Sometimes, dreams come true. With the completion of the soundtrack for Reus, one of mine has. I think we were about 8 years old when Adriaan and I created our first game-concepts, albeit on paper. We shared a great love for games and had plenty of day-long Super Mario and Sim City sessions. Later on, our ways parted, but we always kept in touch. When I found out that Adriaan was actually living his dream and was starting up a game studio, I was eager to join in the action, of course!
My dream to make games had long faded, though, but I had taken up a new one: music. And I loved the idea of creating music for a game. I had no experience and little musical education (I’m a homegrown band musician), yet the Abbey guys still gave me the opportunity to create the soundtrack for their first game: Llamapalooza (2011). As the game was about frantically whipping llama’s with Dutch, Peruvian, Mozambican and French folkloristic characters, I tried to make a frantic folkloristic soundtrack with some heavily accentuated pan-flute. It came out sounding something like this:
Early 2012, Abbey games took on a more ambitious project: Reus. I applied for the job of composer once more, loaded with more ambition as well. The guys described the basic principle to me as “an empty planet, which the player has to make into a prosperous world full of shiny, happy people, using omnipotent nature giants.” This time, before actually creating music with the single thought “It needs more pan-flute!” in mind, I wanted to have a clear vision on how I thought the music to this giant god game should sound.I came up with the “empty planet music” concept. Since there were no people on the planet before the giants made it any kind of livable, there couldn’t have been any cultural background other than the culture the inhabitants created for themselves. With this in mind, I thought the music had to be simplistic in arrangements with an ancient set of instruments. The focus, in my opinion, should be as least as much on rhythm as on melodies and chords, since people were probably drumming way before they were playing classical compositions, right?
Conveniently, this approach came close to the music I had recently made with my band OIIO. We had created an acoustic EP filled with six tracks that might sound folky, but were really groovy and rhythmical in approach. There weren’t many chord-changes in the songs and most of the time simply adding and removing layers provided the necessary dynamics, like in the song below.
I rather liked this folk/house/afro/samba style of making music, so I decided to try and convert it into game-music. I recorded some chords with a harmonium (an indian mini-organ) and on one evening in the spring of 2012 invited two of my bandmates – Timo and Jasper to record a little bit. I owe these guys some big thanks, by the way. Their style of playing the banjo and percussion respectively, hugely inspired me in the entire process of creating the Reus soundtrack. Anyway, that night in 2012, this is what came out:
First Reus music
The first reactions of the upper-monks were a bit sceptical. Since back then it seemed like a big chunk of the game would be played when zoomed out far from the planet, they had a more of a spacey soundtrack in mind. I cornered this scepsis with an (awesome) compromise: the music would be my proposed style of folky beat-music when zoomed in, but spaced out when… zoomed out! This meant I had to make two versions of every song: a space version and a normal one. The game would automatically crossfade between these two versions when zooming in and out, like it does in this early trailer
Cool, right? Yep. But it didn’t make it into the game. Why? Well, the importance of zooming out from the planet was later taken out of the game and it was just too darn annoying to have a musical switch every time the player zooms in or out. Another aspect of my initial vision also crashed along the productional road to Reus: recorded music. I thought it would be nice to have every tracked played by a small orchestra of banjo players, fiddlers and drummerboys, but I soon came to the conclusion that doing the soundtrack would actually take more work than all the other aspects of the game combined, which is a bit out of proportion. Maybe next time, though… In the process of killing these two major darlings, I had accidentally created an ideal working set-up for the soundtrack of Reus. Within Ableton (an amazing music-making program) I set up some sort of digital orchestra of midi-instruments that I used to get close to the sound I had in mind for recording with actual musicians: a bass drum, a snare in different settings, a darabuca, a tambourine, a shaker, an oud (it’s the closest thing to a banjo I could find), a ukulele, a violin, a cello, an upright bass, a piano and… a harmonium! That’s it! I decided this array of instruments had to do and well, it did.
From september 2012 until now I visited the abbey on a not-so-regular basis to work alongside the guys and girl who did the art, programming, gameplay and all kinds of other things I don’t understand. It must have been a pretty funny sight. Entire days I could be sitting in the office, completely zombified behind my headphones, banging on my MPD32 (drum pads) and my tiny midi keyboard. It might have been a bit weird for my co-workers, but creating music in an office environment seemed to work out pretty well for me. Within little time I made more than enough material, from war-themes, to uplifting tunes, and of course some very, very empty planet songs. Below is a small selection of songs that actually made it into the game. I hope you like it as much as I like the game (a lot!).