Game Front 1-On-1: Fez Composer Disasterpeace
Originally, chiptunes were created using modded consoles or the technology available to classic games’ composers during the original 8-bit era, and the truly hard core still construct epic rigs. But of course, there exist hundreds of programs for composers to take advantage of in recreating – and building off – the sound. Disasterpeace relies almost exclusively on such software when recording, preferring Logic Pro, as well as a collection of samples and several synthesizers. “I like the simplicity of having everything you do in as few pieces of hardware as possible,” he said. “I don’t like clutter, and I don’t consider myself an audiophile, so I’ve never had a need for any super fancy or expensive outboard gear.”
Vreeland also uses acoustic instruments, ranging from “a couple” of guitars, to a stand up piano he claims to have named ‘Peggy’, particularly in the initial phase of composition, when he’s just working out melodies. “I like to mix up how I come up with ideas. My best friend is the field recorder,” he said. “Whenever I have a jolt of inspiration, I just record whatever it is I’ve come up with, and then I will repurpose it later. I’ve got guitar jams that I’ve turned into NES songs, and there are piano jams on the Fez soundtrack… Sometimes I will even hum and bang out rhythms and melodies. There’s a song called “Destroy All Travelers” from Passcode: Soul of the Traveler, that was a literally a series of rhythms I came up with while I was sitting on the toilet and recorded it into my phone. Then I just added notes to it!”
Though he admits he has been “intimidated” by chiptune-specific tools, he has recently made use of a music tracker called Famitracker that authentically produces the NES sound. “[I]t makes creating relatively painless,” he said. “You can do some fairly complex sounding things with a tool like Famitracker, that would be much harder to do with just a regular ol’ synthesizer and MIDI.”
That’s because with a program like Famitracker, the sound effects are built in, as opposed to more broad-use musical software. “You can alter the nature of the sound in extremely fine increments, and the interfaces for doing such things are usually quite appropriate. Contemporary music software is usually designed for longer, more musical increments, like 16th notes and such. It requires more of an effort to change the sounds of things, and there is plenty of margin for user error, it requires some effort dedicated just to getting the “sound” right.”
In the years since finishing school, Vreeland has gradually made a name for himself as game composer, but it wasn’t until 2010 that he was finally able to make the transition to living off of his work full time. That’s thanks to two high profile games he was hired to score, Fez, and the Ubisoft-published run and gun action shooter Shoot Many Robots, by Demiurge. Each soundtrack represents a leap forward for Vreeland, particularly in how vastly they differ from one another. While Fez is a traditional, if very dreamy and complex chiptunes composition, Shoot Many Robots is, as he put it, “Slutty Blues”.
“For Shoot Many Robots,” he said, “I used the guitar exclusively to jam out ideas, because a lot of times it was instant carryover into the final production. That project was a chance for me to get back to my roots in a way, because at the time I had more or less neglected my guitar(s) for a while. The initial idea was “slutty blues”, which was brought to the table by Demiurge, but some of the placeholder music they had in there was not what I would call blues. It was more like nu metal, which kind of worked, but I thought it needed to be much closer to the blues side of things, so I kind of combined those two ideas. It was easy for me to fall into, but hard for me to do really good things with.”
The culprit? The years he’d spent working almost entirely with synthesized instruments. “I think the process of doing everything, and also doing live recorded instruments, was very draining on me… I still think it turned out well, just not as I would have originally intended. I forgot how challenging it can be to get things right when you don’t have the luxury of quickly changing every note like you do with synthesizers.” Consequently, creating the soundtrack for Shoot Many Robots ended up being an entirely new experience, not only compositionally but practically. “I did a lot of things on SMR that I have never done before. I made about 1,500 sound effects, I worked with a live band, and got a pretty fair sense of what it’s like to be embedded in a game studio.”