The audio of Monster Boy
Talking about the most important components to create a dense atmosphere.
Music and sound effects are among the most important components to build an atmosphere. Games just wouldn’t work without music. Some games even go a step further and make audio one of their core gameplay features, such as the classic iOS game “Papa Sangre”. Knowing the importance of audio and being music fans and / or musicians ourselves, we’ve always put a lot of attention on a game’s audio.
For Monster Boy, we knew we had to deliver something very exciting and catchy that lives up not only to our own expectations, but especially to the expectations of the series’ fans out there. As we were working on a series with japanese origins, we wanted to keep it as authentic as possible. Having access to the series’ assets, we decided to go with a mix of rearranged tracks from the series and newly composed tracks, which turned out to be a great decision.
Thomas previously worked with Nobuo Uematsu and Kenji Ito on some tracks for the Oceanhorn soundtrack, but this time we wanted to do more. One of our favorite composers since childhood is Yuzo Koshiro. We started thinking “what if we’d manage to sign Koshiro-san for Monster Boy?”. Luckily, we’ve already been in contact with Ancient, his company, before – so we knew at which door we had to knock. After a while, we managed to sign him for the project. Koshiro-san is a very well booked person. Working with him needs at least half a year of lead time before he can get started. Getting him on board, as well as a couple of others, was a personal milestone not only for us, but for everybody in both teams at Game Atelier and FDG. The roster of big names kept growing.
In the end, the soundtrack was handcrafted by 8 talented and well known artists of video game music: Yuzo Koshiro, Motoi Sakuraba, Michiru Yamane, Keiki Kobayashi, Takeshi Yanagawa, Tee Lopes, “Banjo Guy Ollie” and Matt Creamer. Each of them contributed to the total of 60+ tracks with far more than 2 hours of music, adding their very special style. The soundtrack is made of a mix of rearranged tunes from previous games of the series, as well as newly composed tracks.
As every composer has his specialities and his own style, we assigned tracks according to what they’re known for. Early on, we worked with Banjo Guy Ollie in order to promote the game. He’s a popular youtuber who covers video game music mostly using banjos and he’s a big fan of the series. Over time, we decided to add a cameo of him into the game, later on he evolved to a NPC with his own quest: music sheets are spread across the world, finding all of them will unlock the sound test of the game. He rearranged a couple of original tracks in his style, which were then implemented in the game.
Matt Creamer, a.k.a. Norrin Radd, known for Retro City Rampage, Slayin’ and many other chiptune soundtracks rearranged one of the game’s tracks to 8bit tracker style. This track was then used to seamlessly crossfade between the modern and the retro track, as the player travels from one world to another. These were very special requirements, as not only the tracks need to be at the same speed and include the same features in their melody, but also technically it had to be made sure that the tracks crossfade without any ‘jumps’.
Most of the soundtrack was played by musicians and recorded in the studio. Instruments include drums, guitars, strings, horns, banjo and some others. Without going into the programmed vs. recorded music debate, it’s safe to say that recorded music still has its own charm, adding a special flavour. The game’s soundtrack got a lot of praise, with many players asking for a separate soundtrack to be released.
The same commitment to quality also applied to the sound effects. More than thousand of the close to 1.800 sound effect files were created by foley artist TapioLiukkonen, who also worked on Kung Fury, Angry Birds Stella and Oceanhorn. He created most of the sound effects in the game – as classic, man made foley sounds. This approach is widely used in TV and cinema to make things sound “bigger than life”. A popular example everybody knows is when a sword is pulled out of its leather sheath. Typically, as opposed to reality, this sound is very metallic and makes the action sound bigger than it actually is. Just like the music, we relied on a mix of original sounds and new ones, the coin pick up sound being one example for rearranged sounds.
The amount of communication and management was enormous. The communication with the japanese composers alone span across more than 1.000 emails, all of which have been translated by a professional translator, Hiromi Matsugi. A virtually endless amount of reference tracks was used to illustrate which direction each track should go into. While a big chunk of the soundtrack was produced early on and towards the middle of the game’s production (until 2017), the production of the soundtrack was only finalised in the beginning of 2018. The rework of the opening and the ending required new tracks to be created by Motoi Sakuraba.
We asked some of the composers a few questions and to share some insights on their work.
Yuzo Koshiro composed most of the ingame soundtrack and coordinated the studio (re)recording of the soundtrack (known for Ys, Streets of Rage, Etrian Odyssey).
Making Games: Over the past 30 years you composed countless tunes loved by fans and that stick in their ears for a long time. What is your source of inspiration?
Yuzo Ksohiro: It is the tunes created by other composers that give me inspiration. I always make efforts to create a music which would be loved by people for a long time, so what is important for me is the “universality”. I hope that my music will be loved at any time, like classical music.
Making Games: You composed most of the original tracks for Monster Boy. What was your approach when composing?
Yuzo Koshiro: For those which have original versions, I made arranged versions in respecting them so that the fans should recognize them immediately. For original tracks, I basically composed them faithfully to the direction given by Thomas. In particular, I was careful to match the music to the background visuals.
Making Games: After the tracks have been composed, they were recorded with a live band. How does working with a live band influence your composition, arrangement and result?
Yuzo Koshiro: What is attractive with a live band is that the music is « live », in difference with a music created by the computer programming.It happens that a music recorded with great players and high skilled recording staff is much better than I imagined when I composed it. I really love this moment, so I have been making efforts at recording for some time, and it is still evolving.
Making Games: Game music evolved drastically over the past decades, from 4 channel tracker music to CD quality with recorded musicians and no limits today. Was it more challenging back then to produce catchy tunes or today?
Yuzo Koshiro: The challenge is totally the same for the past years and today. It is true that it became easy to create a tune quickly with great computer and software, while it is always difficult if you create something seriously.Where it is difficult might differ, but the challenge to create music that will live in people’s mind remains the same, whatever the instrument.
Motoi Sakuraba, Japanese opening and credits roll (known for Tales of-series, Star Ocean, Golden Sun).
Making Games: Since you started in 1989, you created music for many different genres from adventure to rpgs to shoot’em ups and more. Do you use different approaches when composing for different genres?
Moti Sakuraba: My approaches of composition differ according to the genre of game. For a shooting game, I adapt the music to scenes and situations of course, but I consider it more important that the player can play at a good tempo. What I pay attention mostly to is to avoid disharmony between the speed of play and the tempo of the music.
In case of an RPG, I try to create, based on the design of the game, a music allowing players to immerse in the game world. For battle scenes, I sometimes create a music like that of a shooting game, while paying attention that the melody and the overall atmosphere should be in agreement with the design of the game. About adventure games, my approach may be between one for the shooting and one for the rpgs.
Making Games: You’re well known for numerous game openings with lyrics. How does composing songs vary from working on the ingame soundtrack? Do you usually compose in sync to the video? Or is the video matched to your composition once the song is finished?
Moti Sakuraba: Actually I have not created so many openings with lyrics. The situation might be specific to Japan: openings for games are often created by the artists who belong to big record labels. We call it “tie-up [tie-in in English]”, which means that an artist create a song for opening of a game, that would be promotional for him, as well as for the game because the game can attract the fan of the artist. In this case, it seems to be frequent that the images are created according to the song.
When I compose an opening song, as was the case of Monster Boy, I compose it in synchronization with the images. I also request lyrics which will match with the game’s contents.
Making Games: Openings are always very special in (japanese) games and animes: they often show scenes that don’t appear like this in the actual game and sometimes the music style is totally different. According to you, what’s the main objective of an opening and differentiates a good opening from a bad one? Is it important that the music in the opening share the same style and vibe as the game?
Moti Sakuraba: If the music style is different, it is probably because of the “tie-up”. For me, the purpose of an opening is to clearly show the overview of the game which is beginning soon, and make the player yearn to play. It depends on the work if it is important or not that an opening music should be in the same style with the game. It also depends on the intention of the game creator. If an opening appropriately conveys its purpose, that is, for instance, if the lyrics remind the player of the game’s contents well, or if the image and the music synchronize well and create a good tempo, it will increase the player’s desire to play the game.
As, personally, I would like to keep the unity of the game design, I would be happy if I am asked to create the opening for the game for which I also create in-game music, as was the case of the Monster Boy. Regarding the question about a good song and a bad song, I cannot judge because it depends on the taste of the user.
Making Games: Before Monster Boy, you worked on japanese productions exclusively. Was it a big change for you to work with an European developer? Did you notice any differences between Japanese and European studios?
Moti Sakuraba: I think there is no big difference. But if I say that, it is because you, people of FDG, made sure that I did not feel the language barrier, and so on. I think the commitment to production and work is the same between Europe and Japan.
I was very surprised when I received the order for music of Monster Boy. I had not imagined to have an order from Europe. As I love to compose, I had a happy time. Although there was no big difference in my work, I think I was excited to work for the first time for a foreign game. I was extremely glad!
Tee Lopes, English opening (known for Sonic Mania, Team Sonic Racing).
Making Games: You joined the project to create a western opening theme. How did the Japanese original influence your work, if at all? Did you try to carry over some elements such as instruments, hook lines, parts of the lyrics or did you write everything from scratch?
Tee Lopes: I wrote everything from scratch! I did see the Japanese version a couple of times which I love, but I wanted to give the english version my own spin, one that had to do with my own childhood memories. My thoughts were: “If this was the opening for a 90’s saturday morning anime (like Pokémon) what would the localized version have sounded like?”. Following that direction, my priority was to create a child-friendly theme with a catchy hook and lyrics that could be memorized easily.
Making Games: What influence did the soundtrack of the game itself have on composing the opening?
Tee Lopes: I actually composed the opening theme before ever playing the game. When I first saw the opening sequence, the art style of the animation immediately spoke to the child inside me and then nostalgia took it from there. FDG also gave me valuable feedback and worked with me every step of the way, so we could say they had a hand in it too.
Making Games: The decision to add an english version of the opening was taken very late in the game’s production. What was the biggest challenge?
Tee Lopes: When FDG prompted me about this job, the only other opening theme I had ever done was for “Sonic Mania”, which had no vocals or lyrics, so this was a bit of a new challenge, but I’d say time was the biggest constraint. Back then, I was also composing for “Team Sonic Racing” and other projects, which meant I had to work afterhours to make this happen on time. I had about a month to deliver the final product, there wasn’t much of a chance for making changes to the theme, so I had to try and come up with something memorable, quickly and with minimal revisions. I remember it was particularly tough to get a suitable singer for the song on such short notice, but I was lucky to find Leandro at the last minute! If I hadn’t found him, my backup plan was to sing the theme myself, although I think his vocal timbre fit the song a lot better than mine would. I do enjoy working under pressure, but it can get complicated at times, however, FDG was very helpful and easy to work with; They know very well what they want and they guided me in the best way possible without taking away creative freedom. In the end I think we made it work.
Making Games: What setup did you use for producing and recording the english opening song?
Tee Lopes: The song was written, composed and produced by me in my personal studio and the vocals were recorded at a studio in Portugal. Because of the deadline, it was nearly impossible to find musicians who would be available to record some parts for the song, so to make ends meet, I resorted to full virtual instrumentation and tried to make the best out of it. Ultimately, I believe these limitations ended up adding some 90’s charm and authenticity to the theme, so it wasn’t a bad thing. Fortunately, me and the team were happy with the result, and now we all have a cool story to tell 🙂
Co-founder of FDG Entertainment and Co-Producer of Monster Boy. Philipp’s main task on Monster Boy was to assist the team with feedback and advice, as well as handling the company’s booth at shows, the physical production, press communication and more. He’s currently leading the production of a mobile and a console game.
The audio of Monster Boy