John Broomhall talks to Pedro Macedo Camacho about composing for adventure gamesâ?¦
Developer: Autumn Moon Entertainment
Publisher: Crimson Cow
Original Soundtrack Composer
Pedro Macedo Camacho
Julian Kwasneski (Bay Area Sound)
Damian Kastbauer (Lost Chocolate Lab/Bay Area Sound)
What composer wouldn’t jump at the chance to work with some key members of the development team responsible for the Monkey Island series, Full Throttle, The Dig and Indiana Jones and the Fate Of Atlantis?
Luckily for Pedro Macedo Camacho, he uncovered the ex-LucasArts connection whilst surfing the web one night. Stumbling across their site, he immediately recognised the art style of noted game Curse Of Monkey Island, and quickly followed his impulse to call them, as he explains:
“I absolutely love their work. I played all the Monkey Island games and the prospect of potentially working with a hero like Bill Tiller was really compelling. Obviously, I let them know how keen I was to get involved! The team believe music is vitally important in their adventure games and therefore, after what proved to be a careful and lengthy decision-making process, I’m delighted to say I got this wonderful gig.”
Set in 1890s Europe, A Vampyre Story follows the fortunes of young opera diva, Mona, as she journeys home to Paris in search of fame and a cure for her vampirism, encountering a series of fantastic adventures en route.
Pedro started by reading the script several times. “I found the plot immediately inspiring – hilarious, too. I composed most of the music using Bill’s awesome black and white sketches for reference – with such excellent direction, my job was greatly simplified. For the majority of game locations, I discussed ‘keywords’ and descriptive terms I was aiming for musically, having seen his visuals. I’d get his input and then it was over to me to work independently and freely – a brilliant experience.
“In these kind of games, music is generally used everywhere, providing an atmosphere and mood for each scene – but it’s also intended to give the player insights about the personality of the characters they’re encountering, which is a fascinating challenge for a composer. In fact, there’s a key melody associated with each key character and each game ‘chapter’ has an overall mood too. All the music is subtly linked – for instance, there are inverted harmonies, inverted main theme and main theme melody re-harmonization, as well as a smattering of motifs re-used throughout. Although this isn’t massively obvious to the average player, it nevertheless gives an overall coherence to the soundtrack.”
Style-wise, the score covers a lot of ground with Pedro carefully juggling references to the signficant musical heritage behind the game, whilst simultaneously aiming to create something truly original. “I just had to make a nod towards the roots of this team because I knew many Monkey Island fans like me would play the game. In some instances I opted for groove-based comic pieces rather than spooky orchestral and was also inspired by gipsy, folk and marching band music in some places.
“For the more diverse cues, I tended to be more explicit with the musical motifs to keep tying it all together. Even though the music is, to some extent, a stylistic and cultural melting pot, I still found my own voice in this game. I also kept an eye out for how sound would be used (even though the sound FX production came later) by using FX from my own libraries to indicate frequencies I should avoid.
“Technically, I didn’t have the luxury of a full live orchestra so, over the course of the development, I re-made the music three times to keep up-to-date with the very best sample technology and libraries becoming available along the way, even tweaking the compositions to take best advantage of the newer libraries.
“I ended up using a lot of Project SAM’s Symphobia mixed with some other commercial orchestral libraries as well as my own custom samples combined with live instrumental and vocal soloists. I guess doing three full iterations was a bit painful, but it was worth it – I’m really happy with the resulting sound and compositionally I wouldn’t change a thing. It’s been a privilege to be part of such an outstanding team.”