Sound Byte: Meet the Composer - Skullgirls
We put up our 2D-animated dukes and talked to audio director Vincent Diamante on the game's musical inspiration and the tough bits of sound designing.
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It's not rare for fighting games to branch out from techno-infused remixes of past themes, but there's only so much that you can do with electronic playing to the scene of two people beating the tar out of each other. The most recent title featuring 2D-fighting shenanigans, Skullgirls from Reverge Labs, opts to have a lot of jazz-inspired and bass-heavy tunes, with a lot of dark and harrowing ambiance go along with the world.
Thanks to the combined talent of Michiru Yamane (Castlevania series, Street Fighter II) and Vincent Diamante (Flower), Brenton Kossak, and Blaine McGurty, the game's soundtrack combines a nice blend of the macabre and the mischievous. GameSpot conducted a short interview with Mr Diamante, the audio director of the game, about the process of its music.
How did you get started in the music-making business?
I've always been focused on working in the game industry as a music composer or designer. While I had written electronic music since the mid-'90s, it wasn't until I started working on games that the momentum started building.
I was lucky enough to be around some very talented individuals while I was a student in college. Getting to work on three games that were finalists in the Independent Games Festival (Dyadin, Cloud, and RoboBlitz) definitely went a ways towards getting me sticking around in this industry.
How did you come across Reverge Lab and the Skullgirls project? Or was it the other way around?
The opportunity to work on a competitive fighting game was something I had dreamed of. Some artist friends who were working on the game in various capacities let me know they were on the lookout for some contract sound work.
I had to jump on the wagon. After a few weeks, I made the jump from being an external contractor to an employee of Reverge Labs.
The music does match the art-deco style of the game. Was the genre of the music originally going to be jazzy, or were there other styles you had in mind during pre-production?
Jazz was in the equation from the beginning. Alex Ahad, Mike Zaimont, and the rest of the development team brought the idea both to me and lead composer Michiru Yamane before our official involvement with the game.
Were there any frames of references you picked or get inspired from to create Skullgirls' jazz-slash-neo-classical hybrid music?
Like video game music, jazz is all over the place. Since we made this game in LA, I had to put a bit of West Coast cool jazz in there, but there's a bit of everything. A little Miles Davis, a little Vince Guaraldi, a little Fats Waller. More than any of the jazz, it had to be solidly Skullgirls in sound. Alex was helpful in anchoring the soundtrack's tone with all the art he churned out for the game.
What were the key instruments or techniques used for the soundtrack?
One of the musical techniques I'm fond of is fugue, especially strict fugue. There aren't too many fugues out there in video game land ("Dan Don Fugue" from We Love Katamari comes to mind), so I had to write one for this game. The need was especially strong, since, many years before, I had written a "Blood Fugue" for Castlevania: Order of Shadows, a minor entry in the series that Michiru Yamane is so famous for composing in.
Which of the tracks took the longest to nail down? Why?
The most time was definitely spent on the ending credits song "In A Moment's Time". Michiru Yamane was a joy to work with, but this song, more than any other, really tested our ability to address musical concerns on a really micro level despite the language barrier.
There were lots of little, little, little changes that all added up to take the song from the first iteration to the final version. The melodies, harmonies, and instrumentation are pretty much the same, but all those changes created a totally different song.
When it comes to fighting games, the most-used genres are either electronic synth or hard rock. Barring a few exceptions, do you personally wish to see that change?
I enjoy all sorts of music in my games, fighting or otherwise. I think it would be pretty interesting to see a fighting game soundtrack employ music that sounds like a jazz-cutting contest; musical instruments trying to one-up each other, mirroring the action on-screen.
From an audio director perspective, what was the hardest thing to nail down and perfect throughout the course of the game's development?
The basic fighting game sounds. No question. By the end of production, there were more than a hundred different hit sounds that were tested, either internally or offered up to the court of public opinion via Friday Night Fight video streams on the web.
The biggest changes in the sound-design process ended up happening in the last three months of production. Yeah, it was cutting it a bit close, but I'm very happy we paid as much attention to the hit sounds as we did.
Were you in charge of getting the voice actresses for the game? How lengthy was the process in getting the correct voice for the job?
Alex, casting director Cristina Vee, and myself spent a lot of time making sure about the voices. We decided to spend a little bit longer than normal by actually converting audition reads from prospective voice actors into working sound banks for the characters in game before making final decisions.
Once that happened, however, it was just a few more days of recording, editing, and in-game implementation, followed by weeks of character balancing that inevitably ends up changing sound-design requirements.
What can gamers look forward to from your side in 2012 and 2013?
Now that Skullgirls is out the door, I recently took on a new position as Audio Director at thatgamecompany. There will be some more news from the company coming in the following days, so hang tight!