Monday, October 17, 2016

Music and Game Development

Welcome back to another XING Development experience. John here - it's been a while since I wrote on the blog, so I figure I'd update everyone on some of the work I've been up to. We are returning from a few XING related events this past week, namely the annual IndieCade (this year at USC) and the biennial Steam Dev Days in Seattle, so I'll give a quick recap of our travels as well.

Steam Dev Days

Going to events like Steam Dev Days feels like one of the most effective ways to refresh our development and keep us looking at the big picture. Despite our best efforts, we are still a relatively isolated company and can sometimes find ourselves working in a vacuum, so getting out and socializing with a ton of developers, seeing talks about gamedev, and having in-depth meetings with our partners can really help revitalize development.

Arriving in Seattle
Keynote about to start!
The Main Session Room
Lunch Day 1
After Party/Mixer hosted at the Convention Center by Valve
Staying until the very end. We made some friends :)
Unreal Slackers group photo!

IndieCade and PlayStation VR

Sony graciously hosted XING: The Land Beyond at IndieCade this year, and alongside their usual IndieCade setup they crafted an excellent PS VR demo station for us in the Steven Spielberg Building. This help was especially useful for us this year given the nearly overlapping dates between IndieCade and Dev Days this year! This was the first time we've shown XING on PS VR to the general public. Maintaining feature parity along all of our platforms has been a huge priority for all of us, so seeing people lining up to play our game on PS VR hopefully is a good sign for XING and the platform in general. Shout outs to the other PS VR games: GNOG, Psychonauts: In the Rhombus of Ruin and Headmaster for joining us this year!

And of course, happy PlayStation VR launch!

Koriel goes to IndieCade
People playing XING: The Land Beyond on the PS VR
More lovely games in the PS VR room :)


Last week we were able to make great strides on a number of important elements for the game. As Kori mentioned two posts ago, we have a "full" build of the game - meaning all of the levels are present in a single executable. What we don't have, and what we've been working on, are the transitional elements between content; things like a cohesive way to introduce new players to the game and letting them understand some of the core objectives they will want to accomplish during their stay. Some of this work is strictly polish, like refining level design, but much of it has to be treated like new content. We've added a new introduction sequence and area into our latest internal build, and will be looking for feedback this week.

Checking things in and out of  Perforce Source Control
Personally I always have 50+ tasks I could be doing at any moment, so I like to use some time at the beginning of each week to set some goals for production. Sometimes I'll need to prioritize tasks based on events, like getting the PS VR build prepared for IndieCade, but usually I'll try to group my work together based on what discipline it lies in. I tend to get into a "mode" of working on a particular type of task; last week it was mostly post-process and shader work, and before that was systemic programming. This week I'll be focusing on music.


Making music for a game I also need to be actively developing has proven to be a challenging mix, no pun intended. It's a catch 22 - on one hand, I need to make the game function before I can write the music; on the other hand, the game needs music to function. I often tell people I feel like I'm not spending enough time writing music for the game, but in reality it's going to take as long as anything else - we won't release until it all works.

My Library
I think structurally XING's soundtrack it shaping up to be a somewhat unique experience. In an era of ambient, moody soundtracks that expertly combine descriptive soundscapes and lush atmosphere, I've decided to look to the past and tackle the soundtrack with a more thematic approach. Locations have their own recurring motifs and instrumentation, with persistent melodies tying the tracks together.

Deciding on the fidelity of the music was also an interesting choice. While there are obvious economic reasons why taking a 100% live audio approach may not be the most appropriate option, I'd argue that a MIDI centered soundtrack actually grounds the project closer to it's nostalgic first-person adventure roots. That's not so say that the entire soundtrack is programmed MIDI - many of the tracks feature a live instrument or two, or a live preformed midi instrument (for example a piano). Ultimately I would say I'm targeting a fidelity level similar to Donkey Kong Country Returns, Fire Emblem Awaking, and A Link Between Worlds - all do a great job feeling modern with their production while still retaining the "retro" vibe of their predecessors.

Making Music

As we get closer to release we'll start revealing more of the soundtrack, but for now you can listen to some of my work for the game in our various trailers and gameplay videos.

Until next time!


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