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A Purrrfect Score: Creating the Soundtrack of “You Gotta Be Kitten Me”

A behind-the-scenes look at my creative process for scoring the Ludum Dare 45 videogame “You Gotta Be Kitten Me”. The entire game was made in just under 72 hours (programming, art, design, assets, music, audio, etc).

*Ludum Dare is one of the world’s largest and longest running Game Jam events. Every 6 months, creators are challenged to make a game from scratch in a weekend.

Start With Nothing

The theme for Ludum Dare 45, “start with nothing“, is actually a great metaphor for game development, music production, or any other creative endeavor for that matter. This is usually how it all begins….with nothing. Nothing but an idea that is. I’ve seen some really creative ideas in this jam so far and it’s been super interesting to see how they were executed. Like this one for example.

click to play game

One of my favorites from LD45, a game where you must to oppose your enemies with nothing but your bare fists.

We kicked it off with a group brainstorming session that led to some pretty wild scenarios. One idea I had was to create a survival game in a forest or on a desert isle using MacGuyver style crafting mechanics. Another idea was to create a strategy RPG about colonizing and terraforming a barren planet in the distant future. Last but not least, I suggested creating an escape game where the player has to find their way out of some sort of prison or cell. We actually ended up incorporating this idea, but in a completely different way than I expected.

When I got the word we were making a game about mutant kittens escaping from a secret laboratory, I can’t say that I wasn’t excited. My first thoughts were to create a soundtrack with elements of synthwave mixed with spy music. Synthwave, for those who aren’t familiar, is a style of electronic music inspired by 80’s sci-fi films, cartoons, videogames, and cyberpunk aesthetics. I also wanted to incorporate a jazz element to the score, mainly because in the 1920s the word “cat” was also a slang term for a “cool jazz musician”. That and I always thought that cats were sort of cool and “jazzy” in a way (especially the way they move and sneak around). I dunno, maybe I just like really like jazz.

A Purrrfect Score

For the main title theme, I was heavily inspired by David Wise and the original Donkey Kong soundtracks. I remember being a kid and just sitting on the DK menu screen, scrolling through music tracks and listening in awe. I wanted to make something contemplative like that, something that would evoke the same sense of wonder and mystery I had playing these games as a child.

To begin, I started the track off with a synth pad alternating between two sustained minor chords. Then I added a funky bassline underneath, which hints at the main melody to follow. The melody riff (played by a chip-tune style synth lead) was actually composed while jamming separately on the following track; I transposed it over to this one and it worked perfectly with the new chord progression. After that I created the drum pattern, which I played live via MIDI controller. At first I planned on using an 808 or something similar, but instead I went for the most lofi, SNES-cartridge sounding drum sounds I could find. I ended up using the ’94 Drumkit from the Koji VST plugin, which includes a great variety of retro 16bit style videogame samples.

Meow Mix

Next up was the main level music. This is the music that plays when the player is sneaking around, exploring the laboratory, knocking over beakers, etc. For this track I wanted to incorporate more jazz, (for the reasons I mentioned earlier) and also an element of spy music. What I ended up with was something more along the lines of electronica, chillout, downtempo, or trip hop. First I started with some jazzy Rhodes chords, and a bassline inspired by the music from games like Perfect Dark, Goldeneye and the Metal Gear Solid series.

Most of the battles and cinematic sequences in those games have an action packed soundtrack, but when your sneaking around  it’s more of a hybrid of electronic and downtempo music (typically around 80 BPM or so). I tend much use a similar formula for starting out a lot of my productions: jazzy chords, funky bassline, a catchy melody and a groovy drumbeat. I also added some DJ/turntable scratches for the extra hip-hop flavor.

Housekeeping

The battle theme was inspired by synthwave, Sonic The Hedgehog, and racing games like Outrun. Other influences include Drum & Bass artists like LTJ Bukem. I originally wanted to do some form of interactive or adaptive music, in which the main level  or “sneaking around” music transitions seamlessly into the battle piece. That idea ended up getting scrapped because of time constraints, but both tracks still bear a lot of similarities. They are both in the same key, and both were designed to alternate smoothly between 80 and 160 BPM. In essence the battle theme is just a beefed up remix of the main level theme.

The second half of the arrangement switches to a minor chord progression. and is meant to signal a departure from the high energy momentum of the first half (possibly a moment where out feline hero is struggling or trying to overcome his Roomba nemesis). This is a common technique used in linear game music composition, in which the composer intentionally writes a “victorious/triumphant” section and a more darker section representing the player’s decline or near defeat. Then you just kinda roll the dice and hope things line up when they play the actual game (which they surprisingly do from time to time). Although the battles are pretty short in this game, this is a great trick to use when composing RPG battle themes or Boss Fights (which are usually longer and a lot more more intense). Which brings us to our next song:

Roomba’s Revenge

Roomba’s Revenge is actually a remix of the victory theme from my LD44 entry “Elevator Pitch” (I like to shamelessly reference my own work from time to time). I used mostly the same musical palette from before (drums, bass, horns, synth lead, organ) but wanted to create something a lot more dark and menacing. This track was also inspired by the opening of the final boss theme from Sonic The Hedgehog 3 (although someone else who commented said it reminded them of Sonic The Hedgehog 2: Death Egg Zone). 

For the melody I interpolated some of the the main theme from the title track, starting with same progression of notes but then spiraling into something completely different.

Menu Theme (Melody)

Boss Theme (Melody)

Conclusion

This is my second Ludum Dare entry and I’m quite happy with the results. Our team Enigma Dragons was very organized, and I particularly enjoyed being a part of the brainstorming process. If I had more time I would have liked to contribute to the SFX department, as there’s still a handful of sounds that didn’t make it into the game. That said, not having to work on sound gave me the opportunity to really focus on the music. Big shout out to Austin Dhillon who did a fantastic job on the sound design.

The idea to use interactive music was probably unnecessary for this type of jam (considering the layout of the rooms was pretty straight forward). If it were a more open-map type level design I could see that making more sense. But composing the music with interactivity in mind definitely caused me to think about it differently, and I believe the transitions from exploration to battle music still feel pretty seamless even without using middleware. I would have still liked to incorporate some type of adaptive music transition (or even a low-pass filter) for the pause menu, but maybe next time. I think my favorite part of the jam overall was seeing the game come to life and playing new builds. Also the brainstorming process. Thanks to everyone who played so far!

 

 

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