After many years in the making, indie game Fez will be released this week for XBLA. Developed by Polytron, the two-man team of Phil Fish and Renaud Bédard, the game has won multiple awards over the past few years and is even part of the the focus of an upcoming film, ‘Indie Game: The Movie’.
Will it live up to the hype? We’ll have to wait to find out, but I spoke to the game’s very talented composer, Disasterpeace, to find out his experiences during the creation of the game’s soundtrack.
Piki Geek: You’ve scored quite a few games, like Puzzle Agent and Drawn to Life, how did the process between creating the soundtrack for those games compare with that of Fez?
Disasterpeace: Every project has its own unique challenges and requirements. The games you mentioned were very different to the process in Fez, because on those games I was asked to write music by looking at screenshots and cutscene footage. For Fez, I was totally involved in the process from the start, testing the game on a regular basis, editing level files and placing music and ambiences in the game directly. There was also a lot of dialogue between the entire team, more or less everyday, which I think was very beneficial for all of us. Also, I think that in a lot of ways, Fez was a dream project for me, because while I tried to create a very specific aesthetic, I was at the same time exploring my own sort of sound. Sometimes you work on games where the guidelines may be more outside of your comfort zone (for instance, writing jazz/noirish music for Puzzle Agent was a new experience and a great challenge for me at the time).
PG: Since it was revealed, Fez has been eagerly anticipated. How did you cope with that added pressure?
D: It hasn’t been too difficult. I think I was eagerly anticipating Fez before I even joined the team, so that maybe made my job a little easier. Also, working with the Polytron guys has been a breeze, and Phil and I have been on the same musical wavelength since the start. Renaud (the programmer) has had my back all the way, and we were fortunate enough to work with Brandon (sound effects), who helped lend a second set of ears to everything we ended up doing.
PG: It seems like one of the central themes of Fez is exploration–how did you go about capturing that feeling through music?
D: Writing music in itself is often an exploration, so it’s almost hard not to capture it. I think having strong musical ideas that evolve and go places tends to capture the feeling. Throughout the process I just tried to settle into a particular area of the game that I was writing music for, and sort of feel it out. I’d just think about that particular place, and have that in the back of my head while I wrote.
PG: What kind of music inspires you? Who do you listen to in your spare time?
D: Over the last couple of years I’ve really gotten into Debussy, Ravel, and listening to lots of piano. There’s an album called Solo Piano by Gonzales that has been in my regular rotation for some time, and I’ve got some Erroll Garner vinyl records that I love. One of the oddities of writing lots of music is that you can’t listen to other stuff while you’re writing, or at least I can’t. I get less face-time with music than I used to, and it’s a shame. But I do my best to make time for listening. Going further back, bands like Yes and King Crimson, composers like Steve Reich and Stravinsky have always been inspirations to me.
PG: I know you play a lot of live music–how does that differ from creating music in the studio?
D: Every time it happens, it only happens once. It’s real and human and there are usually mistakes everywhere and it’s nerve-racking and fun simultaneously. Also it gives me a chance to reacquaint myself with the guitar, which is the instrument I started writing music on back in high school. When you’re doing things on the fly, it changes your mindset.
PG: Which track did you have the most difficulty with? Do you have a favorite?
D: I think for the most part, the freedom I had made this one of the easiest and most fun things I’ve ever gotten to do. I also gave myself free reign to do a lot of improvisation, and I repurposed a lot of older ideas that never got used… They seemed to me that they would fit well in Fez, and that made it somewhat easier to work on. I definitely spent a lot of time tweaking sound design on a couple of tracks though, and I think that’s where I spent the most time. “Beyond” comes to mind, which you’ll be able to check out in the game, or on 4/20 when the album comes out.
PG: I know many budding composers and musicians who would love to have a job like yours. How did you get into the industry? Do you have any advice for them?
D: It’s been the main thing I’ve focused on for the last 6 years or so, that has helped a bunch, I think. I was fortunate enough to go to music school, and get some audio internships, which turned into work opportunities. I also used college loan money to go to GDC in 2009, and that’s how I landed Drawn to Life and through that, Puzzle Agent. I’ve also gotten very interested in making small independent games, and started meeting folks who were making free games and ended up helping out a couple times, writing some stuff for free. I think the best advice I can give is to be around, go to events, make friends and meet people, and try to make the best music you can, and make sure it’s truly the kind of music you want to write.
PG: How closely did you work with Phil Fish?
D: We actually haven’t had to work too close, for the most part. I was given free reign to work on and add music to the game at my own discretion, and there have been very few times over the last year or two that we’ve had to work through musical disagreements. For the most part, we’ve shared a similar musical vision for the game, and that’s really made things work out great, I think.
PG: If you could go back in time and re-score someone else’s game, which would it be?
D: Chrono Cross and Chrono Trigger are way up there. More recently, I’ve been having a mega-love affair with Tomas Dvorak (Floex)’s work on Machinarium. I also really dig Jesper Kyd, and Jeremy Soule.
PG: Any upcoming gigs/games you’d like to mention?
D: Not yet! I’m working on a couple of games, and making one of my own. Hopefully you’ll hear more about it soon.
Fez will be released on XBLA on April 13th for 800 MS points. The soundtrack to the game will be available digitally on April 20th on Disasterpeace’s website, but you can pre-order now for a sneak peak at a few tracks before the album is released (there’s even three tracks up for free).