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Jetboard Joust Devlog #58 – Music, Maestro!

Well, the background music’s finally done and it’s taken what seems to be an indeterminable amount of time.

It’s partly because I had to put a proposal together for some contract work in the middle of it – which made the process seem to drag on longer than it should, but also because I decided I had to sort out the ridiculous mess of cabling (of various varieties) that had overtaken my studio and was making it difficult to work. Each of those tasks took at least two days.

I guess 8.5 days total dev time isn’t too bad for the amount of background audio that’s in there but, even accounting for the aforementioned increased in elapsed time, it still seems to have been a rather lengthy and unnecessarily painful process. Here’s how it went down (and sorry for the crackling in some of this audio – seems to be problem with running Windows on a Mac)…

1. Main Theme
I knew from the get go that I was going to utilise the same approach for the background music that I had for the in-game FX, ie all analog synths for the sounds and as few software plug-ins as possible when mixing. I needed to have a rough idea of the style of music I was going for though so started by playing the game alongside a few different tracks to see what worked best. I tried a number of different electronic artists, eventually settling on the ‘Detrimentalist’ album by Venetian Snares as my favourite, with particular reference to the tracks ‘Kyokushin’ and ‘Bebikukorica Nigiri’, the latter featuring a bunch of ‘chiptune’ type sounds which seemed particularly appropriate.

Once I had a general ‘vibe’ in mind I started creating some drum patches and banging out some beats on The DSI Tempest trying to get something that worked, using a combo of the Moog Sub 37 and Mother 32 for bass and lead duties. As often as possible I’d try and listen to what I was creating alongside a recording of the in-game fx so I could try and create sounds that weren’t going to mask and/or fight against each other to much. I found this pretty difficult to be honest.

After about a day I had a simple loop that I was generally happy with and began to work up some variations on it. I probably spent a couple of days playing around with different variations, whilst running into various technical difficulties syncing up all my gear in the process (ah – the joys of MIDI and analog)!

Then I started trying to combine all these variations into a single cohesive piece of music and this is where I started to run into problems. It didn’t work. I think this was partly because my variations were all too different and didn’t ‘flow’ together, and partly because I was trying too hard (and with too little talent) to ape Venetian Snares and the result was too full-on and tuneless.

I was getting pretty frustrated by this point. Four days in and I still didn’t have anything resembling a main theme. Then I remembered a piece of music I’d written ages ago for a J2ME game called ‘Battle Snake’ that I had always been rather fond of. I decided to dust this off and see if it would work for Jetboard Joust – fortunately it seemed like it might!

The (as it stands) final theme is a mash-up of ‘Battle Snake’ (with new sounds) and some of the variations I originally created for ‘Jetboard Joust’. I’m still not entirely happy with all the sounds here, particularly some of the more distorted ‘guitary’ type synth sounds which seem to conflict too much with the in-game fx. I may well replace these with something less harmonically rich.

Thankfully I could also use some of my original variations for the other sections of game audio so that time wasn’t entirely wasted…

2. Baiter Theme
The player has approximately two minutes and twenty seconds to complete each level in Jetboard Joust before the pace is upped and the ‘Bastard’ enemies (equivalent to the Baiters in Defender) start to attack. I thought my original (rather full-on) loop would work better for this section of the game and so created a separate piece of music for this that’s more ‘high-tension’.

3. Lost Life / Level Complete
These are short sections based on the repeated section of ‘Battle Snake’ that now forms the ‘hook’ of the main theme. An ascending progression for ‘level complete’ and a descending progression for ‘lost life’.

4. Planet Ambience
OK so this isn’t a piece of music as such but I wanted some kind of background audio during the ‘quiet’ periods of the game such as at the start of each level before enemies attack and at the end of each level once all enemies are destroyed. I’ve gone for a sort of retro sci-fi spooky ambience here with analog wind effects and vintage ‘sample and hold’ type noises that trigger seemingly randomly. I also added a weird interference loop which was the sound of some of my gear accidentally wired up incorrectly that I kind of liked. I think the planet ambience gives a nice contrast to the more full-on background music.

5. Upgrade Theme
One of the variations on my original theme was a type of minimal ‘spooky’ loop with bell-like synth effects and a lot of vintage delay. In the end this didn’t work as part of the main theme (it was too downbeat) but it seemed to work really well over the upgrade screens. I also added the wind noises from the planet ambience in here too.

6. Title Theme
I quite liked this being underplayed as well so stuck to just using the ‘planet ambience’ here with a bunch of samples of the ‘bell’ sounds from the ‘upgrade theme’ triggered randomly (all part of the same minor scale though so not entirely random). Again this has a kind of ‘vintage sci-fi’ feel which I liked. I also added spot fx for ui actions on the menu.

Now that I’ve written all that up it seems like rather a lot of work so I don’t feel quite so bad about it taking eight days or so to complete – bearing in mind I had to code all these into the game as well and managed to fix a couple of other bugs whilst I was at it. I’m bloody glad to be moving on from it though…

Dev Time: 8.5 days
Total Dev Time: approx 109 days

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And This Is After I Sorted Things Out…

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The Original Loop – Way Too Loud For The FX!

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Main Theme – Jetboard Joust / Battle Snake Mash Up

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The Baiter Theme – High Tension Using Original Loop

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Upgrade Theme – Minimal And Spooky

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Main Menu And Planet Ambience
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