Making music with LSDJ

So the other day I ordered myself a modified Game Boy so I could make some music on it.  I got it from the excellent Game Boy Mods UK.  The one I ordered has a Pro-Sound Mod (which makes the output a bit louder and less crackly) – a new headphone jack for that, two RCA jacks out the top for super lovely sound output, a backlight (for playing in the dark) and a bivert mod (which makes the contrast a bit better.) Here it is… My Modified Game BoySo why bother making music on a shitty old 1989 original DMG Game Boy?  Well, basically because it sounds cool as fuck. Yeah you can emulate these sounds with plugins for your favourite DAW or you can use Mac/PC trackers with these sort of sounds, but you ain’t getting them to sound as nice as the real sounds coming out of the real hardware.

Also, and this is the real masochistic draw for me, you’re subject to serious limitations making tunes on a Game Boy. Without getting too techy, you’ve basically got two channels where you can have notes, one where you can have drums and one where you can have noise.

To make the music, I’m using a programme called LSDJ.  It’s basically a tracker for a Game Boy!  It also works on GBC and GBA’s.  To use the programme you’ll need to buy a license, download the rom and stick it on a flash card.  hqdefaultHere’s what LSDJ looks like.  On first look, it seems like a complete cluster-mare.  It kinda is, but as far as cluster-mares go, it makes a lot of sense.  The UI has been minimised and streamlines so it’s literally *just* what you need with no faff or guff.

If you’ve ever used a Tracker before it should make sense in about 5 minutes once you’ve got your head around the way it breaks down patterns into chains. It’s really good fun to make tunes on LSDJ and if you have a Game Boy and a musical osscicle I’d really recommend this approach to making tunes.  The massive limitations pushes you to be really cunning on how you fill out the sound scape, and having those authentic sounds you grew up with dancing to your own tune feels extremely satisfying.

Here’s a tune I made after owning the device for a week.  I have called it ‘Pickled Egg’ because when I finished it I fancied a pickled egg.

I’m looking forward to learning how to use it better: next mission is to work out how to get a phat kick drum so I can make the music for the Hyper Space Arcade bonus game in my next game ‘Wing Kings’.

That’s it for now, until next time chums!

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The Making Of: The DRM Soundtrack

Hello, chums!

So for the last five or so months, Me and Jenny have been writing some original synth-wave music for Rob Fearon’s upcoming PS4, PSVita (and probably other formats) abstract arcade arena shooter called Death Ray Manta.  No one knows just yet what exactly what Rob has up his bizarro sleeve – but what we can tell you is that he’s making what could be the world’s first synth-pop videogame.

First, a bit of background:

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Jenny and Me

Jenny has been making music for a long time now, having established herself as a one-woman synth pop goliath ‘Jenny And The Giants’.  She released an EP not long ago which was met with great critical acclaim and admiration.

I’ve been making blippy bloop beep videogame music for a while myself under the moniker of Barry Island.

When Jenny and I discovered each other we found ourselves very much enjoying each other’s music and decided to collaborate together on a cover of La Bionda’s 1982 song ‘I Wanna Be Your Lover’

This cover version went down quite well, getting airplay on Resonance FM’s ‘One Life Left‘ podcast.

We enjoyed the experience of working together so much we thought, you know, let’s keep doing it!  All we needed was an outlet…

A Fish Like No Other

Having worked with Rob before, knowing what he likes and what would suit his game, we made a proposal, had a chat and agreed to dedicate the next few months writing a concept album for him and his friend Andy White to accompany their revisiting of Death Ray Manta for Sony platforms.

Between us, we used a variety of music creation softwares to get to work on this album.  We wanted a synth-wave vibe, we wanted electo-pop music.  We also wanted to tell the story of a girl who falls in love with a laser firing space-dwelling fish.

I tend to make music using tracker software.  Jenny tends to make music using Logic.  Luckily, our mutual output managed to combine in just the way we’d hoped.  With Jenny’s production skills, sophisticated song writing ability and floaty spacey voice – combined with my unmistakably videogame influenced output – it wasn’t long before we had seven tracks we were all really pleased with.

Writing the music was incredibly fun.  It’s impossible to not enjoy yourself when you’re writing fast, quirky and cool pop music. The tracks are a mixture of my tracker music with Jen’s vocal accompaniment, Jen’s own creations and direct 50/50 combinations of our two techniques.

Mastering

With the album’s content finished in February 2015, next up was mastering.  We found a studio in Bristol that specialised in synthy stuff (and also was within our meagre budget!).  It was mental.  Speakers and vintage synths everywhere.  Mastering is something I don’t know a lot about, so I learned a lot during the process.

Mastering is a much more arduous process compared to the rapid satisfaction of thinking of a melody, arranging and recording it.  It’s all about new stuff I’ve never come across like stopping funny resonance things and dynamic volume levels on parts.  Listening to the same 10 second loop over and over looking for ways to make it sound better.  For all its Guantanamo Bay style psychologically draining qualities, the moment you listen back to the finished track in all its glory its worth all the torture and more!

The Mastering Studio

The Mastering Studio

One of the unexpected bonuses of using this studio was that we were able to increase the authenticity of the synth-wave vibe of the music by replacing some of our midi tracks in Logic with actual vintage synths.  Check out some of these brutes we’ve used:

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I’m not entirely sure what these synths are called.  One’s called the Jupiter something, I know that.  I’ve never been very knowledgeable about hardware.  I’m more of a notes man.  But boy did they look and sound cool!  Using real, authentic era synths instead of synth VSTs added a layer of quality that we are incredibly grateful for.

One synth even had cartridges with FM sounds on.  You can’t beat an FM slap bass!

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Another amazing thing about mastering in a properly kitted out studio is we got to make sure it’ll sound great on all sizes of speakers.  We tried it on shoulder height beasts, palm sized babies and everywhere in between.  The game should sound equally as good on a Vita, a 14inch TV, a home cinema system, headphones or even a car stereo!

What’s Next?

So with the soundtrack now essentially complete save for a couple more sessions in the studio to polish a bit here and there, we’re sitting back and basking in the glory of it all.  And it is quite glorious.

We’ll not release the album until the game is out, but when we do it will be on iTunes, Spotify, Bandcamp, the PSN store and as many other outlets as we can.  We are also doing a limited run of 50 physical CD’s, but more on that closer to the time.

Another really quite splendid thing about the soundtrack album is that the album artwork was created by games industry legend Ste Pickford who’s games I have personally enjoyed for many years (I spent many, many hours playing Wetrix on the N64).  He’s also a lovely guy with a lovely beard.  It’s an absolute honour to have his artwork adorn the album sleeve.

As I write this, we don’t know when the game will be released, but that’s cool because game development shouldn’t be led by release dates.  Things are finished when they’re finished, and if anyone knows how to make a synth-pop abstract arcade arena shooter it’s Rob 🙂

But when the game and its soundtrack is out, we’ll be sure to let you know!

In the mean time, I’ll be going back to making video games and my usual stuff.  But if anyone reading this enjoyed the preview tracks and needs any music for their game, feel free to drop us a line!

Oh yeah, one last thing, this cat also helped master the album.  Her name is Jazz, short for Jasmin.  She’s really old and very sweet.  We call her CATBOT 3000

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CATBOT 3000

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Update May 2015

Hello!  So it’s been a long time since I’ve updated this blog.  Over a year!  Bla bla should try and do it more often.

So a whole lot has changed since the last update!  Achieved a whole lot and done some ace projects with some new ones on the horizon. Anyway, less chat more updatez!

Don’t Die, Mr. Robot!

This was finally released in North America on 4th November 2014, and 5th November 2014 in the EU.  Fireworks night no less!  Quite fitting.  Here’s the launch trailer:

Avoid Droid ended up being called Don’t Die, Mr. Robot.  That’s because Lucasfilm have a trademark on the word ‘Droid’ which apparently they vigorously enforce.  We didn’t fancy that so we changed the name.  Actually, it was our pal Rob Fearon who came up with the name, so cheers mate!

It did well!  Currently at at a metacritic score of 77 

It got load of awesome reviews which you can read about here on the ISG blog:

http://infinitestategames.com/2015/03/10/do-buy-mr-robot-reviews-roundup/

DDMR was the biggest release of our independent career so far, so it’s quite a big deal for us to have finished it, got it out the door and well received by critics and players alike.  Plainly speaking – we did a great job considering no budget!

Oh, and one more bit of DDMR news – we’re working with an awesome, excellent man to bring Don’t Die to PS4! Yeah! PS4 BABY!

DRM: Vita

I’m now working on the soundtrack to Rob Fearon’s Death Ray Manta for PSVita and PS4. It’s a musical collaboration with the very talented Bristol based singer and musician Jenny Ramage under the banner of ‘Jenny and the Giants’.  This is quite an interesting project because it’s the sound track for a game, but also a concept album of catchy electropop songs which tells the story of a girl who’s fell in love with a sentient, omniscient space fish which fires lasers from its head.

The game is due out at the end of 2015.  At the time of writing this blog, we’re just mixing down all the tracks.  Next week we’re off to the studio to master them, so I’ll probably try and blog about that part of the process because it’s interesting!

Frutorious HD

Remember Frutorious? Don’t worry, no one else does either.  However, we do!  During the last 2 years while doing all our other stuff, we’ve been quietly and slowly working on the ultimate edition of Frutorious.  We’ve fixed all the shitty levels, we’ve put in a new guide line to help you aim – and we’ve given the whole game an HD overhaul upping the quality of the graphics.

It’s playing great, it’s looking great, and when we’ve got a bit of spare time we’ll release it!  But only when it’s the right time.  One does not simply ‘ship’ a game like Frutorious HD.

Here’s some video of it running –

Wing Kings

Oh yeah!  On top of all that, we’re making a new game over at ISG!

Wing Kings is an air combat dog fightin’ roguelike. We’re developing it for PSVita and PS4 for release in North American and Europe (sorry, Japan!)

We’ve hired an artist for this one too (WOWZERS!) He’s an industry veteran who may have worked on some of your favourite games, who knows! Check out this hot mock up…

We’re currently prototyping, and already dogfighting is tense and explosive, while landing is nailbiting and exhilarating.  So far so good!

Here’s a Vine of our current prototype we’re using to tweak the flight model

And that’s it!  Loads of great stuff going on, and personal satisfaction levels at an all time high – for which I must thank Jenny and Charlie for being my two sources of joy, productivity and inspiration.  And thanks, yourself, for reading about my things wot I’m doing!

See you next time!

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Update April 2014

Here’s what I’ve been up to lately!

TxK

So the entire reason I wanted to make games was a chap called Jeff Minter. My first Minter game was Gridrunner for the Atari 65XE. Then Attack of the Mutant Camels. Even as an eight year old, his games stood out as being by far the most intense, imaginative and coolest. So when the opportunity to do a tune for his PSVita game ‘TxK’ came around, I was on it like a rat up a drainpipe.

Here’s the whole album on Bandcamp. Mine’s called ‘Gin Swigger’.

Avoid Droid OST EP

I’ve also completely finished the Avoid Droid soundtrack EP!  You can download it for free or pay what you want here:

Pocket Gamer Avoid Droid coverage & Interview

Pocket Gamer came round to the old ISG design labs to play the game!  They had a good time, as did we.  You can read the preview they wrote here: http://www.pocketgamer.co.uk/r/PS+Vita/Avoid+Droid/news.asp?c=58332

I also did a little interview with PocketGamer.biz about making games with zero budget and winging it.  You can see it here:

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Grillage – the Division Cell OST

So Division Cell is out! You can download it here for iOS or here for Android. It’s brilliant and well worth the money. An amazingly original mind bending puzzler with infinite replay value. Can’t say fairer than that.  We’re very proud indeed to have created the audio for such a fantastic game.

So down at The Audio Grill, David and I have put all the music from the game to listen to or download via Bandcamp. The entire album is only £1!

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Update November 2013

SO! What’s goin’ down just now? Well things are ticking along nicely.  Let’s do a quick update on where everything is:

Avoid Droid

So working on Avoid Droid for Sony has been just about the best experience we’ve ever had working in conjunction with a corporation ever.  They have given us the most important things that anyone can give a developer:

-1 Hardware.

Devkit? Have two! One each! Amazing.  Pride of place in both me and Charlie’s workstations (dining tables).

-2 Freedom

We are not being hounded One. Bit. Like, for anything.  At the start there was some feedback on the prototype they’d seen which was extremely positive but had a few suggestions from the game consultant who assessed it.  We took a lot of the suggestions on board because they were great, but some things we were reluctant to change because it didn’t fit with our finished creative vision of the game.  And that was totally absolutely cool with them.  God, we love Sony.

-3 Empathy

They understand that we gotta do what we gotta do, and it’s gonna be different from the way most companies do it.  They know we aren’t a company with an office and 9-5 working hours and they *understand*.  We’ve had Skype calls when sensible people should really be in their jimmy jammers cos it’s the only time we could make it.  Nary a raised eyebrow!

So here’s where we’re at just now…

So yeah, we’re really happy.  And happy devs are productive devs!  We now have the game ported to Vita, so we’re now on to the ‘mystery’ bit of messing around with shaders and gameplay tweaks to make it look and play like the solid, timeless arcade game we want it to look and play like.

The Audio Grill

I’ve teamed up with a lovely fellow called David Burrows to form a two man music and audio team called The Audio Grill.

You can check out our combined music efforts here: https://soundcloud.com/theaudiogrill/

The company’s vision is centred around the idea that the best people to make music for video-games would be a highly trained professional musician (David) and some guy who makes games and music (Me). Therefore, combining my career insight into design and audio implementation which enhanced the feel of gameplay – with David’s training, composing experience and preposterous levels of musical prowess.  Thus, the perfect bespoke music and audio conception and production pipeline is born.

We’re also blogging about the games that we’re creating the audio for.  It’s just our insights and philosophies we have while making the music for each of the games, so it’ll gradually grow and become more introverted and bizarre, probably. Come read us! http://theaudiogrill.wordpress.com

But don’t just take our word for it!  Since forming The Audio Grill, we’ve already created music for what I’m certain will be a it of a phenomenon.  It’s called Division Cell.  Here’s the trailer…

The game is by a couple of reeeeeally genuinely lovely and creative guys called Hyperspace Yard.  You can, and should, check out the Division Cell website, cos it’s got a tasty html5 version of the puzzles you can generate, play and share on there!

http://cell.hyperspaceyard.com/#070884177733056

(p.s I can do that one in 3 moves…)

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Update July 2013

Hello, chums!

It’s been a while since I updated my blog, so let’s dive straight in with some stuff I’ve been up to.

Firstly, Nike+ Kinect Training is out.  I worked on that while still at the perennially awesome Ruffian Games.  My job was to design and implement some crazy games you play to keep fit.

I can’t remember much cos it’s going back a bit now, but I remember doing the game where all the balls bounce towards you and you have to dodge out of the way.  I don’t know if it made it in the final build unadulterated but the ball dodging experience I designed was so much fun to make.  It was a really fun last couple of months at Ruffian, designing waves of balls in CryEngine, walking over to a devkit and testing the game physically.

It was very gratifying to watch friends at work play my stuff.  I think my favourite bit was seeing people go ‘OH, HANG ON! FUCK!’ when my 5 foot high basketball suddenly flew at them at the end of the session.

 

Secondly, I’m working on a new game!  It’s called Avoid Droid.

It’s chock full of HYPER DODGING FRUITY ACTION.  It was inspired by a game called ‘Jimmy Dodger’ that our old mate Matthew Downie made for us to play at lunchtimes back in the day at Razorback.

Here’s a video of our E3 reveal trailer.

 

Thirdly, enormous news, Me and Charlie have been talking to some really really cool guys at Sony, and they’re gonna help us bring Frutorious and Avoid Droid to PS Vita!  Imagine that, Frutorious in HD on a PS Vita!  Pretty cool prospect, I reckon.

This is great news for a couple of reasons.

1. We get to reach out to a new audience on some incredible hardware.

2. I’ve prove to myself that I can come up with a design, prototype, pitch and sign a deal.  And I’m also now a director of Infinite State Games Ltd!  Serious sounding business, eh?

Infinite State Games has just been the perfect company to work at for the last few years, and I’ve been very lucky indeed to have been able to play my part in us getting this far.  We’re being accepted now as a team who can produce things people want, and that feels so blimmin’ lovely I can’t really put it into words.

We were interviewed recently for 100% Indie, too.  It’s quite a nice interview, you can read it here: http://www.100percentindie.com/2013/07/05/infinitely-happy/

So onwards and upwards to bigger and better things!

In-game music for Death Ray Manta ‘Death Ray Manta Anthem’

Just did some in-game musics for my mate Rob and his game ‘Death Ray Manta’

The game is white hot. Imagine you could encapsulate that feeling of sneakily swigging the milk out of the bottle, stood in front of the fridge, knowing any minute someone could walk in and shout at you – into a videogame. That’s how it feels to play. Keep sipping from that sweet milk bottle all you like, but eventually you’ll get busted. It’s probably the most glorious, euphoric, anthemic fun you can have in a game in under 3 minutes.

Rob compares the experience to a videogame being played as a music chart single. I can totally get on board with that. It’s the thrill of driving on the motorway at night with your lights turned off just to see how many seconds you can do it before you bottle it and put them back on. It’s bouncing round your room while your favourite childhood single is playing, the moment made all the sweeter knowing that it will soon stop. But with prettier particle effects.

It’s available to download in ‘Bundle in a Box’ which seems like an unbelievably good deal: $0.99 for D.R.M., Space Giraffe (one of my all time faves) and some other stuff I haven’t seen before but look fresh.

Edge Online gave Death Ray Manta a well deserved 8, and called my composition ‘relentlessly euphoric’ which was lovely of them! You can hear my tune here…

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Frutorious released on iOS

Things have been busy! We’ve just put out Frutorious onto the AppStore. This is a big thing for me because it’s a project I’ve enjoyed more than any other I’ve worked on in the games industry. Many many reasons for that, but the main one being because of working the fantastic team of Charlie and Graham.

Here’s the launch trailer:

You can download Frutorious on the AppStore here:
http://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/frutorious/id524952395?mt=8

It’s getting there slowly! Each day the Facebook page gets new likes from folk from a massive variety of backgrounds, and everyone we know who’s played it has had fun. It’s also got a lot of great reviews on the AppStore which is really really flattering: http://www.appannie.com/app/ios/frutorious/reviews/

Something that makes me quite excited too, we’ve got a lot of really great feedback from players which we’ll put into the next update (along with a very unexpected gaming cross over… more on that soon)

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Just finished the Frutorious sound track

This has been fun, writing the music for Frutorious. I’ve used a variety of things to make it happen, from acoustic guitars to sequencers and groove boxes.

The theme tune came first, the g-funk and dub later after a spell of ragtime experimentation.

You can listen to it here:

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