Can you talk a bit about your work in music, and how you’ve changed your focus to also include games?
The inspirations and ideas behind my music are very similar to the sorts of themes I’m exploring in The Edgelands (such as uncanny beauty, rural hinterlands). In many ways it feels like Hoofus – The Game.
I can’t really pin point a moment when I thought to myself ‘I know, I’ll make a game now’, but that is sort of what happened. I did a bit of poking around and suddenly I was completely obsessed with it and still am, to the point where it is kind of hard to make myself take breaks and remember to have a day off every so often. As well as being a musician I also have a background in graphic design, and it feels like all this different creative strands I’ve been following now have a place where they can all work together to make something interesting.
Is the way you create music similar to the way you’re creating The Edgelands?
With music, I tend to spend a lot of time working on particular sounds, but when it actually come to making a track I work really fast, mainly improvising for a while and then editing it down. The more time I spend on a piece of music , the more chance there is that I will start to never want to hear it again, so I need to be ruthless and swift.
With making a game, everything takes a huge amount of time, so I can’t really work in that way, but there are still a few ways that my approach to music making applies. Everything in the game is hand drawn and hand animated, and I tend to try to be as instinctive as possible and go with my first impulse when designing things. And I quickly recognise the feeling that I have been spending too long trying to get a particular thing to look right, and scrap it and try something fresh. In a way it feels like the same process as when I am making music, just in very slow motion.
You talked in your Fundbetter application about this being ‘a story you just had to tell’ – can you elaborate on that a bit?
When I started to get serious about the idea of making a game, my first plan was for a project called The Raven’s Accord, which was about a hidden supernatural world which existed underneath a very oppressive corporate society. I had a pretty firm idea in my head of how the story would play out, and what sort of gameplay would be involved. It had puzzles, it had stealth, it had platforming, it was even possibly going to have combat. I spent a few months working on it, and had the gradual realization (which I’m sure many first time devs encounter) that it was wildly ambitious and would probably take several years to actually make.
So I put that to one side and started on something new, and idea for a simple atmospheric game in which the player made their way through a ruined mountainous city. After a few months, this supposedly simple game was turning into a bit of a beast as well, with puzzle elements and combat sneaking their way in, and I was slightly haunted by the idea that it just felt a bit too generic.
I decided to give myself a week to try out an idea I had for something new, and at the end of that week if it didn’t seem to be working, I’d keep going with the ruined-city-in-the-mountains game. At the end of the first day I had basic designs for about twenty levels of The Edgelands made, and the skeleton of the story and structure in my head, and that was that. What really set it apart from the first two game was that it felt much more personal, much more rooted in my particular interests and view of the world, so when I say it is something I had to tell, I mean it felt like I had stumbled across my particular voice in terms of game development, and I wanted that to be heard.
You also talked about ‘psychogeographical folk tales’ – what are they then?
Tapping into the sense of overwhelming feelings that being in a particular landscape can give you, and exploring the idea that these feelings are related to some intangible forces that are deeply rooted in that landscape. And then taking that further by imagining the sorts of folk stories that might have arisen because of how it feels to walk in a particular wood at night. And then taking it a bit further still by imagining that somebody builds a fancy restaurant or a hat factory in that wood, and what sort of atmosphere that would have, and how the intangible forces would integrate with the modern occupants, and what sort of modern occupants would feel comfortable in that situation… and then turning that into yet more folk tales. Ambiguous magical stories based on ambiguous magical feelings in the landscape caused by ambiguous magical forces. Fun!
A lot of what I’m most excited about from The Edgelands involves music and sound – can you give us a taste of the way sound will work with gameplay in the finished game?
The sound and music will be a very big part of the game, and will work in various ways. Many of the choices the player makes in dialogues will influence the way the world of The Edgelands unfolds for them. Some of these influences will be narrative based, but a lot will also effect the soundscape. So instead of being told ‘Bob the suspicious poet will remember that’ after a particular choice, the music may take on a more sinister mood, or the pleasant sound of the waterfall next to Bob might shift into something a bit more dissonant.
The will also be lots of ambient activity within the levels that contributes to the soundscape, and there will be opportunities for the player to interact with these elements, and in some cases cause them to make sounds. You may walk past a rustling bush, give it a poke, and a hare runs out, all with sounds or melodies attached which feed into the overall sound of the level. The purpose of these sorts of interactions is to add an engaging quality to the players experience of navigating the world, and encourage them to be curious, as well as providing a constantly shifting audio landscape. My aim is that even if the player chooses to turn the music off, the general sounds of the levels will still provide a soundtrack of sorts.