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MQC - Rise of the Totem Masters: Story Overview and About the Music

March 25, 2016

Hello once again!

I'm here to talk about the music I created for the third game in the MagiQuest Chronicles, Rise of the Totem Masters! I know we are starting a bit out of order with talking about the 3 games of MQC (MagioQuestChronicles, going to shorten it up to MQC moving forward) but since I have that music ready to go and since I'm using a different technique for triggering the music, I thought to touch on this first!

From my last post, here is the commercial spot for the general rundown of the core of the games:

 

 


Let's touch on the story of Rise of the Totem Masters to start, so we at least have some reference for the musical style of the game. The premise of the game:

"In the future (from the 2nd game, Guardians of the Portal Realms), the Shadow Lords return to Vellara, spreading darkness across the lands, spawning monstrosities that terrorize villagers in the night. A Magi (the Player) will be sent forward in time and given a mystic figurine that can summon forth a Totem spirit animal. Through many adventures the Totem becomes a powerful ally as the hero discovers what really happened to the Magi - - and what ancient evil is behind the impending darkness."

So essentially, from where the end of Guardians of the Portal Realms left off, there is a call for help through one of the Portals from about 500 years in the future. Once through the Portal, Aegis the last Shadowmancer informs you about the state of the world, that the Shadow Lords have driven the inhabitants back into Tribal societies. The remaining Magi and Guardians are all in hiding, and you (the Player) are the only hope to defeat Kurzak the Amaranthine and the Shadow Lords and help return Vellara to how it once was. With the use of the Totem of your choice, you will embark on many quests, collect many powerful relics, and battle the forces of evil and remove the corruption that is spread across the land.


That's the short of it, don't want to give too many spoilers about the game, you'll just have to play it sometime! (Currently only available in Garden Grove, CA. This may change in the future and I will inform you all if/when it does)


Let's talk music!


Since the game takes place in a future that has reverted back to Tribal society, I did keep to what can be considered at this point the stereotypical choice of having the music be really percussive. Though, that being said, it's not wholy just percussion. In the previous game I had a more orchestral-based style which was built off of what the first composer did for MQ: Journey to Save the Light (I got brought in on game 2 and 3). So I kept a lot of the orchestral instrumentation with the tribal percussion. One last style point, within the game there are hints that at some point over the 500 years Vellara had an advanced technological age. So with that, in the music for MQ3, I have hints of digital music here and there, usually in the forms of drones and pads, farther in the background hinting at the technology. It's artsy fartsy, and mainly just to please myself.
 


So here is the music (not the whole soundtrack yet, but all the important pieces), we'll talk music behaviour below this:

 

 

What we (Andrew Benz, the Audio Lead and Implementer and Creative Kingdoms LLC, and I) decided to to do with the music was a technique called "Vertical Remixing", and here is a breakdown of how it works:

-- I write a ~2-minute long piece of music that is seamlessly loopable (when the piece reaches the end it loops back to the start of the piece without sounding funky or jarring).

-- Instead of exporting the mix as one stereo track, I split up the music by different sections of instruments (e.g. Strings, Horns, Drums, Woodwinds, etc.) and bounce them as stems, still the length of the seamless loop mix and these stems will also stay loopable.

-- Once imported into Unity, we set up all these stems to playback and loop at the same time and also set up a bunch of rules in code to have these stems fade in/out of the overall music, essentially remixing the music, randomly within our set of rules every set amount of say 4 to 8 bars.

This is really great for reducing the repetitiveness that comes from looped music. Now this 2-minute piece of music sounds a lot longer than it actually is with the instruments constantly changing out and altering the mix, it stays fresh.

Usually with this setup, you'll want to set an anchor stem, or one that is always playing that way you aren't having sections of dead air (unless that is the creative aim, that's another conversation).


But the technique isn't just limited to the random playback method. Generally speaking, you could also have specific instrument stems fade in when states change in the game. An example, we are playing a 3rd Person Shooter, say the drums fade in when their are enemies nearby, or the strings fade in when there are over 5 enemies or more within close proximity to the player.

Or, an example in this game: If you take a listen to the last 3 tracks on the playlist, those are the Combat Music(s). The first 2 are the normal states for fighting grind enemies and fighting the boss. The last is a state change for when the Player's Totem is low on health. So, as you are in combat the Combat Music is playing and randomizing it's instrument mix. Then your Totem get hits with a powerful attack and it's health drops to about the 1/4 mark. In Unity a trigger is sent saying "Hey, we are low on health", so that Combat Music is faded out but at the same time, that final track "The Shadows Approach", it's instrument stems are faded in and start to randomize.

We have this Low-Health Music looping in the background, with the level faders turned all the way down until the trigger is called, then those faders come up as the Combat Music comes down and that loops in the background now. If the player heals it'll will switch back the same way.

Pretty cool!

There is a lot more you can do with this. Also there are right and wrong ways of approching writing music like this and having it work well. I'm actually going to shoot you over to the site of Winifred Philips who covers the subject of Vertical Remixing really well, and also has a book on the subject. She is an incredible composer who has worked on the Little Big Planet series, God of War II, and more!

The link sends you to Part 1 of her talk, you can access the rest there:
https://winifredphillips.wordpress.com/2015/09/29/arrangement-for-vertical-layers-pt-1-a-game-composers-guide/

All the music above was recorded from the playback of Unity triggering the music during runtime. I let each piece go around a few times before ending so you can hear how the music changes. Only post-editing I did was the fade out at the end of each piece (in-game, the music fades out a bit quicker to make room for Fanfares and VO).

And to touch on what all the music pieces above are for:

-- 1) A Quest's Beginning: This music plays in the parent menu for selecting any of the 3 games. You can hear that the music changes textures 4 times. The solo harp is the top menu, the 2nd movement of the twinkly sounds is for Journey to Save the Light, the following change to the string-oriented layers is for Guardians of the Realm Portals, and the last change is for Rise of the Totem Masters which has the tribal drum feel, before reverting to the parent menu layer. The music switch plays when a game is selected, the player is then sent to a themed screen to confirm the choice.

-- 2) Aegis the last Shadowmancer: This music plays whenever the Player talks with Aegis.

-- 3) The Tribal Leaders: This is played whenever the Player interacts with the Tribal Leaders.

-- 4) Totem Combat: This music is played when combating normal enemies.

-- 5) Kurzak the Amaranthine: This music is played when you encounter and fight Kurzak for the first time.

-- 6) The Shadows Approach: As mentioned above, this is played when the Player's Totem is low on health.



That covers things for now, I hope you enjoy the music, and I'll post in-game videos as soon as I get them that way you can see the game and hear the music and sound design in action!

Thank you so much for reading, have a great day!

-TMR

 

 


 For info on MagiQuest:

http://www.magiquest.com/

https://www.facebook.com/MagiQuest/

 



For info on Creative Kingdoms LLC:

http://www.creativekingdoms.com/

https://www.facebook.com/creativekingdomsllc/

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