the game: 'Hollow Voice of the Dungeon'
. Hey, at least it fits pretty good! I couldn't get the runtime under 45-seconds though.
Soon, I have another thing going, trying to make something for the title screen. I got this cool synth chord thing, and then a couple of phrases of theremin (no, not an actual theremin). We test it with the game but it doesn't... Quite fit. So I split it to be just the big chord for the title theme, and part of the theremin part plus a noise ended up being used for the game over tune, instead. At this point, I think we're at the early alpha you could test. Polly relays me a message of Rhete saying something along the lines of "the title theme is absolutely prefect!" and I am reminded of the fact that:
1. Rhete is on this project too.
2. Other people will actually hear my tunes.
3. Oh shit, will there be expectations now?
This is were things started getting problematic
I can't seem to come up with any more tunes for a bit. So instead I'm playing Shantae
on the GameBoy Color
. Because that's a thing. It has some baller tunes! Right after I finish the game, I come back to the DAW and in short order knock out 'Dancing Shadows'
. It's got a bit more rhytm and movement to it, but it's still sparse and spooky. (And the runtime went up, but apparently that was okay.) Alright, that went well!
Unfortunately, that was not to last. Inspiration seemed to come much less often now. Still, after another month or something, I knock out 'Not Alone'
, picturing those tower dungeons in Terranigma
. I didn't actually remember what tune they used for those dungeons, so I liked to pretend I was making one to go with that game. I tried to get the feeling of solitude and all the mobs crawling around. It actually came out good! Maybe this would help turn my shaky confidence. But no. After this tune I didn't make a single song worth adding to the game for months and months despite trying countless times.
Another thing also happens when you're making the tunes for a videogame. You listen to your own songs constantly to the point that you soon start hating them. The lack of new tunes didn't help in alleviating the situation.
Early on, I'd talked to Polly and she said to please show her even half-finished things and works in progress to test with the game. But somehow, I started on a large number of tunes and never shared anything, even with Polly. Most of them were only 4-6 bars or so. But nothing felt like it fit the game. Well, I did share one half-baked tune with Polly that I liked a lot, but we both concluded it just felt a bit out-of-place. So it didn't go in, and I never finished the tune. Now that I think on it, maybe that was the fatal blow to my confidence.
At this point it's the summer of 2017. I've essentially given up on making anything for the game. After a sad day, I'm sitting at the keyboard, staring at it for a while. I haven't played any music for what feels like a long time, but sometimes when you're feeling down, just playing something is what you need. So I made a tune. Not for Polly Dungeon
, but for myself. I never get around to finishing it, and all I have is a lousy phone recording. But it felt like at least I got my feelings out in some way.
It's now the fall of 2017, still no new tunes for the game. But at least by now I've talked to Polly about all the half-finished tunes I'd been sitting on. I felt better somehow. Polly was struggling to come up with more floors, creative energy for the project was running out. We'd made the sensible desicion to cut the number of floors from 20 to 10, but we were still a floor short. Earlier in the year she'd suggested that maybe I could come up with a theme for a floor, besides the ghost floor, which went into the game eariler than this. But I never did. But suddenly now, I thought "A water level!" I drew a coral and a kelp sprite and bashed out a tune in no time! Polly was impressed! However, the food floor was essentially done and she didn't really have the energy to make another floor. Also, that meant we'd already done the 'hunger bar'
gag so doing an 'oxygen bar'
now felt pointless. Polly still wanted the tune put in the game, but I insisted it was very specifically a water level-tune and nothing but a water level-tune, so it wasn't going in the game!
Come winter, I'd bought myself a Darkjazz album that I sat digging for weeks. But it just wasn't... Jazzy enough. I needed more Jazz! I dedided I was making a tune. Not for Polly Dungeon
, just... A tune. Even if I had Polly Dungeon
in mind, to a degree. If it would fit Polly Dungeon
, then we could use it, if not then I'd just have a cool tune for myself. Thankfully, it did fit Polly Dungeon
, so I gently worked it into a loop, making loops was pretty natural by now. What came was 'Confident(ial) Trudging'
, which remains my favourite tune for the game. It really turned things around: I could do this! I could make tunes! But at the same time, how do I follow up something that good? It took a good long while before I started on any new tunes, in part because the final floor segment and the Polly boss battle weren't in the game yet, so it was hard to picture what the soundtrack should be.
By the time summer rolled around again, Polly was finishing up the game, everything seemed to be coming together - except my tunes. I had to get going! I used some leftover unused scraps from 'Fluvial Refraction'
- the water level tune - to make a tune for the treasure level. (Note that the drum and bass patches are the same.) It was thrown together hasilty. But at least it meant we had a tune for the treasure floor. I made a list of what tune should go on what floor (some had to be repeated). (This is when Polly finally convinced me to put 'Fluvial Refraction'
in the game.) Before this the floor tunes would just start counting from one again, once we ran out of tunes. Polly wanted to test using one of my scrap tunes for the walk-up sequence on the final floor. It worked well - so all I did was chop it down to size. Around now is when the Beta happened. I forget if the Beta had the scrap tune unmodified or trimmed down.
The feedback from the Beta was great! People really liked it! People also liked my tunes! This feedback kept trickling in while I was busy making the credits theme. I'm kind of terrible at making melodies, but with 'Confident(ial) Trudging'
I felt like I was starting to wrap my brain around it. Writing the credits theme it finally clicked, and it came together really good!
Encouraged by the feedback from the Beta and quite happy with my latest tune, I had one final challenge left. An uptempo song for the boss battle! I felt I was in my best mindset, and getting to do an uptempo song after all the downtempo ones felt really exciting. At first I'd been thinking about maybe doing something vaguely EDM - this was before I'd made the credits theme, so I had this four-on-the-floor drum loop and synth chords sitting in my project file. But EDM isn't something I'm very familiar with and I'd changed my mind about it by now. I'd been analysing tracks from Megaman X
, trying to figure out what made the best songs good, what did they have in common? What are some other rockin' videogame tunes? I saw a pattern. I went back to the DAW, found a great plugin for making electric guitar-sounding patches and tweaked it good until I had something nice and attacky, and a little synthesizer-esque. It was rockin' time - Megaman
-style! Well, vagueley anyway. It came out great (corny as it is, with the sweep picking)!
Time for release was upon us. I'd made all the tunes! I made it somehow! It was a relief. It was like a weight off my shoulders. I didn't pay much attention to what people were saying about the game now. If anything it felt strange to not be working on the game anymore. We'd been working on this thing for years! What was I going to do now? It felt a little empty.
At first, I couldn't really accept any compliments on the tunes that came in. Mostly because that's just how it is when your confidence is crap. Partly because I was really sick of the tunes and I couldn't enjoy them for myself. (I like my tunes now. I just needed some time away from them.) But for some strange reason, people kept mentioning the Polly Dungeon OST
for some time, and I finally started feeling good about making this thing.
So thank you, people out there in the intertubes! I hope fleshing out this 'making of' is of some interest. That is all.