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What’s “Cross-Bitting?” HyperDuck Interview on Sound Tips for Indie Devs, Dust: An Elysian Tail OST Preview Included

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HyperDuck SoundWorks’ Chris Geehan and I had more a conversation than an interview. Being both Irishmen, we met at a “virtual” bar (details) and discussed things over several rounds of Guinness. In order to enjoy and recreate the surrounding ambience, Chris has provided a HyperDuck jukebox. Yes, the bar only played HyperDuck music. But your ears will agree; these maestros are more like melodious mallards than mere ducks. Start the virtual jukebox below:

Dan Byrne-McCullough is Chris’s partner in crime. They have contributed some prolific tunes to XNA Dream.Build.Play  2009 grand prize winner Dust: An Elysian Tail and 2010 first prize winner A.R.E.S. Their awesome tracks are also heard on the trailers for Secret Base’s Bitejacker, starring 2011 IGF host Anthony Carboni.

With that being just part of HyperDuck’s hyper resume, it may have seemed unnecessary, but I began our conversation by raising my pint for the team’s recent submission to the Behemoth for BattleBlock Theatre and by toasting Dan, who regrettably couldn’t find the bar. May XBLA gamers be so lucky to hear HyperDuck on their home consoles!

So, are you working on Dust and some other projects?

(Chris of) HyperDuck:  We’ve pretty much finished every single other project deadline now. Up until Dust‘s deadline, we’re 100% Dust.

Any Dust details?

HyperDuck:  We’re rearranging all the older music we did in the new style, along with the entire reworking of the Dust audio engine, designing the sound effects and creating the foley for Dust and the creatures. The old style had a heavy YsIII / YsIV influence. The newer style is a lot more “real” sounding  in terms of instrumentation and has a cinematic quality throughout it. I think when the music comes out, we will release the old and new versions of the songs so that people can hear the transformation that occurred.

Was Iji your humble beginning?

HyperDuck:  Pretty much. Dan Remar and I were both massive fans of Machinae Supremacy, who are a band who mixed SID Chip sounds with their rock/metal music. From that forum we became friends, and he said he was making a game at some point and asked me if I could do the music. Later I got the call, realised I needed to begin working, grabbed my partner Dan and said, “Let’s make some music.” We pretty much learned how to record stuff by doing Iji, which is pretty apparent in the quality of the sound in the soundtrack.

Not at all, but  it sounds like you wanted and got help along the way. Indie devs do the same thing. What resources are there to help music devs?

HyperDuck: Good question. There’s plenty of stuff and good communities that I have been and continue to be a part of, some quite small ones. There is an IRC channel where myself, Anosou (Cobalt), DannyB (Super Meat Boy), Josh Whelchel (The Spirit Engine 2), c418 (Daniel Rosenfeld of Minecraft) & disasterpeace (Rich Vreeland of Rescue: The Beagles) meet and share tips, feedback, and generally support each other.

There is OverClocked Remix, a fine place for people wanting to learn about remixing, interpreting music, and knowing good places to buy music equipment. There is Audio G.A.N.G., which has a subscription of £30 a year, but it’s really worth the money. The people there got my business head screwed on tight. They gave a lot of tips and tutorials that can help any aspiring musician looking to do sound design or music composition in media.

(As we moved onto another round of Guinness, I became more astute, noticing a new logo for HyperDuck.)

So, what’s up with the name change?

HyperDuck:  We kept getting a lot of people assuming that we only do music, which is what we founded the idea to team up on, back before we came up with HyperDuck “Music Studios.” But we do a lot of sound design work these days, too. We’re pretty dedicated to both, so I think “SoundWorks” is a good umbrella term to cover all aspects of the audio work we do. We won’t be changing again.

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Let’s role play (kinky). I am an indie developer; how would I find you if I didn’t know you existed? What sources are out there to easily connect indie devs with sound devs?

HyperDuck:  I’d probably find you. Most of the developers after Iji/Katakijin we sourced out ourselves, though most of it was from TIGsource or at least Zero Gear was. I think pushing yourself out there as much as possible without becoming obnoxious is important to get ahead, but I found something very special at TIGsource and the Audio G.A.N.G.:  a community is very important and should not be disrespected as such. I joined TIGsource because I saw like-minded folk there who shared the same passion for games, and I wanted to help combine what I was good (well crap at that stage) at with what they were good at and make some awesome experiences in video games.

Mod DB and Indie DB also have great resources for indie developers, as well. I think making contact with a developer and showing the best aspects of yourself is mega important. For every single person we have worked with, I still chat with, and I’ve never had a bad moment in any project we’ve done. They’re all so nice.

Any other tips for game devs?

HyperDuck: One tip is to always make sure the people you are working with have a demo reel or some example of their music in any form. I know if I were a game dev, I wouldn’t take on people if I’d never heard their work before, even if they have been in a game. But to be honest, you will always find somebody who is looking to fill their portfolio up who has either done very little work in games, or has none and is looking to freshly start.

(Being the rude socialite that most people are at bars, I checked my Twitter account. People were all achirp about the heinousness of muting the audio while gaming. Chris quacked back.)

HyperDuck:  I think that music can be muted in games, but you’re missing out on a deliberate part of the experience that game has to offer. As for music not being essential, well that’s a matter of opinion. And quite simply, my own opinion disagrees with it. I am happy to continue my life and career adoring video game music, as many of us are and will do, so it doesn’t bother me.

When do you become involved with the overall game process? I imagine great sounds are never an afterthought.

HyperDuck: I’d say there are more projects where we walk in early on in the development, and through talking with the developers, seeing screens, and  playing demos, we begin to craft what we think is in their head for the game. So by pulling together drafts, we get feedback from the developers saying that they are finding designing certain parts of the game much easier since they have the music for it. That’s about as close as we get to the development process of the game. Aside from doing sound design, we’re mostly in the cogs.

The music isn’t an afterthought. I don’t think I’ve ever encountered that in any project we’ve worked on. It can be, and it’s noticeable when the game and sounds do not gel.

So, what makes a game “easier” to write music for?

HyperDuck: “Clear vision” is the key phrase. In this line of work, you quickly learn that it’s ok for the game developers to not 100% know what they want for the game, and if they do have an idea, it’s not always easy to project it across. We’re not all musically mouthed, so that can be a hell of a challenge. But a clear vision can be attained between the developer and us if they can show us what influences them. Most of the time, unless they say “go for it; I trust you guys,” they show us what makes them, and usually their game, tick.

Tick how?

HyperDuck:  Seeing visuals, videos, music and sound design from other games and media– it all helps a lot in making something that the developer will eventually love, and something that feels right within the game. They will sometimes link to other game soundtracks, and suggest games to try out for the sound design techniques used. That’s really useful and actually is like a new lesson to be learned each time we do it.

For example, if a guy gives us a shout and wants a soundtrack with the style of Battletoads, we’ll go back and look at the game, then he’ll say, “Oh, but I want it with reggae style instrumentation, and a hint of rock too,” getting the sound for that will become a lesson, a test of our musicianship essentially. By the end of it, we’ve learned how to do something fresh. It’s also really rewarding and refreshing. I like being kept my toes like that.

Do you find it weird that no one has done any “cross-bitting,” a phrase I think I just coined for having an 8-bit game design with 16-bit sound or something like that?

HyperDuck:  I’ve done some personal experiments with 8-bit and 16-bit stuff, and tried mixing elements of it together, but I see no reason not to merge the elements from both together, so many other hybrid sounds have came together from doing so with genres, why not this too!

To your knowledge, have games done this?

HyperDuck:  Not to my knowledge, but I wouldn’t say I have searched hard enough to find it.

So, what haven’t you been asked before that you think you should be asked?

HyperDuck:  Hmm, Nobody ever questions if we’re actually ducks or not.

Why would anyone? Sitting across from me was obviously something of avian origin. As we parted ways, I divulged details about my Irish ancestry, that my mother’s maiden name was Duffy.

HyperDuck: A good strong Irish surname, lovely! I’m not sure if you know, but Duffy means “Descendant of the Dark One.”

That explained so much about my childhood.

Thanks for the enlightening discussion, HyperDuck. Sample more of Dan’s and Chris’s audio euphoria here.

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