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This is a post from Mikko Tarmia who is the composer for all of Overgrowth's music, about the process of making music for Overgrowth (and games in general).

Posted by jeffr on Jan 11th, 2010

This is a post from Mikko Tarmia who is the composer for all of Overgrowth's music, about the process of making music for Overgrowth (and games in general).

On game project length

Being involved in a game project requires lots of patience because it can take years for a project to finish. For example, I've been writing songs for Overgrowth for a few years now (since it was known as Lugaru 2), which is longer than most game projects I've worked on. The need for a composer isn't absolutely necessary in the early stages of game development, but it usually leads to better results. A playable demo isn't necessary for me to work -- I just need a list of music tracks along with some concept visuals and gameplay information. Here are some excerpts from combat songs I wrote based on Overgrowth concept art and Lugaru gameplay:

Composition process

I start composing a song by using a keyboard to develop the melody and harmony (if there is any), either with the normal piano sound or with instrument patches (such as strings or woodwinds). Once I've finished this initial 'sketch', I'll start arranging the piece (which instruments should play which parts). The basic style and instrument constraints are usually decided before writing any music. For example, with Overgrowth we decided not to use any human choirs since it has no human characters, and I don't have a clue what a choir of singing rabbits would sound like. We also decided not to use brass instruments, because they are more technologically advanced than the societies shown in Overgrowth. As you've heard so far, Overgrowth's orchestrations are heavily based on string sections and woodwinds, as well as percussion-dominated combat tracks.

Rabbit musicians

Some Overgrowth musicians composing a song.

You can hear the strings and woodwinds in ambient tracks like these:

Technology and mastering

From a technical point of view, I first build an instrument setup with sample patches that I'm going to use in orchestrations. This usually means dozens of tracks, requiring a lot of processing power. My Mac running Logic Studio was not up to the task, so I got an additional computer to share the load -- a PC running Gigastudio. String instruments are usually the greediest instruments memory-wise, so most of them are recorded from the PC, and controlled by the Mac via MIDI. Here's a picture of my setup -- you can read my post about it if you're interested in more details:

Mikko's studio

Mixing a song with 40+ instrument tracks is not the easiest task - it can take more time than the actual composing. Most of the processing power here is consumed by sound processing plug-ins, such as equalization, dynamics, and reverberations. I use these both for single-instrument channels and for grouped instrument sections. The final part of the entire music production process is to set the tone and dynamics in balance between all music tracks to make the sound more coherent. This is a precise and time-consuming task, so I only do this when it's certain that no modifications or new tracks are needed.

Working with game developers

Here's some advice to help you if you're thinking of starting to compose music for games: never polish a track before you first send it to the developers for feedback, because it might get rejected. On the other hand, when a track manages to impress the developers in its rough beta stage, it will surely impress them even more when you send the polished final mix! Of course, if it turns out that a track that sounded great by itself is not working so well in-game, a new track or a modification will be needed - sometimes you need to go through this process several times to get a great in-game track. This Overgrowth theme has had a dozen revisions, even before it was tested in-game!

Testing on different speakers

It's also important to test music tracks with different speaker setups, to make sure that they sound good for everyone. Use all kind of speakers: hi-fi models, amplified ones, laptop speakers, and also the cheapest and crappiest ones you can find - and don't forget different headphones as well! It's not uncommon for gamers to spend $600 on their fancy graphics card, and $50 on their speakers.

I hope this clarified some aspects of what I do for Overgrowth! Do you have any other questions about composing game soundtracks? (permalink)

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Post comment Comments
Spenzerr Jan 11 2010 says:

nice guys

also playing all three at once is mega epic :P

+12 votes     reply to comment
EaglesNestOne Jan 11 2010 replied:

OMG You're right.

+4 votes     reply to comment
archkyrie Jan 11 2010 replied:

Dang, you are right, that was totally epic.

+3 votes     reply to comment
Longsword007 Jan 11 2010 replied:

Wow, it was!

+2 votes     reply to comment
DOLBYdigital Jan 11 2010 replied:

Wow that does sound great together, nice find :)

Also agree that I would like to hear some more didgeridoo in there as well. It just seems like an instrument that would sound perfect in the game world. I got a fever and the only cure is more didgeridoo ;)

+3 votes     reply to comment
Tharapita Jan 11 2010 replied:

They could probably mix all 3 into one and have a great piece of game music. It does sound good with all 3 at once.

+1 vote     reply to comment
MiniHendrix Jan 11 2010 replied:

It's amazing how that works, isn't it?

+1 vote     reply to comment
jeffr Author
jeffr Jan 11 2010 replied:


+1 vote   reply to comment
Terminator7240 Jan 22 2010 replied:

o_O the epicness is brainmelting

+1 vote     reply to comment
cW#Ravenblood Jan 11 2010 says:

coll coll guys,
nice work!

+1 vote     reply to comment
phipe Jan 11 2010 says:

I never expected a game with bunnys have so good music. Honestly.

+2 votes     reply to comment
Tharapita Jan 11 2010 says:

I like the ambient track.

+2 votes     reply to comment
Jonko Jan 11 2010 says:

Do you use reference monitors or do you really test your music on different sound systems?

+2 votes     reply to comment
Velox Jan 11 2010 says:

I listen the sounds on my new yamaha cinema system and the sound is great it is epic very good work...

+1 vote     reply to comment
AngryAmoeba Jan 11 2010 says:

very interesting, and very nice tracks. i would love to be able to compose orchestrations like these.

+1 vote     reply to comment
blackmodeler Jan 11 2010 says:

would love to hear some didgeridoo in some of OG's music. Great stuff you've got there ^__^

+1 vote     reply to comment
kertins Jan 11 2010 says:

lol sound awesome all three together

+1 vote     reply to comment
Elementalist Jan 11 2010 says:

Wolfire Games, I really must protest at your articles. I read them with such interest and vigor I commonly forget all else I am doing. I failed my last Geology test as I didn't finish my reading (in the book, though I finished your article, of course), and I nearly just burned the house down because I forgot I had something on the stove.

Now... Please make more. :)

+2 votes     reply to comment
jeffr Author
jeffr Jan 11 2010 replied:

Hehe, I'm on it!

+1 vote   reply to comment
Spooboy Jan 11 2010 replied:

Haha turning today's youth into mindless zombies is their secret plan.

+1 vote     reply to comment
Bird_of_Prey Jan 13 2010 says:

Overall, some good improvements. And what you say about gamers spending $50 on speakers would totally be me if I hadn't inherited some pretty nice ones.

+1 vote     reply to comment
Guns_Are_Toys Jan 13 2010 says:

I like the improvements, very epic sounding and fitting for the game.... but..... It could have used a bit more cowbell.....

+1 vote     reply to comment
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