How we make music for Ark Fantastic (Part One)

This is how we make music for Ark Fantastic (Part One)

Following our previous development diary posts about how we make sounds and design characters for Trip the Ark Fantastic, we are continuing with – music!

This time, meet our esteemed composer, Fenton, who agreed to work with us on our ambitious title. Go, go, go Fenton!

Who is Fenton Hutson?

My name is Fenton Hutson, and I am the composer for Trip the Ark Fantastic. I’m from the U.K. and I currently live and work in Manchester, England.

Throughout my life, I have always been involved in music in some way. As a kid I was performing in bands and writing songs; during my college years I was creating solo records and recording my own ensembles, then in my undergraduate degree I started writing music for friends video games and films, producing surround sound electronic projects and creating multi-sound installations.

It wasn’t until my masters degree in Composition at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, the U.K. did my musical identity really find itself. Here I wrote for orchestras, chamber ensembles, choirs, soloists and I loved it. Having my music performed by these musicians confirmed my love for this platform.

I grew up from a very young age playing Sonic the Hedgehog on a Sega, Spyro: the Dragon and Crash Bandicoot on Playstation 1, Coaster Works on Dreamcast, and Pokémon on the Gameboy Colour. Safe to say my love for video games and video game music bloomed early. Writing music for a game of this scope has always been a dream of mine so I am incredibly excited to work on this awesome project with Gamechuck.

“Gesamtkunstwerk”

When Alex (CEO of Gamechuck) first described Trip the Ark Fantastic to me, he said that this game is a gesamtkunstwerk (a German term that means “total work of art” or “synthesis of the arts” and was heavily associated with the operas of Wagner).

Every aspect of this game is deeply connected with each other, and because Gamechuck is currently a small studio, we are all closely seeing each other work develop and our working processes are closely entwined.

As I am writing the music, I am being influenced by the visual art, the animations, the dialog, the lore, the mechanics and the sound design. And likewise, the music will have a strong effect on shaping the atmosphere, story, and character of the game.

A strong vision for the music in the game

The team already had a strong vision for how they wanted the music to be when I joined. Following the idea of ‘Gesamtkunstwerk’, and the historic setting, they wanted the score to take the role of an instrumental, Romantic opera, similar to the Ring Cycles of Wagner.

There is a lot of diversity in Trip the Ark Fantastic, from the artwork to the settings, history, characters, themes, and the story’s development. And unlike a lot of modern games, where the music often is required to be part of the backdrop, in the game it will at times be required to come to the forefront.

There will be times the player will be walking around these beautiful, hand-drawn environments and the music must pair itself to that. Whether it be majestic, mythical, nostalgic, dark, rich, exotic or fantastical.

There will be times when themes will crop up, either in dialogue or discovery through the player’s actions, and the music must emphasize the importance of those moments.

Consequently, the music needs to have a huge variety in its expressive output to match with every different aspect of the game.

So it only makes sense the music will be influenced by the Romantic works of Wagner, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Mussorgsky, etc. (I could go on!), which is some of the most diversely expressive music in the history of orchestral music.

We want the music to feel like it is following you

Like a lot of games, the music in Trip the Ark Fantastic will be adaptive (therefore meaning it will follow the player’s actions).

Every time you go to a new area of the game, the music will change to reflect the new environment. When an important theme is mentioned in dialogue, you will hear it.

Whenever the player stumbles upon something through discovery or exploration, the music will react to this moment. We want the music to feel like it is following you.

That it is telling the story of your journey with the character Charles. However, what makes this project particularly tricky is that we have to adapt Romantic music to be adaptive. For a lot of modern scores, adapting them is not so tricky because of the way the music is written.

The diagram below gives an example of how music might work in a modern game. It is a bit crude, but you can see how the music is essentially made of blocks that are closely related to one another through either harmony, tempo or phrasing.

Ark Fantastic Music Diagram

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This allows the music to be placed in a huge variant of orders that can change within small instances, which allows greater fluidity in following the player.

However, it is much trickier to create this fluidity with Romantic music as it weaves and transitions through so many variants of musical expression.

Phrasing, rhythm, harmony, and timbre (or orchestration in this instance) are in a constant state of variation and irregular phrases, which on one hand allows the music to be diverse in expression, but on the other hand, restricts in cutting it up and rearranging it.

What will I talk about in Part 2?

In a later blog post, we will show you how we are going to tackle this issue and ways around it and how a score of this style will work in Trip the Ark Fantastic.

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