Stars Beyond Reach:Music Tracks
Why Longer "Suites" Instead of Shorter Individual Pieces?
From Pablo Vega, the composer:
Since the music plays continuously in the background, I decided to compose little musical suites for the in-game music. Most tracks from previous games are around 3-4 minutes, these are more in the 7-10 minute range. The music is constantly evolving, and it'll be a cool set of pieces for people to listen to while playing the game.
Into The Eye Of The Black Hole
From Pablo Vega, the composer:
When composing music for games, there are many variables to consider. Obviously being in the right genre stylistically, creating the right ambiance, and composing something memorable are key, but you also need a certain direction for inspiration. For some games it's easy: "Compose music for this stage/level". In that case, you take the level you are given and accurately depict the ambiance. I will think of the environment the stage/level is placed in, and compose what (in my head) is appropriate, what helps paint the picture even further.
With games like "AI War" and "Stars Beyond Reach" my task is a little bit tougher but also very fun. Why? Because for all intensive purposes, I get to compose whatever I want. The music will be played in loops throughout the game, so the options are endless in terms of what to compose. There are a few key things to consider: 1) this is a space game, 2) the music should be memorable, likable, but not overwhelming, 3) it's still background music. Considering those things, sometimes it's difficult to find inspiration for the pieces. You sit in front of some sheet music and say "alright... go!". But, where to start?
Well, for me to get going, I need a story. I'll often sift through the story of the main game and pull out a tiny detail, something that may not be crucial to the game, but could be influential on a new track. Other times I invent my own stories within the genre of the game. In the case of this particular track, I created a story about a rouge ship traveling through space. It goes something like this:
[0.00] A pilot went off course and decided to fly to the outskirts of the borders in space he was familiar with (I'm using "he" throughout the story as I imagined myself as this pilot). The introductory theme in the opening seconds portrays this, a bouncy, almost curious sounding synth bell that paints a picture of curiosity.
[0:11] As he approaches the border, he starts to become a little nervous. The cello and viola come in at this point, playing an uneasy minor melody.
[0:22] As he gets closer, however, a bit of excitement starts creeping in. An almost hopeful-excitement, portrayed by the entrance of a violin and the tonality shifting more major. The closer he gets, the more he realizes how amazing space is, and the music starts opening up. The counterpoint starts opening up, representing the vastness of space.
[0:55] The pilot finally crosses the border. The farthest point he's ever been from home. There's a big moment here where the percussion comes in. He's free, and the music unleashes all the tension that was there before.
[1:08] Looking ahead, the pilot sees something unknown. An anomaly of some kind. You'll hear a rhythmic-synth start panning across the music, getting louder and louder as he approaches the anomaly. The synth is also playing a melody with a few notes not in the key, that's on purpose. It's highlighting the fact that whatever is up ahead is foreign, different.
[1:30] The first of four key changes starts here. As the pilot gets closer, he starts noticing that things are changing. Time and light seem to be bending, he's approaching a black hole. He suddenly wants nothing to do with exploration and tries to turn around, but it's too late. He's being pulled in by an unusual force (portrayed by the horns). Everything is similar but slightly different. Here you have the key changes as he gets closer to the black hole.
[2:26] The pilot finally reaches the border of the black hole and his ship gets pulled through. As he goes through, you can hear in the music a semblance of his ship starting to malfunction and the world around him start to warp.
[2:43] The ship has now shut off. Trying to figure out a way to get out, the pilot tries to repeatedly turn the ship back on. You can hear synth noises resembling the engines trying to turn on an off. They start to work every once in a while, but eventually get shut off. Meanwhile, the pilot hasn't even taken the time to look at his surroundings. The piano and synth keyboard melodies start to paint a picture of what the eye of the black hole looks and feels like. Open, foreign, but peaceful.
[4:08] The first of many things that distracts the pilot from trying to turn his ship back on occurs. You can hear in the music what sounds like something "whooshing" overhead. In this blank empty space, nothing moves in the way we'd expect. Tiny comets soar across, above, below, and this is one of them that comes close.
[4:33] Another tiny comet flies over the ship, and finally catches the attention of the pilot. At this point he stops what he's doing and takes a look at what's in front of him. The darkness has been broken by the light of endless stars, all warped in various directions. What was once frightening is now beautiful. The cello melody that starts playing portrays the pilot's wonderment. It paints a picture of the awe he's experiencing and the beauty before him.
[5:30] Another tiny comet flies by. At this point his attention is pulled to an opening far ahead. He doesn't want to leave the place he's in, but feels like this opening may be the only way out. He takes a moment to say goodbye to the eye of the black hole, and tries to turn on the ship once again.
[6:04] The ships starts responding, and the pilot's heart starts pounding with excitement. You can hear the low piano notes acting as a heart beat and get more and more excited.
[6:13] The ships engines and functions start coming back on one at a time. The first funky piano melody is the first part of the system that starts working. A second follows, and then a third as the ship starts coming back to life.
[6:35] At last the ship takes off and makes its way towards the opening up ahead. The pilot starts thinking about what his adventure has taught him. He reflects on his decision to take risks and feels alive for the first time since he got his first ship.
[7:18] He finally gets to the opening and flies out. He doesn't care where it's leading him, all he knows is that he can't wait for the next adventure. The music fades out as he flies out into uncharted space.
So, this is a bit of what I do to get inspired for certain works of music. Having a story like this for direction really helps get ideas flowing, and also helps me create something cohesive. I had such a great time writing this and seeing the story of the pilot come to life.
For The Fallen
From Pablo Vega, the composer:
The newest track for Stars Beyond Reach is called “For The Fallen”. The idea for this song is all based around the fact that your character has killed hundreds, if not thousands, of sentient beings for the good of the solar system. Along with victory also comes extreme remorse and debate over whether you did the right thing or not. In the song, your character is writing a letter to the beings that have died, taking blame for their deaths, accepting that their deaths were necessary, and also feeling extreme sorrow and anger for his or her actions. The lyrics: If I am here, and you are gone… I’ve done it. If skies are clear, but there’s no light to look upon… I’ve done it. I hear the beat of the drums out on the street, I feel the heat and the fires of their defeat. And so tonight, to carry on… I’ve done it.
I hear a grim demon’s choir in the dark of the night, The cannons, and the fire, and the rockets ignite, A million screaming voices at the end of their life, And for what I can’t decide?
But I am here, and you are gone… I’ve done it. And so tonight, the war is won… I’ve done it.
The introduction is a requiem. The “hums” in the background are a chant, an invocation of the dead. There is stillness in the background, with a faint choir singing “oohs”, a parade of the dead leaving this world and onto some otherworldly place. Every word that is sung was recorded three times. Once as the melody you hear, and the others as whispers of the same words. These whispers are played quietly in the background, acting as the internal monologue of your character. Some of the whispers are happy, some of them are mourning.
Finally, the instrumentation opens up. Your character (we’ll refer to them as ‘she’) talks about hearing drums on the street – these are the celebrations of the victors. A snare drum starts playing a military march rhythm underneath these words. On the flip side, she also remembers the heat of the fires burning down the planets of her enemies. The music starts winding down again and returns to the requiem. Her struggle over whether she made the right decision or not is evident in the lyrics. The words are purposefully in opposition to each other in each line. Good vs. Bad. “I am here” vs. “You are gone”. “Skies are clear” vs. “No light to look upon”.
The next section shifts completely from the requiem. All of a sudden, she is overcome with anger about what she’s done. She starts describing all of the terrible facets of war, and the “demon choir” she sings about is heard underneath. The chaos in the music is a chord progression all based around a common note. I originally composed this for my voice in A minor (later shifted it up to D minor for my wife to sing), so I will describe the progression in A minor:
The common note in the chords of the chaos section is “A”. When the organ starts, there is an arpeggiated A minor chord. The chords that follow are F# minor (A is the third of the chord), F Major (still the third), A minor again (root of the chord), A minor fully diminished 7th (root again), and finally D minor (fifth of the chord).
The chords in this particular sequence create the sound of chaos, but because they are all tied with the common note, the shifts seem natural. The main melody, along with the original whispers, is now also accompanied by three new voices. These voices are duplications of the original melody, but with their pitches manipulated. The first duplication has the same pitch as the original melody, however I changed the formant of the recording. That shift in the formant of the recording keeps the melody the exact same (pitch-wise), but changes the “tone” or “color” of the voice.
[Imagine a little girl and a full-grown man singing the same note. While they are singing the same pitches, the tones of their voices are completely different].
The next voice was lowered an octave, and the third voice was lowered two octaves. These additional voices represent the anger she is feeling, and also show her power (she is, after all, a bad ass). With all the duplications combined, you really start to sense the rage she is feeling.
Eventually her anger subsides, and we go back to the requiem to end the song. Everything is still again, and the piano plays its final notes.