Come as you are: With a virtual orchestra and the idea that all games deserve music.

Come as you areBy Meghann O’Neill.

Sometimes, when struggling with large-scale creative projects, you need a completely fresh perspective or a change of pace. Certainly, there’s massive value in an opportunity to compose music in divergent styles and working with a variety of game makers. So, last weekend, I hauled myself, my laptop and a bedroll to Global Game Jam, in Sydney.

It was great.

There were several other audio designers making music, too, but most were focusing on one, or just a couple, of projects and composing larger scale works. So, I made it my mission to invite as many teams as possible to have some of my music, even if my contribution to each was ultimately very small.

I contributed to seven games in total. This is how the weekend panned out.

(Oh, and by the way, the theme of the jam suited my mission perfectly; “We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.”)

John’s game was a great place to start. He wanted chase music, and piano, for a two-player fight scene. We organised it so that when one player is ahead on points you hear the left hand melody variation and when the other player pulled ahead, the right switches in. You can listen here, if you like.

Right hand variation:

Left hand variation:

Or, play it here.

Next, the guys sitting opposite me were making a shooter in which, when you’re done shooting and escaping the scene, you switch to playing the medic who then tries to save all of those lives. They wanted electronic music with harsh tone colours and rhythms for the shooter part and a more desolate soundscape for the medic. I managed to work in a subtle siren and then faded the electronic music into a heartbeat in the second part, in line with the original pulse.

Shooter variation:

Medic variation:

Play it here.

Sean’s team were making a platform-style game with three stages. The player starts in a city and is surrounded by friends who you shed by double jumping. As the group grows smaller, you find yourself in an urban environment and then a desert. They wanted jaunty jazz that turned progressively more lonely. I kept the clarinet across 3 variations for unity, referencing the same pitch and melodic material.

City variation:

Urban variation:

Desert variation:

Play it here.

Dan’s team were making a game about medieval warfare. Starting as a fearful soldier, you build your army until you’re unconquerable. (And maybe then lose them all again.) They wanted a march with Celtic drums and horns. We ended up removing the horn melodies and making them into short sound effects. (Sadly. I thought the horn melodies were probably among the best things I made during the weekend.) But we did end up with 3 simultaneously looping variations that faded in and out of each other based on the variations.

No army:

Some army:

Large army:

Tense horn variation:

Triumphant horn variation:

Play it here.

Note: This game was the runner-up for Best Game.

A group approached me next with a sidescroller featuring medieval puppets. They only needed about 30 seconds of music and it was a 2 player game, so it was relatively easy to make a simple canon.

Medieval puppet music:

Play it here.

Note: This game was awarded Best Game of Sydney’s Game Jam.

Time was running out at this point, but there were a few groups still without music. One group was making an exploration game, with puppies, and wanted something in the Disney Silly Symphonies vein. Learning important lessons about prioritizing content, I decided to strip back the orchestra to its most relevant colours; piccolo, muted trumpet, tuba and triangle. The melody is 2 bars long but I shuffled elements around to make 40 seconds. (Somehow. Go triangle solo.)

Puppy Disney: (sort of)

Play it here.

Finally, I was approached by a sole designer (I didn’t even get his name because there was an hour left) and he wanted something for his game about bugs and spiders. I basically got down some clicky, buggy sounding percussion and a harmonic pad and that was it. (The deadline is really strict.) He seemed happy to have music, nonetheless.

Bug sketch:

Play it here.

All of Sydney’s games are found here.

So, yes, Game Jam 2014 was great. I learned a lot both from other audio designers and simply by “doing it.” I think each of my pieces is solid, if not at all polished or brilliant. Like every other aspect of the games, they’re conceptual. The most enjoyable part was handing designers my laptop and headphones, and letting them listen to their music under construction. Without fail, every designer was smiling within seconds.

On my way out, I also met a producer from ABC’s Compass, who were filming the jam. She asked after my progress during the weekend and invited me to apply for a composing mentor through … actually I have no idea. I was so tired I could hardly recall my own name, let alone the name of whatever it was; an initiative linking female, Australian composers with established film composers and mentors. Hopefully, I gave her my correct email address and that she contacts me as promised.

(I should point out, the programs I used were Sibelius 7, Ableton Live 9, Garritan Personal Orchestra 4 and Vegas 7.0.)

“We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.”

I was, going into Global Game 2014, creatively tired. Coming out of it, I feel refreshed, more experienced and hopeful. It’s the kind of opportunity I’d highly recommend to anyone.

(Note: Meghann also received a special award titled, “Thinly Spread Jammer.”)

Meghann O’Neill is currently making music for a couple of independent games and working with a musical model involving seamless textual changes. She’s also a music teacher and long-time contributor to PC Powerplay magazine.