As you hopefully know, because I won’t shut the hell up about it, Gunpoint is out. You can grab it here for Steam and Humble, and get the soundtrack here or here! The crunch period of making everything ready for launch combined with heading back to the blasted, frozen wastes of Minnesota for a wedding also means that Microjam went on a little hiatus for a while. It’ll be back next week!
This week though, I wanted to take a little time to talk about my experiences working on this game’s soundtrack. It’s been about two years since I started on it and I really learned a lot from it.
Is It Done Yet?
Let me clarify; it’s been two years since I started working on music for this game, but I have not been working on the Gunpoint OST exclusively the whole time. There has been music for other (yet unreleased) games, collaborative projects with other musicians, some personal projects I’m making, and a lot of other stuff. So why did it take me two years to finish it?
Because I kept going back to it. One of the major things I learned writing for this game was that composers need to know when something is done. I’d finish a track draft, send it in, do the revisions and get everything to the point where Tom Francis, the game’s developer, was happy with it. But a few months down the line, I’d get better instrument samples and decide that maybe I needed to rewrite that horn part using my new tech. Or I’d learn a new mixing trick and then spend hours reworking the piano parts in three different tracks to try to make them clearer. Or I’d play one of the finished tracks on a speaker set up I hadn’t tried before, get paranoid that the quality wasn’t great, and then spend a few nights tweaking the EQ.
Polishing and perfecting anything right up until the last minute can be a good thing, but I think a problem a lot of artists have is knowing when to firmly say that a work is completely done and move on, without looking back. That was definitely the case with me here, and while I think a lot of my music for this game is better because of it, I think I’ll be a lot more discerning about when to go back and mess with “finished” tracks and when to leave things be next time around.
Could that sound any more like an after school special tagline? No. Does it help if you read it in Keith David‘s voice? A little.
When I auditioned to write the music for Gunpoint, which consisted of adding music to a sound-effects-only gameplay trailer Tom had released, my first impulse was the one I eventually went with; go jazz-era noir with it, keep it simple, and add in some slight electronic elements to play off the fact that the game takes place in a stylish, high-tech future. My 2nd-through-20th impulses, though, included everything from Blade-Runner style 80s synths to dubstep. I kept thinking “Everyone who submits an audition is going to go the jazz route! What if I’m not being different enough? What if what’ll really work is something way outside the box?”
And in many cases, that’s exactly what works. Tons of games have soundtracks that don’t quite seem like a natural fit for the story or visuals, but then become more endearing because of it. But in the end, I went with my first angle, the one that I felt fit the best anyway, and wound up with the job, even though I personally felt there were many submissions better than mine. Which meant I got to write the rest of the music in the style that I thought was the most organic. If you approach something like this genuinely, rather than trying to force it, you might not always get the job, but when you do, it’s totally worth it.
On My Co-Composers.
John Robert Matz wrote Gunpoint’s awesomely-noir main theme, and Francisco Cerda composed the gorgeously sad upgrade menu music. I don’t have anything else to say about these guys other than that I thought they were amazing well before we got the chance to work together, and I still kind of can’t believe I’m on the same album as them.
On The Artists
John Robert (Not to be confused with John Robert Matz above–apparently the Matz suffix changes people from visual nerds into audio nerds) did the fantastic pixel art for the game, while Fabian van Dommelen did the incredibly moody backgrounds. Speaking as someone with a court order preventing him from doodling in the margins of notebooks because “a passerby might inadvertently see what you’ve done and contract glaucoma,” I’m just impressed that the things they drew look like what they look like. The fact that they’re stylish and awesome and really help set the tone of the game is just an impressive bonus in my book.
On The Developer
Tom Francis is what happens when the government creates a cyborg who’s express purpose is to make all regular humans come off as lazy, untalented assholes. He worked on Gunpoint for three years while maintaining a full time job as a staff writer for PC Gamer . He did all the writing, coding, gameplay conceptualization, and press related stuff himself. He’s ridiculously dedicated to making games that will form communities, and that people will support not because of trickery or fine print, but because they’re awesome. Here, see for yourself.
Speaking from a composer’s standpoint, Tom is an amazing person to write for because he knows what he wants, but he trusts the musicians to give it to him. Actually that’s pretty much a dream scenario for any independent contractor, I’d imagine.
Oh, You Guys, Stop
Lastly, I really, really want to thank everyone reading this for being so supportive, from my audition through launch day and beyond. This is the first game to release with my work on it, so I’m just happy it’s out and, hopefully, my work in it is not a complete disaster. Having Penny Arcade, which I’ve been reading since middle school, do a comic about us is ridiculous. Hitting number one on Steam at launch is downright ludicrous. But my favorite part has been the feedback on the soundtrack. You guys have no right to be this nice, and I’d bake and send each of you a cake if the massive wave of food poisoning that followed wouldn’t inevitably be named “The Great Ike Bowel Purge of 2013.”
So thanks again. I should have news on my next project soon, and in the meantime I’ll be busting my ass to attempt to deserve listeners like you.