I’m not exactly a professional music-maker, but I do like fish and chips. This is Chiptune Chaos, and I wanted to have a quick run-down of the four pieces I posted last time. If you remember, CC is to be my attempt to create a video game soundtrack, not for any particular reason but because I just want to… do that thing. I have dabbled in the area once before, having composed four pieces for a game called Michelle, Ma Belle that never went anywhere, but it was a fun experience anyway. I figured it would be worth chatting about those pieces in an effort to establish what sort of article I’d like Chiptune Chaos to be; with any luck, there’ll soon be new tracks to talk about, but since I’ve got a bit of a backlog it seems to make sense to use it!
Michelle, Ma Belle was a platforming game about a young girl who, for reasons I can’t fully remember, travelled to four regions each controlled by a totem animal spirit. There was the Mole’s Cave, the Rabbit’s Desert, Mantis’ Forest and… something else. Plains, I think. Anyway, in each region, the girl – Michelle – would make her way through a standard sort of platforming environment, assisted by the ghost of her mother – referred to as ‘Ma Belle’ – and eventually reach its guardian animal, at which point she would have to fight them. Defeating a totem would grant her a certain ability; think Mega Man absorbing bosses’ powers. Once she’d beaten the Rabbit, she could jump higher. That sort of thing. Also, she’d free them from the dark control of evil stuff, thus returning the spirit and their land to light and excellence, so that’s a bonus.
Anyway, the team developing MMB was a mishmash of misfits, so creative duties were divided in a fairly haphazard sort of way. We all just picked a thing we wanted to work on and… did it. I decided that I’d have a bash at writing a few tunes for the soundtrack: background music for the cave and desert areas, and a boss theme.
Big Mole, also known as Mole’s Cave, is, as you might expect, the track I wrote to be the background music for the cave areas. The concept behind the Mole was that he was, when not possessed by darkness and evil and whatnot, a friendly sort of guy. A bit shy, maybe, hence the cave, but a pretty bouncy and happy dude. As such, I started out with a bouncy rhythm in the bass line and went from there. I actually think I might have overdone it, to be honest; to me, it now sounds more like something that would be suited to a creature that lives out in the fresh air, frolicking in long grass or something. It’s a really simple chord sequence; there are no accidentals in Big Mole, and it pretty much sticks to I, IV, V and VI. It’s in D major, for those interested, so most of the bass is as simple as G – B – A and the occasional G – A – D. Just to make it a bit more fun, I made the electric piano chords a little bit weirder than just straight up major/ minor chords; I can’t honestly remember exactly what I did, but I think there are some suspended seconds and fourths in there.
The melody is usually the bit I find hardest, and that was true with Big Mole too. I sort of just picked a rhythm to stay fairly constant through the phrases and then stuck notes in it until I found something I liked. Once I had the first couple of bars, it got easier, and it was much easier adding the harmony that comes in about halfway through. I’ve done something similar on a couple of pieces, just to add a bit of interest: write a few bars, then copy-paste the whole lot to repeat again but add in an extra line of harmony or an additional instrument or something just to hide the fact that all I’ve done is have the exact same thing over again. The harmony line wasn’t too hard to come up with; I just followed the rough rhythm of the melody, looked at what note the melody was on and picked a different note from the chord for the harmony. Sorted.
I do still quite like Big Mole. Simple, but I think it would work as some sort of overworld theme in a very happy kids’ game about flowers and rainbows.
Desert V1 and Desert V2 are actually nothing alike. They’re not upgraded versions of the same track, but completely separate tracks. V2 was written because I didn’t think V1 was deserty enough, so V1 got completely scrapped as far as desert themes go. There was still the possibility of using it for something else down the line, of course.
V1 is, I’ll admit, not at all desert-like. It’s more suited to a cave or some other underground lair, if anything. It pulls a similar trick to Big Mole by repeating the same thing twice (in fact, I think all of these four might do that – to be fair, background music needs to be able to loop as long as necessary), adding a melody line on the second run through. There’s no real melody at all on the first go, just a bass line that tries to double as a melody. I’m not sure it was successful at that; I wanted to put some focus on the bass, but I think there were probably better ways of doing it than going ‘LET’S HAVE ONLY BASS AND SOME CHORDS AND NAUGHT ELSE’. I do still quite like the bass line, though it does give up after a few bars by ceasing the jaunty swing and just being standard as heck. I think I ran out of ways to make it fancy, since all it was really doing was going between first and fifth notes of the chord in a slightly jazzed-up sort of way.
V2 is definitely more desert-like, but possibly my least favourite of the four pieces. I think this is the one I had to put the most effort into creating a particular sort of sound for. See, the others are all just tunes I came up with, but this was a conscious effort to create something that sounded specific to a desert scenario, so it involved a bit of formula-following to make sure that it met that brief. For some reason, I decided that that meant it should be in A minor but with lots of G-sharps, have a constant drum beat and sound sort of… fiddly. I’ll be honest, I didn’t refer to any other music that I thought was good at being desert-like; I just picked an Arabian sort of sound and ran with it. I reckon it met the brief fairly well, since listening to it still makes me picture an Agrabah-style market with lots of scarves and pots around, but maybe that’s just because I know it’s supposed to evoke that image.
As a piece in a vacuum, not considering whether it does what it’s supposed to do in being background music for a desert stage, I don’t really like it. I think the melody is a bit weak and doesn’t build up to much, plus it basically only uses A minor and E major for the entire time.
Boss Battle is the one I had the most fun with, because I literally just clicked random notes, made it really fast and went with that. I think Flight of the Bumblebee might have been an inspiration: slow it down and it sounds nothing like the fast version, so I decided that it would be fun to see if I too could put a load of notes together and make them sound decent when played very quickly. There’s really not much of a melody to it at all, since the focus is on the crazy skitterings of the piano’s left hand; I did stick in an additional bass to try to add some focal notes among the chaos and give it some sense of having an actual chord progression, though that is basically an illusion. It is, of course, intended to be the soundtrack to fighting a major boss. I don’t think the tone fit with the rest of MMB at all, so I doubt this one would have made it in. It’s a bit too… much. Everything else is quite simple and restrained, whereas Boss Battle is the equivalent of just throwing a handful of bouncy balls down on a keyboard and seeing what happens. Surprisingly enough, I think it did actually work out. I’d like to have added a breakdown sort of section, a few bars that slow the pace and hit some beats hard before building it back up, since as it stands the whole piece never really catches a breath. I also don’t necessarily think the section that decides to change into a major key apropos of nothing works at all, at least not as an ending. I’d perhaps leave it in there in some form, but bring it back before the end rather than just letting it crash into a wall and end suddenly.
And that’s my portfolio of video game music so far! I haven’t found the time to get stuck into writing new stuff just yet, but as soon as I’ve got something I’ll be posting a link here and discussing how I wrote it and whether I think it works or not. It’s a bit like what I did in GCSE Music, to be honest: write track, submit essay commenting on what I think I did well and what… not so well. Or, if you’re me, just submit an essay with the word ‘ONKEY’ in bold writing at the top. I still have absolutely no idea how that happened.